lycomayflower reads again in 2013
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Welcome to my second 2013 reading thread!
This first post contains an on-going list of the books I've read this year, with the most recent reads at the top. Click on the book title to go to the book's post within the thread, where you will find a review. Numbers in parentheses are page counts for each book. You can also navigate from her to my partial reads, to books purchased (First Quarter, Second Quarter, Third Quarter, Fourth Quarter), to my reading challenge, to my reading goals for the year, and to my most recent previous challenge thread.
Into the Wilderness
* = Library Book; ** = Previously Unread Book from My Shelves; (page #*) = Pages Not Included in Total Pages
(18,922 total pages)
68.) How to Cook a Wolf (200)
67.) Kissing the Witch (228)
66.) A Christmas Carol (131)
65.) The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien** (453)
64.) Zealot* (230)
63.) Farthing** (319)
62.) Christmas at High Rising (146)
61.) Call Me By Your Name (248)
60.) In the Kingdom of Men (314)
59.) The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec* (96*)
58.) The Eyre Affair (374)
57.) The Hobbit (317)
56.) The Margarets* (508)
55.) Library Wars: Love and War, volume 1* (189*)
54.) The House on Tradd Street (329)
53.) The God Delusion (420)
52.) Daggerspell* (395)
51.) The Perks of Being a Wallflower* (213)
50.) Death of a Gossip** (186)
49.) The House at Tyneford** (359)
48.) Slaughterhouse-Five (215)
47.) Mrs Queen Takes the Train (374)
46.) In a Sunburned Country** (304)
45.) Austenland (196)
44.) The Penderwicks (262)
43.) Take Us to Your Mall (127*) and Think iFruity (127*)
42.) Montana 1948** (169)
41.) Tolstoy and the Purple Chair* (236)
40.) Cocaine Blues (175)
39.) An Experiment in Criticism (143)
38.) The Fall of Arthur (233*)
37.) Daughter of Smoke and Bone* (418)
36.) Sword at Sunset* (495)
35.) Screwball Television (343)
34.) American Wife** (555)
33.) Epilogue 1 & 2 (210)
32.) The Nutmeg Tree* (313)
31.) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell** (1006)
30.) Apple of My Eye (174)
29.) The Rebel Angels** (326)
28.) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (168)
27.) A Long Way Gone* (229*)
26.) Why Read Moby-Dick? (144)
25.) The Tale of Hill Top Farm* (274)
24.) The Silver Chair** (217)
23.) Weirdos from Another Planet!* (127*)
22.) Oracle of Philadelphia, Book One: Earthbound Angels (210)
21.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Official Movie Guide (167)
20.) Dicey's Song (211)
19.) Fledgling (310)
18.) Annabel (461)
17.) Mystic River** (448)
16.) How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you (131*)
15.) tiny beautiful things (353)
14.) Consider the Oyster (76)
13.) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (870*)
12.) Fun Home* (232)
11.) On Fortune's Wheel** (402)
10.) The Spiral Staircase* (306)
9.) Pride and Prejudice (292)
8.) Ilium (725)
7.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion (72*)
6.) All Roads Lead to Austen* (367)
5.) The Fellowship of the Ring (398)
4.) Unpublished Manuscript (614)
3.) Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (308)
2.) Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man* (232)
1.) The Uninvited Guests (259)
Partially read books get on this list after they've sat around for a week or so without being read further. Sometimes I have comments about an abandoned read, and sometimes not.
* Bold = Books I really want to get back to this year
* Double pluses (++) = Now is not the right time for a book, but I will probably read it in full someday. Often books I have "peered into," realized I do want to read, but not necessarily right now
* JWTT = "Just Wasn't The Thing" and means what it says: this just wasn't the right book for that moment
* Plus minus (+-) = Ambivalence; I'm not enthusiastic about finishing the read any time soon
* Double minus signs (--) = Abandoned forever
* NFM = "Not for Me"; books it turns out I never did really want to read. Usually abandoned quick and might not "count" in total number partially read
* ~2x = Abandoned rereads
48.) +- Anthropology of an American Girl (145/556) Was enjoying this, but then the dreary atmosphere started to wear thin. Will probably come back to it some day. November
47.) +- The Truth (83/348) Husbeast and I were listening to this on audiobook on a trip and didn't get to the end, so I thought I'd read through it. And then I didn't keep going with it. October
46.) ++ Caleb's Crossing (54/311) Peered into. 19 October
46.) ++ The Passing Bells (252/516) I think this was a victim of vacation, where the interruption in reading led me to wander away to something else. I was enjoying it. October
45.) ++ On the Map (64/443) Wandered away. 16 October
44.) -- Masters of Sex (116/380) Well done, but was giving me nightmares for some reason. 14 October
43.) +- From History's Shadow (60/386) Late summer slump. Also, not really a grabber in the first chapters. September
42.) ++ The Golem and the Jinni (68/484) Late summer slump. September
41.) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (198/652) I've reread these so many times that I just wander away when the mood fades and wander back where I left off when the mood strikes again. September
40.) ++ The Quincunx (153/781) Big book blues. Was enjoying it but got distracted by other reads. August
39.) ++ A Novel Bookstore (212/416) No idea why I stopped this one. September
38.) +- The Number of the Beast (118/511) Somehow this Heinlein always seems too Heinlein. Someday I'm going to get through the whole thing. August
37.) ++ Seraphina (88/451) Late summer slump. August
36.) ~2x The Mists of Avalon (213/876) Was meant to be reading this with LW3, but couldn't seem to stay in it for a reread. Sorry, Mum. August
35.) +- The Other Typist (40/354) Meh. Tedious and with a main character I kind of want to throw a damp dish rag at. Doubly disappointing as I was rather looking forward to it. And it's overdue at the library. Nuts. Nuts all around. 9 October
34.) NFM: Youth in Revolt (57/499) Fourteen-year-old narrator Nick Twisp has a compelling voice, but that's not enough to carry me past the subject matter. I'm not one to dismiss books about teenaged angst just because I've left that stage of my life behind, but this one is just too, too Fourteen-Year-Old Boy. Possibly that is an achievement in itself, but the book is just not for me. 30 August
33.) -- The Coming Storm (90/371) Clearly, I wander away from books often. But it's rare that I start out loving a book and then end up disliking it so much that I purposefully abandon it. That's what's happened here. For the first thirty pages or so, I thought this was going to be hovering around five-star territory. And then, I dunno. It all got very dreary somehow, and characters who were once promising started to seem more like glyphs than fully-realized characters. Had been looking forward to this one for a long time, and now I'm seriously peeved by the mood it's put me in. 15 August
32.) +- Ines of My Soul Peered into. For book club. Just didn't grab me enough to leave other more appealing reads. 28 July
31.) North and South (134/425) Drawn away by other things. 20 July
30.) +- Heart and Soul (164/564) In my mid-teens I read a few Maeve Binchys (Circle of Friends springs to mind) that I just loved. They were never much more than brain candy, but they were delightful, marvelous brain candy. Ever since that little pocket of time, I've been disappointed with any of hers I've tried. This one started out okay, but after a hundred pages or so it started to feel sort of empty--like it's pleasant and all, and Binchy can always find the perfect little characterizing detail, but nothing much seems to be at stake and there's little to it beyond those perfect little details. It's like busting into your glorious foot-high chocolate Easter bunny and discovering it's hollow. Boo. 17 July
29.) +- The Witch of Exmoor (12/281) Peered into. Meh. 12 July
28.) +- Keeping the House (204/528) Charming for a bit and at first kept my interest just through evocation of place and time, but grew tedious and dull. Reads as if there's a great family mystery to be uncovered when really everything seems pretty straight-forward. 7 July
27.) +- The Solitude of Prime Numbers (106/271) Lost steam. 1 July
26.) +- Snow in August (54/354) Expected to enjoy this thoroughly as LW3 has a high opinion of Hamill's Forever and I've liked the essays of his that I've read. But there was a not-compelling obviousness to the story and dialogue that often clanged. If someday someone tells me I quit twenty pages before it gets really good, I'll give it another go. 24 June
25.) +- The Secret Lives of Bees (92/302) I dunno. I just got restless with it? 13 June
24.) +- Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance (134/333) Decent going, but not good enough to keep me from getting distracted by sommat else. Intended to carry on, but didn't before I ran out of renews at the library, so. 11 June
23.) +- Julie and Julia (89/362) Can't quite put my finger on what's wrong with this read--something about the narrator just grates on me. Perhaps I'm expecting her to be Amy Adams (I enjoyed the movie) and she's not or I miss too much the atmosphere of the France sections of the film. I'm being merciless, though. Some books are worth plowing through even if you haven't fallen head-over-heels with them in the first 50 pages and some aren't. This is an aren't, and I'm on to one of the other scores of books I want, want, want to read. 7 June
22.) -- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (293/644) Been avoiding tGwtDT for a long time because it's meant to be so violent. The other day I was all "I think I'm brave enough to try some of that." And then when I got to the violence, I realized that I wasn't really enjoying the book at all--that I was just trying to egg myself on to keep going. Who needs that? Done. 6 June
21.) ++ The Man without Qualities (48/725) Peered into. I may keep dipping into this a little at a time. 3 June
20.) +- Florence and Giles (125/261) Early fun word play turned irritating and the suspense wasn't so very suspenseful. Meh. May knock it out just to see what the solution to the weird goings on is. 4 June
19.) +- Sabriel (112/491) A YA I thought I'd give a go. Didn't hold my interest. NFM. 2 June
18.) +- ST:TNG Imbalance (56/280) Heavy on world-building, light on character interaction. Sometimes I like a really good world-building Trek book, but I usually need a good dose of the familiar characters to make me care about reading Trek and this one just wasn't working for me. April
17.) +- Spirits in the Wires (164/448)) Was enjoying this well enough, I guess, but put it down "for a bit" and even a looming due date at the library never inspired me to pick it up again. April
16.) ++ The Meaning of Night (112/695) Drifted away from this when I picked up Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell as more what I was wanting. 17 April
15.) ++ Whose Body Peered into. (36/192) April
14.) ++ The Magicians and Mrs Quent (34/498) Peered into. April
13.) +- A Man in Full (66/787) Impressive, but not exactly enjoyable. Will come back to Wolfe someday, if maybe not this book. April
12.) ++ The Bone People (92/445) Have started and not finished this at least twice. I love it, so why can't I get through it? April
11.) -- Sophie's World (140/513) Won't swear I'm never ever going to try this again, but this was my second go where I didn't even hit half-way, so done for now. April
10.) -- London: A History (66/196) Thought this would be an interesting, quick history to tide me over until I felt up to immersing myself in Ackroyd's gigantic London: A Biography, but sadly it was dull, dull, dull and I couldn't bring myself to carry on. 5 April
9.) Emma (84/422) Why'd I quite this? Honestly. April
8.) +- Ben Hur (104/558) Feh. Just can't get motivated to keep going. Some of the descriptions are kind of fascinating, but the dialogue is wretched. 20 March
7.) ++ As Sweet as Honey (18/270) Peered into. March
6.) ++ The Stockholm Octavo (42/411) Peered into. February
5.) ++ Eva Luna (16/307) Oooh, I'm going to read this someday, and I think I'm going to love it. Just not right now. 20 February
4.) The Two Towers (60/322) Wandering away from the zillionth reread of a comfort read isn't really a partial read, but I do mean to finish it . . . sometime. So I include it. February
3.) NFM: Canada (26/418) The sentence-level writing seems dry, clunky, and uninspired; the characters don't interest me a jot after four chapters; and a novel which seems to beg to be voice-driven has no discernible voice at all. Disappointing. 20 February
2.) -- Some Tame Gazelle (140/252) Seems like it should be my thing, it being Jane-Austen-ish, but I just couldn't get into it. Alas. 29 January
1.) NFM: Spencer's Mountain (10/247) I've always enjoyed The Waltons and thought I ought to give Hamner's work a go. The writing does nothing for me and it all just feels wrong. Perhaps unfair to the book, but there it is. 14 January
(Total pages read: 4620)
Books Purchased for Myself from October through December 2013
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday
* = Books purchased used
16 new books; of those read: 2
3 used books
119.) Spring Snow, Yukiio Mishima
118.) A Bloodsmoor Romance, Joyce Carol Oates
117.) Christmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie, Nancy Mitford
115.) The Accursed, Joyce Carol Oates
113.) Sylvester, Georgette Heyer
112.) The Walnut Tree, Charles Todd
111.) Virago Angela Thirkells
110.) The Round House, Louise Erdrich
109.) Melanie Middleton series, Karen White
108.) *The Ice-Shirt, William T. Vollmann
107.) *Lanark, Alasdair Gray
106.) *Redwall, Brian Jacques
105.) The Story of Arthur and Other Celtic Heroes, Padraic Colum
104.) The Invisible Bridge, Julie Orringer
103.) Masters of Sex, Thomas Maier
102.) Abingdon Pryory trilogy, Phillip Rock
101.) The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri
Books Purchased for Myself from July through September 2013
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday/One or more read from a group, but not all
* = Books purchased used
14 new books; of those read: 3
13 used books
100.) The One-Way Bridge, Cathie Pelletier
99.) The Virgins, Pamela Erens
98.) The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker
97.) Island of Vice, Richard Zacks
95.) *Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land, John Crowley
94.) *Sarum, Edward Rutherfurd
93.) *The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson
92.) *Lincoln, Gore Vidal
91.) *The Far Pavilions, M.M. Kaye
90.) The Yard, Alex Grecian
89.) *The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, Benjamin Hale
88.) *The Bards of the Bone Plain, Patricia A. McKillip
87.) The Christie Curse, Victoria Abbott
86.) Anthropology of an American Girl, Hilary Thayer Hamann
83.) *Mary Renault: A Biography, David Sweetman
82.) *Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, Agatha Christie
81.) *The Light Years, Elizabeth Jane Howard
80.) *Marking Time, Elizabeth Jane Howard
79.) *When Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro
78.) *Phantastes, George MacDonald
77.) Kushiel series, Jacqueline Carey
76.) The Penderwicks series, Jeanne Birdsall
73.) Cyteen, C.J. Cherryh
Books Purchased for Myself from April through June 2013
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday/One or more read from a group, but not all
* = Books purchased used
31 used books; of those read: 0
16 new books; of those read: 4
72.) The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Palo Giordano
71.) Sweetness in the Belly, Camilla Gibb
70.) Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
69.) *Dawnflight, Kim Headlee
68.) Isolde, Queen of the Western Isle, Rosaline Miles
67.) Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country, Rosaline Miles
66.) Blackout, Connie Willis
65.) Flying too High, Kerry Greenwood
63.) The Man without Qualities, Robert Musil
62.) Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
61.) *Away, Jane Urquhart
60.) *Heading Out to Wonderful, Robert Goolrick
59.) *Memory and Dream, Charles de Lint
58.) *Dodo: An Omnibus, E.F. Benson
57.) *Lucia in London, E.R. Benson
56.) *Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
55.) *The Women, T.C. Boyle
54.) *Ines of My Soul, Isabel Allende
53.) Leviathan, Philip Hoare
51.) In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, Margaret Atwood
50.) A Small Death in the Great Glen, A.D. Scott
49.) Windfall, Penny Vincenzi
47.) *Darwinia, Robert Charles Wilson
46.) *Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, Ann Rinaldi
45.) *A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
44.) *Trapeze, Simon Mawer
43.) *handful of TNG books
42.) *handful of Mapp and Lucia books
41.) *handful of Phillip Pullman non-Dark-Materials ya
40.) *A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe
39.) *Mistress of the Vatican, Eleanor Herman
38.) *I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe
37.) *Where Rivers Change Direction, Mark Spragg
36.) *The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
35.) *All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
34.) *Vineland, Thomas Pynchon
33.) *Roots, Alex Haley
32.) *The Hunchback of Notre Dame
31.) *In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant
30.) *Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant
29.) *The Birth of Venus, Sarah Dunant
28.) *The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
27.) *Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
26.) *The Tulip, Anna Pavord
25.) *A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle
Books Purchased for Myself from January through March 2013
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday/One or more read from a group, but not all
* = Books purchased used
12 used books; of those read: 0
12 new books; of those read: 8
22.) Ben-Hur, Lew. Wallace
21.) The Borrowers, Mary Norton
19.) We, the Drowned, Carsten Jensen
18.) As Sweet as Honey, Indira Ganesan
17.) *Jaran, Kate Elliott
16.) *Orientalism, Edward Said
15.) *Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes
14.) *The Club Dumas, Arturo Perez-Reverte
13.) *A Thread of Grace, Mary Doria Russell
12.) *Dreamers of the Day, Mary Doria Russell
11.) *A Time To Be Born, Dawn Powell
10.) *The Hundred Secret Senses, Amy Tan
9.) *The King Must Die, Mary Renault
8.) *Funeral Games, Mary Renault
7.) *Three Men In a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
6.) The Black Opera, Mary Gentle
2.) *The Independence of Miss Mary Bennett, Colleen McCollough
Originally my goal each month was to read one book which would satisfy the category for that month.
In June I decided that between the Book Club I've joined and the occasional two-woman "group read" with LW3, my "scheduled reading" is enough to be getting on with without the Reading Challenge. Should I read any books fitting the remaining categories (pretty likely, I'd say), I'll list those books under the appropriate challenge months, regardless of whether I read the book in that month.
January--For These Gifts: Read a book that was a gift to you in the last five years
The Uninvited Guests
February--Try, Try Again: Read or finish a book abandoned in 2011 or 2012
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
March--Take It Home and Read It: Buy a book and read it right away
April--Would I Like It?: Read a book recommended by the husbeast
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
May--Actually Haven't: Read a classic you've always meant to read
June--I Hardly Recognize You: Read a new (to you) work by an author you like
In a Sunburned Country (August)
July--Reel Winners: Read a book and then see a movie based on it
August--Good Intentions: Read an unread book from a past edition of Packing for a Reading Retreat
September--And Then?: Read the next in a series you have in progress
October--Lists, Lists, Lists: Read a book from column ten or row ten of your “To Read” collection on LT
November--Is This a True Story?: Read a piece of nonfiction
Apple of My Eye (May)
December--Play It Again: Reread an old favorite
My Reading Goals for the Year:
Read at least 75 books or 23,000 pages
Reduce the number of books I buy for myself (less than 52 used; less than 30 new)
Read more of the books I do purchase (more than 5 used; more than 15 new)
Increase the number of books read from my shelves (more than 12)
Finish at least 2/3 of the books I start
Tickers to help me keep track of my goals.
USED BOOKS PURCHASED
USED BOOKS READ
NEW BOOKS PURCHASED
NEW BOOKS READ
BOOKS READ FROM MY SHELVES
I'm offering a Virago Modern Classic to the first person who expresses interest. (Can ship to US addies only. =/ ) Picked it up for me mum and it turns out she's already got it.
The Lost Traveller, Antonia White--one of the black editions in decent condition but with a few unobtrusive creases on the cover
ETA: Touchstone takes you to the right work, but not the edition I'm offering.
You might post that offer in the Virago group's wishlist thread. I know there's one member wishing for The Lost Traveller, but she's in Suffolk.
A DNF I've said more about than usual:
The Coming Storm, Paul Russell
I often wander away from books. But it's rare that I start out loving a book and then end up disliking it so much that I purposefully abandon it. That's what's happened here. For the first thirty pages or so, I thought this was going to be hovering around five-star territory. And then, I dunno. It all got very dreary somehow, and characters who were once promising started to seem more like glyphs than fully-realized characters. Had been looking forward to this one for a long time, and now I'm seriously peeved by the mood it's put me in. 15 August
45.) Austenland, Shannon Hale ***1/2
A young, single, successful American woman finds Mr Darcy so perfect that it seems to get in the way of any real-life relationships she has. A wise old aunt intuits Jane's (yes, the heroine's name is Jane) obsession and leaves Jane a trip to Austenland in her will. At Austenland (on some estate somewhere in England), guests act the part of Regency-era English well-offs on a visit to a country estate. Guests dress in Regency clothes, attempt to speak Regency dialogue, and interact with actors who people the estate with servants, residents, and other visitors. Jane's not sure what lesson old auntie hoped she'd learn at Austenland, but she decides to treat it as one last fanciful hurrah before giving up on men and relationships altogether. Of course, it doesn't turn out that way, though I will say no more so as not to spoil stuff and things.
A fun premise, but one that works better, perhaps, as a premise than as a story. Jane has difficulty sorting what's real from what's not while at Austenland. When everyone around you is playing a part, how can you ever know where you stand? This might have been the most compelling aspect of the novel if it weren't for the fact that I could never tell how I was meant to react to the rest of the characters. I had no idea whether I was supposed to suspect certain of the actors of developing real feelings for the guests or not (and neither did Jane). This constant wrong-footedness, if it had been handled superbly, could have made this an excellent novel about fantasy and reality, how they intertwine, and how fiction plays into that tangle. But, as written, it was more confusing than enlightening.
Still, an enjoyable read on the whole, and I will always give points for a neat premise even if the execution is not perfect. Austenland is one of the few books I've ever read that I thought from the start would work better as a movie, and I'm looking forward to the coming film version (and fingers crossed all the negative reviews I've seen are the results of critics who just have their panties on a little too tight.)
46.) In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson ****1/2
Bill Bryson tours around Australia and reports back on its people, places, history, and terrifying beasties what will eat you. Quintessential Bryson at his informative, tangential, morbid, awed, side-splitting best. I've never read a Bryson I didn't like (though At Home kind of hangs out at a sad bottom of the list), but this one and A Short History of Nearly Everything would battle it out for the honor of Best Bryson Ever (of those I've read--which is almost, but not all, of them). Recommended unreservedly.
Oh, I need to get round to that Bryson at some point - I've read a couple of his and really loved them.
47.) Mrs Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn ****1/2
What a strange but wonderful little book. Set nowishly, Mrs Queen Takes the Train follows Queen Elizabeth through a day when she's feeling a little down and decides the solution is to visit some of her favorite things (yep, like the song). She starts with a little wander to the Royal Mews but ends up straying further afield to a cheese shop in London that sells to the Palace and then all the way to Edinburgh to visit the decommissioned royal yacht, Britannia. Naturally, this causes a bit of a panic among her staff, who scramble to find her and to keep the news of The Queen's going "walkabout" away from the press. The novel is really the story of her staff (a young woman who works in the Mews, a young man from the cheese shop, a young vet currently serving as her equerry, one of the Palace senior butlers, her dresser, and one of her ladies in waiting) as much as it is the story of The Queen's Day Out. And somehow Kuhn manages to pull it all together and tell a satisfying story, one that does justice to all of his characters.
The novel is not perfect, however. The question (brought up repeatedly) of whether The Queen hasn't gone just a little peculiar is never really resolved. (Though the suggestion that she might be depressed is handled well.) It's clear in the end that The Queen knows what she's about and feels a renewed sense of how she can serve her country through her position, but one never fully understands whether The Queen has come round to her senses or was simply more sensible than everyone else all along. And the failure to answer that question rankles a bit, especially since this is a novel about a real person, still living. Is Kuhn making some sort of statement about The (real) Queen? Is it even possible to read the book without assuming he is, given his subject matter? If he is, what was the statement? If he's not, what does that mean? You write a novel about a sitting monarch, you can't pretend you haven't written a novel about a sitting monarch. What do you mean by it, Will? You can't escape the question by not answering it, dang it. (I had pretty much the same problem with Allan Bennett's wonderful The Uncommon Reader--brilliant novella, but it doesn't fully account for itself, somehow.) So there's that little niggle twitching away the whole time one's reading, and it can't help but detract a bit from the experience. But the novel manages to be lovely anyway, so.
My only other quibble is Kuhn's use of pictures. Every so often, the text includes a black and white reproduction of a real photograph--sometimes of The Queen, sometimes of people she knew or places referenced in the story. Why? I ask you. Why? It doesn't rise to an experiment with form, but neither does it sit comfortably in the tradition of illustrated classics or the like. It seems only to underline the fact that the novel is about a Real Person, which, honestly, who could have missed that?
These complaints aside, this was one fun, engaging, satisfying read. (I can imagine myself just flipping through and rereading some bits just for the joy of returning to them--especially the scenes with Luke, the equerry, who should have his own book.) It will almost surely be in my top five reads for the year. Recommended.
Well, then...I wonder if Herself has read it? (She really does read, doesn't she?)
48.) Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut ***1/2
Read this in my early twenties and again now, about ten years later. I found it perplexing then, and I still do. I gather it's meant to be funny and satirical, but I don't see it. There are some passages I just about love, and Vonnegut can definitely write. But my reaction to the whole is pretty much "Ehh?" This was my book club's selection for our upcoming September meeting, and I am looking forward to hearing what the rest of the group has to say. I've never actually gotten to talk to anyone who's also read the novel before, so maybe I will find some insight.
***For Book Club
Three and a half stars---that's pretty generous. I think Vonnegut is waaaaay down on my list; maybe if I live to be 90-something and still have my faculties I'll try him. Right now, he's in the closet in a box; I won't even give him shelf space in the Library of America room.
DNF: Youth in Revolt
Fourteen-year-old narrator Nick Twisp has a compelling voice, but that's not enough to carry me past the subject matter. I'm not one to dismiss books about teenaged angst just because I've left that stage of my life behind, but this one is just too, too Fourteen-Year-Old Boy. Possibly that is an achievement in itself, but the book is just not for me.
Ivan. Doig. Trust me.
Your Grandmother S. does not recall reading anything like The House at Tyneford...must have been you who mentioned it to me before. Still liking it? I told her it sounded like her kind of story. If it's your book, it might have to be circulated.
49.) The House at Tyneford, Natasha Solomons ****1/2
The story of Elise Landau, a young Jewish woman who escapes Nazi-occupied Austria by securing a job as a parlor maid at the manor house in the English village of Tyneford. This was a near-perfect read. I loved Elise as both a character and a narrator. The descriptions of life in both Vienna and at the manor house strike a lovely balance between realistic and elegiac. There's a romance, and it holds precisely as much sway over the narrative as it should. The setting (both place and time) is beautifully rendered. A touch predictable in spots, but in a way which suggests one has really gotten to know the characters rather than that the plot lacks something in originality. A good, satisfying story, very well told. Recommended.
You definitely want to read this, Mims. Your mother . . . I hesitate. I think she would love the story, if she could get past two passages of rather rude language and one or two of fairly intense sensuality (though not graphic). All of these scenes are really important to the story and not at all gratuitous. Don't know how sensitive she is to that sort of thing these days. Tis my copy. Happy to circulate it.
*finger drumming* Not sharing that brilliant review you blogged?
Erm. The one I put up yesterday? That one's here somewhere. Back in, I dunno, July?
Ah...I thought it sounded slightly familiar, but then I thought maybe some other book inspired a similar reaction from you.
50.) Death of a Gossip, M.C. Beaton ***
This first Hamish Macbeth novel was fairly disappointing for me. The first chapters of the book involve the obligatory (?) set-up with a group of people thrown together in a situation where personalities are bound to clash. There's a horrible person who you know is going to be killed, and it takes nearly one hundred pages of repetitive character "development" to get to the death that ought to be propelling the whole story. During these one hundred pages (which make up a solid half of the novel), Hamish just sticks his head in a few times. There's more Hamish after the murder occurs, and I love Beaton's portrayal of him. It's the bright spot in an otherwise dull, frustrating book. But even when Hamish is about, his investigation of the murder is almost incidental and his solving it feels a bit "and then a miracle happened." I tried very hard not to expect the book to be the TV series (which I adore), and I have to say that the absence of favorite supporting characters from the show didn't really bother me. This is Beaton's work before it was revisioned, and that's fine. But the pacing, I swear. And why, why, why would you spend most of the book focusing on insipid side characters when you've got such a fascinating main? Why?
51.) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky ****
This never hit my radar until I was well past the age of its target audience, but the universe kept throwing it at me. So I finally read it. I think this is one of those books people tend to expect to be the voice of teenaged angst or to be representative of a certain generation. I think it's too bad that books get labelled that way; I suspect it makes people expect the wrong things of them. In any case, I was deeply invested in the characters here, and thought much of the writing was lovely. I'm always impressed when a novel can deal with tough themes and still remain genuine and tender. The Perks of Being a Wallflower does that, in spades.
>28 lycomayflower:: I know what you mean. I haven't read the book, but one evening my daughters were watching the film on TV and I was puttering around completely ignoring it because I expected it to be the "voice of teenage angst." And then suddenly, wham! I realized it was really intense and got sucked in.
52.) Daggerspell, Katharine Kerr ****
Someone I follow (darned if I can remember who, now) mentioned Daggerspell the other week, and it sounded good. And it is good. I was properly caught up in the story and wanted to know what would happen to the characters. A potentially confusing reincarnation plot was handled very well. And the writing is quite good (and blissfully, blissfully free of the most annoying writing tics that so often pop up in genre fiction--like adverbs strewn all over the dialogue tags). Perhaps just a touch drag-y for a bit in the third quarter, but otherwise a solid, enjoyable fantasy novel with an interesting plot and memorable characters.
53.) The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins ****
Biologist Richard Dawkins explores the likelihood that God exists, and and the resulting discussion is at turns fascinating, frustrating, frightening, and utterly compelling. Dawkins is at his breath-taking best when he talks science and posits potential evolutionary explanations for the human creature's near-universal tendency to develop religion. He is crashingly frustrating in his attitude toward the devout (rarely better than sneering) and in his insistence on focusing on the horrors perpetuated by religion without giving any space to the good that can come from religion as well. (It can be argued (and has been, rather convincingly, by Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry (and I imagine many others as well), that the horrors far outweigh the good, but Dawkins doesn't even bother to make the argument. And it feels a bit Ein Minuten, bitte, honestly, that he doesn't even go there.*) His rejection of the idea that another's religious beliefs ought to be respected even if they run counter to reason and rational thought may have been the single most compelling notion in the book for me, but also the most frustrating. Compelling because it challenges a prevailing attitude of my time and culture. Frustrating because Dawkins does not discuss this contention fully. It was as if he'd discovered a truth and expected that once he showed that truth to his audience, everyone would have a eureka moment and accept that truth as given without needing any explanation, proof, or discussion. It's a peculiar lapse in a book that is otherwise very thorough in its explanations of its arguments. Despite this frustration, recommended to anyone with an interest in biology, evolution, or religion.
*I refer to external good, here, for instance running food kitchens, not internal, individual good, such as consolation, which Dawkins does address, fully and well.
>31 lycomayflower:: It was as if he'd discovered a truth and expected that once he showed that truth to his audience, everyone would have a eureka moment
Well said! I thought this book was really thought-provoking, but there was a little something that made it less than great. You nailed it.
I pecked away at this one a few years ago but never quite read the whole thing. hmmm it was sitting beside Barbara Thiering's "Jesus of the Apocalypse" but seems to have gone on walkabout.
54.) The House on Tradd Street, Karen White ***(1/2)
The House on Tradd Street is made up of a number of just decent parts--just decent writing (not every description needs a simile, honest), just decent plotting (the characters themselves seemed to get a few minor details of their situation wrong in the last third), and a just decent mystery (your suspicions in the first third will almost certainly be very nearly the case in the end). But somehow those just decent parts add up to something leaving decent behind and heading for pretty good. I wanted to know what would happen (even though I had a pretty good notion of the mystery's solution), and I enjoyed spending time with main characters Melanie and Jack and in the setting of Charleston. Melanie's ability to see ghosts (and its resulting occasional spookiness) is also handled pretty well. I'll read the next one, and here's hoping the attention to writing and those wee plot holes get better rather than worse.
55.) Library Wars: Love and War, volume 1, Kiiro Yumi ****
I've never read manga before, so I have nothing to compare this to, really, but I enjoyed it. The government is waging a censor war on books, but local libraries have the power to protect books and keep those with "objectionable" bits from being destroyed. Members of the Librarian Defense Force receive both librarian and military training so they can be effective in the fight against censorship. Corporal Iku Kasahara, a new trainee, is passionate about the Defense Force because of a childhood incident. She's also got a hate/crush relationship with one of her instructors. And it goes from there. I gather this is an example of shoujo manga, which is aimed primarily at teenaged girls. That's reflected a bit in the themes, but it seems comparable to good YA fiction. I like the premise and the art, and this was a fun way to spend a few hours. Will probably carry on with the series from the library.
You remind me that I want to look up the history of manga, and see when it hit our shores. There may be a chronology issue in the book I'm currently reading. I shall hope to be proven wrong about that.
56.) The Margarets, Sheri S. Tepper ****
In Earth's not-so-very distant future, we've basically killed the planet and continue to severely overpopulate it. An alien organization lays down the law regarding how humans are to fix this problem or else, and while the laws stop short of cruel, they are harsh. Margaret is an Earthian of above-average intelligence growing up on a Mars colony with her parents. Once she hits her twelfth birthday, every major life decision she makes causes her to split in two with one Margaret traveling each of the resulting life paths. The novel follows all of the Margarets through their lives, each of which adds a piece to the puzzle of how Earthians got so rotten at being custodians of a planet anyway. Tepper does a remarkable job of weaving her various story-lines together and of keeping the reader abreast of which Margaret is which. The overall story arc is a bit frustrating (Tepper almost, but not quite, hides the damn ball and that drives me nuts), but on the whole the novel does a good job envisioning a world and playing around in it.
***For Book Club.
I've been reading Tepper since her very earliest books. Amazing growth with this author.
I've really liked all of Tepper's work that I've read - which is all I can get my hands on easily.
57.) The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien ****
I have been woefully neglectful of my poor LT thread. Finished this one probably two weeks ago.
This was my umptydumpth reread of The Hobbit, prompted by watching the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey and all its various wonderful extras. The Hobbit always pales in comparison to The Lord of the Rings for me, both because I dislike Tolkien's style in Hobbit (as did he) and because I find the story of LotR so much richer and more interesting. But this first novel of JRRT's has a lot to offer, and I'm always surprised by the bits I'd forgotten about since my last read. I read this time from the delightful green hardback with the gorgeous color plates, which was a lovely bit of nostalgia as my dad first read the story to me from this edition (though not this copy of this edition--that one still resides at the Ents' house) when I was wee. It is the smell more than the book itself or the illustrations that sends me back to being five and hearing the story for the first time. How wonderful that my many years' younger copy of this edition smells exactly like that childhood one.
58.) The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde ***1/2
Also a reread, though I don't remember much about the first read, which was nearly ten years ago. Fforde is certainly clever (with his word play and his world-building and his little lit jokes), but I find the cleverness a little thin in this first Thursday Next book. I didn't love the book (I didn't hate it either--neither did I find the cleverness particularly annoying). But I feel a bit like Fforde came up with a nifty idea (an alternate history where literature is immensely popular and where people can jump in and out of books is pretty darn nifty) but forgot to (or didn't bother to?) come up with a really good plot to go on in his world. Husbeast has read most of this series (me, just this first one) and says that the next two or three are better than the first (and that then they sort of drop off again). So perhaps I'll give the next one a go sometime.
(Also, I have to say, what is up with the point of view? I'm okay with the odd chapter in third person when the rest of the story is told from first. But random paragraphs in the middle of a first person chapter which go on in third about events the first person narrator has no way of knowing? Come ooon. If that was supposed to point up to some timey-whimey jiggery-pokery, it was not made clear enough to keep the pov shifts from screaming out at me.)
***For Book Club.
59.) The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon, Jacques Tardi ***1/2
A graphic novel from France set in 1911 Paris. Strange goings on abound, and Adele Blanc-Sec gets caught up in them (usually in conjunction with some slightly unsavory business of her own). Nifty artwork which nicely evokes early twentieth century Paris, but I found the stories not entirely gripping and just a tiny bit hard to follow.
>42 lycomayflower:. I felt much the same about the Fforde, although possibly even less tolerant of the 'streme cleverness of the concept. I like that kind of thing in very small doses.
>42 lycomayflower: & 44: I think that's why I've let my copy sit on the shelf so far. I want to love the book, but I'm afraid that I'll just be annoyed by the cleverness.
>42 lycomayflower:, 44, 45: Spoilsport alert: I was annoyed and didn't finish it.
I definitely see where it could be so annoying that some might not finish it. It just tickled around the edges of annoying for me. If I wasn't supposed to read it for Book Club, I doubt I'd ever have read it again, despite sort of intending to do so.
GOODNESS, THINGAVERSARIES!! We forgot to remember! Happy Belated 8th Thingaversary, you enabler, you.
I remembered that mine was coming up but then forgot on the day! *facepalm*
60.) In the Kingdom of Men, Kim Barnes ***1/2
So much to love about In the Kingdom of Men (and it came highly recommended by a dear friend whose opinions on such things I value and almost always agree with), but I couldn't quite warm to this novel. The setting--an Aramco compound and surrounds in late 1960s Arabia--is fascinating, and the details of that setting and the non-American minor characters who inhabited it were my favorite parts of the story. But the main characters--even the narrator, who seems like she ought to be at least interesting, if not wholly likeable--annoyed me. The writing is often lovely, but sometimes also so cloyingly precise as to feel maddeningly claustrophobic. I didn't care much about the characters (except the ones whose fates the story leaves unknowable), and I wanted to maneuver many of them off of a bridge. When I feel this way about a book--when I see so many good things about it and feel like I should like it better than I do--I often suspect that my dislike is at least partly--if not almost wholly--my fault rather than the writer's. Maybe it was just the wrong time. Maybe I was in the wrong mood.
Or maybe it was trying to hard to BE a literary novel instead of just telling a damned good story?
I don't really think that was it. A good deal of the thrust of the story came from the main character realizing that having nothing to do (either domestically, creatively, or professionally) can be pretty soul-crushing and that the American 1960s male-dominated society she lived in wasn't interested in really seeing woman for who they were or helping them find satisfying endeavors. And I'm kind of done with that story. Not that it's not an important story, or one that hasn't been done really well in the past, or one that some people still really need to read. But I'm sort of done with it. That's part of the reason I say I think my reaction was partly or mostly stemming from me, not the book. For a reader who wasn't done with that story, this probably would be a very good book indeed. If this same book (same setting, same writing style, same characters) had been told from the point of view of someone else in the story, I probably would have been all about it.
61.) Call Me By Your Name, Andre Aciman ****
From years later, first-person narrator Elio remembers the intense love affair he shared as a teenager with a young graduate student who stayed with Elio's family for a summer. The ratio of interiority to event in the novel is probably about 70/30, which might make for a tedious narrative, but Aciman handles it well. Elio's confusion and delight at falling in love with Oliver, as well as the agony he experiences in not knowing if Oliver feels the same way, are depicted with an intensity that prevents the story from bogging down in Elio's adolescent navel-gazing. Unlike Aciman's Eight White Nigts, which despite possessing a certain kind of beauty never managed to be anything but a slog, Call Me By Your Name reads like a perfectly paced, elegantly brief exploration of the pleasurable chaos of early love.
I can't decide what to read so instead I'll talk about reading. I've seen these lists floating around here and Facebook, so I thought I'd do my own. First a list of the ten(ish) books that have been important to me and then a list of the most interesting ten books with which I didn't connect. Each book gets a brief explanation for its inclusion.
Ten Books that Have Been Important to Me
1.) The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
My dad read LotR (and The Hobbit) to me when I was very small (five or six). It's probably the first mythology of any kind that ever meant anything to me and was certainly my first introduction to "grown-up" fiction in any sense. I have many memories of being read to at a young age (and of having my own books), but the nightly LotR reading probably instilled in me the idea that curling up with a good book is one of the Best Things.
2.) The Little House on the Prairie books, Laura Ingalls Wilder
These were read to me (Mom, this time) so many times and I read them myself so many times that the events within them became a permanent part of my mental furniture.
4.) Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
Probably the first book that I felt proprietary toward. I loved it, I read it over and over, I carried it around in my pocket, I had parts memorized. When I discovered that a nice hardcover edition on my grandfather's shelves was abridged OMG, I started (but did not complete) a comparative study between the abridged version and the complete text, making notes about how the abridgement altered the meaning of the book. I was about eleven. What a snot I must have been.
5.) Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
This was required reading at some point in middle school (sixth grade? seventh grade?), and I hated it. I could tell it was going somewhere awful, I couldn't escape being taken there with it, it traumatized me, and it made me feel trapped, scared, and depressed. That was the first time a book had ever made me feel that way (and it was one of the few times school ever made me feel that way, too). It may be the only book I have ever truly resented being made to read, and just the thought of the stupid thing still makes me feel a little sick to this day.
6.) Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Aside from just loving the story (which I did), this one is important because it was probably the first "classic" I read entirely of my own choosing and with no prompting from anyone else. I didn't struggle to read it, but it did require more "work" to get through than most things I read on my own at that age (about fifteen). For a kid who'd been reading way above her grade level for always, discovering that leisure reading could still be fun if it was also challenging was probably really important.
7.) Various Robert Heinlein books, including Time Enough for Love and I Will Fear No Evil
Heinlein gets a lot of flak for the way he wrote women (I don't disagree now that his female characters are problematic), but in my late teens his female characters who were smart and beautiful and unabashedly sexual (not sexy but sexual) were like a revelation to me.
8.) The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
A required text for a creative writing class in undergrad. Forever shaped the way I think about writing, reading, life, and what they're all for.
9.) Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Romances can have substance! They can be worth reading after you already know who gets together with whom! I have much more complicated feelings (still positive) about P&P now, but that was the revelation then, some time in college.
10.) The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
In the summer between the two years of my masters program, I devoured HP 1-5 (all there was at the time). And rediscovered that reading can be pure, unadulterated fun. Thank heavens.
11.) A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
I would sooner give up any other ritual at Christmas (or any other time of year) than I would my annual reading of this brilliant little piece. Puts me in the perfect mood for Christmas, always, and straightens me out with the world and with myself (if necessary). An annual spiritual balm for me since high school.
Ten Books with which I Didn't Connect
1.) The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
I wanted to maneuver Holden Caulfield off a bridge even when I was his age.
2.) The Scarlett Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Could never work up any sympathy for (or interest in) any of the unlikeable characters mooning around in SL.
3.) Ulysses, James Joyce
What a brilliant writer Joyce was (The Dead, be still my heart). And what an amazing feat Ulysses is. But I could never warm to it. What a wretched reading experience it was (twice).
4.) Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
I always (I've read it at least three times) feel mired down in an impenetrable jungle of unintelligible murky images when I read Heart of Darkness.
5.) The Russians
I have not yet given up! I am determined to read at least one mammoth Russian novel before I die. I've tried Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, and Doctor Zhivago. I just can't get into them. I have read some shorter works (The Death of Ivan Ilyich--three times! like Heart of Darkness, it was perpetually assigned to me throughout high school, undergrad, and grad school--Fathers and Sons, The Overcoat, some Chekov).
6.) The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens
Die faster, Little Nell. Lord.
7.) The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Like The Scarlett Letter, my chief problem with GoW was that I couldn't muster up any sympathy for the characters. That's a lot of ridin' around in the back of an old truck with the fambly if you don't care a lick for anyone. And don't even get me started on the everlovin' turtle.
8.) The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
The allegory drives me nuts, and I just never warmed to the world. I wonder if there's a division between Tolkien and Lewis fans--like if you love Tolkien you're less likely to love Lewis.
9.) Animal Farm, George Orwell
I have heard some people describe this as the only book they had to read for school that they loved. Not me, boy. I found it both disturbing and tedious, which might be the worst combo ever.
10.) Slaughter House Five, Kurt Vonnegut
It's supposed to be funny, right? I don't get it.
*melt, chuckle, snorfle, nod, laugh out loud (Little Nell, 'cause I know you'll ask), nod some more*
BUT, "I always ...feel mired down in an impenetrable jungle of unintelligible murky images when I read Heart of Darkness." ? I thought that was the point, says she who avoids Conrad like jungle rot.
Oooh, lovely lists! And I agree with you on a lot of those statements.
BUT, "I always ...feel mired down in an impenetrable jungle of unintelligible murky images when I read Heart of Darkness." ? I thought that was the point, says she who avoids Conrad like jungle rot. I knew someone would point that out. You should feel like you're in an impenetrable jungle of horror, but the images should be clear. Eh?
HoD is the only Conrad I've read, but it certainly doesn't incline me toward trying out any more.
I've read two others of his, and although Heart of Darkness was by far the worst of the three, the others were significantly stinky, too.
62.) Christmas at High Rising, Angela Thirkell ***1/2
Billed as a collection of stories, but this book is really more a collection of sketches. Thirkell expertly draws set pieces and lets her perfectly realized characters loose in them. The result is pleasant, sometimes pointed, and often quite humorous (Tony Morland, the eight-ish young gentleman who Does Not Stop Talking, is hilarious), but the stories lack thrust and sometimes come off as anti-climactic. Much to enjoy and admire here, but I was left feeling like the collection was just a touch hollow. I imagine these pieces worked much better in their original medium, that is as short glimpses into these characters' lives through little magazine pieces. Was also disappointed that so many of the stories really had nothing to do with Christmas at all. Probably a must for any Thirkell fan and a pleasant afternoon for anyone who likes this kind of thing, but not the sharp collection of Christmas stories I was hoping for.
Go read Truman Capote. Why should I be the only one who chokes up over fruitcake weather year after year?
I don't read "A Christmas Memory" because it chokes me up. Better as a Thanksgiving story anyway. *grumps*
63.) Farthing, Jo Walton ****
Farthing posits an alternate history in which Britain negotiates a "Peace with Honour" with Hitler in 1941. By 1949 when the novel takes place, Hitler had overrun Europe, Nazi death camps still operate, the US (where Lindbergh is president) had closed its borders, and antisemitism runs rampant in Britain. The story is told from the point of view of Lucy Kahn, the daughter of a powerful aristocratic family with whom she has fallen out of favor because of her recent marriage to a Jewish banker, and from the point of view of a Scotland Yard detective who is called to Lucy's family's estate to investigate the murder of a political heavy-weight who was staying there for the weekend. The novel works much like a cozy murder mystery, with investigations into the murder forming the backbone of the story. And that format makes this history even more sinister than it already seems at first glance. Because so much of the story reads like a gentle murder story in which nothing too terribly awful will happen, the little details of the way the world works in the alternate history are all the more sharp and shocking and terrifying.
While I enjoyed Farthing a lot (it's written just wonderfully, and Walton handles her characters, setting, and plot deftly), the book did feel a bit uneven. It eventually becomes clear that things are even a lot worse than they appear in this version of Britain, and the book goes from interestingly sinister to downright chilling in the last few chapters. That move was appropriate, and, indeed, it felt the like the book was building toward it all along. But the transition still seemed a little rushed, and the novel ultimately felt not wholly in balance because of it. I'm also still puzzling over Walton's choice to make so many of her characters here secretly gay. Of the major players (easily a dozen), at least five turn out to be Also Gay, by which I mean they are introduced as having a certain bearing on the story (such as being a major figure in the politics of Britain) and then a while later we find out that they are also gay (or bi) (with the fact of their sexuality rarely having anything to do with the plot). I am always happy to see people who historically have often been elided from fiction better represented on the page, but the way Walton kept sliding this fact in about many of her characters led me to suspect that the fact of their sexuality was going be become very important either thematically or in the plot. And it never did. Curious. Perhaps it will become clear in the second book in the series, which I am excited to read.
64.) Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan ****
Aslan lays out the history of first century Palestine, identifies the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth of which historians can be reasonably sure, traces the differences among the four gospels, and explains what those differences meant for the developing Christian church. Fascinating stuff, quite well told. Aslan makes the history interesting, and his exegesis of biblical stories is always clear. He also manages to sort the history deftly without just dismissing the religious philosophy out of hand. I wish he'd kept going beyond the Council of Nicaea, but that clearly would have been beyond the scope of this book. Recommended as an introduction to theories about the historical Jesus.
65.) The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien ****1/2
What a treasure trove this is. The collection begins with a handful of letters Tolkien wrote to his wife during his training for the army just before leaving for France in WWI and carries on through 354 letters ending with one he wrote his daughter a few days before his death in 1973. Along the way are letters to family members, friends, and colleagues; to his publisher (outlining nicely parts of the process of getting The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and a number of his shorter works ready for print); and to readers who asked questions about his works. The letters are full of glimpses into Tolkien's life, his religious views, the background of his works, and the workings of the languages he invented. I found the entire collection thoroughly engaging and at times very affecting. The last twenty or so letters made me particularly verklempt. These cover the last two years of his life and include a heart-wrenching letter to one of his sons in which Tolkien describes his despair at the loss of his wife. The very last letter, written just days before Tolkien died, almost undid me. He writes to his daughter of plans for his week away with friends and tells her how he spent his afternoon, wandering about town and getting a haircut. Just living his life, writing his letters, with no notion he was living his last few days. Gah.
Recommended whole-heartedly to Tolkien enthusiasts.
66.) A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens *****
Annual reread of one of my most favoritest books. Always wonderful.
#68 Annual watching of A Child's Christmas in Wales---still perfection. All's right with the world, and sheep may safely graze.
>68 lycomayflower: & 69: I can't wait to watch my copy later this afternoon!
It played beautifully! Thankyouthankyouthankyou for sending it along - it was wonderful, and will certainly be part of the Christmas rotation from now on!
@ 72, 74
Yay! I'm so glad you got to see it and that you (both) liked it!
Post 67 above now updated with a review of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
The promised thumb-up has been applied to your review of the Tolkien letters. In spite of everything.
67.) Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue ***1/2
A collection of stories retelling fairy tales, all with a feminist and/or lesbian theme. Quite well written, though without the wow-factor of, say, Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber. I did really like the way the stories were linked together, with each one picking up the tale of a character (often the antagonist) from the previous tale. Mostly the collection makes me want to read other things by Donoghue.
68.) How to Cook a Wolf, MFK Fisher ****
First published in the early years of WWII, Fisher's book provides advice about how to eat economically and well during lean times. More than a cookbook but not quite a collection of essays, How to Cook a Wolf incorporates the best elements of both. While I didn't enjoy this one as much as Consider the Oyster, it still beautifully evoked a time period and made me wish I was of a temperament and inclination to cook all our meals from scratch. Some wonderful-sounding recipes, too.
That's it for 2013! (That last one was not a cheat, honest--I finished it before midnight on the 31st.) Time for the round-up post! (I love these.)
This year I'm reducing the number of categories I report here (even though I keep track myself) to just the more common ones. Hopefully this will make for a tidier, shorter list.
Total Books Completed: 68 (2012: 70; 2011: 57; 2010: 78)
Total Books Started and Left Incomplete: 48 (2012: 30; 2011: 46)
Total Number of Pages Read (from both complete and incomplete reads): 23,542 (2012: 23,942; 2011: 22,202)
Total Number of Pages Read from Complete Reads Only: 18,922 (2012: 21,647; 2011: 16,895; 2010: 23,024)
Top Five First-Time Reads of 2013:
All Roads Lead to Austen
tiny beautiful things
Mrs Queen Takes the Train
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Worst Reads of 2013 (chosen from completed reads only) :
Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man
The Rebel Angels
Longest Read of 2012:
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, 1006 pages
Books Purchased: 119 (2012: 139)
of those, read: 20 (17%) (2012: 26 = 19%)
Average Number of Pages in Books Completed: 278 (2012: 309)
Reads Broken Down By Category:
Fiction: 47 (69%) (2012: 52; 2011: 43; 2010: 66)
Nonfiction: 21 (31%) (2012: 18; 2011: 14; 2010: 9)
Rereads: 11 (2012: 8; 2011: 11; 2010:25)
Contemporary Literature: 15 (2012: 25; 2011: 19; 2010: 18)
Classics: 2 (2012: 4; 2011: 3; 2010: 9)
Literary Criticism: 5 (2012: 3; 2011: 2; 2010: 2)
Young Adult: 11 (2012: 9; 2011: 7; 2010: 14)
Mystery/Thriller/Ghost: 5 (2012: 11; 2011: 8; 2010: 5)
Science Fiction: 5 (2012: 4; 2011: 9; 2010: 4)
Fantasy: 8 (2012: 8; 2011: 4; 2010: 13)
Historical Fiction: 6 (2012: 8; 2011: 2)
Male Writers: 28 (41%) (2012: 32; 2011: 22; 2010: 46)
Female Writers: 39 (57%) (2012: 38; 2011: 39; 2010: 28)
British Writers: 22 (32%) (2012: 28; 2011: 18; 2010: 33)
American Writers: 38 (56%) (2012: 39; 2011: 39; 2010: 38)
Japanese Writers: 1 (2012: 1; 2011: 1)
French Writers: 1 (2012: 1; 2011: 1)
Canadian Writers: 2 (2012: 1; 2011: 1)
Irish Writers: 1
Australian Writers: 1
Sierra Leonese Writers: 1
On paper, 2013's reading looks a little pale compared to 2012, but I never had a proper reading slump, for which I am very glad. My pace did fall off pretty dramatically at about mid-year and I abandoned more books than I would have liked, but I feel like I spent a lot of time reading, and being conscious of making sure that happens is really what my goals are about.
I am relaxing my goals a bit for 2014. I joined a Book Club in 2013, and will keep going with it this year. Because the club creates monthly reading obligations, I'm forgoing a Monthly Reading Challenge in 2014. I am (always!) trying to curb the book-buying a bit (I am happy to see that I bought fewer in 2013 than in 2012, even if the number was still staggeringly higher than what I was aiming for), but this year I'm only going to keep track of how many I've bought rather than list them all on my thread (because that was tiresome and made me feel guilty rather than blessed that I have the opportunity and funds to buy books). I'd like to read more of the books I acquire as well. I don't feel like I must read every book I buy immediately, but reading only twenty percent of the books I buy seems a little extravagant.
In addition to striving to read a certain amount (sixty-five is my low threshold for reading enough to be content with the world), I also mean to read more actively from my shelves in 2014. So many good books kicking around here; it's time to give more of them their due. I'm also going to be less diligent about keeping track of books I've given up on. I only started noting those a few years back (I don't know why--complete-ism?), and it makes me more cross than anything else. If I decide a book is rubbish and don't complete it, I may jot down a few lines about why, but no more this fiddly tracking of every book I read ten pages of, decide is not right for that moment, and put aside. That's just the way I read, and there's no need to try to curb it by making myself aware of how often I do it.
My thread for 2014 is here. Hope to see you there!
I posted a link to my 2014 thread in the post above, but just in case some people didn't make it to the end of that post (I can't imagine why it wouldn't be utterly fascinating to all), here it is again: http://www.librarything.com/topic/162910. Hope to see you there!
Although I have no patience for putting together my own, I do love to oogle the stats of others, so thanks for posting!
I'm a bit more agreeable to recent American novels than what one thinks of as schoolish "American lit." But, yes, I am constantly surprised that that number is so high, too. But did you notice that I've read almost exactly the same number of books by Americans each year over the last several years (which would work out to different percentages in each year)?
And you are correct; I never posted a review of Annabel. I wrote a review and submitted it somewhere, so I wasn't going to "publish" it here. I've never heard back about the submission, so that review is kind of in limbo. I'd let you see it, privately, if you like.
Caught up! Hooray for a Hobbit reread. Agree about Heart of Darkness. Gobsmacked at you reading Ulysses twice...once was quite enough for me. Belated Happy Thingaversary AND Happy Birthday. Solidly with you about A Christmas Carol but my most favourite one is A Child's Christmas in Wales, read by Dylan Thomas his ownself.
You is now starred, lycomay!
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