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Have you ever feared that, while publishing yet another edition of a popular classic, a tiny part of the text is deleted/changed and no one notices? And that that mistake is replicated in yet another e- or paper-edition, like a game of Chinese whispers?
What’s the most reliable digital source of a classic? Is there a central organization that holds a version taken by academics from the author’s own papers that becomes the basis for all editions thereafter? Something similar to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France that holds the prototype meter bar and kilo?
The things that keep me awake at night…
But you know what they say: just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not really after you. And I’ve found proof there are differences between editions of our beloved classics. Pride and Prejudice none the less!
For my birthday this year I received four beautiful editions of P&P: one in Chinese and one in French for my collection and two in English: an illustrated edition by the Collector’s Library and a gorgeous pink “faux leather” Canterbury Classics edition.
Here’s what I found in this last one:
(Canterbury Classics edition)
“What are young men to rocks and mountains?”
If you’re a Janeite you’ll see immediately a word that doesn’t belong. It should simply be “What are men to rocks and mountains?” I probably would never noticed if it hadn’t happen in such a famous sentence.
(Collector’s Library edition)
This makes me ask a lot of questions: how many of these go unnoticed? Who decided to add that word and why? Did he/she feel that older men should be excluded from the comparison? “Let me make it better”?
I have to admit it’s pretty fascinating the thought of someone out there tweaking the classics. Like something out of a Saramago novel. Reminds me of the Spanish lady who “restored” the 19th century church painting. Like many others, one day I’ll make a big detour just to admire her art work.
I’m back to work after 7 months and my day routine has some resemblance to what it was, so I’m finally feeling grounded enough to re-start blogging (and commenting as well).
During my hiatus I’ve actually read much more than I expected (26 books – uuUUUuuu), but I’m going for a clean slate and talk only talk about books I’ll read from now on. No pressure that way.
Still, for posterity, here are some random thoughts about the past reading period:
- Hurrah, I’ve discovery Shel Silverstein!
- What Mothers Do: especially when it looks like nothing took a chuck of weight off my shoulders when I read it two months into my maternity leave. It should be required reading, but there’s a conundrum: at the time when it would be a real life-saver (a few weeks after birth) most mothers don’t have the brain power to pick up a book and if they’d read it before the baby was born or long afterwards it would lose part of the impact. The solution might be to condense it into a 5-minute video.
- Confession: The Lightning Thief was the first book I’ve read after seeing the movie and though it was better than the movie (e.g. I’d vote for The Painted Veil’s movie over the book anytime).
- I’ve already had proof that being a new mom will change how books affect me. The first was with Dan Simmons’ Hyperion. I don’t want to spoil it, but just to say that “The River Lethe’s Taste is Bitter” part of the book haunted me for weeks. Another example was while listening to The Moral Landscape. At some point Sam Harris reads a quote from a psychopath describing how he tortured his stepson. I think something that horrible would always affect me, but not with the violence it did, physically. Still, it was such an interesting book, and one I’ll need to re-read soon.
- The Enchanted April was a disappointment (not bad, just meh) after the amazing Elizabeth and Her German Garden, but I’m determined to persevere with von Arnim. Christopher and Columbus is up next.
- How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between) by Mei-Ling Hopgood is my favorite parenting book so far. I’m fascinated by parenting across cultures.
- Maria Dulce Cardoso’s O Retono, was the best Portuguese book I’ve read in a long, long time. I need to recommend it to everyone there. Reminded me of Jorge Amado at its best.
- I’m afraid I’m not as enthusiastic about Code Name Verity as some (most?) book bloggers. A bit predictable, very contrived.
- To Lie with Lions (The House of Niccolo, #6) by Dorothy Dunnett is the highlight the year so far. Please stop me when you’re tired of hearing me
pray at her altarpraise her.
- Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom was also fantastic. Such a page-turner.
- Oh The Master and Margarita, I tried, swear I did. Oh The Historian, I also tried… although not very hard. Sorry it didn’t work out between us.
- The Pleasant Surprise Award is a tie between Where’d You Go, Bernadette and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (should have saved it for Halloween!).
So I bought my first parenting book. For someone who loves reading so much I’m not reading anything about pregnancy: I browsed through What to Expect When You’re Expecting and The Best Friends’ Guide to Pregnancy, but mostly my partner just gives me the highlights. He’s the one keen on knowing all the details. For me, between pre-natal classes, doctor’s appointments and conversations with friends I feel I’ve all the information I need without stressing about everything that can happen.
But parenting is much more intellectually appealing. I don’t mean the technical details about schedules, potty-training and feeding, but the ones about raising happy, honest, confident, connected, fulfilled people.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot, mostly about how I was raised, what I’d try to copy, what I’d change, and the kind of parent I’d like to be. I try not to think too much about the person I’d like my son to be because it might be unfair to him (although we got excited about raising an Olympic champion during the Games… and what if – gasp! – he’s not A Reader?!).
I am curious about all the theories out there but also don’t want to read too many parenting books. I know the conflicting information can be daunting. Some titles however, are impossible to resist, like How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.
Paul Tough set out to bust the myth that
(…) success today depends primarily on cognitive skills — the kind of intelligence that gets measured on I.Q. tests, including the abilities to recognize letters and words, to calculate, to detect patterns — and that the best way to develop these skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.
and replace it with the notion that
(…) noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than sheer brainpower to achieving success.
I first heard about it in a forgotten list of 2012 notable books and the premise really struck a chord as my experience also tells me that IQ is overrated. I haven’t read the book yet, but I hope that with “success” Tough means much more than financial or career paths, which my experience also tells me is only a part of the success equation.
I’m also oddly attracted to all the culture-specific books, like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother or the French-loving ones such as French Children Don’t Throw Food and Bringing Up Bébé (interesting article Why the French don’t need parenting books).
This probably happens because I live in a very international environment, with lots of double-nationality babies and different ways of raising them. One of the most popular conversation subjects in Brussels is how to best raise a bi-, tri- or tetra-lingual baby (e.g. Portuguese mom and Polish dad who speak English among themselves, kid in a French- or Dutch-speaking nursery).
It’s all fascinating, although I have the feeling that gut-feeling, pure instinct (and maybe trial-and-error?) will put all theories in a corner when push comes to shove.
Do you have any favorite parenting book? I’d be really interested in your input!
This year I gave 5/5 stars to only eights books, which is almost half of 2011′s 14. Apparently not a very good year, but I’ve the feeling there’s more 4/5 and less “mehs”. I’ll only know for sure when I put together my usual geekish post with all the stats, facts & figures.
As last year and the year before, Dorothy Dunnett and Patrick O’Brian make a mark. These are my most reliable authors and I’m making both the House of Niccolo and the Aubrey/Maturin series last as much as possible, only to be picked up when a sure win is needed.
Two in list are re-reads, which really supports my decision to do more of those in 2012. Three are fantasy, three historical and, a big surprise for me, two are short-stories.
Tigana de Guy Gavriel Kay (re-read, audio)
Probably my favorite stand-alone fantasy novel of all time and this time around the experience was enhanced by the voice of Simon Vance. It was as intricate, emotional and beautiful as I remembered.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (re-read, audio)
Another great re-read, also in audio version read by one of my favorite narrators, Davina Porter. The most fascinating thing about this experience was to compare what I focused on 15 years ago and now. Must re-read it again in another 15.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
One of the big surprises of the year. I was completely hooked by these stories about the employees of an English newspaper based in Rome. Thank you bookclub!
The King of Attolia (The Queen’s Thief #3) by Megan Whalen Turner
I was enjoying the series, but this one made me a card-carrying fan. The book is an ode to clever plotting and I loved every line of it.
Tea with Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers
The surprise of the year. I can’t tell you how touched I was by this collection of short-stories. There’s a wonderful contrast between the small and enclosed places where the stories happen and the deep and mysterious inner lives of the characters. I’m surprised it’s not a more popular Persephone.
H.M.S. Surprise (Aubrey/Maturin #3) by Patrick O’Brian
Best of the series so far. Can it get better?!
Scales of Gold (House of Niccolo #4) and The Unicorn Hunt (House of Niccolo #5) by Dorothy Dunnett
If I had to choose the best of the best of 2012 it would have to be Scales of Gold. This adventure though deep Africa of the 15th century ticked all my boxes. The Unicorn Hunt was also very good, but possibly my least favorite of the series so far. It says something about DD that even the least good is still good enough to make it to the top list, right?
- Seraphina (Seraphina #1) by Rachel Hartman (audio) – I’m still unsure if this is a 5/5 or not.
- Gone Girl by Gillian FLynn
- Polina by Bastien Vivers (graphic novel)
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (non-fiction, audio)
- The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
First a little disclaimer: this was an unusual year for me, mostly because my father was sick most of it and finally passed away only two months after I became pregnant. Apart from how those two events affected everything else, they affected my reading a great deal. We recently moved to a new (and more baby-friendly) apartment, which also disrupted my reading routine.
All this to say that my attention spam for part of the year was probably at a 4-year-old level and my tolerance for sad stories almost non-existent. I suspect most of the books in this list are a “it’s not you, it’s me” thing and mostly a question of bad timing.
How can a book about something as dramatic as the Masada massacre be so… bland? Only managed to read the first narrator’s chapter but her continuous winning and complaining were driving me nuts. The guilt, the pathos… the SIN! O.O
I found this great quote on an Amazon review that sums up my feelings:
It seems like Hoffman could never have her character say something simple like “I was tired”. No, it had to be, “I was tired like the grasshopper is tired after the month of eating has passed and it has morphed into a cocoon of a demon, which my Mother had foreseen in her dreams and which would define my destiny.”
And the repetition. Yes, life in the desert is hard and dull, but jeeez… I kept thinking about the amazing things Dorothy Dunnett did with the same setting in Scales of Gold.
José Luís Peixoto is one of the golden children of modern Portuguese literature and this was my first book by him. I was warned about how dark, sad and depressing it was, but I still wasn’t ready for the experience.
Sometimes I think that Anglo-Saxon literature has ruined me for Portuguese books. When I go back to Lisbon I’ve the feeling that all best-sellers are either by the melancholic authors who love to dwell on the inescapable misery of the human condition or pink historical novels loosely based on true events.
I really need to do more research about what’s around – 2013 was supposed to be my Back to My Literary Roots Year, but with the baby coming who knows how much reading time I’ll have?
One of book in the History category of the Armchair Audies. The book was clearly well researched by a naval historian in love with his field of expertise, and I’m sure anything of importance about America’s first great naval war was there, but my attention wandered off once too many times while listening to it the hospital’s waiting room.
There were almost none of the personal histories that I so love in historical non-fiction, Daughan focusing instead on political and military macro-strategies.
It’s not you, it’s me!
May Sayers forgive me, but I just couldn’t finish this. I tried to labor though all the mind-boggling permutations of Scotland’s train schedules (swear I did!), but admitted defeat half-way through.
I so wanted to love this one. Seemed right up my alley. I was already well into it when I realized that I preferred doing things like organize my DVD collection or pay bills than go back to it. Maybe some other time?
Another I thought I’d love, but alas, we didn’t click. Not even sure why, after all these months.
There were also books that don’t really belong to this list because I only allowed them about 15 pages before deciding they weren’t what I needed at the time. I’m determined to give most of them a second chance:
- The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente and Ana Juan
- Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre
- The Charioteer by Mary Renault
- Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer
- Mayombe by Pepetela
Last week Joanna and I met Annie Proulx during her stay in Brussels as a Passa Porta resident writer. I don’t know if these resident writer programs exist in other parts of the world, but they’re a great idea. Passa Porta is a literary center that includes a multi-language bookshop, a workshop and a space other literary organisations can use for their projects.
They also have an apartment available to foreign writers who are in the city researching (or looking for inspiration in) Flemish and Belgian culture and literature. Notable authors who’ve passed by include Jonathan Coe and Michael Cunningham.
Annie Proulx is now in residence, while doing research for her ambitious upcoming book. It’ll be a century-spanning novel about de-forestation and it include a local character, a sailor in the (sorry if I got that wrong!) Dutch East Indies Company. Most of the talk focused on Bird Cloud though, a memoir of the building of her isolated and oh-so-lovely Wyoming (the “emptiest State“) house.
She spoke about her love of geology and how the land influences people and culture, the challenges of writing short-stories (“the hardest literary form“) and the upcoming Brokeback Mountain opera (!), but my favorite parts were about her experiences as a reader and how that influenced her writing:
I don’t think of myself as a writer, I think of myself as a reader.
When you read a lot, you get a feeling for what works and what fits. It’s good to read good stuff!
You can go over a sentence 200 times until it feels right. Understanding where to stop is a matter of experience, and that comes from reading.
And here’s a photo of me and my bump getting a copy of Bad Dirt signed.
This month: Companion
December: Holiday Reading Escape
It’s clear that this month’s theme had a pet in mind, but since I don’t have one, I’ll post a picture of me and my most frequent reading buddy: a nice cup of tea.
And with a theme like Companion, I can’t resist also adding a little geeky inside-joke. I’m only missing an Inara figurine!
My commitment to re-reading has proven to be the best idea of the year. It’s been great to go back to favorites of 10 to 20 years ago, but most of all, it has given me the opportunity to re-evaluate my position on Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series.
They’re favorites of friends whose opinion I really respect, and after reading the first two the first time around I thought them ok, but failed to see what the fuss was about. This time around, I really liked The Thief, thoroughly enjoyed The Queen of Attolia, but The King of Attolia… well, this one entered the year’s top 5 and propelled them all to my group of favorites series of all time. Still have A Conspiracy of Kings in the TBR because I’m all about delayed gratification.
They’ve also entered my list of books I can wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, independently of age, sex or literary genre preferences. I can recommend them to people who read, who don’t read, who don’t read YA, and who don’t read fantasy. There is enough depth, character building, romance, power play and, ultimately, just good story-telling, to please everyone.
With The King of Attolia I gained for MWT the sort of awed respect that I reserve only for the likes of Dorothy Dunnett and Patrick O’Brian (and with a *gasp* YA book!). She was goooood and she never assumes the readers are slow-witted and need to be explained everything. My kinda writer.
Throughout the series we follow the main character – Gen – closely and by the third book we know just how clever and sneaky he is, so to keep us on our toes, MWT writes the story from the POV of someone who is oblivious to Gen’s skills. We know Gen’s up to something, but can make guessed from what the narrator tells us. I can only imagine how difficult this must be to pull off without frustrating the reader, but she did it perfectly, and the result is an intellectually stimulating and fun revelry.
And the romantic angle – oh my! The relationship between Gen and Irene is right up my alley because, again, I don’t need to be spelled out everything to understand it. In The King of Attolia we’re not privy to what’s going on between them, but there are scenes that, without being explicit, have the emotional impact of a Pride & Prejudice proposal. Anyone who’s not in love with Gen by this point must have a heart of stone.
I won’t go too deeply into the plot to avoid spoilers, just a little teaser: when the series starts we meet a young thief called Gen (short for Eugenides) who boasts he can steal anything. Ready to test these claims, a Magus challenges him to steal an object that can change the precarious balance of the region’s three kingdoms…
Oh, the feeling of discovering new favorites! Makes life worth while
Other thoughts on individual books: Dear Author on #1, #2 and #3, Chiachic’s Book Nook, Steph Su Reads #1 and #2, The Literate Mother, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castlell #1 and #2, It’s All About Books, Jacus’ Book Blog, bookshelves of doom, birdbrain(ed) book blog, let’s eat grandpa, Presenting Lenore, Literary Fangirl Book Reviews, Fyrefly (yours?)
Do you remember Advent with Austen? We (myself, Ana, Iris and our master of ceremonies Yvann) had so much fun organizing it, that we decided to do it again this year with Margaret Atwood. Even the name continues to ring perfectly, it’s a sign!
So look in your bookshelves for something by her, and post about it anytime in December. Yvann will host a The Blind Assassin read-along (exactly the one I had in the TBR, hurrah!) and we’ll probably also organize a joint viewing of The Handmaid’s Tale on Twitter, watch this space.
Hope you’ll be able to join us!
A few weeks ago I signed up for the All Hallow’s Read Swap and yesterday (hurrah!) I received my Secret Hallow’s gift. It was The Ivy Tree by Mary Steward (has anyone out there read it?) – which looks suitable spooky and Gothic, a usually winning combination with me.
Thanks again Tasha, it was the perfect choice and extra nice to receive it from an already blogging friend Only hope my package will make its Atlantic crossing safely and arrive in Georgia soon.