Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Mill on the Floss

When I was compiling authors for my Victorian reading list, I have to say that George Eliot (the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans) was one name I was not excited to see. I struggled through Middlemarch in high school & did not really have any plans to take in any more Eliot in my lifetime.

I thought, though, that for the Period Film Mini-Challenge, I could probably sit through a George Eliot movie. I had always heard much talk of The Mill on the Floss, & I had an idea it was probably her best or at least best-known book. I found a copy of a 1997 film of it starring Emily Watson, an actress I really like, & I decided to check it out.

Well, the other night I watched it. Emily Watson was really good as Maggie Tulliver, the heroine, but even I, unfamiliar with the book as I am, was lukewarm about the production-like last year's hour-and-a-half Jane Austen adaptations on PBS, the story seemed severely truncated, & it kind of felt like you were hitting high points in the narrative & the characters were very loosely sketched. (I have since read a review on Amazon that the 1978 version fills in the gaps a lot better, though that production itself is stagey rather than cinematic.) The deus ex machina ending was so abrupt & disturbing that I had to look at the ending in the book to see if it was accurate (it wasn't exactly the same, but it was close).

All in all, quite a bleak tale, with no redemption in sight, reminding me of another Victorian writer, Thomas Hardy. The Masterpiece Theater host, Russell Baker, indicated that this was a thinly veiled autobiography, as George Eliot's life had many similarities with Maggie's-though she was close to her brother in childhood, he would not speak to her for the 25 years she lived with a married man, George Henry Lewes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

007-The Spy I Love

I don't know about most people, but when I hear mention of the word "spy", the name that comes to mind for me is the ultimate fictional agent James Bond, created by the author Ian Fleming. Mr. Fleming was born in 1908 in Mayfair London to Valentine Fleming (don't you just love his father's name?) and Evelyn St. Croix Rose. Ian was educated at several fine institutions in England and Germany and on the eve of World War II in the European theater, he became the personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey, director of Britain's Naval Intelligence. Mr. Fleming was involved in several secret plans to topple the German war machine, including planning and gathering intelligence information for 30 Commando, a specialized commando unit, and he was able to use all of his skills and knowledge of intelligence into a successful writing career.

The first James Bond novel was Casino Royale, published in 1953, which was twice made into a film-- in 1967 with Peter Sellers and in 2006 with Daniel Craig. The second film can be found in the library catalog and can be placed on hold if you are not able to find an available copy. It is interesting to find that several of the Bond books were written in the 1950s and 1960s, but it was many years before some of the titles were made into big-screen films.

Several of the Bond novels can be found in the library system. Doctor No, Goldfinger, Thunderball are still available at some of the branches, and there are several reprints and e-book copies available through the digital download section of the webpage. In addition to the novels and films, there are also several other titles that explore the world of James Bond. There are The Moneypenny Diaries by Kate Westbrook, a fun, fictionalized account of the world of James Bond, Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks (billed as the new James Bond novel) published in 2008 and there is even a Young Adult novel called Silverfin: A James Bond Adventure by Charlie Higson. Some great non-fiction titles that delve deep into the Bond franchise are: The Science of James Bond: From Bullets to Bowler Hats to Boat Jumps, The Real Technology Behind 007; The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond; and James Bond by John Cork and Bruce Scivally, which is a great book about the legacy of this enduring and well-loved British agent.

While Mr. Bond may not be a favorite of some, he will always be a part of me, brandishing his quick wit and intelligence, his love for the ladies, but yet enveloping himself with the grim determination to finish the mission and the martini, shaken, but not stirred.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World

One of the first gems I unearthed for my Victorian reading challenge was The Clumsiest People in Europe, or: Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World, edited and with an Introduction by Todd Pruzan. Apparently, Todd Pruzan found a volume of one of Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer's travel guides gathering dust in a used book store, took it home to amuse his friends, & was hooked.

His introduction details his find & the research he did on Mrs. Mortimer, who, though quite famous in her time, is unknown to us today. Besides the multi-volumed travel guide (titles included The Countries of Europe Described, 1849), Mrs. Mortimer was well known in Victorian times as the author of The Peep of the Day; or, a Series of the Earliest Religious Instruction the Infant Mind is Capable of Receiving, which, as Pruzan explains, is “a Bible primer aimed at four-year-olds that now seems bizarrely and characteristically sadistic.” The Peep of the Day features helpful & caring instruction such as “If you were not to eat some food for a few days, your little body would be very sick, your breath would stop, and you would grow cold, and you would soon be dead.”

Pruzan's introduction sets the stage for Mrs. Mortimer's "bad temper", then offers up selections of her travel guides--the listing for each country starts with a brief historical background written by Pruzan, then features Mrs. Mortimer's thoughts on different topics, including customs and appearance, character, dress, schools, cottages, food, children, the poor people, religion, government, amusements, mountains, slaves, and the forests. Then she usually discusses a couple of the country’s major cities before moving on. Sometimes she compares the habits of one country to another-Hindoostan [India] to China, Brazil to Peru.

Mrs. Mortimer believes in calling a spade a spade (frequently & forthrightly). Here's a list of some of her pet peeves:
  • drinking (On Russian food: "I wish they loved no other drink except kwas [a wholesome drink of barleymeal] and tea; but they love brandy too well, and drink it, not in little cups, but in large tumblers...")
  • religions other than her own Evangelical Christianity (On Roman Catholicism: “The religion they teach is called the Roman Catholic religion, but it is a very bad kind.”)

  • bad character traits—including idleness, cruelty, covetousness, treachery, deceitfulness, cowardliness, wickedness, not keeping the Sabbath holy

  • untidiness (On Italy: “The houses are very dirty, especially the staircase and the doorway; but the Italians think more of painting their ceilings and placing statues in their halls than of keeping their houses clean. The English think a clean house is better than a pretty one.”)

  • bad eating habits (On Swedish food: "In England meat is boiled or roasted, but in Sweden meat is often only smoked. You would not like smoked salmon or smoked reindeer flesh.”)

  • children who are not trained up to behave well (On French children: "Children of five or six years old often dine with company, when they ought to be alone with their papa and mamma, or else in the nursery.")

It's interesting to realize that Mrs. Mortimer felt perfectly suited to write a travel guide, considering she had been out of England twice in her life--she visited Brussels & Paris as a child, and Edinburgh (‘the most beautiful city in the world’) as an adult. She also sees nothing amiss in devoting 60 pages to Madagascar, 14 pages to Greenland, and 6 sentences to New York City.

Some of the most interesting passages give us a real sense of the how the world has changed in the past 150 years or so--Mrs. Mortimer is writing in a time when Australia was considered an island, not a continent and before explorers had found the pharaohs' treasures in the pyramids. She has a section on slavery in the 30 states 0f America--a practice which she abhors, but, as she she also points out "[t]here are no slaves in the Northern states, but there are many blacks there; and perhaps you think they are kindly treated as they are not slaves. Far from it."

Most of her observations are arbitrary and rude: “Nothing useful is well done in Sweden.” On Spanish: “It is true their language is the finest in Europe, but there are very few wise books written in it.” However, one of the points Todd Pruzan makes, as he describes beginning "to feel unsettled by [Mrs. Mortimer's] vicious, country-by-country savaging of the entire world", is that we can be reminded today how easy it is to fall into long-standing stereotypes: “Still, the apparent conventional wisdom of the 1850s—that the “merry” Irish are “fond of drinking”, that the Chinese “are quiet, and orderly, and industrious”… --are still ugly, horrifying, disturbingly familiar. How many centuries have these offensive clichés existed, anyway?”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Become a Friend!

Established in 1969, the Friends for the Public Library is a nonprofit organization supporting the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System. The Board of Directors of the Friends annually allocates money to enhance library services to benefit the community, including providing funding for:

  • Annual citywide Summer Reading Program for childen and young adults.

  • Community Outreach and Family Literacy Program.

  • Cultural and literary events at branch libraries.

  • Specialized training and development for professional staff.

  • Center for the Book- a self-guided educational exhibit on the history of books and printing.

The primary fundraising activity of the Friends is their booksales, including Monthly Used Booksales, the Main Library Bookshop, and ‘Fiction to Go’ kiosks at nine of the 17 branches. Most of the books for sale at all these locations are from kind donations from library customers!

How can you help? The Friends need the help of hundreds of volunteers every year. Volunteer opportunities include:

  • Advocacy- help make local, county and state officials aware of the importance of our library system.

  • Community Outreach- help develop and implement Family Literacy Programs.

  • Development- help us raise more funds in support of the Library system.

  • Main Library Bookshop- work several hours, one or more days a week.

  • Membership- help us recruit more Friends like you.

  • Pricing and Sorting- prepare books for sale, working one or more days a week.

  • Serve on our Board of Directors and in committee positions.

  • Used Book Sales- second Saturday of every month

To join the Friends, or for more information, check out their website.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Django Reinhardt, Gypsy Jazz Guitarist

Today marks the 100th birthday of European jazz great Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt, a Gypsy jazz guitarist, was one of the first prominent European jazz musicians and remains one of the most renowned jazz guitarists of all time. For more about Django Reinhardt, check out:

Django Reinhardt and the Illustrated History of Gypsy Jazz by Michael Dregni with Alain Antonietto and Anne Legrand

If you'd like to listen to Reinhardt's music, consider:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Music & Movement Storytime at Cherry Hills!

A new Music & Movement class is starting at Cherry Hills Library on January 23, 2010! This fun and active class is for ages 0-5 and should be an enjoyable event especially for parents who work during the week and cannot make the midweek Storytime sessions. Singing, moving to music, and playing instruments all help develop a sense of rhythm and timing that are essential elements in developing the part of the brain that influences math skills. Additionally, fingerplays, rhymes and stories will help develop pre-reading skills. Each session will incorporate all these activities as part of a theme such as Good Manners, Opposites, and Food, to reinforce what you are teaching your kids at home.

The Music & Movement Program will be meeting on the 2nd & 4th Saturdays at 11:00 A.M. Come a little early to allow time to find a parking space as well as a comfortable spot in the room. (Tip: we suggest that you may want to make sure your kids have eaten and been to the restroom before the session starts.)

Come join us in the fun and joy!! We are looking forward to you and your little ones being with us!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England

Last night I whipped through Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick (only 190 pages, not including Notes & Index). Wow! As a mystery, it did not disappoint. It's a retelling of a famous Victorian murder, the poisoning of Charles Bravo, which remains unsolved to this day.

Part One, 'The Strange Death of a Rising Young Barrister', outlined the events leading up to the crime & the crime itself. Part One also introduced us to our cast of characters/suspects--Charles' wife Florence; her companion, Mrs. Cox; her ex-lover, Dr. Gully; & the recently dismissed stableman, George Griffiths. This is no dry recapitulation of the story--as blurbs by Elizabeth George & Kate Atkinson attest, James Ruddick's gives us an account "as compelling as any fictional thriller".

Part Two, 'Who Killed Charles Bravo?', is where Ruddick's research kicks in. There have been numerous studies of Bravo's murder, including one by Agatha Christie, but Ruddick remains unconvinced by their solutions. Instead of relying on the traditional evidence, Ruddick's research takes him as far afield as Jamaica to piece together his own original conclusion. His investigation certainly is meticulous--he leaves no stone unturned, including visiting the Priory, the Bravos' house (now an apartment house), to act out some sequences from the night Charles Bravo was poisoned.

I really enjoyed this book, though I'm not sure I agree with Ruddick's solution. It was a quick read & a gripping story. If you enjoy a recreated Victorian mystery story, you consider also Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper--Case Closed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back to the Hugos

Science fiction fans! The Guardian is currently running a blog series called "Back to the Hugos". Blogger Sam Jordison is posting about each Hugo Award winner, starting from the beginning. For more Hugo Award history, check out the Hugo website.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Our Mutual Read: Return to Cranford

So, although I have a bunch of Victorian books at home, I haven't yet started my reading. Instead, I'm going to cheat & talk about my impressions of last night's Return to Cranford on PBS. It's based on Elizabeth Gaskell's book--which we don't have at the library, but you can read online using Google Books or download a free E-book from Girlebooks (Girlebooks also features an interesting review of the book)--so at least I'm beginning to immerse myself in the right period.

I really enjoyed the 2007 production of Cranford. It was just delightful to watch this story play out, & a cast including Judi Dench, Julia McKenzie, Imelda Staunton, Eileen Atkins & Francesca Annis is nothing to sneeze at--& that was just the female talent! However, last night's Return to Cranford felt a little flat to me. I found myself wondering if this sequel was actually based on the book, or if the writers were trying to recapture the magic by extrapolating from existing plotlines--not very successfully, in my opinion. It was great to watch the pantheon of British stars working their magic on the screen, but I just didn't feel the connection with story. Also, hopefully not giving too much away, the ride on the train scene was really cute, but I couldn't imagine Elizabeth Gaskell (or any Victorian writer) writing it. I'll be checking out Part 2 next week, but not with quite the same level of excitement.

I've got Cranford on my list of reads now, but if anyone out there has already read the book, can you tell me if Return to Cranford is part of Gaskell's original stories? Also, if you watched the show last night, what did you think of it?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Our Mutual Read

You may have noticed the picture (& link, if you click on it) for Our Mutual Read in the sidebar on the right. I am taking a reading challenge this year & reading Victorian literature! I haven't decided which level I'll be doing:

-Level 1: 4 books, at least 2 written during 1837 - 1901. The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.

-Level 2: 8 books, at least 4 written during 1837 - 1901. The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.

-Level 3: 12 books, at least 6 written during 1837 - 1901. The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.

However, at this point I think I've amassed enough potential titles to do level 3 twice. Here are some of the titles I'm considering (I'm hoping plays are acceptable):


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Warden by Anthony Trollope (first book of The Chronicles of Barsetshire)

Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

Father Brown Mystery Stories by G.K. Chesterton

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Pinkerton's Sister by Peter Rushforth

The Observations by Jane Harris

Affinity by Sarah Waters

Jack Maggs by Peter Carey

The Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray


The Second Mrs Tanqueray by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero

Lady Audley's Secret by C. H. Hazlewood (adapted from the book by Mary Elizabeth Braddon)

(Oddly enough, my interest in both these plays was piqued by frequent mention in Agatha Christie novels.)


The Clumsiest People in Europe, or, Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World by Todd Pruzan and Favell Lee Mortimer

Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick

The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon: The Life, Loves, and Lawsuits of a Legendary Victorian by Brian Thompson

Lectures on Art by John Ruskin

Victorian London: The Life of a City, 1840-1870 by Liza Picard

Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders

Victorian Fairy Tales: The Revolt of the Fairies and Elves edited by Jack Zipes

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale

London 1849: A Victorian Murder Story by Michael Alpert

I'm also interested in in the 2 mini-challenges:

-Period Film Mini-Challenge -- watch at least 6 films that take place between 1837 - 1901 (they don't necessarily have to be based on a book) and post a review. (With my love of Merchant-Ivory productions & the new movie Young Victoria out, this is a natural for me.)

-Short Story Mini-Challenge -- read 12 short stories written or taking place between 1837 - 1901 and post a review. (I find the library system has The Oxford Book of Victorian Detective Stories, The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories, & Victorian Love Stories: An Oxford Anthology.)

Well, I'd better start reading! I notice my reading will be skewed towards mysteries--I 'm hoping reading a genre I normally read will encourage me to complete this reading challenge (unlike last year's). I'll be posting off & on on my progress & on some of the books I've read. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 4, 2010

10 in '10 New Mexico Reading Challenge!

After reading about those other reading challenges, we got inspired to create one of our own! Our challenge to our readers is to read 10 books in 2010 either about New Mexico, set in New Mexico, or by a New Mexico author. You could read fiction (any genre) or non-fiction. Looking for titles? We have a New Mexico authors display at the front of the library! You can also check the shelves for books marked with a round yellow zia sticker on the spine. Or, consider the following lists of the New Mexico Book Award winners:

If you are interested in taking part in our 10 in '10 New Mexico Reading challenge, please let us know by leaving us a comment on this post! If you already know the ten titles you'll be reading (or some of them), let us know what you've chosen.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's Reading Challenges

So you like to read...maybe you're looking for new titles...have you ever considered a reading challenge? There are many blogs and websites out there that sponsor reading challenges--read a certain number of books in a set amount of time. The challenge could be reading 3 science books in 6 months; reading only Canadian authors; reading 12 books in a year. Here are some of our favorites:

Science Book Challenge: Read a book for science literacy!

Audiobook Reading Challenge: Are you curious (3 books), fascinated (6), or addicted (12)?

A Tournament of Reading: Read medieval history, medieval literature, or historical fiction.

Our Mutual Read: A Victorian reading challenge.

An Adventure in Reading (blog): Sidebar links to numerous 2010 Challenges, including (so far) Orange January, Aussie Author Challenge, Complete Booker Challenge.

A Novel Challenge (blog): The place to find your next challenge!