WWW Wednesday 11-27-2013

WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.

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• What did you recently finish reading?

Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall–the Victorian 50 Shades of Grey! Reading that, it was interesting reflecting that these three vicarage spinsters had within a year or so published books that were regarded as infamous shockers, and that without their gender being known! (see link above for longer review)

I’ve finished, and am in the middle of a haphazard look . . .

. . . at the fascinating evolution of, and effect of, private armies in World War II, specifically the North African campaign, after reading Rick Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn. It’s a terrific book, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered what he’d left out as he focused so strongly on American commanders and front line grunts. There seemed some lacunae with respect to British forces, and when I thought over all the elements that shifted the advantage from Rommel to the Allies, I was dissatisfied by the lack of discussion of the effect of the SAS and the LRDG–a fascinating bunch whose behind-the-lines tracks had been laid down by adventuring archaeologists!

Well, I’ve found some rip-snorting reads specifically about these groups (V. Cowles’ classic The Phantom Major; Alan Hoe’s admiring biography of SAS’s David Stirling; the quixotic Vladimir Pentiakoff’s memoir Popski’s Private Army; Popski’s lieutenant, Park Yunnie, in own take Fighting with Popski’s Private Army; and I’m making my way through Gavin Mortimer’s Stirling’s Men, which furnishes a more balanced take, but so far is not satisfying me with an analysis of the effect of these guys. There probably is no definitive view, not surprising considering fronts hundreds of miles across, and engagements of a quarter of a million human beings on either side, not counting those squeezed in the middle.

 What are you currently reading?

Aside from the above, I have three really good books going, depending on where I am in the house when I catch a bit of reading time. There’s Scott Anderson’s Lawrence of Arabia, whose subtitle pretty much sums up where he’s going with it: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. 

There’s William Dalrymple’s The White Mughals, Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India, which, around the Madama Butterfly-like history of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, who converted to Islam to marry exquisitely beautiful teenage Khair un-Nissa, illustrates how English people fell into the complicated mosaic of life in India, were ravished by it, and adopted and adapted far more than nineteenth century British ever acknowledged.

Finally, on the e-reader I have Anthony Adolph’s descriptive and character-focused biography of Henry Jermyn: The King’s Henchman, the Stuart Spymaster and Architect of the British Empire. This is an immensely readable look at the powers behind the thrones of mid seventeenth century in western Europe.

For my epic fantasy/space opera/sf fix, I’ve been reading Lindsay Buroker while waiting for the latest Andrea K. Höst and Ankaret Wells releases.

And you? 

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WWW Wednesday 11-27-2013 — 37 Comments

  1. Looking for some Thanksgiving inspiration from Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal. Dang! That woman can write. And she makes things sound doable–ya know?

  2. Read:
    A Journey to the Forbidden China by Steven W. Mosher One of the first social scientists allowed into China. On a road trip — which ended abruptly when he wandered into a restricted area. (Telling him it was restricted in advance was, of course, prohibited.)
    Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers
    Reading:
    The True Knight by Susan Dexter
    To Read:
    The Wind-Witch by Susan Dexter
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

  3. Your review thrills me, Sherwood. I must and will read WILDFELL HALL asap. Unfortunately I have too large a TBR stack already. Perhaps on the airplane over Xmas…

              • Harriet, instead of writing, is plowing through the murder victim’s fiction, which is all of the handsome heir returning to claim the throne type of novel. It astonished me that there was a shelf full of these things, since I had only ever seen Burnett’s.

                • You haven’t read Prisoner of Zenda? It was the original, the one that named the genre.

                  Mind you, it wasn’t so easy on the rightful heir to the throne as the ones our murder victim liked, going by the plots given.

            • She didn’t mention that one by name. But yeah, that’s the ilk. There were a lot of them. I’ve read Prisoner of Zenda, and Graustark, which was a pale imitiation and it astounds me that that series was so popular that they were called Graustarkian as well as Ruritanian romances, and A Prince Commands, which is Andre Norton’s first and shows it, but still was better than Graustark.

                • Oh, yes. A lot of it got imported wholesale into fantasy. The problem with continuing Ruritanian romances, unaltered, was that after a few decades, it was clear that not only were the Europeans divesting themselves of kings, they weren’t going to bring them back. So it needed transplanting to fresher soil than mere reality.

  4. Recently finished The Lies of Locke Lamora and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now reading Alif, and it’s wonderful. I can absolutely see why it’s won awards. I’ve got a preview of Hild on my Kobo for next, and I think I’ll try one of George Szanto’s mysteries set in the San Juan Islands (off the coast of Washington & British Columbia). I visit relatives up there several times a year, and it’s fun to read books set in places you know.

  5. Saving one’s child from the toxic influence of an abusive dipsomaniac immoral father, precariously supporting self and child by one’s own efforts while hiding from dipsomaniac, etc. is:

    Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall–the Victorian 50 Shades of Grey!

    Who knew.

    Unless you mean that the author was taken to task by segments of the public pontifiers for putting into published print such matters as the suffered by so many wives of the era of any class from drunken, syphilitic, irresponsible, immoral husbands, including everything from beating to rape. Though Bronte didn’t go so far as having the protagonist be infected with venereal diseases (though there is suggestion that rape is at least contemplated at one point), the matters in her novel were indeed beyond the pale for respectable and decent wives, daughters and ladies to know about or speak of.

    Which is as irrational as it sounds, of course.

    I love this novel, though not so much for this plot, but for the principle location and the range of the characters we meet in that community. It’s also a fascinating portrait of a man who can’t comprehend how in the world a woman would snub his interest in her, he, the prize of the neighborhood!

    Love, C.

  6. White Mughals sounds fascinating.

    Recently finished Ocean of Words (recommend it), The Saltmarsh Murders, and Midnight Riot (finished it but won’t look for the sequel – it’s oddly unrereadable for me). Tried the YA novel about British young lady spies (The Agency?) but couldn’t buy into it.

    • Yeah, the Victorian spy novels don’t work for me because there is too much modern language, outlook and detail. I would have loved them as a teen reader, though.

      I don’t get the enthusiasm for Midnight Riot–have tried it three times, and felt it was predictable and not much fun. I will try again, but it could be just one of those things in which I am out of step with the rest of humanity, like Dr. Who. I have yet to see a whole episode, because I always fall asleep. And I’ve tried off and on since 1979.

  7. The one about the British in India sounds fascinating. India has always been–or, well, maybe I should be more tentative here, since what I’m about to say is based on hazy half-knowledge only, but–so multicultural, which is part of its fascination.

  8. I just finished The Necromancers by R.H. Benson (brother of the more well-known E.F. Benson of Mapp & Lucia fame). Published in 1909, it’s the story of a young man who feels so bereft by the sudden death of his fiancee, that when one of his mother’s silly friends tries to introduce him to spiritualism, he begins to wonder if there might not be something to it. But at his first seance Laurie turns out to be unusually “sensitive” to the spirit world, and the medium to whom his mother’s friends introduce him is concealing something dark beneath his kindly manner.

    The other book I read this week was Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism by Arthur Fleischmann. At the age of two, the author’s daughter Carly was diagnosed with severe autism and an oral motor condition that prevented her from speaking. Her parents, both high-powered alpha types, provided her with intensive behavioral and communication therapy, but her progress seemed minimal. But she got to the point where she was making limited use of a voice output device which allowed her to use its digitized voice by touching pictures of items and activities. It had an alphabet function which her therapists had largely ignored until one day when Carly spontaneously typed, “HELP TEETH HURT.” I have always been fascinated by language acquisition and the process of learning to read and write. I am also fascinated by perception and how it varies among different types of people. Carly’s vocabulary — of words she understood — was much larger than anyone imagined. But she’d had no way to express herself because of her oral motor condition and her autism. One of the things I found most interesting was her description of what autism looks like from the inside.

    –C.B.

  9. I have loved Tenant of Wildfell Hall since I first found it in (oh, dear God) 1976. Of all three “versions” of Branwell Brontë, I have read that Arthur Huntingdon is the closest to the real man. And I love the observation (made by whom I do not recall) that when Helen slams her bedroom door on her husband the shock could be felt through all of Victorian England. All three of the major works by the Brontë sisters (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Wildfell) were shocking at the time, but I think it’s easy to forget how transgressive Wildfell was. Yes, Helen Graham is a bit of a prig. But like Jane Eyre, she has a strong moral core that permits her to face down a man, and her whole society.

    I kinda love that book.

  10. Just finished Ironskin by Tina Connolly … a little bit beauty and the beast, a little bit Jane Eyre, and entirely atmospheric!

    Recently re-read The Heir of Night books by Helen Lowe: sword and sorcery with a strong female hero. The premise reminds me of P.C. Hodgell’s Jamie books, but the tone and story differ from the Hodgell books and sucked me into well-drawn world with believable characters.