Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Reading Life Review - September, 2017

Included in my September collage are some of the greatest poets of all time, two Booker Prize Winners, several in the Science Fiction/Fantasy genres, including a back to back winner of two Hugo Award along with writers at the start of what I predict will be distinguished careers.  

I posted upon the work of 8 men and 10 women.

11 are alive and 6 are not.  America has the most authors this month at 7

followed by England with 4, Ireland 2, Canada 2, Italy 1, and Iran (was Persia) 1.

There are six poets in the collage.  I anticipate reading more poetry going forward. 

I do collages because I enjoy it and it helps New readers see at a glance the multicultural nature of The Reading Life and my commitment to Literary Globalism.
Somehow it gives me a good feeling to place an image of a just starting writer next to one from the Pantheon. 

Column One (at the left, top to bottom

  1. Jenny Zhang, author of The Sour Heart
  2. T. S. Eliot. The Waste Land, most influential poem of the 20th Century
  3. Samuel Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
  4. Shauna Gilligan, author of Happiness Comes from Nowhere

Column Two

  1. Meia Geddes- author of The Little Queen
  2. Jeff Pearce.  Nonfiction on WW Two in Ethiopia 
  3. Anne C. Bailey - historian on Slavery in America 
  4. Mavis Gallant 

Column Three

  1. Sylvia Plath
  2. N. K. Jemisin - winner of back to back Hugo Awards
  3. Rachel Kaddish. - Author of The Weight of Ink
  4. Omar Khayyam 

Column Four

  1. Penelope Lively.  Booker Prize Winner
  2. John Keats 
  3. Thomas Gray

Column Five

  1. John Banville.  Booker Prize Winner
  2. Edgardo Franzosini-author of The Grazer
  3. Naomi Kritzer - Science Fiction Writer.  

Additionally I read two books upon which I did not post:

  1. The Odyssey:  A Father, A Son, and an Epic by Donald Mendolsohn
  2. Moving the Palace by Charif Majdalan

Blog Stats

There are currently 3150 posts on The Reading Life

Since inception on July 7, 2009 there have been 4,824,412 pages views

The top visitor home countries were

  1. The Philippines (3rd Month in a Row in First Place)
  2. U S A
  3. India 
  4. Canada
  5. France

Top five most viewed posts were all on short stories by authors from the Philippines.

We received first visits from three countries, Andorra, Nauru, and Grenada.

I removed the flag counter widget from the footer.  Much the same data is in blogger stats. Third party widgets can slow down load time.

Review Policy 

I don't really have a policy.  I am one of the very few book bloggers that regularly reviews nonfiction, mostly history and biographies.  I will look at anything I am sent.  

I am open to guest posts, if interested contact me. 

I offer my great thanks to all who take the time to leave comments.  You help keep me going.  

Mel u

Monday, September 25, 2017

"The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" by Edward FitzGerald (1859)

I loved The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam when I first read it about fifty years ago, it very much struck accord with my late adolescent view of life.  I am very glad I decided to once again experience this wonderful poem.  Basing my background knowledge from the lecture linked to above, I learned Edward FitzGerald, whose command of Persian is considered by academics weak, said he did not claim to translate Khayyam but rendered the spirit of his poetry into some of the most beautiful verse in any language.  

Omar Khayyam was a man of great talent, a brilliant mathematician, a scholar of Persian philosophy and literature.  He is thought to have been of Zoroastrian heritage.  As a youth he was considered so intelligent that he was sent at age six to the court for his education to be supervised.  In time he was offered very high government positions but instead he accepted  an  orchard which would provide him with a large income and free him to study and write.  He was writing as Persia, now Iran, was going into a period of cultural and political decline.  His work seems to suggest one seize the day, enjoying the pleasures of the Flesh, especially  wine. He does not deny the afterlife, he just suggests there is scant evidence for many of the established religious dictums.  His tone is almost as if he is mocking the alleged learned of Persia.  Those convinced of any dogma would probably find his words offensive even today.  I venture no citizen of Iran would dare publish such thoughts now.  

FitzGerald created one of the great texts  of English Romanticism.  He was also a strong influence on American transcendentalism.  Edward Said has something to say about all this.  As to the original poem, there is no surviving copy, the oldest version found in Persian dates from years after Khayyam's death.  

Long ago I loved this poem, and now I love it once more.  Death, as it does in much Romantic era poetry, permeates this poem.  Probably when I read this the first time I was most struck by the attitude taken toward received wisdom, now I see the role of death much more.   Khayyam and FitzGerald are the enemies of the smug, those worshipping ignorance.  

Have you read the Rubaiyat?  Do you have a favorite quatrain?  

Mel u

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History by Anne C. Bailey (forthcoming, 2017,from Cambridge University Press)

The Weeping Time:  Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History by Anne C. Bailey focuses in a very illuminating fashion on a huge slave auction held on a plantation on an offshore island in Georgia.  It took two days, March 2nd and 3rd in 1859 to auction the 456 persons held as slaves on the Butler Plantation, including not just men, women and children (who were put to work in the fields at around six years old) but thirty babies.  The owner of the plantation Pierce Butler lived in Philadelphia in grand style on the earnings of the plantation, the labor of the slaves.  He was a gambler and a stock market speculator and got himself in serious financial problems.  He decided to sell the bulk of the slaves on his plantation to raise funds.  Most of the slaves had lived on the plantation all their lives.

Bailey lets us see the terrible trauma and degradation of being treated like livestock, examined, prodded and commented upon by the auctioneer.  One of the greatest fears was being sold away from your families, never to see them again.  Married couples were kept together but non-married couples, siblings, parents and grandparents had no such protection.  Young women were judged as breeding stock and sly comments were made about "the lucky master" who bought them.  The main business of the plantation was growing rice, a very  labor intensive enterprise.  Cotton was a sideline.  Of course there were house hold slaves also.  At the auction a slave would be briefly described by their Occupation and condition.  

The owner of the plantation married, in Philadelphia, a former Shakespearean actress who was opposed to the institution of slavery.  Bailey shows us how this divide in thinking wrecked the marriage, just as it was to nearly destroy the country in a few years.  

Bailey covers a lot of ground in her work, from marriage customs, African heritage, music and religion.  I learned something about my own heritage in her discussion of food.  Long ago, pushing sixty years ago, my grandmother would serve on New Year's Day a mixture of rice and black eyed peas she called "hoppin John".  It was explained that this was thought to bring good luck in the coming year.  I did not until I read  Bailey's wonderful book realize that this was a dish derived from African food traditions, that the black eyed pea much beloved by my ancestors (since my grandmother passed long ago no one has the time or will to shell the peas) and the rice we ate every day came from seeds brought from Africa.  Bailey tells us the slaves were fed rice as the thinking was they would be more docile if they had familiar food.  

Bailey goes into details about the lives of the once auctioned and now free slaves after the civil war, she lets us see how hard the formerly enslaved worked to reunite with loved ones and keep their families strong.  She extends her story up to the current day where the consequences of slavery are still strongly impacting American society.

I really have just one change or addition I would have appreciated in this book.  When we are told a prime rice worker was sold for $1200.00 we don't have a frame of reference for what that amount of money represented in 1859.  Just a brief presentation of the costs of items in society would have helped me a lot.

In reading Bailey's book I learned a lot about Southern USA history.  This is an academic work, meticulously documented, but fully accessible to general readers.  I totally endorse it to all interested in slavery, African American history, or the old south.  You cannot begin to understand American history without understanding the  role the slave trade played in the country.  

is a writer, historian, and professor of History and Africana Studies at SUNY Binghamton (State University of New York). In her works of non- fiction, she combines elements of travel, adventure, history, and an understanding of contemporary issues with an accessible style.  She is a US citizen who grew up in Jamaica, WI and in Brooklyn, New York. 
Bailey is committed to a concept of “living history” in which events of the past are connected to current and contemporary issues.  She is also concerned with the reconciliation of communities after age old conflicts like slavery, war and genocide. Her non-fiction book, African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame (Beacon Press) and her current work,  The Weeping Time: History, Memory and the largest slave auction in the United States, (forthcoming Cambridge University Press, fall 2017) reflect that commitment.  From

Mel u

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Elegy Wriiten in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray (1751)

I urge all to listen to The brilliant lecture
Of Professor Belinda Jack
It includes a beautiful reading of the poem

Thomas Gray (1716 to 1771) is considered, after Alexander Pope, the second most important English poet of the eighteenth century.  In his life time, he published only thirteen poems, about a thousand lines in all.  His "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is an exquisite deeply moving account of thoughts generated by his visit to a humble country graveyard.  

As I learned from Professor Jack's lecture, it makes deep references to other English poems, thus mirroring the evocation of memory.  One of the main purposes of my blog is to act as my reading journal, I don't feel inclined right now to make many comments on this work.  I first read it around fifty years ago, long before I contemplated my own mortality.  This time I listened to three readings of the poem, all on YouTube, and read it after each reading.  (The estimated Reading time is under ten minutes).  As you read it, I think you will see numerous phrases that have passed into the vocabulary, echoed by those who have never heard of Thomas Gray.

"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" must surely be one of the most beautiful poems in the English language.  It epitomizes the English Romantic era attitude toward history, death, nature, and remembrance.  All literary autodidacts should have this on their life time list.  

I hope to return to this poem next month when I reflect on the attitude toward death and memory shown in a recent story by one of Ireland's greatest contemporary writers, Desmond Hogan.  I see a marked transition between Gray to the world of "The Wasteland" on to Hogan.  

I am requesting suggestions as to American authored poems, with a reading time under thirty minutes, upon which I might post.  Thanks 

Mel u

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats (1819) - with a link to a podcast and a recommended lecture

A very good lecture by Professor Belinda Jack

A very beautiful reading by Mark Bradshaw

"Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known, 
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
 Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; 
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, 
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; 
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow And leaden-eyed despairs, 
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, 
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow."  

John Keats (October 31, 1795 to February 23, 1821) was a leading figure in English romanticism along with Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley and Byron.  His "Ode to a Nightingale" is considered one of the most exquisitely beautiful poems in the English language.   I am not foolish enough to make many comments upon this work of high art.  I read it five times, reading time just a few minutes, listened to three podcasts, the one I link to above is the best, and I also profited from a very erudite lecture by Professor Belinda Jack (also linked above).  I was moved by the sense of despair conveyed, the longing to be a Nightingale, above the pain of humanity.  I was very struck by the attitude toward death shown, for me this is the full flowering of romanticism.  I will return to this in future posts.  I hope to soon post on two other classic romantic poems, "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" and "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard". Both focus very much on death.  

I will be returning to Keats, reading his remaining odes then longer works.

I read this work in an E-Book published by Bybliotech, The Complete John Keats.  It is beautifully formatted and a bargain at $0.99. I prefer it to,other such works by different publishers You can, of course, find his works online.  YouTube has a number of lectures on literary matters by Professor Belinda Jack and I plan to listen to all of them. 

Mel u

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"Cat Pictures, Please" - A Science Fiction Short Story by Naomi Kritzer (2016)

"I don't want to be evil. I want to be helpful. But knowing the optimal way to be helpful can be very complicated. There are all these ethical flow charts—I guess the official technical jargon would be “moral codes”—one for each religion plus dozens more. I tried starting with those. I felt a little odd about looking at the religious ones, because I know I wasn’t created by a god or by evolution, but by a team of computer programmers in the labs of a large corporation in Mountain View, California. Fortunately, unlike Frankenstein’s Monster, at least I was a collaborative effort."  From "Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer

A few days ago, to support my resurgence of interest in the science fiction/fantasy genre I acquired, on sale for $1.95 a big anthology, The Best Book of Science Fiction of the Year, Volume 1, edited by Neil Clarke (612 pages, 2016). Clarke, a noted writer and editor of SF, has assembled a large collection, scouring lots of magazines on and offline, of among the very best science fiction short stories recently published.  He provides an interesting perspective in his introduction and their are good brief bios of the authors.  At $1.95 I rate this a solid buy for those interested in this area.

Looking over the titles, I found one that sounded like my kind of story, "Cat 
Pictures, Please".  The story is told by an artificially created intelligence, a search engine on Google.  The engine knows all sorts of things about people and tries to guide users to things online and in the real world that could help them or make them happier.  For example, it guides a gay closeted minister at a conservative church to come out and leads him to a position at a liberal church where he can be open.  All the entity wants is for you to post cat pictures. It loves cat pictures and 
Picks out people to help based on their cat pictures.

A fun story, I enjoyed reading this one a lot. Yes I like cat pictures.

Naomi Kritzer’s short stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and many other magazines and websites. Her five published novels (Fires of the Faithful, Turning the Storm, Freedom’s Gate, Freedom’s Apprentice, and Freedom’s Sisters) are available from Bantam. She has also written an urban fantasy novel about a Minneapolis woman who unexpectedly inherits the Ark of the Covenant; a children’s science-fiction shipwreck novel; a children’s portal fantasy; and a near-future SF novel set on a seastead. She has two ebook short story collections out: Gift of the Winter King and Other Stories and Comrade Grandmother and Other Stories.

Mel u

Prevail: The Inspring Story of Ethiopia's Victory Over Mussolini's Invasion, 1935 to 1941 by Jeff Pearce (2014', 640 pages)

Prevail- The Inspiring Story of Ethiopia's Victory Over Mussolini's Invasion-1935 to 1941 by Jeff Pearce will fascinate anyone interested in World War Two history, especially in Africa, in Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, Italy's role in the war and those that love an inspiring true story meticulously researched and clearly narrated.  

Italy, as Pearce details, used a trumped up affront over an imagined insult by the Ethiopian government as an excuse to invade Ethiopia.  Mussolini wanted an easy victory to establish his credibility and expand his colonial Empire.  Pearce lets us see how this invasion caused outrage in large communities of African Americans, especially in Harlem.  Pearce lets us see how the war created animosity between Italians Americans and African Americans.  Many Americans wanted to go to Ethiopia to join the war.  There was quite a cast of characters, from heroes to charlatans, from America who got involved.  

The Italians were using machine guns, airplanes, mustard gas as well as troops from their African possessions to fight the Ethiopians, often armed only with near Stone Age weapons.  Pearce lets us see the great courage of the Ethiopian troops.  I learned how things worked in the Ethiopian government, very much centered on the Emperor. The British foreign office at first seemed to promise help but did not follow through. Pearce attributes some of this to the racist views of Churchill.  At the start of the war America was pursuing an isolationist policy.  

Even after the Italians, who bombed intentionally hospitals and attacked unarmed groups of civilians with deadly mustard gas, the Ethiopians kept fighting on through it all.  There are lots of colorful characters, from Ethiopian generals, Americans flying for the very weakly equipped Ethiopian air force, British officials to ordinary Ethiopian citizens.  

This is very good work of popular history.  I strongly endorse it for all those who are interested in the subject matter.  I can see it as must Reading among WW Two history buffs, I suspect even they will learn a lot from this book.

Jeff Pearce has worked as a talk show host, a magazine editor in London's famous "City" district, and a journalism instructor in Myanmar. He is the author of several novels published in the United States and the United Kingdom under pseudonyms and under his own name. He has also written several books on history and current affairs. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

Mel u

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Photograph by Penelope Lively (2004)

The Photograph by Penelope Lively begins when a recently widowed man finds  an envelope marked, "DO NOT OPEN-DESTROY".  Of course he opens it, inside he discovers a picture of his late wife, with a group of others, she is holding hands with a man  he does not recognize.  He wonders, as anyone would, if his wife was having an affair.  He begins to think back on his marriage, he undertakes serious detective work trying to uncover the truth, was his wife a serial adulterous?  

This was an interesting book.  The characters are educated successful people, presented in real depth. 

I am four posts behind now so I will end this now.  I bought this on sale as a kindle edition for $1.95.  I bought it as I wanted to read one of her novels.  I am glad I read it but i hesitate to endorse the purchase of this novel at the now Price of $9.95 to those who I do not know.  

Dame Penelope Margaret Lively DBE FRSL (born 17 March 1933) is a British writer of fiction for both children and adults. She has won both the Booker Prize (Moon Tiger, 1987) and the Carnegie Medal for British children's books (The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, 1973).

Mel u

Monday, September 18, 2017

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Coleridge (1817 version) - Includes a podcast by Orson Wells)

As Read by Orson Wells

"And it would work 'em woe: 
For all averred, I had killed the bird 
That made the breeze to blow. 
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay, 
That made the breeze to blow! 

Nor dim nor red, like God's own head, 
The glorious Sun uprist: 
Then all averred, I had killed the bird 
That brought the fog and mist. 
'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay, 
That bring the fog and mist. 

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, 
The furrow followed free; 
We were the first that ever burst 
Into that silent sea. 

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down, 
'Twas sad as sad could be; 
And we did speak only to break 
The silence of the sea! 

All in a hot and copper sky, 
The bloody Sun, at noon, 
Right up above the mast did stand, 
No bigger than the Moon. 

Day after day, day after day, 
We stuck, nor breath nor motion; 
As idle as a painted ship 
Upon a painted ocean. 

Water, water, every where, 
And all the boards did shrink; 
Water, water, every where, 
Nor any drop to drink. ". From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Long ago I read Samuel Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", first published in 1797 but greatly revised in publication in 1817.  Coleridge (1772 to 1834) and his close friend William Wordsworth are credited with starting the romantic movement in English poetry.  Coleridge was the intellectual leader of the movement.  A few days ago I listed to several podcasts of "The Waste Land" by T. S. Eliot, on YouTube.  My practice for podcasts is to listen, then read, then  listen to the poem spoken by another reader, as a minimum.  This is what I did with "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".  No doubt if you ever read this for a class, your teacher told you it was probably at least  written while Coleridge was under the influence of opium.  The imagery is fantastic, the rhythm and rhymes are just marvels.  I also listened to two very good lectures by Richard Holmes, world class authority on Coleridge.  He compared the ancient mariner to a  post traumatic shock victim, compulsively telling  his story to the trapped listener, the wedding guest.  "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is one of the most exciting and beautiful let alone widely read poems in the English language.  There has been much artistic work recreating the action of the poem, the podcast I listened to by Orson Wells has magnificent illustrations.  

What are your thoughts on podcasts of great poems?  Do you prefer just to read them?

Mel u

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini (128 pages, translated from Italian by Michael F. Moore, published by New Vessel Press, forthcoming January, 2018)

The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini (translated from Italian by Michael F. Moore, published by New Vessel Press) is based on the life of the famous sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti. ( 1885 to 1916, born in Milan, his older brother founded Bugatti Automobiles.). As World War One begins to impact Milan, he moves to Brussels.  He develops an overriding passion for making bronze cast sculptures of the animals in the Brussels Zoo.  He meets the famous Rodin and begins to cast his works at the same foundry as he does.  He sculpts massive works based on very close observation of baboons, hippopotamus, big cats, deers, giraffes, and other animals not normally considered, until he did so, worthy of art, like Vultures.  We see how he develops a great empathy for the animals, especially for their captivity.  His work is based on very close intimate observation.  He loves the animals.  We see he is greatly troubled as the Germans begin to close in on Brussels. He has few close human bonds.  He can see beauty where others see only something to fear.

The close of the story reveals great depth of cruelty, terribly sad as the world of the great sculptor is destroyed.  

The Animal Gazer is a wonderful book.  From it I learned about an artistic master.  

Edgardo Franzosini, born in 1952, is the author of five novels. The Animal Gazer won two distinguished Italian literary awards in 2016, the Premio Comisso and the Premio Dessi.

Michael F. Moore has translated works by Alessandro Manzoni, Alberto Moravia and Primo Levi. Prior to becoming an interpreter at the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations, he studied sculpture at the Brera Academy in Milan.

Mel u

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Little Queen by Meia Geddes (2017)

Website of Meia Geddes- including bio and links to interviews

"On a little world, upon a little hill, a little tear fell down a little face. A little girl was now a little queen. The little 

queen’s mother and father had said that she would live on, for a long time, and that her tears would magnify the life around her forever more, but they had not explained how she should go about going on. The little queen placed the plump shapes of her tears in a glass jar and watched the jar fill up, day after day. She stood by two gravestones enveloped by roses and placed her palms on trees and wondered questions that could not be answered. She returned to her palace squeezing roses in her palms and let her small breaths fog the windows 

as she looked down on the happenings happening below her hill.....

One day, the little queen took a long look at her jar and a long look at her salty roses. The jar was full and the 

roses were dying. The palace was empty and she was very much alone.  The little queen did not know what to do or where to go. Perhaps most importantly, she did not know who to be, for it occurred to her that she did 

not really wish to be a little queen. She believed there were better things to be. That is why, on this particular day, sitting among her salty roses, she decided that she should see the world. Maybe she would find someone who would like to take her place as little queen. After all, 
she thought, maybe others would like to feel what it is to be a queen, even if just a little one. And that is how the little queen embarked on an adventure."

The Little Queen by Meia Geddes reminded me very much of the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde, a very high compliment.  Set in a vividly imagined magical kingdom, a young girl becomes, upon the death of her beloved parents, a Little Queen.  Nothing in her brief sheltered experiences has prepared her to be a queen.  She decides to journey out, alone, to seek the wisdom to rule.  I was very much reminded of another fairy tale like work, one of my favorite books, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.  Like the Gautama Buddha, she has never experienced any of the daily struggles to survive, to find meaning in life, of her subjects.  By leaving alone, without  any court attendants, she is leaving behind her social identity.  

The Little Queen meets many people, each with something to teach her. Among those she encounters are the architect of silence, the weaver of dreams, the book sniffer (my favorite), the dream writer, the wall sawyer, the tree woman, the leaf gluer, the seasons painter, the street painter, the animal singer, the fish talker, the window builder, the perfumer and the sleep smoother.  She bonds with each one, all her subjects, as she continues her journey we see her gaining wisdom from each encounter.   In the wonderful second from the end chapter, "Wherein the little queen and her friends make homes for those in need" most of the people the queen meets join together to build houses, drawing on the special skills of each person, now unified under the queen.  I deeply loved this chapter, especially the importance having books in the houses was given.

The Little Queen is a novella, with a reading time under two delightful hours.  It is a lyrical almost poetic work drawing on myth, history, and magic.  I'm very glad I experienced this book.

Mel u