Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A Look Back in Pleasure

Here we are once again at the end of a year! It has been only my second full cycle of twelve months as a book blogger and today seems a good moment to share with you a look back on my activities of 2014 – to fill some of the gaps that the Reading Bingo of three weeks ago inevitably left.

It has been a pretty busy year for me, not least for the many interesting reads that have come my way. It goes without saying that my literary exploration hasn’t been limited to the writings and authors that I decided to showcase here on my blog. In fact, they were quite some more than “just” the 52 books that I reviewed beginning with Once a Greek by Friedrich Dürrenmatt after the New Year and ending with A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy past Friday. 

Monday, 29 December 2014

Poetry Revisited: Winter-Time by Robert Louis Stevenson


(from A Child’s Garden of Verses: 1885)

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, 26 December 2014

Book Review: A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy to an old Christmas carol this is the season to be jolly and not to get absorbed in dead-serious or difficult reads – unless you take pleasure in them like I do. However, I decided to put my nature aside for a change and to review a novel that is light and entertaining with the Shakespearean motto “All’s Well That Ends Well” shining through every line. Since it’s also meant to be a contribution for My WINTER Books Special, I’m putting the spotlight on A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy. This last novel of the late Irish author revolves around Stone House in the Western Irish village of Stoneybridge which Geraldine “Chicky” Ryan turns into a cosy little hotel. The grand opening is in December and the first guests stay for a week.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Author's Portrait: E. T. A. Hoffmann
E. T. A. Hoffmann ca. 1800
painted by an unidentified artist
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century were an important era for literature. It was the time of the Enlightenment and of Romanticism, a highly innovative literary movement altogether and in Germany in particular. Up to this day several German writers of the period are well remembered and read in schools (at least occasionally) as well as by classic lovers of all ages. The most prominent names of German Romanticism are Achim von Arnim, Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, Clemens Brentano, Joseph von Eichendorff, and E. T. A. Hoffmann. The last had a strong and lasting impact on literature paving the way for the fantasy, horror and crime genres.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Poetry Revisited: Winterstimmung – Winter Mood by Sophie von Khuenberg


(aus Psyche, 1. Bei Sonnenschein: 1897)
Von tiefer Winterruh' umfangen
Schau' ich hinaus ins fahle Licht,
Kein heißes, zitterndes Verlangen
Aus meiner stillen Seele bricht.

Schneefrieden webt in stummen Lüften,
Aus weißen Schleiern blüht die Welt;
Mir aber träumt von Maiendüften,
Seit mir dein Kuß das Herz geschwellt!

Sophie von Khuenberg

Winter Mood

(from Psyche, 1. In Sunshine: 1897)
Embraced by deep winter quiet
I look outside into the pale light
No hot, shivering desire
Breaks from my quiet soul.

Snow peace weaves in mute air,
From white veils flowers the world;
I, however, dream of May scents,
Since your kiss swelled my heart.

Literal translation by
Edith Lagraziana 2014

Friday, 19 December 2014

Book Review: If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino passion for reading uses to be a life-long one. I’m sure that everybody who has fallen under its spell like me will confirm this statement, and yet, it’s a passion that seldom appears centre stage in fiction. Of course, there are many examples for literary characters who pass their time reading, pondering or discussing books, but in general this serves the author only to create a mood, to show peculiarities or to form a bond between characters. So far I have never come across a novel that actually revolved around the pleasures of reading – except If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino which I’m reviewing today. Its protagonist is a rather annoyed reader who for different reasons never gets a chance to finish one of the books that he has just begun and who hunts after the interrupted reads getting involved with another reader, Ludmilla, on the way.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Books on France 2014: The Summary

On New Year’s Day I joined the Books on France 2014 reading challenge hosted by Emma from Words and Peace which is going to end in a fortnight. Since my last review for it went online past Friday, I decided to make the balance and the final list today.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Poetry Revisited: Winter by John Howard Bryant


(From The Life and Poems of John Howard Bryant: 1894-96)

The day had been a calm and sunny day,
And tinged with amber was the sky at even;
The fleecy clouds at length had rolled away,
And lay in furrows on the eastern heaven;—
The moon arose and shed a glimmering ray,
And round her orb a misty circle lay.

The hoar-frost glittered on the naked heath,
The roar of distant winds was loud and deep,
The dry leaves rustled in each passing breath,
And the gay world was lost in quiet sleep.
Such was the time when, on the landscape brown
Through a December air the snow came down.

The morning came, the dreary morn, at last,
And showed the whitened waste. The shivering herd
Lowed on the hoary meadow-ground, and fast
Fell the light flakes upon the earth unstirred;
The forest firs with glittering snows o’erlaid
Stood like hoar priests in robes of white arrayed.

John Howard Bryant

Friday, 12 December 2014

Book Review: The Winter of Artifice by Anaïs Nin, I intended to close my cycle of reviews for the Books on France 2014 reading challenge only in two weeks with the novel Voyage d’hiver by Amélie Nothomb, but unfortunately it seems that this work of the Belgian author – unlike most others – hasn’t been translated into English yet. As a result, I had to change my plans and look for another France-related book with the word WINTER in the title (»»» see my post on the current special). In the end I picked a collection of three novellas of which two are set in France: The Winter of Artifice by Anaïs Nin, namely the original published in Paris in 1939 which is available as a facsimile edition. The author wrote her diary-style stories revolving around love and passion in English although her mother tongue was French.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Reading Bingo 2014

Already in November Emma from Book Around the Corner posted a meme called Reading Bingo on her blog. She was inspired to it by Marina Sofia’s post on Finding Time to Write who had come across it in a post on Cleopatra Loves Books. Obviously, it’s something that makes the round like a chain letter, but good ideas always deserve being spread. I decided to follow suit today using it to make a first and necessarily fragmentary balance of the almost past book blogging year.
And now let’s start with the 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Poetry Revisited: A Winter Ride by Amy Lowell

A Winter Ride

(from A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass: 1912)

Who shall declare the joy of the running!
Who shall tell of the pleasures of flight!
Springing and spurning the tufts of wild heather,
Sweeping, wide-winged, through the blue dome of light.
Everything mortal has moments immortal,
Swift and God-gifted, immeasurably bright.

So with the stretch of the white road before me,
Shining snowcrystals rainbowed by the sun,
Fields that are white, stained with long, cool, blue shadows,
Strong with the strength of my horse as we run.
Joy in the touch of the wind and the sunlight!
Joy! With the vigorous earth I am one.

Amy Lowell

Friday, 5 December 2014

Book Review: A Monkey in Winter by Antoine Blondin

Click on the index card to enlarge it!
Literature is (or should be) a reproduction of reality and therefore it often portrays people who drink more than they should, and even worse, people who are slipping or have already slipped into the vicious circle of alcoholism. Authors – especially those who are known for their own excesses in drinking – seem to love displaying them in their desperate, though useless attempts to find an easy way out of their problems or at least “cheerful” oblivion. Usually, a drinking or drunk protagonist just serves plot development or character study, but it’s rare that an entire novel revolves around the short-lived pleasures of drinking like A Monkey in Winter by Antoine Blondin. It’s my last but one contribution to the Books on France 2014 Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

My WINTER Books Special

A Literary WINTER Expedition
from 1 December 2014 to 28 February 2015

Last year I dedicated the month of December to novels connected to Christmas. This year I decided to make a three-month special featuring books with the word WINTER in the English title. Admittedly it’s a rather arbitrary way to choose a read, but it brought surprisingly many literary works to my attention which I might never ever have come across otherwise because they have never been on bestselling lists and/or the author isn’t particularly renowned (any longer).

The result of my extensive search is an interesting and varied list of 50 books, mainly novels and a few collections of short stories, but also the one or other non-fiction. Lamentably I was forced to rule out from review several works of non-English-speaking authors since I couldn’t find any English editions. From the remaining lot I picked thirteen books, some famous, some new, and some forgotten ones. As for the rest of my WINTER bibliography… maybe some other time!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Poetry Revisited: The Winter’s Come by John Clare

The Winter’s Come

(c. 1850)

Sweet chestnuts brown like soling leather turn;
The larch trees, like the colour of the Sun;
That paled sky in the Autumn seemed to burn,
What a strange scene before us now does run--
Red, brown, and yellow, russet, black, and dun;
White thorn, wild cherry, and the poplar bare;
The sycamore all withered in the sun.
No leaves are now upon the birch tree there:
All now is stript to the cold wintry air.

See, not one tree but what has lost its leaves--
And yet the landscape wears a pleasing hue.
The winter chill on his cold bed receives
Foliage which once hung oer the waters blue.
Naked and bare the leafless trees repose.
Blue-headed titmouse now seeks maggots rare,
Sluggish and dull the leaf-strewn river flows;
That is not green, which was so through the year
Dark chill November draweth to a close.

Tis Winter, and I love to read indoors,
When the Moon hangs her crescent up on high;
While on the window shutters the wind roars,
And storms like furies pass remorseless by.
How pleasant on a feather bed to lie,
Or, sitting by the fire, in fancy soar
With Dante or with Milton to regions high,
Or read fresh volumes we've not seen before,
Or oer old Burton's Melancholy pore.

John Clare