Category Archives: Read-Along

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie – Book 1

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Random House, New York, 2006

From my TBR pile.

I am taking part in a read-along organized by Mrs B, Arti andMeredith.  We are taking four months to read the book that won the Booker of Booker’s prize twice.    After reading Book One, I wanted to jump ahead and continue reading but decided to take the time to digest the first section.

In our den we have several wall hangings, presents from a friend who visited India and Nepal.  They are made up of pieces of cloth and imbedded with bits of mirrors.  When the sun hits them they bounce light all over the room.

Midnight’s Children is a book made of words like bits of  mirror, reflecting the time before and after India gained independence from Britain and was partitioned into the states of India, West and East Pakistan.  The story is told by Saleem Sinai.  Each evening he writes his scattered thoughts and reads them to a woman he works with, Padma, who is illiterate and seems a bit grumpy and slow-witted.  It is Padma who helps bring Saleem’s thoughts into focus as he recalls his family history from the time before he was born.

Midnight’s Children reminds me of a twisted version of 1000 and One Nights, a comparison I’m sure the author is tired of,  and I love it.  Rushdie’s mix of tumbling language, history and magical realism is like looking through a kaleidoscope, where the image is split into a thousand parts but somehow comes together beautifully.

Book One covers the story of Saleem’s family up until the time of his birth, August 15th, 1947, which is also the exact time of the creation of the independent State of India.  By telling his story Saleem also tells of India’s struggles for independence, the bigotry between classes and religions and the lasting impact of the British Raj.  All this is told with grace,  humor and a burning coal of anger at its core.  Anger at the thick-headed greed of politicians, thieves and governments.

I find it difficult expressing  my admiration for Salman Rushdie’s abilities with language, with story-telling.  I can not wait to move on to Book Two.

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Filed under Booker, Historical Fiction, India, Read-Along, Salman Rushdie, TBR Double Dare

Dune by Frank Herbert – A Read-along

Filled with alien culture, politics, world building and war, Dune by Frank Herbert, is a classic science fiction novel.  I am rereading it as part of a read-along organized by Carl VKailana and The Little Red Reviewer.  We are answering questions posed by our co-hosts.  Be warned, there will be spoilers.

Book One: Dune

1.  Did you see anything in this first section of the book that either you hadn’t seen before or that you had forgotten about, anything that stood out to you?

I had either forgotten or was not aware of the Byzantine layers of diplomatic and political intrigue, so very like our world!

2.  What did you think about the plot device of the early revelation that Yueh was to be the traitor?

I thought this revelation added to the tension and suspense, mainly because none of the characters suspected Yueh of being the traitor.  They suspected everyone else, including Jessica. After all, no one could turn a Suk doctor!

3.  What was your favorite part of this first section?  Which character(s) do you find most interesting and why?

My favorite part is discovering how the Fremen live, their ability to survive in the open desert, the community of the sietch, their culture.  I think Dune, the planet, is my favorite character.  I find Hurbert’s description of the environment and the ecology fascinating and the Fremen’s desire to change their planet very timely.  Who knows how we will live on planet Earth  in 100 years?  500 years?

4.  Did the revelation about the Harkonnen surprise you? Why or why not? Thoughts.

The fact that Jessica and Paul carry Harkonnen blood was a surprise, but knowing the Bene Gesserit predilection for genetic mixing and saving blood lines, it must be a very important part of the dynastic character of the Dune universe.

5.  Finally, please share some overall thoughts on this first section of the book.  Are you finding it difficult to follow? Easy to understand? Engaging? Boring?  Just share what you are thinking thus far.

I am enjoying rereading Dune, finding the political and ecological themes very timely and love the intrigue.

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Filed under Read-Along, SciFi

Spice It Up – A Dune Read-Along

Sometimes there seems to be all sorts of strange psychic things happening through the internetz.  After reading Among Others I made a list of science fiction books I wished to reread, Frank Herbert’s Dune being at the top of the list.  I had misplaced or given away my old copy so I went out and found a used copy, planning to read it over the summer. Then I hear about this.

Carl V. of Stainless Steel Droppings, the wonderful blogger who organizes the Once Upon A Time and R.I.P. challenges, Kailana from The Written Word and the Little Red Reviewer are organizing a Dune Read-Along for July.  I will be joining in.  How about you?  Care for some Spice?

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Filed under Events, Read-Along, SciFi

War and Peace Update #1

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Vintage Classic, New York, 2008

I own this one.  I am reading this for Winstonsdad’s read-along and the Books On The Nightstand/Facebook read-along.

The following is from the introduction to this translation of War and Peace, written by Richard Pevear.  This is a quote from an article entitled “A Few Words Apropos of the book War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy and published in the magazine Russian Archive in 1868.

It is not a novel, still less and epic poem, still less a historical chronicle.  War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.  Such a declaration of the author’s disregard of the conventional forms of artistic prose works might seem presumptuous, if it were premeditated and if it had no previous examples.  The history of Russian literature since Puskin’s time not only provides many examples of such departures from European forms, but does not offer even one example to the contrary.  From Gogol’s Dead Souls to Dostoevsky’s Dead House, there is not a single work of artistic prose of the modern period of Russian literature, rising slightly above mediocrity, that would fit perfectly into the form of the novel, the epic, or the story.

I have finished Volume 1 and found it to be quite addictive.  I also found Tolstoy’s skill at observing the life around him and expressing those observations quite profound.  But we know that, that is why his novels, particularly War and Peace are considered classics.

Volume 1, Part One introduces the reader to the main characters and to the social scene in St. Petersburg and Moscow.  Tolstoy takes great delight in describing these parties and social gatherings and all the maneuverings among the wealthy and well-connected.  He also begins to explore the main characters of  War and Peace.

At moments of departure and change of life, people capable of reflecting on their actions usually get into a serious state of mind.  At these moments they usually take stock of the past and make plans for the future.  Prince Andrei’s face was very thoughtful and tender.  His hands behind his back, he paced rapidly up and down the room, looking straight ahead and thoughtfully shaking his head.  Was he afraid of going to war, was he sad to be leaving his wife — perhaps both, but, evidently not wishing to be seen in such a state, when he heard footsteps in the hallway, he quickly unclasped his hands, stopped by the table, pretending to tie the tapes on the strongbox cover, and assumed his usual calm and impenetrable expression.  They were the heavy footsteps of Princess Marya.  From page 105.

In Volume One, Parts Two and Three take place in the fall of 1805.  Prince Andrei, Nikolai Rostov and several others  join their regiments in Austria.  The Russian army and their allies hope to turn back Napoleon and his army.  The French have been cutting a deadly swath across Europe.  It begins to be clear that, even with the strength and willingness of the Russian and German troops, Napoleon has the upper hand.

Zherkov,  with his shoulders raised high,  a familiar figure to the Pavlogradsky hussars (he had recently quit their regiment), rode up to the regimental commander.  After his expulsion from the head staff, Zherkov had not remained with the regiment, saying he was no fool to drudge away at the front when he could get more decorations while doing nothing on the staff, and he managed to set himself up as an orderly officer for Prince Bagration.  He can to his former superior with and order from the commander of the rear guard.
“Colonel,”  he said with his gloomy earnestness, addressing Rostov’s enemy and looking around at his comrades, “there is an order to stop and set fire to the bridge.”
“An order of who?” the colonel asked sullenly.
“I don’t know of who, Colonel,” the cornet replied earnestly, ” only the prince told me: `Go and tell the colonel that the hussars must turn back quickly and set fire to the bridge.’ ”
After Zherkov, an officer of the suite rode up to the hussar colonel with the same order.  After the officer of the suite, on a Cossack horse that was barely able to gallop under him, fat Nesvitsky rode up.
“What is this, Colonel?” he cried while still riding. “I told you to set fire to the bridge, and somebody  got it wrong; everybody’s going crazy there, they can’t figure it out.”  From page 145.

This would all be very funny, if it didn’t mean that Napoleon’s army would appear with artillery, blow up parts of the bridge, kill and wound many Russians soldier and eventually cross the river.  Tolstoy makes it clear from the beginning that there was a level of ineptitude within the Russian high command and command structure that was deadly.

The novel has surprised me.  I believed it would be dense and a struggle to read, but find that the hardest part is keeping all the characters straight.  The Pevear-Volokhonsky translation has a character list, french translations and many footnotes.  It is a highly entertaining and enjoyable read.  I am in awe of Tolstoy’s abilities as a researcher and an author, at his skill with discription and his observations of people, but mostly at his willingness to take risks and write exactly what he wanted to write.

It is a shame that the label “classic” keeps people from reading War and Peace.  There was an interesting discussion on the Books On The Nightstand podcast about this idea.  If you are curious, have a listen.

3 Comments

Filed under Classic, InTranslation, Leo Tolstoy, Read-Along, Review

Hop a long, Git a long, Read a long

My thanks to James at Ready When You Are, C.B, for offering those of us who have avoided reading westerns an opportunity to try out this long established genre.

The month of May will be dedicated to reading westerns, you can choose to read one book, or as many as you like.   If you aren’t in the mood for a challenge, you can join in the read-along.  James has a list of possible reads that is very inclusive, making this read-along inviting to many who might hesitant about joining in.

Here is the link.  Check it out…then join the fun!

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Filed under Events, Read-Along

Moby Dick Monday

Moby Dick, or, The Whale by Herman Melville

Tor Classics, New York, 1996

This book was mooched.

Moby Dick Monday is a read-along organized by Ti at Book Chatter.

  If we compare land animals in respect to magnitude, with those that take up their abode in the deep, we shall find they will appear contemptible in comparison.  The whale is doubtless the largest animal in creation.  Oliver Goldsmith – Natural History

It is done.  I have finished reading Moby Dick, or the Whale.  Ishmael has concluded his tale and Captain Ahab has met his match.  I am still amazed at the breadth and depth of this novel.  At 600 plus pages it is long and sometimes long-winded, but fully worth the read.  Melville’s writing is powerful and poetic, his discriptive language is visionary. 

From Chapter 111: The Pacific

     When gliding by the Bashee isles we emerged at last upon the great South Sea; were it not for other things, I could have greeted my dear Pacific with uncounted thanks, for now the long supplication of my youth was answered; that serene ocean rolled eastwards from me a thousand leagues of blue…

     To any meditative Magian rover, this serene Pacific, once beheld, must ever after be the sea of his adoption. It rolls the midmost waters of the world, the Indian ocean and Atlantic being but its arms. The same waves wash the moles of the new-built Californian towns, but yesterday planted by the recentest race of men, and lave the faded but still gorgeous skirts of Asiatic lands, older than Abraham; while all between float milky-ways of coral isles, and low-lying, endless, unknown Archipelagoes, and impenetrable Japans. Thus this mysterious, divine Pacific zones the world’s whole bulk about; makes all coasts one bay to it; seems the tide-beating heart of earth. Lifted by those eternal swells, you needs must own the seductive god, bowing your head to Pan.

At times I felt Melville was writing for the big screen.  I could imagine sitting in a hushed theater watching the Pequod rushing over a becalmed sea, chasing that white whale.  There is a film, made in the 1950’s, directed by John Huston and starring Gregory Peck.  I will have to watch it.

At times Biblical, at others Shakespearean, with dashes of humor and social criticism, Melville’s novel is a wonder.  And then, of course, there is the whale himself.

From Chapter 133: The Chase – First Day

Like noiseless nautilus shells, their light prows sped through the sea; but only slowly they neared the foe. As they neared him, the ocean grew still more smooth; seemed drawing a carpet over its waves; seemed a noon-meadow, so serenely it spread. At length the breathless hunter came so nigh his seemingly unsuspecting prey, that his entire dazzling hump was distinctly visible, sliding along the sea as if an isolated thing, and continually set in a revolving ring of finest, fleecy, greenish foam. He saw the vast, involved wrinkles of the slightly projecting head beyond. Before it, far out on the soft Turkish-rugged waters, went the glistening white shadow from his broad, milky forehead, a musical rippling playfully accompanying the shade; and behind, the blue waters interchangeably flowed over into the moving valley of his steady wake; and on either hand bright bubbles arose and danced by his side. But these were broken again by the light toes of hundreds of gay fowl softly feathering the sea, alternate with their fitful flight; and like to some flag-staff rising from the painted hull of an argosy, the tall but shattered pole of a recent lance projected from the white whale’s back; and at intervals one of the cloud of soft-toed fowls hovering, and to and fro skimming like a canopy over the fish, silently perched and rocked on this pole, the long tail feathers streaming like pennons.

A gentle joyousness—a mighty mildness of repose in swiftness, invested the gliding whale. Not the white bull Jupiter swimming away with ravished Europa clinging to his graceful horns; his lovely, leering eyes sideways intent upon the maid; with smooth bewitching fleetness, rippling straight for the nuptial bower in Crete; not Jove, not that great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so divinely swam.

On each soft side—coincident with the parted swell, that but once leaving him, then flowed so wide away—on each bright side, the whale shed off enticings. No wonder there had been some among the hunters who namelessly transported and allured by all this serenity, had ventured to assail it; but had fatally found that quietude but the vesture of tornadoes. Yet calm, enticing calm, oh, whale! thou glidest on, to all who for the first time eye thee, no matter how many in that same way thou may’st have bejuggled and destroyed before.

At the time Herman Melville published this book, in 1851, few readers had any idea of what he had accomplished.  Most critics panned the book, calling it sad stuff, dreary, dull and ridiculous.  Of course, to have praise his novel would have given credence to his subversion of and challenges to manifest destiny, private enterprise and divine providence.  Melville died in 1891.  The few publications that mentioned his passing misspelled his name or the names of his books.  It wasn’t until after his death that people began reading and reviewing Moby Dick in a positive, constructive wat,  bringing to light a great American author and a great American novel.

I want to thank Ti for organizing this wonderful read-along. You can find the other readers by following these links:

Ti at Book Chatter

Jill/Softdrink of Fizzy Thoughts

Jill of RhapsodyinBooks

Dar of Peeking Between the Pages

Eva of A Striped Armchair

Wisteria from Bookworm’s Dinner

Sandra at Fresh Ink Books

Claire from kiss a cloud

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Filed under Classic, Read-Along

Moby Dick Monday

This is a read-along organized by Ti at Book Chatter. The whale and I are taking a break this week.  You can join in with the other readers at:

Ti at Book Chatter

Jill/Softdrink of Fizzy Thoughts

Jill of RhapsodyinBooks

Dar of Peeking Between the Pages

Eva of A Striped Armchair

Wisteria from Bookworm’s Dinner

Sandra at Fresh Ink Books

Claire from kiss a cloud

1 Comment

Filed under Classic, Read-Along, Uncategorized