ravenous reader's 100 books in 2011

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ravenous reader's 100 books in 2011

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Edited: Apr 1, 2011, 10:35am

Reading Goals for 2011
1.) Read 100 books Read 100 NEW books (I plan to record, and possibly review, re-reads, but not number them.)
2.) Review each book read (This means eliminating crap books and re-reads. I'm susceptible to both.) One of my major goals last year was to break my bookstore habit; all in all, I did pretty well with that, recording origin of book here helped with that. This year I want to record why I chose to read a book at a particular time, the publication date, where the book came from and anything else that seems pertinent as well as my take on the book.
3.) Finish some major reading projects (Sayers, Les Miserables, du Maurier re-reads, couple of Dickens, couple of Saramagos, The Second Sex, some other feminist classics... this list to be more precisely articulated later)
4.) Last year I stressed continually about my fiction/nonfiction disparity, until I realized that I was reading pages and pages a week of literary theory articles for class. So I chilled out. But in that vein, I'd like to read a few biographies this year, perhaps even about some non-literary persons (!). Now that would be something.

Last year (2010) I read 120 books, but many were the literary equivalent of a sitcom. I'm not sure what the extension of that metaphor might be, but I'm looking to upgrade a bit. I'm terribly inclined to return to my old favorites after a rotten day, but am determined to work on expanding my comfort zone. Other goals to be determined and articulated at a later time.


Jan 1, 2011, 5:10pm

Saramago is great - which ones are you thinking of reading?

Jan 2, 2011, 1:53am

jfetting- I read Blindness as a book club selection in 2008 and was blown away--I talked about it so much that my bf got me Seeing, The History of the Siege of Lisbon and Baltasar and Blimunda. I've read the first 20 or so pages of The History of the Siege of Lisbon and Baltasar and Blimunda, but had a bit of trouble getting totally enmeshed in them. I'd like to read at least those three this year. Am I missing any of your favorites? Suggestions?

Edited: Jan 31, 2011, 11:46pm

January 2011
1. How I Learned to Snap: A Small Town Coming-Out and Coming-of-Age Story, by Kirk Read
2. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
3. The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
4. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
5. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
6. The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins
7. Howards End, E. M. Forster
*. Reconstructing Brigid, Lee Nichols
8. Oedipus the King, Sophocles (first required text for Literary Theory)
9. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (first required text for Victorian Fiction)
*. Maybe This Time, Jennifer Crusie
10. Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare (first required text for Gender and Shakespeare)
11. My Man Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse
12. The Man with Two Left Feet, P. G. Wodehouse
13. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zuet, David Mitchell (audio book)
14. Trust Me on This, Jennifer Crusie
15. Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, ed. Jennifer Crusie
16. Specimen Days, Michael Cunningham

*These touchstones are really driving me crazy. Anyone know why they are working less and less frequently? Or is it just me?
*Executive decision: touchstones seem to work better when fewer of them in a post (e.g., they usually work in the individual book reviews, more rarely in the monthly summation.) As such, touchstones are herewith eliminated from said monthly summations. Over and out.

Monthly Summations:
Books read: 16
Pages read: 4,870
Authors demographics: 13 Male, 3 Female oddly weighted... I usually tend the other direction
Book demographics: 1 play, 1 memoir, .5 literary theory, 13.5 fiction

I'm feeling much more challenged by the self-imposed restriction to only count new-to-me books for the 100; I'm not sure if I'll make it to the goal, but I've already read several books that were lingering on Mount TBR for quite some time (Howards End, The Remains of the Day, the Philip Pullman books, Specimen Days). I'm trying to decide which book this month was my favorite--I can't. The top contenders are Howards End, The Remains of the Day, Jane Eyre and the first third of Specimen Days.

Jan 3, 2011, 2:45am

Welcome back! Looking forward to your great comments on the books you read!

Edited: Jan 3, 2011, 7:00pm

1. How I Learned to Snap: A Small Town Coming-Out and Coming-of-Age Story, Kirk Read


Enjoyable, rather light memoir about (as the subtitle indicates) growing up and coming out. Read grew up in Reagan-era South, son of a military father, a stay-at-home mother and sibling of small-town, right-wing political fundamentalists. Sounds traumatic, eh? Not so much. From an extremely supportive mother to teachers who met him more-than-half-way to friends who don't seem to have even struggled with his great 'coming out' speeches, Read seems to have led a rather charmed life.

Reminded me a bit of David Sedaris, but not quite as laugh-out-loud funny. The anecdotes from which the title was drawn were the funniest--he learned to snap (to "queen it up", flaunt himself, show some attitude) from the black girls in school, from whom he also learned to dance, to insert a bit of gravel into his voice to make his point and, most importantly, to snap. (Think 'girlfriend' with three snaps, a lateral head slide and pursed lips--we're not just trying to get the waiter's attention.)

Why now? I was purging my bookshelves, had this in the outgoing stack, stopped to read a chapter and was hooked.

Male author, memoir, 2001, 228 pgs

Jan 3, 2011, 9:34pm

You know, I just tried (and failed miserably!) at 'girlfriend' with three snaps. Had to be attempted, at least. :)

Jan 4, 2011, 1:13am

I tried it a few times too... not to argue biology as destiny or anything, but maybe the sass thing is something you're born with.

Jan 4, 2011, 1:30am

2. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman

Oh holy mother. I knew exactly what was going on until the last 30 pages or so, which completely upended everything that I thought I knew from the movie. And now I'm having a great deal of trouble convincing myself that 1:20 am is bedtime, not the right time to start The Subtle Knife.

(By the by, does the incongruity of the titles in this series bother anyone else? The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass... I mean, name your books anything you want to, but the first and the third are comprised of a noun preceded by a concrete adjective, while the second is a noun preceded by a descriptor of characteristic. Bothers me. I'm weird.)

Anyway, I finally figured out what all the fundies were ranting about when the movie was in production. The origin of *scare quotes ahead* "ORIGINAL SIN." I thought it was just all the negative stuff about the church as a controlling force. Fundies might have hated it, but I kinda loved it (not the first time we've diverged)--I love it when books expand or contradict accepted knowledge, whether it be Biblical, classical, mythological, whatever. Especially Biblical, makes me feel like my time in Bible college wasn't wasted. :)

I'm kind of half wondering if the city in the sky is our world... kind of an upgrade of The Tenth Kingdom, a truly abysmal work which was interesting in its combination of the real world and the world of fairy tale. Stephen Donaldson did something similar in his Mordant's Need duo (love those books!) and I think it's a possibility here.

Male author, fiction, 1995, 296 pgs

Jan 4, 2011, 2:28am

And now I'm having a great deal of trouble convincing myself that 1:20 am is bedtime, not the right time to start The Subtle Knife.

Oh, I remember that feeling! Great books.

From (vague) memory, "subtle" has a different meaning in the book than how we would use it. It sounds strange now, but once you've read the book, it suddenly sounds similar to the other titles. From *VAGUE* memory, so I may be wrong.

(And squee! No one else I know loves the Mordant's Need books either! I also liked his sci-fi "Gap" series, starting with The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story.)

Jan 4, 2011, 8:28am

Haha, I remember when I read those books thinking 'I would be /murdering/ someone if the next book wasn't published yet and I had to end there!' It's like I turned the page and went 'wait-- where's the next chapter?'

The original title was Northern Lights, so the discongruity is a bit less with that in mind. I don't know if Pullman himself or his publishers changed the title for the US.

I wish I remembered more about these books. It's been almost 7 years since I read them, and all that I really remember is that I felt like Pullman's writing got more smug and less interesting as the series went on.

Jan 4, 2011, 9:07pm

Wookie- I'm going to have to check out Donaldson's "Gap" series... and I've never met anyone else who likes Mordant's Need either! That apartment covered with mirrors... gives me chills. Love it. Need to re-read those.

Aerrin- I would also have been rampaging without the next book... luckily, my copy is one enormous volume with all three books, so it wasn't too much trouble to turn a page and start again. (Which I did at approximately 1:21!)

Jan 4, 2011, 11:15pm

3. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman

This book is the second in the His Dark Materials trilogy. I'm enjoying the upending of traditional theology, the casting of The Authority/God in the position of the dark that must be overcome. Loving this series, possibly my favorite fantasy series since stumbling across Susan Cooper a decade ago. (That series might just be next on the docket.)

Male author, fiction, 1997, 240 pgs

Jan 4, 2011, 11:18pm

I listened to the first book in December; books two and three are at the top of the queue of audios. Each is narrated by Pullman, and the dialog is all dramatized. I don't usually care for dramatized audio, but I did enjoy this on my drives to and from work.

Jan 5, 2011, 3:31am

#12 I enjoyed Donaldson's Gap series too. It's a bit grim, and the central trio of characters are completely unlikeable, but it's put together well. I also seem to recall the prose being less... obfuscatory than his Thomas Covenant books (although if Thog's Masterclass in this month's Ansible is anything to go by, he's back to his old tricks in his latest, Against All Things Ending...).

Jan 5, 2011, 3:39am

You mean there are people who didn't like Mordant's Need?

Jan 5, 2011, 7:26am

#11> Aerrin, I'd completely forgotten they'd changed the title from Northern Lights to The Golden Compass! Early onset dementia happening over here.

#15> Ian, I'm not quite sure I want to tackle the third Thomas Covenant series. The second was a very difficult read, although I did love the first when I read it way back when. Agreed that the Gap series is a bit grim: I remember reading the first (slim) volume and thinking "well, that wasn't so bad" and by the end *hating* Donaldson for what he put his main character through (similar reaction to Lars Von Trier and "Dancer in the Dark"; I swore I'd never watch another of his movies ever again at the time, but, yeah, that didn't last). But it was incredibly compelling and fascinating, and one of my favourite sci-fi of recent times, until I ran into Bank's Culture novels.

Wow. Reading "Thog's Masterclass" is taking me back to my teenage years, reading the original Covenant trilogy. Maybe I should give the third series a go...

#16> I keep on running into people who just say "yeah, it was good". Obviously the mirror thing doesn't get under the skin of everyone. I should re-read that series sometime rsn.

Jan 5, 2011, 10:42am

Now I'm reallygoing to have to re-read those books--I don't remember them being grim at all! Of course, my sister was foisting Stephen King's Dark Tower series on me at the same time, in comparison I imagine it appeared positively sunny.

I've never read any of Stephenson's other series; I believe I read the first chapter of one of the Covenant books, but it was somewhere in the middle of the series and didn't do anything for me. I should try it again. Does the first Covenant series require the second and third, or does it stand alone? I vaguely remember enjoying his The Man Who Fought Alone (I just realized that it wasn't the first or the only of that series--anyone read any of the others?)

Jan 7, 2011, 4:07am

4.The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman

Phew. Was that a mighty gulp of a read! Very glad to have read them, and truthfully, very glad to be done. I enjoyed this third book in the trilogy, but the action was so fractured between worlds and people and situations that I'm exhausted.

I'm having trouble even wrapping my head around what I've read... parts of it were truly disturbing (I cried when they were on the banks of the Styx, and then cuddled my dog for good measure); the underworld reminded me of that described in Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, harpies and all; Mary Malone's one regret at leaving the church (missing the idea of God) seemed entirely accurate.

On the other hand, the "fix" for the universe that Pullman advocates seems a little bit like what Meg had to do to get rid of the Echthros: love it, embrace it, name it ALL. If the kids just spend their lives doing GOOD, then it'll all come out right in the end. Perhaps I'm getting too cynical for my own good. I'll go watch It's a Wonderful Life and shut up.

Male author, fiction, 2000, 386 pgs

Jan 7, 2011, 8:35am

Very glad to have read them, and truthfully, very glad to be done.

Ha! I seem to recall a similar feeling when I finished them. And now I've forgotten nearly all the details...

Jan 7, 2011, 6:56pm

Like Aerrin, I've forgotten all the details of that series, and I seem to have lost my copies, as well. *sigh*

Regarding Stephen Donaldson, I haven't actually read his detective series. I was curious, but when they came out, didn't actually read crime. Now I read crime, and they've fallen off the radar.

Of the Thomas Covenant trilogy-of-trilogies: the first trilogy is standalone; the second follows on (so it would be an advantage to read it in sequence) and is standalone within itself; I would imagine the third stands on its own too. Within each trilogy though, each book follows on from the previous - I wouldn't jump into the middle of any. And I'd definitely start with the first trilogy - the second one is fairly unrelentingly bleak, it'd be horrible to start off with that one!

If I read the third trilogy, I probably won't re-read the first two. I don't have the time!

Jan 10, 2011, 4:08pm

5. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

Stevens, a pre-war butler in post-war England, considers his life in service while on a driving holiday.

That makes it sound rather dull, which, of course, it isn't.

Stevens every thought--which we know, because the book is in first person--is perfecting himself as a butler, of the dignity that is required, of the nobility of purpose, of the necessity of serving the right individual.

As the butler of Darlington Hall during the long weekend (I love that phrase for the interwar period), he was in the proper place to be a perfect butler: his master, Lord Darlington, was an aristocrat fundamentally concerned with matters of international importance. He, as well as other English nobles of the day, were convinced that the end-of-war punishments meted out to the Germans at Versailles were dishonorably severe, the political version of kicking your foe when he was down.

Believing that the situation would lead to disaster if continuing unchecked, Lord Darlington used his influence to bring German and British officials together at his estate, avoiding the sanctions of the Home Office and promoting ease of communication between the two nations.

Of course, it's hardly a spoiler to reveal the downfall that awaited Lord Darlington. Stevens reminisces about the period before the downfall from a point after the Second World War. Darlington Hall has changed--an American tycoon bought the estate after the disgraced death of Lord Darlington, Stevens is running the house with a staff of only four, but hopes to add a trusted housekeeper to that number.

That's all background. The true drama, which unfolds ever so slowly and properly, emotions subliminated, is the remembered relationship between Stevens and the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. The point of Stevens' cross-country drive is to visit Miss Kenton, or more properly, Mrs Benn. She left service at Darlington Hall some twenty years ago to marry (her words) an acquaintance. The detail with which Stevens remembers Miss Kenton speaks to the importance of their relationship, but Stevens himself never articulates it. Twenty years later, she has written a letter to Stevens which implies her dissatisfaction with her married life; Stevens intends to ask if she would like to return to Darlington Hall.

The Remains of the Day is an intensely melancholy book. I don't understand Stevens' motivations or his decisions; he is operating with an entirely different hierarchy of ranked importances, so I kind of just want to shake him and make him choose something else... make him see what is going on. My emotion--probably the typical one for someone of a more modern generation perceiving blindness in the previous--was expressed by Darlington's godson, Cardinal, a young journalist who sees how Darlington is being manipulated by the Nazi regime, but despairs over his inability to avert the inevitable result.

Beautifully written, beautifully evocative, nostalgic with an undertone of the coming menace... one of the best books I've read in a while.

(And now, on this oddly snowy day in South Carolina, I feel like curling up and watching Merchant Ivory films. And I just might. Or maybe a little Jeeves to cheer me up.)

Male author, fiction, 1988, 245 pgs

Jan 10, 2011, 4:47pm

Great review - I love that book.

Jan 10, 2011, 6:51pm

I'm avoiding reading the review because The Remains of the Day has hovered near the top of Mt TBR for some years now. Don't want spoilers! Glad you liked it, I am looking forward to it. Whenever I get to it...

Jan 10, 2011, 7:25pm

That's not my usual fare, but gosh that /does/ sound good. Great review!

Jan 11, 2011, 4:19pm

6. The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins

I sometimes feel that getting through a book written before 1900 or so is as much an act of will as it is of interest. Even when I know I love the plot it's difficult to get in the rhythm of the long sentences and meandering thoughts. We have such short attention spans that the three-volume potboiler is sometimes difficult to take.

The Moonstone required an act of will not to put it down, but to actually go to bed instead of finish it in one sitting. As it was, I finished it in two mighty gulps.

Poe's Dupin stories are usually considered the first English detective stories, The Moonstone is considered the first detective novel, and by many (T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Sayers) the best. So of course it was on my TBR list.

The moonstone from which the novel receives its title is an enormous diamond stolen by an unscrupulous British officer from a Hindu temple during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. (I had to look them up too--a series of wars fought in India from 1770-1800, basic purpose was to consolidate the British Indian empire.) Three implacable guardians curse the thief with vengeance and follow the stone to England to retrieve it and return it to the temple.

Years pass, the unscrupulous British Officer is unscrupulous in many other areas of his life, and dies in disgrace, disinherited by his family. In a last act of repentance, or revenge, he wills the stone to his niece on her eighteenth birthday. (The novel is set some 80 years after the stone is taken from India, in 1848 and the Indian guardians have been replaced by their descendants. I know, I wondered at their inevitably advancing age too.)

The stone disappears on the night of the birthday in circumstances that restrict the suspects to those attending the house party. After the police have unsuccessfully ended their investigation, a nephew begins collecting everyone's recollections of the events. (The novel, like *The Woman in White is completely told in letters. One person tells his personal knowledge of events, eliminating anything that he merely knew on hearsay or assumption, and then passes the narrative on to the next person. It's a very logical type of detective fiction, and closely tied to legal proceedings: every party gives his/her evidence to the judge the reader, often presumed to be later generations within the novel.)

Eventually, as is usually the case, all is made clear.

(All of the above information was given in the first 15 or so pages. No spoilers, I promise!)

Really wonderful book, and completely perfect for a long, lazy day waiting on the ice to melt.

* The Woman in White: I read this book, also by Wilkie Collins, last year, and I think it might be my favorite book of 2010. Put 'em both on your TBR list.

Male author, fiction, 1868, 544 pgs

This was the first novel that I read on my newly acquired Kindle. It was a gift, so I received it not completely won over by the idea of technology replacing my oh-so-beloved books. And now I'm a fan, and here's why: it's lighter than a book, so extended marathon reading sessions aren't a strain on the hands, it's much easier on the eyes than I expected--possibly easier than a book (gasp!) and definitely easier than a computer screen, I like the ability to highlight interesting parts or make notes, look up words or whatever immediately, and this book was free! All in all, I'm quite impressed. My only problem with it is that I can't take it in a bubble bath!

Jan 11, 2011, 8:22pm

I have both The Moonstone and Woman in White downloaded and teed up ready to go. And I agree with all of your comments about the ease of reading on the Kindle...and I've been brave enough to take it with me in the bubble bath! ;-)

Jan 11, 2011, 10:30pm

#26> I started The Woman in White a while back, but didn't finish it. Your initial comments pretty much describe to a tee what happens when I try to tackle Victorian literature (with some exceptions).

I shall give it another go, however, I am disappointed in myself that it got waylaid by other reads.

Jan 15, 2011, 11:36am

Good luck to both of you on the Wilkie Collins! The Woman in White picks up pretty quickly- give it at least until Walter Hartwright reaches the Fairlie house, it should have your attention by then. One of the best villains in literature in that one. In my personal and humble.

And take heart, The Moonstone isn't at all like the first chapter suggests (first chapter is kind of Quartermain-y); after that it comes back to England and becomes the mystery that the book actually is.

Edited: Jan 15, 2011, 8:55pm

7. Howards End, E. M. Forster

Two sisters try to help two very different men… one gets a house, one gets a baby.

Charles Wilcox is an aging captain of industry. His first wife, a friend of Margaret’s, died a few years ago, he has retained the habit of looking in on the unmarried sisters from time to time. Margaret sees him clearly—he is childish and determined and petulant and overly confident until he is completely unsure—but she sees that his mistakes are true ones and believes his heart is good. His only problem is that he doesn’t connect well with people. Surely, if he understood them, he would act differently.

Leonard Bast vowed to rescue the somewhat dull Jacky from a life of certain disgrace; his price—he was disinherited at their wedding. Connected to his wife only by the bonds of honor, he longs for the world of knowledge and ideas and economic security that Helen Schlegel inhabits.

Howards End, a country house in a small town outside of London, is as much an idea in the novel as it is a place. It represents the good life—not defined by money or position or possession, but a life with roots, connected to people and the land, scheduled by crop rotations and harvests rather than catching the 2:20 train to London.

Wonderful book, my review isn't doing it justice.

Male author, fiction, 1910, 336 pgs

Jan 16, 2011, 1:42am

Oh, I'm so glad you liked Howards End! It was one of my favourite books from last year.

Jan 16, 2011, 6:55am

and checking checking... Yes! I can get it for free! I love my kindle.

Edited: Jan 17, 2011, 12:07pm

* Reconstructing Brigid, Lee Nichols

Total fluff. The titular Brigid is an accident reconstructionist on an extended sabbatical as she tries to recover from the mental scars left when a car wreck killed a good friend and his infant son and injured her. She is called back to do one last job: investigate the car-accident death of the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Nothing adds up, the accident doesn't seem like an accident, the witnesses give conflicting stories, and somebody seems to be trying to kill her. Brigid can't ride in cars or be near highways since her breakdown... and she seems to be breaking down a little more each day.

Enter Aaron, boyfriend of the sister of the deceased, lover of the deceased, affectionately termed a mutt (man-slut) by someone who really has cause to know.

Although she has no reason to trust him, and since she doesn't care about his opinion, Brigid enlists Aaron as her chauffeur, subjecting him to frequent meltdowns when the traffic gets rough, dazzling him with her insights all-the-while.

Blargh. I'd give this book about a C. The bad guys were terribly underdeveloped- it tried to be a tense, psychological drama, with the crimes with revealing roots deep in the past, but instead it just seemed a little random. Not terrible, mind you, just a little... unsatisfactory. Like fat free potato chips.

Brigid was just too fragile. Of course, I'm never going to like heroes riding in to save the fair maiden, even if she does wear mirrored sunglasses just like one of the *ahem* real cops. Hero-guy wasn't horrible, a little underdeveloped. I mean, why the serial womanizing? It's not just good-wholesome-Regency-style, light-skirt-tossing randiness. He's positively pathological. The author hints at some relationship trauma in his background, but fails to make him at all vulnerable and doesn't really link his past to his present. He's just there, like a force of nature. Like Zeus, screwing everything that moves. Until, of course, as JC put it, he meets the lady of the glittery hooha and EVERYTHING CHANGES.

As I said. Not horrible, I didn't throw the book across the room in disgust, but I'm not left feeling like I must read everything this author has written. Blargh. Should have just finished Jane Eyre. But sometimes, you know, you just need a break from all the gloriously but oh-so-gradually unfolding drama.

* I've decided against counting this for my 100 new books challenge, but will let the review stand.

Female author, fiction, 2008, 331 pgs

Jan 17, 2011, 12:26am

Sounds like an unpleasant read! I wouldn't count that as fluff (to me, fluff is something warm and fuzzy and quite possibly totally stupid), but I see where you're coming from.

Go back to Jane Eyre, it's a fabulous book!

Jan 18, 2011, 10:28pm

8. Oedipus the King, Sophocles

First text assigned in my Literary Theory class, and the first time I've read this. No surprises, I knew exactly who was who and what was going to happen.

Reminded me of King Lear- I think it was just the gouged out eyeballs. There's just something about the eyeball. Ugh. I guess you could theorize about sight being the primary sense (creative writing prof said that today, I'm still considering...), vision being the way we place ourselves in the world, the violation of that, by self or other is kind of an extreme transgression. There's just something so revolting about harm that comes to the eye. Something in line with Kristeva's abject: she talked about the instinctive revulsion we feel at bodily waste, corpse, pus, open wounds... said it was the result of the 'loss of distinction between the self and other,' the transgression of bodily boundaries.)

I'm finding it increasingly interesting to examine my physical reactions to literature. Last spring, during my Victorian Sensation Fiction class, I read an extremely interesting article about the physical response to sensation fiction. I mean, the genre was named after the response: you get a physical sensation (chills up the spine, hair standing on end, the shivers, the shakes, horror, revulsion, whatever) at reading it. The article got me thinking about literature that elicits a physical response. Connect that with some theories about why humans respond the way they do to stimuli... super cool stuff.

Male author, drama, 450 BC, 80-ish pages (including notes)

Edited: Jan 18, 2011, 10:43pm

Super cool stuff indeed!

I agree about eyes too. I'm totally squeamish about eyes.

ETA: Maybe (for me) it's because eyes are your #1 interaction with the world, they're very precious. And you'd *see* it happening. Yuk. Yukkity yuk yuk yuk.

Jan 19, 2011, 8:39am

I'm also terribly squeamish about eyes! I've also recently become really squeamish about fingers - I injured my left pointed finger this fall in a log splitter and it really drove home to me how fragile we are, and how big a change it really is to have even a small part of your body not working properly. I find that I have a much harder time watching or reading about these things since!

Jan 19, 2011, 10:03am

Aerrin- I had a similar experience recently- I burned myself rather badly when a skillet got too hot and the egg I cracked into it exploded rather than sizzling, sending fizzing masses of egg-globs all over my arm.

Hurt like hell, and has made me very aware --and kind of leery--of the stove and other things that could conceivably hurt. It's so unsettling to be aware of your body like that- instead of the body being the vessel we move through the world with, the actor, it becomes this thing we have to care for, to protect. Messes with your brain.

On the other hand, until I burned myself, I really didn't think about that sort of thing at all... which I find equally odd.

Edited: Jan 21, 2011, 12:59am

9. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Totally speechless.

After decades of passing over Jane Eyre in favor of Wuthering Heights, I now know what I've been missing. Amazing. Loved it. I may join the numberless throngs who gush that this is their favorite novel.

It was so much less grim than I expected- my familiarity is with the Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine movie, and, more recently, The Eyre Affair, as well as about a million BBC mini-series and other film versions. The Orson Welles movie cuts out any relenting of the drear before the final sun-breaking-through relationship clincher: Gateshead is grey (and scarlet, of course), Lowood is grey, Thornton Hall is grey, St. John is such a drip (I think it is in The Eyre Affair that someone calls him "the drippy St. John." Couldn't get the phrase out of my head while reading, and lord did I hate that guy. Actually, I knew that guy- but that's a Bible college story for another day.)

I'm babbling. But I loved the book. Sniffled over the ending, read till midnight after eight hours of classes following three hours of sleep last night. Now that's high commendation!

*I'm reading the edition pictured above, "Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism," published under the Bedford/St. Martin's imprint. Although they are slightly pricier than the bare-bones text edition, the critical/theoretical essays included and the historical introduction made it completely worthwhile. Highly, highly recommend.

Female author, fiction, 1847, 441 pgs

Jan 21, 2011, 12:37am


re: eye stuff

That part about the eyes in Kubrick's Clockwork Orange always gets me: all of these horrific things are happening (rape, murder, etc etc etc) and then they put these metal clamps on Alex's eyelids, and I want to throw up every time. Eck and double eck.

Jan 21, 2011, 12:58am

Oh, A Clockwork Orange was pretty disturbing without having to have the eye things as well! (Miss Boo challenged me to a staring contest with her teddy bear last night. It's amazing how long one can keep one's eyes open! Much longer than last I did a staring contest, probably when I was a kid myself. But Hymie Bear, of course, did win in the end.)

So glad you loved Jane Eyre as well! One of my top reads of last year (battling it out with Howards End), and it's definitely in my top ten books of all time. I'm tempted to re-read The Eyre Affair sometime soon, now that the original is (mostly) fresh in my mind.

Jan 21, 2011, 6:14am

oh please don't... I've never read Jane Eyre, read Wuthering Heights eons ago for a class, and recall thinking it wasn't half bad...I have read Jasper Fforde's story and liked it very much.

Oh ok, 'ouch let go of my arm', I'll put it on my list...


Jan 21, 2011, 10:24am

I once saw a musical of Jane Eyre. It was surprisingly wonderful.

Jan 24, 2011, 10:59pm

* Maybe This Time, Jennifer Crusie

Ok, I'm not counting this book, because I read it in December. But it just returned home from the friend-lend rounds, and I had to read it again. I seriously loved this book--I reviewed it last year here, and I don't have much more to say about it this time, other than it held up to a re-read (as so many books do not.)

Seriously. Love this book. (Did I say that already?)

Jan 24, 2011, 11:18pm

10. Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

I'm feeling terribly rant-y about this one. I love the movie, I think Emma Thompson is absolutely fabulous and Kenneth Branagh is scrumptious in all of his Shakespearean roles and the repartee between Beatrice and Benedict is quick and sharp and funny.... but still.

Hero is accused (just accused!! not knocked up or caught in the act!!) of being unchaste and her father wishes her dead. When Claudio, who mere pages before has been professing his undying affection, hears of her untimely demise resultant of her public humiliation at his hands, he feels no guilt. Only when, by the merest chance, Hero's innocence is proven, does her (supposed) death become a tragedy.

I know. You have to read a work of literature with the eyes of the age. And I usually do, but I'm finding it impossible to get to any angle of the story beyond the apparent worthlessness of female life. This isn't a comedy, this is a horror story.

Makes me wonder what their married life would have been like- Hero, falsely slandered by her new husband, Claudio. Was he repentant all of his days? Was he truly of a jealous turn of mind? Three days later when he saw Hero discussing the meat order with the butcher, did he lose his mind and flee back to the sanctity of the battlefield? Did he apologize to her, or just to her father? Why, and how, did she forgive him? Or perhaps more to the point, did she forgive him?

Male author,fiction, 1600?, 304 pgs

Jan 25, 2011, 1:56pm

I've wondered similar things. Why on earth would she want to be married to Claudio in the end? He's a dick.

But overall, I read this one entirely for the Beatrice-and-Benedict interaction. Also the Prince - he's funny too.

Jan 25, 2011, 9:52pm

Claudio so is. Succinct and precise analysis :) And I totally agree on the Beatrice/Benedict. One of the great tending-towards-equal couples in literature.

Random factoid (that I found interesting, so I assume you will too)-- Prof mentioned today that, since spelling wasn't standardized at this time, "nothing" in the title was spelled "noting," an early synonym for eavesdropping. Also, of course, meant what we take it to mean, "nothing"-- it was a double meaning kinda thing.

Jan 25, 2011, 10:17pm

11. My Man Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse


This is me, jumping on the bandwagon. :) Once upon a time, many, many moons ago (I think I was in high-school) I read Wodehouse rather compulsively. But I've not picked one up since then. My return didn't disappoint.

My Man Jeeves contains a number of short stories, about half Wooster/Jeeves and half Reggie Pepper. Wooster and Jeeves are in New York for all of the stories in which they appear, having made their way there in an attempt to rescue Gussie from an ill-advised show-girl marriage. (According to a very informed reviewer on Amazon, that story, Extricating Gussie, appears in The Man with Two Left Feet. I must look it up.) Bertie refers to the mishap several times in his stories, and credits his failure to prevent the nuptials with his extended avoidance of dear old London.

The language (and the names!) in these stories makes them so much fun. The plots are, well, the word 'zany' comes to mind: somewhat unbelievable mishaps, no lasting damage, everybody goes home happy.

I love the relationship between Jeeves and Wooster--reminds me of Bunter and Lord Peter (Dorothy Sayers, of course) thought Lord Peter is never quite so daft as Wooster. I'm sure it's been done, but an interesting study could be done of class portrayals in the post WW1 era through these aristocrat/man servant relationships. That being said, why wasn't Bertie in the war?

My favorite story was The Aunt and the Sluggard: Bertie's friend, Rocky, would make a sloth feel energetic. His aunt, who believes she is dying, decides to do him a great favor and set him up in New York City to enjoy himself--the only caveat is that he is to write long letters describing his fun to her, for her vicarious amusement. New York nightlife is the last thing that Rocky wants to engage in--he'd rather lie in a hammock and smoke his pipe. Jeeves comes up with a solution, of course, but is temporarily stymied when aforementioned aunt descends upon the city.

Male author, fiction, 1919, 192 pgs

Edited: Jan 27, 2011, 9:32am

12. The Man with Two Left Feet, P. G. Wodehouse


I usually don't like short stories, but my brain is so fried from the beginning of the semester that ten pages seems about the extent of my concentration. Which doesn't bode well for my Victorian novel class... but that's a worry for another day.

Downloaded this after reading a review on Amazon last night identifying this collection as the beginning of the Jeeves/Wooster stories. While only one story was about those two, all stories were frabjous.

Lots of lighthearted drama--no real economic difficulties, no hearts smashed that don't get repaired, nothing that really dents the consciousness. Which is why I"m loving them. When life is stressful, and money is so ridiculously tight, and the homework is done for the moment but stretching into the horizon, and the boyfriend is far, far away... it's very nice to read something that is so blatantly flippant and shallow (in the best way) that I don't feel the need to analyze how Mr. X addressed Ms. Y et al. That sounds foolish-- but literary studies can sap the joy out of reading if you don't watch it, and gender studies can sap any enjoyment left after that right out. You end up analyzing simply everything. I mean, everything. It's exhausting. Which is awful- I love what I'm studying and I find it consistently inspiring and exciting... but sometimes, late at night when the day has been ridiculously long, it's nice to turn off the brain. And these are doing that for me.

Obviously, I need to stop reading and go to bed. I'm rambling, as, indeed, I am wont to do.

Male author, fiction, 1917, 224 pgs

Edited: Jan 26, 2011, 11:36pm

You are also wont to use one of my favourite words: frabjous. Nice!

ETA: I've got nothing against rambling. Ramble away.

Edited: Jan 27, 2011, 6:35am

I'm going with frabjous meaning a good thing...

I have The Man With Two Left Feet downloaded, but haven't started it... waiting until, like r.r, life frazzles me a bit and I need something light.

Edited: Jan 27, 2011, 9:43am

kcs-frabjous is indeed a good thing, a sidewise reference to Jabberwocky in Alice in Wonderful. "...Oh frabjous day, Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy..." Hope life doesn't frazzle too quickly, but this is a great choice when it, inevitably, does.

One of my favorite words too. :)

Jan 27, 2011, 8:27pm

13. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell

audio book

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is set in early nineteenth century Dejima, the Dutch trading outpost in Nagasaki; Japan opened its ports to the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, until the mid-eighteenth century they were the only European nation allowed to trade with the Japanese.

Jacob de Zoet is a young Dutch clerk, planning to work for six years in Dejima to earn enough to marry his love.

Orito is one of the only female midwives in Japan, and has been privileged with the opportunity to study under the Dutch doctor in Dejima; her gender and education give her unique opportunities to assist the courtesans and wives of the high officials. After her father dies, deeply in debt, Orito's advantages disappear and soon, to Jacob's horror, she does as well.

I've been listening to this, off and on, since October. At times, it seemed utterly impossible to keep straight who was who and what was what--a fault I blame on my inattention and the medium of the audio book, rarely as conducive to concentration as a regular book. The world was incredibly complex and really well realized--the characters too. My only complaint is that it started (and continued) a bit slower than seemed strictly necessary. Still, it was a world in which I enjoyed being immersed.

Male author, fiction, 2010, 496 pgs

Edited: Jan 28, 2011, 9:21am

14. Trust Me on This, Jennifer Crusie

It's just possible that I've mentioned this before, but I absolutely adore Jennifer Crusie's books. I own most of her them, and finding a new one, or a newly-released one, is cause for celebration. Seriously. I start sending text messages. So the post-happy hour Barnes and Noble run was, indeed, a happy, happy time.

Trust Me on This was originally published as a Harlequin, I think, but since Crusie's graduation to "real novelist" status (sigh) (sigh-for the publishing industry that condemns significantly more women authors to "genre" status than men) it's been reissued. I, for one, am grateful: I rarely (never) examine the Harlequin shelves at the bookstore.

Dennie is a journalist, trying to get a story on a feminist academic going through a divorce. Alec is investigating a con artist whom he suspects Dennie might be working with. His aw-shucks demeanor doesn't make a dent on Dennie, but she's suddenly intrigued by the flash of intelligence that he so quickly smothered. Alec's Aunt Vic is 62 and slightly bored with her four decades in academia, discussing dead authors and dead literature. Harry, Alec's boss, is also a little bored, but has been working forever and sees no reason to stop now. Everybody meets at a four day literary conference, and mayhem ensues. With a vengeance.

Truthfully? Jennifer Crusie got better in later books- the dialogue is a tad clunky and the romance is just a bit abrupt. But I like all of the characters involved, and I love the waving of the feminist flag--so many authors shy away from the word, even if they are proponents of equality and such, just because of the negative connotations. (And now I'm trying to remember if the word comes up in later Crusie works... I don't think it does. Sad.)

(I think the word is of vital importance. People feel uncomfortable using it about themselves because of the negative connotations: pushy women, never satisfied, all hate men, nobody shaves. Blargh. The status of women in America is what it is because of pushy women. Equality doesn't happen if you just keep doing what is expected and then ask nicely. Agitation is necessary--look at the women's rights movement, the civil rights movement, any movement.
Power is a zero sum game- for one previously marginalized group to have equality, in any arena, the structure of the arena has to change--someone else, whose status was never in question and whose power was assumed from the happy coincidence of their birth, gender, breeding, class... that person has to give up some power. And that's not something that is just going to happen when you walk up and ask him/her/it nicely.
Feminists agitate for equality. That's why I love the word, even if I don't love the infighting, the factionalism, or the implications. And denying the word because I don't like the associated stereotype seems like denying that history.
And stepping down off of my soapbox now, thanks for listening, folks, you've been a great crowd!)

Anyway, upshot is: I thoroughly enjoyed this early effort of Ms. Crusie.

Female author, fiction, 1997, 308 pgs

Edited: Jan 30, 2011, 10:19pm

15. Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, ed. Jennifer Crusie

I suppose I should have known. But I wanted to like this so much... and it wasn't completely terrible. But the terrible bits were rather stomach-turning.

The book is as the subtitle advertises: the 'fresh perspectives' mentioned indicate rather non-academic voices (mostly from the world of literature, rather than literary studies) the 'original chick-lit masterpiece' both indicates the view of the novel and its place within the pantheon.

First, the good:
J. Crusie's introduction, which I failed to read until just now (bad reader!) but which pointed out each flaw that I found so horrible, and kind of took the wind out of my burgeoning sails of a rant. It's not, as she puts it, "an anthology of Studies on the Work (for that, see Norton, et al.). It's more of a series of Dates with Jane, where some writers were serious about her, some were looking for a good time and some, frankly, took advantage of her." Exactly what I wanted to say, but put, of course, much more eloquently than I would have.

The first essay, "Does this petticoat make me look fat? Having It All in Jane Austen's Time and Today" was one of my favorites- Beth Kendrick talks about how much harder women are on other women than they are on men, and says that's because we are so freaking hard on ourselves. She uses the Bennet sisters' reactions to the news of Wickham's defection (she's a nasty freckled thing, he's utterly justified in chasing a fortune). A similar idea is proposed in Women and Madness, Phyllis Chesler says that in a society with strongly solidified gender roles, there is always a problematic relationship between the adult parent and the child of the same gender. The mother is responsible for instilling societal rules into daughter, daughter then blames restrictions of society on mother... same true for sons and fathers.

"Gold Diggers of 1813" translated the mysterious "man of good fortune" into proportions on what could be bought with what: a maid could be paid 10 pounds a year with room and board, the tax alone on a carriage would have been three times that. So having a carriage was equivalent to three maids... the author, Jo Beverly put it much more intelligibly; since my re-read last year of Pride and Prejudice I've had a bit more sympathy for Mrs. Bennet's preoccupation with wealthy, which apparently is a pretty basic understanding to come to. Lots of the authors in this anthology really hated Mr. Bennet though. I'm joining that camp-I've always just considered him the much harried husband of the awful Mrs., (see the above about judging women more harshly than men) but he was really strikingly negligent in his haphazard assumption that the future economics would just work out for the daughters.

The awful: Jane Austen with cell phones? I understand the concept--difficulties in communication being key to the entire plot, what would be changed in a society as open (flagrant) as ours? (FB posts about hating people, etc. Though I believe Elizabeth was much too cool for that. There, I said it.) Anyway- I found it clunky and not particularly brilliant. The cellphones were merely used for comic relief- something anachronistic to be holding during Mr. Collins' proposal- rather than a plot device. Not nearly as intelligent, even, as Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies. And I didn't even get through that.

I liked, but kind of pitied, the short story about Georgiana. I like the idea of finding more about her- of giving her a happy ending, of letting Elizabeth be a good, freeing influence on her. But (I sound like a snob) the whole idea of animating another author's sideline creations seems a bit, well, Frankenstein-y. I'm sure I could find an exception if I thought about it long enough, but all of these continuing stories of Darcy and Bennet and the entire clan seem rather of awful.

I also liked Mercedes Lackey's short story "Not Precisely Pride," which is set within her Elemental Masters series, which I'll soon be picking up.

Female (mostly) authors, fiction/non-fiction, 2005, 230 pgs

Jan 30, 2011, 11:19pm

16. Specimen Days, Michael Cunningham

Specimen Days is the name of Walt Whitman's autobiography--his opus, Leaves of Grass, is quoted throughout the novel and lends everything kind of an imprecise depth and reverberation. I'm not completely sure I got everything in the novel- it's one of those that seems to have layers and connections and meanings that are barely perceptible upon first reading.

All three stories are set in New York, and all deal with the same trio of characters: a young boy, a woman, and her younger boyfriend/fiancée. The first story, "In the Machine," was impossibly perfect and incredibly disturbing. It was set during the Industrial Revolution; Lucas is the young deformed brother of Simon; Simon was crushed to death in his machine days before his wedding to Catherine; Catherine is a seamstress in a sweatshop, Lucas is given Simon's old job and the machine that killed him. Lucus's abnormalities are not strictly physical--he quotes "The Book" (Whitman's Leaves of Grass) randomly and incessantly. Gorgeous story--perhaps a bit dark for a full-length story, but I'd have stuck with it quite a bit longer.
"The Children's Crusade' is set in post-9/11 New York, Catherine works in a factory-type governmental hotline for terrorist call-ins. Simon is her younger, spectacularly successful boyfriend, Lucas is one of her repeat callers who speaks primarily in Whitman. Dark, and kind of consciously soulless.
"Like Beauty' is set about 150 years in the future, still in New York. The space program finally found life on other planets, and the aliens have been living among the humans as servants for quite some time. Catareen is one of the lizard-like aliens, Simon isn't quite human either. And Lucas is still quoting Whitman.

Amazing book. I don't think I understood it all, by a long shot, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Male author, fiction, 2005, 320 pgs

Jan 31, 2011, 9:06am

Wow - I'm not sure that Specimen Days sounds like something I'd like, but it definitely sounds /interesting/!

Jan 31, 2011, 11:50pm

It's rather reminding me of the discussion about David Mitchell that's going on in someone else's thread (divinenanny's, if my usually unreliable memory is right).

Edited: Feb 28, 2011, 10:23am

February 2011
17. Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare
18. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson
19. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
20. Face of a Stranger, Anne Perry
21. A Dangerous Mourning, Anne Perry
22. Possession, A. S. Byatt
23. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
24. Defend and Betray, Anne Perry

Monthly Summations:
Books read: 8
Pages read: 3,422
Author demographics: 6 women, 2 men
Book demographics: 7 novels, 1 play
Favorite book: Possession for the re-read, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand for the brand new.

I'm terribly undisciplined with book goals- midway through January I decided I was only going to count *new* books, and here I am, end of February, counting Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Possession--but they are both such chunksters that I couldn't possibly not count them. So I'll continue to make an effort to pick up the new, but if I'm dying to re-read something, well, so be it. Maybe I should be keeping track of them in a different way- I'd like to hit 100 new books, but I still want to babble about the books I've reread. I'll come up with something. Over and out.

Feb 2, 2011, 2:20am

>39 SouthernBluestocking: I meant to read Jane Eyre last year, but got sidetracked as I often do, but I'm planning on reading it this year. Between your review and watching the trailer for the new adaption, I'm putting this closer to the top of Mt. TBR :)

>44 SouthernBluestocking: I grabbed Maybe This Time over the weekend, nice to know it's good enough to reread so quickly, I'm looking forward to reading it.

Touchstones still not working O.o

Edited: Feb 5, 2011, 4:08pm

17. Twelfth Night, or What You Will, William Shakespeare

Lots of role reversals, lots of confusion, much of it my own.

This is the first Shakespeare play that I read cold: no movie version first and only passing familiarity with the plot. And this is the last Shakespeare play that I'll read without watching a movie version first...I had no idea how much knowing the plot and having an actor in mind was helping me keep things straight while I read the play.

Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked off the shore of Illyria, are rescued by different ships and believe the other sibling to be dead. Viola dresses as a man and becomes a servant to Orsino, who loves Olivia. Olivia simply wants to be left alone... until Viola shows up in drag. Eventually Sebastian's ship comes in and the deck gets shuffled.

That's the upper plot (because it deals with the upper classes.) The lower plot deals with Malvolio, Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Maria. Malvolio is a puritanical steward, the other three punish him by convincing him that Lady Olivia is in love with him.

That's the basic (well, quite convoluted) plot. The roles that are inhabited--assumed, discarded, modified, compelled--is what makes this so complex. The gender stuff is most interesting to me: Viola becomes Cesario and so attempts to woo Olivia. But Olivia- as a woman (!)- attempts to woo Cesario. Maria is ostensibly occupying the lowest rung of the ladder, but she is the prime mover behind all of the action in the lower plot. (Sir Toby, according to class, should belong in the upper plot. But oh, he so doesn't. As his marriage to Maria in the final scene reiterates.)

Eh, not my favorite play, but interesting.

Male author, drama, 1601?, 272 pgs

Feb 5, 2011, 6:54pm

I read that last year, and I agree that seeing movie and/or stage versions really helps with understanding. Because it is such a funny play! I recommend the movie version w/ Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia and Nigel Hawthorne as Malvolio (he's so great as Malvolio).

Feb 6, 2011, 1:06am

This was the first Shakespeare play I really 'read' - we studied it my sophomore year in high school. I loved it - I had a great teacher, and she taught us a lot about word play (Feste uses a ton of it!) and metaphor and the tropes of Shakespearian comedy.

But it is definitely a lot to keep track of!

Feb 9, 2011, 8:55am

I'm waiting on the Twelfth Night dvd (with Helena Bonham Carter) to be returned to the library...hopefully I'll get it before we start Antony and Cleopatra, which is, well, about three days away. Pshew. This semester is on fast-forward.

On a side-note: I've been doing so much 19th century reading that I decided to re-read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. (So much for my all-new-books idea. At least it has been 4-5 years since I read this one, as opposed to some of my favorite-author-series which I was re-reading more than once a year.) I'm finding Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell much as I remembered it: incredibly inventive, but just a tad pedantic. I do love the foot notes, though.

Feb 9, 2011, 8:16pm

In my AP Lit class in high school, we watched several of these odd stop-action animation adaptations of Shakespeare's work, including Twelfth Night. Cross-dressing claymation figures were a little too much for my immature psyche to handle with any sort of decorum or poise, hehe.

Feb 10, 2011, 12:31am

#65> Many, many years ago, I saw a great little stop motion animation that went for about 5 minutes at most, but referenced every single Shakespeare play (or so I was told, I'm hardly enough of a Shakespeare scholar to know much beyond the obvious ones). I wonder if it can be found on YouTube...

And *snap!*, r.r! Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is at the top of Mt TBR, I'm hoping to pick it up after the library book that's due back and the book for bookgroup.

Feb 10, 2011, 1:39pm

My praise of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell seemed a tad, well, qualified. It isn't- I do love that book... and I'm completely in awe of Susanna Clarke. I mean, there are books that make you think "eh, good premise, but not terribly inventive. I bet I could do that." And then you wallop yourself a few times for your lack of discipline and go read something else. And then there are books that make you (mentally) tongue-tied, knock-kneed, and wobbly in the face of genius. This is the latter. The world she created is just so absolutely amazing--the doors that you don't get to follow all go somewhere, if you know what I mean. The world doesn't seem like it was created for the story, but the story is just a part (obviously, a very important part) of what happened in that world. I've put that clumsily, but it really is an incredible book. Which you didn't need assurance of, as it's already on your Mt. TBR.
I'm now envisioning a landscape, a la Fforde, of all of our Mt. TBR's in a massive mountain range, connected by our similar books. Wouldn't that be cool? I might need to start getting more sleep, I've clearly slipped over the edge ;).

Feb 11, 2011, 8:30am

What a great description of Strange and Norrell! I feel much the same - even the parts that I wasn't thrilled with I sort of /respected/. And I, too, adore the footnotes.

Edited: Feb 15, 2011, 1:50am

18. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Best book I've read in a long time. Stop reading this- go order it on Amazon. Seriously. I'll wait.

Ok, now that you are back here's what you can look forward to:

Major Pettigrew is an iron-clad British widower in his sixties. Methodical, conservative, proper, respectful... he despairs of his son who has abandoned Edgecombe St Mary to live in the city, he cherishes his antique rifles, gifted to his father in return for an act of bravery during the twilight of the British Empire in India. He's been alone for several years, and the recent death of his brother has left him feeling completely unmoored from his life.

Mrs. Ali is a Pakistani shop-keeper in the staid little town of Edgecombe St. Mary. Although the townspeople are happy to buy milk and bread from her, her inclusion in the life of the town hasn't extended beyond merchant. Although it certainly isn't written into the club rules that a person of color is excluded, it's also true that none are included. After the death of her husband, his family has been pressuring her to leave the successful shop to a younger member of the family and move in with the daughter needing child care, allowing her to spend her twilight years untroubled by trade.

Both are alone, lonely, unsettled and vaguely dissatisfied with their lives. But they are middle-aged... Romeo and Juliet can rush off into passion, ignoring family and society (with, um, perhaps less than successful results), this couple, however, has their feet firmly in the ground, head and life twisted up with family obligations and complications, social structures and strictures and all of the, well, stuff that accumulates in life.

Braving the small rudenesses and the enormous cultural differences; finding love, affection, passion and forgiveness... Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are absolutely and utterly charming. Yes, not a word I use lightly, but charming they are.

Highly, highly (did I say highly?) recommended. I read until 1:00 am and I have to be up at 6:00... order it immediately, and just don't start reading at 10:00 at night unless you want your eyes to be as bloodshot as mine will be.

The fabulous boyfriend sent this to me in my Valentine's Day box. He really is the best.

Female author, fiction, 2010, 368 pgs

Feb 15, 2011, 6:42am

I read Major Pettigrew last year, and like you, enjoyed it very much! Looking forward to more from this author...

Feb 15, 2011, 8:24am

Alright, alright, you have convinced me! Major Pettigrew is not my typical fare, but that review makes it sound so delightful I have wishlisted it.

Feb 15, 2011, 10:48pm

It's on my list now!

Feb 15, 2011, 11:03pm

The fabulous boyfriend is a keeper. Pettigrew is the perfect romantic Valentine's Day gift for a committed reader. I too await with eager anticipation for the next Helen Simonson.

Feb 19, 2011, 9:56am

19. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke

The days of English magic are long over. Magicians are primarily historians, occupied with cataloguing the accomplishments of the powerful practical magicians of the past. Except for one--Mr. Norrell, a reclusive gentleman-magician, rejects the commonly held assumption and challenges their rash assertion that magic is over. He proves his case—quite dramatically—and moves to London to become a phenomenon. He is an unlikeable character, a miserly scholar who forces the theoretical magicians to renounce their chosen calling and squirrels away all books about magic in protected libraries. He believes that the reputation of magic should be protected, officially, by getting rid of the street magicians and charm-enchanters…but he is equally unwilling to train other true magicians.

Jonathan Strange comes on the scene considerably after Mr. Norrell’s reputation has been made. He needs an occupation (Arabella, his chosen bride, has refused to marry him until he settles down a bit) but he is finding it difficult to decide. He decides on magic, and to Mr. Norrell’s horror, he proves quite adept.

Jonathan Strange becomes Mr. Norrell’s apprentice, and they attempt a professional relationship that is made incredibly difficult by Mr. Norrell’s disinclination to share magic and their diametrically opposed views about the nature and purpose of magic.

This review makes it sound like a rather dull account of maneuverings and vyings for power between two shopkeepers. And it is that—but it could just as easily be told as a grand fairytale, which it is, or a comedy of manners, which it is, or a novel about the nature of “Englishness” in the face of Napoleonic forces or even just a story about the love of books. It is all of that.

I've already been babbling about the things I love in this book, so I don't have much to add here. It is a massive tome of a book, incredibly well-planned and detailed. I love the footnotes and the alternate history of England, the mirror roads and the malicious faery.

Minor qualification of my enjoyment of the ending: it seemed a little rushed. The world-building and the action build up so slowly and completely, and then all of a sudden (650 pages in) you are whizzing along at the pace of a thriller catching the bad guy. It doesn't detract from the world at all, but still. I can just see an editor saying to Susanna Clarke “Wait, you are at how many pages?”

Female author, fiction, 2004, 782 pages

Feb 19, 2011, 10:42pm

20. Face of a Stranger, Anne Perry

I always forget how much I like Anne Perry's books... in retrospect they seem a bit formulaic, but while I'm reading they are completely and intensely enjoyable. Although I've read a few of the later books in the Monk series, I'd not read this first one (nor the two subsequent ones that were included in the Kindle package). Really, really quite good.

William Monk wakes up with no memory after a horrible carriage accident. He has no memory of the case he had been investigating, --the murder of a Lord's son--although it seems many people are depending on him to figure out what happened. Complicating this already difficult task is the fact that most of his fellow officers seem to either fear or hate him, with good reason...

Female author, fiction, 1991, 352 pgs

Feb 24, 2011, 10:07am

I felt exactly the same about Strange and Norrell! I loved the meandering storytelling, the footnotes, the complex world, the slow build of the story - then I felt like the bottom dropped out of it a little at the end. Like some of that build failed to pay off properly.

I read it awhile ago, but if you want to read my review, that's what I thought on finishing!

Feb 24, 2011, 11:20pm

21. A Dangerous Mourning, Anne Perry

Second in the Anne Perry's William Monk series--Monk is investigating the dramatic and theatrical death of a young society widow, who appears to have been stabbed in her bedroom by a surprised thief. Hester Latterly, recently returned from the Crimea and wholly unsatisfied with the low regard for nurses in Britain, manages to get a private nursing post inside the affected home and investigates on the inside as Monk does outside. The family is demanding a quick solution--and also a solution that proves it to be a random crime, perpetrated by someone in the criminal classes. Definitely not someone from inside the house.

I'm taking a course in Victorian literature right now--I'm not sure if I'd ever read The Charge of the Light Brigade before this week--and it seems that it was just in time. This book is all, and I do mean all, about that.

Overall impression: good, I didn't figure it out until the end (not unusual with her books, there is always more info provided in the denouement that you couldn't possibly have known.) I like how she is dealing with Monk's amnesia- his inability to remember his dealings with others, his necessity to rely on social cues to manage situations in which he should be comfortable- as well as Hester's misplaced (literally) independence. I've read at least one of the later books in this series, so of course I know where the relationship is going-- but three books in and neither of the main characters do yet. I like it- it provides a bit of character-building before the conflagration, which is, in my opinion, harder to do than write the fire.

Female author, fiction, 1992, 352 pgs

Feb 28, 2011, 9:13am

22. Possession, A. S. Byatt

This is at least the fifth time I've read this novel, and every time I kind of just want to flip back to the front to re-read it. The first time through I focused on plot--who is it, how does it happen, what happens next (although so much happens that that effort has spilled over into subsequent readings); the next time through I noticed the word plays- after finishing it I sat down and listed three pages worth of ways Byatt plays with the word "Possession." (Lots of 'em. From the obvious Spiritualist sense, to a romantic sense, to an acquisitory sense, and then within each of those categories multiple variations--possession of a society by an idea (Darwin for the Victorians, Freud for us)... and so on.) This time through I focused on the letters and stories that intersperse the "real" plot.

Wow. Just, wow.

I think I'd barely skimmed them the first few times I read the novel, anxious for advancement in whatever plot line I was most interested at the time. It's amazing, and such an accurate device to use to let us (the reader, the modern researchers in the story) actually hear the voices of the Victorian academics that they are researching. So good. This book gets better every time I read it--I picked it up this time after finishing a chapter in The Madwoman in the Attic, by Gilbert and Gubar which talked quite a bit about glass castles and keys and dual perceptions of female nature... made the interchapter fairy tales so much more interesting, and made me actually try to listen to what Byatt was saying about the development of the characters.

I'm babbling. But this is truly the best book. Might be my favorite. ever. of all the books in the beautiful world. And that's huge.

Female author, fiction, 1990, 576 pgs
*Possession won the Booker Prize in 1990.

Edited: Feb 28, 2011, 9:32am

23. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Not the first time I've read this, and definitely no surprises in store, (for which I thank my undying love of BBC) but, as always, enjoyable.

I'm knee-deep in Victoriana right now--Victorian literature class, I was reading/listening to Possession at the same time as this, I've been on a furtive Anne Perry kick... basically, the gas-light is where it's at, baby.

I was most impressed this time through by Watson's descriptions--of the atmosphere, of the various rooms they are in, of the people and the social cues they give. I'm sure this isn't a new observation, but for all of his being derided by Holmes as not particularly bright, Watson could paint a scene like nobody's business. (Aren't I eloquent this morning. Lord.)

My favorite story in this book is A Scandal in Bohemia, my least favorite is The Adventure of the Speckled Band (the first solely on Irene Adler, whom I love from the series of books that re-figure her as a protagonist by Carolyn Nelson Douglas), the second because I was scared to my very bones by a BBC movie of The Speckled Band when I was a munchkin.)

*If you like the Victorian mystery genre, and aren't familiar with Carolyn Nelson Douglas's series, do yourself a favor and get them. Her website makes her look scary-crazy, and some of her other books are truly abysmal, but the Irene Adler series (at least the first five, I don't think I've read beyond that) are near-perfect. Really.

Male author, fiction, 1892, 272 pgs

Feb 28, 2011, 9:43am

24. Defend and Betray, Anne Perry

And this is where my Anne Perry marathon stopped. I know the Victorians weren't actually as proper as they intended to be, I'm aware of the unseemly underbelly, of The Other Victorians. But still. Not just this one book, nothing horrific--well, child prostitution is horrific indeed, but she's not explicit or anything, it's very Victorian, very white-faced shock and horror and implications. But. I feel like the author is going for the gasp perhaps a bit too obviously.

I've noticed her propensity to highlight what we consider "modern" problems in the Victorian era (which I'm sure aren't actually modern, just a bit more submerged back then) but honestly, every crime can't come back to some upper echelon depravity.

Still, they are well-written, (apparently today I'm reviewing the entirety of Anne Perry, which is horribly unfair since I've read about six of them...), I truly like her characters in both of the main series (Monk and Pitt) and I think her evocation of the Victorian world is quite good. Clearly, I'm conflicted. This particular book, Defend and Betray, was well written, I had suspicions but no real information... I think had I read this alone, not directly after the first two books of the series (this is the third) I would not have noticed that all of the villains are upper class. And I'd have enjoyed it a bit more.

Female author, fiction, 1993, 448 pgs

Edited: Apr 2, 2011, 4:42pm

March 2011
25. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
26. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
27. Beauty, Robin McKinley
28. The African Queen, C. S. Forester
29. Old Lady Mary, Margaret Oliphant
30. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
31. The Ladies of Grace Adieu, Susanna Clarke
32. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewyck
33. March, Geraldine Brooks
34. The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber
35. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
36. Henry VI (2), William Shakespeare

Books Completed: 12

Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 1:49am

Oh, I *adore* Possession too! Brilliant, brilliant book.

And I've been getting Carole Nelson Douglas's Irene Adler series muddled with Laurie King's Mary Russell series! D'oh! I've got the first of the Mary Russell, I shall keep my eyes open for the Irene Adler. (And I've also just got a copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which I was hoping to read this month...)

Mar 7, 2011, 11:57am

25. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness is the second text we're using for my literary theory class (the first was Oedipus the King), the class collectively reads one text to which we can then apply the various theories we are studying. Oedipus worked well for the studying the history of theory (what did/would have Matthew Arnold have said about Oedipus, how 'bout Claude Levi-Strauss... and so on.) Now we're getting into the all of the posts: post-structuralism, post culturalism, feminist (yay!), and for those we are looking at Heart of Darkness.

I've never read it before. I've never seen Apocalypse, Now, though that is now on my short list. I didn't, actually, expect to like it- it seems like such a guy-book (not to argue intrinsic gender stuff or anything) but all might and main and conquer and defeat... not qualities terribly high on my list. Well, it contains all of those things- it is about conquering Africa, but it is aware of the complications, of the moral failings of the conquerors, the frailty of the structure that governs English gentility.

I'll be reading and re-reading this until April as we look at various modern literary theories through this book, so I expect I'll have more to say later. But for now: nothing like really enjoying a book you've been avoiding for years.

Male author, fiction, 1899, 160 pgs

Mar 7, 2011, 12:15pm

26. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

(This is my copy, but it was hard to read- the text continues too far into the binding. I ended up on Kindle.)

I've not read this before- but since I'm writing about manifestations of gendered specters in Victorian literature (my Victorian ghosties project) this seemed like a good possibility for an end-cap to the paper. (It'd be the focus, but it's a tad too late- the academic panel that this paper is a part of is focused primarily on the mid Victorians.)

Oh. holy. mother. Loved it. Dark and disturbing--after those few final words in the last chapter I kept looking for the next installment. Nope. That's really how it ends.

Really enjoyed it, and really want to read all the criticism about it. I'm not precisely sure I know what happened or who is crazy or if it is all just straight up ghost-story. Regardless of my confusion, so very good.

(And boy is Maybe This Time closely related. I really want to take the rest of the day and re-read that, but I don't think I'm allowed. The Victorian ghosties project is calling my name.)

Male author, fiction, 1898, 96 pgs

Edited: Mar 26, 2011, 10:29pm

27. Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, Robin McKinley

Ok, a reread, but it's been nearly a decade since I've last read it. This has always been one of my favorite YA titles (along with The Ordinary Princess) (ok, and anything by Madeline L'Engle) (oh, and all of Susan Cooper's books)... anyway, Beauty is in august company.

It is exactly what the subtitle indicates, and shares many elements with the Disney version. The themes of the book seemed a little problematic this time (the last time I read it was long before my gender studies immersion)... I'm actually trying not to analyze it too closely...
(more later, responsibilities beckon)

Two weeks later, possibly no great insights to be conveyed, but I can, at least, conclude.

I loved, and remember loving from previous reads, the library--that enormous room filled with books not just from Beauty's time but from the future as well. I loved that she became beautiful (and tall) when she was thinking about something else, that the book prioritizes internal beauty, that the family bonds are so strong.

And yet. I say the book prioritizes internal beauty, but it only prioritizes internal beauty as it relates to men- and men aren't, traditionally, supposed to be beautiful. It is still terribly important when Beauty is revealed to have blossomed into a beautiful young woman.

Reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

I say I appreciate the family bonds, but the fact is that Beauty sacrifices herself for the good of the family, or more specifically, the good of the patriarch.

Again, reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

The beast in this book isn't violent, there is no hint or fear of rage (which is implied in the Disney version--remember that part where he crashes the table? Yikes!) but in highlighting the masculine/animal nature (I'm not saying the two are the same, or that animal nature--or the natural, should be repressed... but in matching the animal nature so overtly with the masculine, it seems that there are always implications of rape in this story. Perhaps not particularly this iteration of the story, and it is unfair to blame Robin McKinley for the plot points of a much older tale, but the subtext is there, and is the locus of much of the unstated and subliminated terror of the story.) and allowing the young girl to rehumanize him, that seems to rouse all sorts of evil specters of reforming the violent partner, reforming the bad boy, reforming--recreating--the actual person before you into what you want them to be.

Female author, fiction, 1978, 256 pgs

Mar 12, 2011, 8:22pm

Have you read her more recent retelling, which may well address those themes, Rose Daughter?

Mar 13, 2011, 11:58am

No, I haven't. One of my friends read it and disliked it, but then, we've differed before on book opinions. Recommended?

Edited: Mar 13, 2011, 5:50pm

I love them both, but Rose Daughter definitely re-examines some of those assumptions in the story that are most traditional and therefore what you labeled "problematic" above. If you are recognizing that, then I'd definitely recommend giving Rose Daughter a try.

ETA let me know if and when--I've reread neither for quite a while and would love to do a reread with you.

Mar 13, 2011, 10:14pm

Oh yes, I read Beauty some years ago and really enjoyed it. I have her Spindle's End on the shelves, which I really must get to someday sooner rather than later.

Edited: Mar 15, 2011, 11:57pm

28. The African Queen, C. S. Forester

I got this book for my boyfriend several months ago to accompany a new copy of the movie, which we both love. I read the first few pages (of course) before I gave it to him, and was hooked. As soon as I came across it in a used bookstore, I bought myself a copy.

First of all, to get it out of my system: Rose Sayer, the character played by Katherine Hepburn in the movie, is (wait for it, wait for it...) thirty-three. (!) And "approaching middle age." I'm not quite there yet, but I'm close enough to be shocked that she's supposed to be a dried-up maiden aunt. (I guess the point of the book is that she's not... but still, the beginning assumption was a bit, er, troubling.)

Honestly, as much as I liked Rose at the beginning, this isn't my kind of book. Forester kind of tells us everything we need to know about Rose and Allnut- rather than seeing Allnut clinging to Rose we are told that "Allnut clung to Rose as he would have his mother" or something equivalent. It didn't seem like all that fine of a piece of writing.

I did like the story, though. It's quite different from the movie, darker, less sure of itself. I finished it, enjoyed it, but not particularly dying to immerse myself in the Hornblower saga.

I'm dying to do a comparison read of Heart of Darkness, The African Queen, and The Poisonwood Bible. I think it'd be fascinating to trace a.) the reasons English/Americans plunk themselves down in Africa through successive generations' eyes: 1902, 1935, 1998 (there should be another one between the '35 and the '98)... but no time now, or in the foreseeable future. Someday. Maybe.

Male author, fiction, 1935, 246 pgs

Edited: Mar 16, 2011, 12:44am

29. Old Lady Mary, Margaret Oliphant

As I've mentioned above, I'm completely enmeshed in a Victorian Ghost project- I'm looking at gendered portrayals of specters in the 19th century: I'm theorizing that there are two types of female specters in Victorian lit, those that seek a reinsertion into the family circle (the benevolent ghosts who tell you where the jewels are hidden and protect the family) and those that seek a renegotiation of their lived experience (the malevolent ghosts.) (I can't find malevolent ghosts. None of them seem all that scary. Therefore my project as initially imagined is a bit stalled right now. Anyone with suggestions for scary ghosts in Victorian lit, let me know.)

Anyway, this reading was for that project. So good- seriously, not good for Victorian lit, just plain good. And the full-text is available online, which is even better!

Old Lady Mary is a benevolent but negligent old lady who capriciously makes a will but hides it from her lawyer who has been pushing her a bit too emphatically to make one. Of course, she dies before she pulls off her grand joke, leaving her companion/niece penniless and homeless. The interesting part of the story is that it follows Lady Mary after death: she observes the signing of her death certificate, she wakes up in a purgatory-type place where a group of people, whom she later realizes is dead, is mourning their thoughtless or evil actions in life. Mary gets permission to return to her home to try to set things right, but is, of course, unable to make herself known to anyone. (If you've seen Dead Like Me you get the idea, only played for melodrama, not laughs Actually, I'm thinking of Ghost. Yes, I'm very classy.)

Old Lady Mary is really the one left homeless as she wanders around the neighborhood, sitting unperceived with old friends, trying to make her niece understand, standing over bedsides to attempt dream messages. Really an interesting take on the ghost- an intruder in her own home, and sympathetic! The dead, before she returns to earth, even warns her of this- that no ghost, regardless of how loved they were, is greeted with joy. Rather they cause terror and the home they loved becomes avoided because of the haunting.

Love it. And once again, after a week of tremendous stress because I couldn't get a grasp on this project, I'm loving what I do.

Female author, fiction, 1884, 134 pgs

Edited: Mar 16, 2011, 1:53am

Oh, that does sound like a great story! I don't read much Victorian lit, so can't help with ghost stories there (although I can think of at least one Victorian pastiche, but I doubt you want that :).

I did try a tagmash, but it took too long, maybe you'll have better luck:


ETA, ahah this works better: http://www.librarything.com/tag/Victorian,+ghosts

But you'll need to filter out the pastiches and other books that don't fit your thesis.

Edited: Mar 16, 2011, 8:22am

ah geez The African Queen is a BOOK! Written by the Hornblower guy? I absolutely love that cover... ok I'm off to my local used bookshops in hunt of a copy.

and not to pick nits with your timeline but wasn't Heart of Darkness set in the 1890's, The African Queen in 1914 at the beginning of WW I, and The Poisonwood Bible in 1959? Or am I not understanding your viewpoint?

Mar 16, 2011, 9:13am

kcs- exactly right about their settings- I was (rather confusedly) talking about their dates of publication, as I thinking of looking at what author was doing with their respective treatments of Africa. But now I'm thinking something cool could be done with the timeline you mention as well. Books are so much fun.

And isn't that cover amazing? I kind of want a poster....

wookie- thanks so much for the tag help- until I was actually writing the review for that book I didn't think about using librarything as a resource. My brain is made of swiss cheese. :)

Mar 16, 2011, 12:32pm

is that a hardback cover with the artwork on the cover (instead of a dustjacket)? I'm sure there's a name for that type of cover... regardless I love those kinds of book covers. It seems like you mostly find them on the older kids books (like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew).

Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 11:25am

I found the book image here; my copy is the more common movie tie-in edition.

Mar 18, 2011, 12:45pm

30. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

Since my late January reading of Jane Eyre, and my subsequent immersion in critical articles about that text and the genre, I've been dying for a re-read of Rebecca.

First of all, my little disclaimer—there are a number of problematic elements: (suggested) lesbianism is framed as malignant, mental disability is exploited, female sexuality or polyamory or whatever is the greatest threat. Oh, and uterine cancer might just be catching. Watch out!


I love this book. Just as I can boil with rage at Rochester's rather blatant manipulation of Jane's emotions and still enjoy that they end up together in the qualified utopia of Fernwood, even so- I can sympathize with Rebecca and still enjoy that they get their relative peace, hotel-hopping on the continent, rather than the ending that the second Mrs. De Winter feared. The second Mrs. de Winter is just so frantic and clinging, so easy to identify with her plain, flat hair, droopy skirt and clomping shoes, that I'm terribly glad that she gets her moments of happiness in impersonal hotel rooms in too-strong sun.

Female author, fiction, 1938, 376 pgs

Mar 18, 2011, 1:52pm

>97 SouthernBluestocking:: De-lurking to say hello and to thank you for making me chuckle with with last sentence of your Rebecca review. I am due for a re-read soon. I've also got Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel but have read neither. Maybe this year....

Mar 18, 2011, 2:30pm

Hello to you too. :) Glad you got a chuckle.

I love both of those du Maurier's- Look for The Flight of the Falcon too- it's not one of her most famous, and it is set in this little town in Italy, so kind of a departure from the setting of her more well-known novels, but it's one of my favorites. Dark and terrifying deeds in the middle of sun-dappled piazzas. What could be better?

Mar 18, 2011, 5:47pm

Ooh, that does sound good. I love Italy. Thanks for the suggestion!

Edited: Mar 26, 2011, 10:12pm

31. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, Susanna Clarke

I've put off writing the review of this book for more than a week, hoping to collect my thoughts and come to a conclusion. But alas....

Truth be told, I didn't love this book. Of course, I was listening to it on CD, a medium which occasionally adds to the text and sometimes completely destroys it (a book like this I would usually read in one or two sittings; strung out over a week or more of school-commutes, I often forgot what, exactly, was happening. My mediocre response is likely my fault, not the book's.

I feel I've missed something in the book- Wikipedia, that lovely resource for widespread, if unsubstantiated, bits of information, says that this book is the retelling of the masculine side of English Magic told in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell from a female point of view. And that one sentence opened up vast arenas of thought. Of course, I didn't check out wiki until I was done with the book and had returned the set of CDs to the library. Alas, alack and well-a-day.

Anyway- in light of that whole feminist rewriting thing, some belated impressions:

So many of the stories have to do with needlework (if you haven't read Virginia Woolf's scathing remarks on needlework, you should. A Room of One's Own, towards the end. Good stuff. For those of you who don't have that particular book close to hand, she makes needlework a metonymy for all of the insubstantial things with which society women occupy their time. Florence Nightingale makes similar connections in Cassandra about the round of daily social calls... but that's neither here nor there.)

Anyway. Needlework, generally construed as the unnecessary diversion of spoiled and bored women (we're talking about embroidery, not homespun, here) is recast in this book to represent all sorts of feminine power. The Lady of Shalott is obliquely referenced, the Greek fates (knitting, spinning, clipping) show up, the princess who hires Rumpelstiltskin appears. And all of them are powerful, designing and redesigning their worlds in ways that the men are unable to either understand or alter.

The story that has stuck with me the most is Mab, a story about a country girl who comes home from a visit to find the affections of her gallant have been diverted by the mysterious and ever so elegant Lady Mab. Of course, Mercutio had her number long ago, there are supernatural elements afoot.

And the story about Bess of Hardwick, whom we just finished studying in my Shakespeare and gender class, was lots of fun. Probably mostly because of the connection with what I'd been studying previously, but fun nonetheless.

There are times that I was utterly bored out of my skull by Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but ultimately I loved the book and will read it again. I feel the same about this book. There were stories that, in my humble opinion, were rather excruciatingly long and dull *ahem, Tom Brightwind* but all in all, there are more stories that are still haunting me than I expected.

Good stuff. Maybe don't get the audio book though. This one is better suited for a marathon reading on a lazy weekend.

Female author, fiction, 2006, 224 pgs

Edited: Mar 21, 2011, 8:51am

32. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka

"Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blond Ukrainian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade..."

So begins the story. Vera and Nadezhda, the adult daughters of said lovelorn father, are horrified at the tawdry intruder and bridge their two-year estrangement to bond over her mistreatment of their father.

(This review is not coming together and will likely be revised tomorrow. Ms. Cabernet Sauvignon is finding it difficult to collect her thoughts.) And take two:

The events are told from the perspective of the younger daughter, Nadezhda, but it isn't the present--the sometimes comic and sometimes violent actions of Valentina--that are the focus of most of the story. Nadezhda starts asking questions and listening to the silences as well as the answers and finds that she knows very little about her own family emigration from the Ukraine.

I loved where all of Nadezhda's questioning ended up: no one was heroic, but they survived. That just seems so utterly and fundamentally human, so absolutely real in a way that a complete triumph of the human spirit, a heroic and brave mythos, doesn't quite encompass.

Female author, fiction, 2005, 304 pgs

Mar 21, 2011, 12:46am

Ms. Cabernet Sauvignon is finding it difficult to collect her thoughts

*laugh* Don't drink and review! :)

I rather liked A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian too, it tickled my funny bone while being quite a serious book at the same time. Looking forward to what you thought of The Ladies of Grace Adieu, I've got my eye open for that one after enjoying Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Mar 26, 2011, 9:38pm

33. March, Geraldine Brooks

I listened to this on CD in my car, and I kept finding myself driving slower and slower, sitting in my car after I arrived at my destination, lingering just a bit more, the rest of the chapter, just to find out a bit more.

I used to do that when I was a child, as most of us bookworms did--one more chapter, to the end of this part of the book, just a few more pages, mom... and then the furtive reading at the night light and the red-rimmed eyes and fragile emotions at school the next day. Surely I wasn't the only one.

I remember the first time I read Little Women: the family was driving up to Kentucky for the holidays, and contrary to the customary (and legally sanctioned) seatbelt/back seat arrangement, for some reason I was allowed to make a pallet in the back of the station wagon. I read the whole way there: Christmas Pilgrim's Progress, Meg's hot flush of shame at the party, Jo's penny dreadfuls, Beth's kittens. I never really thought about Mr. March- he was just away, as Marmee was always busy, allowing the four girls to operate somewhat independently, as is necessary in the best adolescent literature.

This is a roundabout way to convey the love that I have for Louisa May Alcott's world--I re-read the first few last year, I've wandered all over Orchard House in Concord, I have a well-worn t-shirt that proclaims "Little Women Grow Up to be Great Women." I love those books.

And I love this book. It is completely different- disillusioned and depressing and heartbreaking. I'm a southerner, and honestly, I get positively exhausted by all of the Civil War stuff... but Brooks conveyed the horrors of slavery with a deft, but extraordinarily cutting, touch. Slavery is seen in the novel, primarily, as it effects one woman, a woman of mixed parentage who is a slave on the estate of her natural father. Mr. March encounters her when he is an idealistic and impassioned youth, long before meeting Marmee, and then again, more than two decades later, as he is serving as chaplain in the Union Army. Her name is Grace, and she is haunting.

Marmee is haunting too--in Little Women she is so angelic as to be stereotypical. The first half of March is all from Mr. March's perspective as he is in war. (Ms. Brooks complicates the ideas of 'just war' even in this so revered of a cause. She actually does an amazing job of presenting the moral costs of slavery... and of embarking on a violent course to end slavery.) March refers constantly to Marmee, who seems to be as much lodestone as companion, and whose strong nature (drawing on that explosion of Jo's in which Marmee says 'your father has helped me with my nature...' or something like that) and violent feelings about abolition compel some ill-advised alliances for Mr. Marsh. But all, you think, is well and good, as Mr. Marsh has lost the family fortune for the cause, has personally gone to war, has done what he can.

The portrayal of Marmee's side of the story, half-way through the book, is kind of an electric shock. Such vast deeps of miscommunication and incorrect assumptions and living up to what each thinks the other expects and what society expects.

I've said too much, and I'm not trying to give any spoilers. Suffice to say: this was a wonderful, wonderful book. It's complicated and disturbing and has completely shifted my view of this one portion of a well-beloved story.

Female author, fiction, 2006, 304 pgs
*Pulitzer winner, 2006

Edited: Mar 27, 2011, 12:53am

How marvelous to read such a wonderful review of a book that delighted me. Especially since I had just read another somewhere on LT criticizing it for daring to cast shadows on the beloved parents of Little Women. I read March a couple of years ago and I had to stop and think why I found this accusation of blasphemy so odd: surely no one could have cherished "Little Women" as much as I did. I memorized whole sections of it; for years I've lived ten minutes away from Orchard House. (Still, on rainy days when I walk or drive through Concord Center, I think of despondent Jo running into Professor Baer there and his walking her home under the big umbrella.)

March is essentially a book about war and slavery. The gentle stories of the women waiting at home give way to the horrors of the battlefield and serious moral dilemmas, all excellently written. Mr. March and Marmee are not the perfect people depicted in the original which, after all, is not about them. This story is powerful and thought provoking and shouldn't be missed.

Mar 27, 2011, 8:53am

amazing review of March; makes me want to run out and purchase a copy... not withstanding that I have copies of Brooks' People of the Book and Year of Wonders sitting unread on my TBR shelf.

Mar 27, 2011, 9:23am

Thanks for the great review of March and for reminding me how much I enjoyed this book!

Mar 27, 2011, 10:09am

I read People of the Book a few weeks ago. I thought it a bit soap-opera-ish.

Mar 27, 2011, 12:36pm

iansales- have you read any other of her books? I didn't get that impression from the March, so wondering if it was that book in particular that you didn't enjoy or Brooks' writing in general. So far I've liked all that I've read of hers...well, I found Nine Parts of Desire slightly problematic, but that was just because of the 'white woman criticizing brown women' dynamic (not my words- criticism of 2nd wave fem.)

Narratorlady- the umbrella scene- one of my favorites! And oddly, March reminded me of The English Patient in its descriptions of the desolation of war.

seekingflight-glad you enjoyed, and kcs- how will you ever choose which one to read first?

Mar 27, 2011, 5:43pm

No, I've only read People of the Book. She's not my usual choice of reading material - the book was lent to me by my mother.

Mar 28, 2011, 12:24am

I really enjoyed Year of Wonders, although I think it's quite soap-operaish. :) I'm yet to read People of the Book, although I have heard it's flawed (but it still sounds interesting). And I read March some time ago, and liked it well enough, but not as much as other people seem to have. Not sure why, probably one of those failed-to-live-up-to-the-hype instances. Oh well.

Mar 28, 2011, 3:16am

34. The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber

Exactly what I wanted to read right now: I just finished a paper/conference presentation on the Victorian 'fallen woman', still fascinated by the subject but a bit exhausted by 19th century writing. Faber's book may be the size of some of the triple deckers of twelve or thirteen decades ago, but the voice is pure post-modernity. I particularly loved the narrator, who is nameless and characterless, but who guides the action by 'introducing you (the reader) to the right people'.

Of course, the 'right' people is all relative. Sugar was fascinating. I need to re-read this to trace the adjustments and tiny changes in her behavior and thoughts in her progression from what she was to what she ends up as. Ok, spoilers aside. What she was is a prostitute. What she ends up as... well, I'm not going that far. Read it yourself.

Even more than Sugar, who is the central figure in this sprawling novel, I was intrigued by Agnes: the verging-on-mad wife of a rich man. Actually, was intrigued by most of the characters in this book- I read it in two long gulps within a day and a half... and I really wish it were just a bit longer.

Male author, fiction, 2003, 944 pgs

Mar 28, 2011, 10:45am

>112 SouthernBluestocking: - I have this one on the TBR shelves. It's one of those I-know-it-will-be-good-so-I-want-to-save-it books for me. But then what if the right time never comes along and I never get to it? Will put it on my Read NOW list!

Edited: Mar 29, 2011, 10:47pm

35. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

To continue with my Victorian focus... I've read this before, seen a few movie versions, no surprises in store. What I found interesting this time (and what'll I'll inevitably talk about in upcoming assignments) was the unaccountable bias based on Hyde's appearance--and how closely it was linked to his "difference": he is called "deformed," a "dwarf," the so-called good guys want to kill him on sight. Kind of calling out to be examined in a disability theory kind of way.

Also, probably just because I'm in the middle of the semester and doing a lot of close readings, but the description of the potion (white salt and blood-red liquid) seemed incredibly portentous--almost magical.

I was also fascinated by the fact that Hyde is so small--I'm remembering The League of Extraordinary Gentleman movie, in which, if I recall correctly, Hyde was more like a Hulk manifestation--huge and unconstrained. A completely different view of (if you read Hyde as a manifestation of evil) of evil.

We did a little deconstruction theory on this in class today- the good-guy narrators are so (too?) invested in the discovery of the mystery... Utterson, in particular, is at times horrified at Hyde, concerned that he could be similarly blackmailed, ready to blackmail Hyde, daydreaming about waking up to Hyde (lots of elements to discuss in that. Not to argue that the human condition is predisposed to pairing and those not so twinned are somehow abnormal. But. None of these guys are in a relationship. Lots of homosocial indicators, if nothing more overt.)

None of this is new, obviously. The sexuality, and disability theory, and probably every other theory has been used to pick this particular book apart a million times. Nonetheless, we struggle on, in hopes that something original, some magic turn of the kaleidescope will show some unknown aspect in a different light. (And then we can write about it, and not feel as if we are regurgitating tired material.)

And all of that is about personal fears of the academy and my place therein, not the book. Enjoyed it immensely, not a long read, but quite rich in the spaces that it leaves the reader to imagine.

Male author, fiction, 1886, 64 pgs

Mar 30, 2011, 12:26am

36. The Second Part of Henry VI, William Shakespeare

Henry VI (2) was assigned in my Shakespeare and gender class; I understand and applaud my professor's choice of text- Queen Margaret and Eleanor Cobham are incredibly interesting characters, strong and ambitious. Enjoyed that part, especially as I just completed a nice chunk of research on Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby, whose connection with and punishment for witchcraft under Elizabeth is usually cited as the inspiration of Eleanor's actions in the play.

Anyway- fun gender stuff aside, oh-holy-mother was this difficult. I had the BBC movie and was following along with the full text version while I watched, only possible way I could keep people straight. And while I (at this moment, for a very short period of time) have the characters straight in this play, I really have no idea how they fit into the larger scheme of the teratology. The only other play in this cycle that I'm familiar with is Richard III, and that rather glancingly.

Glad I read it (for class, so not truly for personal enrichment), glad I finished it, really wish my history of this period was a bit more solid.

On a completely random side note: I was convinced The Crimson Petal and the White, which I read over the weekend, was about this time period- well, about the War of the Roses. A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Male author, drama, 1591,182 pgs

Edited: May 12, 2011, 9:14am

April 2011
37. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
38. Highgate Rise, Anne Perry
39. The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
40. Villette, Charlotte Bronte
41. Bliss, O. Z. Livaneli
42. Macbeth, William Shakespeare
43. A Room with a View, E. M. Forster
44. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
45. On Beauty, Zadie Smith

Reviews to be completed as time allows. Probably after the end of the semester.

Edited: Apr 1, 2011, 11:24am

37. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

Halfway through the book, the Vicar describes Cassandra Mortmain--self-described 'plain foil' to her older sister's pink-rose prettiness and young step-mother's exotic near-albinism--as "the insidious type: Jane Eyre with a touch of Becky Sharp." An incredibly apt description, as is Cassandra's earlier noting of the similarity of her family to the Bennets.

The Mortmains are all a rather bookish, artistic lot; regardless/because of their utter penury, they live in an ancient, decrepit castle, at times glorious in the moonlight, at times falling down around their heads.

They haven't paid rent for years, and so are somewhat distraught when the two young inheritors of the property come to call and mention their intention to reopen and live in their uncle's house, a large mansion some miles away. Two daughters, two new rich neighbors... but this isn't really just a romance.

Cassandra grows up (didn't that just kill your interest? I usually find any sort of coming-of-age novel to be dreadfully dull. This isn't that, she does grow up, but the novel isn't about that, precisely, either.) And the Americans inherit a good bit of the English country-side, layers upon layers of meaning there; and Mrs. Cotton, the inheritors' mother, collects and cultivates 'men of genius' (she reminded me a bit of Cropper in Possession--that slightly avaricious impulse to fix, to own, art. Only Mrs. Cotton is not nearly as vile as Cropper.) Quite a lot in the book about the meaning and function of art--the impossibility of recreating a scene or an emotion fully in words, the inaccessibility of beauty, the striving.... And class consciousness. And the function of religion and God in a post-religion world. And of beautiful old churches. (There is one scene, in which the atheist/agnostic Cassandra is trying to find comfort that precisely invoked Philip Larkin's "Church Going," a poem written some six years after this was published.)

For all of those deep caverns of textual significance, you'd think that this would be an incredibly complex book--it isn't. It zips along quite speedily, doesn't get bogged down in metaphysical meanderings or philosophical rants. It is only now, as I pause to summarize what the book was about, that I realize how much it really was about.

Quite a good book.

Female author, fiction, 1948, 343

Apr 2, 2011, 5:47am

I read I Capture the Castle a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed it. Loved the opening scene, with Cassandra writing while sitting in the kitchen sink. :)

Apr 2, 2011, 11:18pm

I think I love Charlotte Bronte's characters because they are so freaking hard on themselves... I'm halfway through my second of her books (read Jane Eyre in January, reading Villette now), and from Jane's harsh comparisons of her visage to Blanche Ingram's, and Lucy's stern self-castigation after leaving the Bretton household, they seem to beat themselves up one side and down the other. I love the way they talk to themselves... because, don't we all do that? It might not, perhaps, be the best thing for our vaunted egos, but it is, nonetheless, a rather common action. (I love also that it seems their self-castigation is truly rooted in a desire not to appear to be above themselves. Essentially, they are mortifying their ego so as not... to be publicly mortified. Interesting twist on the meekness.)

Apr 3, 2011, 8:56am

I always got the sense that Bronte's heroines' talking to themselves negatively was to try to convince themselves to accept society's judgment of their worth. Jane, for instance, tells herself all the time that Rochester is above her, that there is no way anyone could want her in comparison to the lovely Blanche, but we know she doesn't believe it. Otherwise she wouldn't act the way she does. Or beat herself up quite so badly.

Edited: May 26, 2011, 9:51pm

May 2011
46. A Presumption of Death, Jill Paton Walsh
47. The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole
48. The Red Garden, Alice Hoffman
49. Russian Winter, Daphne Kalotay
50. Vathek, William Beckford
51. The Flight of the Falcon, Daphne du Maurier
52. Good Night, Mr. Holmes, Carole Nelson Douglas
53. Good Morning, Irene, Carole Nelson Douglas
54. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken
55. Irene's Last Waltz, Carole Nelson Douglas

May 26, 2011, 10:36pm

46. A Presumption of Death, Jill Paton Walsh

This novel is a continuation of Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey novels: during World War II Sayers published The Wimsey Papers a series of letters ostensibly between members of the Wimsey family detailing methods and mishaps in the growing of Victory gardens, courage in the face of danger, the impossibility of breaking the British spirit and other encouraging anecdotes. Jill Paton Walsh, who previously "finished" an unfinished work of Sayers, Thrones, Dominations, took these letters and fleshed them out into a mystery of mysterious airmen, fifth columnists, child evacuees and land girls. Harriet Vane has decamped to the country (to Talboys, of Busman's Honeymoon fame) with her two children and the three children of her sister-in-law... but all is not quiet in the bucolic countryside. A land girl, whose reputation precedes her as a burgeoning femme fatale, is murdered during an air raid practice. Peter is abroad with the Foreign Office and Harriet steps in to investigate.

One of the problems with waiting so long to review a book is that while I remember my reaction to the book, I'm not certain precisely why I felt that way. I was dissatisfied with the book, and decided not to pursue Ms. Walsh's contributions to the Sayers' canon beyond this offering. No idea why. In retrospect, I liked the view of the war years that she (with the help of Ms. Sayers' letters) provided, the characters (airmen, spies, land girls) were interesting... yet something didn't ring true. I believe it was something in the portrayal of the primary characters: Harriet and Peter. Couldn't tell you what, though. Helpful, aren't I. (Of course, I'm a bit fanatical about Dorothy Sayers' work. The book might be more enjoyable to someone not quite as familiar with the *ahem* "real" canon.)

Female author(s), fiction, 2002/1940, 384 pgs

May 26, 2011, 10:45pm

47. The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole

(Reviewed on my blog, Southern Bluestocking, here.)

Male author, fiction, 1764, 176 pgs

May 26, 2011, 11:01pm

48. The Red Garden, Alice Hoffman

I always enjoy Hoffman's works; Practical Magic remains one of my favorites. This latest of hers, a collection of interrelated but distinct short stories telling of a few family lines from settlement to present in a small town in rural Massachusetts, was no different. Each story tells of the defining moment in the lives of the characters involved before moving on to the story in the next generation. The familiar names change but the family names remain the same; the buildings and homes change but the city and the surroundings... and most of all, the red garden... continue.

Female author, fiction, 2011, 288 pgs

May 26, 2011, 11:11pm

49. Russian Winter, Daphne Kalotay

Reviewed on my blog, Southern Bluestocking, here.

Female author, fiction, 2010, 480 pgs

May 28, 2011, 4:27am

I am enjoying your reviews. Good stuff.

Sep 9, 2011, 10:52pm

I've gotten lazy and have just been posting on my blog. Sad, because I miss the conversations here. This is what I've read since the last post:

50. Vathek, William Beckford **
51. The Flight of the Falcon, Daphne du Maurier * my review
52. Good Night, Mr. Holmes, Carole Nelson Douglas a review
53. Good Morning, Irene, Carole Nelson Douglas a review
54. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken a review
55. Another Scandal in Bohemia, Carole Nelson Douglas
56. First Among Sequels, Jasper Fforde a review
57. A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle
58. By Nightfall, Michael Cunningham a review (by Jeanette Winterson, no less!)
59. Death without Tenure, Joanne Dobson
60. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, Jasper Fforde a review
61. Black Hearts in Battersea, Joan Aiken
62. Nightbirds on Nantucket, Joan Aiken
63. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
64. Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery
65. Anne of Avonlea, L. M. Montgomery
66. Anne of the Island, L. M. Montgomery
67. Anne’s House of Dreams, L. M. Montgomery
68. Rainbow Valley, L. M. Montgomery
69. Rilla of Ingleside, L. M. Montgomery
70. The Paris Wife: A Novel, Paula McLain
71. The Hours, Michael Cunningham
72. Fingersmith, Sarah Waters
73. The Swan Thief, Elizabeth Kostova

74. The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman a review and another
75. The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls a review
76. Carmilla, J. Sheridan LeFanu **
77. Twilight Stories, Rhoda Broughton **
78. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen ** my review

79. The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister

Reviews for some (not all, sadly) can be found here.

Sep 9, 2011, 11:05pm

Your link just takes us back to this thread.

I hope you enjoyed the Aikens, the Anne books, and the Ffordes, as well as the Douglas takes on Sherlock Holmes--they are all favorites of mine.

Sep 10, 2011, 12:31am

Looking forward to reading some of those reviews, but sadly, the link takes me to a blank page :(

Sep 11, 2011, 6:55pm

Awww, revisiting the Anne books! I do that every couple years, too. I loved them.

How was The Swan Thief? I've been wanting to read that.

Sep 11, 2011, 7:12pm

Some nice books on the list! Good to see you back here, too.

Edited: Sep 13, 2011, 11:49pm

Yikes! Sorry all- here's the proper link: Southern Bluestocking. Many apologies.

80. The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, Wendy McClure

McClure's book follows her increasingly fanatical research into Laura Ingalls Wilders Little House on the Prairie series. Not content with reading all of the books (and all of the many biographies on Laura Ingalls and her daughter, Rose) McClure journeys to each of LHOP locations--Plum Creek, the dugout, the cabin on the edge of the prairie--unsure of why, exactly, she's so intrigued.

While I'm not quite as familiar with the series as McClure seems to be (it's been ages since I last read them--though I have read them all several times), I still enjoyed my memories of the books that her journeys invoked. The things she learns and the people she meets along the way are fascinating--from the folks learning to can butter to prepare for the apocalypse, to the vehement critics of Rose Wilder's life.

Highly recommended for those, like myself, who absolutely lived in the books as a child.

81. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

One of the best books I've read this year... well, along with Fingersmith, The Paris Wife, and By Nightfall. See what I had to say here.

Edited: Sep 14, 2011, 2:26am

jfetting: The Swan Thieves was absolutely wonderful. I know a bit less about the world it was set in than her previous work (The Historian--I'm perhaps a bit too familiar with Dracula) but not being as familiar with the setting of the artistic community didn't really detract from the book. Reminded me a bit of Possession, and that's just about the highest praise I can give anything. Definitely read it.

It doesn't seem quite as drenched in research as The Historian, and I don't think it's quite as good (though some have preferred it), but still, a very strong second novel.

Sep 14, 2011, 3:01am

Oh, I did love Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child, I've got some of the books to read to my kids when they're a bit older. I hope they like them too!

Edited: Nov 24, 2011, 9:28am

82. A Very Long Engagement, Sebastien Japrisot
Manech died during the fighting at Bingo Crépuscule in January, 1917. His fiancée, Mathilde, is convinced that there is more to the story than the heartbreaking telegram revealed and begins piecing together the events of that tragic night.

Five French soldiers were condemned to death for the crime of self-mutilation. Although there are rumors that a pardon was granted, they were thrown over the trench into No-Man’s-Land, provoking a firestorm that allowed the French troops take the German trench. Mathilde learns each man’s incredibly detailed and fascinating history as she investigates the fate of her beloved.

Some years after the publication of the book, an extraordinarily good movie adaptation of was released. (It’s one of my favorites. Of all the movies in the big, wide, beautiful world.) Audrey Tautou is Mathilde, Gaspard Ulliel is Manech; Marion Cotillard and Jodie Foster play small but important roles. The book is good, yes, but if you haven’t seen the movie you should order it immediately. It’s that good. The book is more detailed, the stories are a bit more complete, but the filming of the battles in the movie is extraordinary. The wind-blown fields of wheat remained in my mind’s eye long after the screen went dark.

Edited: Nov 24, 2011, 9:29am

83. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
Jacob’s grandfather has always been odd—since Jacob was very small he has told unbelievable stories of his life after his childhood evacuation from Poland. His treasured snapshots are obviously the stuff of fantasy: the levitating girl must be wired to the ceiling, the child in the bottle is likely created through some sort of double-exposure, the strong girl’s boulder is probably made of foam. Like his parents, Jacob discounts the stories his grandfather tells—and his grandfather’s increasingly illogical terrors—until tragedy strikes. Jacob finds his grandfather in the woods, apparently mauled by wild dogs, panting out the last moments of his life. His dying words instruct him to find the bird in the loop, ravings which are forgotten as Jacob apparently inherits his grandfather’s madness, seeing monsters with mouths full of writhing tentacles in the darkness.

Jacob, with the help of his newly-acquired psychiatrist, convinces his parents to let him take his summer vacation on the remote Welsh island where his grandfather spent his first years outside of Poland. Hoping to figure out what his grandfather was raving about, or at least to exorcise some of his personal demons, he looks for the refugee home that his grandfather lived in but is disappointed to find it has long since been abandoned.

Then, amazingly, he finds the people for whom he has been searching. And they have been hiding from the monsters for much longer than anyone could have expected.

Lordy, this was a good read. The correlation between the encroaching Nazis, the bloodlines of the special children, and the searching monsters is slight, submerged, but extraordinarily powerful. The horror of the dying grandfather profoundly affected me, and the adolescent first person narrator just made all the horror more disturbing. Read it.

Sep 19, 2011, 9:42pm

I'm looking forward to your comments on Miss Peregrine, I've been eyeing that one off at the shops.

Edited: Sep 20, 2011, 12:16am

Here ya go, wookie, and anyone else interested: my thoughts on A Very Long Engagement and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Here's a spoiler--I loved both.)

Reviewed on my blog--it's easier that way--right here.

Sep 27, 2011, 9:04am

Added a few snippets of reviews: The Paris Wife, Fingersmith, and The School of Essential Ingredients. Read them here.

Edited: Nov 24, 2011, 9:41am

84. The Tenth Gift, Jane Johnson

Julia’s just been dumped–over an expensive lobster dinner and while wearing her favorite hand-embroidered shawl–by the man she’s been sleeping with for seven years, and who, for seven years, has been married to her best friend. As a parting shot, he gives her a gift: an antique book of embroidery patterns.

After days of crying herself nauseous, Julia reopens the book to find that the original owner—a maid named Catherine Tregenna who received the book in 1625–has used the margins of the book as a journal. As Julia deciphers the markings, she is drawn into the story of Turkish pirates in Cornwall, of dreams larger than circumstances, and most of all, of a life that isn’t quite what was expected.

Well, parts were interesting and well done, but the parts were better than the whole. I liked the idea of both halves of the story, I especially liked the Cornish setting (all of that research I’ve done on du Maurier’s Cornwall books) but all in all, I didn’t love the book. By the end, I kind of hated the book—but more on that in a bit. Catherine (the 17th century maid) gets kidnapped and nearly killed by pirates (Random Princess Bride moment: Murdered by pirates is good), and I kept expecting a reversal of that initial we-Christians-good/those-Muslims-bad divide. It never really happened. I think the author tried to move in that direction by showing that Islamic pirates were reacting to earlier Christian pirate raids (or something, the history is a little muddled) but it doesn’t quite work—the statement just isn’t strong enough. We are told about English cruelty—distanced from it by time and location– and shown, in vivid, first-person detail, the cruelty of the Moroccans; the effect is just not the same.

As to the framing narrative—Julia’s story in modern times: I just don’t get her. I’m kind of insanely uncomfortable with her long-standing affair with her college friend’s husband, and I’m not certain why I feel so absolutely and fundamentally appalled. Seriously, I was talking back at the CD (You mean you didn’t see this ending badly? Stupid cow. Jesus.) as the narrative was trying to draw me into some sort of sympathetic bond with this weeping woman. I kind of hated her. Clearly I’m far more personally invested in the cultural structures of monogamy than I’d known. Something about that we-women-stick-together (and don’t screw each other’s husbands, for-god’s-sake) mentality… or something. Aren’t our social mores fascinating? I wonder if the jealous woman/straying man trope would be so prevalent if women hadn’t so long been completely dependent on the little dears for economic stability. Perhaps the “crazy jealous woman” is actually a cultural leftover from the woman fearful of being left penniless. That’s probably a simplification of the issue on my part, but, as always, there’s always another angle of the she-so-crazy conversation. (I want that put on my tombstone. Local papers please copy.) Anyway—Julia is guilt-ridden about the betrayal of her friend throughout the entire novel, I got that, but I didn’t quite get why she had the affair in the first place. It is presented as kind of this moth/flame type thing, but left really unexamined.

I wasn’t completely satisfied with the character development for the first two-thirds of the book, but I was going with it, giving the author the benefit of the doubt and assuming that it was all going to come together: the idea behind the book, anyway, was interesting. And then the direction of the book became clear.

Fifty pages from the end, (after way too much investment to just throw the stupid thing against the wall and go back to Jane Austen) it turned into a bad mishmash of every harem Harlequin published in the 70′s. Seriously– cruel dark eyes, mysterious attraction and all. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against romance. In fact, I’m quite a fan of the real-life occurrence. Even as a genre, I’ll admit to an occasional indulgence. Ok, fine. Perhaps more than occasional. But this was published in 2008. There should be no place in modern dialogue for stereotypes like this. Seriously, the assumptions made about characters-met-while-abroad are about on par with turn-of-the-century empire and crown writings. Somebody send Ms. Johnson some Edward Said. Now, I’m not trying to make creative works subject to political correctness–had this actually been written at the turn of the century, then ok. We’d talk about how ideas of foreignness, of gender, of nation, of personal identity have changed over the last century, maybe give ourselves an unacknowledged pat on the back for our progress, and go on to examine what was going on in the era that it was written. But nope, published in 2008. This should have been informed by the last fifty years of progress, and wasn’t. Awful. Just freaking awful. Oh wait–and just in case you were bored with all of those cruel dark eyes, there’s a ghost. Who is introduced 15 pages from the end. Sheesh!

I’m not worried about spoiling the surprise, because you really don’t want to waste your time. I’m just glad I was listening to the audio book; at least my kitchen got cleaned.

And I still don’t know what the freaking tenth gift is. I think the ghost stole that part of the manuscript.

Nov 24, 2011, 9:26am

85. The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan
In case you’ve missed the recent conversation about this book, The Last Werewolf is the first person narrative of Jake Marlow, the last living werewolf. He is the target of several groups–humans who want to eliminate the supernatural, other supernatural groups who want to solidify their supremacy–all in all, he’s in for a rough time.

This book was published too recently for me to feel comfortable divulging much of the plot. Suffice to say: I enjoyed it. But lordy, it was graphic. I mean graphic. Lots of violence. And Jake is very aware, even after 200 some years as a werewolf, of the normative human values which he transgresses with every turning. (So lots of guilt, too.) Not only is there quite a lot of violence, but there is also quite a lot of sex. Sex is as much an imperative for Jake as his somewhat aberrant diet (you know, eating people), contrasting with the vampires who, in Duncan’s world, don’t have sex at all. The vampires are presented as these basically these cold and calculating cerebral beings, while Jake and the rest of the now deceased lycanthropic population represent a more embodied corporeality. If one were looking for a paper topic, I think it would be interesting to compare this split to the perceived dichotomy of the mind/body difference in western culture.

Final opinion: Definitely not for the squeamish. But such an intelligent book, you get past it. Mostly. Jake Marlowe is insidiously likable, and so self-aware and straight-out disillusioned with everything (but basically somewhat hopeful?) that he reads like the voice of the postmodern world.

Edited: Nov 24, 2011, 9:35am

86. If It Moves the Human Heart: The Art and Craft of Writing, Roger Rosenblatt

87. Deliver Us From Evil: A Southern Belle in Europe at the Outbreak of World War I, Mary W. Schaller

Nancy Johnson arrived in Naples on June 8, 1914, with twenty-seven pieces of luggage, a letter of introduction from Woodrow Wilson and assurances that her congressman father would wire her more money whenever it was needed. She had been sent to Europe to forget an unapproved beau—one Roscoe Campbell Crawford, a working class Protestant of Irish descent… definitely not what Ben Johnson, Kentucky Catholic, had planned for his last single daughter. (Nancy married Roscoe in 1915. Either her father was just so thrilled to have her back that he stopped objecting, or she just didn’t care any more. The author of this book was their granddaughter.)

Nancy was one of thousands of Americans holidaying on the continent during that last summer before the war: the Vanderbilts (Frederick and Louise); Nicholas Butler,the president of Columbia University; and “an estimated thirty thousand midwestern schoolteachers” taking guided tours of the places about which they taught were all caught unawares and unprepared for the European conflict. Letters of credit—many which drew on vast fortunes—were denied by banks stockpiling gold, trains were commandeered by the army, sailing schedules were cancelled. As the open boarders of the nations were slammed shut, thousands of wealthy Americans swarmed the U. S. Counsel, demanding to be taken care of.

To deal with the situation that they so unexpectedly found themselves in, four American businessmen trapped in Europe chartered a ship, the Principe di Udine, and sent a few of the wealthy Americans home, Nancy (and all twenty-seven pieces of luggage) included.

Much of my opinion about the events this book seems to be about what/who wasn’t included. The book doesn’t actually state that the less-advantaged American travelers in Europe were neglected, but there were certainly a lot of people left standing on the dock when the Principe pulled out. “Though the little ship could pack over a thousand people in its steerage, the committee realized that the American refugees, many traveling with a great deal of baggage, expected much better accommodations.” If that doesn’t make you see red (ha), I don’t know what will. Of course, just in the way the book was written—the inclusion of the information, however slight, about the other travelers in Europe–obviously provides a space for this type of frustration with the inequalities of the modern world. So kudos to the author for stitching their story so firmly into the weft and weave of this one. I was much more interested in the background story—that of the people who managed to take care of all of these entitled people—than the story of the entitled people. And I want to read the story of those thirty thousand school teachers!

Anyway, the book only very obliquely address the economic disparity of the modern world. It’s mostly about Miss Nancy Johnson, debutante daughter of the senator, and her escape from Europe. Honestly, I was so expecting some grand trek over the Alps or hidden in a boxcar or something—this is what happens when you only read fiction!—that I was a little surprised when her path was so smooth. She is coddled, from the moment she initially lands in Europe to the moment she is shuffled back on board another ship, by men who fear the temper and power of her father. But she makes it out alive. And that’s important.

The book was well written—could have been a done a little better (why do biographies always start with the birth? Give me a bang-up intro—tell me why I’m reading this book—then skip back to where her people come from.) and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit more than I’m expressing in this review. Yes, the assumption of privilege made my blood boil. But the experiences of the privileged are a legitimate part of our history and our world, as are the experiences of the thirty thousand school teachers. Beyond giving me quite a good view of the early days World War I (which I need, as I’ve yet to make it beyond the fourth page of Tuchman’s Guns of August) it gave me several ideas for future research into the plight of the not-so-privileged.

Edited: Dec 6, 2011, 6:01pm

88. Entwined, Heather Dixon
Total fluff, but holy mother, very excellent fluff. (And it just might be found in the YA section. Don’t judge me. I’m studying for the GRE and writing lots of very intelligent and insightful papers. And if I weren’t, I’d have another excuse. Except I don’t need one because I’m an adult and can read what I want, dammit. Back off.) (Also: this cover is a little deceiving. Deceiving along the lines of that god-awful red satin Rebecca cover, or some of the recent “teen edition” Dickens and Austen novels.)

Anyway- Entwined is a straight-up fairy tale, reminiscent of Robin McKinley’s Beauty or M. M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess, both of which are absolutely fabulous (and also to be found in the YA section). I got it solely because of this review by the absolutely hilarious Raych at Books I Done Read, whose blog has quickly become one of my favorites.

So. Princess Azalea is the eldest of twelve sisters; she swore to her mother (on her deathbed, natch) that she would take care of her sisters. And this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill deathbed promise: Azalea swore on silver, an old family magic that compels the following-through bit. And follow through she does, in spite of all the other drama…

Like a dead queen who has to be rescued (and whose fate will turn you off hand sewing forever. You know, if you are part of the 1% of the population that sews), the king kinda sucks at being a father (mmhmm… surprised, are we?), the dancing princesses are mucho in hock to the master of ceremonies—who might just be a little more sinister than previously known , and the dashing prime minister keeps mistaking Azalea for her sister. And the silver sugar tongs just keep attacking. Gotta hate that.

It’s a fluffy read. But it’s good fluff.

Edited: Nov 24, 2011, 9:40am

89. Lighthousekeeping, Jeanette Winterson

Definitely not fluff. I always enjoy Winterson’s novels, primarily for the imagery and the beautiful word choices and rhythms (she writes like a poet), but I always forget how easy it is to lose the direction of the plot amongst all the wordplay. She doesn’t tell stories in a straightforward manner—she approaches events sideways and through dreams that just might have been real and memories that happen before the events they supposedly mirror and everything gets complicated and dense and so very richly textured that you finish knowing you loved it, but completely unable to tell the story to someone else.

Due to my complete inability to adequately introduce the plot, I offer the first few lines:

My mother called me Silver. I was born part precious metal part pirate.

I have no father. There’s nothing unusual about that – even children who do have fathers are often surprised to see them. My own father came out of the sea and went back that way. He was crew on a fishing boat that harboured with us one night when the waves were crashing like dark glass.
His splintered hull shored him for long enough to drop anchor inside my mother.

Shoals of babies vied for life.

I won.

I so love the way she writes. The story follows Silver after her mother dies to the lighthouse, where the ancient lighthouse-keeper needs a successor to his craft. Every night he tells stories that never quite conclude and always fit together in the most unexpected ways. The past and the present, and the young girl and the old man, are transformed by the stories and the act of telling them. (The power of telling a story in a certain way seems to be a theme of Winterson’s: it’s prevalent in The Passion and Sexing the Cherry too. And random point of connection—she tells a version of the fairytale of the 12 dancing princesses in Sexing the Cherry… though hers is perhaps a bit more grim.)

Nov 24, 2011, 9:39am

90. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
This is one of those books that got a lot of hype, won a zillion awards, and deserved absolutely all of it. A-freaking-mazing. If you haven’t read it, order it immediately. Go. I’ll wait.

The gods all exist. And not just one version of them—when immigrants came to America, they brought versions of their gods with them, who are distinct from the original versions. And in America, well, belief in the gods is on a downward swing—at least, belief in the traditional gods. Belief in the gods of technology and war and drugs and television is keeping those gods quite healthy. It’s just the older gods that are being forgotten. And when a god is forgotten, it ceases to exist.

Shadow, an ex-convict with a dead wife who keeps visiting, gets pulled into the war between the old gods and the new gods. He’s supposed to just be acting as the bodyguard of the oddly powerful Mr. Wednesday… but somehow he has a bit more to do with everything that is going on than anyone has explained.

And that’s what I’ve been reading lately—anybody else have something fabulous on their shelf? Do tell!

Nov 26, 2011, 2:54pm

Love the reviews, got Entwined onto my wishlist--have you joined the discussion over on the American Gods thread? And have you read Anansi Boys, which I liked better?

Nov 26, 2011, 8:32pm

Great reviews, some wonderful books being read! I'm currently reading Gaiman's Neverwhere. I'd seen the BBC production, but never read it. Great fun, just what I need this time of year!

Nov 27, 2011, 5:32am

I have a copy of American Gods and was all set to take off with it last summer... and then was told over on the Science Fiction forum that it wasn't the best place to start with Gaiman. IIRC, I then said what about Good Omens? No, I was told, it's not terrific either... I said his two most well-known stories aren't good enough to be a first read by the author? And I set American Gods down. Those SFF guys can be very opinionated. ;-)

I'm officially picking it up again. Thanks R.R for the prod and the great review!

Dec 6, 2011, 5:31pm

Ronincats, wookie and clif_hiker- yep, I love Anansi Boys... I'm not sure which I prefer. Have you read Neverwhere? (Wookie, how are you enjoying? And how is the tv version? I'm not familiar.) I liked it fully as much--in fact, there hasn't been a Gaiman that I've disliked. Fragile Things scared the beejesus out of me (lordy lordy) but still thought it was good. I'm not familiar with much of his children's writing or his comics, and I've heard that those are also splendiferous. Any familiarity? I've been wanting to read Stardust since seeing the movie, but haven't gotten around to it yet. (And random point of connection--one of the short stories in The Ladies of Grace Adieu is set in his fictional city of Wall (from Stardust). Universes positively collide! And clif_hiker--I love love love Good Omens. It's much more laugh-out-loud than his other stuff (well, Anansi Boys has a bit of that, but not as much) and being a veeeery lapsed daughter of missionaries I absolutely adore the kind of twisted take on religion. I'd definitely recommend. Highly. The SF-ists are just wrong. :)

And Ronincats, I thought Entwined was absolutely fabulous. You'll enjoy it. I read it twice in 24 hours.

Edited: Dec 6, 2011, 5:56pm

I hit 100 over the weekend, and am dreadfully behind on the reviews. For now, a sentence will suffice, as I review them more fully on my blog, I'll elaborate here.

91. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Winifred Watson. Holy mother good. Without the serious undertones of the movie (no war stuff) and the threat of poverty is played more for laughs than sympathy, but still quite good. More of a difference between types of woman (New Woman/flapper vs traditional woman needing to work) in the book--in the movie it's all we-girls-stick-together. But regardless, loved the book, frothy, reminded me of P. G. Wodehouse with female characters that aren't merely props.

92. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman Good god, I love Alice Hoffman. I've read this book seven or eight times, and get sucked in every time. Don't judge it by the movie (which I also love. Don't judge me.) The book is much deeper and more sisterhood than bad boyfriend-y. I love Hoffman's female magic/ancestress stuff. She does it so well that I don't care that she does it so frequently.

93.Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman. Also terrific. Again, a reread, not as layered as American Gods, and in my opinion not quite as good, but very engaging. I just love Fat Charlie.

94. Toads’ Museum of Freaks and Wonders, Goldie Goldbloom. I had to read this for my creative writing class, and ugh and double ugh. (How's that for descriptive?) I can see the reasons this won the AWP award, but I just didn't care for it.

95. The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova. Fourth or fifth time I've read this and I'm still a fan. I'm intrigued by the complexity of her structure and the simplicity with which she presents it. Good stuff.

96. The Heretic’s Daughter, Kathleen Kent. A girl remembers her mother's accusation, arrest and sentencing as a witch in colonial New England. I read this the day before Thanksgiving, and it made me so thankful for the freedom not to worship.

97. The Help, Kathryn Stockett. Finally got around to reading this, after reading upwards of 50 reviews. I enjoyed it, I see why it was so beloved, I'm not going to say it's the best book I've ever read, but by no means was it the worst. (It's hard to rave over what everyone else is raving over. I liked it. I read it in one gulp. But now I'm feeling all ehh about it.)

98. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens. Freaking loved. November is the perfect month to read Charles Dickens.

99. The Bostonians, Henry James. Seriously, ugh. I should have known, I knew this was the anti-feminist book, but still. For god's sake, dude. Even while I hated his portrayal of all the women (either controlling or directionless or just looking for a good man to come make their decisions) I could appreciate his descriptions of location and, ok, character. There's a reason he's still considered great. I just wish this particular book hadn't quite made it out of the printing press.

100. The Children’s Book, A. S. Byatt. And yay! 100! And a reread of The Children's Book, which I read much too sporadically last year and so didn't get much out of at all. Byatt doesn't disappoint. That said, it takes a lot of reader effort--she's not pulling any punches with this one. You need to make a genealogical chart as characters are introduced, read with your smart phone beside you (to look up things like Fabian communities of 1910 and Wilde's trial and various fantasy authors of the late Victorian/early Edwardian era), and you need to be really focused--she'll tell you something about a character's past and then when something else is brought up to contradict what everybody knows about this or that character, you'll just need to remember, 500 pages later, what happened. Because she won't remind you. But still, given all of that, it's incredibly worthwhile and I highly recommend it. More confusing than Possession (that one is incredibly layered but the plot is pretty tight) this one sprawls out all over the English countryside, intertwining class and gender confusion, discussions of the purpose of art and museums, and when and how children make their way into adulthood. Loved it.

Dec 6, 2011, 7:39pm

yay! 100! Congratulations!

Dec 11, 2011, 6:22pm

Oh, I loved The Children's Book too! What a great one to reach 100 on, and many congratulations from me!

And Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is going on my wishlist.

I do like A Man Rides Through and The Mirror of Her Dreams, they've always been some of my favourite Donaldson. Possibly because they're less depressing than the others. ;)

Neverwhere was a great read. It was actually originally a BBC miniseries scripted by Gaiman, and then Gaiman wrote the book, adding in all the stuff that wouldn't work on a BBC budget. (This was prior to cheap CGI, which makes Doctor Who such a delight nowadays: yay for wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff!) It's been a while since I watched the show (I only own it on VHS tape, and I don't have a VCR any more), but it seemed to stick to the script very closely. And I had definite ideas on how all the characters looked while reading it, of course.

It's worth checking out, especially to see that Scottish actor (Peter Capaldi?) who swears like a fishwife in "In the Thick of It" as an angel. :) And the actor who plays The Marquis of Carabas *almost* made it as Doctor Who, but was pipped by Matt Smith. Oh well, maybe for the 12th Doctor...

I don't think Gaiman has ever disappointed me. He writes stuff I always enjoy. (Let's not mention the Beowulf movie however, although blame must be laid at the feet of the director there as well.)

Dec 11, 2011, 7:45pm

103. Stardust, Neil Gaiman. So good. Short (which is good, I still have papers to write) but the perfect escape from all of my Victorian ghost stories. Which I also love. I really have no room to complain.

Wookie-- Yes, I absolutely loved The Children's Book. I love Byatt. Consistently challenging and oh so worth it. Rereading Possession now, so I'm on a bit of a kick. I'll have to check out that Neverwhere movie. Oh, and I absolutely adore those two Donaldson books. I've yet to begin the series without pulling an all-nighter and reading the two compulsively until done. So good.

Dec 11, 2011, 9:36pm

Congratulations on passing the 100 book mark!

Dec 12, 2011, 9:05pm

104.The Princess Bride, William Goldman. I'm (obviously) on a bit of a fantasy kick. I think I love the parentheticals nearly as much as the story--I'd never noticed how much of this book is actually about him growing up, not Buttercup and Westley. Of course, Buttercup and Westley are the reason I reread it, but still. There's quite a bit more here than I'd realized.

Edited: Dec 16, 2011, 11:45pm

(Longer reviews of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Practical Magic, Anansi Boys, and Toads' Museum of Freaks and Wonders posted on my blog at SouthernBluestocking. Just in case you're interested.)

Dec 24, 2011, 9:34pm

Merry Christmas!

Edited: Dec 30, 2011, 11:35pm

105. No Graves as Yet, Anne Perry
106. Shoulder the Sky, Anne Perry
107. Angels in the Gloom, Anne Perry
108. At Some Disputed Barricade, Anne Perry
109. Possession, A. S. Byatt (again!)
110. We Shall Not Sleep, Anne Perry

(And yay! That's it for 2011, unless I have some serious insomnia in the next 24 hours!)

Edited: Dec 28, 2011, 12:15pm

I've read the first of Anne Perry's WWI trilogy (**or is it more than three books now?) and liked it very much. I have the next two on my TBR...

**yes, it appears that there are five books in the series to date... was only a trilogy when I started it

Edited: Dec 28, 2011, 9:16pm

clif_hiker--yes, 5 books in all. I've gotten through 4 and hoping to finish the 5th before the end of the year (major reading plans for 2012 that don't include finishing up series.... we'll see how long that lasts!) I'm enjoying the books, but more for the detailed research she obviously put into the project than the plots. Are you familiar with her other stuff?

Dec 31, 2011, 3:55pm

Best Books of 2011
I seriously can’t believe it’s the end of the year. This holiday season is passing in a blur of grad school applications, parent/boyfriend initial meetings, and much-needed recovery from a horrendous semester. (Bzzzzzzzttt—there it just went, zipping by from left to right like horses at the races.) We had a beautiful and relaxed Christmas Eve and Christmas (oh, the cookies! the turkey! the mulled wine!) but the past few days have been… phew!

However, regardless of how I’m feeling about the end of the year, here it is. And that means I get to talk about the books I read this year! And that makes me very, very happy. I passed my major numerical goal (110 books), I reviewed most of them (24/110), I cut way down on the rereads (26/110–that’s actually a huge improvement); so all in all I’m happy with my reading this year.

And here are (drum roll, please) the Best New Books of 2011 (obviously these are books new only to me. I can’t imagine trying to read only newly published books in a year. Sounds incredibly dull. But these aren’t that, though I’m a little impressed that the majority was written after 1950. Go me!) (These appear in no particular order.)

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

Completely heartbreaking. I wanted to shake Stevens half of the time and just make him change his views… but that’s the point. The transformation of British society from early 1920’s to late 1950’s—not really all that long in terms of years–creates a nearly unrecognizable terrain. I love the format of this book—it’s just so quiet, Stevens is so mild-mannered and unassuming, but so complicated. The juxtaposition of his memories—when he knew exactly who and what he was—and the present is, yep, heartbreaking.

Howards End, E. M. Forster

I love the way Forster uses words. I haven’t read everything of his—only this and A Room with a View—but I can’t wait to read ‘em all. I love the ideas being debated in this book: the place of money and intelligence in society, and the tension between progress and love of the past, and family loyalties and disloyalties and drama and peace… so wonderful. (And this concludes the Merchant-Ivory Emma Thompson/Anthony Hopkins portion of the post.)

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

I put off reading this for ages—I’ve always been a Catherine/Heathcliff kinda girl—but finally this spring I tried it. And it was fantastic. And way less doom and gloom than I was expecting. Why am I so stubborn? I’m still a bit conflicted about Rochester—I hate hate hate his manipulation (letting poor Jane think he was engaged to Blanche Ingram, of all people!) but I guess uncomplicated heroes are boring.

The Crimson Petal and the White, Michael Faber

Victorian society, post-modern sensibility. This is the book that I’m most looking forward to rereading in 2012. I read it in one 36 hour gulp that, in retrospect, was just a blur of oooh I love this and very vague impressions of what happened. Sugar, the prostitute and (arguably) the main character was one of my favorite characters… but I really liked the mad wife with the growth behind her eye that she’d never know about. I think I need to slow down and concentrate this time.

On Beauty, Zadie Smith

I desperately need to reread this book—I listened to it on audio book (never really a good idea—I don’t focus as well) during finals in the spring (don’t ask me why—I really need to stop reading during finals week, forcryingoutloud) and though I loved it, I’m having trouble pinpointing why I thought it so fantastic. The women were written so well, and the horrid teenage daughter, and that poor kid working in the music archives—Smith creates such a perfect picture that I really felt I’d lived in that world. But even more than writer-craft, which of itself is quite admirable, the ideas she approaches through the fiction kind of tug the world view in another direction, making you see everything a little differently. And I bought the book a while back, so I should be able to concentrate this time!

Fingersmith, Sarah Waters

Holy mother, I loved this book. I say that a lot, but holy mother. Read The Woman in White first, then stand back and be prepared to drop your teeth. I loved this book. (Of course, I’m a sucker for Victorian sensation fiction—I’ve read TWiW at least five times and presented papers on it twice. So you definitely need to read that. And Lady Audley’s Secret, and East Lynne, and Aurora Floyd.) I loved how Waters updated and perhaps deepened the themes while keeping many of the sensation fiction earmarks (asylum, doubles, unexplained noises, unprotected women) safely intact. Good stuff.

A Very Long Engagement, Sebastian Japrisot

Five French soldiers were condemned to death for the crime of self-mutilation. Although there are rumors that a pardon was granted, they were thrown over the trench into No-Man’s-Land, provoking a firestorm that allowed the French troops take the German trench. Mathilde is determined to learn what happened to Manech, one of the five, and in her investigation learns each man’s story. Beautiful book. I sobbed several times (it’s just so freaking senseless) but Mathilde is so brave and clever and interesting that the story is more hopeful than not.

Of those seven, four stand out as books I’m dying to read again, immediately, right now, if only Mount TBR didn’t look quite so enticing. In the case of The Crimson Petal and the White and On Beauty it’s because I really enjoyed them but kind of feel I didn’t get everything out of them that I should have (like sticking your gum on the bedpost because there’s still some flavor there. Of course, I live in 2011, and not 1950, so I don’t do that. Besides, do you get up to brush your teeth after taking out your gum? Inquiring minds want to know.) I did that with The Children’s Book (read it too fast/had to reread)last year, and this year’s attempt took it to top ranking (see below). The other two, Fingersmith and A Very Long Engagement, I want to return to, not because I think I missed anything, but because I was absolutely blown away by them.

And Happy New Year! I'm not sure which group I'll be in next year--I'm contemplating a huge shift in my reading habits (I need to freaking slow down a little bit, stop reading 1500 page books in 3 days--is it a race?) but I may crash the 100 books party anyway, just because I'm comfy here. We'll see. Have a great holiday, one and all!

Jan 2, 2012, 2:29am

Oh, I like your best books list! There's some great stuff on there, and now I'll have to check out The Crimson Petal and the White (languishing on Mt TBR) and find a copy of A Very Long Engagement.

Looking forward to your 2012 reading!

Jan 2, 2012, 2:35am

A really liked the French movie version of A Very Long Engagement - I never realized it was based on a book.

Edited: Jan 2, 2012, 6:24am

>162 SouthernBluestocking: I have not read Anne Perry's other series although I do have the first two William Monk novels sitting around somewhere... I liked the first WWI book very much and will make an extra effort to get to the rest of that series this year (they fit into two of my 2012 category challenge categories after all).

and please do come back to 100 book challenge group! I enjoy your reading selections and comments immensely.