Books I Read During the First Half of 2017

January:

Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope, read by various readers for LibriVox.org — Phineas Finn was not so bad in the book as in the TV series. He is not so whiny and is more upright. I did not like Lady Laura, who purposely antagonized her husband and tried to make him feel guilty when he was concerned about her.

Lady in Waiting, by Rosemary Sutcliff — A historical novel about Bess Throckmorton and Sir Walter Ralegh. The title describes both Bess’s position in Queen Elizabeth’s court and her life as Ralegh’s wife.

Central Park, by Debra White Smith — I read this because it is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. For a “Christian” novel whose main characters are committed to sexual purity, this books is oddly obsessed with physical attraction. You’d think they could find something else with which to occupy their minds. It is largely occupied with details about the exact length of the skirts, how much make-up the characters wear, what size their hips are, their brand of perfume, what their jackets are made out of, their favorite candle scents, &c.

February:

The Eustace Diamonds, by Anthony Trollope, read by Simon Vance — Lizzie Eustace is an entertaining antiheroine. She is not a bright woman, who spends her time lying and conniving. Her shenanigans receive an amusingly fitting reward. I did not much like her cousin Frank. I am of the opinion that a man shouldn’t ask a poor woman to marry him until he has decided which means most to him — love or money.

Shakespeare’s Daughters, by Sharon Hamilton — This is not a book about Shakespeare’s biological daughters, Susanna and Judith Shakespeare, but a study of father-daughter relationships in several of Shakespeare’s plays. It is divided into various categories, such as obedient daughters, rebellious daughters, &c. The author’s perspective on a number of the women in Shakespeare’s plays was interesting. For example, she opined the idea that one of the reasons Desdemona (one of the rebellious daughters) ended up dead was her father’s rejection of her and her subsequent isolation.

March:

Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope, read by various readers for LibriVox.org — More about Phineas Finn. In here, he is accused of murder. Lizzie Eustace is again a character and, in the end, it is rumoured that she is about to marry Lord George de Bruce Carruthers, who thought about marrying her in The Eustace Diamonds, but ultimately decided she was too hot to handle.

Sam the Sudden, by P. G. Wodehouse — One of my favorite Wodehouse novels. I read it aloud to a couple of my younger siblings (aged twelve and fifteen), fellow Wodehouse enthusiasts. Naturally, they enjoyed it immensely.

April:

The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope, read by various readers for LibriVox.org — The Duke, Plantagenet Palliser, becomes Prime Minister, much more to his wife’s delight than his own. Unfortunately, when he most needs her comfort, she prefers to vex him. I liked her better in Can You Forgive Her? The slimy Ferdinand Lopez is introduced and poor Emily Wharton learns that you shouldn’t marry a man whose profession you don’t even know.

A Month in the Country: A Comedy in Five Acts, by Ivan Turgenev, translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett — I had this on my computer and read it to pass an idle hour or two. Everyone is in love with the wrong person, but I’m not sure I would categorize it as a comedy anyway.

May:

The Duke’s Children, by Anthony Trollope, read by various readers for LibriVox.org — The last of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels. I made it through the entire series! As the title suggests, the novel is largely about the Duke’s dealings with his children. Poor Plantagenet, nothing goes the way he wants. The American Isabel Boncassen was fun. I liked Lady Mabel Grex for a while, but ended by disliking her. I don’t approve of anyone trying to marry someone while in love with someone else. And then she tried to make Silverbridge feel guilty for not marrying her. Not nice.

Autobiography of Anthony Trollope, by Anthony Trollope, read by Jessica Louise for LibriVox.org — Anthony Trollope covered quite a variety of topics in his autobiography: an overview of his life and circumstances that shaped it, a defense of the novel, the art of novel-writing, his opinions of his own novels, his opinions of various contemporary novelists, a sprinkling of his political views, &c. He seemed to be a hardworking, good-humoured, sensible sort of man. I particularly enjoyed reading his views on Charles Dickens. I must partly disagree, however, with his assessment of the merits of George Eliot’s novels — while he seems to favor the character Tito in Romola, that particular novel and its characters are among my least favorite of her works.

One interesting tidbit that was included in a chapter about his family is this: “Then my brother Tom and I were left to [my mother],—with the destiny before us three of writing more books than were probably ever before produced by a single family. My married sister added to the number by one little anonymous high church story, called Chollerton.” (Ch. 2) Further on in the chapter, Anthony Trollope records the number of volumes his mother produced: 114 (“of which the first was not written till she was fifty”!). Counting from a bibliography of his works, Anthony Trollope wrote 47 novels, 12 collections of short stories, 17 works of non-fiction (including his autobiography), and 2 plays, for a total of 76 volumes, if you don’t count the plays and irrespective of his various articles and his letters. According to one source, his brother, Thomas A. Trollope, wrote 60 volumes, in addition to his periodic and journalistic work. Those, combined with the sister’s novel, make for a total of 251 volumes. That is, indeed, a sizable contribution to literature from the Trollope family!

June:

The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatoria, & The Paradiso), by Dante Alighieri, translated by Charles Eliot Norton, read by Pam Ward — I think I would have gotten more out of this if I had been reading an annotated edition explaining who all the mentioned historical people were. It wouldn’t have flowed as well, however. I found Hell and Purgatory more interesting than Heaven, largely because I could understand what was going on better.

“O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall?” — Purgatorio, Canto XII, lines 95-96.

Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, read by Michael York; Once Upon a Fairy Tale, produced by Karen Kushell of the STARBRIGHT Foundation, told and performed by various artists; and Lord Emsworth and Others, by P. G. Wodehouse, read by Nigel Lambert — I went on a very long car ride with five children. We whiled away the time with cookies, muffins, and audiobooks. Alice in Wonderland is a favorite in my home. Once Upon a Fairy Tale was new to the kids. It isn’t very long, but is very well done. It consists of four fairy tales retold by various artists. For example, “Little Red Riding Hood” features Glenn Close as Red’s mother, Robin Williams as Wolf von Big Baden, Bruce Willis as the Woodcutter, Oprah Winfrey as Red’s grandmother, and Lisa Kudrow as Hannah Milner Primrose Red Brown. All four tales are delightfully funny. Some of the “nine glorious episodes” in Lord Emsworth and Others, by P. G. Wodehouse were new to me. The first story, where the Efficient Baxter gets shot numerous times with an air-gun, was the general favorite. Nigel Lambert did a remarkably good job rendering Wodehouse’s genius.

Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey — I read this aloud to my youngest siblings. They enjoyed it and are begging me to read the sequel to them. Even one of them who won’t usually sit through the books I read to them, stuck around for almost all of it.

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Paintings: At a book by Marie Bashkirtseff, circa 1882, and Reading a Story by James Jacques Joseph Tissot.

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