WWW Wednesday (12-12-12)

Welcome to our first BVC participation in this meme from shouldbereading:

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m Sherwood Smith, here to kick off our new meme.

What are you currently reading?

Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948. I meant to pick up something else last night, but it was on the top of the stack, I opened it, and before I knew it, I’d been sucked in by the vivid blend of personal recollection, others’ stories, and research. You know what’s coming, but she’s focused on the variety of human experience, rather than a constant bombardment of graphic shock-fodder.

The only thing that pokes me out is the continued use of small f  in Führer, as all German nouns are capitalized. I keep wanting to know why she goes to the trouble of using the German word with its umlaut in the correct place, but no cap. Is there extra meaning here? Such are the little things that keep little minds busy, I know! Aside from that, it’s intensely absorbing.


• What did you recently finish reading?

The Diaries of the Wynne Sisters. You’ll find that the link takes you to a lovely tribute on one of the Austen sites, as the books are out of print–as far as I can tell, Betsey Wynne (the primary diarist’s) many-great granddaughter-by-marriage, Anne Fremantle, never published the fourth volume, which I am sure is a fascinating microcosmic view of the transformation of the Regency world to the Victorian world.

Betsey and her sisters seem to have known, or at least encountered, everyone of note. Reading past the kid’s-eye view of parentals, the father appears to have been one step from a wastrel–he sold off one of his estates, went to France, married, and spent most of the rest of his life on the continent, his intent one long round of parties. (And it’s fascinating, how much cross-dressing went on at these things).

When the diaries begin, Betsey and her sisters are little kids; once Betsey started the diary habit she never stopped until her death in 1857, with one volume missing. The early diaries are written in French and German as well as English (the girls also spoke Italian), until the sisters ended up in England at the height of the Napoleonic wars. After that it’s all English all the time, except for little personal comments in French.

Betsey’s reports in horror as the news of the French Revolution reaches them, and they move ever eastward to get away from it–Papa’s life seems stitched by one overall anxiety, “The French are coming!” They wind up in Naples, where they are rescued by Thomas Fremantle, one of Nelson’s captains. He and Betsey fall in love; their wedding is arranged by the famous (soon to be infamous) Emma Hamilton. Betsy, as a teenage wife, ends up nursing both Nelson, after he lost his arm at Cadi, and Fremantle, whose arm wasn’t taken off and probably should have been.

Famous names cross her pages with regularity–both those she knew as great personages and those who later came to fame. It’s also fun for the Patrick O’Brian lover to read Fremantle’s letters, which are included after actions, and his reports, and to make little discoveries like Captain Hammond of the Lively was real–Betsy sails on the Lively at one point! She discovers that a new Italian singer is none other than one of her cousins–and she speaks with the exiled French court, including one woman who fought in the Vendee, and who said that thousands of women did the same.

Thrill to the horror of medical knowledge of the time–sister Harriet is experiencing what I suspect from the reticence of the brief mention is ovulatory pain, and the prescription? Doses of calomel (laced with mercury) and rubbing mercury into her side. She finds it very disagreeable–as she should!

Anyone who loves the period is sure to get caught up in these–I reread them every five years or so, and always discover new things.

• What do you think you’ll read next?

Not sure: at hand, I have Faun, by Trebor Healy, from Lethe Press. Actually, I’d already begun this one, but misplaced it before I started traveling, and it turned up under a stack of papers. I was greatly intrigued by the opening, which depicts the Hispanic part of Los Angeles, as a Latino teen becomes a satyr. It feels like magical realism to me, with its blend of the fantastic and the real, adding in a strong strain of Roman Catholicism that is not presented with the kneejerk ohhh the eeevil church that seems to have become a popular trope.

I also have Meine Freie Deutsche Jugend, by Claudia Rusch, about growing up in the DDR (which also gets depicted as eeevil by westerners), and Christopher Healy (as far as I can tell, no relation to Trebor)’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving your Kingdom, a middle grade fantasy that looks like a ton of fun.

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT with either the link to your own WWW Wednesdays post, or share your answers in a comment here (if you don’t have a blog). Thanks!



WWW Wednesday (12-12-12) — 33 Comments

  1. All of your choices are book that I’d never have sought out on my own, but sound fascinating. I recently read a book set in Prague and suddenly I’m seeing Prague settings all over the internet. I haven’t read any nonfic in a long time, and I may go ahead and dive into that one. Your rec is strong.

    Also, Faun sounds different and fascinating. I’m not a big urban fantasy reader but it sounds like a very different world from the ones I usually see, plus I love when religion is a part of the tale in some way beyond the trite.


  2. You know, this is dreadful. However, thanks to my Kindle, at least I *am* reading.

    I’m currently reading The Official Get Rich Guide to Information Marketing by Robert Skrob at a client’s suggestion. I just finished the first Stephanie Plum book, One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich, because I had never read it and thought I should go to the start. Next, I think I will read something ridiculous.

    • Kindle (or Nook, or android) makes reading so much easier for people with super busy lives–it’s right there in the handbag for those odd ten minutes or half an hour that show up in an overloaded schedule. I have Kindle and iBooks reflected on my iPhone–and wow, has that come in handy when I find myself standing in long lines.

    • I found Citizens fascinating–wait until you get to Charlotte Corday.
      There is a lot of great stuff out on the Georgian navy–meanwhile, have you read Frederick Marryat’s naval fiction? He started writing while he was still a post captain, and he gets meta a times–writing about sitting in his cabin writing, while waiting for the watch to change! At one time he was as popular as Dickens, at least socially.

  3. What I am reading: Surface Detail, by Ian Banks. I’m mixed on this book. On the one hand, as usual, Banks’ creativity and depiction of technology and technological possiblity just sucks me in, with a a microscopic armored tattoo, a philisophical technological war in virtual reality (with some interesting lines placed in terms of where characters break morally), an ancient but highly advanced habitat, etc. On the other hand, despite the fluidity of gender and sexuality in the Culture books, there are definitely problematic issues to the novel, both in the amount of rape (not that much so far, but really, I didn’t need rape both in the slavery story -and- in hell. It would be just fine to drop it from one; or even both!) and how sexuality is handled.

    The last book I read was Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold. A lovely and delightful romantic farce, this novel achieves the “looking at the Vorkosigan Crazy from the outside” feel that Bujold was clearly going at for her previous novel (Cryoburn) but unlike the previous novel, this one is very much a success, with an engaging secondary character, great Ivan moments, and lots of well crafted comedic moments. I read it twice.

    Next? I’m not sure; I might read the first of Catherynne Valente’s Prester John novels; I’ve been holding on to those for a while and really should give them a whirl.

    • I really enjoyed the Bujold. Banks can hold me–but not rape, I am so over that.

      I tried the Valente, but bailed early–it seemed to me she doesn’t understand history so much as take an obscure poem or story or historical even as a substrate and overlay it with a lot of modern horror. It works for a lot of readers but I can’t engage.

    • Surface Detail was a book group selection, which is the only reason I continued past the opening scene with an assault on an enslaved woman, and then discussion of how she was regularly raped. The book did have other things going for it, fortunately.

      I adored Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.

  4. I just finished John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which, while (as expected) depressing, was excellent and surprisingly funny. I spent the first 250 pages laughing or smiling every few sentences, and the last 50 pages teary-eyed.

    Right now I’m reading Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet. So far I’ve noticed a flaw common to some types of historical nonfiction, in that there are too many historical actors to keep track of, but so far it hasn’t been bothering me too much. I’m only on page 30, though, so we’ll see.

    Next I may read David Westerfeld’s Leviathan, which is sitting on my library stack and calling my name.

  5. • What did you recently finish reading?
    I have just finished Goethe’s “Wahlverwandtschaften” (“Elective Affinities” in English). It is a strange book, but compelling. Very symbolic, but on the other hand there is lot of stuff in there about human behaviour which rings true. In my opinion, it is about the different ways humans seek to order and lead their lifes, especially their romantic life, with rational control and emotional irrationality as the two dichotomic opposites. Both fail. It is about people who want to give their experiences meaning and direction, and cling to what gives them that, in the face of uncontrollable forces (love, death). It puts socio-cultural institutions like marriage, high morals, art, religion, enlightenment into question without giving any answers. It seems like a book on which I will spend quite some time thinking. (My professor gave it to me as a gift which is the only reason I read it… Please read the English wikipedia entry cautiously as it totally misrepresents the book.)

    • What are you currently reading?
    I am looking forward to another chapter of Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince read by my partner this evening. Daily reading got something of an institution during my pregnancy, and it seems like we will have covered the whole seven volumes when the child will have been born in January.
    This time, different to my previous readings of the books, listening to Harry Potter is not drawing me into the story and characters at all, it is more an intellectual pleasure. I am looking out for the different genres Rowling has been using and the lines of traditions in which she stands. Especially clear is the English Borading School Story tradition which explains some very strange school stuff going on in the story and heavily influencing the storytelling – about which I never thought before but now all these 1940s/50s educational tropes rise very powerfully before my eyes. How she builds her characters is another focus of mine, I have to admit I never really notices before as how flat most of them are construed.

    Professionally, I am reading the brand new book by Wolfgang Eckart on medicine in the nazi years (in German). It is an excellent overview which introduces all the (traditional and emerging) research topics and gives the current state of research on them. I hope it will get translated to English very soon as the Angloamerican and German research on these matters seems to get more and more separated.

    • What do you think you’ll read next?
    I might continue with Byatt’s “Possession” – so far I have read the first chapter and then got sidetracked. So far, it seems to be about scholarly deep involvement (on all levels) with your subject matter and what it does with people. Well, it might be a bit close to my own life, so we will see how it develops and if I will continue.

    • I haven’t reread the Potters–once seemed to do it, as I could predict the stories and the characters really were one dimensional–but I might reread them some day for the fun stuff like the imaginative spells.

      The others sound fascinating, especially the Goethe. I’ll have to look for that.

  6. The only problem with this game is that I am so swamped and juggling so many balls, I have literally four or five nonfiction books going, and can’t remember whether my last fiction was Patricia Burroughs’ Scandalous, a fluffy little romance ebook reprint that was delightful — characters nicely realized, lots of vintage clothing and NYC history woven in, an eccentric aunt overshadowing our protagonists, and it’s even a Christmas season tale. I also just finished Jennifer Crusie’s Maybe This Time, which has all Crusie’s great dialogue, several odd characters, star-crossed lovers and a couple of great kids. And ghosts. It won’t bump Bet Me from the throne of my Crusie favorite, but it’s going to be top ten.

    Right now I’m reading Frogs Into Princes, which is essentially a transcript of Richand Bandler and John Grinder teaching Neuro Linguistic Programming. This might be very hard for someone to follow cold, but having taken some classes, I’m finding how they first taught the classes very interesting. Also reading Japanese Tales by Royall Tyler. I’ve barely scratched the folklore and fairy tales yet, because the front matter and how it dovetails into the history of the stories is so fascinating!

    Next includes diving into Upgraded Chef by Dave Asprey, which is about very specific cooking I’m investigating for my health, Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold, because I’m behind a book on Miles, and an old Crusie called Anyone But You which I noticed at the library and had never read.

    Crusie tends to be a form of comfort read, and times are stressful. I should mention that Maybe This Time has some rape references about a secondary character that might be trigger-y for some people. Crusie does not write soft romance, she writes romantic capers, really, and so characters who are idiots can be on display, with idiot brains and words.

    The Wynne Diaries sound great, I must find!

  7. Currently reading: The Waterman’s Song: Slavery & Freedom in Maritime North Carolina by David Cecelski

    The catalog description: The Waterman’s Song chronicles the world of slave and free black fishermen, pilots, rivermen, sailors, ferrymen, and other laborers who, from the colonial era through Reconstruction, plied the vast inland waters of North Carolina from the Outer Banks to the upper reaches of tidewater rivers. Demonstrating the vitality and significance of this local African American maritime culture, David Cecelski also reveals its connections to the Afro-Caribbean, the relatively egalitarian work culture of seafaring men who visited nearby ports, and the revolutionary political tides that coursed throughout the black Atlantic.

    I’m not that far into it yet, but it’s yet another example of all the history that gets left out of mainstream teaching and the national “consensus history” as it were, the one that leaves out most of history to tell a very specific narrow story.

    What did I just finish reading:

    Ben Aaronovitch’s first three Rivers of London “Peter Grant” series. 1: Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the USA), 2: Moon Over Soho, and 3: Whispers Underground.

    Urban fantasy set in London with a young male (I’m guessing 23 – 27 years of age, never quite specified) lead, a young police constable who meets a ghost and then discovers that there is a special branch of the police (if special branch==> one inspector) dealing with all that magic stuff.

    This series hit all my reading kinks. London! Magic! Secret histories! A truly diverse London not as an afterthought but as a lived experience! Respectful to women, and lots of female characters! His mum! Male heterosexuality that is not skeezy! And it is funny. Like any novel/series, this is not going to be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. I’m not only looking forward to the next book but I can honestly say that if I was told there were to be 20 books in this series, I would say: Bring it on!

    In a week or two I’m going to do a post on the series mostly so I and others who have read it can talk about it.

    What am I reading next?

    I need to finish reading The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages by Chris Wickam. Big History, but a remarkably easy read because he has a smooth and engaging writing style. You need a basic background in the overall history because he gives no quarter as he flies through his thesis about how there was not a break but a transition from Rome to the early Middle Ages and how much Rome remains influential in terms of law and etc, but very enjoyable and interesting.

  8. What am I reading Now ? – “Robin Hood and his Merrie Men” a childhood favourite. I came across a copy in a second-hand book store and couldn’t resist.

    What Did I recently finish reading : “Naked Voices ” by Saadat Hasan Manto (translated from the Urdu by Rakshananda Jalil) – stories and sketches dealing with the horrors that took place during the Partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. Manto was a Kashmiri Muslim who had made a name for himself writing film scripts in Bombay. Shortly after Independence he moved to Lahore in Pakistan where his brutally candid writing earned him the wrath of the Establishment. Boycotted by most publishers thereafter, Manto, whose heart was with undivided India, drank himself to death.
    Sample : ” Whenever I thought of these abducted women and girls , all I could see were swollen, distended bellies. What would happen to these bellies ? Who is the owner of that which lies stuffed in these bellies – India or Pakista ? And what of the nine months of labour ? Who would pay the wages – India or Pakistan ? Or would it all simply be put in the account of cruel Nature ? Isn’t there a blank column somewhere in this ledger ?
    – From ” By God”

    What am I planning to read next ? – Ursula K.LeGuin’s ” The Other Wind ” – provided I manage to figure out how to open it on my Ipad. I’ve been trying for more than a month now but no luck 🙁

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