Saturday, 15 December 2018

Capote, Truman - A Christmas Memory (1956)

Finished: 15th December 2018
From Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 15 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

A Christmas Memory reflects on both joy and loss, as Capote in this semi-autobiographical short story describes a young boy, Buddy, and his elderly cousin, who is also his best friend. They live with other (rather stern and joyless) relatives and are very poor, but they love Christmas and save all their pennies for the occasion, making fruitcake using whiskey bought from an intimidating but ultimately generous bootlegger, and flying kites across the wintry meadow. It is a very tender and sweet story as Buddy reflects on a time of love and innocence, remembering his dear old cousin. Very moving, and one of the strongest stories in the collection.

Friday, 14 December 2018

The Friday 56

Every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice. The rules:

  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  • Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  • Post it.
  • Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

This week mine comes from the Nutcracker and Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffman, which I'm hoping to read this weekend:
Now the ladies escorted Marie and Nutcracker into the interior of the castle, a vast space whose walls consisted of colourfully sparkling crystals. But what Marie liked best of all were the darling little chairs, tables, dressers, secretaries, which stood around. They were made of cedar and brazilwood with golden blossoms scattered upon them. The princesses urged Marie and the Nutcracker to have a seat, and they themselves would prepare a meal! They pulled out a lot of little pots and bowls made of the finest Japanese porcelain - and knives and spoons and forks and grates and casseroles, and other kitchen appliances of gold and silver. They they brought the loveliest fruits and sweets, such as Marie had never seen before, and then they tenderly squeezed the fruits with their tiny white hands, pounded the spices, and grated the sugar almonds...
I'm really looking forward to reading this!

Cheever, John - Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor (1949)

Finished: 14th December 2018
From Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 13 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✯✯

An odd and rather sad story, this. Charlie, a poor and lonely elevator operator, complains to everyone that "Christmas is a sad season for the poor," and lies about having children, but soon realises that everyone in the building has bought him presents, food and alcohol. He drinks too much, makes an inappropriate joke, and is fired, and returns home feeling guilty for his lies. So he attempts to redeem himself by giving some of the food and presents to his landlady, unaware of the fact that she and her children aren't in need of them.

Bowen, Elizabeth - Green Holly (1944)

Finished: 13th December 2018
From Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 13 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✯✯

A festive ghost story set in the country home of the upper middle class. The party are bored and irritable, until the ghost of a young woman appears and attempts to seduce one of them. Strange, sad, unsettling, but well done.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Challenge the Second: Back to the Classics 2019

This will be my fourth year in participating in Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge and this year she's got some excellent categories. Here's a list of some titles I'm thinking about reading for each category, but I don't promise to stick to them!

1. 19th Century ClassicThe Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins.

2. 20th Century Classic. Tory Heaven by Marghanita Laski.

3. Classic by a Female Author. The Matchmaker by Stella Gibbons.

4. Classic in Translation. Metaphysics by Aristotle.

5. Classic ComedyThe Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.

6. Classic Tragedy. Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph by Frances Sheridan.

7. Very Long ClassicThe Adventures of David Simple by Sarah Fielding.

8. Classic NovellaFamily Happiness by Leo Tolstoy.

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean)The Double Death of Quincas Water-Bray by Jorge Amado.

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia)Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih.

11. Classic From a Place You've LivedThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg.

12. Classic Play. The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Waugh, Evelyn - Bella Fleace Gave a Party (1936)

Finished: 12th December 2018
Length: 11 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✮

An old lady in Ballingar in Ireland sells her books to prevent cousin and heir getting his hands on them and decides to throw a big society party in her old, crumbling mansion despite having little to do with her neighbours. By the title I assumed it would be something along the lines of Vile Bodies, but it actually couldn't be further from it. An interesting and very well observed story by Waugh that would not be out of place in Thomas Hardy's Life's Little Ironies.

Challenge the First: 2019 Victorian Reading Challenge

Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Efimovich Repin (1887). 
Becky's Victorian Reading Challenge is a challenge I've participated in for a few years now and I've always focused on a mix of authors. This year however, I'm going for Option C:
Choose one author to read exclusively for this challenge; perhaps challenge yourself to read chronologically OR to read through an entire series in one year.
I've decided my author will be Leo Tolstoy. And to be clear: I'm not intending to read Tolstoy's complete works, but I do want to read and in some cases re-read some of his novels, nonfiction, and short stories, possibly in chronological order but possibly not (it's a matter of getting hold of some of these). Here's the list of works I'd like to read, and though I may add to it, I hope not to take any away:

  • Childhood (1852; Novel)
  • The Raid (1852; Short Story)
  • Boyhood (1854; Novel)
  • Woodfelling (1855; Short Story)
  • Meeting a Moscow Acquaintance in the Detachment (1856; Short Story)
  • The Snow Storm (1856; Short Story)
  • Two Hussars (1856; Short Story)
  • Youth (1856; Novel)
  • Lucerne (1857; Short Story)
  • Albert (1858; Short Story)
  • Family Happiness (1859; Novella)
  • Three Deaths (1859; Short Story)
  • The Cossacks (1863; Novel)
  • Polikushka (1863)
  • Strider: The Story of a Horse (1863; Short Story)
  • War and Peace (1867; Novel)
  • God Sees the Truth, but Waits (1872; Short Story)
  • The Notes of a Madman (1872; Short Story)
  • The Prisoner in the Caucasus (1872; Short Story)
  • Anna Karenina (1877; Novel)
  • A Confession (1879; Philosophical Work)
  • What Men Live By (1881; Short Story)
  • Quench the Spark (1885; Short Story)
  • Two Old Men (1885; Short Story)
  • How Much Land Does a Man Need? (1886; Short Story)
  • The Kreutzer Sonata (1889; Novella)
  • Religion and Mortality (1894; Philosophical Work)
  • Master and Man (1895; Short Story)
  • What Is Art? (1897; Work on Art and Literature)
  • Father Sergy (1898; Short Story)
  • After the Ball (1903; Short Story)
  • What is Religion and of What Does Its Essence Consist? (1902; Philosophical Work)
  • The Law of Love and the Law of Violence (1908; Philosophical Work)
  • The Devil (1911; Novella)
  • The Forged Coupon (1911; Novella)
  • Hadji Murat (1912; Novella)

Is anyone else joining in Becky's Victorian Challenge? 😊

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Top Ten Book Covers I'd Frame As Pieces of Art.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Girl is a freebie, so I thought I'd revisit one of my favourite topics from 6th May 2014: Top Ten Book Covers I'd Frame As Pieces of Art.

1 - 2: The Great Schoolmen of the Middle Ages by W. J. Townsend
and Dream Life by Donald Grant Mitchell.

3 - 4: The Beauty of the Every Day by J. R. Miller
and Laddie and Miss Toosey’s Mission by by Evelyn Whitaker.

 5 - 6: The Speaking Parrots: A Scientific Journal 
and Fair Tales by Hans Christian Andersen.

 7 - 8: Candle-Lightin' Time by Paul Laurence Dunbar 
and Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle.

 9 - 10: The Morning Song by J. W. Pitchford
and A Warning to Lovers by Paul Leicester Ford.

Runyon, Damon - Dancing Dan's Christmas (1932)

Finished: 11th December 2018
From Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 11 pages
Rating: ✯✯✯✯

Another bit of bad luck with these Christmas stories, I'm afraid. In short, in Dancing Dan's Christmas the Christmas spirit reaches a group of dodgy characters in New York. Has a certain charm to it in a way, but it couldn't hold my concentration despite three goes at it: every time my mind wandered, and consequently I'm not entirely sure what I've just read. I know enough, though, to think it wise to stay clear of Damon Runyon in the future.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Nabokov, Vladimir - Christmas (1925)

Finished: 10th December 2018
From Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 8 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✮

A story on bereavement and rebirth. Sleptsov's son has just died and before the story begins has only just been buried. Sleptsov reflects on his loss and then discovers of his son's infatuation with a woman he knew nothing about. As he decides he cannot cope with his grief, an Attacus moth emerges from its chrysalis early and flies around the room. A very moving story on loss at Christmas time.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Sunday Post (I)

Since starting this blog at the beginning of November I've been meaning to join in with the Sunday Post, a regular feature at the Caffeinated Reviewer that encourages people to share news, recap on the past week, and look ahead at the coming week (see here for the rules). I thought it would be fun to join this every once in a while! So, without further ado, here's my news...


Pablo has a brother and we're collecting him tomorrow! He is now 9 weeks old (I'll explain further below what the delay has been) and he's an absolute beauty. Pablo's met him several times; the first time he was only a few weeks old, but the second time he was 6 weeks old and Pablo was incredibly gentle and sweet with him. 



I've joined Instagram (I'm here) and would love to follow some of you guys, so if you're on will you let me know so I can follow you. I'm enjoying it, though I'll note most of my pictures look a lot better on a phone than on the computer! So let me know, and don't feel for a second you have to follow me back - I'm just after some people to follow for myself.


𝓢hort Stories (and other things)

I've always loved short stories (what's not to love?), but lately I'm obsessed with them! It's been a very busy month here: we've had central heating put in and the lack of organisational skills of the company involved led to absolute chaos. Absolute chaos. It's in now, and having had it 15 hours it malfunctioned, so it's not actually working, but at least when it comes to fixing it I won't have to have furniture heaped in the middle of each room. I'll admit I was upset when it malfunctioned, but I'm fairly philosophical about it now (though I'm sick to death of talking about it). It was supposed to be in early autumn (so you'll see that getting a puppy in mid-December wasn't a stupid decision) but after a great delay followed by numerous cancellations it took until this week, and that is why Archie is a week late in coming. But - short stories - it's no wonder I've only had a chance to read short works, and short stories have been a Godsend.  I love them, and I keep adding to my Classic Club list (last count I had somewhere in the region of 300 on there, but I'm about to add fifty Sakis!).

The Best of Saki.


I had hoped to put the tree up today but I've neither the time nor, I've discovered, the fairy lights, so I'll do it next weekend if I can get someone to help me with the puppies. Until then, when I've finished tidying up in preparation for Archie coming home tomorrow, I intend to wrap the presents I already have and write my Christmas cards

Last year's tree.

2018 Challenges

I've finished my 2018 Challenges! As it was quite a hefty list and I don't intend to enter into any completion draws, I'll not list everything I've read as the list is already elsewhere on the blog (here). In short, I took part in Back to the Classics (12 books), Deal Me In (52 short stories, essays, poems, and plays), European Reading Challenge (12 books), Roof Beam Reader's Official TBR Pile Challenge (12 books), Victorian Reading Challenge (26 novels, poems, plays, essays, and nonfiction), my own Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge (I read 37 works), and finally #NewAuthors18 Reading Challenge (25 different authors). All in all, a decent effort.

2019 Challenges

I'm on the lookout and will post on individual challenges from tomorrow!

And until then, I must get back to tidying up... I hope everyone's enjoying their Sunday 😃

Saki - Reginald's Christmas Revel (1904)

Finished: 9th December 2018
From Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 4 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

The previous four stories in Christmas Stories (Where Love is, God is, Vanka, A Burglar's Christmas, and A Chaparral Christmas Gift) have been on suffering of some kind. Reginald's Christmas Revel is on the suffering of another kind, the suffering of dull relatives at Christmas. Reginald must spend Christmas with a relation of his father's, "a sort of to-be-left-till-called-for cousin" and he attempts to endure it: making conversation with The Major, playing a "book game" in which one must leave the room for a moment for inspiration (that time he uses to escape and play wineglass skittles with the page-boy), and then the grand finale: changing a note on Miss Langshan-Smith's bedroom door from a request to be woken up early to a suicide note. It is hilarious, sarcastic, well-observed, and right on point. I urge everyone to stop what you're doing for a few minutes and go to this website where you can read the whole (and very short) story in full. It will only take a few minutes, and it's a few minutes well-spent. And while you're doing that, I'm going to find more Saki stories.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques - Reveries of the Solitary Walker (1782)

Finished: 8th December 2018
Length: 123 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✮
"Having therefore decided that I would describe the habitual state of my soul in this, the strangest position in which any mortal can ever find himself, I could conceive of no simpler or surer way of carrying out my plan than by keeping a faithful record of my solitary walks and the reveries that fill them when I let my mind wander quite freely and my ideas find their own course uninhibited and untroubled. These hours of solitude and meditation are the only time of the day when I am completely myself, without distraction or hindrance, and when I can truly say that I am what nature intended me to be."
Reveries of the Solitary Walker (Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire) is Rousseau's final work, and it's divided into ten parts or, as he puts it, ten walks. In each section Rousseau essentially explores his mind and records where it takes him, questioning his thoughts, his memories, his attitudes, and recording events and things he sees whilst walking. By its nature it's an intimate work giving an insight into a great mind that had become infamous, and had suffered from a society that had taken against him.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Henry, O - A Chaparral Christmas Gift (1910)

Finished: 7th December 2018
From Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 7 pages
Rating: ✮✮✯✯✯

I've not had much luck these past two days with Christmas Stories. Cather's The Burglar's Christmas I thought underwhelming, but this - A Chaparral Christmas Gift was something else. Really I suppose it's about acceptance: it tells the story of Johnny McRoy a.k.a. the Frio Kid. He attempts to murder Madison Lane, the man who married the woman he loved, Rosita. He fails when he shoots at Madison one Christmas at their wedding, but manages in his career to murder 18 other men is his time. But, somehow, he comes to terms with the loss of Rosita and decides to just let her be with Madison and, well, I'll not spoil the end. Vaguely festive, and for 7 pages one can hardly complain too much.

Cather, Willa - The Burglar's Christmas (1896)

Finished: 7th December 2018
From Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 13 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✯✯

A man is starving on the Chicago streets one Christmas Eve when he decides to rob a house. Having stolen jewels, he then realises it was the home of his parents, who he hasn't seen in years. He is welcomed home and forgiven by his mother, whilst his father remains as distant as he had always been. A sentimental Christmas story, and I'm wondering - are there any Cather fans who have read this and can tell me if this was a good introduction to her works? I'm hoping not, to be honest.

Friday, 7 December 2018

The Friday 56

Every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice. The rules:
Grab a book, any book.
Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
Post it.
Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.
This week mine comes from a book that just happens to be sitting next to me: Six Tragedies by Seneca (and the quote is from Oedipus):
The hounds of Hecate are barking loud; three times the valley
rumbles in grief, and earth, struck from below,
is shaken. 'Now they hear me!' cried the priest.
'My prayers are answered; the black gulf is broken,
there is a path for the dead to the upper air.'
The whole forest shrank back, its leaves now stood on end,
the oaks were cracked, and all the grove was struck
with terror. Earth drew back and groaned within.
Either Hell was upset to feel its hidden depths
plumbed, or it was Earth herself, who burst her links,
with a moan, to give a way up out of there for the dead.
Or else the three-headed dog, Cerberus, in a rage,
shook himself and clattered his heavy chains...
I love Seneca: everyone should read Seneca 😃

From the Archives: Joyce, James - Finnegans Wake (1939)

One of the good things of having a book blog is that one can look back through the archives and revisit old books read a while back, remember them, and see how the memory of them matches the initial reaction in the original post. I thought this might be a fun feature to do maybe once a week or so (depending of course on what my archives have to offer; and if anyone wants to join me with posts from their own blog, please do!). For the sixth instalment of 'From the Archives', James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, which I first blogged about on 7th December 2011.

Finished: 6th December 2011
Length: 628 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

Seven years have passed since I first read Finnegans Wake, and I went on to read it again in February 2017, so I have two posts in my archives on this, the great unreadable novel of the 20th Century. And it is virtually unreadable, and even calls into question what it is exactly to read: when one reads, I suppose, one understands or at least has a chance of understanding: we interpret the words and their meaning - this is what was said, this is what was meant, this is what I think, this is what I feel. With much of Finnegans Wake that first and second option - this is what was said, this is what was meant - is removed, yet somehow one can manage the latter - this is what I think, this is what I feel. That said, there is a small degree of order to Finnegans Wake, and some meanings may be discerned. A more famous example of this is here:
What clashes here of wills gen wonts, oystrygods gaggin fishy-gods! Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quaouauh! 
The "Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax!" is in fact a throw-back to Aristophanes' The Frogs (405 B.C.):
Brekeke-kex, ko-äx, ko-äx,
Ko-äx, ko-äx, ko-äx!
[Βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ,
κοὰξ κοάξ, κοάξ!]
What it means in context I couldn't tell you: it's something to do with the Ostrogoths, that's about as much as I managed.  And then, like Lewis Carroll's The Jaberwocky, some words or sentences echo the sounds or feelings invoked by other words:
... rite continental poet, Daunty, Gouty and Shopkeeper, A. G., whom the generality admoyers in this that is and that this is to come. 
"Daunty, Gouty, and Shopkeeper": Dante, Goethe, and Shakespeare. Also, "Madam's Toshowus waxes largely more lifeliked" referring to Madame Tussauds, or "notional gullery" for National Gallery. And another example:
With our best youlldied greedings to Pep and Memmy and the old folkers below and beyant, wishing them all very merry Incarnations in this land of the livvey and plenty of preprosperousness through their coming new yonks
         jake, jack and little sousoucie
              (the babes that mean too)
"youlldied" - Yuletide, "greedings" - greetings, "Pep and Memmy", pop and mammy, "old folkers" (that I'm sure I don't need to spell out), "merry Incarnations" - Merry Christmas, and the question of "Incarnation" used instead of Christmas, ... and on it goes.

Another way of understanding certain words is to understand how the word itself is composed. "roman pathoricks" is obviously Roman Catholics; "roman", simple enough, "pathorick" - "Pat" as in Patrick, Saint Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland, the rest of it sounding suitably similar to "...h-olic" to bring "catholic" to mind. Another word that stuck out: "waxenwench". 'Waxen-wench', "wax" to mean not so much made of wax but the opposite of 'wane': to wax is to grow, and 'wench' obviously is a young woman, so "waxenwench" would mean a growing young woman: an adolescent female. Then there is the simple slang: "Scuse us, chorley guy!"; 'scuse', simple "excuse". As for "chorley guy", that I had to look up: it's said it refers to "Sorley Boy MacDonnell", a Scottish-Irish prince born in 1505. Words, in Finnegans Wake, may be random and appear meaningless, but some of them actually aren't; it's a matter of breaking them down and building them back up into something intelligible. But then, after all of that, there are the passages which one feels ought to make sense but don't.

All this insight, such as it is, I got from the second read. With the first read, back in 2011, I was left very bewildered, but there was a charm to it, and an exclusivity - I don't mean that by reading it one joins that small group of die-hards that managed to finish it, I mean that Finnegans Wake is an active attempt on James Joyce's behalf to exclude the reader. That alone is enough to irritate a reader or put one off reading it, but for others such as myself it makes one all the more determined to get stuck in. And I'm glad I did, and, as I had said in my first post on it, it's such a haunting read it's almost web-like in fastening the reader to it. I've read that Finnegans Wake can be described as a Ulysses of the night (Joyce himself apparently said his aim was to "reconstruct the nocturnal life"), and to me this makes sense. It has a dream-like (sometimes nightmareish) quality to it, a kind of Freudian, subconscious, random, account of what it is to dream; snatches of reality underneath millenniums of history, politics, and art with darkly sexual elements amongst the beams of light; coherent at times, muddled mostly, even with the odd snatches of rhyme: "Quicken, aspen; ash and yew; willow, broom with oak for you". Dreaming may take us back to our primeval selves, and Finnegans Wake takes us back to the dark ages, pre-Tristan -
Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, fr'over the short sea, had passencore [pas encore = not yet] rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war.
- to the times of Finn McCool -
Macool, Macool, orra whyi deed ye diie?
- one of the many references to Fionn mac Cumhaill, an Irish mythical warrior. 

For this, it's an astonishingly forceful book; the modernists tried to capture what life was really like. Woolf wrote (in Modern Fiction):
Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible? 
Joyce did this for the night, and it's a remarkable achievement. And of course, when reading it, Joyce pulls us back to the beginning: that first sentence of Finnegans Wake,
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
is actually a continuation of the final sentence:
A way a lone a last a loved a long the 
It's a hard book to let go, and I doubt I ever will. The key to approaching it is an absolute willingness to fail. To accept failure and welcome the feeling of total mystification, Finnegans Wake is actually a rather enjoyable exercise. 

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Malthus, Thomas - An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)

Finished: 5th December 2018
Length: 172 pages
Rating: ✮✮✯✯✯

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebeneezer Scrooge says, "If they would rather die ... they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population", and later the Ghost of Christmas Present uses his words against him, saying - 
“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”
This is a reply to the controversial An Essay of the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus, in which he (rightly) predicted a rapid population growth and advocated a control over that growth. Celibacy, the prevention of marriage, and birth control are a few ways of controlling the population, as are disease and war; the most effective method of population control was, however, poverty (the threat of which also serves to increase virtue), and thus he argued against social improvement and the Poor Law that gave relief to the impoverished. Malthus also argued in favour of 'marrying the right sort' to increase the quality of stock as it were, oblivious to the effects that kind of in-breeding has. Largely it seemed to me an explicit version of the rubbish the Conservatives are wont to come out with (such as there are some bad apples who would rather receive state relief than work, thus it is far better for millions to suffer and potentially starve to death), though to be fair to the man he was often referring to the distress of the poor in trying to feed their families (so it's not quite as cold and hardhearted as I imagined) and he didn't predict birth control in our contemporary sense, which I daresay might have altered his perspective.  And, though painfully dull, it's certainly an insight into 18th and 19th Century economics, and it's always good to read first hand those our favourite authors have criticised. It is an exceptionally boring work, though.

Chekhov, Anton - Vanka (1886)

Finished: 6th December 2018
From Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 6 pages
Rating: ✮✮✯✯✯

A depressing tale of a young boy who writes to his indifferent grandfather to entreat him to take him away from his miserable apprenticeship. Eventually he sends the letter, his only hope to be saved, "To grandfather in the village. Konstantin Makaritch". Of course we know it will never be received, and even if it were it's doubtful the grandfather would have intervened.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Tolstoy, Leo - Where Love is, God is (1885)

Finished: 5th December 2018
From How Much Land Does a Man Need? & Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy and Christmas Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdall.
Length: 15 pages
Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

A beautiful tale with a very familiar premise: Martin Avdeitch is left a widower, and shortly after his only son dies. Bereft, he turns to God and the Gospels, and he has a dream that God tells him He will appear to him the next day. Martin patiently waits, and in that time helps the snow-shoveller Stepanitch, an impoverished young woman and her son, and a young boy caught stealing. His forgiveness, compassion, and empathy shows how he has truly embraced the message of the Gospels, and he learns that night that God had indeed visited him and that where love is, God is.