Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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100 Books By 40: GORMENGHAST

Book: Gormenghast
Author: Mervyn Peake
Published: 1946-1959

The BBC has done it again. As indicated by the published range as opposed to a single year, this isn’t one book but three. The book that I got from the library is all three books in one. It is one thousand+ pages, and the type is obscenely small. Months of my life was spent with this book.

The book tells the story of a castle, and two generations of noblemen who rule it. At least that’s typically how these sorts of stories are arranged. The noblemen act on their domain. This book inverts that narrative such that the domain, the castle acts on its noblemen.

On the bright side, Mervyn Peake was primarily an illustrator. And his sense of the visual rings true in his writing. The mental imagery that this book evokes is a feast for the imagination. This stands as such a contrast in our CGI-ed existence; actual imagination shimmers from this books pages.

On the not so bright side, the plot of this book moves at a snail’s pace, which goes a long way in explaining why I was reading this for 8 months. The plot will sit idle for chapter after chapter, only to have several major twists happen in a four page chapter. It’s true that much of the preceding chapters are setting up context, but the visual imagery takes up a piece too. I would take issue with this as writing masturbation, but Peake seems to make settings characters that may also act on the plot.

The characters are so quirky. So very, very quirky. And yet when Peake drapes them in his macabre visual world. They seem completely at home, natural even.

Eight months is a long time to commit to anything. A word like entertaining simply doesn’t apply to a book like this. It’s a visual delicacy that’s to be savored, for perhaps eight months.

Picture of Gormenghast all three books in one

Just look at this monster. Granted, this is all three of the books in one. But really, BBC, time to change your best 100 books list to best 112 books.

Probably the right time for another update on where I am in my list.

Reading now:
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
**On The Road, Jack Kerouac (rereading for pleasure)

Finished reading:
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen – only 99 cents for Kindle edition
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens – have on Kindle
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy – have on Kindle
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens *I read this when I was too young to appreciate it; I would like to read it again as an adult. I will do so if I have time.
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time.
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time. I have the unabriged unedited version and will probably take on that if time allows.
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson

Pending reading:
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

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100 Books by 40: COLD COMFORT FARM

Book: Cold Comfort Farm
Author: Stella Gibbons
Published: 1932

This is an ode to references. Stella Gibbons is poking fun at books that were popular at the time. Novels that idealized English rural life were common with quirky characters and regional dialects galore.

I purchased this as an audiobook because I was headed out of town for the weekend and wanted something to listen to in the car. Due to my lack of planning, I didn’t have time to get the audiobook from the library. I failed to grasp the implications of purchasing a “dramatized” reading. Dramatic, it is.

This dramatized reading is complete with different voice actors for each character as well as sound effects. I could live without the sound effects. I do, however enjoy the different voice actors.

This book is a little tough for me to get into. In order to fully appreciate parody, I would need to be more familiar with what is being lampooned. Imagine watching Spaceballs without seeing Star Wars. Sure, it’s still funny, but many of the jokes would fall flat. That’s my experience with this book.

I’ve read a couple of the authors that Gibbons is parodying. Via this list, I’ve read the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. But I sense that my familiarity would need to be more significant than one read through can give me.

Regardless, I enjoyed the book. I’m sure many jokes sailed over my head. And I suspect some of the absurd aspects of the plot were more obvious due to the voice actors interpretation. But, if you haven’t read any of the authors that this book lampoons, I suggest you skip it.

Reading now:
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett

Finished reading:
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen – only 99 cents for Kindle edition
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens – have on Kindle
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy – have on Kindle
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens *I read this when I was too young to appreciate it; I would like to read it again as an adult. I will do so if I have time.
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time.
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time. I have the unabriged unedited version and will probably take on that if time allows.
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel

Pending reading:
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie


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100 books by 40: BLEAK HOUSE

Book: Bleak House
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: 1853

Bleak is an accurate description of how I felt when I started this book. The gray Cincinnati winter seems the most suitable companion for slogging through this enormous book. I was cheered by the fact that this is the last Charles Dickens book in my list. All of my earlier struggles with The Bronte Sisters and Jane Austen have paid out in how quickly I jumped back into Dickens.

Of the many things to object to with this book, the obsession with 1800’s British legal system was most irritating. Long passages are devoted to the courts. I skimmed over those passages without guilt.

Fortune has put this book toward the end of my list. There are twenty books standing between me and my goal of finishing The BBC’s 100 Best Books list. The momentum of eighty books down and twenty to go carried me to the end of this book.

The sheer number of side characters in this book is overwhelming. I can’t say that the subplots add that much to the book. Actually, scratch that. I can’t say anything about the book added that much to my life. Great Expectations and David Copperfield deserved to be on this list. Bleak House, not so much. If you want to get into Dickens, steer clear of this one.


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100 Books by 40: GUARDS! GUARDS!

The book: Guards! Guards!
Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 1989

This is my second Terry Pratchett read. When someone asked me to describe the author’s books, I suggested science fiction with a British sense of humor. This resulted in a, “Oh like Douglas Adams” (author of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), response. After consideration, I responded with, “No more like if Monty Python were to rewrite Star Wars and tackle broader questions around the nature of our existence.”

My first Terry Pratchett experience happened while on a train from San Francisco to Seattle. That ride was nearly 36 hours, and I don’t sleep well in new surroundings. I was nearly delirious when I read all of Mort. I suspected that the book was funny. I suspected that I was too tired to appreciate the dry wit. Suspicions confirmed!  Gaurds! Gaurds! was a delightful read. So, Terry Pratchett, I’m sorry for those exhaustion powered reflections on Mort. If Terry Pratchett has any good sense, he’s not reading this blog though.

The storyline centers around the medieval equivalent of the red shirt guy on Star Trek, the guy who doesn’t have a name and is the first to meet his doom in the episode, night guards. The city in which the guards keep watch has established an equilibrium between criminal and legitimate activities by normalizing crime. The thieves guild and the assassins guild ensure that only people without the proper money or connections are victimized. This is the first of many instances that Pratchett provides commentary on our current environment via satire.

While I do enjoy Pratchett’s humor, it’s the satire that will drive me to read more of his books. There’s wit and searing clarity in Pratchett’s satire that I didn’t find in Douglas Adams’ writing. Pratchett’s satire reminds me of the scene in The Holy Grail in which King Arthur is thwarted by a peasant refusing to recognize him as King due to the peasant’s rejection of feudal rule. The argument devolves to, “Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being repressed!”

Pratchett dispenses with just as many moral lessons if not more than Suzanne Collins does in The Hunger Games trilogy. But Pratchett sneaks it in with less horror and violence. Darkness is much easier to swallow when it’s wrapped in British humor.


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100 Books by 40: THE SECRET GARDEN

Am I the only person who didn’t know that The Secret is based on ideas in The Secret Garden? An internet search is telling me that, no, this isn’t common knowledge. Let me back-up a moment.

I just finished reading The Secret Garden. It seemed like a charming children’s book until the end. The premise of the story is that a spoiled little girl losses her parents to cholera and is shipped to a mysterious mansion to live with a distant relative. The girl gains entry to a locked garden and discovers many other things regarding the mysterious mansion. While on this adventure, she becomes a nicer child and puts off some of her bratty ways. So far so good.

In the third to last chapter, one of the children has a very long “sermon”, the book’s word, not mine. This sermon basically extols the virtues of positive thinking.  While I was reading page after page of this, I thought when did this children’s book morph into a self-help title? Further more, I am wondering if Rhonda Byrne (author of The Secret) gave any credit to Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of The Secret Garden). My quick and sloppy googling didn’t show any acknowledgement, but I freely admit that I didn’t invest more than 5 minutes on searching.

So, I’m wondering why Burnett added this bit to her book. It would have been a charming story without it. I suppose the character transformation is partially explained by this, but she provides equally plausible explanations such as fresh air, physical activity, and good friendship. I can only think that conveying the power of positive thinking was important to Burnett, given that she shoe-horned it into the story line.

Regardless of this mystery, the book is a pleasant read. In terms of the other children’s books on the list, it doesn’t beat out Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But it’s quite short and could easily be read in a week. Oh, and this was my first title that I borrowed from the Hamilton County Library on my Kindle. It was pretty easy. I will gladly do that again.