January 2017 Reading Notes

Library books trying to take off.

My New Year’s resolution was to keep track of what I’m reading month by month. (I considered week by week, but I know I’d fall behind. A month at a time is so much less commitment. So here we are. One month down, eleven more to go.

Finished this month

1. Mort by Terry Pratchett

Death decides to take an apprentice, the hapless Mort. Who, Death hopes, will marry his adopted daughter. Of course, nothing goes as planned.

I’m re-reading all of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books that feature the character Death. This is the first of them. This re-read is part of a larger self-imposed Terry Pratchett project. I’ve been pondering Pratchett quite a bit, especially thinking about what he has to say about faith and religion and eternal truths. Pulling on threads to see where they lead. I’m hoping it will lead to more blog posts. Pratchett seems worth writing about.

Making Progress

1. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

About halfway through the second of the Death books. The Auditors think that Death is slipping, becoming too lenient, too human. So Death takes a holiday while waiting for his time to run out. He takes a job as a farm hand. Meanwhile, no one is dying…

2. Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

I’m re-reading Kay’s latest novel. I have to confess that the first time I read it, I got to the end and felt vaguely disappointed. But then I thought maybe I was missing something so I needed to re-read it before I wrote up a review. Kay is my favorite fantasy novelist, but I like some of his books better than others. I’m about halfway through the re-read and have indeed been noticing details I missed the first time. Still not sure what it’s all going to add up to or if I will be less dissatisfied at the ending. I’m certainly not regretting the time I’m spending with the book. Kay’s storytelling is still superb even in my less-favorite books.

3. The Drover’s Road Collection by Joyce West

A trilogy of junior novels, set in New Zealand, following the adventures of a girl named Gay (Gabrielle) who lives on a sheep station with her uncle and cousins. The novels are fairly episodic, rather like Anne of Green Gables, though Gay isn’t much like Anne. I’m thinking they’ll be a good read-aloud for the kids, but I wanted to read them myself first. I wish I could find more good children’s books about New Zealand.

4. The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel Boorstin

I’m still plugging away at this one, a chapter or two at a time. It’s good and dense and not hard to read, but I tend to want to break it up with other reading. I’m on the fourth and last section, so the end is in sight.

5. Omeros by Derek Walcott

A post-modernist epic poem inspired by Homer and set on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. It concerns the rivalry of two fisherman, Achille and Hector, over the affections of a woman named Helen. There is a blind man named St Omer, nicknamed Seven Seas. And a wounded fisherman named Philoctete. And a British couple, retired Major Plunkett and his wife, Maud. The language is rich and beautiful, the poem is deeply allusive. I’m reading one section every day or every other day, savoring the language and immersing myself in it. Doing a lot of reading aloud to myself and to the kids. But not all of it. Some of the language is adult and so are some of the themes. It’s not a poem to share wholesale with the kids. But they are hearing snippets.

6. Aeneid Book VI translated by Seamus Heaney

I’ve only read a few pages, this isn’t quite hitting the right note for me now. Maybe another time? I do generally love Heaney’s translations, though even he admits that Aeneid Book Six is one of the harder ones to love. It is fascinating to me what a loabor of love this translation is, how personal it is for Heaney, the result of a lifetime’s work as a poet, really. It’s making me think about the act of translation and how it’s both creative and yet at the service of another author and of another text, all the tensions that underlie the act of translation. This will definitely be one to come back to over and over again.

7. The Great War Part II

Brendan Hodge at Darwin Catholic is back at the novel writing game, posting new installments of his serialized World War I novel. I thoroughly enjoyed Part I and am so very much looking forward to this second part. Not only is it a well-researched and lovingly crafted work, the characters are friends I’m eager to catch up with. I really can’t wait to find out what will happen next.

Dipping into

1. The Rattle Bag edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.

My favorite poetry anthology, I often have it close to hand to read a poem in a spare moment, especially when waiting for small children to finish their math work.

2. Richeldis of Walsingham by Sally Thomas

Sally Thomas’ haunting poem (or poem cycle?) about a medieval English seer and the pilgrimage site of Walsingham. The sections slip back and forth between present and past. It’s a quiet poem with still depths that tempt you to linger and gaze with the poet into the past. I bought it before Christmas and then promptly lost it after reading it through only once. I rediscovered it tucked away between the leaves of my notebook. Time for a very slow read through now.

3. Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems

Sophie is on an Emily Dickinson kick and I guess so am I. (Is Sophie’s love for Emily inspired by Michael Bedard’s beautiful little picture book illustrated by the incomparable Barbara Cooney? Perhaps.) Emily is such a dear companion especially once I journey bravely past the most anthologized poems. I have to move slowly because you can’t take much at a gulp. But if I just sip at one or two poems at a time such a lovely refreshment. I think someday soon we need to make a pilgrimage to Amherst. Sophie was so very delighted when she learned Emily is a Massachusetts poet.

+ + + +

Only finished one book! But that’s really deceptive because I’ve actually done quite a bit of reading this month. It’s just that it’s spread out over so many books. I’m making progress, but I’m going slowly, trying to savor instead of gulp, holding myself to a chapter a day per book (sometimes less than a chapter.)

Anyone else want to join me? What have you been reading? Anything good?

4 Responses to January 2017 Reading Notes

  1. Stephanie February 2, 2017 at 3:49 am #

    I haven’t read the Drover’s Road novels yet. Two junior novels we enjoy are Silver Island by Edith Howes and Six Little New Zealanders by Esther Glen. Both are family stories where resourceful children have adventures and solve problems in a NZ country setting. They were originally published in the 1910/20s but feel fresh and vibrant.

    Katherine Mansfield’s Collected Stories include some set in her native NZ. Though not written for children many are very short and beautifully crafted eg The Doll’s House.

    Our most celebrated writers for children are probably Margaret Mahy and Joy Cowley. Both write for all ages. Favourite picture books by Mahy are Dashing Dog and The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate and Bubble Trouble. Favourites of Cowley’s are The Wicked Pirate and the Fierce Little Woman and The Duck in the Gun and Mrs Wishy Washy and Along Came Greedy Cat.

    Great nonfiction picture books include Old Blue by artist Mary Taylor about the conservation success story of saving an almost extinct black robin. The House that Jack Built by Gavin Bishop is a sophisticated critique of colonisation informed by Hogarth’s engravings as well as a NZ telling of the traditional rhyme. The Bantam and the Soldier is a delightful account of a very young NZ soldier deployed to France during WW1 based on fact by Jennifer Beck and illustrated by Robyn Belton.

    And I imagine you know Hairy Maclary and Slinky Malinki series by Lynley Dodd, The Little Yellow Digger series by Betty & Alan Gilderdale, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch series by David & Rhonda Armitage.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli February 2, 2017 at 1:54 pm #

      Thank you so much for all the suggestions! Hopefully I’ll be able to find some of them. Sadly, I’ve discovered that it’s hard to find New Zealand and Australian books in the libraries here or to find affordable copies on Amazon. I guess there’s not a really big market here for them. But the longer the list the more chance there is of locating at least some.

  2. Kathy February 2, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    I’m impressed by your reading log! I’m part-way into The Fionavar Tapestry. I’ve read some of Kay’s other, later works before, and I’m not liking this one as much. I may not be sufficiently deep into the story, and it may be partly the fault of an inferior e-book edition (some of the transitions between perspectives are not really marked, and so I find myself jolted around a bit after the fact), but I think high fantasy is less relatable to me than the historical fantasy he currently focuses on.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli February 2, 2017 at 1:48 pm #

      Fionavar is Kay’s first published novel and it definitely shows. It’s uneven and, yes, choppy in places. I’m glad I read it early because if I’d come to it after a bunch of later Kay I might not love it as much. But I do love it and I encourage you to push through because I think the story is worth it, but maybe I’m just partial.

      I think in a way Fionavar was a necessary purgative of a sort, it was necessary for Kay to write the Tolkien out of his system after helping Christopher Tolkien edit the Silmarillion. You can see that it is very much derivative of Tolkien’s world, with the dwarves and elves and the Dark Lord. And of course there is the nod to Narnia with the young people who come to the magical world from our own and have great adventures and find themselves immeshed in the new world. And yet I’m fascinated by how of all the Tolkien-derivative high fantasy I’ve read Kay’s is the most original and yet at the same time the most true to what is most Catholic in Tolkien’s worldview. I love what Kay does with eucatastrophe in Fionavar. And I really think that the trilogy has a deep insight into sacrificial suffering.

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