Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Books I much enjoyed reading in 2013

Flute Lore, Flute Tales:  Artifacts, History,and Stories About the Flute is now available in paperback at   It should be at Barnes & Noble and at Ingram’s by March.  The book contains 66 color pictures.  The Kindle and ebook editions are $3.99.

This last year, while I researched the flute and read what I could about it, I opened the pages of other books that concerned ancient history.  This blog post lists the books I most enjoyed in 2013.   One is ancient, some are classic, and others are more recent or newly published.  As a used book dealer, I usually read old and new.

Every once in awhile, I pull a book out of my internet listings.  This poetry collection is definitely one that I will open up in the future and I did not like to let it go.  The poems are translated from the Welsh, all first written in Welsh, so Dylan Thomas is not there. For anyone who likes Dylan Thomas, this collection helps to clarify the tradition of his poetry.   The poets are all from the 20th century.  There is great poetry in the book, poetry that feels almost transcendental in its imagery and archetypes, poetry beautifully written.

I read Summer when I was about 26-years-old, and remembered liking it a great deal.  This was a re-read, to find out why this Wharton novel isn’t well-known.

The second time, Summer was so compelling that I wanted to read only that book until I was done.  Wharton took up the story of a young woman who was fostered by a small town New England lawyer, very different personalities from her usual affluent characters.  Charity’s love affair with a young architect is told in bittersweet style, and with many images from the time and place. What becomes dynamic is Charity's confrontation with her real parentage, her illegitimacy among the Mountain people, and her roiling feelings. These weren't handled with suddenness, they had momentum from the start of the book.  Although my reading experience was different many years later, I still think Summer is a great book.   

A very readable book and one that searches for and explores the powerful people that were a part of Cleopatra's reign. Also, the book attempts to balance all of the attitudes about Cleopatra and what kind of woman was beneath her trained exterior.    An interesting documentation for me was that Anthony was a full-fledged Roman with a history of violence that was not "Egyptian", making one wonder about his relationship, rather than his romance,  with Cleopatra.    Schiff can narrate history with fascinating details that heighten the plots inherent in it.

Originality and humor, plot twists that followed from previous scenes rather than from sensation made the book feel solid, a world of its own. I also liked the characterizations, again how they developed naturally from their entrances into the story, and the dragon Kale's difficulties with his human role, his hotness. 

A girl is adopted by embroiderers who live near a cathedral and provide fine work for the priests. During her childhood, she is much affected by the sculptures of women saints.  As with Nana, Zola is slow in getting to his action. I didn't mind reading about so many saints because I didn't know alot about them.  However, this part and the detail about the cathedral might be very tedious to many readers today.

But the girl embroiders, has a haunting love experience, a difficult engagement, and then she becomes a saint without Zola saying that.   He sat at the last illness of Paris’s Marilyn Monroe, writing Nana into a great book that made him rich.  After reading about the courtesan, I was amazed at Zola’s ability to handle the spiritual female.

I've read The Book of the Dead and was very interested to see how this subject was handled. There was some very good writing and imagery in this. The protagonist falling into the Egyptian underworld and being mistaken as Isis continued as a mystery about her identity, and this was compelling. That theme didn't weaken.  The conflicts between the gods was a take-off from the ancient book but it is a part of Egyptian mythology. While some of the many characters didn't develop, Brooke's relationships with them were strong.  Although long (especially when you consider the spells for turning into birds in The Book of the Dead), the crossing of the Lake of Fire was visual and exciting.   I found this at BookGoodies for Kids, a new site that was worth exploring.

Terrerae did much more than to increase my acquaintanceship with this major poet.  She took vignettes from her life, each with events that were telling, odd events too, and they were fascinating.  These extend from her childhood in Wales and London where her Jewish father was a Christian clergyman, converted, and where her Welsh mother figured a great deal.

This is all written with a poet's eye for images so that reading it, I felt the setting constantly. It was very enjoyable, especially her profiles of people that had an effect on her life or were stuck in her memory.  As sometimes happened, I couldn’t finish the book because someone bought it from my internet store.  That did not surprise me.

Balzac can be tedious, especially when he writes about the French countryside, it seems. But if you don't like his description and characterization, he gives you the whammy at the very beginning of this book. A printer makes a tough deal with his son to take over the shop but after the son marries, he becomes more involved with inventing a new type of paper. That while his friend, now his brother-in-law, recklessly goes to Paris to become a poet. The French village is full of eccentrics and probably the most tedious but revealing section of the book has to do with a lawsuit for debts.   Fiction often skips money issues as if they can be guessed or don’t even exist; Balzac can show conscientiously how they can affect his characters and how nefarious this can be for the idealistic.

After reading Haggard's Cleopatra, I was enthused to read another book of his. But this was a book of adventure with male characters - two Englishmen who commission Quatermain, experienced with African safari life, to help find one of their brothers who had disappeared while searching for diamond mines established in King Solomon's time. They take two Zulu men, nearly die in the desert, and then encounter a huge tribe of Zulus close to the mine. 

This isn't my usual fare, especially with a long Zulu battle over kingship, but Haggard is modern in style and so involving with character.  I’ve already uploaded another book of his from Kindle.

I guess Herodotus wasn't always trusted but that is because his history is based on accounts from civilians, scribes, or priests where he traveled. The many changes in Mesopotamia while the Persians took over really reminded me of today. One of his first accounts is of Croesus ("Rich as Croesus"), which really pulled me in, however there is much inhumanity against man and specifically sometimes women in certain places that he covers from the 4th century B.C.

He tells about the Amazon women, and the traditions of their nomadic community.  The story of Cyrus was a little like Arthur's but awful, and then there was his son. There were Pharaohs who drank and joked too much, and kings who were kind or horrible. India was the farthest eastern place then, where the sun rose, and with only desert beyond. Most of the people he talked to then knew little of the land of the North Wind. One Scythian people said that the air was filled with feathers. Herodotus is interesting in that he often doesn't accept these versions. With that one, he said that he believed they were speaking of snow. It's long and can be stultifying but I really had to laugh many times, reading this.

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