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cabegley's 2016 Reading

Club Read 2016

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Edited: Apr 18, 2016, 2:47pm Top

Currently reading:

Persuasion, Jane Austen
Gods and Beasts, Denise Mina
Intuition, Allegra Goodman

My 2016 Reads:
26. The End of the Wasp Season, Denise Mina
25. Still Midnight, Denise Mina
24. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King
23. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi, Adichie
22. A Long Long Way, Sebastian Barry
21. The Sellout, Paul Beatty
20. Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
19. Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
18. Resolution, Denise Mina
17. Exile, Denise Mina
16. The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District, James Rebanks
15. Garnethill, Denise Mina
14. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
13. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014, Daniel Handler, ed.
12. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast
11. Deerbrook, Harriet Martineau
10. August Is a Wicked Month, Edna O'Brien
9. Measuring the World, Daniel Kehlmann
8. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, Andrea Wulf
7. The Observations, Jane Harris
6. Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell
5. Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh
4. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
3. The Saddlebag, Bahiyyih Nakjavani
2. Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, Tony Horwitz
1. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Edited: Jan 1, 2016, 1:47pm Top

My 2015 year in review:

The Long Ships, Frans G. Bengtsson
The Memory of Love, Aminatta Forna
The War of the End of the World, Mario Vargas Llosa
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra
In the Forest, Edna O'Brien
Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande
Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air, Richard Holmes
Live from New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers and Guests, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, eds.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright

Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy

The Little Friend, Donna Tartt
The Once and Future King, T. H. White

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

Archangel, Andrea Barrett
The Frozen Thames, Helen Humphreys
Thirteen Ways of Looking, Colum McCann

The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy (I read and enjoyed all three trilogies)
The Red Riding Quartet, David Peace

Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career, George Plimpton
Yes Please, Amy Poehler

2666, Roberto Bolano
The Pendragon Legend, Antal Szerb

Lucky Us, Amy Bloom
An Ice-Cream War, William Boyd
The House at Riverton, Kate Morton

The Shape of Water, Andrea Camilleri
Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith
Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

TOP SPY 2015
I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes
A Spy Among Friends, Ben Macintyre

Affinity, Sarah Waters

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
Slade House, David Mitchell
The Kind Worth Killing, Peter Swanson

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen

Bream Gives Me Hiccups, Jesse Eisenberg

TOP YA 2015
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Jesse Andrews
Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

So You've Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson

Edited: Feb 17, 2016, 2:52pm Top

2015 articles of note:

Not an article, per se, but elsewhere in Club Read NanaCC provided this very handy link to an LT thread on HTML and formatting that I intend to refer to often.

Esquire, of all publications, asked eight literary women for their recommendations of "Books Every Person Should Read."

A website from Dan for when I finally decide to tackle Pynchon again.

Jan 1, 2016, 1:38pm Top

2015 cultural events:

Jan 1, 2016, 9:42pm Top

I'm glad you are here, Chris. I shouldn't be the only one to benefit from your book thoughts. :)

Jan 2, 2016, 7:48am Top

Great to see you back, Chris!

Jan 2, 2016, 8:48am Top

Good heavens what a lot of books - and what a lot of tempting books. Looking forward to reading you this year.

Jan 2, 2016, 9:43am Top

Thanks, Nana and Rebecca! I am hoping to stick around this time.

>7 Oandthegang: Thanks! I always struggled with narrowing down all the books I read to just a few favorites, so a number of years ago I gave up and just made categories. I still feel sorry for the books that didn't make the cut!

Jan 2, 2016, 9:51am Top

I spent half an hour this morning paging through this month's 1200 or so Kindle book deals, and as usual found nothing I wanted. I don't know why I continue to do it, although it is eye opening, and occasionally entertaining (the "Uniformly Hot SEALs" series, anyone?), to see how much dreck there is out there.

Jan 2, 2016, 11:29am Top

Chris, we don't need any more books. Look at your shelves and the kindle. Of course, who am I kidding. If Galbraith/Rowling comes out with another.... :)

Jan 2, 2016, 1:34pm Top

>9 cabegley: I do this every month or so too, even though at most I buy one or two of the deals. I can't stop myself! I suppose it's a good way to kill time on a slow work day...

Jan 2, 2016, 10:23pm Top

Nice to see you back here. That's quite a list. I also enjoyed Between the World and Me and I just recently read for the first time and loved A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Jan 3, 2016, 8:10am Top

>10 NanaCC: "Need"? No. "Want," however . . .

I think the size of Mount TBR is just so overwhelming that it's easier to ignore it and look at new books. I kept my stack of books from Christmas out on the coffee table for a few days, and read three of the books in that stack. But then I shelved the rest, and now they're just part of the general mass--who knows if they'll even get read this year?

I am trying something new this year to reduce the TBR. It's all up to the roll of the die! First roll determines the bookcase, and second roll determines the shelf. From there, I have to pick a book on that shelf. I think trying to pick from just one shelf will be easier than facing the entire collection at once.

>11 thebookmagpie: Agreed, Suzie, but I should have waited for a slow work day and not wasted a perfectly good Saturday morning.

>12 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan! My husband gave me Between the World and Me for Christmas, so it just barely squeaked in to 2015. I reread A Visit from the Goon Squad for my book group (which just goes to show that they're not always my disappointment reads), and loved it as much this time as when I first encountered it.

Jan 3, 2016, 9:00am Top

1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963, first published in the U.S. in 1971, 260 pages)

The semi-autobiographical The Bell Jar is a first-person account of college student Esther Greenwood's descent one summer into mental illness, culminating in a serious suicide attempt and an extended stay in a mental institution. (That sounds awfully bleak, but while I'm not claiming it's a laugh a minute, there is a strong thread of dark humor throughout.) Throughout this feminist classic, Esther questions the expected role of women in society and relationships, and in particular of the double standard regarding sex before marriage. She is uninterested in the traditional role of housewife and mother, and refuses her mother's attempts to get her to learn shorthand so she can be a secretary. Writing is her passion, and one of the triggers for her depression is the fear that she'll never write again.

"Then I saw that my body had all sorts of little tricks, such as making my hands go limp at the crucial second, which would save it, time and again, whereas if I had the whole say, I would be dead in a flash.

"I would simply have to ambush it with whatever sense I had left, or it would trap me in its stupid cage for fifty years without any sense at all. And when people found out my mind had gone, as they would have to, sooner or later, in spite of my mother's guarded tongue, they would persuade her to put me into an asylum where I could be cured.

"Only my case was incurable."

The novel received mixed reviews upon its release, and Plath, in the midst of the disintegration of her marriage and struggling to support two young children through a particularly cold London winter, attempted suicide again at least twice, succeeding the second time in asphyxiating herself in her kitchen while her children (protected by wet towels crammed in the frame of the door) slept.

The Bell Jar was the only novel Plath ever wrote, and it does read like a first novel. But she employed her first-person narrative to great effect in getting across how normal the descent of madness seems when you're inside it, and in forcing the reader to feel the despair of being trapped in that cage. I was reminded of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half, two other accounts of mental illness and depression that feel so real and true.

Jan 3, 2016, 9:14am Top

What a first book. I've owned this for some time, but haven't convinced myself to read it yet. Enjoyed your review.

Jan 3, 2016, 9:31am Top

Nice review of The Bell Jar, Chris. I'm still not sure I want to read it, but maybe I'll convince myself that I should. I would have to be in the right frame of mind.

Jan 3, 2016, 9:37am Top

I like your roll of the dice method of finding a book off of the tbr.

I read The Bell Jar as a teenager (of course I did) and then recently revisited it, and found it to still be very good, although for different reasons. It's deservedly considered a classic.

Jan 3, 2016, 10:07am Top

Good review. I read Bell Jar decades ago, but Sylvia Plath keeps popping up, most recently in a NYTB review of a new bio of Ted Hughes.

Jan 3, 2016, 10:17am Top

Lovely to see you have a reading thread this year Chris, and like your method of reducing the tbr pile. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to do the same.

My star has been placed.

Jan 3, 2016, 11:22am Top

I too read The Bell Jar decades ago as a teenager; nice review.

Jan 3, 2016, 11:34am Top

>13 cabegley: I also love the combination of randomness and flexibility with your "roll the dice" method of book choosing!

Jan 3, 2016, 2:20pm Top

>14 cabegley: Well, I don't know about Wallace, but Allie Brosh's rings true because she has been through it. Hyperbole and a Half (the comic/site, not merely the book) is all from her real life, turned amusing with silly drawings. She sucks people in very easily and became super popular, because her stuff is so relateable and covers experiences many of us have been through. :)

I reread The Bell Jar a few years ago (I had read it in my early teens and not retained it at all) and thought it was well done, a good read.

Jan 3, 2016, 3:43pm Top

Thanks, all! I didn't read The Bell Jar as a teenager--I'm not sure why.

For the 50th anniversary, Faber put out a new edition of The Bell Jar with this divisive (and derided) cover:

There were quite a few interesting discussions, both pro and con. (And for a discussion of the discussion, see here.)

>22 .Monkey.: Yes--Brosh, Plath, and Wallace were all able to get across the way it felt to suffer from mental illness and depression because they'd lived it. Wallace's Infinite Jest was not written with the first-person immediacy of The Bell Jar, but one character's description of depression has remained seared in my brain. Sadly, as with Plath, Wallace succumbed a few years ago after trying to get off of an antidepressant he'd been on for many years that was starting to cause severe side effects.

Jan 3, 2016, 4:02pm Top

I have a friend that loves The Bell Jar. Great review. I might have to get around to reading it.

Jan 4, 2016, 9:31am Top

I am a big fan of Ted Hughes poetry and have read an autobiography and biography about him and so I am familiar with one side of the story of his relationship with Sylvia Plath and so I was very interested to read your review of The Bell Jar. You did a great job

Yes the new cover is thoroughly inappropriate. I will find an older version of the book when I buy it to read.

Jan 4, 2016, 11:40am Top

Thanks, Pat and Barry!

>25 baswood: I've never been a big poetry reader, so this was my first encounter with Plath, and I've not read any Hughes, but I am now interested in seeking them out.

Jan 7, 2016, 9:00pm Top

Good to see you back! You had some great reads last year. I too especially liked The Long Ships, The War at the End of the World, Life After Life, The Ice Cream War, Red Riding Quartet, and 2666, though I didn't read all of them in 2015. And I'm thinking I might need to reread some old favorites like The Once and Future King, The Forsyte Saga, Kristin Lavransdatter and In Cold Blood.

Jan 8, 2016, 10:42am Top

>27 arubabookwoman: Thanks, Deborah! Your review of The Red Riding Quartet was a big influence in my reading it. I'm looking forward to your 2016 reading!

Jan 8, 2016, 1:30pm Top

I've been meaning to read The Bell Jar for a while now, though I'd never even heard of it as a teenager. I think I'd need to find the right time for reading it though.

I see you have some great books on your list from last year! A few of those that I love, and quite a few others that I'm planning to read, which makes me optimistic about them. Looking forward to following your reading for this year.

Jan 8, 2016, 2:19pm Top

>27 arubabookwoman: >28 cabegley: Ditto to what Chris said.

Jan 8, 2016, 10:34pm Top

>29 valkyrdeath: Your 2015 list is a similar mix for me, and as for your first book of 2016, I'm trying to find my copy so I can lend it to my mother (NanaCC), so you've already had an influence there!

>30 rebeccanyc: And you first brough the series, and Deborah's review, to my attention!

Jan 12, 2016, 9:31pm Top

2. Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz (2002, 480 pages)

Cook’s greatest feat . . . was the three epic voyages of discovery he made in his forties—midlife today, closer to the grave in the eighteenth century.

In 1768, when Cook embarked on the first, roughly a third of the world’s map remained blank, or filled with fantasies: sea monsters, Patagonian giants, imaginary continents. Cook sailed into the void in a small wooden ship and returned, three years later, with charts so accurate that some of them stayed in use until the 1990s.

On his two later voyages, Cook explored from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from Tasmania to Tierra del Fuego, from the northwest shore of America to the far northeast coast of Siberia. By the time he died, still on the job, Cook had sailed over 200,000 miles in the course of his career—roughly equivalent to circling the equator eight times, or voyaging to the moon.

Tony Horowitz’s Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before is an odd, oddly appealing mix of history and somewhat humorous travel writing. Horowitz weaves the story of his own travels along parts of Captain Cook’s routes from his three Pacific voyages with the story of Cook himself. Throughout runs the theme of how the impact of Cook’s contact with islands and people previously unknown to Europe has reverberated throughout the intervening centuries.

Most of my prior knowledge of Cook comes from what I’ve read about Joseph Banks, the wealthy naturalist and botanist (President of the Royal Society for over 40 years), who accompanied Cook on his first journey. Horwitz relied on Banks’s journals, in addition to Cook’s and some of the other crew, for the history in this book.

Horwitz starts his adventures with a physically exhausting week volunteering on a replica of Cook’s ship the Endeavour. Later, he travels with his wife (Geraldine Brooks) and their son to his wife’s native Australia, which he plans to use as a home base for his research and travel. An old (often inebriated) friend, Roger, offers to join him on his journeys. Roger, a keen sailor, provides much of the comic relief throughout the book. On their visit to Matavai Bay, Cook’s landing site in Tahiti, Horwitz and Roger dress in wigs, white stockings and knee breeches, splash in the water, and unfurl a Union Jack, while nearby sunbathers ignore them. This humor, though, is counterpointed with how far removed Tahiti and Bora-Bora are from the paradise described by Cook and Joseph Banks (Horwitz particularly cites the environmental damage in Bora-Bora), and how the native populations were decimated by disease and the introduction of guns and other weaponry into their society. Missionaries in the 19th century completed the destruction by successfully convincing the people to let go of their native customs and folklore, much of which has now been forgotten forever.

Cook’s reputation in the Pacific is primarily negative, particularly among the native population. While in New Zealand, Horwitz learns that a visit by the Endeavour replica four years prior was greeted by death threats for the captain, and refusals by tribal elders to guarantee the ship’s safety. As one activist said, “We wonder at those who would honour the scurvy, the pox, the filth, and the racism that Cook’s arrival brought to this beautiful land.” Monuments to Cook, where they exist, are often vandalized.

In Australia, where Cook’s ship was probably the first contact the Aborigines had had with the outside world in eight thousand years, the European legacy is particularly problematic. A population estimated at the time to number between 300,000 and a million, who merely wanted to be left alone (the first group he encountered ignored the ship, and when most fled upon the ship coming close to land, two men stood their ground and called out to the sailors to “Go away”), was reduced by 1901 to 94,000.

In many places, Horwitz points out, Cook has mostly been eliminated from the history books, and Horwitz struggles with what he sees as an emphasis on trying to find politically correct ways of discussing the “encounters” between the native populations and the Europeans rather than facing head-on the seizure of lands (Cook’s orders were to get the consent of the natives before taking possession of any land, orders he consistently disregarded) and the negative impact on people, environment, and culture.

Horwitz decided not to follow fully in the path of Cook’s second and third voyages like he did the first, because he felt that Antarctica and the Arctic Circle would be too cold and bleak, and wouldn’t give him enough people to talk with. Instead, he decides to try to experience Cook’s sense of newness and uncertainly by selecting the island of Niue, which Cook called “Savage Island”, and traveling there blind, with no knowledge of the country. Later, he visits Tonga, England (where again, it’s hard to find representations of Cook’s legacy, although he does visit a delightful museum created and run by another Cook obsessive), and Alaska, before ending up at the site of Cook’s death in Hawaii.

Horwitz presents the history in an accessible, fascinating way, and his own travels and encounters with people from all walks of life with humor and respect. He raises questions with no easy answers (and perhaps no answers at all) that I know I will continue to spend a long time pondering.

Jan 12, 2016, 10:15pm Top

Thoroughly enjoyed your review of Blue Latitudes, which brought it all back. I read it a couple of years ago and was also intrigued by the way Horwitz wove Cook's historical journey with his own travel hijinks. Very amusing and at the same time informative and provocative. I too was struck by the cultural clash, which has even deepened over time.

Jan 13, 2016, 9:00am Top

>32 cabegley: Great review of Blue Latitudes, Chris. It sounds interesting.

Jan 13, 2016, 9:10am Top

Really great review, Chris. I hadn't heard of this book, but I've long been interested in his book Confederates in the Attic.

Jan 13, 2016, 9:56am Top

I enjoyed your review of Blue Latitudes.

Jan 13, 2016, 12:12pm Top

>32 cabegley: Wonderful review! Blue Latitudes is already in my wishlist, I think following Poquette's review, but thank you for reminding me of it.

Jan 13, 2016, 2:01pm Top

Thanks, all! I flagged so many passages in the book, but at some point yesterday I realized I was on track to subject you all to a ten-page report, so I scaled back.

Jan 13, 2016, 2:36pm Top

>32 cabegley: Great review Chris, I think you have hit me with a bullet.

I have The Saddlebag on the shelf. I dipped into it at Gladstones Library a couple of years ago, and ended up ordering a copy.

Jan 13, 2016, 2:47pm Top

>32 cabegley: Hello cabegley! I am fan of humorous travel writing and was thrilled to find this wonderful review of Blue Latitudes. This kind of writing is relatively new to me, as I began with Free Country in 2014 and have subsequently sought it out ever since. Thank you putting this on my radar.

Jan 13, 2016, 4:31pm Top

>39 Caroline_McElwee: Thanks, Caro! I'm about a third of the way through The Saddlebag, and while I am enjoying it, I am frustrated with myself, as I usually am when I read Eastern novels, by my lack of knowledge. More knowledge about Eastern religions would be very helpful here, and while I'm turning to Wikipedia a lot, I don't think it's a good substitute.

>40 brodiew2: Hi, Brodie, and thanks! Have you read The Sex Lives of Cannibals? I think that was my first encounter with humorous travel writing, and I really enjoyed it.

Jan 14, 2016, 5:29pm Top

I finished The Saddlebag at lunch today, which means I've read three books off my shelf so far in January. Yay, me! Except . . . I've already added three books to my shelves. Boo, me!

I purchased The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014 and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015 last week (I read them every year, but somehow missed last year's). And then, earlier this week, my boss surprised me with a lovely copy of the new The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf. In previous years, he's given me two other of Wulf's books, The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession and Founding Gardeners : The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. He knows I like the history of science, and that the history of botany is one of my sweet spots, so whenever he sees a book like this he thinks I should own it immediately. (When he gave me Founding Gardeners, he put little strips of Post-It with "Chris" on them scattered across the cover, and wrote a note: "Chris, this book has your name written all over it.")

So, a lovely gift, and I can't wait to read it, but he's unknowingly sabotaging my efforts to reduce my shelves!

Jan 14, 2016, 6:54pm Top

Enjoyed your excellent review of Blue Latitudes and the issues it threw up about that scurvy dog Captain Cook.

Jan 14, 2016, 7:24pm Top

>42 cabegley: What a splendid boss.

Jan 15, 2016, 7:04am Top

Yes, it sounds as though you hit the boss jackpot!

All of those books sound interesting. I've read excellent things about The Invention of Nature. I love books on the history of science, too. For me, the sweet spot is physics and space exploration.

Jan 15, 2016, 8:08am Top

I do love such delightful bosses, I had one once as well, about twice a year there was a bookshaped parcel waiting on my desk. Her gift of View of the Harbour got me hooked on Elizabeth Taylor.

I have the Humbolt book too Chris, and hope to get to it in the not too distant future.

Looking forward to your review of The Saddlebag.

Jan 15, 2016, 6:26pm Top

>43 baswood: Thanks, Barry! It really did--I'm still thinking about them days later.

>44 Oandthegang: He's pretty swell.

>45 theaelizabet: I've tried, but physics makes my head spin. I will keep going back, though. My favorite is anything to do with the Royal Society, up through the 18th (and even some of the 19th) century.

>46 Caroline_McElwee: Nice, Caroline! I'll try to write up my review this weekend.

Jan 15, 2016, 7:09pm Top

>41 cabegley: Thanks for the recommendation. I'll check that one out.

Jan 15, 2016, 11:10pm Top

I really enjoyed Blue Latitudes too. It lead me to two other books by Horwitz, neither of which was actually very good (one on first explorations/settling of North America and one on John Brown. I would have to look up the titles, and that is too much work just now). It also made me want to learn more about the Pacific Islands. It was nice to revisit through your review.

Jan 16, 2016, 3:08pm Top

>42 cabegley: You can pass Blue Latitudes to me. That will get it off your shelf for a while. You know how long I've had some of your books. :)

Jan 16, 2016, 10:52pm Top

>49 dchaikin: I'm glad I could lead you down memory lane, Dan.

>50 NanaCC: Will do.

Jan 16, 2016, 10:55pm Top

I've been wanting to reread Roddy Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy, but my copy has gone missing. We were at our friends' house for dinner tonight, and I noticed they had a copy on their shelf. I asked if I could borrow it since I can't find mine. I just got home and looked inside--my name, of course, is in it.

Jan 17, 2016, 5:52am Top

>52 cabegley: hahahaha. It happens. Glad it finally made its journey home!

Jan 17, 2016, 7:46am Top

3. The Saddlebag by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani (2000, 258 pages)

Set in the mid-19th century between Mecca and Medina, The Saddlebag looks at a pilgrim caravan beset by a sandstorm and a bandit raid through the eyes of nine different characters (of many different religions and nationalities), as a saddlebag, stolen from a pilgrim by the first character, passes through each of their lives and affects each of them profoundly. Nakhjavani, an Iranian author who was raised in Uganda and educated in the U.S. and the U.K. and now lives in France, is of the Baha'i Faith and was inspired by a passage in a Baha'i text in which the Bab (who is seen as the spiritual return of Elijah and John the Baptist) had his saddlebag containing his religious writing stolen while on pilgrimage. In her note on sources, Nakhjavani writes:

This work is inspired by the language, the metaphors, the symbols and traditions of many holy books of different major religions of the world. It includes references from the Hindu scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita, sayings attributed to Buddha, quotations from Confucius' Analects, and The Book of Changes, echoes from the traditions associated with the Quran and from the Baha'i writings.

The Saddlebag is written in a lovely fable style, and each story opens up new understanding of the ones before it. In light of my previous read, I especially appreciated the eighth story, about the Dervish, who was actually a British spy in disguise, and took the saddlebag and many of the writings contained in it back to England, where it was broken up amongst a number of people who failed to understand the significance of the writings and mostly kept them for the beauty of the calligraphy. I enjoyed reading this book very much, but as I said in >41 cabegley:, my understanding of the represented religions is very poor, and I know I missed a lot of significance.

Jan 17, 2016, 10:21am Top

I loved your review of Blue Latitudes, Chris!

Jan 17, 2016, 10:54am Top

The Saddlebag sounds fascinating.

Jan 17, 2016, 6:50pm Top

>55 kidzdoc: Thanks, Darryl!

>56 janeajones: It was, Jane. It certainly drove me to do research to learn more.

Jan 17, 2016, 10:23pm Top

>14 cabegley: That's a very good review of The Bell Jar. That's one that's been sitting on my shelf for a while. I'm very interested in mental illness as I, myself, have bipolar disorder. Though recently I'm doing mostly fluff and audiobook because I'm reading heavy textbooks for class. I'm hoping I'll get to The Bell Jar this year.

Jan 18, 2016, 6:00pm Top

Interesting review of The Saddlebag

Jan 18, 2016, 9:10pm Top

>54 cabegley: You have really piqued my interest in The Saddlebag. Adding it to my list!

Jan 18, 2016, 10:29pm Top

>58 The_Hibernator: Thanks, Rachel! I hope you do get to it--it's well worth it.

Thanks, Barry and Suzanne!

Jan 19, 2016, 8:45am Top

4. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2015, 390 pages)

In the last few weeks of college, magnetic Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite meets the striking, completely alone (no family, no friends) Mathilde Yoder, and they both fall head over heels in love. Married after two weeks, and with the previously wealthy Lotto disinherited, they make a happy life for themselves in New York City, where Mathilde supports Lotto as he tries and fails to make it as an actor. When he finally turns to playwriting, to brilliant success, Mathilde is always there in the background, editing his work, managing his career, and taking care of him body and soul. Despite its impulsive, hasty start, Lotto's decades-long marriage with this woman he knows intimately is the source of his happiness and strength.

But there are two sides to every story.

There is no way I can think of to give you a real idea of what this novel is about without spoiling the joy of it. I was completely absorbed from beginning to end, to the point where I had to tear myself away to go to a dinner party, and couldn't wait to leave so I could get back to it. Fates and Furies is a stew of domestic drama, Shakespeare, Southern Gothic, mythology, coming-of-age tale, and Greek tragedy, prose peppered with play snippets and Greek-chorus interjections.

This was a book-group read, and I am looking forward to the discussion (in part to say all the things I can't say here!).

Jan 19, 2016, 8:46am Top

5. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (1930, 321 pages)

Waugh's satire of the Bright Young Things, and their frantic merriment after WWI, must have been shocking (and scandalous) at the time. While I'm sure it must have provided an added frisson for readers who could identify some of the people being skewered, the humor and the essential message still hold up. This was a nice antidote to the increasingly ridiculous Downton Abbey.

Jan 19, 2016, 9:16am Top

>62 cabegley: I'm on the fence about whether I'll read this when it comes available at the library for me (I think I'm #4) but now I'm thinking yes.

Jan 19, 2016, 9:23am Top

>62 cabegley: I hadn't heard of this. Your review makes it very tempting.

Jan 19, 2016, 9:36am Top

>62 cabegley: Your enthusiasm makes me want to read this. I'll see where I am with the Forsytes when it comes up at the library.

Jan 19, 2016, 9:44am Top

>62 cabegley: This one sounds fascinating. My TBR pile is growing fast.

Jan 19, 2016, 10:39am Top

Thanks, all! I really enjoyed it. I do want to point out that reviews here on LT are mixed. And there are some fairly unbelievable plot points, which I accepted because of the ties to Greek tragedy and mythology.

Jan 19, 2016, 1:17pm Top

>63 cabegley: This was a nice antidote to the increasingly ridiculous Downton Abbey.

I agree. DA goes deeper into the realms of silliness with each season. (I'm still hooked, though.)

Jan 19, 2016, 3:31pm Top

I enjoyed Groff's Monsters of Templeton, so Fates and Furies is tempting.

Jan 20, 2016, 1:58pm Top

>14 cabegley: Backtracking a bit, but I enjoyed your take on The Bell Jar. It's been probably 20 years since I read it so it was nice to revisit it.

Jan 21, 2016, 6:38pm Top

>63 cabegley: One of these years I am going to do an Evelyn Waugh marathon. I loved Brideshead Revisited, and I have been meaning to read Scoop for years. I like your juxtaposition of Vile Bodies with Downton Abbey. It is getting to be a bit much, isn't it? Thank heaven this is the last season. (Of course, no one is forcing me to watch it!)

Jan 21, 2016, 10:54pm Top

>69 VivienneR:, >72 Poquette: I think I'm hate-watching at this point. But I'm still going to see it to the bitter end. I rarely stick with a show through the entire run, though, so clearly it still has some appeal for me.

>70 janeajones: I say pick it up, Jane. I really enjoyed it. I have Monsters of Templeton on my shelf, and considered starting it the other day, but decided to have a gap between.

>71 avaland: Thanks, Lois--I still can't believe I went this long without reading it.

Jan 21, 2016, 10:56pm Top

>62 cabegley: I couldn't agree with you more! I thought it was some of the best writing I read last year. Did you see it's been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award?

Jan 21, 2016, 11:50pm Top

Great review of Fates and Furies. I was working in a bookstore when Groff's book Arcadia came out, but was pretty overloaded them and keep forgetting to give her a go.

Jan 22, 2016, 10:09am Top

>74 theaelizabet: I did see that. It's the only fiction nominee I've read, although The Story of My Teeth and The Tsar of Love and Techno are both on my list at the library. I loved Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, so I have high hopes for his story collection.

>75 mabith: Thanks, Meredith!

Jan 23, 2016, 10:06am Top

6. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (1853, 304 pages)

Cranford is a town almost entirely populated by women. Mary Smith, our narrator (whose name we only discover when we are most of the way through the story), is a frequent visitor who as both outsider and insider is able to sketch for us life in town while poking gentle fun at its inhabitants. Of particular interest is Miss Matty Jenkyns, Mary's friend, whose sweet nature and disappointed romance make up much of the story.

Elizabeth Gaskell first published Cranford in serial form, and apparently didn't initially think of it as a book. The first installment was billed as “a self-contained” sketch. Like The Pickwick Papers (which is referred to humorously relatively early on), Cranford is more a series of vignettes and a study of character than a novel. I found it charming, although it had nowhere near the impact on me that her North and South did. I have not seen the recent BBC series, but I expect the book must have been only an inspiration for it, since there's not much plot here. Towards the end, Miss Matty's reduced circumstances, opening of a shop in her home, and sudden return of her long-lost brother reminded me very much of The House of the Seven Gables. Hawthorne's book was published right around the time Gaskell started serializing Cranford, and I wonder if it had any influence on her.

Jan 23, 2016, 10:10am Top

7. The Observations by Jane Harris (2006, 405 pages)

Bessy Buckley is a young Irish girl in 1860s Scotland who is looking for a new situation, and finds it as a maid for Arabella Reid, who hires her despite her lack of references and evident lack of experience (although Bessy does claim that she has just come from a situation as a housekeeper). Bessy's ability to read and write are the big appeal for Arabella, who wants Bessy to keep a journal every day about her work and, most importantly, her thoughts and feelings while she is working. When Bessy starts snooping, she finds out some secrets Arabella is keeping, and decides to take action because of them. And then things start to spiral out of control . . .

The Observations is a twisty, plot-driven story with an unreliable narrator, so I don't want to give anything away. The biggest appeal, for me, is the unusual narrative voice of Bessy, which Harris was able to maintain very well throughout. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and thought it was very good for a first novel, although the end fell apart. Also, the word “banjaxed” cropped up several times, which bothered me quite a bit, since it's a word that doesn't seem to have existed before the 1930s. I felt that a good editor would have addressed the weak ending, and a good copyeditor would have caught the anachronistic language. I have encountered the weak ending problem, in particular, quite often in first novels, which leads me to wonder if first novels tend to go to less experienced, or weaker, editors.

Jan 23, 2016, 10:58am Top

>77 cabegley: I enjoyed Cranford when I read it a year or two ago. I need to get back to Elizabeth Gaskell at some point. I've yet to read North and South or any of her other major works.

>78 cabegley: Banjaxed sounds an odd word to turn up on multiple occasions, especially if it's anachronistic. Is it a common word? I don't think I've ever heard of it before.

Jan 23, 2016, 11:03am Top

Nice reviews, Chris.

>79 valkyrdeath: North and South is definitely worth reading. I've seen the BBC production of Cranford, but don't think I've read the book.

Jan 23, 2016, 11:05am Top

>79 valkyrdeath: I was supposed to read North and South in college, but never did. I finally read it over 20 years later, and loved it. I wish I had done that assignment.

Banjaxed is Irish slang. It means ruined or damaged. The character here mostly uses it in the sense of wiped out or knackered. Since she's Irish and from the streets, it would have made sense for her to use it--if it existed.

Jan 23, 2016, 11:06am Top

>80 NanaCC: Thanks, Nana!

Jan 23, 2016, 4:00pm Top

Going into today our forecast snow accumulation was I think 4-8". We have at least 10" so far and our updated forecast is 18-24". Here's to reading and hot chocolate!

Jan 23, 2016, 4:15pm Top

Our neighbors asked us to come over for potluck. As much as I enjoy their company, I dread having to put on boots etc to walk across the street. There will be wine though. :)

Jan 24, 2016, 11:25pm Top

>77 cabegley: I've never actually read a Gaskell novel. I really should. But I'd start with North and South and then Wives and Daughters before Cranford.

Hope you have a great week ahead.

Jan 25, 2016, 11:30pm Top

Nice reviews of Cranford and The Observations, Chris. I loved Jane Harris's second novel, Gillespie and I, but I think I'll pass on her first one.

Jan 26, 2016, 11:37am Top

>77 cabegley: It's always strange when I see Cranford referred to as a novel, since it's really not and I don't think Gaskell ever considered it such. The same with My Lady Ludlow, which has the same structure as Cranford but never seems to be referred to as a novel. Seems very strange when they're so similar.

>85 The_Hibernator: I really don't think there's a bad place to start reading Gaskell, people just need to go into a book like Cranford aware that it's not a novel. Getting a feel for her sense of humor before reading her more serious novels makes good sense to me, since it's still visible in the novels, just not the centerpiece.

Jan 26, 2016, 4:14pm Top

I enjoyed catching up with your reviews.

Jan 28, 2016, 10:09pm Top

>85 The_Hibernator: I highly recommend North and South. I know it's belated, but I hope you had a great week!

>86 kidzdoc: Thanks, Darryl. I was a big fan of Gillespie and I as well.

>87 mabith: I think that's a fair point.

>88 rebeccanyc: Thanks, Rebecca--welcome back!

Jan 28, 2016, 10:14pm Top

My book group met tonight to discuss Fates and Furies. The rest of the group was not as enamored of the book as I was. I don't think anyone disliked it, but the general consensus for them was that they really liked the first half, didn't like the second half as much, and thought all the characters were unlikable. I actually prefer when we don't all agree on a book. I think it makes for a more interesting conversation.

Feb 1, 2016, 11:33am Top

>90 cabegley: I'm still waiting on the library loan for this one. I'm looking forward to it. What is your next book club book?

Feb 1, 2016, 11:37am Top

Feb 2, 2016, 6:28pm Top

8. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf (2015, 473 pages)

No one had ever come this high before, and no one had ever breathed such thin air. As he stood at the top of the world, looking down upon the mountain ranges folded beneath him, Humboldt began to see the world differently. He saw the earth as one great living organism where everything was connected, conceiving a bold new vision of nature that still influences the way that we understand the natural world.

Alexander von Humboldt (1759-1869) was one of the last great polymaths, a scientist (before “scientist” was coined) who was fascinated with all aspects of the natural world, and went to great lengths to explore it. He was the first scientist to really grasp nature as a web of life, interconnected and interdependent. While he is not well-known today, many of his concepts are still used in our daily lives, so interwoven that we probably don’t even consider how they got there. He invented isotherms (the lines of temperature and pressure on our weather maps) and is the reason we plant in climate zones. Through his study of their similar costal plants, he grasped that Africa and South America had once been connected, and planted the seeds for our understanding of shifting tectonic plates. He discovered the magnetic equator. He started our (still, shockingly, controversial) conversation about the human causes of global climate change, and was ahead of his time in speaking out against unjust land distribution, monocultures, poor treatment of indigenous populations, and slavery. He influenced other scientists, writers, artists, world leaders, naturalists, and thinkers. In his long life, he was one of the most famous men in Europe, who dominated every room he entered.

Andrea Wulf’s excellent The Invention of Nature is a rich exploration of Humboldt’s life and work, reflecting Humboldt’s concept of nature as a web in her many interesting discursions into other people who were influenced by Humboldt (Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, Simon Bolivar, and John Muir, to name just a few). I know it’s only January, but I can’t imagine this book not being on top of my best-books list come the end of the year.

Feb 2, 2016, 6:30pm Top

Wow, that was quick Chris. I'm looking forward to reading it even more now, though it will probably be March/April before I get to it.

Feb 2, 2016, 6:33pm Top

>93 cabegley: The Invention of Nature sounds great. Your book, or library book?

Feb 2, 2016, 6:46pm Top

Major book bullet on The Invention of Nature. Sounds excellent, plus I love reading about progressive historical figures, makes me slightly less cynical.

Feb 2, 2016, 8:47pm Top

I'm quite a fan of Horwitz - so I should get to Blue Latitudes. Confederates in the Attic is a great read.

Will have to look into the Lauren Groff - I read another novel of hers, set in what has to be Cooperstown NY that was flawed but totally worth reading.

Re the Humboldt, have you read any Andrea Barrett?

Feb 2, 2016, 10:18pm Top

>94 Caroline_McElwee: I think you'll enjoy it, Caroline. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

>95 NanaCC: Mine. It's the one my boss gave me. I am trying to convince my science-loving daughter to read it--in part because I'm hoping it may help her shape her thinking on what her college major should be--but it's here if you want to read it.

>96 mabith: It really is. I've read three books by her, and enjoyed them all. Humboldt was inspiring, and you'll find a number of his like-minded contemporaries in this book.

>97 sibyx: I have been interested in tracking down Confederates in the Attic. And I love Andrea Barrett! Particularly her short stories, even though I'm usually more of a full-length-novel fan.

Feb 3, 2016, 12:48am Top

The Invention of Nature is now on my wishlist. Great review.

Feb 3, 2016, 2:13am Top

Great review! The Invention of Nature is already in my wishlist since you mentioned it, but now I really want to read it!

Feb 3, 2016, 9:33am Top

>99 janeajones:, >100 FlorenceArt: Thanks!

Another tidbit about Humboldt: He gave a series of 31 lectures, free to the public, in Berlin. By eliminating the barrier to entrance, the egalitarian Humboldt attracted women and the working class to his series, as well as wealthy, educated men. Women, who were barred from higher education in Germany, made up half the audience. For most, it was their first exposure to science, and they were wildly enthusiastic (which was, of course, mocked by the male elite).

Feb 3, 2016, 9:44am Top

I think I read about The Invention of Nature or Alexander von Humboldt somewhere (maybe in The New Yorker??) but I enjoyed your review and the book sounds great!

Feb 3, 2016, 9:59am Top

I've enjoyed catching up with your reviews, particularly The Bell Jar (on my mental wishlist for years), The Saddlebag and Fates and Furies. The Plath will stay on my wishlist for now, but I'm off to download samples of the other two...

Feb 3, 2016, 1:04pm Top

Lectures can be life changing. I started my late degree after hearing Jane Goodall, the woman who studies chimpanzees, give a lecture Chris.

Feb 3, 2016, 1:46pm Top

I'll have to get a copy of The Invention of Nature for my husband. It sounds like a book he'd enjoy. (And then I could read it afterwards.)

Feb 4, 2016, 4:39pm Top

9. Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Carol Brown Janeway (2005, English translation 2006, 272 pages)

While I was reading the excellent The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf, I thought it would be a good idea to reread Daniel Kehlmann’s fictional take on Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss, Measuring the World, which was one of my top reads of 2009. So, as soon as I had finished Wulf’s book, I dove in.

This was a mistake.

Measuring the World took as its genesis a meeting between the great scientist and explorer Humboldt and the great mathematician Gauss at a convention in Berlin, and then looks back at their early years of genius and discovery and forward at their supposed interactions from that point. Humboldt travels the world to take its measure, while Gauss’s measurements are all done from the tight radius of his homeland. The first time I read it, I was completely taken with both the dreamlike style and the entertaining take on the work of these two geniuses.

This time, however, having just read about Humboldt, I could not recognize him or those near and dear to him in this book. Kehlmann’s Humboldt has terrible relationships that in real life were close and loving. His Humboldt encourages “the settlement of colonies,” “the conquest of nature,” and “an orderly exploitation of the earth’s deep treasures,” laments the “selfish interests of the workers,” insults natives by desecrating burial sites and stealing bodies, and mocks the idea of evolution. He is the anti-Humboldt, and I couldn’t get over my disappointment.

I believe this was all deliberate. At one point, Kehlmann has Humboldt say, in a discussion of literature and theater:

Artists were too quick to forget their task, which was to depict reality. Artists held deviation to be a strength, but invention confused people, stylization falsified the world. Take stage sets, which didn’t even try to disguise the fact that they were made of cardboard, English paintings, with backgrounds swimming in an oily soup, novels that wandered off into lying fables because the author tied his fake inventions to the names of real historical personages.

However, since Humboldt is not well known today, at least outside of Germany (in large part because of anti-German sentiment after WWI), his character is sure to be taken at face value.

So, if you’re going to read this book, please look at the characters as fictional, and not as real historical personages.

Edited: Feb 5, 2016, 2:22pm Top

Very interesting Chris, clearly the author found it too difficult to write about a totally sympathetic character. If you are going to write about someone who lived, although a little dramatic licence should be allowed for, your fictionalisation should offer authentic character detail IMO. Harrumph.

Feb 5, 2016, 1:51pm Top

Too bad, Chris.

Feb 5, 2016, 4:58pm Top

>107 Caroline_McElwee: and >108 rebeccanyc: It was disappointing, particularly as I'd liked the book so much the first time around.

Feb 5, 2016, 4:59pm Top

10. August Is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien (1965, 224 pages)

After seeing Joyce’s review of Girl with Green Eyes, I was inspired to read Edna O’Brien’s August Is a Wicked Month, which has been on my Kindle for over three years. I like the O’Brien novels I’ve read to this point, but this one left me a little cold.

Ellen, a nurse living in London, has been separated for two years, sharing custody of her 8-year-old son with her husband. When her husband takes the boy on a camping trip towards the end of a hot summer, Ellen is at loose ends. She has a one-night stand with a man she’d met some time ago, and when he goes back to his girlfriend she impulsively takes a trip to France. While there, she starts to run with a fast crowd, and then things go awry.

The writing, as always with O’Brien, is excellent, and the whole story has a dreamy quality. However, the book felt very anti-feminist to me, as if O’Brien was punishing Ellen for being an independent, sexual woman. I don’t think her other books, at least what I’ve read so far, reflect this.

Feb 6, 2016, 11:10am Top

I keep meaning to read The Country Girls, which is the Edna O'Brien I have on my TBR. Thanks for reminding me.

Edited: Feb 6, 2016, 12:17pm Top

I have her new novel The Little Red Chairs in the pile, which I'd like to get to I. The next month or two.

>111 rebeccanyc: I read The Country Girls trilogy years ago Rebecca, and enjoyed it. I wonder what I'd think about it now.

>110 cabegley: Chris, your comment about the book feeling anti-feminist made me think about the way we think of a work of fiction and its author. I think many of us slip into the assumption, at times, that the values portrayed are the values of the author, not least when they stay reasonably consistant, so we come unstuck when an author appears to present opposing values.

It's something I think about from time to time. Do some authors refrain from taking views too far from their own values knowing this can happen, avoiding the liberation of doing so? I think it is easier with crime writing perhaps, because readers expect to have unsympathetic characters, but does the expectation of readers sometimes dictate the risks a writer might take?

Feb 6, 2016, 12:42pm Top

>111 rebeccanyc: I would like to read The Country Girls soon, as well.

>112 Caroline_McElwee: I think you raise some interesting points, Caroline. In this case, though, it wasn't the values portrayed; it was the actual things that happened to our independent, sexually active main character that gave me pause. I didn't want to include spoilers above, but after her sexual adventures, Ellen calls her husband while still in France and learns that her beloved son was hit by a car and killed while she was off frolicking. He couldn't find her, so had the funeral without her. She then has another sexual encounter and ends up with a sexually transmitted disease. I felt like O'Brien was punishing Ellen for her sexual freedom and having a life beyond motherhood for a little while.

Feb 6, 2016, 7:25pm Top

>113 cabegley: I see what you mean Chris, tricky one. Maybe O'Brien wanted us to have those very thoughts. Question how elements of society might wish to punish Ellen for her behaviour. Make others uncomfortable with that stance. Especially when it was published, in 1965. The freedoms we take for granted now in the Western world are very different from those at that time, despite the beginnings of female liberation.

Feb 8, 2016, 5:50pm Top

>113 cabegley: well that does seem a bit excessive

I'm just catching your Humbolt reviews. I have read measuring the world although I can no longer remember much about it other than that it was a bit dreamy. But you certainly have me wanting to read the Invention of Nature. And if I like it, maybe more Andrea Wulf. Great review.

Feb 9, 2016, 10:29am Top

>114 Caroline_McElwee: Perhaps, Caroline. I'll think about it some more.

>115 dchaikin: Yes, excessive is a good word for it. And thanks! I've read three books by Wulf now, and each was excellent.

Feb 9, 2016, 11:11am Top

Interesting reviews of Measuring the world and August is a wicked Month. both books seem to have given you much to think about.

perhaps Ellen was just unlucky or do you suspect that Edna O'Brien was writing her novel to fit with the social mores of the time.

Feb 9, 2016, 4:02pm Top

>117 baswood: Thanks, Barry! I felt like it was the latter, although I think for the most part O'Brien defied those mores and gave us women who were modern and sexually liberated.

Feb 15, 2016, 12:10am Top

Happy Valentine's Day!

Feb 16, 2016, 3:03pm Top

>119 The_Hibernator: How pretty--thank you, and a belated one to you as well.

I'm back from a long weekend away, and need to catch up in here, read the last five chapters of Deerbrook, and write my review of it. I'm not sure I'll get all that done on this last day of my mini-vacation!

Feb 16, 2016, 3:20pm Top

For some reason yours was another thread I thought I had starred but yet somehow hadn't so I've been missing out on a load of great reads. Goodness - so many fantastic books to catch up on. Also loved The Bell Jar and The Observations, and enjoyed your reviews of others that I haven't got to.

You seem to have similar reading tastes to me - I have a sense your thread will be piling a lot of books on to my wish list this year.

Feb 17, 2016, 4:16pm Top

>121 AlisonY: Hi, Alison! I've been following your thread as well. Count me as one who liked Atonement, though.

Feb 17, 2016, 6:40pm Top

I was excited to see on my thread that you've just read Deerbrook! Looking forward to seeing what you thought of it. What do you think of Hester's malady? A kind of depression you think? Martineau saw it (predictably, for her time) as a character flaw rather than a mental illness, but I kept wondering whether she knew someone just like that.

It seems to be quite a polarising book, judging from the reviews.

Feb 17, 2016, 9:44pm Top

>123 ChocolateMuse: I'm still putting my thoughts together. I think it was depression or anxiety. I wondered as well, whether she knew someone like that (her mother? She had a problematic relationship with her mother) or if she saw it as a flaw in herself. She had an extremely unhappy childhood and was extremely attached to her brother (she was devastated when he got engaged). I wondered if maybe Hester and Maria were meant to reflect different aspects of Martineau herself, and therefore if Margaret was what she aspired to be, both physically and emotionally.

Feb 18, 2016, 12:41am Top

>124 cabegley: I wondered if maybe Hester and Maria were meant to reflect different aspects of Martineau herself, and therefore if Margaret was what she aspired to be, both physically and emotionally.

That's a brilliant thought! I imagine you're right.

Edited: Feb 18, 2016, 10:30pm Top

11. Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau (1839, 523 pages)

Harriet Martineau was primarily a nonfiction author, writing about political economy and sociology in the first half of the 19th century at a time when this was nearly exclusively a male sphere, and her novel Deerbrook reflects her interest in and knowledge of these subjects.

Hester and Margaret Ibbotson are two recently orphaned sisters from Birmingham, England, who move to the village of Deerbrook to live with a distant cousin while their father’s estate is settled. Hester is beautiful (but suffers from “jealousy,” which as Lorena and I have discussed above was most likely some form of mental illness) and considered by many (especially the women) in the village to be quite the marriage catch, but it is the more plain, but intelligent and personable, Margaret who catches the fancy of Dr. Hope and Mr. Enderby. Dr. Hope, who is beloved in the village, finds out that Hester loves him, and since he had been spending a lot of time with both sisters and trying not to show his feelings for Margaret, he blames himself and decides he must marry Hester. When I first started reading Deerbrook, I thought I was getting into a typical romance, with perhaps a love triangle, and a contrast of city and country life, but Deerbrook is much, much more than that.

When there is a change in the fortunes and village reputations of the sisters and Dr. Hope, in large part due to the villain of the piece (who unfortunately is not really given motivation for her actions), they continue to conduct themselves cheerfully, morally, and courageously, believing that if they do so, their reputations will recover. Martineau’s observations on politics and sociology, and her feminism, are weaved into the actions of the novel. The story took many turns that I was not expecting, and at times I did wonder if it was ever going to work its way to a coherent whole. (It did.)

It’s hard to talk about this book without spoiling it, but it’s a book I found myself wanting to talk about. My husband and I spent a lot of time in the car this past weekend, and I talked his ear off about it (he tells me all about the movies he watches, so it’s a fair trade). It’s an odd book, but I do recommend it for the Virago readers out there.

Feb 18, 2016, 6:31pm Top

That is definitely one for the wish list. Thanks for the intriguing review!

Feb 18, 2016, 8:54pm Top

Nice review of Deerbrook.

Feb 18, 2016, 9:08pm Top

>126 cabegley: Do you have Deerbrook, Chris, or was it a library book?

Feb 18, 2016, 9:12pm Top

Great review! I guess the villain isn't, as you say, given a motivation - except maybe the village itself, and the way it affects some minds... I don't know if I know what I mean by that though.

Edited: Feb 18, 2016, 9:34pm Top

Thanks, Jennifer and Edwin!

>129 NanaCC: I have it, but it was that difficult-to-hold-open copy with small type I showed you this weekend. I downloaded from Project Gutenberg for my kindle, which was a relief for my eyes and my hands. If you haven't used Project Gutenberg or moved downloaded books (not from Amazon) onto your Kindle before, I can talk you through it.

>130 ChocolateMuse: Thanks, Lorena! I see what you mean, and her rivalry with Mrs. Grey certainly drove some of her behavior, but she was just so senselessly destructive and vicious, even after the consequences of her actions were explicitly pointed out to her, that I felt she was more of a plot device than a person.

Feb 18, 2016, 10:27pm Top

I am a year behind in The Best American Nonrequired Reading and am just now reading the 2014 volume, so I am finally getting to some excellent short works, like Janine di Giovanni's Seven Days in Syria, which appeared in Granta in 2013.

Edited: Feb 19, 2016, 9:05am Top

Hmm, I like the idea of The Best American Nonrequired Reading, will have to investigate.

>126 cabegley: interesting, I don't think I had heard of this novel before you started reading it Chris. A novel with much unpredictability sounds good (and the reassurance it worked itself out). I will put it on my library loan list.

So your hubby is a movie buff. Fair exchange then I think.

Feb 19, 2016, 10:26am Top

I never heard of Deerbrook (or Harriet Martineau for that matter), but it sounds intriguing.

Feb 19, 2016, 10:55am Top

What >134 rebeccanyc: said!

Feb 19, 2016, 11:10am Top

>126 cabegley: Now intrigued by Deerbrook and adding it to my nineteenth century year read. Luckily it is on the TBR.

Feb 19, 2016, 11:21am Top

Count me as another whose interest you've piqued about Deerbrook.

Feb 20, 2016, 2:37am Top

Nice review of Deerbrook, Chris!

Feb 20, 2016, 5:37pm Top

>133 Caroline_McElwee: It's a great series, Caroline. My one quibble is that it's a mix of fiction and nonfiction, and they don't tell you whether an individual piece is one or the other. It can sometimes be hard to tell. I think you'll like Deerbrook.

And thanks, all! Glad to intrigue!

Edited: Feb 20, 2016, 10:54pm Top

We saw The Big Short last night, and I highly recommend it. It had an unusual structure that worked well (I loved the structure especially), great acting, and really helped to explain the banking crisis.

Edited: Feb 20, 2016, 10:54pm Top

Just watched Straight Outta Compton (on DVD)--two nights, two very different, but both excellent, movies. I think it's a shame it wasn't nominated for Best Picture.

Feb 20, 2016, 10:53pm Top

12. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014, 228 pages)

Ursula gave me a book bullet for this one. Roz Chast, best known for her New Yorker cartoons, wrote this memoir about her experiences with their parents in the final decade of their lives. My in-laws are both in their 80s and very frail, and my father-in-law has dementia, and I found much that was familiar in Chast's story. I appreciated her honesty, particularly about her conflicted emotions and her difficult relationship with her mother. While it could have been depressing, I found the parallels between her experience and mine and my husband's to be comforting, in a way.

Since I wasn't in Club Read last year, I will also suggest, for anyone in similar circumstances (or anyone who will eventually go through similar circumstances, or for anyone who expects to die one day), Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine, and What Matters in the End--an excellent, helpful book about end of life.

Feb 21, 2016, 7:37pm Top

Enjoyed your review of Deerbrook

Feb 22, 2016, 8:59am Top

>142 cabegley: I second the recommendation of Being Mortal. It was amazing.

Feb 22, 2016, 12:16pm Top

>143 baswood: Thanks, Barry!

>144 The_Hibernator: Wasn't it? I find it a hard sell, but I really think every person should read it, and that they might not believe me, but they'll like doing so.

Feb 22, 2016, 5:03pm Top

Being Mortal is definitely such an important book for most people. The Roz Chast book makes a pretty interesting companion to it, a lived example dealing of the importance of talking about these issues!

Mar 4, 2016, 8:11am Top

Deerbrook is a Virago I haven't got! Wishlisted!

Mar 4, 2016, 12:30pm Top

>142 cabegley: Wow, I have missed your thread for a while and I'm glad to see that you read and enjoyed Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?. I think it really is comforting to read someone else being honest about difficult situations - to put into words thoughts you might not want to, or to get a handle on what you might be experiencing, or just to be grateful your experiences are different.

Mar 5, 2016, 3:45pm Top

I've been mostly MIA this week--it's been rather busy both at work and at home.

>146 mabith: I really do think people would find both books helpful, if not now, then in the future. I know I have.

>147 sibyx: I hope you enjoy it!

>148 ursula: Thanks so much for the recommendation! I do find it comforting. I tried to get my husband to read it, but he gave up after about 20 pages.

Edited: Apr 3, 2016, 9:15pm Top

14. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015, 720 pages)

Look at that face. Just look at it. That's going to be your face while reading this novel. You have been warned.

Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life revolves around four college roommates from a prestigious school in Massachusetts (unnamed, but certainly Harvard): Malcolm, who becomes a successful architect; JB, who becomes a successful artist; Willem, who becomes a (you guessed it) successful actor; and especially Jude, who becomes a successful lawyer. They are all very close, and they all love and are very protective of Jude, who survived an unimaginably terrible childhood that he has never told them about. Jude has problems with his legs and hours-long seizures of utterly debilitating pain (that, fortunately for those on the road and for his career, never seem to happen when he is driving or in court), due to (as he told them in college) a car injury, physical problems that render him occasionally wheelchair bound.

Jude's sense of self is completely warped by his childhood—he believes himself ugly and unlovable, despite his obvious handsomeness and the fact that everyone in his adult life adores and is protective of him. He dresses, always, in long sleeves and pants to hide the many scars on his body (a number of which are self-inflicted—Jude cuts himself frequently and quite brutally). Despite this, he is adored, by his friends, and by Harold and Julia, an older couple that come to consider him family, and by Andy, a doctor who takes care of Jude and monitors, but does not interfere with, his psychological issues. He is especially adored by Willem, who realizes that he is in love with Jude, and begins a relationship with him, despite the risk of a world-famous leading man coming out as gay (of course, it has no effect on his career).

This book made me so angry. I was angry about Jude's childhood, but I was also angry for feeling manipulated by the author. I was angry about the unbelievably charmed lives these adults lived (everyone is so very fantastically successful—JB, for instance, in his first gallery show, has every one of his painting sold, except for one that was mistakenly sold to both a famous British collector and the Museum of Modern Art). I was angry that I had to read such painful descriptions of the suffering Jude goes through—Yanagihara parcels out his childhood in flashbooks throughout the book, and just when you think it can't get worse, it does. Endlessly.

Early on, Jude is baking for a party they are going to have. (Jude is a wonderful baker.) He is making gougeres, which are a cheese puff made of choux pastry. In one scene, Jude is “stamping circles into dough” to make these gougeres. Choux pastry is not something that can, by any means, be “stamped.” It needs to be piped or scooped. If Yanagihara had taken the time to look at a recipe, she would have known that. And to me, that threw the entire book in question. If she couldn't be bothered to research this one, little, easily determined thing, how much of the rest of the book was anchored properly?

This was a book-group book, and if it were not for that, I would have abandoned it. As it was, the last 100 pages or so of this far-too-baggy 720-page book were a real slog, after Willem dies in a car crash, and Jude is left in despair. You know he's going to kill himself, but the remaining characters spend the last 100 pages keeping him from doing so, only to fail in the end. I just wanted them to let him go, and put both of us out of our misery.

Edited: Apr 3, 2016, 9:15pm Top

15. Garnethill by Denise Mina (1998, 349 pages)

Needing to escape from the misery of A Little Life, I turned to Garnethill, after reading Denise Mina's praises on rachbxl's thread.

When Maureen O'Donnell wakes one morning to find her married boyfriend brutally murdered in her apartment, she quickly becomes a prime suspect. Frustrated by the police's handling of the case, she starts looking into things herself. As she gets closer to the truth, things become more dangerous, both for her and for those around her.

This was an entertaining, fast-paced mystery, and I look forward to reading the next two books in the series. (I've already taken them out of the library—so much for my plan to read off Mount TBR!)

Mar 5, 2016, 4:03pm Top

>151 cabegley: I always think of the library as a strategic workaround of the TBR pile. I'm not adding to it by reading library books, so being good, but I'm still reading. As you say, Garnethill was fast-paced, so you're merely taking a coffee break from that pile as you read more Mina.

Mar 5, 2016, 4:38pm Top

>150 cabegley: Thank you for the warning on A Little Life, Chris.

>151 cabegley: I really enjoy Mina, so I'm glad you liked Garnethill. I haven't started that series, and since you got it from the library, I'll have to do the same.

Mar 5, 2016, 4:46pm Top

Interesting review of A Little Life. It is horrible to feel manipulated by an author especially when they go for sensationalism and pretend it is literature. Room springs to mind.

Mar 5, 2016, 5:48pm Top

Your review of A Little Life is just what I needed to see. From descriptions and other reviews I couldn't really put my finger on why I had no desire to read it (read all your spoilers). Plus, as a disabled person, authors using a disability only when convenient to the development of the book really really bothers me.

Mar 6, 2016, 11:55am Top

A Little Life is such a polarizing book. I thought that Yanagihara wrote eloquently and she had me utterly rapt for the first 350 pages or so, but then the lack of forward momentum in Jude's life became obvious - I think that the story might have worked had she cut the book in half. A lot of elegant dinner parties minutely described, along with the exotic vacations and holiday homes, along with every single character being stupendously successful eventually killed my love of this book. It was like an issue of Architectural Digest with suffering. I was so angry when I finished it!

Mar 6, 2016, 12:08pm Top

It was like an issue of Architectural Digest with suffering.


Mar 6, 2016, 1:33pm Top

>150 cabegley: I hate feeling manipulated by an author, and I appreciate the warning about the other angry-making aspects of A Little Life. >154 baswood: I felt the same way about Room

>151 cabegley: And I too am glad you like Mina.

Edited: Mar 6, 2016, 3:48pm Top

>150 cabegley: hmmm, I do have this on my kindle Chris, but have noted very different responses to it. I suspect it could be a while before I give it a try. I don't like to feel manipulated either. If I'm not mistaken, this was a debut novel.

>1 cabegley: funny, I just ordered The Shepherd's Life today.

Edited: Mar 7, 2016, 5:46am Top

Stopping in to see what you are reading, Chris. It's always interesting! Did you know that Denise Mina's Paddy Meehan series was adapted for television in the UK. I watched it quite some time ago through acorn.tv It was reasonably good.

I see you are reading Goodman's Intuition now. I enjoyed it and will look forward to your comments on it. I've been having a little run on novels featuring scientists what with two Clare Dudman novels, the most recent JCO and Like Family by Paolo Giordano. Funny how some threads run through our reading sometimes.

Mar 8, 2016, 7:20pm Top

>152 SassyLassy: Enabler! But yes, I agree.

>153 NanaCC: I feel safe in saying you wouldn't like A Little Life, but you would get sucked in to Garnethill, Nana.

>154 baswood:, >158 rebeccanyc: I have to confess that I actually liked Room. But I completely understand feeling manipulated by it. And honestly, I think once you feel manipulated by an author, it's almost impossible for her to win you back.

>155 mabith: It was infuriating, and I would think a disabled person would be even more so.

>156 RidgewayGirl: talk about eloquence! I think you put it perfectly, and am in total agreement with the LOL by >157 LolaWalser:.

>158 rebeccanyc: Between you and my mother, I knew I'd have to try Mina sooner or later! And you are welcome for the warning--I think I can guarantee you wouldn't like it, Rebecca.

>159 Caroline_McElwee: It wasn't her first, Caroline, and both books were well received. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts if you do read it. It was a book-group book, and one of the women really liked it. And she didn't like Fates and Furies, while I did. (We usually agree.) I finished The Shepherd's Life last night and will post my thoughts soon, but I think you will like it.

>160 avaland: Thanks, Lois! My to-be-watched list is also very long, but it gets diminished even more slowly than my TBR, since I'd rather read than watch. My husband just listed the three movies he got out of the library so we could agree on which one I'll try to watch with him. I want to see the others, but it will never happen. The Goodman may take a while. We listened for an hour a couple of weeks ago, and my daughter has had no knitting time since. And I love threads like that!

Mar 9, 2016, 5:57pm Top

>150 cabegley: Very interesting review of A Little Life. For me, even though every review I've heard so far until this one has been glowing, I have not felt any desire to read the book. I think you've articulated really well the uneasiness I felt about it.

Mar 10, 2016, 8:49am Top

I won't ever read A Little Life but I very much enjoyed reading yours (and others) comments!

Mar 10, 2016, 2:59pm Top

Thanks, Margaret and Lucy! It seems like all the reviews of this book are either 5 stars or 1 star. I guess it does say something that it's so polarizing, but although I hate to talk people out of books, there's no way I would encourage anyone to read this one.

Mar 16, 2016, 5:42pm Top

>150 cabegley: I had a feeling that I would most likely hate this book. After reading your review, I'm SO glad I never picked it up. Thank you!

Edited: Apr 3, 2016, 9:16pm Top

I'm just going to give some brief impressions to catch up.

16. The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks (2015, 292 pages)

Rebanks gained a following on Twitter (anonymously, to my understanding) for his tweets about life as a sheep farmer in England. This book is a lovely look at a way of life that is mostly unchanged over the past couple of centuries (give or take a few quad bikes and some antibiotics). Rebanks has a great knack for painting a picture of the landscape. If, like me, you grew up loving the James Herriott books, do yourself a favor and try this.

Edited: Apr 3, 2016, 9:16pm Top

17. Exile by Denise Mina (2000, 364 pages) AND
18. Resolution by Denise Mina (2001, 367 pages)

Maureen O'Donnell is a great heroine. The survivor of incest, out of a mental hospital and still fragile, Maureen is still a strong woman who is determined to find justice for victims of sex crimes. Mina plotted this trilogy carefully, and it all ties together (messily, just like Maureen and her life) in a most satisfying way.

Edited: Apr 3, 2016, 9:16pm Top

19. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014, 352 pages)

While this memoir in verse is perfectly suitable for the 10-14 age group, I highly recommend it for readers of all ages. Jacqueline Woodson was born in Ohio and raised in South Carolina and Brooklyn just before desegregation. She had a difficult time reading, but still had a burning desire to tell stories. I'm so very glad she grew up to do just that. Read it, and pass it along to all the little girls and boys in your life, especially the ones who have a hard time finding themselves in the books they are usually presented.

Apr 3, 2016, 9:26pm Top

20. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (1971, 569 pages)

This is a tough one. Stegner fictionalized the life of Mary Hallock Foote, an illustrator and author in the American West. with the permission of her descendants. However, Stegner made the dubious decision to use Foote's letters intact throughout his text, without direct attribution. I really liked this story of an East Coast intellectual who followed her engineer husband west, and their years of struggle, but I can understand Foote's family's anger over his invented storyline of an affair leading to the tragic death of her youngest child. I still think the book is well written and worth reading, but I also think it's important to know the context. Here is a good article on the controversy.

Apr 3, 2016, 9:35pm Top

21. The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2015, 289 pages)

Beatty's satire of race relations in the United States is uncomfortable and funny and sure to spark a lot of conversation. This was my latest book group selection, and we'll be meeting Tuesday to talk about it. It won the latest Tournament of Books, and I point you to Kay's notes on the book for a better review than I could write.

Apr 5, 2016, 3:41pm Top

I loved Angle of Repose without knowing any of that. But I shall certainly read up a little more (thanks for the article link Chris) before it gets a reread,

Apr 9, 2016, 9:58pm Top

>171 Caroline_McElwee: It's such a good book, Caroline. The controversy makes me look askance at it, though.

Apr 9, 2016, 10:02pm Top

I just finished watching Brooklyn with my husband and daughter. Over the past couple of weeks, we've watched Room and Carol. They are all good movies, and we enjoyed them, but how I wished they would have read the books so we could discuss the book-to-movie aspect.

Apr 10, 2016, 10:38am Top

I loved Brooklyn, the book and the movie. I haven't read or watched the others.

Apr 10, 2016, 6:54pm Top

I've read all those books pretty recently, but haven't seen any of the movies yet! Carol and Brooklyn are on my list to see though.

Apr 22, 2016, 5:13pm Top

22. A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (2005, 292 pages)

Young Willie Dunne volunteers for the British army early in WWI, leaving his police chief father, his three sisters, and his secret love Gretta back in Dublin. While home on leave, he is briefly ordered into town as part of the army's attempt to quell the Easter Rising, without any idea of what is going on or even who he is fighting against (he thinks the Germans have invaded). Back in Belgium, Willie is troubled by his participation in the events, as well as how the rebels were handled afterwards.

Barry's depiction of the trenches in WWI, and the life of the foot soldier, is compelling, immediate, and raw. Willie often has no idea what is going on, or what he is being sent to do, and much of what he and his fellow soldiers are directed to do feels meaningless and ineffective. I loved this book, and I won't forget it anytime soon.

Apr 22, 2016, 5:17pm Top

23. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014, 65 pages)

Ngozi adapted this long essay from her 2012 TED Talk about feminism. She looks at feminism as a human rights issue, and argues forcefully why we should, indeed, all be feminists. It's very well done, and I want all my children to read it!

Apr 22, 2016, 8:20pm Top

>176 cabegley: I also loved A Long, Long Way, Chris. It was beautifully written.

>177 cabegley: I will try to get to We Should All Be Feminists, as you wish.... :)

Apr 22, 2016, 10:38pm Top

Definitely adding A Long, Long Way to my tbr list. I'm a sucker for WWI focused books.

Apr 23, 2016, 7:08am Top

We should all be feminists - a catchy title!

Apr 23, 2016, 10:23am Top

>176 cabegley: I'd never heard of this one, but it sounds like something I'd enjoy. Another for the list!

Apr 24, 2016, 10:21pm Top

>169 cabegley: I just plain didn't care much for Angle of Repose, even before I knew about the controversy over his source material. Give me a pure historical novel without the modern frame, every time.

Edited: Apr 25, 2016, 8:20am Top

I've read other Stegner - not this one because of all the controversy (which I knew nothing about before LT, so it was just chance). It's odd that he made that choice, as he seems (in his writing) to be such a careful person.

Just finished Iris Murdoch's The Red and the Green on the Easter Uprising - so I will WL the Barry.

Apr 25, 2016, 9:40am Top

>178 NanaCC: It was indeed, and it definitely sticks with you. And I am glad you'll read We Should All Be Feminists--let me know when you want it.

>179 mabith: I think you'll love it. It was so very well done.

>180 baswood: Isn't it?

>181 valkyrdeath: I hope you do!

>182 laytonwoman3rd: I hear you. I actually don't mind the modern frame, as long as it's well done, but I also love a straight historical novel.

>183 sibyx: He clearly thought he had done nothing wrong, but I agree it seems very odd. And I added The Red and the Green to my WL when I saw your mention of it, so the circle continues!

Apr 25, 2016, 2:32pm Top

>1 cabegley: I'm interested in how you like Gods and Beasts. I have not been able to find Denise Mina on audio cd.

May 24, 2016, 5:51pm Top

In an intersection of books and politics, over 450 writers have signed this petition protesting Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.

Edited: May 27, 2016, 6:20pm Top

I saw that Chris, an impressive list of signatories.

I really must read a Denise Mina novel.

Group: Club Read 2016

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