Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. A few interesting facts I learned about this book from a Coursera class I took last fall via the University of Michigan “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World”:
Mary Shelley was 18 when she began writing the book.
The book was published in 1818 and 1823 with two different introductions. Shelley’s husband may have written the first.
Think about this – science fiction is about personal and social consequences, of access to new knowledge, and the power that goes along with the gaining of that knowledge.
Have you ever considered this book to be romantic literature? I had not until (a) friends who found me reading the book said “oh such a romantic book” and then it was explained to me during the course of the class. It became so obvious.
Shelley is using fright as a tool to tell a story that validates domestic affection. Victor was this egotistical man who betrayed his son (the monster).
Society misunderstanding, withdrawing from community.
This book is so much more than monster science, it is a book that if we truly let absorb us will teach us how to realize our own ideals and hopefully be better, more inclusive, helpful persons. A truly magnificent book.
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. I enjoyed this book a lot more while reading it. Once I put it down I realized the writing really was not that great, but the story of Beryl Markham is. McLain took great liberties in the writing of this book and in my humble opinion could have used more time in Kenya absorbing who Markham was. Instead, it reads as someone sitting in a city daydreaming about this amazing woman’s life. A lot can be left out and frankly the more I have read about the Kenya of the 1920s and 30s the less research I think McLain did. An enjoyable read, fantastic travel or winter reading book.
Two of my favorite quotes from the book:
“We’re all of us afraid of many things, but if you make yourself smaller or let your fear confine you, then you really aren’t your own person at all—are you? The real question is whether or not you will risk what it takes to be happy.”
“Things come that we never would have predicted for ourselves or even guessed at. And yet they change us for ever.”
West with the Night by Beryl Markham. Learning about Markham has changed my life. Raised in British East Africa to a father who was an accomplished racehorse trainer, Markham was as much raised by the Nandi and other ethnic groups on her family’s farm. Born in 1902 (she passed in 1986), she lived most of her life in Kenya. A pioneer of transatlantic flight, she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. Fearless, beautiful, and indefatigable. She was married once and had numerous affairs. She trained champion race horses (she felt more at home on a horse than walking barefoot), scouted elephants (sadly for hunting, later for photographing), and she lived really truly LIVED.
**(NYT) The 1985 film of Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa” introduced a much wider public to the vanished world Markham had shared with Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen); her hunter husband, Bror Blixen; her sometime lover, the pilot Denys Finch Hatton; and the other settlers, including Lord Delamere and the Birkbecks, Cockie and Benedict.
***Whether or not Markham wrote the book (I doubt seriously she did) is of little consequence. By the time you finish the book you are so grateful just to have read it. (Markham had little formal education. The book was written in the late 30’s while she was married to a writer named Raoul Schumacher. More though, it would have I believe been uncharacteristic for her to have referenced Edgar Allan Poe as the book does at least twice.)
The Walled City by Elspeth Huxley. It is with a wonderful sense of humor and great intelligence, that Huxley tells the story about a British colonial administration in Nigeria between the First and Second World Wars.
“A group of Englishmen who are uprooted and dropped into the “steaming witch-haunted” African bush country with its riots.” Looking beyond the colonial politics and “black intrigue” and its resistance to the white man, is a story about two husbands and two wives trapped by their ambitions, their pursuit of power, and their lingering ideals. This is the first of Huxley’s novels I read. She wrote 30 books, many inspired by her childhood on a 500-acre coffee farm in colonial Kenya. Her novels are a joy, her biographies (see below re Lord Delamere) are well researched and fascinating, but her memoir (”The Flame Trees of Thika”) also described to me as autobiographical fiction – I found disappointing. The author’s own story pales in comparison with those characters she knew and created. Perhaps I just need to try harder when reading it?
White Man’s Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya by Elspeth Huxley. This was her first book. It is the story of Lord Delamere, a white settler who helped establish a permanent British settlement (now Nairobi) and revolutionized large-scale farming in the highlands of East Africa (Kenya). A big-game hunter during his early days he thankfully (and like many other settlers who saw the depravity in the sport) gave up guns for cameras and even (like several others of his kind) created a game sanctuary. He is a model of diplomacy, believing in not taking things by force. His relationships with local tribes (specifically the Maasai). The book describes the change in attitude in England of settlers in Nairobi, Europeanization vs. “savages”, his plans for various types of farms (settlers and their livestock were vulnerable to numerous challenges including weather, pests, and diseases). His was the time of the telegraph wire and steam engines. A fascinating read.
The Merry Hippo by Elspeth Huxley. What a cast of characters! Merry Hippo is the headquarters of the Connor Commission. It has been formed (malformed) in London and sent out to dizziest Hapana, an African state on the verge of independence. I love how the elitist British are SHOCKED that African women have no nylons, children no shoes, and thousands are without electricity. How to some “unfortunate girls the benefits of Christianity and the democratic way of life have not yet been extended…” Huxley is so good at mocking the British colonialists and creating fun characters – Chinese acrobats, Russian technicians…they are all here in this wonderful read.
Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. Yes, finally. The Fall of the House of Usher, Tell Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Haunted Palace, The Raven. Brilliant. Fantastic. What a wonderful storyteller and poet. The true inventor of the modern detective format.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. Howe is a descendent of two Salem witches – the accused Elizabeth Proctor and condemned Elizabeth Howe. In 1991, (fictional character) Connie Goodwin is a graduate student at Harvard in American Colonial studies. The story goes back and forth between Goodwin’s summer in her mother’s house in Marblehead, Mass. and the 1690s during the Salem witch hunts. Several liberties have been taken with characters, but a few real life folks appear including Mary Sibley, who baked the infamous witch cake which encouraged the early panic. It is an especially fun book for anyone interested in New England history. **Only complaints, I found the ending abrupt as in diving off the deep end.
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. A brilliantly researched book, though at times nowhere near as enjoyable as her exquisite Cleopatra. At times she just gives lots of data. That said, it’s all here. Sorceresses, a cider-soaked town, slander suits that became witchcraft accusations, absurd witch tests, pitch black nights, ruthless teenagers, scandal mongers, hangings, a detailed description of a Puritan adolescent’s life, the vulnerability of women at that time, frontier life – Native American attacks…. The accusers were as young as 12 the accused as old as 70. A tragic time for families, frontier towns, and American history.
The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A portrait of adolescence in Baltimore in the Age of Crack. Beautiful, smart, haunting. A triumph. Read everything this man writes as far as I am concerned.
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. It took about 30 pages for me to get into this book, then it flowed. Check out this New York Times article on the book!!
Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger. We learn about the customs and traditions of the nomadic, camel-breeding tribes of the deserts of Arabia. Born in Addis Ababa, where his father was British minister, he grew up in the barbaric splendour of an imperial court, and was privileged to see a victorious and blooded Abyssinian army marching through the city in the full panoply of war. It was an experience he never forgot. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he gave up his suit for a saddle.
Thesiger writes often his years in the desert were the happiest of his life. He felt at home there and greatly resented the juggernaut of western “civilisation” believing mechanization would destroy the earth’s peoples. A great adventurer and even greater humanist. I plan to read his The Marsh Arabs soon.
Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, this collection of blog posts bear witness to the horrific aftermath of a storm and political ineptitude (racism, corruption). After the story, Cynthia Joyce evacuated to Oxford, Mississippi, where she now lives and teaches. Numbed by seemingly unbelievable national news reports, she turned her gaze to blogs by New Orleanians to gain a grasp of the city’s destruction.
Deep South by Paul Theroux. He is a keen observer, brilliant writer, curious and enthusiastic. He is set free as a traveler driving south in his own car to travel the country roads in search of people, ruined towns, stories, and beauty. His car, packed with books, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, fruit, and bottles of wine. I would love to have been a passenger for this ride. Only complaints, about halfway thru the book he begins to repeat himself. One wonders how much a better editing job could have salvaged those sections. It seems there could have been a lot more stories. You get the horse farms and fine dining along with the poor and the ghosts.
All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. The story of a strong woman, a tortured man, and three sons who lived in northeastern Alabama in the foothills of the Appalachians. Brilliant, but it is his book Ava’s Man about his grandmother that truly stole my heart.
My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South by Rick Bragg. His essays from Garden & Gun, ESPN the Magazine (I loved as anyone who knows me knows I would the two on Alabama football – YAY SABAN), and Southern Living. So many great stories about food, people, and times.
Tristes Tropiques by Claude Lévi-Strauss. (the French title translates literally as “The Sad Tropics”) A memoir, first published in France in 1955, by the anthropologist about his personal experiences in the West Indies, Amazonia, Panama, and Brazil. He tells his life story dividing the book to some degree into a travelogue (fascinating how society’s interest in travel changed before/after the Second World War, study of ethnography/anthropology, and critique of society.
A favorite quote from this incredible book – I enjoyed immensely!!!!
“So I can understand the mad passion for travel books and their deceptiveness. They create the illusion of something which no longer exists but still should exist, if we were to have any hope of avoiding the overwhelming conclusion that the history of the past twenty thousand years is irrevocable.”
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa by Mark Seal, The Bolter by Frances Osborne….
On my nightstand:
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, Jack & Jill by Alex Patterson, You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down by Alice Walker, South of Broad by Pat Conroy, and Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.