stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Ever since I got my Kindle, I've been making trawls through Project Gutenberg, grabbing whatever looks interesting. It's not always successful; the copy of Pepys' Diary that I downloaded was a Victorian edition, considerably bowdlerized.

One recent pickup was "Bearslayer", an epic poem by the Latvian poet Andrejs Pumpurs. It's kind of a Latvian analogue of "Kalevala"; Pumpurs gathered together a bunch of folk tales about the legendary hero Bearslayer and wove them into a single poem. I finished it the other day. It's rather interesting; the Latvian gods appear, along with devils, witches, ogres, and assorted other monsters. It's set, however, in a fairly recent time-period, during the invasion of the Baltic states by the Teutonic Knights. Bearslayer is a leader in the doomed defense. There's one bit which jarred me, though. As Bearslayer's prophesied doom approaches, it is suddenly revealed that he has bear's ears, and if they are cut off his power will be diminished. No foreshadowing at all; his bride never asks, "Honey, what's wrong with your ears?" Still, it was fun.

My current Kindle reading (I rotate through them):
Lad, a Dog, Albert Payson Terhune. Yes, Terhune was a racist, and it's very explicit when it comes up. Fortunately, it's only come up once in the first 80% of the book. Other than that, they're standard dog stories.
The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe. I think this is one of the books that Jane Austen mocked in Northanger Abbey. Not too much Gothic yet, but I'm still in the early part of the book.
Sir Walter Scott's Journal. It's pretty interesting; we get glimpses of James Fenimore Cooper, the Duke of Wellington, and various other early-nineteenth century figures. There's a story of a man who'd been exiled to Australia and, feeling for some reason indebted to Sir Walter, sent him an emu. Scott accepted it, being under the impression that an emu was a sort of large parrot. He was unpleasantly surprised by the truth. (There's a later entry: "I offered the emu to Lord ####." No indication that the offer was accepted.)
Morphosyntactic Change, by Los, Blom, and Booij. This is a rather technical work on particle verbs in Dutch, German, and English, today and through history, and I'll admit I'm in over my head. But it's interesting to see what questions they're wrestling with, and what kinds of answers they give.

I'm also rereading Peter Hamilton's Judas Unchained. It and the preceding volume, Pandora's Star, are doorstops, but the story is intricate and absorbing.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
A passage from the June 25, 1826 entry in Sir Walter Scott's journal:
Another melting day; thermometer at 78° even here. 80° was the height yesterday at Edinburgh. If we attempt any active proceeding we dissolve ourselves into a dew. We have lounged away the morning creeping about the place, sitting a great deal, and walking as little as might be on account of the heat.

Scotland is pretty far north; Gulf Stream or no, it's never been a warm place, I guess. But...

stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I'm currently reading Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel. (I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg when I was on an adventure-novels kick; The Prisoner of Zenda, Captain Blood, and one or two others were also part of that haul.) Three thoughts come to mind.

1) Spoilers. Going into the novel knowing the identity of the Pimpernel probably diminishes its effect. (I would quite possibly have guessed - the trick Orczy played has become common since her day.) Fortunately, apart from the broad context, I know nothing more. I can foresee some of what will come - I just finished the scene where Marguerite is blackmailed by the French agent - but no more than in outline.

2) Reigns of Terror. Orczy, of course, makes an effort to get the reader to sympathize with the poor persecuted aristocrats, and I try to let that happen; but I keep remembering the bit by Twain, comparing the several-months-long and bloody Reign of Terror with the slow-motion, thousand-year Reign of Terror, in the opposite direction, which begat it. Lavoisier was certainly not the only unjustly condemned victim, but the whirlwind doesn't really care who sowed the wind. (I also find myself remembering the next-to-last paragraph of Lincoln's Second Inaugural; but that's another issue altogether.)

3) Typography. There are, naturally enough, numerous French or French-derived words and phrases in the text: entr'acte, coup, and the like. I would prefer to believe that Orczy wrote them, in the original, as I just did, and some blunderer, transcribing it for the Project, interpreted the italics as indicating emphasis and thus replaced them with ALL CAPS. If the Baroness herself is responsible, all I can say is QUEL DOMMAGE!
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
One of the phenomena that so excited Charles Fort is that of the vitrified forts, crude stone buildings which at some point were subjected to intense heat.

I'm currently reading Sir Walter Scott's journal, and just ran across the following paragraph: "Will Clerk says he has a theory on the vitrified forts. I wonder if he and I agree. I think accidental conflagration is the cause." (Dec. 11, 1825)

Just an odd coincidence...

Low Bar

Jul. 11th, 2017 08:56 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I'm just going to leave this passage from Polybius, about King Ptolemy Philometor, here.
If any king before him ever was, he was mild and benevolent; a very strong proof of which is that he never put any of his own friends to death on any charge whatever.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Still reading Wilson on the English Reformation. We're into the reign of Elizabeth, and I just hit the following:
In July matters took a dramatic turn for the worse. Henry II of France was killed in a jousting accident. His son became king as Francis II and the fact that he was married to Mary Stuart meant that the crowns of England's closest potential enemies were united. It was part of their diplomatic stance that Mary was the rightful queen of England by virtue of her descent from Henry VIII's sister, Margaret, and they blatantly quartered the royal English arms with their own.

"Blatantly"? That's a bit rich, considering that the French fleur-de-lys was part of the English arms, and continued to be so until 1801. Not to mention the longstanding fraughtness of the relation between the English and Scottish crowns....

stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
After a bit of a hiatus, I'm back to reading Derek Wilson's A Brief History of the English Reformation. It's an interesting book and I'm learning a good deal, but once again I've stumbled over a careless assertion by Wilson.

He's just described the death of Mary I, and is clearly about to mention the epithet she has borne ever since. But he prefaces it with this comment:
Unlike some of their continental counterparts, the English are not much given to providing their monarchs with nicknames. Aethelred the Unready, Alfred the Great and John Lackland seem to be the only kings whose sobriquets have stuck[.]
Um. The Confessor? The Conqueror? The Lion-hearted? Longshanks? Crookback, even? If "Lackland" is in play, most or all of those should be.

I'm not going to criticize Wilson as a historian. He clearly knows far more about his subject than I ever will; but this sort of carelessness annoys me.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
As an SF fan, I've heard a fair bit about Charles Fort. Heinlein mentions him, Spider Robinson mentions him, he's one of the high muckamucks of paranoid SF. When I found a copy of his Book of the Damned on Project Gutenberg, I downloaded it, and I finished reading it yesterday.

I was expecting, I dunno, maybe some Powers-quality secret history. Something entertaining, at least.

About a third of it was sophomoric bleating about the nature of knowledge, betraying a complete incomprehension of how science works. About a third was the recounting of various unusual events, mostly involving stuff falling from the sky. And about a third was wild-eyed hypothesizing, piled higher and deeper into something worthy of Madame Blavatsky or L. Ron Hubbard.

It was boring.

I think it's time for another Powers marathon.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
In my task of cataloging and subcataloging my library, the next book up is a Library of America volume, The Mark Twain Anthology. After the introduction, it gives a sampler of brief comments on Twain by various American figures, from Louisa May Alcott to Barack Obama.

Both Presidents Roosevelt are quoted; both comment on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Theodore despised it:
"There is nothing cheaper than to sneer at and belittle the great men and great deeds and great thoughts of a bygone time."
Franklin admitted appropriating the phrase "New Deal" from it:
"I felt the same way about conditions in America as the Yankee did about those in ancient Britain... I freely acknowledge my debt to Mark Twain."
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
I'm currently reading Mandeville's Travels. Lots of bizarre stuff - dog-headed men, pygmies who war with the birds, headless men with eyes in their chests - which is pretty much as I expected. But I just ran across something which surprised me a bit.

There was a tradition of Biblical interpretation which identified Ham, Shem, and Japheth as the ancestors of the peoples of, respectively, Africa, Asia, and Europe. This, combined with the story of the drunkenness of Noah and Ham's reaction, was used to justify race-based slavery. Mandeville, however, assorts them differently; for him, Ham (or Cham) is the ancestor of Asia, and Shem that of Africa. He refers to the same story to identify Cham as a violent and selfish man, and hence the ancestor of those men of power known as the Chams - that being a common variant on the title "Khan". (He goes on to tell a distorted but recognizable version of the life of Genghis, together with brief accounts of some of his successors.)

Mandeville is interesting. The first part of the book describes the Middle East, and at least tries to approximate reality, but once he gets as far as "the isles of Ind", he goes off the rails. He is aware that the world is round, and gives the common estimate of its size - which he rejects as probably too small, and his estimate does seem to be closer to the correct value.


May. 2nd, 2017 05:34 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Back when I was in my tweens, I read a *lot* of science fiction, much of it by not-so-famous authors. I have a vague memory of enjoying a couple of books by someone whose name may have been Mary Lightner, but probably wasn't. I read a number of stories by Alan Nourse, as I recall; I only have one, The Mercy Men, in my current library. There were... there were others, which hover on the edge of memory.

At any rate: today something reminded me of a book which featured an interstellar power known as the Hegemony of Mali (and much else, but that's all I remember). I remember being confused, because I was already aware of the other two Malis - the current republic, and the old empire. Anyway, that name has stuck with me across the decades, and suddenly I want to know what book it was. It may have been by Nourse, or perhaps James White. Does it ring a bell with anyone?


Apr. 22nd, 2017 12:39 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
The talk went reasonably well; in fact, it was a bit short (only 50 minutes). I don't think I could have added more details without adding too many more, so that's all right. Attendance was smallish - four or five faculty, eight to ten students - but that's what you get when you schedule something on a Friday afternoon. (Of course, any other time, most people would have other obligations....)

Today is Earth Day, but it looks more like Air-and-Water Day here. I was hoping to do some grocery shopping today, but between the chill and the threat of rain, I'm putting it off till tomorrow, which is supposed to be sunny and 15-20 degrees F warmer. Good thought for today's marchers, especially those in weather like this!

The rabbits who visit my back yard are increasingly bold. A couple of evenings ago, I let the dogs out for a romp. As I stood on the porch to watch, I could plainly see a large rabbit off in the northwest corner of the yard, but the wind was out of the east and the dogs couldn't smell it. I watched as Buster quartered the eastern half of the yard and then slowly moved west to the fence, where he turned north. He was just about due west of the rabbit when he picked up the scent. The rabbit, judging from its ears, had been tracking his progress, and as soon as he raised his head it shot for the north fence, escaping several seconds before Buster could get there.

I finished The Obelisk Gate a few days ago, and am eager to read the third-volume finale. I'm close to the end of Death's End, and may comment on the trilogy when I'm done. I'm also reading de Mandeville's Travels and Polybius's History, both of which should take me a while. (I started reading Sumner's Folkways, but found his cultural arrogance offputting and put it back in the pile.) As for dead-tree books, my current project is a re/read of the Ring of Fire books. I'm currently on 1635: The Papal Stakes, after which I'll have to order a couple of the 1635 volumes that I don't yet have. (I have most of the 1636 volumes, but somehow missed these two.)

Blah. Dreary, lethargic day. I'm looking forward to semester's end, two weeks from now.


Apr. 13th, 2017 07:35 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I've been on a bit of a Brontë kick lately. I just finished reading Charlotte Brontë's Villette, which is, for the most part, rather charming - little or none of the Gothic, little over-wrought emotion. The narrator is almost supernaturally calm in the face of the vicissitudes of life, and the story develops toward romance smoothly and organically.

Unfortunately, the ending can only be called a diabolus ex machina. Had the book been made of paper rather than electrons, I think I would have thrown it across the room - and I almost never feel that way about a book. I felt cheated, frankly.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Just a few squibs about books I've read recently/ am reading now.

1. Some of my recent Project Gutenberg downloads are late nineteenth century fantasy collections - The Bee-Man of Orm and Other Fanciful Tales, by Frank Stockton, and The Twilight of the Gods, and Other Tales, by Richard Garnett. Like most fantasy of the time, they rely on imaginary versions of historical locations - ancient Greece and Rome, the Muslim lands, India and China - for their settings. Stockton's stories tend to a certain silliness; they're not much more than mind candy, but they're fun. The Garnett stories are a bit more serious, although they frequently have humorous twists. I enjoyed both collections quite a bit. (Garnett was the father-in-law of the famous translator Constance Garnett.)

2. I also downloaded and read William Morris's News from Nowhere, a utopia with the characteristic didacticism of that genre. I found it rather dull, for the most part, although the description of the change-over from late capitalism to anarchistic communism has some interesting bits. Notably, Morris describes a massacre at Trafalgar Square which bears considerable resemblance to the Amritsar Massacre, although the latter was still many years in the future when Morris wrote.

3. I'm now reading Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, another utopia. Bellamy's vision was of a smoothly functioning state socialism, or perhaps state corporatism. Like NfN, it's rather didactic, but the characters seem a bit more fully fleshed than Morris's. It's odd, because Morris is a much better writer than Bellamy in general; I still reread The Well at the World's End every few years, with much enjoyment.

4. I also just finished Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which I picked up at PG on a whim. [personal profile] colliemommie, I agree with you; I enjoyed it more than the other Bronte books I've read. Anne's writing is more akin to George Eliot's (although with more religiosity) than to that of her sisters.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Even in the midst of crisis, life goes on. This semester, I'm teaching History of Math (of course) and Linear Algebra I, which I haven't taught in a while. I was scheduled to teach A Geometric Introduction to Topology, but not enough students signed up, so it was cancelled. Instead, I'm teaching a section of GenEd Statistics. So far, the classes seem to be going well, but serious grading hasn't yet begun.

I'm back in the groove on cooking, too; I made a batch of chicken cacciatore last week, and minestrone casserole is cooking away in the kitchen for this week's dinners. I want to get back to some non-slow-cooker dishes sometime this year - maybe in summer; I've got some new Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cookbooks I'm anxious to try.

On the reading front, my Kindle's Current collection holds Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, E. E. Smith's Skylark 3, Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, and a translation of the Laxdaela Saga. I'm enjoying the Kipling, in particular; the saga is starting to get interesting; secrets are beginning to be revealed in the Bronte, and the Smith is, well, Smithian.

Life goes on, even in the midst of crisis. Last I heard, customs officials at Dulles are refusing to comply with the court order. This could get even uglier than it already is....
stoutfellow: (Winter)
If memory serves, Andre Gide (I'm almost certain it was him) wrote a piece - poem, essay, short story, I don't recall - in which a (dying?) man reflects on the good things of life. I have heard of it, but have not read it, and would like to. Does what I've said, skimpy though it is, ring a bell with anyone?

Gee, Thanks

Dec. 4th, 2016 02:15 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Amazon has taken to sending me notifications of the availability of books it thinks I might like.

It sends me their titles (and links). It does not send me the names of the authors. Nor does it send me any information about content (unless "Series ***, Book #n" is to be considered such).

Sorry, guys, I'm not clicking on your links just on the off chance that it might be good - not on skimpy information like that.

Jane Yolen

Dec. 1st, 2016 06:14 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I see that Ms. Yolen has been named an SFWA Grand Master. Searching my memory, I don't seem to have read anything she's written. Any suggestions as to where to start?


Dec. 1st, 2016 04:49 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I've been browsing through my own LiveJournal archives lately, and just hit an entry from June 2006, in which I listed the books I had finished reading up to that point that year. One of those listed is Iain M. Banks' Feersum Endjinn.

I read that book this year, in April, and was under the impression it was a first read. I have absolutely no memory of having read it before - not even the usual "Huh, this sounds familiar..." response.

I can't recall ever having completely forgotten a book like that before. Disturbing.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
There is a short story from the 1920s that I'm trying to remember. It involves a young man who, courting a young woman, trades his raccoon coat to another man in exchange for something - a car? - that he thinks will impress her. She winds up involved with the other man, because "he has a raccoon coat".

I'm thinking it's by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I'm not sure - it could be Ring Lardner, or... somebody else. Does anyone remember this story?


stoutfellow: Joker (Default)

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