Wild Women and Books by Brenda Knight – Bibliophiles, Bluestockings, and Prolific Pens – A Post a Day in May

I kept this one for last as it’s hands down one of my favourite books. Wild Women and Books – Bibliophiles, Bluestockings, and Prolific Pens contains entries that span from Aphra Ben to Zora Neale Hurston. Now this may sound like it’s similar to Literary Witches but it’s quite different. It’s a much bigger book and while it contains photos, illustrations, and pictures of artwork, there is a lot of text in each chapter and on each writer. Additionally, to the chapter texts, it has boxes that give information on where to find the authors online and themed lists.

There is a total of seven chapters.

Chapter 1 – First Ladies of Literature is on the precursors and pioneers like Anne Bradstreet, Aphra Behn, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lorraine Hansbury.

Chapter 2 – Ink in their Veins focusses on women who come from writing dynasties, like the Brontës or Mary Shelley.

Chapter 3 – Mystics and Madwomen explores authors like Hildegard von Bingen and Teresa of Avila.

Chapter 4 – Banned, Blacklisted and Arrested is particularly fascinating. Why do women get blacklisted and who are they? I’ve always been baffled when I saw these lists of books that have been banned in the US. You can find many of them above. There are a lot of children’s authors like Judy Blume on that list.

Chapter 5 – Prolific Pens explores those women who seem to be publishing nonstop or have published a lot like Margaret Mead, Joyce Carol Oates, and also Margaret Atwood, Edith Wharton, Danielle Steel, and Barbara Cartland.

Chapter 6 – Salonists and Culture Makers looks at authors like Dorothy Parker, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Getrude Stein, Djuna Barnes and many more.

Cahpter 7 – Women Whose Books are Loved too Much is interesting and diverse. These are the authors who have a large fanbase, fervent followers and admirers. Some of them are Agatha Christie, Alice Walker, Anne Rice, and Margaret Mitchell.

I’m sure it’s easy to see why this is such an appealing book. Anyone will stumble upon authors they hadn’t heard of before as it is so diverse. The high and the low and those in the middle, they are all there. The book has a handy index at the back, lists with online book groups and further reading on women and books. Wild Women was initially published in 2000 and then reissued and updated in 2006. The only bad thing – it looks like it’s currently out of stock but second hand copies are cheap and easily available and there’s a kindle version too.

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland – Animal Cuteness -A Post a Day in May

I feel like we can all do with some cuteness these days and so I decided to share this book about animal friendships. Unlikely Friendships is such a lovely book. The stories are all so touching and the pictures that go with them are beyond cute. Some of these friendships aren’t that uncommon but some really make you look twice. There are 47 true stories in the book, most of them accompanied by three to four pictures.

Some of the stories like that about the gorilla Koko and the kitty are quite famous. Others are told by people who witnessed their pets suddenly being very friendly with an animal from another species. Other stories have been reported by visitors to parks or nature reserves like this one:

This young male Macaque found a stray kitten in the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest in Bali. Visitors saw the two together. They were inseparable. The kitty could have gotten away many times, people even tried to take him away, but he always ran back to his monkey friend.

The story between the gorilla Koko and his kitten is well known as Koko was famous. In the 80s she was taught sign language and was able to communicate with people. One day, she told her teacher that she wanted a kitten for her birthday. And that’s how these two became friends. The story didn’t have a happy-ending as the kitten was later run over by a car. Koko was inconsolable and grieved her kitten for a very long time.

The friendship between this lioness and the baby Oryx is another very unlikely friendship. The two were spotted together in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya.

There are several friendships between cats and other animals in this book. Cats and rats, cats and cockatoos, cats and pigs, and this one between an Iguana and a house cat. The Iguana was found wandering the streets of New York and someone rescued him. He couldn’t keep the animal and gave him to a friend, a nurse, who was known for rescuing stray animals. The Iguana thrived and grew and soon stretched to four and a half feet. When the nurse adopted a rescue kitten, the most unlikely thing happened – they became friends and are always close together.

This might be one of my favourite pictures because they both look at the camera in such a cute way. This friendship lasted until the owl was grown up, then it was brought to an aviary. To this day, when the owner of the greyhound walks by the aviary, the owl and the dog greet each other.

This male pit bull belongs to an owner who lives in Texas. When her female dog had pups, she noticed that the dad was even keener and more affectionate than the mother. Whenever there are small chicken on her farm, they climb on his back and he seems to love them very much. The closest friendship he has though is with a Siamese cat.

I hope you enjoyed this little sneak peek at this wonderful book. There are many other friendships in here – To name but a few more: Black bear and cat, dog and Bobtail Cat, White Rhino and Billy goat, seeing eyed cat and a blind mutt and macaque and white dove.

While this is a cute book, it also proves that animals have deep feelings and are capable to form strong connections and friendships.

Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson – History, Recipes, Quotes – A Post a Day in May

It is entirely possible that many of you already know Tea with Jane Austen as it was a favourite with book bloggers when it came out. That wasn’t exactly yesterday but in 2011. This edition, that is. The original was published in 2004.

Tea with Jane Austen is a delightful and informative book that will charm Jane Austen and tea lovers alike. As the introduction states:

The book examines the role tea played in everyday life for Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) and her characters. Illustrated with extracts from her novels, her letters, and the writings of her contemporaries, each chapter looks at tea in a different context, from taking tea at various times of day to its function in particular aspects of their lives. I also include some recipes of the time, along with adaptations for the modern cook, for tasty fare that was served with tea.

I like that we learn a lot about Austen’s life and the history and importance of tea at the time. The extracts from the letters and the quotes from the books really transport you back in time.

It’s an ideal companion to read alongside the novels, an excellent introduction to her life and work, or a nice way to remember those we’ve already read. But it can also be used to recreate a breakfast, afternoon, or evening tea à la Jane Austen.

Kim Wilson has written other books about Jane Austen. At Home with Jane Austen looks particularly appealing.

 

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy – Classic Russian Literature – A Post a Day in May

Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilych was published in 1886, roughly thirty years after War and Peace and twenty years after Anna Karenina.

I have read this before but felt it was time to reread it. I didn’t realize when starting it, what an excellent companion piece to Flaubert’s A Simple Heart this is. Both novellas tell the story of a life. One the story of a simple, uneducated woman, the other the story of a highly educated, successful man. Both stories are tragic.

The Death of Ivan Ilych starts with the discussion of a few lawyers, one of which just read their colleague, Ivan Ilych, has died. This intro chapter sets the tone. The reaction of the men tells us everything about them, their way of life, and Ivan Ilych’s life. Not one of them is saddened. They are only upset because it briefly reminds them of death. They soon console themselves though.

The very fact of the death of someone close to them aroused in all who heard about it, as always, a feeling of delight that he had died, and they hadn’t.

Only one of the men feels he should pay the widow a visit. Seeing the dead man makes him feel uncomfortable. He’s glad when he can escape again and go back to his life, his “friends” and playing bridge, a game Ivan Ilych had enjoyed and been very good at.

After this intro chapter follows the story of Ilych’s life. This is how it begins:

Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.

This is so short and cruel and tells us in one sentence everything that we need to know about Ivan Ilych. It condenses what we will read in the next chapters in more detail.

Ivan Ilych was a successful lawyer. He made a stunning career, even though he wasn’t always happy with the developments, especially not after he got married. What at first looked like a good idea, settling down with someone who had a bit of money and was nice to look at, soon proved to have been a mistake. She was jealous and never happy with what they had, always pushing him to make more and more money. He did so, not only for her and domestic peace, but because he, too, measured success in terms of financial and professional success. And he also liked power.

In his work itself, especially in his examinations, he very soon acquired a method of eliminating all considerations irrelevant to the legal aspect of the case, and reducing even the most complicated case to a form in which it would be presented on paper only in its externals, completely excluding his personal opinion of the matter, while above all observing every prescribed formality.

After living in provincial towns for many years, he finally gets offered a very good position in St Petersburg. He buys a house and furnishes it the way he always wanted. In his eyes it is perfection. But the author tells us otherwise.

In reality it was just what is usually seen in the houses of people of moderate means who want to appear rich, and therefore succeed only in resembling others like themselves: there are damasks, dark wood, plants, rugs, and dull and polished bronzes — all the things people of a certain class have in order to resemble other people of that class. His house was so like the others that it would never have been noticed, but to him it all seemed to be quite exceptional.

Ivan Ilych, who has never done any manual thing in his life, enjoys decorating his new home but then something happens. He has a minor accident and feels some pain in his side.

Soon after this, he notices that the pain won’t go and that he has other symptoms. He knows he’s seriously ill, even fears he might die.

Over the next months, Ivan Ilych deteriorates more and more, is misdiagnosed and misunderstood and dies a lonely painful death.

Ilych’s illness and death are slow and agonizing and give him time to think about his life. He realizes that something had been missing, that he had measured success in the wrong way.

‘Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,’ it suddenly occurred to him. ‘But how could that be, when I did everything properly?’ he replied, and immediately dismissed from his mind this, the sole solution of all the riddles of life and death, as something quite impossible.

The tragedy is that the doctors who are incapable of empathy, are just like he was with the criminals— pompous and condescending. His entire world, he discovers is full of falsehood.

What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and that he only needs keep quiet and undergo a treatment and then something very good would result.

The Death of Ivan Ilych is an upsetting story. It’s dreadful to see how much he suffers and how nobody cares. I think one can also feel that Tolstoy didn’t like his character and that might be the biggest difference to Flaubert’s story. Flaubert didn’t judge Felicité. He felt compassion. Tolstoy doesnt feel compassion for Ilych as he seems to stand for everything Tolstoy abhors – bureaucracy, nepotism and arrivistes.

As I mentioned before, I read this twice and it feels like I’ve been reading two different stories just because my own life has changed so much. The first time, I’ve read it right after my dad’s death. This time around the sections on illness got to me more because the doctor’s reminded me so much of some of the doctor’s I’ve seen in the last couple of months. They just didn’t listen and had their idea about why I was in pain but very clearly they were wrong.

A lot has been speculated about Ivan Ilych’s illness. It’s never said what he has and might not be important. There are also many theories about the meaning of this story. To me, it is the story of a man who wanted only pleasant things in life, who hated change, and let himself drift until he hit a major obstacle, which he was incapable of overcoming. In that, and verything else, he is indeed mediocre.

100 Must-Read Life-Changing Books by Nick Rennison – Bloomsbury Reading Guide – A Post a Day in May

I’m very fond of these little Bloomsbury Reading Guides. I say little because they are just a bit bigger than a hand. I own quite a few of them. I find them well-done, informative, and a good introduction to different kinds of books and genres.

Now “life-changing” might make a few people roll their eyes thinking this is about self-help books. But it’s not. It’s about books that have had a major impact on people’s lives for various reasons. Either because they were ground-breaking, or because the author wrote about something in a new way. Because they talk about social injustice, philosophy, or psychological ideas. Many are novels that were highly influential. Some of these books literally changed a lot of people’s lives. Because they made them see the world in a new way or understand things better. In his introduction, Nick Rennison writes that this isn’t meant to be a best of. Just a varied list.

The idea that there can be a definitive list of the books most likely to change lives, and change them for the better, is a ludicrous one. Books can change lives but they do so in a wide variety of often subtle ways. Very different books can, in different ways, be life-changing and the selection of titles in this book reflects that. 100 Must-Read Life-Changing Books finds space for, amongst others, a children’s novel about a young girl who discovers a key to a secret garden, a Chinese text on a war from the sixth century BC, a black comedy set in WWII, the autobiography of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable statesmen, a handbook on happiness by one of the world’s great religious leaders and a fable about a pilot who meets a story-telling child in the Sahara desert.

The authors and their book are presented in alphabetical order. Author and book are then presented in a short bio, summary and history of the influence of the book. These chapters are followed by Read on lists, which either contain other books by the author or books by other authors that are similar.

Throughout the book you can find themed boxes with lists of books.

Here are some of the authors you can find in this book – I’m picking two for every letter:

Isabel Allende, Marcus Aurelius, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Albert Camus, Jung Chang, Dalai Lama, Simone de Beauvoir, Anne Frank, Sigmund Freud, Ghandi, Jean Giono, Stephen Hawking, Hermann Hesse, C.G. Jung, Helen Keller, Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee, Primo Levi, Nelson Mandela, Alice Miller, Friedrich Nietzsche, Boris Pasternak, Sylvia Plath, Sogyal Rinpoche, J.K Rowling, J. D. Salinger, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Henry David Thoreau, Sun Tzu, Kurt Vonnegut, Edmund White, Naomi Wolf, Paramahansa Yogananda

As for the books – you’ll find titles as varied as The Little Prince, Siddharta, The Origin of Species, Walden, The Beauty Myth, A Room of One’s Own, Life of Pi, The Outsiders, On the Road, The Art of War and many more.

Because I have already read many of the books that are mentioned here, I like to use it as a refresher or when I’m in the mood to read books on a theme or books that might be similar.

If this kind of book appeals to you – here is a link to an older post about the Bloomsbury Guide on Historical Novels. It’s excellent as well.

Killer in The Rain by Raymond Chandler – Precursor of The Big Sleep – A Post a Day in May

The novelette Killer in the Rain is one of the later short works of Raymond Chandler. He reused some of the elements with great effect in his first novel The Big Sleep.

As a teenager and early teen, I read all of Chandlers novels and loved them very much. Whenever someone asked me who my favourite writer was, I didn’t need to think twice – Chandler. As much as I loved him, I didn’t return to him because I rarely reread books. So, a few years back, someone asked me the question again and I said “It used to be Chandler”. That made it sound as if I didn’t like him anymore, but that wasn’t what I meant, it just meant – it’s been so long, I can’t be sure anymore. While I read and loved all of his novels, I hardly read any of his short stories and novellas, so it was with a lot of trepidation, that I started Killer in the Rain. What an experience this was. This isn’t as good as any of the novels, but it already has all the trademarks and reminded me why he once was my favourite author. Next time someone will ask me the question again, the answer will be – Chandler. And not in past tense, no.

Killer in the Rain is set in LA in the 30s and tells the story of a PI – probably Marlowe – who is asked to look after the daughter of a rich client. She’s been blackmailed and her dad is afraid that she’s got caught up in something sinister. Marlowe finds out the blackmailer owns a lucrative porn book lending business. When he goes to visit him, he finds him dead, his client’s daughter sitting stark naked and completely stoned on a chair, and someone running from the crime scene as soon as Marlowe enters. A little later, one of Steiner’s cars is found in a river, with a body in it.

Telling you more would spoil the story, but I think, this gives you an idea of what to expect.

Killer in the Rain is the novelette that’s closest to his novels in style. We can already see how different from other hard-boiled detectives Marlowe is – he isn’t named in the story, but we can assume it’s him. Marlowe cares. He’s anything but tough. Sure, he can act tough, doesn’t shy away from using a gun and shoot at someone, but he doesn’t do it lightly. As in all the later novels, solving the murder isn’t that important. Marlowe wants to help his client, keep him or her safe. While not as developed as in other books. there’s a social commentary here as well. The corruption of the police is obvious. Marlowe is one of two things that make me love Chandler so much. The other is his style. His books are written in a slang that’s not always easy to understand, especially not since a lot is made up. Chandler loved figures of speech and used them extensively in the novels. Here too, I found many wonderful sentences that made me chuckle.

“Carmen Dravec sat in Steiner’s teakwood chair, wearing her jade earrings.”

“Then all the expression went out of her white face and it looked as intelligent as the bottom of a shoe box.”

“Her giggles ran around the room like rats.”

As the title of the novelette evokes – it’s raining a lot in this book. The weather is always important in Chandlers work. It helps to create a moody atmosphere. I can’t remember if it rains often in his other books, but it does here and in The Big Sleep.

If you’ haven’t read Chandler yet and don’t know where to start this is a good pick. If you like it, you’ll already know that there’s much more and much better stuff where this came from. As for me, I might actually become a rereader after all.

Do you have a favourite Chandler novel? Mine is The Long Goodbye.

We Are Artists by Kari Herbert – Women Artists Around the World – A Post a Day in May

I stumbled upon the German translation of We Are Artists – Women Who Made Their Mark on the World in a book shop at the end of last year. Anything with Frida Kahlo on it, will get my attention. I browsed the book and liked the concept so much that I didn’t bother ordering the original but bought the German edition immediately. Comparing the two covers, I’m glad I did as I find the German cover more compelling. Both editions were published at the end of 2019.

Kari Herbert’s book is an homage to fifteen female artists from around the world. It’s illustrated with the works of the artists and illustrations in honour of the painters done by Kari Herbert herself.

At the beginning of each chapter is a full colour portrait of the artists by Herbert, followed by an illustrated fictional text and a short biography featuring chosen paintings of the artist.

Here’s the example of Indian painter Amrita Sher-Gil

The chapter on Mexican artist Frida Kahlo

Some of the pictures from the chapter of Finnish artist Tove Jansson

And the French painter Suzanne Valadon

Here is one of my favourites, a painting by Australian painter Emily Kame Kngwarreye

While this isn’t a book meant for children, it offers an excellent introduction for younger people. The way Herbert illustrated the book, inspired by the different artists, is in itself inspiring too.

Anyone who loves art, colour, and creativity, would enjoy this. It would also make an excellent gift.