Sunday Sum-Up: December 18, 2022

Given that the last time I was sick was January 2020, I’d forgotten how long it takes for me to recover from a cold. It’s not fun. I’d like to not do it again for a while.

And I’m doubly glad that I’ve gotten both my Covid and flu shots.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

I pulled a few of Mina’s old toys out of her little toybox because she’s managed to lose several of the ones she’d already had out (I will probably find them under the couch, far in the future when I move). I saw her old ribbon toy in there, so I pulled it out because I knew it was an old favorite. I wanted to see if she still remembered or liked it.

As it turns out, she still loves her old ribbon toy. It’s one of the first ones I bought for her when she was a tiny kitten, and I didn’t think she would remember it, but the first time I rang the little bell, her ears perked up and she came right over to play. So that’s the toy she’s been playing with every night since I got it back out again.

I may need to get her a new one, as she is stronger now than she was when she was a kitten, and the ribbons are starting to come out.

What I’ve Read in the Past Two Weeks:

This is, I think, the fourth time I’ve read The Crystal Cave. It’s my favorite Arthurian novel (or trilogy, I suppose), as I love this interpretation of Merlin– a mystical, brilliant young man who has visions of the future– and I love Stewart’s writing. The Crystal Cave focuses on Merlin’s life from the time he is about six years old until he is around twenty-two and puts himself on the path to becoming the mentor for the future Prince Arthur. The second book in the trilogy, The Hollow Hills picks up right where The Crystal Cave leaves off, though I haven’t decided if I’ll continue reading. I’m already quite familiar with Stewart’s version of the Arthurian legends, and there so many books out there I haven’t read. So, I’ll probably leave off here and go onto something else.

This is the second time I’ve read The Last Kingdom, though I didn’t remember having read it back in 2017. I’m quite familiar with the story of Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles, both from The British History Podcast and the television show The Last Kingdom, which is based on Cornwell’s books. It’s quite a fast-paced book– almost too fast sometimes, but it’s still an enjoyable story. It details the early life of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, whose father’s army faces, and is defeated by, Vikings when Uhtred is a boy. Uhtred himself is captured and made a slave to a Dane named Ragnar, who takes a liking to the boy and raises him alongside his own children. As he grows and faces battles and shifting political alliances, Uhtred must decide if he is Danish or English and where his loyalties lie. I finished this book fairly quickly, and as I have the entire series I will be continuing on.

I’ve probably heard about David Laskin’s The Children’s Blizzard long before last weekend, but I didn’t bother to check it out until Olive at A Book Olive said it was on her upcoming TBR. As it’s about the Blizzard of 1888 that struck in this area and killed up to 500 people– and created a local hero who is commemorated in the Nebraska state capitol– I decided I wanted to give it a shot. So I checked out the audiobook from my local library and started listening. I spent the rest of the day listening and finished it last Sunday evening. It’s a fascinating chronicle not only of the storm itself but also of some of the families who were caught in it and some of the weathermen who tried to warn people about it. I didn’t realize that they were able to predict the weather at the time, thanks to barometric pressure, windspeed, and temperature readings that were sent to centralized offices via telegraph. The signalmen (as the weathermen were referred to at the time) saw the blizzard coming, but thanks to bureaucratic red tape, and unwillingness to allow independent action from the various offices, and a good deal of hubris from the higher-ups in the weather bureau, no real warning went out until it was far too late. The people of Nebraska and the Dakotas woke up to a day that was comparatively warm (for January on the Great Plains) and so went about their day and sent their kids to school. By the time school was letting out, however, a massive and violent blizzard struck, reducing visibility to zero and decreasing the temperature by up to twenty degrees in a matter of minutes. Because the day had been warmer than usual, many of the children faced the storm without proper clothing, so many died trying to get home. Laskin’s narrative is compelling and dramatic, and I learned a lot about a storm I’ve heard of now and then since I was little and learned a lot more about a few local heroes of the storm. If you’re at all interested in the weather of the Upper Midwestern US or blizzards, then this is a must-read. I’ve also gained a greater appreciation for our current abilities to forecast the weather, and the National Weather Service’s dedication to actually saving lives by putting out blizzard or tornado warnings, instead of forbidding or withholding them for fear of “causing panic”.

After finishing The Children’s Blizzard, I wanted to read about more awful weather. A co-worker recommended Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm, which is about the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 that annihilated Galveston, Texas, and killed thousands. Once again, the weather bureau of the time was not as concerned with the facts of the weather as they were with upholding bureaucracy– specifically one Willis Moore, who was in charge of the weather bureau at the time. This man (and others in the trade) assumed that the Cuban weathermen were too ignorant and emotional to properly track hurricanes (despite the fact that they knew exactly where this hurricane was headed once it passed over Cuba), and forbid American hurricane trackers from using Cuban readings. Moore and others also assumed that hurricanes just couldn’t move very far west of Florida and that Texas would be safe from hurricanes (despite the fact that the Texas coast had been hit by several smaller hurricanes over the previous twenty years). Isaac Cline, who worked for the weather bureau, noticed a lot of troubling signs well before the hurricane hit Galveston, but his readings were overlooked or ignored by Moore. Like with the blizzard of 1888, warning signs were overlooked and storm warnings weren’t put out until it was far too late. Because of Moore’s unwillingness to issue hurricane warnings (he didn’t want to panic people, apparently), the people of Galveston had no warning that the hurricane was on its way, and by the time they knew anything was wrong, it was far too late. Larson’s narrative is fascinating, providing a detailed timeline of the hurricane’s lifespan as well as a biography of sorts of Isaac Cline. I highly recommend this book, too, if you’re interested in the weather or the history of the US weather service. I found it particularly striking that in both books, the authors mentioned how immigrants were drawn to the regions– both the Upper Midwest and the coast of Texas– with promises of a ‘perfect climate’. I can vouch for the extreme nature of the winters and summers of the Upper Midwest, and I’ve heard about the heat and hurricanes of the Texas coast. I feel for the immigrants who were lied to and who suffered for it. A lot of hubris went into these disasters, which were exacerbated by the fact that the leaders of the time assumed that they had managed to conquer nature.

Echoes of Valhalla is a fairly short book about the ‘afterlife’ of the Icelandic sagas. Helgason discusses how sagas like Heimskringla, Njal’s Saga, or The Elder Eddas have lived on in popular culture of the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries. Nineteenth-century travelers and playwrights traveled to Iceland because of the sagas– particularly Njal’s Saga— and used characters and themes in their own works. Comic book writers used gods, mostly Thor, as characters in the Marvel superhero stories, and twenty-first-century viewers devour films and shows based on Viking stories. The sagas show up in music, too, from Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’. It was an interesting look at how Icelandic sagas are still very much a part of our modern culture.

What I’m Currently Reading:

I’ve reached The Return of the King in my reread of The Lord of the Rings, while Gandalf and Pippin have reached Gondor, and Aragorn has reached the Stone of Erech. We’re off to the races, as far as events go. This is usually the point where I just can’t stop reading and just fly through the last part of the book. But, as I’m still annotating the book for a friend, I can’t read it as fast as I normally would. And I’m still okay with that, because I’m finding a lot of phrases and descriptions I love that I would normally pass right by without much comment.

The Ghost of Christmas Present has nearly finished showing Scrooge how even the poor are making the best of Christmas by having parties with friends and family, and having fun even if they don’t have a lot of money. Scrooge is really starting to realize that being an awful, grouchy miser is a lousy way to spend a life, and that money doesn’t make a person happy– it obviously hasn’t done much for him. There’s just one ghost left to visit Scrooge– the Ghost of Christmas Future, and that will be the creepiest of the ghosts.

I’ve reached the midpoint of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and no one has quite figured out the connection between Jekyll and Hyde. And why would they, really? The story is so unlikely. But Utterson is starting to put some pieces together, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets the story out of his old friend Dr. Jekyll, who has been acting strangely since the unpleasant Hyde started showing up.

I finally started Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, and so far I love the spiders. It’s fascinating how Tchaikovsky developed their culture and communication, as well as their greatest enemy. I hadn’t heard anything about that before, but I’m glad it was a surprise. I’m looking forward to seeing how they deal with said enemy. I’m also looking forward to finally seeing how the humans’ storyline meets up with the spiders’ story. Right now, I’m not particularly interested in the humans’ story, and every time I get to a human chapter, I can’t wait to get back to the spiders. Hopefully, that will change, as the notion of being uninterested in half a book is not great.

I’m not sure where I heard about A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poison, but it sounded fun and it was available as an audiobook from my library, so I gave it a shot. Thus far, in 1923 London, Saffron’s mentor has been accused of poisoning the wife of a rival professor. Saffron is convinced that he is innocent, and has gone to some extreme lengths to try to prove it. She has been joined in her investigations by one Alexander Ashton, a fellow researcher at the university they attend. Alexander is also not convinced that the police are on the right track, but he is less impulsive than Saffron and so acts as an excellent foil to her. So far, I’ve been enjoying the book and look forward to seeing how Saffron and Alexander figure out who committed the poisoning, and unless things go very wrong with the quality of the book, I’ll be reading the next book when it comes out next year.

13 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: December 18, 2022

  1. I love how cats are sometimes drawn to the simplest of toys. My brother’s cat’s favorite are elastic hair ties. They are scattered all over the house and the cat just loves swatting and chasing them around. And of course the rest of us love watching her.

  2. Mina is so adorable in that pic.
    My mom recently got the cutest little cat house for the Jinster. He went in there once and then lay down on the roof. After that he refused to use it and went back to lying on piece of a cardboard box.

  3. Mina and her ribbons are too cute! So glad she’s enjoying her toy. 🙂 I think I’m going to (finally) start a reread of LOTR this coming year, and I’m trying to figure out a reasonable pace/goal. Do you have a specific number of pages you aim for per week? I don’t think I’ve ever read The Crystal Cave, but I seem to recall that my mother loved those books, so I would love to give it a try!

  4. I’ve been trying to annotate a chapter each day, though that’s harder going when some of the chapters are 20+ pages, as it takes me a little under an hour to read and annotate 15 pages. This is the only time I’ve really annotated a book though, so it’s much slower going than usual. Normally when I read LotR, I can’t keep from racing through it, and I finish the whole thing in a week and a half or so.

    Mary Stewart’s Merlin books are wonderful! The first two are my favorites (I’ve only read the third book once or twice). There is a fourth book, The Wicked Day, but it’s from a different point of view, and I don’t think it’s written as well. The writing is beautiful, and I love the mystical Merlin who has some clear blind spots. He’s not a perfect person, no matter his powers, and it makes him such a compelling character.

  5. Mina is adorable all the time. That’s the thing about black cats, I think. “Adorable” is their default setting.

    Jinster! Use the house your grandmother bought you! Cats….. Mina has basically done the same thing. I bought her a cute little soft-sided house when she was little. She prefers sleeping in a box.

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