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review 2019-03-11 22:50
A Poor Man's (or Woman's) "House of the Spirits"
The House on the Lagoon - Rosario Ferré,Silvia Sierra

Ugh.  If this hadn't been my final "Snakes and Ladders" book I'd have DNF'd it.  This is essentially a Puerto Rican version of House of the Spirits minus magical realism, plus a plethora of characters and episodes that don't greatly advance the plot (think 500-episode telenovela) and a whole lot of telling instead of showing.  That isn't to say I learned nothing at all about Puerto Rico, its people and its history -- indeed, the island itself was by far this book's most interesting, believable, fully elaborated and just plain likeable character -- but by and large, I'd have accomplished more by reading a nonfiction history book or a travel guide about Puerto Rico ... or by going there to see it for myself.  (Which I'm still hoping to do at some point.)


Nevertheless, I've enjoyed my "Snakes and Ladders" run enormously -- a huge thanks to Moonlight Reader for her spur-of-the-moment inspiration in initiating this game!


(Charlie and Sunny also say thank you for the exercise and all the snacks along the way.)


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text 2015-09-22 17:30
The City of Ember - Jeanne DuPrau

Listening to the audio book version of this one. They have sound effects to go along with the reading of the text. The sound of rushing water when they talk about the underground river, and the tinkling of a bell when they talk about the store bell over the door, the sounds of crowded streets. First audio book I have read that has done this and I am really enjoying it.

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review 2015-01-20 18:43
After London, Or Wild England by Richard Jeffries
After London Or, Wild England - Richard Jefferies

Another early example of post-apocalyptic writing, albeit 60 years after Shelley's "The Last Man". Stylistically this is a lot easier to read. For a Victorian era writer, Jeffries has a distinctly clean and clear "let's get on with it" style. 


The book is divided into two parts, and the first relatively short part "The Fall into Barbarism" beautifully describes the destruction of England due to some unknown catastrophe, and the effects as the wilderness reclaims the land. Jeffries was a naturalist and nature writer, and this part simply sparkles. If the whole book had been like this, I might even have given it 4 or 5 stars. This first part has been widely compared to Alan Weisman's "A World Without Us", which itself is an expanded version of this article in Discover Magazine. Jeffries concludes nature would have retaken most of England a scant 90 years later, while Weisman predicts it would take a little longer, but given the relative density of settlement and durability of building materials and architecture, I think as thought experiments, they come to pretty much the same conclusions. Anyway this part is a lot of fun to read.


Unfortunately, the second, longer part, is just not nearly as much fun. It's still quite readable, and in fact a fast read. It's also a bit confusing. The few remaining people have formed a completely feudal society. And we have a petty tyrant prince in charge of the whole shebang, the Welsh and the Irish constantly invading and trying to wipe out the hated "Saxons" as revenge for centuries of history (I can actually believe this part - except, where are the Scots? You'd think they'd be all over it!). 


So our hero, a minor lord named Felix Aquila decides to rather pointlessly take off in a boat and go exploring the middle of the UK, which has now been turned into essentially a giant lake. The problem really is, Felix is a bit of a jerk and not particularly cool, and the plot is kind of pointless. And it ends in the most random way possible, to the point I went looking if there was another chapter or two that my copy was missing. There wasn't.


Even this second part, is not totally without redemption, particularly in the description of the society as it now remains, and the occasional wandering back into the scenery which Jeffries can't help himself with. But it's at best "it was ok" compared to the opening.


In summary, I think I would very much like to read more of Jeffries nature writing, but as a novelist, not for me. 


Available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13944 among other places

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review 2015-01-19 12:58
The Last Man, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
The Last Man - Mary Shelley

My fortunes have been, from the beginning, an exemplification of the power that mutability may possess over the varied tenor of man's life


tl;dr version: More interesting as an artefact of early post-apocalyptic literature, and perhaps for the lightly hidden portraits of Shelley and Byron by someone who knew them very well. Hard going as a leisure read, but definitely interesting.


This is no doubt, one of the earliest of the post-apocalyptic novels (although the post-apocalyptic tradition itself is immeasurably older). From that point of view it's fascinating. The book is set in an early 2000's that looks remarkably like the 1800's, other than England is a republic, the king having abdicated. Otherwise, there is still a war going on in Greece, class is still the biggest societal divide, and really, the society portrayed is more of a portrait of what was going on when it was written than any guess at how society itself may have changed in the future. 


Plotwise... well there's about 20 different plots going on at once here. It's very convoluted and involves many complicated love triangles and squares and possibly other polygons. Until, rather later in the book than I expected, tragedy strikes, as a vicious plague starts to kill everyone, everywhere. England, at first thought immune, quarantines itself, but eventually even that falls. It's terribly tragic, and awfully romantic (in the period sense, definitely not in the modern genre sense). As is typical of the time, and of Shelley's writing itself, it's quite dense. Here's the first paragraph:


I am the native of a sea-surrounded nook, a cloud-enshadowed land, which, when the surface of the globe, with its shoreless ocean and trackless continents, presents itself to my mind, appears only as an inconsiderable speck in the immense whole; and yet, when balanced in the scale of mental power, far outweighed countries of larger extent and more numerous population. So true it is, that man's mind alone was the creator of all that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first minister. England, seated far north in the turbid sea, now visits my dreams in the semblance of a vast and well-manned ship, which mastered the winds and rode proudly over the waves. In my boyish days she was the universe to me. When I stood on my native hills, and saw plain and mountain stretch out to the utmost limits of my vision, speckled by the dwellings of my countrymen, and subdued to fertility by their labours, the earth's very centre was fixed for me in that spot, and the rest of her orb was as a fable, to have forgotten which would have cost neither my imagination nor understanding an effort.


It doesn't really get any lighter from there either! I found I could only stand a chapter or two a day, before I had to go hunting for some lighter fare. It's also really really long. 


You'll need either a classical education (which I don't have) or wikipedia on speed dial I think, to even make sense of a lot of the allusions. For instance the prologue is a tale of a journey to the sybilline oracles cave (and you are expected to know all about her already, which I didn't, much), and contains multiple quotes in several foreign languages. Personally I find that kind of thing fun if I'm in the mood for it, ymmv.


It's also fascinating reading if you're interested in Byron and Shelley. Mary was banned by her father-in-law from writing about Shelley in a real biography, so she wrote him into her novels instead, and here a main character (Adrian) is heavily modelled on him (albeit unwittingly, according to her own letters.) Meanwhile another major character, Lord Raymond, is apparently suspiciously like Byron, the original mad, bad and dangerous to know character. Raymond is certainly all three of those.


Readily available from Project Gutenberg among other places. 

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text 2014-08-07 03:46
Best for a bedtime story -- BookaDayUK
The World Treasury of Children's Literature : Book 1 and 2 in slipcase - Clifton Fadiman
Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, Portable Edition with New Myliteraturelab -- Access Card Package - X J Kennedy,Dana Gioia

When our parents read to us, they always read from anthologies, so we heard stories about children from other lands; or the childhoods of famous people like Clara Barton, Abraham Lincoln or Buffalo Bill; fables, legends, myths and folk tales from all over the world; tales of magic or fantasy.  I loved the variety.


when I started reading myself to sleep, my favorites were Scholastic books, the kind you used to order at school from The Weekly Reader.  Here are some of my favorites:



Now I like literature textbooks, because they have a variety of stories vetted by university professors authored by contemporary writers.  It gives me a chance to sample many authors that I might not otherwise be aware of.

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