3 more books I read in September 2020

The three books reviewed in this post are library books, one digital and two physical.

The Kreutzer Sonata and other stories by Leo Tolstoy

I borrowed The Kreutzer Sonata from BorrowBox. I really wanted to read Anna Karenina (for the second time), but it was out on loan. The Kreutzer Sonata is not a full length novel, perhaps it might be novella-length, but the subject matter is rather heavier than I’d expect of a novella. The book also includes an explanation of Tolstoy’s views on matters dealt with in The Kreutzer Sonata. The other stories are Ivan the Fool, A Lost Opportunity, ‘Polikushka’ or, The Lot of a Wicked Court Servant, and The Candle.  All these stories were written after what Wikipedia describes as Tolstoy’s ‘spiritual awakening’. They reflect his interpretation of Christianity. All of them are thought-provoking. The descriptions of the gulf between the aristocracy (of which Tolstoy was part) and the peasants were very telling. Some of the stories are happier than others. I particularly enjoyed Ivan the Fool.

My views about marriage do not altogether match Tolstoy’s as set out in his explanation. Having read his biography on Wikipedia, I realised that the main character in The Kreutzer Sonata is an exaggerated version of himself. That story is mainly made up of a single character telling his unhappy tale. Most of the other stories could be considered to have a deeper meaning (dare I say moral?).

Various editions are available, but they do not all include the same stories.

Spying on Whales The past, present and future of the world’s largest animals by Nick Pyenson

Cover Spying on Whales

On a visit to the library I noticed Spying for Whales displayed in the nature section. It is an attractive hardback volume with illustrations. The text is very well written, explaining many facts in an accessible easily-read manner. There is the excitement of the quest for knowledge and of making discoveries, both of fossils and of deductions from the available data. The text is in three parts dealing with the past the present and the future. The next section gives corroborative references for phrases in the text. Then there is the Reference section proper followed by an index. The illustrations are helpful to the interpretation of the text, having been created by an expert on whales. (One of the reasons I borrowed this book was that I had recently written a poem about a whale for a challenge about endangered species. I was aware of how little I actually knew about them – Challenge 36 on Paint Chip Challenge) It is a remarkable book by a scientist (paleontologist) from the Smithsonian Institution.

A paperback edition is also available.

My Summer of Magic Moments by Caroline Roberts

Cover My Summer of Magic MomentsAnother library book I borrowed was My Summer of Magic Moments by Caroline Roberts. This is a romantic novel with a serious back story. The protagonist is a cancer-survivor, whose story emerges a little at a time. She is also a journalist and blogger with a positive outlook. The parts about writing were of particular interest to me. There is plenty of suspense. The chapter headings are all different ‘Magic Moments’. I read it a few chapters at a time between fairly short chunks of the nonfiction book. The settings are Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Bamburgh – a place I have visited. I enjoy reading books, where I can recall a place as well as imagining it from the descriptions.

These library books were the other two I mentioned in my previous post. All my book reviews may be accessed from my pages – Authors A to M and Authors N to Z.

What I read in July 2020 (Part 2)

I have only read one more book this month. While browsing the available ebooks from BorrowBox I found The Anna Karenina Fix by Viv Groskop. The bright cover and endorsements on it enticed me to borrow it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only other book I have read which intersperses the author’s life experiences with information about books is Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: a memoir of childhood reading.

Viv Groskop’s memories start at the time she decided to study Russian. She is trying to solve a personal mystery, which she weaves into the discussion of books. Her book is written for a general readership, but those with additional knowledge of Russian language and/or literature may enjoy it more. I studied Russian to O-level and years ago I read (in translation) at least two of the books she featured. The author finds parallels in her own life with the content of each book she mentions. Although I dislike reading ebooks, I found this fascinating, entertaining and informative. It has inspired me to borrow another ebook, this time one of the books she wrote about. (I have to wait another 2 weeks for library to reopen!)

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What I read in June 2020 (Part 1)

The next three books are all from our shelves. I had read them previously, but too long ago to remember much about them. They are all by JRR Tolkien.

The three books

The Silmarillion is a prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It was compiled from JRR Tolkien’s papers after his death and published in 1977. All I could remember about it was that I was very disappointed with it shortly after its publication. With Middle Earth fresh in my mind I began reading it as soon as I finished The Return of the King. I found it very slow reading, but worth the effort. The early part included a sort of creation story and all the different races, which peopled Middle Earth, were slowly introduced with chronologies and genealogies for each. I could only read a few pages at a time, so interspersed the books in my previous post with this. It reminded me of the Books of Kings in the Bible, with the amount of information about each family and the characters of the individuals.

Later there is an exciting section about journeys and battles, but the best is kept until the very end, when the answer to a mystery is revealed. Having an index of characters, a map and other appendices this is a remarkable work ably edited by Christopher Tolkien, son of JRR Tolkien.

Tree and Leaf is a small volume. My 1974 edition has 50p as the price! Inside there is the text of a lecture about Fairy stories presented in 1938, with additional notes – some as footnotes, others appended. On Fairy Stories is followed by Tree and Leaf, a story, which I’d classify as a fable or allegory rather than a fairy story. However it does illustrate what Tolkien regarded as sub-creation – the creation of imaginary worlds. I had not remembered as much about this story as I thought. I still believe that Tolkien modelled one of the characters on himself, but for a different reason. The story is perhaps Tolkien’s equivalent to CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce, although their beliefs were not exactly the same. One thing, which struck me, is how the world has changed since Tolkien’s time. Would a young adult reader know about railway porters? Tolkien was writing in a time when train travel was the most usual and only a very small minority of people travelled overseas.

The third book I read really is a fairy story. Smith of Wootton Major is a tiny hard-backed volume with illustrations. If it has a lesson to teach, it is that people will believe what they want to believe, but it is best enjoyed as a story!