Christmas book gifts from my BFF -- in addition to various teas, spices, home made holiday baking, and a CD. She spoiled me ... as she always does!
Snow Globes: Reads
I intend to also read a book for the Kwanzaa square and try to get as many of my as-yet missing activities done (Holiday Down Under, Movie Ticket, and Holiday Party), but since completing either activities or reads qualifies for completing a square, as far as the game itself is concerned here's hooray for blacking out my card!
Thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for hosting yet another great game -- I had great fun with this one, never mind the hosting site's performance issues. (I only wish those woes were over once and for all.) As with the bingo, I enjoyed following everybody else' updates and comparing notes at least as much as completing my own card.
So, here's for the grand finale:
Task the Second: The Silent Nights:
- Read a book set in one of the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and/or Denmark), where winter nights are long!
Inspired by Lillelara's advice to Olga Godim, I changed plans on this one and revisited Babette's Feast, Tania (Karen) Blixen's love letter to the culinary arts, set against the bleak background of (mostly) midwinter in a Pietist religious community in a remote Norwegian fjord. It's an apt read not only for this square but also for the season, as the feast is Babette's selfless gift to the two women who, suspicion against "papists" notwithstanding, have taken her into their home after she had lost her own. I'd read it for the first time after having seen the movie, with the sumptuous visuals of the feast (as contrasted by the dour setting of the protagonists' lives) still freshly in my mind, and I loved it even better then; but I'm still happy I decided to reread it ... and few can hold a candle to Blixen's gift of setting the atmosphere of a story.
Task the Fourth: The Gift Card:
- Read a book that you either received as a gift or have given as a gift.
This task truly came in handy, as my birthday fell smack into the Halloween Bingo and I therefore haven't made particularly great inroads with the many treasures I'd accumulated back in October.
So, always eager to find out what's going on in the life of one DI (has-been) John Rebus of Police Scotland, I picked Ian Rankin's Even Dogs in the Wild, which I absolutely loved ... until it dawned on me that
the back story of (and solution to) this entry in the series is VERY similar to that of Dead Souls, which happens to be one of my favorite Rebus books and which I therefore know inside and out. (And Rankin has also used the method of disposing of a dead body referenced at the beginning of this book before ... not to mention bent cops, who more often than not seem to hail from Glasgow instead of Edinburgh.)
Bit of a bummer, that, and it knocked the book straight down from a five- to a four star read. Still, I loved the fact that part of the book was told from the perspective of "Big Ger" Cafferty, Rebus is as crotchety and unyielding a lonely wolf as ever, and I'm glad to see that Siobhan finally seems to be coming into her own well and truly, without finding it necessary to cling to anybody's coat tails (particularly not those of her boss, DCI James Page). What with Darryll Christie resurfacing in a prominent role and the Glasgow underworld in play big time as well, I wonder if we're headed for another gangland showdown along the likes of The Hanging Garden in one of the next books ...? Now wouldn't that be a treat. Also, is Rankin unsure where next to take Malcolm Fox -- or why is Fox virtually surplus to requirements at the beginning of the book and wondering whether he should throw in his towel?
- Give a book to a friend and post a picture of the wrapped present.
My best friend's birthday is on December 16, as a result of which I only get to go gift shopping for her in a major way once every year, and I typically only decide later, when I'm back home, which items she's getting for Christmas and which ones for her birthday. This year, I decided it would be the books and a few assorted other items for her birthday ... it'll be a bath tub caddy and a set of goodies from one of our favorite local food (or more specifically spice, condiments and sauces) stores for Christmas. -- The books are Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk and a cookbook based on the Harry Potter novels, which I hope she'll love (and doesn't own yet), being both an HP fan and a stellar and enthusiastic cook.
Task the Fifth: The Kwanzaa:
- Make a small donation to a charitable organization that operates in Africa.
I made a donation to a charity that my mom and I have been supporting for a long time -- in fact, I remember my mom donating to them even when I was a small child: SOS Kinderdörfer (literally, "SOS Children's Villages"), an organization that takes in and provides housing, schooling and, most importantly, a loving and supportive community, to orphans and children whose parents are too poor or otherwise unable to properly care for them, in different parts of the world. If you make your donation online you can specify the project you want your money to go to, and I picked their project in South Sudan, which has been particularly beleagured of late: as a result of the war, they were forced to abandon their facilities, casting the future of the project, and the children and their carers themselves, into great peril. They've only recently begun to slowly build towards a new home for their village and community.
(I've included links to their website, which however doesn't seem to have an English version, unfortunately, so if you want to learn more you'll have to copy and paste the contents into Google translator, I'm afraid.)
Task the Eighth: The Movie Ticket
- Read a book that has been adapted to a holiday movie.
It took me about three seconds to make up my mind about this one, and I never stopped to think twice -- this just had to be one of my all-time favorite stories, which also happens to have been adapted into one of my all-time favorite holiday movies, never mind that the final scene actually isn't even set at Christmas in the book: Frances Hodgson Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy, whose screen adaptation starring Ricky Schroder and Alec Guinness has been an annual Christmas ritual on German TV for over 35 years now. So call me a sop -- and I admit I've never actually tried revisiting this story at length outside the Christmas season (I might well find it a bit too tug-at-your-heartstrings-sentimental then -- but as a feel good story about love, redemption, and the meaning (and effect) of unselfish generosity, this one is hard to beat ... golden-haired cherub, saintly mother and friends to steal horses with all included.
And here's my tally of completed reads and activities:
Task the First: The Winter Wonderland:
- Read: A book that is set in a snowy place.
=> Dylan Thomas - A Child's Christmas in Wales (audio version, read by the author himself)
- Activity: Take a walk outside and post a picture of something pretty you encountered on your way.
Task the Second: The Silent Nights:
- Read: A book set in one of the Nordic countries.
=> Tania (Karen) Blixen: Babette's Feast (see above)
- Activity: Hygge: Put on your fuzziest socks, light a candle, and spend some time (reading) in front of the fireplace or your coziest nook.
Task the Third: The Holiday Party:
- Read: A book where a celebration is a big part of the action.
- Activity: Make something that is considered party food where you are from, and post a picture of it on Booklikes.
Task the Fourth: The Gift Card:
- Read: A book that you either received as a gift or have given as a gift.
=> Ian Rankin: Even Dogs in the Wild (see above).
- Activity: Give a book to a friend and post a picture of the wrapped present.
=> Book gift, see above.
Task the Fifth: The Kwanzaa:
- Read: A book written by an African-American author or set in an African country.
- Activity: Make a donation to a charitable organization that operates in Africa.
=> SOS Kinderdörfer, South Sudan project (see above).
Task the Sixth: The Hanukkah:
- Read: Let the dreidel choose a book for you
- Activity: Make a traditional Hanukkah food like doughnuts or potato latkes.
Task the Seventh: The Christmas:
- Read: A book set during the Christmas holiday season.
- Activity: Set up a
Task the Eighth: The Movie Ticket:
- Reading: A book that has been adapted to a holiday movie:
=> Frances Hodgson Burnett - Little Lord Fauntleroy (see above)
- Activity: Go see a new theater release this holiday season (this does not have to be a holiday movie).
Task the Ninth: The Happy New Year:
- Read: (A coming of age novel or) any old favorite comfort read:
- Activity: Post a holiday picture of yourself from your childhood or youth.
=> Task the Ninth, Part 2
Task the Tenth: The Holiday Down Under:
- Read: A book set in Australia or by an Australian author.
- Activity: Buy some Christmas crackers (or make your own) to add to your festivities and share some pictures.
Task the Eleventh: The Polar Express:
- Read: A book that involves train travel.
=> Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express
- Activity: Read a classic holiday book from your childhood, or tell a story about a childhood Christmas you'd like to share.
=> Hans Christian Andersen: The Snow Queen
Task the Twelfth: The Wassail Bowl:
- Reading: A book set in the UK, preferably during the medieval or Victorian periods.
- Activity: Drink a festive, holiday beverage; take a picture of your drink, and post it to share - make it as festive as possible.
=> Mulled wine (Glühwein), courtesy of Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
The way things have been shaping up in the recent couple of months, the holiday season ending today was most likely my last real reprieve from fairly major (not to say time-consuming and persistent) work-related unpleasantness for the foreseeable future. This being the case, I naturally decided to make the most of it: I didn't leave home -- I had to work on the three days between Christmas and New Year's, and anyway, ever since having lived abroad, there's something about spending Christmas at home that I've come to appreciate in particular -- but I took a deep plunge into books, movies and music and all the comfort and joy they afford.
Of course, I binge-read and binge-watched my traditional holiday tales --
Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (my review of the Patrick Stewart versions: A "Christmas Carol" for the 21st Century)
Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot's Christmas (my review of the TV adaptation: Christmas in Shropshire) and The Christmas Pudding
Arthur Conan Doyle's The Blue Carbuncle
Dorothy L. Sayers's The Nine Tailors
-- as well as reading, in the run up to Christmas, Donna Andrews's Duck the Halls (Meg Lanslow, #16),
... and watching (again of course) the German New Year's Eve classic, Dinner for One.
I made some progress, too (albeit not as much as I had hoped) in my current read, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell.
Then again, it also came in handy that my mom and my best friend were nice enough to give me books for Christmas --
Ian Rankin's Dark Road
Gail Tsukiyama's The Language of Threads
Ulrich Raulff's Das letzte Jahrhundert der Pferde (The Horses' Last Century -- a nonfiction history of horsemanship and the centuries-old relationship between man and horse)
and Das Hatschepsut-Puzzle (an anthology of historical and scientific essays on Pharaoh Hatshepsut and the conjectures associated with her life and death)
-- to which I swiftly proceeded to add our own Samantha Wilcoxson's (Carpe Librum's) Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, which I'm hoping to make my first "full 2016" read once I'm done with Messrs. Strange and Norell.
In addition, I took advantage of the discounts that the online purveyors of books, DVDs and the like so obligingly tend to offer this time of the year and stocked up on some more comfort watching (mostly) and other favorites:
Downton Abbey, Season 6
Midsomer Murders, Seasons 24 and 25 (U.S. version)
Foyle's War, Season 8 (U.S. version = Season 7 in Britain)
DCI Banks, Aftermath (the prologue) and Season 1
Ian McKellen's Mr. Holmes
-- and as soon as the DVD of the BBC's most recent production of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None is available, I'll be adding that to my library as well.
Thanks to Bonn Opera, there was also no shortage (and indeed a great variety) of musical entertainment: We have season tickets, so three productions --
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Così Fan Tutte,
Astor Piazzolla's María de Buenos Aires and
Hector Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini
were happily provided for that way in the space of less than a month (though since I had initially missed the Berlioz, we had to get tickets for it again, which on the other hand however made for a very nice New Year's back-to-back experience with Mr. Piazzolla's "tango operita").
To these we added a reprise visit to Antonín Dvorák's Rusalka (the Czech folk tale version of The Little Mermaid set to music), which we'd found perfectly charming already when it first premiered in Bonn in 2011, but which we loved even better this time around.
The grand finale of it all was supposed to be the Michael Fassbender movie adaptation of Macbeth, which we (finally) went to see today -- unfortunately that proved rather a disappointment, though luckily the only real disappointment of all my holiday entertainment.
For those who care: It's yet another case of "Hollywood Does Shakespeare" -- or rather, "attempts to do Shakespeare and fails spectacularly" ... A director who either thinks he knows better than the Bard how to tell the story in question or doesn't trust his audience with the source material as actually written and, consequently, f*cks with it in rather major ways, with everything from
*adding stuff that has no earthly business being there to begin with (e.g., a fourth, girl-sized witch whom at the beginning of the movie we see being buried as, presumably, Macbeth's child, and a boy, presumably Macbeth's son, who gets killed in the battle against the rebels at the beginning of the movie, and who later appears to Macbeth to show him the dagger in the "is this a dagger that I see before me" monologue),
* to leaving out major plot elements (e.g., the Porter scene ... and you certainly wouldn't know from watching this movie, either, that Lady M. goes mad at the end and commits suicide, and that she is actually sleepwalking during her final monologue),
* moving around lines at liberty, not to mention changing their context (e.g., having murdered Duncan -- which we actually see, incidentally, in all its gory detail, with Duncan waking up and looking at Macbeth before the dagger plunges into his breast [can you say "clliché"?] -- Macbeth still stands over the corpse when Malcolm looks in and Macbeth (!!) advises him to flee to England),
* actually messing with the Bard's own choice of words (and rhyme, and meter) -- eg., the three witches at the very beginning resolve to meet not, as Shakespeare himself wrote (in perfect rhyme and meter, and with a very definite intent) "on the heath" and "when the battle's lost and won" but ... wait for it ... "on the battlefield",
* paring down the entire play's lines to a random bare minimum anyway;
* pretty pictures of Scottish highland scenery (mostly Island of Skye, several 100 miles west of where the play is actually set) with battle scenes straight out of Braveheart, war paint and all (I defer to Troy's judgment on the fighting scenes and the claymores; to me, the swords at least didn't look entirely authentic -- and yes, I have seen the real thing),
* architectural anachronisms galore -- to top it off, with Bamburgh Castle (Northumberland (!!) and right on the seashore) standing in for what's presumably supposed to be Glamis, Cawdor and Dunsinane rolled into one (neither of which is on the sea, nor even close to the sea to afford views of it),
* not a single cinematic cliché even remotely associated with Scotland and / or the Middle Ages left out,
* nor, on the other hand, a single original idea on display ... I mean, even having the witches appear as "wise women" who might just have come from a nearby village and who induce Macbeth's visions by hallucinogens may have been new and revolutionary in the 1970s RSC / Trevor Nunn / Ian McKellen / Judi Dench production, but that was 40 years ago, for crying out loud, and it's been done plenty of times on other stages since then ...
I guess you get the picture. But, as I said, the only disappointment in a long list of great holiday season entertainment, so it's all good! :)
Now it's back into the trenches for my own battle against the Dark Side ...
I'll try to show my face here every so often nevertheless, but I can't promise it will be with any sort of frequency during the next couple of months. Well, we'll see. In any event, I'll be thinking of you all regardless, even when I'm not here!
I have just discovered booklikes and I'm excited about it. I am just beginning to build out my profile on the site but I wanted to say hello and express my excitement at finding the site. I hope you have each had a merry christmas and I look forward to getting to know each of you. I am both a reader and an author. I have attached my novel, When Night Falls, to this post as an introduction. Happy holidays!
Gerald L. Coleman