Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

“In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw round, “lives a Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.


Somehow I never read this as a kid. I saw the movie, enough times to have its songs playing in my head as I read this (“We’re painting the roses red / painting the roses redddddd”), but I never went near the book, for some reason. But…now I have done, because I didn’t realize how short it is. I probably should have checked before adding it to the Classics Club list! Per the rules, I have to have a review of sorts for it, though I don’t know what there is to say given that most everyone knows the story. We open on a little girl named Alice who’s bored of her sister reading a book without any pictures or conversation, who ‘wonders’ away and spots a rabbit with a pocketwatch and gives chase to it, leading to her falling down a hole into a place filled with argumentative animals who absolutely adore talking nonsense. I’m told that there are many allusions in the text that a modern audience misses completely, Victorian references that we’re blind to; one allusion that I’ve heard over the years is that the scene of roses being painted was a reference to the War of the Roses, with the Queen of Hearts being one of those wicked Lancastrians instead of a Tudor. The entire story is a stream of absurdities, between the enigmatic dialogue and the actual goings-on. No wonder it inspired a song about drug trips. I suspect that the story made its way into the Classics Club Strikes Back list because of this pioneering (and trippy) music video made by Pogo:

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The best of 2020 — in books

2020 was….a heck of a year. Hurricanes, pandemic, fires,  the existential dread of an election featuring a wide variety of creepy corrupt politicians, all with their own plans for spending other people’s money badly and killing people overseas on behalf of other people overseas. At least we had books! This year’s major project was Mount Doom, my TBR pile. Halfway through the year I created a challenge for myself, scheduling two TBR books per month and only allowing myself to buy 1 new book for every 4 TBRs I finished.  I read nearly 40 TBR titles, well beyond my initial goal  (12) and then my challenge goal (24). 

I purchased 88 books this year, the other hundred being loans — largely from the library, but with a handful of friends’ books thrown in. Astonishingly, physical books had a 12 book lead over ebooks; I suspect the TBR helped with that. To no one’s surprise, nonfiction lead the way with just over two thirds of my reading. Speaking of numbers and such,   who’s ready for pie?

There were a lot of surprises this year. Science, for instance, absolutely dominated history until late September, when during a corona quarantine I devoted myself to my history-laden TBR pile and it retook the throne. Science still had a year to be proud of, though, with THIRTY BOOKS — well past my optimistic, 20 book goal. Religion and philosophy, usually subdued by all the big boys, was right out there with them this year. A sign of the times, perhaps; science and philosophy both helped me survive all the rotten news and rotten feelings of the pandemic, riots, etc. Let’s have a look at some of the biggies for this year! Bolded titles were on my top ten list.

History was the queen of the stack, as usual, but..boy, were the topics on the sad side:
[*]Smuggler Nation, a celebration of free spitis who made history by frustrating the avarice and arrogance of the state
[*]Ring of Steel, a history of the Great War from the Germano-Austrian side
[*]Black Wave, a thoroughly depressing history of how Saudi Arabia and the Iranians mullahs’ propaganda war drove ruin upon the middle east
[*]This Republic of Suffering, a review of how the death toll of the Civil War changed American culture.

Science had a banner year, with thirty (!!!) books read, well past my high goal of 20.
[*]The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship between Violence and Virtue, Richard Wrangham
[*]An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System
[*]Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe in Conspiracy Theories, Rob Brotherton
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, David Quammen

Religion and Philosophy
[*] 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson
[*]The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
[*]How Dante Can Save Your Life, Rod Dreher

Politics and Civic Interest
[*]A Bright Future, Joshua Goldstein & Steffan Qvist
[*]Losing an Enemy, Trita Parsa
[*]Is Reality Optional?, Thomas Sowell

 Next year, foreign-policy books and geopolitics will be treated as part of a separate World Affairs category which will also include books about things in countries outside the USA.

Society and Culture:
The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff
The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse
Palaces for the People, Eric Klinenberg

Technology and Society
[*] Harvard and the Unabomber, Alston Chase

General fiction was small but mighty:
[*] Where the Crawdads Sing absolutely floored me.
[*] American Dirt  can’t rival it, but it was far and away the second-best.  

Historical fiction had its usual fair showing, and I was especially glad that I drew from a variety of series, settings, and authors.
[*] Max Hennessey’s The Bright Blue Sky and The Lion at Sea
[*]Richard Howard’s Napoleonic cavalry series, beginning with Bonaparte’s Sons

Science Fiction virtually fell off the radar in 2020, save for Star Trek and Firefly titles: [*]Station 11 employed a distinct narrative style
[*] The End of October hit all too close to home with its own coverage of a pandemic erupting from Indonesia. 

Star Trek (and Star Wars)
[*]Uncertain Logic, Christopher L. Bennett
[*]Storming Heaven, David Mack. The end of the Vanguard series, one of the highlights of the Primverse.
[*]Enigma Tales, Una McCormack
[*]Seven of Nine, Christie Golden
[*]Star Wars: Darth Plageius, James Luceno

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The Awakening of Miss Prim

The Awakening of Miss Prim
© 2014 Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
315 pages

The Awakening of Miss Prim is a funny little novel, and not the sort of thing that would ordinarily be on my radar: a cozy romance, set in a ridiculously comfortable little village where people cycle around and drink tea and eat pastries all day? …okay, that sounds rather nice ,actually. But it was a quote, not a pastry, that got my attention:

“If you were convinced that the world had forgotten how to think and teach, if you believed it had discarded the beauty of art and literature, if you thought it had crushed the power of the truth, would you let that world educate your children?

With the exception of science, I find little attractive in modern education; History is reduced to grudge-settling, philosophy to postmodern vapor, economics to supporting the will of politicians. It’s all rubbish, and I turn my back on it and look instead to sense and beauty where I can find it, usually in old books. I take as my motto Henry David Thoreau’s maxim: read not The Times, read the Eternities. That spirit pervades The Awakening of Miss Prim, for Prudencia Prim is something of a seeker. In the world she’s a lost soul, who feels herself out of time — but the chance glimpsing of a job as librarian in a small village puts her on the road to answers. She finds them in a funny little village, where no one seems to work more than five hours a day and people make casual references to Latin poetry. But as a modern, progressive woman, she also finds herself a little bothered by the Feminist Society wanting to marry her off, and by the fact that the village’s children don’t go to school. What sort of place is this?

The Awakening of Miss Prim strikes me as unique in that it’s a philosophical romance of sorts, where there’s more thinking and less bodice-ripping. (Actually, there’s no bodices being ripped: it’s more tea-sipping and longing.) The philosophy itself is borrowed heavily from G.K. Chesteron, which was absolutely unexpected and absolutely a ball. The author throws it at the reader far too heavily, though, and I say this as someone who likes GKC and what he stood for. As fiction, though, I can’t buy someone just saying, apropos of nothing, “Are you all Distributists or something?” Miss Prim, not even distributists would ask that. (It’s a bit like suddenly talking about life insurance or operating systems the way adverts seem to think ordinary people do.)

Distributism, or Localism as the Society of GKC is now trying term it, is a philosophy which “envisions a society in which both political power and the ownership of production (on which political power depends) are as widely distributed as possible. In this society, no one is an employee; almost everyone has an owner’s stake in society, whether in the form of a family farm, a small business, or membership in a cooperative. ” That’s how I defined it when reviewing Toward a Truly Free Market: A Distributist Perspective. I added: “Catholic authors like G.K. Chesterton argued for it as a moral alternative. as a system that would protect the integrity and autonomy of the family against both the ravages of factory dependence and state socialism”.

Although no one in the village ever tells Miss Prim “We’re distributists here, we believe this and we do that”, the village itself is an embodiment of its principles. The family is the center of society; there are no factories, only handicrafts, and people work both for the joy of participation in creation and to provide for their families, not to make money to move on to bigger and better things: there are no Jones in the village to keep up with. More to the point, the people of the village are less concerned with work and more concerned with the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful; people are forever reading and engaging in Socratic debate — or, enjoying the inherent goodness of creation by sipping tea, nibbling on pastries, and talking about literature or art or somesuch.

The book itself is part lecture and part debate; as an outsider, Miss Prim doesn’t understand why the village is the way it is, and is forever asking questions and being given answers which she rarely accepts. She pushes back, and the resulting spirited debate makes for engaging reading, especially if one is sympathetic to the ideas embodied in the village. It’s all a bit romantic, in the more expansive sense of the world — perhaps even fanciful, and I think it succeeds more as a conversation about what’s meaningful than as a story in itself. Regardless, despite coming in at the last of 2020, it will be remembered as one of the year’s more interesting books for me, and I’m glad I was reeled in through other people sharing excerpts. Speaking of, here’s my part:



SELECTIONS

“You can only admire that which you do not possess. You do not admire in another a quality you have yourself, you admire what you don’t have and which you see shining in another in all its splendor. “

“Because, fundamentally, nothing changes, you know. The huge old mistakes emerge time and again from the depths, like cunning monsters stalking prey. If you could sit at the window and watch human history unfold, do you know what you’d see? I’ll tell you. You’d see an immense chain of mistakes repeated over the centuries, that’s what. You’d watch them, arrayed in different garb, hidden behind various masks, concealed beneath a multitude of disguises, but they’d remain the same.”

“The concept of memory is inherent to civilization. Primitive peoples perpetuate barely a handful of traditions. They can’t capture their history in writing. They have no sense of permanence. […] We modern primitives also have our limitations. We no longer find the time to sit around a table and chat about the human and the divine. And not only do we not find the time, we don’t even know to anymore.”

“You say you’re looking for beauty, but this isn’t the way to achieve it, my dear friend. You won’t find it while you look to yourself, as if everything revolved around you. Don’t you see? It’s exactly the other way around, precisely the other way around. You mustn’t be careful, you must get hurt. What I am trying to explain, child, is that unless you allow the beauty you seek to hurt you, to break you and knock you down, you’ll never find it.”

“So seek beauty, Miss Prim. Seek it in silence, in tranquillity; seek it in the middle of the night and at dawn. Pause to close doors while you seek it, and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t reside in museums or in palaces. Don’t be surprised if, in the end, you find beauty to be not in Something but Someone.”

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Science Survey 2020

 Three years ago I created the ‘science survey’ challenge to make myself read more widely in science,  and I’m pleased to report that not only did I complete the survey halfway into the year, but I was able to go well beyond my goal of twenty to read a RECORD SETTING 30 BOOKS.  I anticipate another strong year next year, though probably not this many!

Cosmology and Astrophysics

Local Astronomy

Geology

Chemistry and Physics

Biology

Flora and Fauna

Archaeology & Anthropology

Cognition, Neurology, and Psychology

Weather and Climate

Ecology

Thinking Scientifically

Wildcard (Science Biography, History of Science, Natural History, Science and Health, or Science and Society)

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What I Read in 2020

I wasn’t able to finish Mama’s Last Hug before 2020 ended. I blame Arthur Morgan. Oh, well! 2021 will have a head start.

–January–
1. A Warning, Anonymous
2. How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman
3. The Best Cook in the World, Rick Bragg
4. The Guardians, John Grisham
5.  Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy,  Trita Parsi
6. The Most They Ever Had, Rick Bragg
7.  Welcome to Your Brain, Sandra Aamodt
8. Why is Sex Fun?, Jared Diamond
9. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, Frans de Waal
10. The Heart of the 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman
11. Men in Blue, W.E.B. Griffin
12. Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
13.  Shiloh: A Novel, Shelby Foote
14.  The Secret Life of Cows, Rosamund Young
15. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,  Margareta Magnusson

–February–
16. What Pastors Wish Their Church Members Knew, Denise George
17. The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman
18. The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
19. The Pluto Files, Neil deGrasse Tyson20. The Four Noble Truths of Love: Buddhist Wisdom for Modern Relationships, Susan Piver21. The Fasting Cure, Upton Sinclair22. The Slave Who Went to Congress, Frye Gaillard
23.  A Sand County Almanac; and Sketches Here and There, Aldo Leopold
24.  The Courageous Eight, William Waheed
25. The Complete Guide to Fasting, Jason Fung
26.  His Way: the Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra,  Kitty Kelley
27. The Planets: The Definitive Visual Guide to Our Solar System, Smithsonian Institute
28. Prague Fatale, Phillip Kerr
29. Braving the Elements: The Stormy History of American Weather, David Laskin
30. The Bodies in the Library, Marty Wingate
31. The Second Sleep, Robert Harris
32. The Ground Beneath Us,  Paul Bogard

–March–
33. The Body in the Library, Agatha Christie
34. American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins
35. The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis. (Reread)
36. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
37. Letters from an Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson
38. Are We There Yet? The American Automobile, Past Present and Driverless, Dan Albert
39. The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great, Benjamin Merkle
40. The True Soldier, Paul Fraser Collard
41. Will My Cat  Eat my Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death, Caitlin Doughty
42. American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793,  Jim Murphy
43. This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, Adam Kay
44. The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, Oscar Martinez

–April–
45. Bonaparte’s Sons Richard Howard
46. Star Trek Discovery: Drastic Measures, Dayton Ward
47. Bilbo’s Last Song,  J.R.R. Tolkien (poem)
48. The Making of the British Army, Allan Mallinson
49.  The Warrior Queen: The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed, Joanna Arman
50. The Weather Machine:  A Journey Inside the Forecast, Andrew Blum
51.  The Bright Blue Sky, Max Hennessy
52. Cruel as the Grave,  Sharon Kay Penman
53.  A Brief History of Life in the Middle Ages, Martyn Whitlock

–May–
54. Sideways Stories from Wayside School,  Louis Sachar (reread)
55. 18 Miles: The Epic Drama of Our Atmosphere, Christopher Dewdney
56. Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond our Appetites Lynn Baab,
57. The Body: A Guide for Occupants, Bill Bryson
58.  The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship between Violence and Virtue, Richard Wrangham
59. What the Robin Knows, Jon Young
60. The Mustering of the Hawks, Max Hennessy
61. The Science of Breaking Bad Donna Nelson
62. Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood, Oliver Sacks
63. Never Home Alone: The Natural History of Where We Live, Rob Dunn
64. The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Life of Birds, Noah Strycker
65. The Lion at Sea, Max Hennessy
66. Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom, Louis Sachar

–June–
67.  Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel, Tom Wainwright
68. Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America,  Peter Andreas
69.  To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter, Vladimir Bukovsky
70. Scam Me If You Can: Simple Strategies to Outsmart Today’s Ripoff Artists, Frank Abanagle Jr
71.  Ruby Ridge:  The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family, Jess Walter
72. American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing,  Lou Michel
73. To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor, Jeff Shaara
74. The United States of Beer, Dane Huckelbridge,
75.  Star Trek Voyager: Seven of Nine, Christie Golden
76.  Goosebumps #4: Say Cheese and Die!R.L. Stine
77. The Founding Fathers Guide to the US Constitution, Brion McClanahan
78. Er Ist Wieder Da /  Look Who’s Back!,  Timur Vermes

— July–
79. Star Trek Picard: Last Best Hope, Una McCormack
80. Star Trek Enterprise:  Uncertain Logic, Christopher L. Bennett
81. Clutter Free, Kathi Lipp
82. Waco: A Survivor’s Story, David Thibodeau
83. Stoicism and Western Buddhism, Patrick  Ussher
84. By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, Charles Murray
85. The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss, Jason Fung
86. Gandhi on Non-Violence, Thomas Merton & Mohandas Gandhi
87. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson
88. Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist, Alston Chase
89. The Ethical Assassin, David Liss (Reread)
90. The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson
91. In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson
92. Star Wars: Darth Plagueis, James Luceno
93. Is Reality Optional? …and other Essays, Thomas Sowell
94. The End of October, Lawrence

–August–
95.  The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton
96. Sex and the Unreal City: The Demolition of the Western Mind,  Anthony Esolen
97. How Dante Can Save Your Life, Rob Dreher
98. American Illiad: The Story of the Civil War, Charles Roland
99. The Left, The Right, and the State, Lew Rockwell100.  Reluctant Witnesses: Children’s Voices from the Civil War,  Emmy E. Werner
101.  Shiloh 1862, Winston Groom
102. The Great Ron Paul: The Scott Horton Interviews, 2004-2019,  ed. Scott Horton
103. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust
104. Hands of  Mercy:  The Story of Sister-Nurses in the Civil War,  Norah Smaridge
105. The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Rod Dreher
106. To the Ends of the Universe, Isaac Asimov
107. Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of (Almost) Everything, ed. Gene Healy
108. An Elegant Defense:  The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System, Matt Richtel

–September–
109. Star Trek: Takedown, John Jackson Miller
110. Firefly: The Ghost Machine, James Lovegrove
111. The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff
112. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 113. Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble, Marilyn Johnson114.  One-Man Air Force, Don S. Gentile115. The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse116.  The School Revolution, Ron Paul117. Resist Much, Obey Little: Remembering Ed Abbey, ed. James Hepworth
118. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
119. Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace, Carl Safini 120. Star Trek Vanguard: What Judgments Come, Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore 121. American Contempt for Liberty, Walter Williams122. The Forest Unseen, David George Haskell123. The Enemy at the Gate: Hapsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe, Andrew Wheatcroft
124.How Alexander Hamilton Screwed Up America, Brion McClanahan
125. And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini126. The Putin Interviews, Oliver Stone127. Lives of Famous Romans, Olivia Coolridge
128. Inside a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, Alexandra Horowitz129.  Black Wave:  Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the 40-Year Rivalry that Unraveled Culture,  Religion,  and Collective Memory in the Middle East, Kim Gattas130. Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria in WW1, Alexander Watson
131.  The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs, Judy Burris & Wayne Richards
132. The Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantaganet Dynasty,  Desmond Seward

–October–
133. The Persian Puzzle, Kenneth Pollack
134.  Star Trek Enigma Tales, Una McCormack135. The German War: A Nation Under Arms, Nicholas Stargardt136. Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety, Eric Schlosser
137. Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, Anna Funder
138. Any Approaching Enemy: A Novel of the Napoleonic Wars, Jay Worrall139. Navajo Weapon:  The Navajo Code Talkers, Sally McClain
140. Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe in Conspiracy Theories, Rob Brotherton
141. Star Trek Vanguard: Storming Heaven,  David Mack
142. Star Trek Vanguard: In Tempest’s Wake, Dayton Ward
143.  Who Killed the Constitution?,  Tom Woods & Kevin Gutzman144. I Heard  You Paint Houses, Charles Brandt  & Frank Sheeran
145. A Bright Future, Joshua Goldstein & Staffan Qvist
146. Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator, Gary Noesner147.  Napoleon: Life, Legacy, and Image, Alan Forrest148. Star Trek DS9: The Long Mirage, David R George III
149. The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, David McCullough
150. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling (Brit edition – reread)
151. Prelude to Foundation, Isaac Asimov (reread)

–November-
152. Unf– Yourself: How To Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life, Gary John Bishop
153. Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Approach, Steward Brandt
154. Palaces for the People:  How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic LifeEric Klinenberg
155. Firefly: Generations, Tim Lebben
156. The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics,  Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith
157. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Mary Roach
158. Defeat in the West:  The German Collapse, Milton Shulman  & Ian Jacobs
159. V-2: A Novel of World War 2, Robert Harris
160. The Afghan Campaign, Steven Pressfield
161. A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
162. Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic,  David Quammen
163. Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation, Jim Kunstler
164. Ready Player Two, Ernest Cline

–December–
165. War Lord, Bernard Cornwell
166. Count Those Buzzards! Stamp Those Grey Mules!Kathryn Tucker Windham
167. You Are Not So Smart: [48] Ways You Delude Yourself, David McRaney
168. Star Trek TNG: Headlong Flight, Dayton Ward
169. Silent Night:  The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914, Stanley Weintraub
170. Go Ask Alice, Beatrice Sparks
171. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (Reread)
172. The Hidden Life of Animals, Peter Wohlleben
173. Christmas Tales of Alabama,  Kelly Kazek
174. Life Under Compulsion:  How To Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, Anthony Esolen (reread)
175. Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays, C.S. Lewis
176. The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis (reread)
177. 1913: The Year Before the Storm, Florian Illies
178. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, Bart Ehrman
179. The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalie Sanmartin Fenollera
180.  The Ends of the Earth: The Polar Regions of the World, Isaac Asimov 

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The Classics Club Strikes Back

From 2015 to 2019, I participated in the Classics Club, leaving one book to read in 2020 from my list of 50 — and  having finished, it’s time to start again.   I decided to focus on stories closer to home, since there’s much of American literature that’s a blank for me.   Official end-date: January 1st, 2026!  In this first year, I’ll also be  dovetailing with the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Classic, Medieval, and Renaissance
Plutarch’s Heroes, volumes 1 & 2 (two entries)
Purgatorio, Dante. Trans. Anthony Esolen
Paradiso, Dante. Trans. Anthony Esolen.
Paradise Lost, Milton
On the Nature of Things, Lucretius, trans. Anthony Esolen

World Lit

The Shahnameh, Ferdowsi

European Literature
Ida
Elizabeth, Sigrid Unset
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alekandr Solzhenitsyn
Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenisyn
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy
Resurrection,  Leo Tolstoy
Mephisto, Klaus Mann
The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka.

British Literature
Rebecca, Daphne de Maurier
My Cousin Rachel, Daphne de Maurier
Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll. (Yes. I’ve seriously never read it.)
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
Northanger Abby, Jane Austen
Persuasion, Jane Austen (Annnnd then I’ll have read All the Austen save her juvenalia.)
Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling
Watership Down, Richard Adams

American Literature
Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville
My Antonia, Willa Cather
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
All the Little Live Things, Wallace Stegner
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
The Moon is Down, John Steinbeck
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,  Betty Smith
My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok
Davida’s Harp, Chaim Potok

Southern Literature
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
The Mind of the South, W.J. Cash
Cold Sassy Tree, Olivia Ann Burns.
All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, Flannery O’Connor
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,  Ernest J. Gaines
A Gathering of Old Men, Ernest J. Gaines
Traveller,  Richard Adams  (Well, sort of southern lit. It’s about the South, at any rate.)
Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin
The Old Man and the Boy, Robert Ruark

Classic SF
Dune, Frank Herbert
Neuromancer, William Gibson
The Shockwave Rider, John Brunner
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, Douglas Adams
The First Men on the Moon, H.G. Wells

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Top Ten Favorite Reads, 2020!

This week we’re looking back at the year and thinking about our favorite reads. These are presented in the order in which I read them.

Crawdads

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owns. An absolutely unforgettable mix of character drama and nature writing, Crawdads shows off its author’s science background, using it to create one of the most memorable main characters I’ve ever encountered: Kya, the “marsh girl”.


The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis. A review of the four Greek understandings of love. I’m presently re-reading this one in hopes of finishing my review before the new year ticks over.

americandirty


American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins. A novel inspired by the migrant crisis, Cummins takes readers on a desperate northward flight of a mom and child, who barely escaped the butchering of their family at the hands of a drug kingpin.


The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence, Richard Wrangham. How can a species so consistently capable of beauty and moral greatness also be capable of moral outrages like mass murder?


12rules

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson. A challenging and deeply philosophical book for those struggling to find meaning.

dante

How Dante Can Save Your Life, Rod Dreher. An intensely personal, and absolutely lovely, journey with Dante and an author trying to make peace with his father and still reeling from his sister’s death.


The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff. Two authors examine the plunging mental health and resiliency of American youths, and the related disintegration of civil discourse.

christalive

The End of October, Lawrence Wright. Published right around the time COVID-19 sent everyone running for toilet paper and covering everything in hand sanitizer, End of October is an end-of-the-world pandemic novel with strong science bones.


Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe in Conspiracy Theories, Rob Brotherton. Read in honor of the many election & corona conspiracies out there this year, Brotherton’s title reveals how our brain’s native shortcuts make lunatics of us all.

A Bright Future: How Some Countries have Solved Climate Change and How the Rest Can Follow, Joshua Goldstein & Staffan Qvist. On the necessity, not merely the option, of deploying nuclear energy to combat global warming.

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Titanic 2020’s last hours: all kinds of yakking, including 2021 plans

Here we are in that sweet, weird spot between Christmas holidays and New Year’s Eve. The end is near for 2020, not that the Cursed Year will stop giving. I’m sure corona will follow us into 2021, though — knock on wood — surely it won’t mess the entire year up as it did 2020. I’ve taken the last few days ‘off’, book & blogging wise, and have focused instead on hiking, spending time with family, and getting the dashcam I bought last year working. Check out my little Christmas eve drive in town!

I have thoughtfully muted my singing and included instead some royalty free music from Youtube to play. (Although if you want to hear me sing, there is a recording on youtube of me doing “Good King Wenceslas”….)

The final reads for 2020 will be The Ends of the Earth by Isaac Asimov (almost done), and Mama’s Last Hug, on animal emotions. That one is very good but my progress is continually slowed by all the holiday goings-on. There’s five days yet, so I may knock out The Awakening of Miss Prim or A Time for Mercy before January 1st arrives — but I’m plotting more hiking this weekend, so who knows. Speaking of January 1st, there’s a post scheduled for that day: the unveiling of the Classics Club Strikes Back, the next set of fifty classics I’ll be working through for the next 3-5 years.

Next year’s plans include the Classics Cub Strikes Back, the final conquest of Mount Doom, and (hopefully) more content with an Alabama & southern lit focus. I anticipate a strong 2021 for both historical fiction and science, and am hoping to start including the odd bit of video content with a history focus. Last year I began thinking about ways to share information about interesting people and places in my area that I’ve encountered, and a lot of camera time this year (thanks to livestream activities) has made me a little more comfortable moving beyond text.

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Merry Christmas, Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, and Joyeux Noel!

Whoever and whereever you are, a very Merry Christmas to you and yours. May the day be filled with good food, good times with people you love, and all the joy in the world.

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O, holy night —

I dare you to watch this and not weep.

A boys’ choir performs a piece from the movie, with pictures remembering the Truce
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