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Something to Remember Wednesday

What I've Finished Reading

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, a rec from k_t_bug which fulfills one of my reading challenges for 2017: Read a book about Antarctica. I finished this in about two days; every time I got to the end of a short chapter I would think, "Ok, just one more!" and so on until I fell asleep. It's the story of the aftermath of a failed Antarctic expedition: the plan was to cross Antarctica by dogsled, but the ship (the Endurance) never made it to Antarctica in the first place. Instead, it was trapped in pack ice and drifted for months until the ice finally crushed it. This was in 1914; there was no radio transmitter, no way to contact the rest of the world, and no way for rescuers to reach them in any case. Astonishingly, the crew did not die of hypothermia but lived, in bad health and extreme discomfort, camping on the pack ice until it broke up under them, eventually reaching an uninhabited island in their three lifeboats and having to wait there for a small team to sail for help to the most accessible human settlement, a whaling station eight hundred miles away.

Like The Count of Monte Cristo, this is one of those books that made me want to re-narrate everything that happens to anyone will listen. Because you all are lucky enough not to live with me, you have been spared the excruciatingly detailed blow-by-blow of what's happening with "my guys on the ice" and their rotting sleeping bags and their heated arguments about which blessedly non-frozen non-meat food they are going to eat first when they get back to civilization. It was impossible not to be invested even though the author told me at the beginning that they were all going to make it out alive. I cried as much when the guys finally set foot on Elephant Island as I did when Apollo 13 made it back to Earth. Never mind that Elephant Island is a howling tornado magnet, it's real land! Made of rocks! Their first in over a year!

All the men made it out alive, I should say. The dogs were shot - not all at once, but in stages, having lived long enough to save the day on multiple occasions and form bonds with the crew, the way dogs do. By the time the crew took to the open boats, the dogs were all dead. A ship's cat who was never meant to do anything but ride around on the ship was also eventually shot.

This is a miserable story about waiting around for months and being thwarted at every turn, but instead of making me miserable it was exciting and suspenseful. It's also a story of the Old Anatarctic, of a half-frozen sea teeming with whales and seals and plankton, and it's melancholy to read it now, over a hundred years later, when so many ecosystems are in collapse.

What I'm Reading Now

In The Hidden Land, things are getting serious - the king has been killed, despite the cousins' best efforts, and Ted (whom everyone in the kingdom still thinks is his fictional self-insert, Prince Edward) has just been crowned king. This involves having a lot of people swear fealty to him, and there's one of Pamela Dean's odd, likable digressions about how uncomfortable this makes him - because his name in the game is the same as his name in the "real world," he doesn't want his cousins taking the oath to serve "Edward" and insists on them specifying that it's only in his capacity as King of the Hidden Land. His scrupulousness is sympathetic, and so is their impatience with him. War is coming - shouldn't they try to get back to their own world? Can they?

And a couple of other things, but I'll get to them next week.

What I'm Reading Next

[2017 reading goals update] I'm no further along in my plan to make a list of previous recs, or in my "two books from every continent" goal, but I've gotten some good recommendations for "genres I don't usually read": a memoir from osprey_archer and tons of romance from wordsofastory. I'm going to add a genre for myself: YA dystopia, represented by The Hunger Games. I bought the Hunger Games soundtrack a couple of weeks ago on impulse at a library book sale, and it turned out to be exactly what I wanted to listen to at this moment in history. The books may be nothing like the soundtrack, but I am going to give them a try anyway.

I'm still trying to "read down" my bookshelves and make more space. I might read one of the 99 Novels I already own: either Falstaff by Robert Nye or A Confederacy of Dunces. I'm saving Catch-22 and Kingsley Amis' Anti-Death League for later because I'm expecting to like them more (possibly a mistake).


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 18th, 2017 03:41 pm (UTC)
One goal down in the blink of an eye! Wasn't the boat that went 800 miles really small? I think I saw something on it the other week.

I hope the Hunger Games book matches the music. I do like to theme my reading sometimes. Most of the time I'm not bothered what music I have on when I read, it's quite different when I'm writing.
Jan. 18th, 2017 11:53 pm (UTC)
The boat was hella small! 22 feet! It was a tiny plucky hero boat that had already been through so much. About the first second after it landed on (the wrong end of) South Georgia Island, its rudder fell off, as if to say GUYS I AM DONE. It was too risky to try to go around the coast to get to the whaling station, so they had to cross overland - totally unmapped territory covered in jagged peaks and glaciers and snow, snow, snow. They just put some screws in the bottom of their boots to make cleats out of them and hoped for the best.

(Sorry, I'm doing it again!)
Jan. 19th, 2017 04:31 pm (UTC)
Don't apologise:) I know the feeling and now I will tell you all!!

I enjoy 'Henry VI' reviews where they feel they have to tell the reader all about it at length.
Jan. 18th, 2017 05:44 pm (UTC)
What other genres do you not normally read? You seem to read a lot of things!

Also, I realise you now have enough Heyer recs (but given that I'm not aware of any of the others having anything like That One Chapter), I have to add some of my favourites too (because, Black Sheep is very nice, but not the heights of Heyer, and some people aren't keen on Sylvester, although I don't know why, I like it a lot; Cotillion is nearly everybody's favourite though; it is the most charmingest of all):

The Talisman Ring - in which there has been foul murder several years before and a stolen ring, feat. Sir Tristram who is bad-tempered (and doesn't like women), Eustacie (who thinks she would have looked v moving in a tumbril in a white dress and loves adventure, but def. not Sir Tristram), Ludovic (young heir falsely accused of murder, who decides obv. next move is to become a smuggler, totally safe, right?), and sensible Sally Thane who enjoys all of the ensuing drama, especially sounding out the wood panelling with Sir Tristram (even though he doesn't like women).

Sprig Muslin. Sir Gareth goes off to propose to Lady Hester but picks up young Amanda, who is a large nuisance, on the run, and prone to telling whopping fibs, which leads to shenanigans, more fibs all round, and everybody pretending to be related (and Hildebrand not knowing he's deaf).

Frederica - the Marquis of Alverstoke suddenly finds himself with a bunch of not-really-his-wards, the Merrivilles, who are all excellent at getting into trouble (and have a very large dog, equally as good at getting into trouble). With bonus added hot-air balloon ride.

The Quiet Gentlemen - Gervase Frant returns home only to find someone seems to be trying to kill him; luckily he has some help from the super-sensible and undramatic Miss Morville.

Venetia - Venetia lives a v secluded life, has a lot of selfish relations, meets Lord Damerel, her mostly absent neighbour (and terrible rake; it has been rumoured he had an orgy last time he was at his house), and has to work out just what you need to do to get a rake to ruin you when you want him to. (He's inclined to be much too idiotishly noble, she thinks.)

Arabella - a vicar's daughter accidentally that one time claims to be a super rich heiress to pay out society leader Mr Beaumaris, which all somehow leads to Mr Beaumaris being forced to adopt a lot of waifs and strays.

Friday's Child is another one some people don't like because the hero has a lot to learn, but that's the point & it's an awful lot of fun. Sherry needs to get married, on being refused by the Incomparable Isabella, he runs off with Hero, who's adored him for years. The marriage involves Sherry, Hero (aka Kitten), Sherry's friends Gil, Ferdy, George (who's a bit Byronic and prone to call people out at the slightest thing), and the Incomparable Isabella. And a small pug dog.

Edited at 2017-01-18 05:55 pm (UTC)
Jan. 18th, 2017 07:59 pm (UTC)
Friday's Child is my absolutely favorite Heyer, but I'm always reluctant to recommend it to people because it makes me feel like such a bad feminist. Hero is just so dumb and hapless and in constant need of rescue that I understand why it puts people off, and yet I love it more than any of her other books and find it absolutely hilarious and sweet.
Jan. 18th, 2017 08:29 pm (UTC)
Aww, I don't think I'd say that Hero's dumb, not really - she's just very young and naive in a particular kind of way (that someone like Horry never was), but she is beginning to learn - and still manages to teach Sherry a lot along the way. If all Heyer's heroines were like her, it would be a different matter, but she's the only one, I think.

(And I like all your picks, too. It's just... SO MANY to choose from! <3)
Jan. 18th, 2017 09:05 pm (UTC)
If all Heyer's heroines were like her, it would be a different matter, but she's the only one, I think.
Yes, this is exactly what I think! Heyer has so many other forthright, take-charge heroines that one Hero doesn't bother me at all – in fact, I really adore her. And as you say, Sherry is not exactly an 'alpha male'.

But regardless of how much I adore the book, I've seen enough people have a bad reaction to it that it's made me cautious about recommending it. Unfortunately for those who miss out on it, though!

It's just... SO MANY to choose from!
There are! I mean, we haven't even covered The Masqueraders or The Unknown Ajax or These Old Shades, or, or, or... :D
Jan. 18th, 2017 10:01 pm (UTC)
I know! Or The Foundling, or The Convenient Marriage, or A Civil Contract!

(We probably should have mentioned The Unknown Ajax; it generally seems to go down well.)

Edited at 2017-01-18 10:02 pm (UTC)
Jan. 19th, 2017 12:09 am (UTC)
Hm. I don't read a lot of nonfiction in general, so I think just about any nf genre that isn't "biographies of writers" would qualify. I hardly ever read horror, but that's because I'm genuinely kind of easily freaked out and I don't enjoy being - I resent getting horrible images stuck in my head. (This is also why I'm wary of graphic novels and the Contemporary Short Story). I've never managed to care about espionage but I've got nothing against it in principle. I don't read a lot of true crime, but maybe that's too close to the Extended Murderverse to count. There are probably about a billion fantasy subgenres I've never touched. . . what else? Practically everything except murder mysteries and a narrow slice of the available fiction, it seems like.

How am I ever going to choose from among all these plots? They all sound amazing.
Jan. 19th, 2017 09:30 am (UTC)
All I could think for sure was horror, and since I don't do that either, I can't be much help, because I am also pretty wimpish!

However, I have learned that Victorian horror is often okay, so you could cover that without getting freaked out by:

MR James's Ghost Stories - nicely weird and creepy and fun.

(I've only read half of them, so I can't absolutely swear to them all being safe for the wimpish, but they're mostly a similar tone & I enjoyed them quite happily - well actually, listened to half of them, as this is my one audio book I ever successfully listened to in my entire life).

Bram Stoker - Dracula I finally read this and it was actually quite a lot of fun. In Wilkie Collins's epistolary evidence-gathering style (although not quite as good), and it is mostly amazing how much Dracula isn't in it (and he's much more of an animalistic creature than all the suave cinematic Counts who've come after). So mostly a bunch of v nice people all form a self-help-mutual-self-admiration protection society against vampires, but Mina is the only effective one. She keeps going on about how wonderful noble men are, but this is baffling because Bram Stoker has already made it clear that everybody else is hopeless compared to Mina. (Van Helsing is the worst. He should have been banned from decision-making duties a long time ago. His decision making skills are so poor, Dr Seward even pauses to wonder if Lucy's death is actually due to Van Helsing turning Ripper-style killer and you can't really blame him.) The most horrific bit is going to Lucy's crypt to stake her, but that's been done so often, it's barely worth mentioning now. But it might be a way to do Horror without freaking yourself out. I haven't yet read Frankenstein, but I suspect it would also very much be an option. (I have seen the adaptation considered to be the most faithful, and again, pretty anodyne compared to modern horror).

Watching the English - Kate Fox. An anthropology book studying the English instead of other actually less strange tribes. (She gets a bit overly middle class in places, but otherwise so much of this is horribly true!)

Down Under - Bill Bryson. He is a very entertaining travel writer! I think some of his stuff is maybe a bit too grumpy and privileged in places, but he is always very enjoyably readable, and he obviously fell in love with Australia writing this one, so it's that bit more good-natured and enthusiastic about Australia, the weirdness of nature, and also completely fascinated by how many ways nature can kill you in Australia. (A Walk in the Woods, about his walking the Appalachian Trail is also that bit less critical than his others.) His History of Everything is also fun.

The Victorian City - Judith Flanders. I just read this and it's overflowing with her enthusiasm for life in Dickensian London, very readable and interesting and totally has rude Victorian songs in it.

Home - Julie Myerson. She decided to research everyone who lived in her house and write a book about it. I like this a lot, but I prefer by far the researching and meeting the people bits to the parts where she imagines scenes from the past (she's also a novelist), but it's an interesting book about ordinary people's lives and just how rich and unexpected micro-history can be sometimes. (She clearly thinks family historians are weird, though, but hey.)

Jan. 19th, 2017 09:30 am (UTC)
(Apparently I went on too long and LJ got cross with me, so the rest of the comment cntd:)

In True Crime, which may be cheating, I suspect you would enjoy The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, about the rl Road murder that inspired Dickens and Collins.

Also any of Tom Holland's ancient(ish) history books are great. Rubicon is the one I've read most recently, but they're excellent read-like-a-book narrative histories. I also enjoyed Millennium (about c.1000 in Europe), and someone else I know used to keep reccing me Persian Fire, though I've never yet got my hands on it.

I also this year very much enjoyed How to Be A Victorian and How To Be A Tudor which were both wonderful and informative practical history reads by Ruth Goodman. (She does history by actually wearing the clothes and eating the food and trying the lifestyle and reports back. It's fascinating and she has an easy style).

(As you can see, for me, NF usually = history books, most likely about British Social History, but still, I try. :-) )

I am still stuck in the 90s in Fantasy and I wouldn't really recommend most of those these days!

Would British Children's & YA novels be a category you don't usually read? Because I am/was a children's librarian over here for ten years and can definitely come up with some good recs, hopefully mostly not too unavailable in the US!

ETA: Oh, and also, even if probably sort of cheating again, but John Sunderland's Literary Detective books would be so up your street! They're sort of a different approach to classic lit exploration? (Taking incidents from them and trying to solve them as if canon is real, I can't really explain, but you have probably read enough of all of the covered authors to enjoy it & I can't remember what the more modern one is called, but as it cover's Poirot's timeline, you should see if you can find it. There's also a Shakespeare one, too.)

Edited at 2017-01-19 09:42 am (UTC)
Jan. 18th, 2017 08:01 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed The Hunger Games. They're not classics of literature by any means, but they're fun and reasonably competent, and have a real page-turner quality. Oddly though, they're one of the few series where I think the movies are better than the books.
Jan. 18th, 2017 11:41 pm (UTC)
I'm looking forward to turning some pages!
Jan. 19th, 2017 01:04 am (UTC)
Oh, and if your soundtrack doesn't have it, you should totally listen to The Hanging Tree. It's from the third movie rather than the first, but there's no spoilers – it's just an old folk song the characters remember from childhood.
Jan. 18th, 2017 11:19 pm (UTC)
I've been meaning to read The Hunger Games for quite a while. Perhaps I should finally get on that this year when you do it. Are you planning to read the whole trilogy? Or just the first book?
Jan. 18th, 2017 11:37 pm (UTC)
I think it depends on how much I like the first book! My library should have them, if I ever manage to get over there, so I'll find out soon!

. . . but I mean, they're small, right? So if you want to read the whole thing, I can go ahead and commit to reading the whole thing.
Jan. 19th, 2017 01:02 am (UTC)
I'm not sure! I feel like I should read the whole thing, because they've become such a cultural phenomenon, and after all they're not super long. But I've also heard mixed opinions about the later books - everyone agrees they get darker; some people think they also drop off in quality - so I'm not sure.

So maybe we should just start with the first and see how we feel after that.
Jan. 19th, 2017 03:22 am (UTC)
How are you placed for your books from other continents goal? If you are still taking recs for Australia (my continent), I would suggest Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, which is... unclassifiable, other than calling it a period mystery/boarding school/slight metaphysical horror story (and very good).
Jan. 19th, 2017 10:55 pm (UTC)
I have no books lined up for the other continents! Picnic at Hanging Rock is something I've been vaguely meaning to read for a long time, so I'll take it for Australia!
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )


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