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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

Hogfather Re-read (Audio)

Hogfather - Terry Pratchett

I finished this audio re-read a few days ago, and my 4.5 star rating remains.

 

And this remains my favorite quote in the book, and possibly, of all time:

 

Humans need fantasy to be human.  To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.



A Gift of Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney, #19)

A Gift of Bones - Carolyn Haines

My first Christmas mystery of the season, and it's from one of my favorite series.  It was pretty good.

 

My personal observation about long-lasting series is that authors have a tendency to go bigger and bigger with each book.  Usually it's the plots that try to outdo each other, but sometimes, as in this case, it's a certain theme, or themes.  The Sarah Booth Delaney series has a very strong underlying theme centered on the power of love, family and friendship, and these themes have become more ... urgent?  as the series has progressed.

 

I'm not complaining - I love this series - but while I enjoyed the book thoroughly as I was reading it, it felt a tiny bit saccharide afterwards.  

 

Oh, and in this one the plot was definitely out there.  And way too overly labyrinthine.  I'm not sure it really worked, to be honest.

 

But I love the characters whole heartedly, and Zinnia Mississippi comes alive.  It might have been a 3.5 star read, but I've been quietly stewing for years about the Coleman story line, and it's finally come good in this book - that bumped it 1/2 star.  Overall, a solid read, that went by fast.



The Ebony Swan

The Ebony Swan - Phyllis A. Whitney

If reviews came with musical accompaniment, you'd be hearing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah as you read this.  I've finally finished this book.

 

There's a combination of factors involved in the blame for my incredibly slow progress: I'm in a slump, and therefore easily distracted by anything right now - it doesn't even have to be shiny; life has been busy and when I did sit down to read, interruptions abounded; this is not Whitney's best work.  By a long shot.

 

Susan's father took her away from her grandmother's home and cut off all contact, after the death of her mother under mysterious circumstances.  Susan was the only witness and at 5, suppressed the memories.  Now her father's dead, she's an adult, and she's returning to her grandmother's home in Virginia to get to know her and figure out why she can't remember her own mother.  But grandma has a trunk-load of secrets she's less than enthusiastic about sharing, and nobody else seems to want Susan to come back at all. 

 

This is one of Whitney's later books, written in the 80's, and she's still got her magic touch when it comes to atmosphere, setting, and characters.  But the story dragged... the pacing was continental drift slow, and there was so much time spent in the heads of the characters, it was a challenge to keep myself engaged.  And when everything came together with a solution/ending that was twisted in that way in which Whitney excelled (this is an author who really understood long-simmering anger and epic grudges), I was so ...exhausted by the slow pacing that I just couldn't feel the punch I should have. 

 

It's good, it's even a bit haunting, but you have to really be patient with it, and in the midst of a slump, patience is thin on the ground.



24 Festive Tasks: Door 16, Human Rights Day

REPOST - PLEASE NOTE:  Your game hosts caught a duplicate task at the last minute and have replaced it with a new task.  Sorry for the confusion.

 


Human Rights Day

Guy Fawks Night
Russian Mother's Day
veteran's and armistace day

Diwali
Penance Day
Bon om Touk

Hanukkah
dio de los meurtos
International Day of Tolerance
St. Andrew's Day
Thanksgiving

Sinterklaas / St. Nicholas Day

Melbourne Cup Day

Advent
Mawlid

 

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. [...] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, Human Rights Day marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being -- regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.   (from http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/)

 

Tasks and Books

Human Rights Day

Task 1:  Book hunt for human rights:  Search your shelves for books with titles containing human rights words such as (but not limited to): hope, friendship, equality, justice, love, liberty, etc.  Put them in a stack and take a picture for posting.  (5 book minimum).

 

Task 2:  This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Find 3 books on your shelves with protagonists or other key characters who are -- or can reasonably be assumed to be -- 70 years or older.

 

Task 3: The symbol of Human Rights Day is the dove, which in its incarnation as a homing pigeon is also renowned for its navigational skills. – Tell us: Did you ever get so thoroughly lost (either in the days before GPS or because GPS, for whatever reason, was of no use to you) that you wished you had a homing pigeon to guide you?

 

Task 4: Human Rights Day was declared by the U.N. General Assembly, whose seat is in New York City. Treat yourself to a Manhattan (classic recipe: https://www.liquor.com/recipes/manhattan-2/ ; virgin [non-alcoholic] recipes: https://www.anallievent.com/virgin-manhattan/ , http://www.1001cocktails.com/recipes/mixed-drinks/800238/cocktail-virgin-manhattan.html and https://www.liquor.com/recipes/not-manhattan/ ) or to a bagel or pastrami sandwich and share a photo with us.

 

Book: Read any book with strong female characters, or written by an author from any minority group; any story about a minority overcoming their oppressors either individually or as a group. OR: A book set in New York City.

 

 

(Click "Read More" for the previous days' tasks and books.)

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Greetings from Slumpville.

I have reached rock bottom and denial is no longer working for me.  The rationalisation that life has been so busy!, no matter how true it might be, no longer holds up when you'd rather stare at your fingernails than pick up your book.

 

I'm in the mother of all reading slumps.

 

 

I've been reading a 160-something page book now for over a week.  It's not the author's best effort, but it certainly isn't that bad.  And I can't blame it on the book either.  I am overflowing with literary ennui.  

 

It will pass, as all things do, and I certainly do have more than enough happening in RL at the moment to keep me from fretting over the giant pink book slump in the middle of the room.  I long ago hit my book goals for the year, so there's no pressure to read either.  

 

But it would be nice if that giant pink book slump would haul its carcass out of here sooner rather than later; it's sitting in my favourite chair and hogging all the good light.



24 Festive Tasks: Hanukkah, Tasks #1 and #4

Task 1:  Have you had any miracles in your life?  (Kids are a given.)  Just enough change for tolls?  Just enough gas to get you to the station?  Been tragically late for a flight only to find the flight was even more tragically delayed?  Nothing is too small - share your miracles with us!

 

There's been one bonafide miracle that's touched my life.  One of my best friends has been a single dad since his son was 9 months old. Around that same time, I'd moved back home after 5 years away. My friend's little boy took to me straight away, and I to him.  What started out as me just trying to help out a bit when we were out and about, became over time a very solid relationship between me and this gorgeous, smart little guy.  I was, I guess you could say, his favorite not-mom; I loved him as though he were mine, but I was always super-careful not to blur that line (though some of our friends weren't - one told him to 'go see his mom' and he came straight to me. Awkward, but nice.).

 

Anyway, when he was 9, I was en route home from a business trip to Poland, and during a layover, I got a call from a mutual friend, Robert, to tell me that the boy had been air-lifted to the nearest children's hospital and was in ICU.  He'd gotten a flu bug, and when he wasn't getting better, but worse, his dad took him to the local emergency room and it was there that they discovered his blood glucose level was 1300 mg/dL (about 72 mmol/L).  Normal blood glucose levels are in the 75-120 mg/dL range.  Robert (a life-long diabetic himself) was not optimistic, given those numbers (at that level you don't have blood so much as molasses running through your veins).  

 

I got on the plane home and went straight to the hospital (luckily not far from the  airport).  When I walked into the ICU that morning, he truly looked like death himself.  But in spite of this, the hospital was optimistic that he'd turned a corner.  Sure enough, several hours later he'd improved so much that he was not only moved to a private room, but was allowed to walk to it on his own.  As we were walking to his room, we passed a fish tank and had to stop and check out all the fish - a compulsion developed years before, after watching Finding Nemo together.  That same night, he curled up in my lap, complaining he was hungry, and together we learned how to inject insulin and check his blood sugar.  He went home the next day.  He's a twenty-something now and doing great. 

 

Children are resilient, but his recovery was both a testament to modern medicine, and a damn bloody miracle.

 

On a lighter note, me being lucky enough to meet MT, and luckier still that he was interested in keeping me around, probably qualifies as a miracle too.  Y'all have heard enough about him from me over the years to know it's true.  ;-)

 

 

Task 4:  A miracle crucial to Hanukkah is the Miracle of the cruse of oil, which concerns a jug of oil that (ostensibly) only contained enough oil for a single day, but miraculously turned out to last all of eight days. – Miracles aside, tell us: Have you ever experienced that something you had bought or you owned lasted a lot longer than anticipated … or where you expected a shortage which then fortuitously didn’t occur after all?

 

When I was in New Zealand about 18 months ago (June 2017), I bought a facial cleanser on a whim.

 

I'm not embarrassed to admit, i bought it solely because it was made of mud and smelled like limes.  It was weird in the way that appeals to my inner weirdness.   Turns out it's a great facial cleanser, and it hasn't run out yet.  I've been using it consistently all this time, and it shows no signs of emptying.  Truly, a pea-size dollop of this stuff covers your face and neck, but still, I expected to run out long before now, and I'm delighted that I haven't.

 

 

 



24 Festive Tasks: Advent, Tasks #1 and 2

Task 1:  Post a picture of your advent calendar - store bought or homemade.

 

As I've done for the last 4 years, I've made an advent calendar for MT:

 

 

It's a craft beer Advent calendar.  One new-to-him beer a day, from a craft brewer somewhere around the world.  And a Carlito-Cat, just to keep things real.

 

 

Task 2:  The holidays season is in full swing – tell us:  What’s your favorite tradition?

 

Unless my annual freak-out in the first week of December counts (OMG, Christmas is coming? Already?), we don't really have any traditions.  Before I moved here, I had a lot of traditions with my family.  Two stand out the most:  Christmas Card Lane and the annual making of Cappelletti.

 

Christmas card lane was something our community did. It started in the 1970’s and was held on a vacant lot owned by a local family. Originally the Lane was organized by the Young Women’s Group, then in later years it was adopted by the Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce, I think).

Local artists and students of the High School art program would help create the cards for local businesses; they were about the size of a small billboard (I'm guessing, but probably about 10 foot tall by about 4 foot wide?) - big enough to clearly see from your car.  They were lit up, and at after dark, families would load up in their cars to drive through the winding Lane, admiring the different "Christmas Cards".  If I remember correctly, there were prizes for best, most creative, etc.

 

Sadly, I couldn't find any pictures of it online; happily I understand the community is trying to revive it this year.  Hopefully they're successful.  

 

The annual making of Cappelletti, is a long family tradition; every year on the weekend following Thanksgiving, the women in my family gather to make this stuffed pasta (Cappelletti is a corruption of the Italian for 'little hats').  We start with the mound of semolina on the counter, beat in the eggs, and start cranking out the pasta sheets.  The stuffing is a mixture of ricotta, leftover turkey, and various herbs.  Once they're made, they're put in the freezer, and on Christmas day, they're used in a soup we have as a starter before dinner.

 

This year I got a text message with this photo, to let me know that tradition goes on without me, dammit.

 

 

(When they're done perfectly - they look like the little hats they're named for; when done not so perfectly, they look a lot like tortellini; either way, they're delicious.)

 

 

 



24 Festive Tasks: St. Andrew's Day, Tasks #1-4

Task 1:  Nominate someone for sainthood.  Who?  Why?

 

MT keeps suggesting I nominate Steve Jobs because I haven't stopped mourning his passing and the subsequent bloat of Apple, but I'm going to go with my dad.

 

Why?  So. many. reasons.  There's a strong whiff of hero worship and bias in this choice.  He grew up on an island off the coast of Florida, fishing commercially with his father.  He enlisted in WWII and became a Navy fighter pilot, stationed in Chicago where he met my mom.  After the war, he became an electrical engineer specialising in explosion-proof systems and became vice president of a large electrical company before getting home-sick and chucking it all to move back home to Florida.  He took a job in Miami designing electrical systems for high-risk industries, and commuting from the west coast to the east coast every week, only coming home on weekends.  He did that for over 20 years.  

 

On the side, he built my mom's flower shop, remodelled our house, bred orchids (using equipment he designed and built himself), and attended every one of my baseball games.  He had three ridiculously head-strong daughters and did not go quietly insane.  He adored my mother to distraction and spoiled her rotten.  He taught my sister and I how to fix our own plumbing, tile our own floors and install our own lights/fans.  He was kind to animals, friendly to everyone and unbelievably honest. 

 

Did I mention he had three daughters?  I did, but let me stress:  we were not model children!  Various events that have become legend in our family include, but are definitely not limited to: one sister pushing another into a freshly tarred fish pond; washing the dog in liquid starch; throwing all the neighbour's patio furniture, plants, etc. into the pool to see what would float; there was also an incident involving walkie-talkies and one sister being strung up on a ladder, but I'm fuzzy on the details.  If I drag my brother into this, we can include a blown out kitchen wall after a chemistry experiment gone awry.

 

Definite sainthood material.

 

 

Task 2: St Andrew is revered in many countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, where he worked as a Christian missionary, long before his relics were brought to Scotland in the eighth century. – Tell us: Is there a book (regardless whether fiction or nonfiction) for which you would basically walk up to strangers and tell them: “Read this!”?  What would you say and do to get people to read that particular book?  

 

I read cozy mysteries; I don't recommend books to people unless I know them really well, and even then I make vague suggestions.  More like hints, really.  Or innuendoes.  

 

BUT, I'd dearly love, were I queen of the universe (or just the USA), to create and enforce the rule that any one wanting to run for a national political office must first be taken to a remote location without any wifi/cellular/television signals and left there - alone - for 3 weeks with nothing to do but read the writings of the founding fathers:  The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers; pretty much everything written by Jefferson, Washington, Thomas Payne, Franklin, etc.  Afterwards, they must take and pass a basic civics test.

 

 

Task 3:  Legend has it that the saltire or St. Andrew’s cross (white on an azure background) – which constitutes the national flag of Scotland – originated as a cloud formation, symbolizing St. Andrew’s being crucified on an X-shaped cross rather than an upright one.  Do you have any pictures of unusual cloud formations?  If so, share them with us!

 

I took this one early one morning on my way to work:

 

 

and as I was flipping through the photos looking for that one, I found this one - I don't know what I was trying to take a photo of - but looking at it now, the clouds look like a hummingbird.

 

 

 

 

Task 4:  The town of St. Andrews, where the saint’s bones ended up in the course of the spread of Christianity to Scotland, is also famous for its golf course and tournament.  List your 3 favorite books where golf is key to the plot.

 

Favorite would be pushing it.  Golf is not really a sport I get excited about.  But I have read a couple that involved golf and they were decent:

 

Murder on the Links - Agatha Christie,John Moffatt  Murder in the Rough - J.S. Borthwick  

 

 

 



24 Festive Tasks: Russian Mother's Day, Task #1 and #3 (with a brief nod to #2)

Task 1:  Tell us: What is the mother of all writerly sins in your book (tropes, grammar mistakes, telling instead of showing, etc.)?

 

Oof... This is a tough one.  I get the most jacked about grammar and spelling errors in a published book, especially the egregious lack of editing to be found in some of the Big 5's output ::looking at you, Penguin/Berkeley:: but while I grump and complain about them, I don't think I'd call them the "mother of all books sins".  

 

For me, the mother of all writerly sins is writing for the sake of the art, as opposed to writing because a story is going to eat you alive unless you get it on the page.  Writing with the goal of creating a 'literary masterpiece' is, in my opinion, a failure from the start, because it lacks sincerity and integrity.  I can respect a story that screams to be told, and if it's screaming to be told in a way that is new, cutting-edge, funky, then so be it.  

 

I also don't care for writers that don't care about making their stories the best they can be - that means doing the historical research, or making sure you get your details correct.

 

 

Task 2:  Do you have a favorite Mothers’ Day memory that you are happy to share?  Photos welcome but optional.

 

My mom, for most of my life, owned a flower shop.  An unintended consequence of which was a complete and utter exhaustion on just about every major and Hallmark holiday.  Valentine's Day was the worst, and she'd swear an undying hatred of roses every February 15th.  Mother's Day though, was a close second.  Because what does everyone who can't be with their mom do?  They send flowers.  The result of this was a mom that could not be stuffed doing anything on Mother's Day, and just wanted to be LEFT ALONE.  She'd go to church, come home and read all day, and likely we took her out to dinner.  But really, she didn't want a fuss made, and so no fuss was made.

 

 

Task 3:  Perhaps the best-known scene in the James Bond novel and film From Russia With Love is 007 being poisoned by Russian agent Rosa Klebb with a venom-laced blade hidden in her shoe.  Tell us: Have you ever owned any particular / outrageous / funny / best-beloved or otherwise special pair of shoes?  Post a photo if you should still own them.

 

Oh, I still own them.  They're rough looking, but I'll probably own them (and wear them) until either they or myself shuffle off this mortal coil, whichever comes first.  They're a pair of Keds.  What's special about these Keds is the stitching (my house has crap lighting so this was the best I could do):

 

 

My baseball shoes!  :)

 

Whenever I remember, I make sure to wear them on the opening day of Spring Training and the opening day of Baseball season.  As a kid I played sandlot baseball 5 days out of 7, little league on the 6th day and sulked on Sundays - or snuck away to the park to watch the grown ups play - so these shoes feel like they were made just for me.

 



24 Festive Tasks: Bon Om Touk, Tasks 1-4

Task 1:  Make a paper boat and post a picture of it.   Instructions, if needed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiAWx8odStA

 

I swear I'm going to try to do this, but I keep running out of hours in my days.

 

 

Task 2:  If you’ve ever attended a procession or an event involving festively decked out boats, post a picture and tell us about it.

 

Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Christmas boat parades are a tradition.  I've never thought to take pictures, but here are a few from the recent parade, found on the local newspaper websites:

 

 

 

 

 

Task 3:  Bon Om Touk celebrates the end of the rainy season.  Tell us: What’s your favorite type of rainy day book – and do you have a favorite drink or snack to go with your rainy day reading?  Photos welcome!

 

The closest I come to a favorite rainy-day read is a re-read.  The cozy comfort comes from re-visiting an old favorite, and which one depends on my mood that day.  Could be a classic, could be a mystery, could be an urban fantasy.  The ultimate rainy day drink for me has got to be hot chocolate.

 

 

Task 4:  Which are your 3 favorite books where a key character is “moonlighting”?

 

BrokenTune beat me to it - but at the risk of being a copycat, I have to go with Sherlock Holmes:  as a priest in The Scandal in Bohemia, a sailor, a groom and a clergyman in The Sign of Four, and an Irish-American Spy in His Last Stand.

 



24 Festive Tasks: Door 15 - Sinterklaas / St. Nicholas Day


Guy Fawks Night
Russian Mother's Day
veteran's and armistace day

Diwali
Penance Day
Bon om Touk

Hanukkah
dio de los meurtos
International Day of Tolerance
St. Andrew's Day
Thanksgiving

Sinterklaas / St. Nicholas Day

Melbourne Cup Day

Advent
Mawlid

 

St. Nicholas Day, the feast day of St. Nicholas, the 4th-century bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia and Greece, of a number of cities, and of sailors and children, among many other groups, and was noted for his generosity.

 

After the Reformation, St. Nicholas was largely forgotten in Protestant Europe, although his memory was kept alive in Holland as Sinterklaas. There St. Nicholas is said to arrive on horseback on his feast day, dressed in a bishop’s red robe and mitre and accompanied by Black Peter (Zwarte Piet), variously described as a freed slave or a Moor, to help him distribute sweets and presents to good children or lumps of coal, potatoes, or switches to bad ones. The Dutch took the tradition to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the American colonies, where he was transformed into Santa Claus by the English-speaking majority. 

 

(courtesy of Britannica.com)

 

 

Tasks and Books

Sinterklaas / St. Nicholas Day

Task 1:  Write a book wish list to St. Nick.

 

Task 2: You are King / Queen for the day and can have 3 ‘wishes’:  one for yourself, one for your community (however you define it), and one for the world: What are they?

 

Task 3: If your holiday family traditions should include bowls or plates filled with gingerbread, cookies, oranges / tangerines, chocolate, nuts and the like, share a photo with us!

 

Task 4: List your 3 favorite books involving children being rescued from serious peril.

 

Book: with an orange or red cover or with nuts, chocolate or coins on the cover, set in The Netherlands or Germany, by a Dutch or German author, or with canals or beer on the cover.

 

 

(Click "Read More" for the previous days' tasks and books.)

 

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The Copenhagen Connection

The Copenhagen Connection - Elizabeth Peters

I'm not at all sure what to say about this book.  It's ... not great.  Definitely not one of Peters' best by a long shot, but it's oddly readable.  

 

The MC, Elizabeth, is on the plane, on her way to Denmark for a long awaited vacation, when she spots her literary idol on the plane too.  In an effort to meet her, Elizabeth contrives to make an idiot of herself (sorry, I don't understand fandom), but she does get to meet her.  Upon dis-embarking the flight, the author's secretary suffers an 'accident' that breaks her arm, and Elizabeth is there to offer her temporary services.  Did I mention the author's son is traveling with her?  The tall, good-looking, yet taciturn son?

 

This whole setup is the most improbable part of the story.  From here it devolves into the author going missing - did she leave on her own or was she kidnapped? - being spotted in various disguises around Copenhagen, threatening notes, ransom demands, kidnapping and, of course, romance.  With the tall, taciturn, jackass of a son.  What Elizabeth sees in him I haven't a clue, because even when he's saving her (just the once, and not really), he's a pompous braggart.  This one definitely falls into the 'ludicrous' category of romantic adventure.

 

Still, Peters' has a way about her writing, so that even when it's bad, it's not DNF bad.  In this particular example I can't guess what that way is, because really, the characters weren't that great, and got knows the plot was ... dumb.  Yet I kept reading it, and I wasn't yelling at it, or even complaining.  Smirking ... there was an above average amount of smirking.  Think of it as an entertaining read in the way old 'B' movies are entertaining. No value, but not the worst way you could waste a few hours.

 

 



24 Festive Tasks: Door 14 - Hanukkah


Guy Fawks Night
Russian Mother's Day
veteran's and armistace day

Diwali
Penance Day
Bon om Touk

Hanukkah
dio de los meurtos
International Day of Tolerance
St. Andrew's Day
Thanksgiving

Melbourne Cup Day

Advent
Mawlid

 

Hanukkah (begins the 2nd, ends on the 10th) is the Jewish Festival of Lights.  It commemorates the rededication of the Holy temple in Jerusalem and the miracle that a one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days.  Hanukkah is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods.

 

Tasks and Books

Hanukkah

Task 1:  Have you had any miracles in your life?  (Kids are a given.)  Just enough change for tolls?  Just enough gas to get you to the station?  Been tragically late for a flight only to find the flight was even more tragically delayed?  Nothing is too small - share your miracles with us!

 

Task 2: Light 9 candles each representing something you’re thankful for (share a picture with us; sharing anything else is optional).

 

Task 3: Have a donut – and let us share it via a photo. Homemade donuts and shared recipes encouraged … but any donut will do just fine.

 

Task 4: A miracle crucial to Hanukkah is the Miracle of the cruse of oil, which concerns a jug of oil that (ostensibly) only contained enough oil for a single day, but miraculously turned out to last all of eight days. – Miracles aside, tell us: Have you ever experienced that something you had bought or you owned lasted a lot longer than anticipated … or where you expected a shortage which then fortuitously didn’t occur after all?

 

Book: Read a book about light, miracles, characters who are Jewish or books set in Israel.  OR: Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the second temple in the second century; read the second book in a series or a book with the word “second” or “two” in the title.

 

 

(Click "Read More" for the previous days' tasks and books.)

 

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Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will

Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will - Simon Callow

I read this as a buddy read with BrokenTune, and was woefully inadequate with the status updates, but thankfully, some sidebar chats with her during and after our read, have helped me clarify my thoughts about this fantastic book enough to write some of them down.

 

Richard Wagner was, arguably, one of the most influential composers and conductors in the history of classical music.  He changed the face of opera from top to bottom; from the way the music was played, the notes were sung, the lighting, even the shape of the theatre itself.  He made opera dramatic storytelling.  I'm not even sure I can imagine what it was before he turned everything and everyone on their ear.

 

Richard Wagner was also an unmitigated ass.  Not merely arrogant; not merely selfish; Wagner was self-involved, egotistical, short-sighted, fiscally irresponsible and anti-semitic.  Additionally, he was described as short, stoop-shouldered and afflicted with an  appalling skin condition; we're not talking run-of-the-mill eczema here - words like 'sores' and 'pustules' were used.  I mention the physical challenges here because in spite of all of this - the horrible character flaws and the physical challenges - he was apparently charismatic as hell. The crap he got away with, the abuse people took only to come back for more, the sheer number of people who shelled out money to pay his debts and provide him with housing is mind-boggling.  Not just in Germany, but in Switzerland, Italy and the UK.  All this, and he was not a good person.

 

I could have probably overlooked the childish selfishness; I could chuckle over his inability to stay out of any riot he crossed paths with.  I might argue (weakly), that the trail of broken relationships he left behind him his whole life were people who knowingly attached themselves to this horrible man.  But the anti-semitism is a deal-breaker.  HIs disparagement of Jews was grossly casual, brutal, unwarranted and irrational.  Worse, it was not a phase he outgrew, but a mania that only became more brutal and irrational with age, even though he continued to work with Jewish conductors, musicians and composers until the end.

 

So Wagner was both artistically brilliant and a horrible human being.  This fascinating dichotomy is made still more fascinating by Simon Callow's writing.  He masterfully writes this condensed biography with the utmost objectivity, clarity, and just a dash of humor in unexpected places.  I doubt very much I could have read any other book about Wagner without dnf'ing it simply because I wouldn't have been able to swallow Wagner's life, but Callow made it not only palatable, but compelling.

 

Wagner may have created some of the most powerful music ever written - at least some of the most unforgettable - but his music will forever be tainted for me now that I know the man behind it better.  The real star that came out of this book, for me, is Callow; his writing ... well, take it as read that I'm gushing over it, because it's some of the best biographical writing I've ever read (not that I read a lot, mind you).

 

If you're interested in Wagner but don't want a long academic biography, you should absolutely investigate this book; it's fair, it's balanced; it's unbiased and it's excellently written.  The 1/2 star I took off was more my shortcoming than his - my eyes glazed over during the descriptions of the operas' stories, because I'm not a fan of opera.  Seriously, ignore that and just check out the book.



24 Festive Tasks: Door 13 - Advent

 


Guy Fawks Night
Russian Mother's Day
veteran's and armistace day

Diwali
Penance Day
Bon om Touk

dio de los meurtos
International Day of Tolerance
St. Andrew's Day
Thanksgiving

Melbourne Cup Day

Advent
Mawlid

 

Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.  The season of Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” or “visit," begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians.

 

Tasks and Books

Advent

Task 1:  Post a picture of your advent calendar - store bought or homemade.

 

Task 2: The holidays season is in full swing – tell us:  What’s your favorite tradition?

 

Task 3: The tradition of carol singing in the Advent / holiday season is linked to the old Anglo-Saxon (and medieval) custom of wassailing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassailing). Prepare an apple cider wassail bowl or a wassail bowl containing your favorite drink or fruit. Post a picture and enjoy!

 

Task 4: Make your own Advent wreath and share a picture of it. Instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWw83CCa2cg

 

Book: Advent also means “second coming”: Read a pastiche, or a book written by an “authorised author” by the deceased author’s estate. OR: There are four Sundays in Advent. Read the fourth book of a series or a book with the word “four” in the title.

 

 

(Click "Read More" for the previous days' tasks and books.)

 

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Reading progress update: I've read 53 out of 232 pages.

Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will - Simon Callow

I'm enjoying this read an awful lot, but it's going slower than I expected given the very engaging and sometimes snarky writing; I keep having to go back and re-read the sections where he stars discussing the music in detail.  This is not Callow's failing, but mine.  

 

Mostly though, Wagner is still a self-involved douche-bag and up to his eyeballs in debt.