Hackers are using this nasty text-message trick to break into people’s accounts

Watch out: That message might not be from who you think.

Source: Hackers are using this nasty text-message trick to break into people’s accounts

Earlier this week, Alex MacCaw, cofounder of data API company Clearbit, shared a screenshot of a text attempting to trick its way past two-factor authentication (2FA) on a Google account.

Please read this short article. It could save you a big headache.

Books I Finished in May

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Original publication date: 1857
Translated by Lydia Davis
(Penguin Books, 2010)

Highly recommended

madame bovaryMadame Bovary is a seminal work in the rise of literary realism:

an approach that attempts to describe life without idealization or romantic subjectivity. Although realism is not limited to any one century or group of writers, it is most often associated with the literary movement in 19th-century France, specifically with the French novelists Flaubert and Balzac. George Eliot introduced realism into England, and William Dean Howells introduced it into the United States. Realism has been chiefly concerned with the commonplaces of everyday life among the middle and lower classes, where character is a product of social factors and environment is the integral element in the dramatic complications (see naturalism). In the drama, realism is most closely associated with Ibsen’s social plays. Later writers felt that realism laid too much emphasis on external reality. Many, notably Henry James, turned to a psychological realism that closely examined the complex workings of the mind (see stream of consciousness).

Citation: “Realism.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia®. 2013. Columbia University Press. 15 May 2016.

Emma Bovary, daughter of a farmer and wife of a country doctor, dreams of a love that she can never attain. In the convent school she attends as a young girl, she reads romantic accounts of mythical love and imagines a similar life for herself. But her visions of what married life should be quickly fade in the face of real life in a country village. She then turns to motherhood to sustain her, but her lofty visions of motherhood pale in the reality of the everyday chores of caring for a child. Still searching, she hires a servant to take care of her daughter and imagines herself involved in truly passionate love affairs that rise above quotidian reality. In a discussion about literature with Leon, one of her would-be lovers, occurs the following exchange:

”That’s why I’m especially fond of the poets,“ he said. “I think verses are more tender than prose, and more apt to make you cry.”

”Yet they’re tiresome in the end,“ Emma said; ”these days, what I really adore are stories that can be read all in one go, and that frighten you. I detest common heroes and moderate feelings, the sort that exist in real life.” (p. 73)

That pesky “real life” always intrudes on the romantic picture of love she developed from her earliest reading:

One day when [Emma and her lover] had left each other early, and she was walking back alone down the boulevard, she caught sight of the walls of her convent; she sat down on a bench, in the shade of the elms. How peaceful those days had been! How she had longed for the indescribable feelings of love that she had tried, with the help of her books, to imagine for herself! (p. 251)

Someone like Emma can never be happy, the novel assures us:

She was not happy and never had been. Why was life so inadequate, why did the things she depended on turn immediately to dust? … Yet if somewhere there existed a strong, handsome being, with a valorous nature, at once exalted and refined, with the heart of a poet in the shape of an angel, a lyre with strings of brass, sounding elegiac epithalamiums to the heavens, then why mightn’t she, by chance find him? Oh, what an impossibility! Nothing, anyway, was worth looking for; everything was a lie. Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a malediction, every pleasure its own disgust, and the sweetest kisses left on your lips no more than a vain longing for a more sublime pleasure. (p. 252)

Not long after I finished reading Madame Bovary, I came across the article Alain de Botton on why romantic novels can make us unlucky in love. He distinguishes between the tradition of Romantic novels, “novels that do not give us a correct map of love, that leave us unprepared to deal adequately with the difficulties of being in a couple,” and Classical novels, which, he writes, present us with a picture of the right kind of love:

The narrative arts of the Romantic novel have unwittingly constructed a devilish template of expectations of what relationships are supposed to be like – in the light of which our own love lives often look grievously and deeply unsatisfying. We break up or feel ourselves cursed in significant part because we are exposed to the wrong works of literature.

That is exactly what happened to Emma Bovary.

Choose your books wisely.


the nestThe Nest by Cynthia E’Aprix Sweeney
(HarperCollins, 2016)

Recommended

Meet the Plumb children: Leo, Jack, Beatrice (Bea), and Melody. Years ago their father, Leonard, set up a trust to provide them with a little nest egg, “not an inheritance,” he insisted, for a midlife boost. The money was to be distributed when Melody, the youngest child, turned 40. Over the years “the nest” has grown more than Leonard ever imagined. Since Leonard’s death, the fund has been administered by his wife, Francie, who has steadfastly resisted her children’s various pleas to allow them to borrow against their future inheritance.

Until now. A very drunk Leo, the oldest, has picked up a pretty young woman from the catering staff at a family wedding and driven off with her for a quick tryst. Along the way Leo drives into a spectacular car crash that causes the amputation of the young woman’s foot. To keep Leo out of trouble and the story out of the papers, Francie has approved a huge chunk of the nest as a hush-money settlement quietly arranged by Leo’s cousin and family lawyer.

The book opens as the other three siblings gather for a meeting with Leo to make clear that they expect him to repay the nest so that they can all get their money when Melody turns 40 in three months. Over those three months we get to know all four of the Plumb children, two of whom desperately need that inheritance—the whole amount they’ve been counting on, not the half left after Leo’s payout.

Sweeney deftly brings all these major characters, along with a few minor ones, to life in an exploration of the meanings of family, relationships, commitment, betrayal, and money. The resolution, which is exactly right for these characters in these circumstances, is a lesson in moving through dysfunction into a new working definition of family.


A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
© 1959

leibowitzThis book was popular when I was in college back in the late 1960s. I never got around to reading it back then, and the same mass market paperback has been kicking around on my bookshelves ever since then. It won the 1961 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that deals with the themes of recurrent history and of the conflicts between church and state, and between faith in science. It comprises three sections:

Part I: Fiat Homo (“let there be man”)
Part II: Fiat Lux (“let there be light”)
Part III: Fiat Voluntas Tua (“let thy will be done”)

Part I opens 600 years after nuclear devastation, known as the Flame Deluge, destroyed 20th century civilization. Isaac Leibowitz, who had been a scientific engineer with the U.S. military, started a monastic order to preserve as much knowledge as possible by hiding books, memorizing books, and writing out new copies. The order’s abbey in the Utah desert is the repository for the Memorabilia, the remaining documents of the earlier civilization. We learn that after the nuclear devastation, there had been a backlash against the science and technology that had produced it, a period known as the Simplification, when learning, even the ability to read, became a cause for execution. For 600 years the Order of Leibowitz had been keeping safe the Memorabilia for a time when the world was once again ready for it. Part I ends with the canonization of Leibowitz as Saint Leibowitz.

As Part II opens, 600 years after Part I, civilization is beginning to emerge from the previous dark age. While scientists study the Memorabilia at the abbey and begin to make crude instruments from the preserved descriptions, political unrest and manipulation heat up.

After another 600 years, in Part III, mankind once again has nuclear weapons along with spaceships and extraterrestrial colonies. Members of the Order of Saint Leibowitz load the Memorabilia onto a ship and head off toward another planet just as the people of earth once again destroy themselves through nuclear attack.

Through its three sections this novel examines the themes of the cyclical recurrence of history and the eternal conflicts between darkness and light, knowledge and ignorance, truth and deception, religion and science, and power and subjugation. A Canticle for Leibowitz has remained in print since its original publication and is generally considered one of the outstanding works of science fiction. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.


chatham school affairThe Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook
(Bantam Books, 1996)

Recommended

I’ve seen so many recommendations of this book, which won the 1997 Edgar Award for Best Novel, that I finally had to read it.

Henry Griswald, now an old man, narrates this story of an event that occurred about 70 years ago, in 1927, when he was 15 years old. In this classic coming-of-age story, he reflects on the significance of the event and how it affected both his own life and the lives of others.

The structure of the novel features a framing device, a short sequence at both the beginning and end, that serves to introduce, then conclude the main action. At the beginning, an old friend visits Henry, now an old man, to enlist his help in selling the property that contains Milford Cottage. At the end, after the sale of the property, the book returns to its present time with a short section in which Henry distributes the money from the sale of the property.

The bulk of the novel, between these two events, consists of Henry’s memory, examination, and explanation of what happened at Milford Cottage on that day long ago. He begins with the most general memories—description of the setting and introductions of the characters involved. He continues to peel back the layers of the experience, like peeling an onion, gradually moving toward the center in ever-tightening circles. This spiraling structure is appropriate, perhaps even inevitable, in the narration of how a character comes to understand how a long-ago event affected the rest of his life.

I recommend this novel for anyone interested in deep psychological fiction.


Year-to-date total of books read: 17

Books I Finished in April

11_22_6311/22/63 by Stephen King
Recommended

Jake Epping is a 35-year-old high school English teacher in the small town of Lisbon Falls, Maine. To earn some extra money, he also teaches English to adult GED students. The only other activity in his life is moping around and lamenting the recent divorce from his short-term alcoholic wife. At least he doesn’t have to track her down and go drag her home from some bar any more.

So when Al Templeton, owner of the local diner, asks Jake if he’s willing to take on a secret mission, Jake’s interest is piqued. Al confides to Jake that, at the rear of the diner, there’s a portal that leads to a day in 1958. Al himself has gone through the portal and back several times, so he knows that the passage through always leads to the same day. Also, no matter how long he has stayed in the past, when he returns he has always been gone from the present (2011) for exactly two minutes.

Al believes that the greatest disaster of modern history was the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. When he discovered the time portal, he decided to go back in time and prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting JFK. Al has spent years researching Oswald’s life and movements, but now he’s dying of lung cancer and can’t finish the job. Would Jake be willing to see the mission through?

After a few trial runs into the past and back, Jake agrees. Armed with Al’s notebook of information on Oswald, he goes back to 1958 with the plan of ending up in Dallas on 11/22/63. He drives through the land of Long Ago and settles down in a small town in Texas to make his preparations. There he becomes George Amberson, who begins substitute teaching at the local high school, falls in love with the new school librarian, and finds a life much more satisfying than the one Jake Epping left behind in Lisbon Falls.

Will George/Jake be able to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK? And, if he succeeds, how will subsequent history unfold?

Stephen King excels at using details to create interesting characters and to build narrative worlds. 11/22/63 presents him at his storytelling best.


The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

gilded hourIt took me a while to figure out the provenance of this book.

First, Sara Donati is a pen name for Rosina Lippi, a former university professor. She writes historical fiction as Sara Donati. Under her own name she writes contemporary novels and academic work.

Second, the blurb on the inside fold of the dust jacket says “The Gilded Hour follows the story of the descendants of the characters from the Wilderness series.” I, apparently erroneously, took this to mean that this novel is the next installment of that series. According to Lippi’s web site, the Wilderness series comprises “six historical novels that follow the fortunes of the Bonner family in the vast forests in upstate New York, from about 1792–1825.” However, The Gilded Hour, also about the Bonner family, jumps forward to after the Civil War. It is the first book in a new series that will follow the Bonner granddaughters into the twentieth century.

For more information, see these sources:

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In New York City in 1883, two female physicians, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie Savard, graduates of the Woman’s Medical School, care for the city’s poor and immigrant inhabitants. They must contend not only with society’s expectations for women, which still looked down upon women in professions previously reserved for men, but also with Anthony Comstock, self-proclaimed upholder of Victorian morality and creator of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. The 1873 Comstock Law, passed by the U.S. Congress, made illegal the production and distribution of any printed material explaining abortion or birth control. For more information about Anthony Comstock, see THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A TRUE AMERICAN MORAL HYSTERIC.

I was drawn to this novel because I wrote my dissertation on the life stories of five nineteenth-century U.S. women physicians. The first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. was Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1849. Women of that era knew that they had to be self-confident, assertive, and thick-skinned to succeed, but they also knew that they could not overtly flout society’s expectations about the proper behavior of women. Most early women physicians therefore worked to expand the role of women to include health care rather than to denounce social expectations altogether.

And this is where I become uncomfortable with Sara Donati’s portrayal of Dr. Anna Savard, who quickly becomes the central focus of the novel when her cousin Sophie departs for Switzerland. Anna is self-confident, assertive, and thick-skinned, but too aggressively so. She is always eager for an argument. A more realistic portrayal of a female physician of the time would have been someone who was less confrontational and more willing to work around challenges instead of charging straight into the middle of them.

There is also a lot more sex in this book than necessary. Of course sex is an apt area for characterization, but the encounters in this novel are as explicit as those in a typical romance novel. Anna and her love interest, detective Jack Mezzanotte, also engage in a lot more subtle sexual communication in public than would have been natural at this time period. For example, Jack often unbuttons Anna’s cuff and rubs his finger along her wrist and down into her palm. It’s hard to imagine much of this actually going on in public among polite nineteenth-century society.

Despite these criticisms, I found much to like in The Gilded Hour. At 732 pages, it’s a Big Book that exhibits many of the positive characteristics its size permits. There’s a large cast of characters who have the room to reveal themselves amply. Donati/Lippi’s eye for detail creates a fascinating picture of New York City in 1883 and reveals that the author has done an enormous amount of research. And, as some readers lamented on Goodreads, even at 732 pages, this novel leaves several storylines unresolved. But that’s all right, since The Gilded Hour is the first novel in a new series.


no join book clubNo! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club by Virginia Ironside

About three months before her sixtieth birthday, Marie Sharp decides to keep a diary to record her passage into old age. She begins with comments on the usual complaints of this age: aching knees, bunions, HRT (that’s hormone replacement therapy for the uninitiated), and receding gums. However, she gradually begins to appreciate some of life’s larger aspects: love, death, and personal relationships.

There’s a lot of humor in this book, but it’s humor based on stereotypes. Even when Marie Sharp turns those stereotypes on their heads, she does so in a completely expected way. For example, the woman who can’t imagine why grandmothers go so ga-ga over their grandchildren goes completely ga-ga over her own grandson.

There’s nothing new in this novel. I’m 67, and while I was sometimes amused by this book, I certainly didn’t learn anything from it.


Year-to-date total of books read: 13

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Finished in March

Because I had jury duty for the entire month of March, I did not get as much reading done as I would have liked. I usually finish one book before starting another, but I decided to set aside the book I was reading, on which I wanted to take notes, for one that I could more easily pick up and put back down as necessary. As a result, I finished out March with two Big Books each half finished.

Here are the three—all rather short—that I did finish reading in March.

Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark

where are the childrenLong before Mary Higgins Clark took over as the reigning queen of romantic suspense, she concentrated on the suspense part. From childhood she had loved suspense stories, first books featuring girl detectives like Judy Bolton and Nancy Drew, and later books by authors including Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, and Daphne du Maurier. Clark’s first published book was a collection of stories. Her second book, published in 1975, was Where Are the Children?, her first novel.

Years ago Nancy Harmon had suffered through the disappearance and deaths of her two young children in California. Her husband also died of an apparent suicide. Nancy was charged with the murders of her children but was freed on a technicality. She dyed her hair, changed her name, and traveled to Cape Cod, where she remarried and had two children.

On the seventh anniversary of the disappearance of her first two children, the nightmare begins all over again when
Nancy discovers that her two preschoolers have disappeared from the back yard. As the search for the children begins, spearheaded by a retired detective turned writer, Nancy’s past gradually comes to light. She must endure the scrutiny of a small community naturally suspicious of outsiders along with the anguish over the fate of her children. Will the children be found, or will Nancy once again be haunted by, and accused of, a mother’s worst nightmare?

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Recommended

bell jarSylvia Plath’s autobiographical novel was first published in England in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Plath died by suicide a month after that publication. The novel was first published under Plath’s own name in 1967. Through the influence of her husband, poet Ted Hughes, and her mother, the book was not published in the United States until 1971.

Set in 1953, “summer the Rosenbergs were executed,” the novel tells the story of Esther Greenwood as she begins a prestigious summer internship at a woman’s magazine in New York City. Greenwood, from the suburbs around Boston, has attended a nearby woman’s college on a scholarship awarded because of her outstanding writing ability. Unable to find any joy or meaning in the life she encounters in the city and in the gender identity society expects of her, Greenwood becomes increasingly depressed and unable to sleep. At the end of the internship she returns home, but her mental health declines rapidly and she receives treatment from a number of doctors and institutions.

This novel, which provides insight into the gender expectations and the mental health attitudes of the 1950’s, was the March selection of my in-person classics book club.

Of the Farm by John Updike
Recommended

of the farmPublished in 1965, this short novel provides an image of American life at that time. Joey Robinson, age 35 and a resident of New York City, brings his second wife, Peggy, and his 11-year-old stepson, Richard, to visit his mother on the rural Pennsylvania farm where Joey spent his adolescence. The farm belongs to Joey’s mother; his father, recently dead, was never happy here. His mother is aging and can no longer care for the farm on her own.

Over the three days of their visit, Joey is haunted by memories not only of his parents and life on the farm, but also of his first wife, Joan, whose large portrait has been moved from the living room to a small upstairs bedroom, and thoughts of his three children, who now live in Canada with their mother and stepfather.

With heavy-handed symbolism, the farm becomes the Garden of Eden: Peggy unexpectedly begins menstruating, to intensify the fertility/Garden of Eden motif, and Joey frequently thinks of her body as a field to plow. On Sunday they all attend the local church, where the minister preaches a sermon expounding on the biblical description of the Garden of Eden:

What do these assertions tell us abut men and women today? First, is not Woman’s problem that she was taken out of Man, and is therefore a subspecies, less than equal to Man, a part of the world? … Second, she was made after Man. Think of God as a workman who learns as he goes. Man is the rougher and stronger artifact; Woman the finer and more efficient. (p. 112)

Over the course of the visit, the child, Richard, becomes a mediator between the three adults as they debate the choices they have made and the ways in which they define their lives.

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Year-to-date total of books read: 10

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Big Books on My Reading List

Related Posts:

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Like most of you, I have big, ambitious plans for my future reading. Here are the Big Books that currently reside on my TBR shelves.


War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
paperback, 1392 pages

war and peace

 

Isn’t this book on just about everybody’s lifetime reading list? It seems to be one of the titles that separates the true book lovers from the wanna-bes.

 

 

 


Ulysses by James Joyce
paperback, 732 pages

ulysses

The comments from War and Peace also apply here.

This is the cover of the copy I bought for myself in Dublin, in the hopes that having a real Irish copy would make me more likely to actually read the book. Someday I hope to return to Dublin and walk Leopold Bloom’s journey around the city.

 

 


The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
hardcover edition, 567 pages

golden notebook

 

This book has been on my TBR shelf for so long that I no longer remember where I picked it up. But it’s a classic work of feminism, and I’m determined to get through it.

 

 


Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
hardcover, 562 pages

freedom

After reading Franzen’s The Corrections, one of the 6 Big Books I Keep Meaning to Reread, I eagerly bought the hardcover of this novel soon after it came out.

Alas, life intervened, and I still haven’t read it. But I’m going to. I’m definitely going to. Some time soon.

 

 


Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
hardcover, 1168 pages

atlas shrugged

I hear so much about Ayn Rand that I think I should read at least one of her works. A lot of people I know read either this book or The Fountainhead in college, but I guess I didn’t take the right course.

This is another one that’s been on my shelf for so long that I can’t remember where or when I bought it. I plan to take it with me on my next long, leisurely vacation.

 


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
paperback, 636 pages

kavalier and clay

 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t yet read anything by Michael Chabon. This is a shortcoming that I plan to correct someday soon with this Big Book.

 

 

 


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which ones do you especially recommend? Or do you have other Big Books to recommend?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

10 Big Books I Have Read & Loved

Not too long ago, in the book section at Target, I overheard a woman say to her companion, “I stay away from big books.” They walked away, so I didn’t get to hear any more of the conversation, but it made me think about big books.

I can imagine many reasons someone might offer for staying away from big books:

  • Big books intimidate me.
  • Big books contain too much stuff for me to keep straight in my head.
  • Big books are too heavy to carry around.
  • Reading a big book requires a long time commitment.
  • I prefer shorter books that I can read quickly.
  • Big books deal with too many big ideas. I just want an entertaining story.

For my money, a book should be as long as it needs to be to tell its story. And a long story can be just as entertaining as a short one. In fact—and I know many readers who would agree with me here—if a story is well told, I sometimes want it not to end; occasionally I purposely wait to finish a book because I don’t want to leave those characters and their world quite yet.

Here, in no particular order, are some Big Books that I have read and loved. For the sake of definition, I use the term Big Book to refer to one of 500 or more pages.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
paperback, 515 pages

cloud atlasIn this brilliant novel David Mitchell uses intertwined stories to demonstrate how individual people and their fates are connected across space and time. The literary genres featured here include autobiography, philosophical inquiry, mystery, and speculative fiction in a narrative framework that circles back on itself to create the paradox of discrete moments within the vast expanse of human experience.

This big novel is challenging but not daunting. It well rewards the time spent on a slow and careful reading. This was my introduction to David Mitchell’s work, and I am slowly working my way through the rest of his work.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
hardcover, 773 pages

the goldfinchThirteen-year-old Theo Decker is devastated by the death of his mother. Having been abandoned earlier by his father, he is taken in by the wealthy family of a former schoolmate before his father claims him and moves him from New York City to Las Vegas in pursuit of his own agenda.

Theo spends his adolescence and young adulthood in search of love, family, and a sense of identity. Intrigue in the world of art and antiques keeps the plot moving. With an ever-growing cast of compelling characters, Theo’s coming-of-age travels take him between New York, Las Vegas, and Amsterdam in a journey during which he must learn what things are worth keeping and what ones he must let go of.

This big book caused a big critical controversy over the question, “Is it art?” I’m not going to contribute to that debate, with its unsavory suggestion that any work of literature that is popular cannot also be artistic or literary. All I can tell you is that, for me, this was a real page-turner.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
hardcover, 514 pagesclamity physics

Marisha Pessl’s dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of Special Topics in Calamity Physics is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge, but she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds some–a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel–with visual aids drawn by the author–that has won over readers of all ages.

Goodreads

If you like literary puzzles, you’ll love this big novel that requires readers to tolerate ambiguity and hold several possibilities in abeyance until the pieces all, finally, fall into place.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
paperback, 601 pages

east of eden

Set in the farmland of the Salinas Valley in California, this novel retells the stories of Adam and Eve and of the rivalry between Cain and Abel through the intertwined generations of the Trask and Hamilton families.

Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

Goodreads

And there’s no question over this big novel, as there is about Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, of whether it’s art. It most definitely is—an artful and rewarding reading experience.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
paperback, 503 pages

secret historyAs a classics major myself, I was easily drawn into Donna Tartt’s first novel about an inner circle of “five students, worldly and self-assured, selected by a charismatic classics professor to participate in the search for truth and beauty. Together they study the mysteries of ancient Greek culture and spend long weekends at an old country house, reading, boating, basking in an Indian summer that stretches late into autumn.”

Many years later one of these students, Richard Papen, pens this confession of how willing he was to be drawn into this inner circle and of how far these young men went to experience what they considered the fullness of intellectual and emotional life.

This is a big novel full of big ideas:

Hugely ambitious and compulsively readable, this is a chronicle of deception and complicity, of Dionysian abandon, of innocence corrupted by self-love and moral arrogance; and, finally, it is a story of guilt and responsibility.

Goodreads

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
hardcover, 544 pages

life after lifeOn a snowy, cold night in 1910 Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She arrives too soon and dies before drawing her first breath. On the same night Ursula Todd is born, takes a big breath, and lets out a loud cry, the beginning of but one of the many lives Ursula Todd is destined to live.

Throughout the novel Ursula Todd is reborn many times and dies many times, at different points in her life span. She seems to learn a little bit from each life that her unconscious mind carries into subsequent lives—because she is destined to live her life over and over again until she gets it right. The fate of modern civilization depends on her ability to get it right, finally.

This big book was a big hit: It was a winner in the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards.

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt
paperback, 555 pages

possession

Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.

Goodreads

This is another book you’ll love if you like literary puzzles. I liked this big novel so much that I’ve read it twice.

Underworld by Don DeLillo
hardcover, 827 pages

underworld

This book is so complex that I’m going to rely on Goodreads to describe it:

While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the cold war and American culture, compelling that “swerve from evenness” in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying. Underworld opens with a breathlessly graceful prologue set during the final game of the Giants-Dodgers pennant race in 1951. Written in what DeLillo calls “super-omniscience” the sentences sweep from young Cotter Martin as he jumps the gate to the press box, soars over the radio waves, runs out to the diamond, slides in on a fast ball, pops into the stands where J. Edgar Hoover is sitting with a drunken Jackie Gleason and a splenetic Frank Sinatra, and learns of the Soviet Union’s second detonation of a nuclear bomb. It’s an absolutely thrilling literary moment. When Bobby Thomson hits Branca’s pitch into the outstretched hand of Cotter–the “shot heard around the world”–and Jackie Gleason pukes on Sinatra’s shoes, the events of the next few decades are set in motion, all threaded together by the baseball as it passes from hand to hand.

Goodreads

Yet despite its complexity, the story keeps moving through all 827 pages. Similar to David Mitchell, DeLillo uses intertwined stories to create the sense of connected experience over 50 years of American life.

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
paperback, 897 pages

i know this muchThis book narrates the story of identical twins Thomas and Dominick Birdsey. The novel opens when the two are adults. Thomas has schizophrenia, and Dominick is his caregiver. It’s a complex story that jumps between the 1920s, the 1940s, the 1960s, and the 1980s to examine family relationships, the interconnections between generations, love, and responsibility (both personal and civic). Despite the presence of several storylines in different eras playing out throughout, the novel is easy to follow.

This big novel that deals with big truths has a big, loyal following. I know three people who name I Know This Much is True as the favorite book they’ve ever read. Many others say this is the novel that has stuck with them the most of all the books they’ve ever read.

If you haven’t read it yet, I—and a lot of other people—recommend that you give it a try. Chances are that you won’t be able to put it down until you’ve finished page 897.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
paperback, 973 pages

pillars of earthSet in twelfth-century England, this is the story of the building of a great Gothic cathedral. Several characters people the story: Tom Builder, who dreams of working on such a structure; Philip, prior of the fictional Kingsbridge who must fight the sin of pride in his own desire to build the world’s biggest church; Jack, Tom’s son, a master stone artist; and Aliena, a noblewoman who fights patriarchal prejudice to build a business.

But perhaps the two dominant characters of the novel are the cathedral itself and the historical age in which it is built. The cathedral becomes the focal point for pride, arrogance, and greed among the Church and the nobility, and for a source of sustenance among the peasant workers. In an age when geopolitical boundaries did not exist, power belonged to whichever nobleman could muster the biggest army. Peasants were at the mercy of the nobility, and peasants lived or died according to noble whim. The Church and the nobility jockeyed for power over the masses whose labor they both exploited.

Ken Follett had written a number of thrillers before he turned to this big story, his pet project. He spent years on the research necessary to write the book. In a foreword he says that many readers tell him Pillars of the Earth is their favorite of his novels. “It’s mine, too,” he says.

What about you?

Do you avoid big books, or do you embrace them? Are there any big books that you have read and loved?

Let us know in the comments.

The things that are saving my life right now

Anne over at Modern Mrs. Darcy recently suggested listing The things that are saving my life right now. Here’s her explanation of this idea:

The idea comes from author Barbara Brown Taylor. In her memoir Leaving Church, Taylor tells about a time she was invited to speak, and her host assigned her this topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”

It’s easy and often tempting to rattle off a bunch of things that are killing us: “My sore feet are killing me.” “All this snow is killing me.” “I have a couple of clients right now who are trying to kill me.”

Yes, we complain a lot when things are going badly. But what we may fail to notice is all the things that are going well. It’s easy to pull our hair, look skyward, and yell, “Why me?” when we feel overwhelmed. But we almost never ask “Why me?” when things go well. We accept the good things as our due without acknowledging them.

So Modern Mrs. Darcy’s challenge is a chance to set things right, to appreciate the good things as well as the bad. She has invited us to put together our list and post a link to it over at her blog.

Here are some things that are saving me right now.

A little bit of sunshine

Winter can get pretty dreary here in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. But last week we had a few periods when the sun actually broke through. A little bit of sun doesn’t mean that the day won’t also include some rain, but just those fleeting periods of sunshine improved my mood and reminded me of the promise of spring and summer, which are truly glorious here.

Still crazy after all these years

My husband is one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever known. And he loves me. ME! Out of the whole big wide world, he chose me to spend life with. I still marvel at this miracle every single day.

Getting to know our daughter

Our daughter was born and grew up in St. Louis, MO. She left there for college in Tacoma, WA (University of Puget Sound), fell in love with the area, and never came back. We visited enough to know that we, too, loved the area and decided to retire here. And here we are! We have enjoyed immensely seeing our daughter more than once a year and being able to spend holidays together. Since she left home right after high school, we never really spent much time with her as an adult. Getting to know the woman she has become continues to be extremely gratifying.

A brighter world

I had cataract surgery on both my eyes last fall, and since then the world has been a much brighter place. Cataracts smothered my vision so gradually that I didn’t notice it for a long time. But when I realized that I could no longer appreciate subtle differences in colors, I knew it was time for me to do something about it. After I had the first eye done, I would frequently cover one eye and look through the other one. I could not believe the vast difference between the eye with the new lens and the one without. And now that both eyes have new lenses, my reading glasses require a much milder prescription than before. I am so looking forward to seeing all the flowers this spring and summer.

Retirement

What a luxury it is to be able to choose what I want to do and when I want to do it (and to choose to not do many things I don’t want to do). Having relocated to a different part of the country for our retirement has given us a whole new world of stuff to learn about it. Sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store.

Travel planning

We didn’t take much time to travel when we were younger. Life was just always too busy. To make up for that, we have committed to traveling frequently in our early retirement years, while we can still move around fairly easily. There are just so many interesting places to visit, so many peoples and countries to learn about, so much glorious nature to see.

Books

There are so many good books out there that I haven’t read yet. Finishing one and picking up another is one of the true joys of my life.

Silver and gold

Make new friends but keep the old.
One is silver and the other’s gold.

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I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot, but all of these things remind me how good my life is. I look forward to checking out other peoples’ lists on the Modern Mrs. Darcy website.

What about you? What things are saving your life right now?

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

17 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes You Never Hear

While best known for his “I Have a Dream” speech, King’s legacy included much more than that.

Memorable words here.

Annual Blog Report

Even though it’s not quite the end of the year yet, the blogging stat monkeys have delivered their report on how things went here at the Notes in the Margin blog during 2015. I’ll have my own, more detailed report ready early next month, but for now I offer you the stat monkeys’ findings.

“In 2015, there were 121 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 830 posts.”

Of the five most viewed posts this year, only two of them were written in 2015:

Cover: The Girl on the Train
Cover: The Girl on the Train

(1) Review: “The Girl on the Train,” Paula Hawkins, from January

(4) “Books fall open, you fall in.” —David McCord, also from January

The other three most viewed posts were all from 2014:

(2) “The Door,” E.B. White, a Literature & Psychology post

(3) Gothic Elements in Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”, a Classics Club post

(5) Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, a Literature & Psychology post

These were some of my favorite posts to write during 2015:

(1) Getting Lost in a Good Book

(2) Reading in Flow

(3) “Go Set a Watchman”: A Lesson in Writing & Reading Fiction

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

My List: Best Books Read in 2015

It’s not quite the end of the year yet, but since it looks as if I won’t finish any more books in time, I might as well go ahead with my annual list.

I had an abysmal year of reading this year, only 28 books.

While most other “best books of 2015” lists include books published this year, my list includes any books I’ve read, regardless of when they were published. Here, listed alphabetically by author, are the 10 best of the 28 I read this year.

winesburgAnderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio
Connelly, Michael. The Crossing
Costello, Mary. Academy Street: A Novel
Cumming, Alan. Not My Father’s Son
Fowler, Karen Joy. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars
Highsmith, Patricia. The Price of Salt
Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write
Vine, Barbara. A Dark-Adapted Eye
Zindel, Paul. The Pigman

That’s eight novels and two works of nonfiction.

And here are a couple of 2015’s noteworthy books that I read but that did not make the cut:

Since my own reading total is so low, for those of you who’d like to see the accomplishment of a more productive reader, I offer you I read 164 books in 2015 and tracked them all in a spreadsheet. Here’s what I learned..