Top Ten Tuesday – top ten unread books on my bookshelf


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Really? Only ten? At least i have a ton to choose from for this list… Okay, in no particular order:

1) Memory Babe (Gerald Nicosia) – The massive biography about Jack Kerouac. Several years ago I took it with me on a weekend getaway and read a couple hundred pages but, once I got home, never resumed reading. Why is a mystery because I love reading everything about Kerouac. Perhaps I need to return to the site of my former reading to be able to close the deal. (give me a moment while I make reservations…)

2) Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) – One of my most serious lapses in cultural literacy. Everybody has read this but me, it seems. To further complicate matters, I seem to have misplaced my copy when I redecorated/rearranged my place a couple years ago. Hopefully it’s not languishing at the bottom of some box I won’t open for another ten years. I should just buy an electronic copy and get started.

3) War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy) – I almost bit the bullet a few years ago when a friend proudly announced he had “finished War and Peace.” Even though I ~hate~ that he has that over me, it hasn’t been enough to jump start me to read it myself. I almost hopped in a read along earlier this year but didn’t. The fact that it has 365 chapters (one for each day in the year) almost screams “reading project!” at me, but not even that has been enough to get me started.

4) The Ambassadors (Henry James) – Oh, Henry James… You are so hard to read and this one is so long. I don’t know if I’ll ever read it, but it may have the longest tenure of books that sit on my shelf and mock me for never having the wherewithal to read them…

5) The Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs) – I’ve had this awhile now too, and I’ve read tons of stuff by the “beats.” I’ve even read the tragic biography of Burroughs’s son (“Cursed at Birth”) but never read this one. From what I’ve read from other bloggers, this book is one of those love it or hate it books, so I guess I have some fear that I will find myself in the hate it camp when I finally get started. Someday.

6) The Divine Comedy (Dante) – How have I avoided this one? I’m relatively well read in terms of “The Classics” but somehow this one has escaped me. My curiosity about it was rekindled last year when I read the excellent novel, The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. (honorable mention here goes to Milton’s Paradise Lost which I’ve never read either).

7) The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) – My nephew and I informally pledged to read this last year. To my knowledge, he hasn’t started it either. My failure here is particularly acute since I signed up to receive this book via “Daily Lit” which emails you a small section each day to read. I have a hard copy too, which is probably what I’ll eventually read it from, but I haven’t “shut off” the emails yet so I get a constant, daily reminder of my slacking…

8) Robopocalypse (Daniel Wilson) – Bought after I heard some hype on NPR. It’s a topic I’m interested in as well, but for some reason I’ve only been able to execute a couple half-hearted false starts on this one.

9) The Antiquary (Sir Walter Scott) – I was on a big SWS kick about a year ago, and after reading Waverley and Guy Mannering this was next on the list. My failure here is sheer laziness and lack of fortitude. Scott is a little harder reading for me, and I just keep taking the path of least resistance and reading something else.

10) Villette (Charlotte Bronte) – She has spent years in my bedroom (on a bedside table). I guess at one point I thought, “I’ll just read some of this before I go to sleep every night and eventually I’ll finish it.” I’ve probably false started it a dozen times. The fact of the matter is Bronte requires more attention than my tired, pre bedtime mind can handle. Time to kick her out of the bedroom!

Bonus book: one that was on my bookshelf for years and years, but eventually escaped purgatory when I finally actually read (and loved!) it. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.

Well, that’s a few of mine. I look forward to reading everyone else’s lists!

Thoughts on Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott

A bit of a reading lethargy has befallen me since I finished the novel, Guy Mannering.  I think part of the reason is I miss the book and its having transported me to 18th Century Scotland and the territory of Galloway.  Almost from the beginning when we found the title character ‘losing his way’ in the night and stopping at a hovel, whose mistress – upon the promise of payment in return for being guided – rouses her young son to conduct ‘our hero’ to the estate of Ellangowan, I was pretty much hooked.

I will miss the characters that Scott created: the wonderful Meg Merrelies – a gypsy ‘witch’ almost literally larger than life at six feet tall, the unfailingly loyal and impossibly awkward Dominie Sampson, the steady and loyal Colonel Mannering himself, his daughter Julia – ready to spread her wings and follow the first promising suitor who comes her way, piping on his flageolet beneath her window.  The same suitor is also Harry Bertram, the heir to the estate of Ellangowan.  And Harry’s robust friend, farmer Dandie Dinmont, whose character gives the name to the Dandie Dinmont Terrier (pictured here).  All great characters, and let’s not forget the evil Captain Dirk Hatteraick, a successful smuggler and murderer.

I’ve read many better “stories” than this, but it was Scott’s language and great characters that made this perhaps my favorite book of 2010 thus far.

SPOILER ALERT! – following is my summary of the book’s plot; read no further if you’d like to read this for yourself!

The sub- or alternate title of this book is “The Astrologer.” This comes from the opening passages of the novel, where Guy Mannering arrives at Ellangowan, just as the Laird’s wife has given birth to their son and heir.  The gypsy, Meg Merrelies, is also present and has come to tell the fortune of the future laird.  Mannering, being an Oxford scholar and being – naturally of his era –  quite versed in the art of astrology is prevailed upon to cast the young lad’s horoscope.  Asking to be conducted to somewhere with suitable viewing of sky, he ends up standing on the ‘rampart’ of the ‘castle-like home (the next morning he also takes a stroll along the walls, surveying the surrounding era in another powerful descriptive passage by Scott).  As part of the horoscope, he divines that the heir will face critical times in his life at the time he turns five and also 21 years old.

Later, the current Laird of Ellangowan (Harry’s father, Godfrey Bertram) lets his status ‘go to his head’ and begins to abuse his powers as a judge and local authority, even leading him to dispossess the band of gypsies (that includes Meg Merrelies) from their traditional haunt on his property, Derncleugh.  This leads naturally to a certain ill will toward the laird, especially from Merrelies, who curses him as she and her troop are pulling up stakes.  Sampson later remarks “If ever the devil spoke through the mouth of a woman, he did it that night through Meg Merrelies…”

below: gypsies & smugglers at Derncleugh (I assume that’s Meg in the background…)

Mannering’s predictions turn out to be quite true, as on his fifth birthday, he is kidnapped by Hatteraick and his ‘pirates’ after witnessing their murder of a government agent.  On this same night, Bertram’s mother dies while giving birth to his younger sister, Lucy.

The novel leaps ahead almost 16 years, where Godfrey Bertram, due to mismanagement and incompetence, has fallen upon hard times and ill-health.  Mannering, who has in the interim risen to the rank of colonel in the army, and spent many years in India, returns to the same location that bewitched him (or maybe it was Merrelies who bewitched him) so many years ago to see how things have turned out for the young laird whose future he foretold.

He cannot stay in the area, but learns that the estate is to be sold and leaves instructions for a local attorney to send word when he should return, for he has long dreamed of living at Ellangowan.  Due to a bumbling messenger, however, he does not receive word in time, and the estate instead falls into the hands of an unscrupulous neighbor, Glossin, who has also long coveted it.

Godfrey Bertram dies and Colonel Mannering, feeling some paternal sympathy towards the young Lucy Bertram, rents a nearby house and offers for her and her tutor, Dominie Sampson, to live with him and his daughter Julia, who he is trying to keep away from a mysterious suitor.

Naturally, the suitor turns out to be the long-lost heir, Harry Bertram, traveling under the only name he has known, VanBeest Brown (it seems the smugglers left him in Holland).  Harry journeys north in search of his true love, meets and befriends the farmer Dandie Dinmont after saving him from bandits on the road, and eventually finds his way back (unknowingly) to his place of birth.  Clearly, Glossin and Hatteraick prefer that the events of 16 years ago are not revisited and do what they can to prevent the reinstatement of the young laird (now perfectly suitable as a match for Julia Mannering), but good prevails and we have a happy ending all around.

Behind the scenes through all this is Meg Merrelies,  who though having cursed Godfrey Bertram had always been fond of little Harry, for whom she was an occasional companion and guardian, and who also has never been fond of Glossin, works to make sure Ellangowan’s rightful heir is restored.
Oh well, I didn’t intend to write an entire ‘cliff notes version’ of the story, but that’s the gist of it.

It was NOT easy to read because the language is not what readers of our era are used to, but I would heartily recommend it nonetheless.

The book has also served to increase my interest in Sir Walter Scott and in the history of Scotland in general.  I think I will search for a good biography of the author and put that in my TBR pile for this year.

Next up of the Waverley Novels (taken chronologically) would be The Antiquary, which I have already downloaded to my FreeBooks app on my iPhone and to my nook® reader as well.

What about you?  Have you read any Sir Walter Scott?  Poetry? Novels?  Anything to recommend?

Betrayed by my e-Reader!

There I was, cruising through my copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering that I had downloaded to my nook®, thinking “Wow, I’m about 3/4 of the way through this book at last!” only to discover later – while looking at the copy I have on my Free Books app on my iPhone, that it is over twice as long and that my nook® copy is only of “Volume one”.  Son of a…   (And yes, I admit, I was wondering how SWS was going to “wrap this up” in 50 more pages…)

Oh well, the good news is that I have finally “gotten into” this book, and am making real progress,  AND I’m loving it.  Scott is a tremendous writer and is a pleasure to read.  Of course, all the dialogue portrayed in the Scottish ‘brogue’ (is that usage correct, or should it be used only with “Irish”?) is sometimes difficult for me to get through, but that’s a small price to pay to be able to enjoy the rest.

And Meg Merrilies – what a great character.  More on her later…  Coincidental Note: Was reading some financial news today on and learned that the current President of Brazil’s Central Bank is named Henrique Meirelles… hopefully he will not curse their monetary policy!

But What About Sir Walter Scott?

Yes, I know. I have neglected my reading of Guy Mannering, which I started in early February.  Part of the problem was that – at that time – I didn’t have a hard copy of the book and was relying on my FreeBooks app on my iPhone to read.  Then, when I bought my nook a few weeks ago, I downloaded a free copy of the book to that device as well.  The copy is not very good, however, as it is a ‘scanned’ one and has many words that are misspelled as a result of that process.  Very disappointing.  Maybe I can download a better copy, or maybe I will just get a hard copy of this one.

All that aside, however, I also struggle with the language, which is very different from modern English and makes the going quite slow, which is discouraging.  I am putting this book on the shelf for awhile.  But wait, I just remembered I have next Thursday and Friday off and was going to skip town to a quiet place ‘in the country’ (the name and location of which I care not to divulge).  Maybe the seclusion will allow me to get through it. Stay tuned…

A Strange Coincidence

We are all, I’m sure, familiar with the phenomenon of – upon learning a new word – “suddenly” seeing that word in print the next day or soon thereafter.  Perhaps the same may be said of learning of or reading new books.  As I have posted about earlier, I have been reading some Sir Walter Scott lately, having completed the novel, Waverley and having started the novel, Guy Mannering.  Well, lo and behold, as I’m reading Company Aytch last night, I come upon a sketch about one soldier, a certain Sergeant A.S. Horsley, whose knapsack is inspected by General Bragg’s inspector general, General Owleydousky.  The contents?  It included Ivanhoe, Guy Mannering(!), Rob Roy (all by Scott) and various other books.  It seems he ‘carried the literature for the regiment’.  I speculated earlier about my potentially being the ‘only person on the planet’ currently reading Guy Mannering.  And yet here in reading this book, looking back nearly 150 years, a poor soldier is tromping through the Civil War in Tennessee carrying this very same book.  Very cool.

Guy Mannering

I have decided to try to read the second of Sir Walter Scott’s “Waverley Novels”. This book is one of the free ones available on my iPhone “Free Books” app. (well, the books are free, but the app is $1.99).

I am really finding the ‘ornate’ language of Scott’s books interesting. I’m also enjoying ‘knowing’ that I may likely be the “only person in the world” who is currently reading this book. I did a little research on the internet, and it’s always listed among his books, but there isn’t much ‘information’ out there.

“Forgotten” books like this kind of remind me of being on an “old road” or walking down an old lane that – though once a main thoroughfare – is rarely used anymore. One gets an odd feeling when walking or traveling along such byways (I’m remembering some around where my Granddad lived in West Virginia) that I find pretty cool…

Okay, so it’s “Waverley”

I just realized I’ve been misspelling this in prior posts. The good news, though, is that I finally did finish Sir Walter Scott’s “Waverley” Sunday morning. That is my fifth book completed this year. (Waverley, however, was the one ‘straggler’ that I actually started in 2009). It was tough going – about 2 minutes per page reading – mainly because of the language and numerous notes to the text.

I’m glad I stuck to it, though, and consider Scott a fine writer (as countless fans apparently did in the 19th century). I would like to read more of his works. I found a chronology of his published works on Wikipedia and would like to continue on (they all appear to be among my “freebooks” options on my iPhone app), but I must try to read them without other books distracting me – as I allowed to happen with Waverley.