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This is the point where I was going to enter the complete introductory piece, to give you the full flavor of the task I've taken on, but thanks to the florid prose that seems so common to this type of 19th century feature writing, this is as far as I got before I surrendered:

What delightful pictures the very name of books for Summer reading brings to our mind--pictures of past holidays as well as visions of past holidays, as well as visions of the many delightful journeys we are always planning; days spent under the trees, in canoes, or flying before the wind on beautiful Long Island Sound; or, as often happens, becalmed in one of its many bays; or perhaps the day may be spent in what Ashby-Sterry called "Happy Hammockuity."
If you swing in a hammock on a summer day through,
And dream with profound assiduity,
A new phase of content it will give unto you,
Which philosophers call Hammockuity.
Or perhaps one's happy lot may be cast by the side of one of Dr. van Dyke's "Little Rivers," in which case, or, in fact, in any circumstances, what pleasanter companion could one have than that delightful book?

In Summer, as at all other times, Dr. Johnson's counsel, to "read the book you do honestly feel a wish and curiosity to read," is the best of advice; but perhaps at this season of the year there is greater latitude in the choice. One could never do much serious studying, or even solid reading, out of doors. There is quite too much to distract one's attention; now a bird, a flower, the outline of the trees against a brilliant sky; now the very changes in that sky itself, the rapidly floating clouds, with their varying shapes; or again, the absolutely cloudless, deep blue sky above us [...]

And it just keeps going on and on like that, and in my mind I picture it being read by a plummy voice with clipped enunciation, glasses sitting on the end of the nose...oh, and I suppose there's a person attached to all that, too. And yeah, I know, it's sentimental because it's supposed to be about the romance of it all--summer and reading and daydreaming and feeling sorry for the poor sods who look at daffodils and only see daffodils--but you'll forgive me if I don't have the stomach to type out the whole thing in one sitting. You're invited to read the whole thing at the New York Times site. In fact, I'd highly recommend it. Cut off a piece. Chew every bite. See if I care.

By the way, I actually have the complete poem. If you're good, I'll even keep it to myself. "Hammockuity". Oy.

As for the first book of the project, I got a grand total of two votes after the list went up the other week, one for Mrs. Hugh Fraser's Letters From Japan, the other for A Hungarian Nabob by Maurus Jokai (or Mór Jókai, if you want to split hairs). In the event of a tie, it falls to me to break the deadlock, so Nabob it is. Before we get to my first thoughts, here's what the listmakers had to say:
A Hungarian Nabob. By Maurus Jokai. Second Edition. Size 5 by 7 1/2. Decorative Binding. 358 pages. The Doubleday & McClure Company $1.25

Maurus Jokai is the Hungarian Alexander Dumas, for Jokai delights in the dramatic situation, and is a master of dialogue. Material for romance abounds in the land of the Magyar, for even up to the first quarter of this century the Hungarian noble was a figure apart. There was still traces of mediaevalism about him, and he was a most picturesque creation. Maurus Jokai's principal personage is an eccentric nabob, and he makes of him an imposing figure among the nobility. The author has an admirable descriptive style, and follows the romantic impulses of the period. In Hungary this novel has attained the position of a classic and has helped to keep alive the national feeling. "A Hungarian Nabob," as translated by Mr. R. Nisbet Bain, loses nothing of its original vigor, but is pervaded with the spirit, the go, of the original text.
As it turns out, Nabob wasn't particularly new in 1899, being about fifty years old at this point; apparently what was "new" about it was this English edition. According to Wikipedia, Jokai was "a combination, in almost equal parts, of Walter Scott, William Beckford, Dumas père, and Charles Dickens, together with a strong hint of Hungarian patriotism." As well-meaning as that description must be, Mark Twain planted a big, red flag for me on the border of Walter Scott-Land, so I'm already on my guard without even opening the book. But as far as 19th century Hungarian novelists go, I've been assured Jokai was important with a capital I, so Nabob should kick us off in the grand manner.

However, before anybody gets a case of national pride from this choice, the guy who recommended Nabob just liked the sound of the word "nabob". And yes, he's an American, too. Thanks for asking.

I'll be posting (possibly spoiler-laden) reports as I go and a post-game wrap-up once I reach the end. And as promised, here's where you can find the full text if you want to play along at home:
  • Google Books (Image scans from the University of Michigan collection. Since I'm going for the "original" experience, this is the text I'll be least until I run across pages which are missing or out of order. As much as I dig Google Books, a lot of texts I'm interested in aren't entirely there, even when they're supposed to be. That's when I go to my backup...)
  • Project Gutenberg (Plain text and HTML versions. If you're interested in just the text, rather than obsessing over some anal-retentive "purity of experience" (guilty as charged), you'll do just fine with this version and it'll only take up a fraction of the space.)

Late addition! Skip to the spoilerific chapter recaps (links go live as they're posted): Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and the Post-Game Wrap-up.


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