Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaser Tuesday (29 November)

Last Teaser of November...

Mr. Dursley stood rooted to the spot. He had been hugged by a complete stranger. He also thought he had been called a Muggle, whatever that was. He was rattled. He hurried to his car and set off for home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because he didn't approve of imagination.

(Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling. Time to re-read the series!)

Newton -- a man so driven by the pursuit of truth that he once shoved a blunt needle between his eye and the socket bone to study ocular anatomy and, later in life, as Master of the Mint, meted out the harshest of punishments to counterfeiters, sending more than a hundred to the gallows -- had no tolerance for false or incomplete reasoning. So he decided to set the record straight. This led him to introduce the bucket.

(The Fabric of the Cosmos, p. 26. Brian Greene.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Reading

Today the Christmas spirit finally found me. Usually we embrace immediately after Thanksgiving, but the weather has been unseasonably warm lately. Sunday brought with it grey skies and a constant drizzle, though, which is partially inconvenient (for someone who walks in the morning and evening), but wholly appropriate. Today as I left a book club discussion, I embraced the cold air with a spring in my step and Christmas tunes on my mind.  I went for a downtown stroll and visited the library, where -- I thought -- I'd pick up A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. I'm enormously fond of it. Someone checked it out before me, though, so happy reading to them.  Feeling inexplicably mirthful, I ran up the steps to the library's upstairs and headed for the kids' section, where I treated myself to two Harry Potter novels and.....Redwall, by Brian Jacques.  None of them have a thing to do with Christmas, but they fit my mood -- one of whimsy, looking forward to experiencing more of the magical buzz I get around this time of the year.

I'm also in a mood for some serious reading, so I'm sticking my nose timidly into Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos. If it is too much for me I will finish Galileo's Finger, which I've not forgotten about.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


© 1997 Kurt Vonnegut
219 pages

Timequake may be the oddest novel I've ever read. Scratch that: it is the oddest novel I've ever read, but despite its utter lunacy I loved it anyway, because it is so much the product of its author. The tacit premise of Timequake is that in 2001, after billions of years of expansion, the universe hiccoughed, reversed its course to 1991, and then -- decided to continue expanding after all. Every being on Earth was forced to live out the last ten years of their life exactly as they had before. When free will kicks in again, everything goes to hell.

Vonnegut never tells the story of those relived years in away one might expect in a conventional novel. There's no setup; the Quake never happens within the plot. Instead, the reader is introduced to what happened by Vonnegut, and he continues to refer to it tangentially as he rambles merrily about whatever he likes, often using the consequence of the quake on those who lived through it to illustrate a point he's in the middle of making. Chapter divisions are utterly arbitrary, and Vonnegut will often stop to to introduce a random through before returning to the subject of his musings, which range widely from nostalgic thoughts about his family to opinions on faith and human community. A favorite section for me describes Vonnegut's labors to send some of his work to be edited. Rather than emailing or faxing it, he sends in a bundle of typewriter-produced pages and makes a jaunt downtown to fetch the appropriate stationary and postage, thoroughly enjoying his time out and about socializing with others. True, he could be efficient and use faxes or buy envelopes and stamps in bulk, but for Vonnegut that isn't the point. He valued the experience of human interaction, and ends the passage by declaring, "Listen! We're here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anyone tell you different."

Vonnegut is at times heartwarming and sometimes cynical, but he's always present. Kilgore Trout, his alter-ego, makes frequent appearances and Vonnegut works Trout's short stories -- usually with a cynical point -- into his own thoughts. Timequake is pure Vonnegut -- "talking lazily back and forth, almost buzzing like honeybees" with the reader --  and I would recommend it on that basis. If it's a proper story you want, and you've never read Vonnegut before, perhaps introducing yourself to him via Slaughterhouse-5 or Jailbird would be in order. If, however, Kurt Vonnegut's personality and humor have already appealed to you in times past, Timequake will satisfy enormously. To quote his uncle Alex, "If this isn't nice, what is?"

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Light in the Window

A Light in the Window
© 1996 Jan Karon
446 pages

A few weeks ago I read At Home in Mitford,  a novel which offers a charming escape from the noise, pollution, and chaos of everyday life into a small town which progress has happily forgotten. In the village of Mitford, downtown is still alive and thriving with businesses. People begin their mornings by walking or driving to the main street cafe, where they see their neighbors. Groceries come not from factories and Wal-Mart, but from the Local -- another main street establishment which gets its produce from local farms. There's no great drama driving the book, only the reader's enjoyment of ordinary people living their simple lives. The drama is mundane, yet compelling; the characters eccentric and lovable. They aren't sexy spies or latern-jawed action heroes: they're secretaries with tempers,  old ladies with history, and -- at least in one case -- a portly priest, the rector of the local Episcopal parish.

Father Tim is the center character of the Mitford series, and the first novel introduced him as a kind, wise, but lonely man who slowly found joy as he became the master of a dog, the guardian of a boy, and the neighbor of a fun-loving children's author who moved next door. The neighbor, Cynthia, offers Tim a source of emotional intimacy he's hard-up for, since in Mitford it is he that people confide in. Who counsels the counselor?  In A Light in the Window, author Jan Karon moves the focus from Mitford proper and tightens in on the growing relationship between Tim and his neighbor. There's still drama to be had in town, of course, when the Main Street Grill is imperiled.

As said, the Mitford series is escapism: but for someone like me, such escapism is quite attractive. I delight in Mitford's old-fashioned human-sized community, as well as the gentle classiness of its lead character -- a man who is appalled at the idea of using something even so modern as a microwave oven. I can't imagine walking down the street in Mitford and seeing everyone holding some gadget to their face and not noticing the world around them.

The Crisis of Islam

The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror
© 2001, 2003 Bernard Lewis
184 pages

Bernard Lewis' What Went Wrong? examined the failure of modernity in the middle east, but did not address its role in the rise of terrorism. The Crisis of Islam complements it by focusing chiefly on the factors which have inspired violent political activity in both the mideast and against the West, activity which is typically referred to as terrorism. Lewis examines the context that the terrorists claim (Islam) and the history of western nations with the middle-eastern area.  The book reveals a myriad of factors at work, and although it isn't quite as thorough as I would have liked, it covers a great deal more than most Americans know.

Lewis starts off with a history of Islam, pointing out that for a number of centuries Islam's political empire constituted perhaps the high point of civilization on Earth. He points out the historic lack of distinction between  religion and the state in Islamic society, which is helpful for western, especially American, audiences who are used to the idea of church and state being separate and often conflicting entities. His conception of jihad seems conservative, used entirely to describe war against nonbelievers. Other sources refer to such a war as the 'lesser' jihad, or struggle -- the greater struggle being against our own weaknesses and unwise desires. He also uses the House of Islam vs. House of War dichotomy, which is something I've only seen mentioned by people who are intimidated or hostile by the mention of Islam.  The chapters on interaction between the west and the Islamic middle-east are far superior, especially in covering the tendency of strong western countries to meddle in local affairs following the Great War, when the Ottoman Empire's breakup gave Britain and France a host of new quasi-colonies called 'mandates'.  The story which emerges is of the middle-east as a failing area , one which produces impoverished and hostile young people who see modernity as having created that failure and who deeply resent the west for having created it, as well as constantly disrupting local politics at its convenience. On the latter count, at least, their grievances seem justified.  I only wish Lewis had focused on economics more: I confess to having been swayed by Albert Hourani's notion that some of the anti-western hostility has the same source as labor agitation in the west's own early industrial history.The industrialization process eventually produces an economic boon, but at a cost of environment and human welfare.

Recommended for most readers.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from Kurt Vonnegut

After a day spent with family, I came home and began reading Timequake, by Kurt Vonnegut. How appropriate to read the following:

‎"My uncle Alex Vonnegut, a Harvard-educated life insurance salesman who lived at 5033 North Pennsylvania Street, taught me something very important. He said that when things were going really well we should be sure to NOTICE it.
He was talking about simple occasions, not great victories; maybe drinking lemonade on a hot afternoon in the shade, or smelling the aroma of a nearby bakery, or fishing and not caring if we catch anything or not, or hearing somebody all alone playing a piano really well in the house next door.
Uncle Alex urged me to say this out loud during such epiphanies: 'If this isn't nice, what is?'"

- Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake. p. 12

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday Fun

Teaser Tuesday!
"A.Darell" would just be the sort of thing that she would have to put on all her themes for her class in Composition and Rhetoric--so tasteless. All the other kids had to do it, too, except for Olynthus Dam, because the class laughed so when he did it the first time.

p.79, Second Foundation. Isaac Asimov.

Long before Pat's death, he'd been profoundly unsteadied when she had slipped her hand into his and let her fingers run along his arm. At one point, she began winking at him during sermons, which distracted him to such a degree that he resumed his old habit of preaching over the heads of the congregation, literally. [...] Now Pat, good soul, was cold in the grave, and Edith's casserole was hot on his counter.

A Light in the Window, Jan Karon. Pages 11, 12.

The Broke and the Bookish want to know which ten authors we'd invite to Thanksgiving dinner. I tried to choose a group of people who would get along and enjoy themselves -- I didn't invite Marcus Aurelius, for instance, because I can't imagine he'd enjoy such an affair.

1. Isaac Asimov (...who knows a bit of everything, is witty and charming, and enjoys wordplay.)
2. Kurt Vonnegut (who would hopefully announce, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.")
3. Carl Sagan (whom I would ask to bring an apple pie, baked from scratch.)
4. Brian Fagin (general historian who seems to have specialized the role of climate change in human history)
5. Mary Roach, who I recently heard interviewed: she is as fascinating and funny in person as she is as the author of Spook, Stiff, and other pop-science works.
6. David Sedaris (who, hopefully, would not go into an absurdly funny story just as I am taking a sip of my beverage..)
7. John Shelby Spong (who might help us keep things in perspective)
8. Tenzin Gyatsao (because I want to see that beaming smile just once in person)

9. Bernard Cornwell (author of historical fiction whose interviews I delight in watching)
10.Richard Dawkins or Neil deGrasse Tyson, because I'm a science mood lately.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This Week at the Library (16 November)

It's been a slow week for reading, at least from the library. Unable to pursue my library reads, I re-read Prelude to Foundation and began re-reading Forward the Foundation. Otherwise, so little has been catching fire lately that after reading The Greater Journey by David McCullough, I returned my books to the library and spent a couple of leisurely hours sitting and strolling in various aisles, hoping to find something that would. I think I did, but first, a minireview...

©  2011 David McCullough 
558 pages

David McCullough is a popular name among American historians, known most for his 1776 and a large biography of John Adams.  The Greater Journey is somewhat less focused, but is essentially a history of Paris (1830-1900) as seen through the eyes of American visitors, most of whom were visiting professionally. For the majority of these Americans -- whose numbers include famous names like Samuel Morse and Fenimore Cooper -- the journey to Paris was their first trip outside the United States, and the novelty of being a 'foreigner' made their experiences all the more vividly memorable.  Through them we experience Paris as it was in the late 19th century, beginning in the Bourbon Restoration era but enduring decades of political change -- a Second Republic, a Second Empire, and a Third Republic, in addition to war with Germany and several protracted sieges. The Americans featured here are professionals of one kind or another -- physicians,   architects, writers -- but the artists dominate the work outside of the space devoted to political change. The range of years allows the reader to experience the tremendous change of those years, as the globe shrinks underneath telegraph cables and steam engine tunnels.  Given my interest in France and this period, I certainly enjoyed the book for the most part, although all the art history overwhelmed me. The photographs and prints of artwork included are stunning.

This week...

  • Plan and Simple: A Woman's Journey to the Amish, Sue Bender. I am at the same time intrigued by the Amish devotion to simple living and revulsed by their cultish atmosphere and suppression of individuality with practices like shunning. Sue Bender is an artist who shares my objection to forced conformity, but felt herself mesmerized by Amish art and decided to spend a summer living with them.
  • The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, Bernard Lewis. I read Lewis' What Went Wrong? concerning the effects of modernization in the middle east and the ongoing hostile reaction to it during the summer, and have been meaning to sample more of Lewis.
  • A Light in the Window, Jan Karon; the second in the Mitford series..
  • Vagabond, Bernard Cornwell. Alas, my library doesn't appear to have Sharpe's Skirmish, and I've been mulling over whether or not to pursue in the series or attempt to acquire the novel first. 

I was really in the mood for something WW2-related, specifically a novel -- but I didn't feel like getting into James Jones' From Here to Eternity, and the loud colors and huge rendering of W.E.B. Griffin's name on his  several rows of books left me with the impression that they were meant as cheap thrillers.

The Astral

The Astral
© 2011 Kate Christensen
311 pages

Harry Quirk is a sixty-ish poet whose entire world is changing. In only an afternoon, he has lost a year's worth of work, his home, and his wife: after discovering that his latest project involved a collection of romantic sonnets addressed to a panel of women other than herself,  Harry's wife Luz destroyed it and tossed him out on the street. The poet is something of a dinosaur even in his chosen profession, but he is reluctant to depend on the charity of his daughter Carina. All Harry really wants to do is go home, but he can't -- for the distance between himself and his wife is greater than a simple misunderstanding.  Despite dominating his life for twenty years, his marriage seems to be over, and he must learn to live by and for himself.

Thus begins a fascinating novel with a dominating theme of dependency in relationships, told by a character who is at once sympathetic. Helpless to understand at first, he grows in strength throughout the novel. It helps that Harry isn't allowed to focus entirely on himself: his son is being sucked into a cult even as his marriage is lying in ruins. I appreciated that Christensen didn't give a novel like this a conventional ending, but left the door open -- Harry and his friends and neighbors are left with room to grow long after the book is done. Strong characters and a fascinating theme made The Astral a highlight of my reading two weeks ago.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The KunstlerCast

The KunstlerCast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler
...the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl.
© 2011 Duncan Crary, James Howard Kunstler
300 pages

James Howard Kunstler is a journalist turned social critic and the author of numerous books, most prominently The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century. These two books address the seemingly disparate topics of urban planning and the global oil economy, but to Kunstler and like-minded readers, they are troublesomely knit together, intensifying the problems that each causes. For the past three years, Kunstler has talked each week with on these and connected topics with his co-host, Duncan Crary, who has now produced a partial record of their discussions -- a collection which will no doubt please Kunstler's fans, while offering those unfamiliar with his work their first taste of it.

Although his modern work ties to his predictions for the post-oil future, most of Kunstler's nonfiction works fall within the realm of urban criticism. Americans who have never encountered his ire may be staggered by how much of their world he holds in scorn. Just what is it about the modern city and suburban sprawl that he finds so appalling?  In a word, everything. The opening sentence of The Geography of Nowhere, in which Kunstler attempts to summarize why he wrote the book, is a paragraph long.  The growth of American cities and later,  the 'edge' cities that grew out of suburbian sprawl, has centered on the automobile, and the result is the decline of public transit like rail lines in favor of highways -- infrastructure built on the promise of cheap gasoline, and frightfully ugly to behold. Its decentralization destroys the integrity of human communities and is in part responsible for the rising obesity problem in the U.S:  our automobile-fixated culture gives people few opportunities to incorporate activity like walking into their everyday life, for now every trip anywhere demands the car. The results are hideous: compare an eight-line commercial strip lined with box stores,  oceans of pavement, and offensive, neon-colored signs the size of trucks to the charm of what once was, to the tree-lined American Main Street with its cozy stores and pedestrian focus.  The good news, for Kunstler and those who sympathize, is that this horror cannot long remain: it is doomed by its dependency on oil.

The second half of Kunstler's legacy, originating in The Long Emergency and a source of constant chatter among the author and his co-host, is the idea of peak oil and its ramifications. The cancerous growth of urban sprawl has been enabled by the abundance of cheap oil, but that era is drawing to a close. The United States' oil reserves have already dwindled, and soon enough the oil wells of the middle east and Russia will dry, too. The consequences for a global economy built on oil -- oil to run the ships and trucks that connect manufacturing and distribution, oil to process food -- for food is an industrial, not an agricultural product these days -- are dire. Kunstler sees the fabric of globalization partially disintegrating, and local economies reviving. Everything, including the cities, will shrink to a smaller scale -- a human-sized scale. The unviable sprawl will die, and authentic human communities will prosper once more, while bemoaning the amount of resources that were wasted  in the "cheap oil fiesta".

KunstlerCast's conversations tend to focus more on Kunstlers' urban critiques than the peak oil scenario, though the two are connected to the point that the whole of the book flows together well, aside from some small deviations wherein Kunstler takes time to grouch about tattoos. I found these breaks more amusing than anything, and the book as a whole a positive delight, one which prompted me to begin re-reading The Geography of Nowhere.  While Kunstlers' arguments as a whole are more thoroughly presented in the two books previously mentioned, the format of KunstlerCast allows the author and his host to discuss contemporary, related, and specific issues not mentioned in the 1993 book, or only mentioned in passing, like the health consequences of an automobile-centered society or the work of other critics like Jane Jacobs. They also cover ground visited in its lesser-known books, like Home from Nowhere and The City in Mind. I especially enjoyed these sections, as I've not been able to get my hands on these books despite my interest in them. Thus, while covering familiar ground the conversations also introduce new material, making them of interest to Kunstler fans. Newcomers may appreciate a less formal introduction to these issues, especially given how easy it is to "listen" to the banter-filled conversation between these two intelligent and thoughtful men.

Given the present economics of the world, Kunstler's work has never been more relevant, and is now all the more accessible. This is a hit for old fans and the newly interested alike. The KunstlerCast may be found at KunstlerCast.com,  with archives as far back as 2008.

The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler
The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan
American Mania: When More Isn't Enough, Peter Whybrow

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sharpe's Sword

Sharpe's Sword
© 1983 Bernard Cornwell
319 pages

The year is 1812, and the Napoleonic wars are broadening. After retreating to Portugal, the British army is once again on the move, now pushing into Spain to confront Napoleon's armies in Salamanca. As much as Wellington desires to draw the French army into an engagement, his opposing counterpart is content to block the English army's advance into Spain and threaten their supply lines,  always obstructing the English but never giving Wellington the chance to use his wiles against them. For the moment, Sharpe and his men are without battle to engage them -- but not without a mission, because someone is killing England's spies and threatening a continent-wide intelligence network. Sharpe and his comrades know who the man is, but first they must find him hiding in the city -- and do so quickly, before he strikes at Wellington's master spy.

Sharpe's Sword is a rich, full Sharpe novel containing several military engagements -- including the big battle Wellington wanted, a superior tale of the event -- in addition to a plot of espionage. Cornwell thoughtfully threw in a few twists and turns, and while Sharpe's foe is largely absent in hiding, he proves to be one of most difficult for Sharpe to defeat, nearly killing our hero -- but he recovers, his faithful friend Patrick at his side, and the attention paid to their friendship is one of the book's better moments. When reading Sharpe, I prefer his solitary adventures to the tales of battle, but Wellington's daring attack enthralled me here. Sharpe's Sword delivers fully.

Next up: Sharpe's Skirmish.

Teaser Tuesday (8 November)

Teaser Tuesday is a bookish event in which participants share excerpts from their current reads, hosted by ShouldBeReading.
"But then Paris was a continuing lesson in the enjoyment to be found in such simple, unhurried occupations as a walk in a garden or watching children at play or just sitting observing the human cavalcade. One learned to take time to savor life, much as one took time to savor a good meal or a glass of wine. The French called it 'l'entente de la vie', the harmony of life."

p. 44, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, David McCullough

"The problem in America is not that we're driving the wrong kind of cars. The trouble is we're driving every kind of car incessantly. [...] Let the car die. Let the motoring system die, and let's move on to the next thing -- which ought to be good urbanism, walkable neighborhoods, walkable cities that are scaled to the true energy resources of the future, not just wishes and fantasies."

p.11, 12  KunstlerCast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler. Quoted from The Geography of Nowhere

And because it gives me such pleasure to read it, another from Kunstler:

Eighty percent of everything ever built in America has been built in the last fifty years, and most of it is depressing, brutal, ugly, unhealthy, and spiritually degrading -- the jive plastic computer tract home wastelands, the Potemkin village shopping plazas with their vast parking lagoons, the Lego block hotel complexes, the 'gourmet mansardic' junk-food joints, the Orwellian office 'parks' featuring buildings sheathed in the same reflective glass as the sunglasses worn by chain-gang guards, the particle board garden apartments rising up in every meadow and cornfield, the freeway loops around every big and little city with their clusters of discount merchandise marts, the whole destructive, wasteful, toxic, agoraphobic-inducing spectacle that politicians proudly call 'growth'."

p. 2,.  KunstlerCast, quoting The Geography of Nowhere.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Literature, meet music!

Tonight a group of history alumni from my university have been discovering a YouTube account called "thehistorians", in which history is told in the form of pop music parodies. I'm overwhelmed with giddiness at the find, and there's also some devoted to classics of western literature!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

This Week at the Library...

Well, welcome to November! October seems to have been a busy month for reading, as well as a satisfying one. In addition to the books which I commented on in the last week, I also read The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as The Astral by Kate Christensen. I'll be giving The Astral more extended comments later, but suffice it to say, the book proved a most intriguing novel and I would have checked out another by Christensen if I could have remembered her last name's spelling while in fiction.

As for The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: it collects a dozen or so Holmes stories, most set in the latter part of the great detective's career, including  the chronologically "last" in the series in which Holmes foils a German spy on the cusp of the Great War. The afterward comments that such a story is a fitting end to the Holmes series, as the Great War completely destroyed the Victorian world that Holmes was most at home in.  In addition to conventional mysteries, the collection included four rather usual stories. Two were mysteries that Watson reports on, but not as Holmes' assistant: indeed, Holmes never appears by name, and his anonymous attempts to solve the mysteries both propose solutions which turn out to be wrong. They're impressive guesses, but wrong all the same. One of these stories, involving a missing train, happened to be my favorite -- largely because how does a train go missing?  The last two stories, including "How Watson Learned the Trick", were almost disappointing in their brevity. Indeed, they're not stories so much as brief scenes in which Doyle pokes fun at his detective's style of logical deduction -- or so the afterward tells me.  Even so, that style is most impressive: in a story I'm reading now, Holmes figures the speed of the train by noting the rate at which telegraph poles are passing by. Since he knows the distance between each pole,  he can count the miles and speed without reference to a speedometer or mile posts.

At the library this week, I picked up...

  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which is another Readers Digestion collection of Holmes stories like the last two I read, in the same handsome binding with an attractive font and illustrations. 
  • The Age of Louis XIV, Will Durant. Time for another big helping of European history.
  • Sharpe's Sword, Bernard Cornwell. I've watched the movie version of this before,  but the Sharpe movies and Sharpe books vary wildly so I don't think I've been too much spoiled beyond "Sharpe deals with loathsome aristocrats, Sharpe fights a really big battle and almost dies"...but those are elements of every Sharpe novel. 
  • The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, David McCullough. McCullough is a popular and well-acclaimed historian, most famous for his 1776 and a large biography of John Adams.  This appeared in the library's new acquisitions section, and I picked it up out of curiosity.
  • The Book of Guys, Garrison Keiler. As a regular NPR listener, I'm accustomed to his voice and humor but have never read one of his books. 

Since we're coming up on 5 November, I really should have checked out something on English history to continue my yearly tradition of reading culture-related books on nationalish holidays.  I've been struggling to get that tradition off the ground -- there hasn't been a year when I've done all four (American, 4 July; French, 14 July;  German, 3 October; England, 5 November) successfully, this year included. I never finished my Fourth of July Reading, didn't finish my Bastille Day Reading until August, and now don't have a proper Guy Fawkes reading. I suppose Sharpe could count, being a work by an English author and starring an English main character,  and Sherlock Holmes is an English creation as well...but it feels like cheating, because I would have read them anyway.

A question to English readers -- might St. George's day be more appropriate for me to do an English-culture related reading?  I know Guy Fawkes Night isn't a "national" holiday, but I chose it because it was the only national-ish holiday I knew of.  Whenever I mention this book/culture project of mine at forums, English commenters seem to think my choice of dates is an odd one.