Nickelini @ clubread 2019
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Reading in 2019
Winter in Switzerland: a fairytale
8. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, Heather O'Neill
7. English Country Houses, Vita Sackville-West
6. How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan
5. Educated, Tara Westover
4. The Royal Physician's Visit, Per Olov Enquist
3. Switzerland: Culture Smart!, Kendall Hunter
2. The Bulgari Connection, Fay Weldon
1. The Surface Breaks, Louise O'Neill
2019 Reading Stats : Updated monthly
Nationality or author's origins
Male, female, or other
Travelling through books (where my reading takes me)
Fairyland & Ireland, 2018 / London, 2000 / Switzerland, 2016 / Denmark, 1770s /
I'll be travelling to the Swiss and Italian Alps in May, so will be reading around that topic (any suggestions welcome). Other than that, I just want some compelling, interesting books. Shortest reading plan yet.
LAST YEAR in REVIEW - 2018
Total read: a sad and paltry 29
Fiction: 72% (21 books)
Non-fiction: 28% (8 books)
This is a fairly typical split between the two.
Female authors: 48% (14 books)
Male authors: 48% (14 books)
mixed/unknown: 4% (1 book)
This is a change, as I usually read from 55%-65% female writers.
Nationality of authors:
UK: 44% (13 books)
Italy: 10% (3 books)
Germany: 10% (3 books)
Canada: 7% (2 books)
Australia: 7% (2 books)
1 book each (3%) for:
I usually read mostly UK books, so that's usual, but then the next 2 highest percentages are Canadian and US, and then Ireland. In 2018 I read only 2 Canadian authors, and no USA or Ireland authors. (My first read in 2019 is Irish, so fear not)
New to me authors (writers who I've never read before--let's explore fresh voices!): 25/29 (86%)
Different authors - 100% (I didn't read the same author over and over again)
Most Memorable Reads
At the end of the year, I like to look at the books that stuck in my mind. Maybe I gave them a so-so review, but I remember them vividly. And then there are the books I don't remember so well, other than a nice memory of reading them. So the usual star rating system is ignored here.
Looking back over my reading year, I would recommend the vast majority of what I read. Because my reading time is so limited, if a book is not working for me I move on quickly. Therefore, I read very few I don't recommend. But if there is one book that stands out this year, it should be A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, because it took 6 months out of the year. But it's not-- for some reason, the most outstanding book when I think back over the year was The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden, which I generously gave 4 stars because despite everything, I liked it. And somehow, my semi-hate reading it is my best memory of 2018, but obviously there was something there.
2018 Reading Stats (from last year's thread)
Nationality OR origins of author:
Italy - 3
Germany - 3
United Kingdom - 11
Australia - 2
Canada - 2
Mixed or Unknown
Female - 14
Male - 14
Mixed or Unknown - 1
2007 x 2
2010 x 4
2012 x 2
2015 X 2
2017 x 2
2018 x 2
Italian - 3
German - 2
English - 19
Travelling with Books (where the book takes me)
Wales & Rotterdam 2010 / Sicily 1994 / Forests of Central Europe & North America / Warwickshire, 1947 / Australia & Canada, 1990 / Palestine / London 2000s / Paris 2016 / England, Switzerland, Italy Romantic era / Naples, 1950s /Village in England, 2016 / Leicestershire, England, 1981-1982 / The Alps, 2014 /India, 1923 & 1974 / Florence, 1939 /Lake Garda, Italy, 1962 / Italian Lakes, 2018 / Italy, 1980s / Scotland, Bonn, & Berlin, 1979 / London, Scotland, & Yemen, 2007 / Ontario, 1960s & 70s / Australia 1960s-2000 / France 1700s / Haiti & New Orleans 1700s / Italy 2003 / Uppsala, Sweden 2003 / Siberia 1988-2002
1. The Surface Breaks: a Reimagining of "The Little Mermaid", Louise O'Neill, 2018
cover comments: I've heard from many people that they love this cover, some saying that they bought the book for the cover alone. Hmmm. It's fine, I guess. I think as mermaid books go, it's fairly typical and not particularly original or arty. Underneath the dust jacket, however, the book itself is the perfect shade of navy blue, and it has silver scales printed across it. The end papers inside the covers are luxurious paper in Bermuda blue. Delightful.
Why I Read This Now: This was a Christmas gift from my 18-yr old daughter. When I opened this she said "It might not be very good, but it looks sort of interesting, and it's about mermaids in Ireland" (she went to Ireland on a school trip so has a soft spot there). I read the cover and saw that it was a retelling of a fairytale, and I like those (which she knows). Seemed like the perfect book to start off the new year.
Comments: Woot woot! Look at me, Ms Hardly-Reads Anymore has started and finished a book already this year (and no, I wasn't off on holidays--just working like the worker-bee I am).
The Surface Breaks is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid," set in current times off the coast of Ireland. The novel started out with some fairly 'meh' YA writing and storytelling, but happily picked up right at the Pearl Rule point. Whew! I enjoyed this for the most part and was always sad when I had to put it down.
Fifteen-year old Gaia is the youngest of the six mermaid daughters of the Sea King who live in a intensely patriarchal Mer-society. She has no memories of her mother, who she is told, had an obsession with the surface and the human world, and was killed by humans when Gaia was a year old. Now Gaia too is fascinated by the surface. On her first trip she in enamoured by a handsome young man and the story follows the original tale quite closely (not the Disney rewrite), in a modern setting. With her tongue cut out and feet spurting blood whenever she took a step, and with discovering that the handsome man she'd sacrificed everything for was actually quite a bastard, I kept reading to find out how the author would conclude this conundrum. And she did wrap it up. I'm not entirely pleased with this conclusion, but I think the structure of the original tale writes an author into a corner with few options.
One outstanding character was the Sea Wtch ("that's not my name!" she tells us), who deserves a novel of her own.
On the cover flap, it says: "...world-famous fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens by one of our most talented writers. ... This is a book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallyng cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding." Oh my, prepared to be bludgeoned by feminist tropes, I thought. And some reader-reviewers felt that. I didn't, although I get why they do. I was slightly bothered that all the male characters were one-dimensional and BAD; but then I remembered that this is a fairytale, and fairytales work with archetypes so, okay. (If I wrote it, I would have rounded out some of the males a bit more and included a guy that wasn't a jerk).
I had fun reading this. Yeah, there's things I could pick apart (eg: a naked young woman washes up ashore at your estate and can't walk due to intense pain and can't speak. She opens her mouth to show that her tongue has been cut out. You take her in and give her a room and a maid. Hey, how about call an ambulance? Medical attention? Police, maybe? But it's a fairytale, so you just have to roll with it). Others have criticized that all the feminist bits come at the end, but I think they miss that feminists aren't always born -- sometimes they're made, and we have to live life for a while before we realize what's going on.
Recommended for: Readers who like retellings, mermaid fans.
My cover has a sticker on the back that says "contains adult themes and may be unsuitable for younger readers." Not a good choice if you're looking for a nice little story about mermaids for a 10 year old. There's a question on GoodReads if this is okay for a 13 year old, to which most replies were "heaven mercy no! Give me my smelling salts at the thought!" I was reading adult books at 13, so I say "sure, but depending on the reader." When I read it I figured the objection would have been to the sexual longing expressed by Gaia and her discovering the area between her new legs -- but based on comments on GoodReads, it's more to do with the scenes where males make unwanted sexual advances on Gaia. Not sure why 13 year olds can't read about that--it's certainly a fact of life they will probably deal with soon if they haven't already.
And interesting review, especially about your reaction/response to the expected "searing feminist lens." I see a lot of that language in the promotional stuff for forthcoming books. Glad you had some fun reading it. I haven't read much YA, certainly nothing very current, but I loved Australian author Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, (based on Grimms' Snow White & Rose Red; it won lots of awards 10 years back) and all of her short story collections. Her Brides of Rollrock Island about selkies was reasonably good, also.
Censoring from tweens because of unwanted sexual advances in a purportedly feminist book based on a very pre-feminist fairy tale? Sometimes I think my brain’s out of focus. Enjoyed your comments.
2. The Bulgari Connection, Fay Weldon, 2000
Cover comments: I'm not much of a fan of this style of art; that doesn't mean this is bad though. I guess it's just not for me? It does work with the novel.
Comments: Look at me! Only January 11th and I've finished two books this year. For years that would have been a huge yawn, but my last two years of reading have been tough, so this feels like my old self again. Anyway,
I bought this when my favourite used book store (call out for Russel Books in Victoria, BC!) didn't have Fay Weldon's Booker-nominated Praxis, but this caught my eye. It opens with:
Doris Dubois is twenty-three years younger than I am. She is slimmer than I am, and more clever. She has a degree in economics, and hosts a TV arts programme. She lives in a big house with a swimming pool at the end of a country lane. It used to be mine...I tried to kill her once, but failed.
And from there we're off on a satirical, fast-paced romp through wealthy London circa 2000. Grace has survived having her world yanked out from under her feet and a stint in prison, but maybe now the winds will blow her way. In her mid-fifties (and poorer than she expected to be at this age) she's not about to get riled by her ex-husband's new wife, "Britain's sweetheart," who is gunning for her. A younger man is smitten with Grace, and their relationship gives him the mature gravitas he craves, and Grace shocks everyone with her increasing youthfulness. In the meantime, despite all their efforts, things aren't going so well for the Ex- and his new Mrs.
This story is undoubtedly slanted in Grace's favour, but the author makes interesting shifts in points of view, and sometimes in unexpected places. Sort of like when you're watching a movie and the camera quickly catches a secondary-character's reaction to something that the main character might not see. It was odd, but it worked.
The other thing that was odd was the names: Doris Dubois (she pulled this surname out of her butt*, it's actually something Eastern European) and the young lover-artist Walter Wells -- these two are around 30, which means they are slightly younger than me (in 2000), and "Doris" and "Walter" read much older. It turns out there was a literary reason for Doris, and I guess the Walter character just really wanted to be older. It took some adjusting from me though. And then there was a secondary character in the same age range named "Ethel." All very odd. The weirdest name, by far, was the ex-husband. Barley Salt. I first read it as "Bailey," but then realized, no, it's Barley. Okay, never heard that given name. And the surname Salt is not exactly common**. Now put them together. They are both things we eat. Oats Pepper. Rice Nutmeg. Like I said, odd.
*sorry, I know the idiom is "pulled it out of her ass" and I'm not a prude--I just don't like the word ass when it's used for the buttocks area. Just a quirk of mine. I'm not shy with vulgar language.
**Maybe the only time I've heard this surname is Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Is Barley her son?
Rating: A fun read without being vacuous. 4.5 stars.
Why I Read This Now: I've been wanting to read this author for years even though I don't know much about her. She's been a judge for the Booker prize, so I figured I'd take a gamble.
Recommended for: People who like social satire. Readers who don't like to read about rich people will hate this.
Enjoying your reviews, as usual, Joyce. Always good for a chuckle or two. I may actually try The Bulgari Connection. Your 4.5 stars and review have me intrigued.
Great opening line! Regarding the names, I'm always entertained by place names (neighborhoods, streets) that just stick two random nouns together, but don't see it often with people. I kind of like the name Barley Salt.
I just tripped across this, from Wikipedia:
The Bulgari Connection is a 2001 novel by Fay Weldon that became notorious for its commercial tie-in: in exchange for an undisclosed fee from the Italian jewellery company Bulgari, Weldon was required to mention the name of the jeweler at least 12 times - which was more than exceeded by the author. The 34 mentions appear in sentences such as "'A Bulgari necklace in the hand is worth two in the bush', said Doris" or "They snuggled together happily for a bit, all passion spent; and she met him at Bulgari that lunchtime".12 Such heavy use of product placement was not only a novelty in literature but also unprecedented for a published, established author (The Bulgari Connection was her 23rd novel), and a front-page article was published about it in the New York Times, quoting such writers as Rick Moody, J. G. Ballard, Michael Chabon, and Jeanette Winterson.
Will be following your thread again this year, Joyce. Sounds like a great reading start to the year.
>2 Nickelini: Yay Russell Books!
Sounds like a great fun book and great to see you reading again. Maybe if I read it, it will get me going too?
re DuBois - there was that literary immortal Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire)
Great opening lines for the book, but for some reason it called to mind Sarah Dunant when she was on BBC late nights, but being a non-fan, I quickly dismissed that image.
3. Switzerland - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture, by Kendall Hunter (2016)
Switzerland - Culture Smart!
cover comments: Red + a clock = Switzerland. Okay.
Comments: This is a small guide book -- 168 pages long, but can fit in the palm of your hand. Part of the extensive Culture Smart! series, Switzerland - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture tells you everything you need to know if you're considering a move to Switzerland or planning to spend a lot of time there. Along with Canada, the Nordic countries and Australia, Switzerland is one of those countries that regularly tops the lists of best places to live and high quality of life. But, as I'm learning, it's very different from all of those, and different from the countries around it.
Kendal Hunter, a Canadian who has lived in Zurich for 10 years, goes over the basics of Swiss life, geared for a UK or US business traveller or new resident. Being heavily fact-based, with minimal personal commentary, it wasn't exactly a scintillating read. More useful than fun.
Why I Read This Now: My daughter recently moved there and I'm trying to get a better picture of what she's dealing with so we aren't completely in the dark about some of the unusual things she says. Also, after our trip there last winter, I'm pretty fascinated by the country.
Rating: 4 stars
Recommended for: read this if you're new to Switzerland and are going to spend a chunk of time there.
Create Your Own Visited Countries Map
Just throwing this in here for my own reference. Not related to my reading, really.
4. The Royal Physician's Visit, Per Olov Enquist, translated from Swedish by Tiina Nunnally 2001
cover comments: detail of the Rokeby Venus by Diego Rodriguez, 1648, which you can see at the National Gallery (London). Used on the cover, it works with this story.
Comments: In 2003 I inherited my copy of this book in a box of books that I mostly passed along to a charity. This one sat on my "one day" shelf but it took 16 years for that day to come. And then I thought "why didn't I read this sooner?"
Going in, I knew nothing about Danish royalty of the late 1700s. Teenage King Christian VII has become the monarch after the death of his 40-something alcoholic father, and the Danish court is known as "a madhouse." This isn't helped by Christian, who had some serious mental health problems (historians think he may have been schizophrenic, but to me his behaviour sounds like he was high on the autism scale). He was just one of several mentally-ill royals in this novel but the others all have minor roles--I mention this because I'm a bit fascinated with in-breeding genealogy that has been blamed for some of the royal madness. I think in Christian VII's case, whatever was going on with him organically wasn't helped by his messed up guidance and being treated as a divine ruler.
Christian is married off to 15 yr old Caroline Mathilde, who is the youngest sister of England's George III. Along the way, King Christian is attended to by a German physician, Friedrich Struensee, who becomes his closest advisor. And then becomes Queen Caroline's lover. Struensee is a follower of the Enlightenment philosophers, including Voltaire and Rousseau, and slips enlightenment ideas into the laws of Denmark.
This is not a spoiler, as it's mentioned in the first sentence of the novel, and it's history: his radical changes don't go over well with the Danish nobility, and he is executed. The period where he was active is called the Danish Revolution, and the nobility never clawed back their complete control.
Rating: Hmmmm, so close to 4.5 stars . . . I was really intrigued by the first 3/4, but then the end dragged a bit because I knew what was coming thanks to the first sentence.
Also, on the meta-data page the disclaimer "This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the suthor's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental." Typical boiler-plate, but I'm not sure I've noticed this in historical fiction before. It made me do some Googling on these people and events and "entirely coincidental" is actually a bold-faced lie. Anyway, the ending could have wrapped up a bit quicker.
I love to learn when I read, and The Royal Physician's Visit had a lot of new trivia to fill my brain. For example, I didn't know that the non-noble Danish people in 1770 were serfs --basically slaves to the nobility. Also, Queen Caroline's second (and youngest) child is widely believed to be Struensee's. This daughter married into some other royal family, and she--and the commoner Struensee--now have descendants in all the royal families of Europe (the genealogy geek coming out again and I'm thinking in particular that they should be grateful for his fresh bloodlines).
Recommended for: historical fiction fans. It also won some Swedish literary awards, and I was impressed by the writing. Not all readers were -- Enquist has this odd style of repeating simple phrases, but I'm one of the readers who liked that.
Why I Read This Now: Being deep winter, I was in the mood to read a book set in the north.
A disclaimer like that on historical fiction from a few hundred years ago is really weird, but fun review, great trivia, poor Struensee. Never easy to change to world, I guess.
Yes, we do have daffodils in bloom; however, they're recently planted after being pushed along in a greenhouse -- they aren't bulbs planted in the ground in autumn. So a bit of a cheat. That said, our south-facing back lawn was so unruly that today my husband cut the lawn. January 29 does break the record for first lawn cutting of the year.
Even though we don't have the cold that you have, it's still dark for so many hours everyday. I come home from work and start thinking about going to be by 5:30 PM.
>20 dchaikin: -- LOL
5. Educated, Tara Westover, 2018
cover comments: it's okay, the obvious symbolism is clearly obvious. But the mountain is a photo of the actual Bucks Peak where Westover grew up.
Rating: 4.5 stars -- the most engaging book I've read since I can't remember when (at least a year). Why not 5 stars? Read on....
Comments: This was the hot read of late 2018 (it was on Obama and Bill Gate's recommended lists), so I'm not going to get too far into a description of the book. Educated is the enthralling and chilling memoir of Tara Westover's life growing up in a large survivalist family in backwoods Idaho through her escape to education and achieving a PhD from Cambridge.
As long as Westover could remember, her father was preparing the family for the imminent day when the government would storm their land, guns a'blazin'. Westover was born sometime in September 1986 (her anti-government parents didn't register her home birth, nor did they write down the day), and the Ruby Ridge siege happened in 1992, so it was inevitable that they were next. Tara was the youngest of 7, and by the time she came around, her parents had decided that there was no point in homeschooling, other than learning to read. At least she had that. After a day of physical chores, sometimes she read the old textbooks left over from the feeble attempt to school her older siblings.
Westover's education was helping her mother prepare tinctures for herbal medicine (the family strictly forbade all forms of scientific or evidence-based medicine, and actual doctors, as gov't control and from the devil) and helping her dad and older brothers haul and sort scrap.
Horrible event after horrible event occurs, every single one of them preventable with normal safety precautions. The book includes two horrific car accidents, worsened by her father cutting the seat belts out of the car (socialism, or something). And then there are many scrapyard accidents that easily could have resulted in death. All injuries were treated with a mixture of denial, herbs, and suck it up. Several members of this family were severely concussed. In a previous job where I settled insurance claims for people with concussions, two things I learned that relate to this book were that 1) concussions can cause people to become irrationally angry, and withdrawn, and often both and 2) subsequent concussions after healing are often worse than the original -- they build (hence the problem with boxers and football players). She didn't address this here and I think it had a part to play but anyway....
On top of all that, she lived through some intensely toxic masculinity, dysfunctional family situations, parental mental illness, child abuse, religious fundamentalism, and extreme bullying from an older brother.
In her late teens, encouraged by an older brother, she jumps some hoops and is admitted to Brigham Young University. Yada yada yada, PhD from Cambridge. I say "yada yada yada" because I felt she glossed over this too much. She includes some of the gaps in her knowledge (not knowing what the Holocaust was is the most cited example). I would have liked a lot more of this, and less of her "and then I went home for Christmas." The cycle of her returning to her family was incredibly frustrating, but like a battered woman, she kept thinking that it would be all right and somehow she could meld the crazy stuff she's been raised to believe with the rational that she was finally learning. This frustration has caused some readers to rate this book 3 stars, but I can't fault a book because the author's real life situation doesn't match my desire for her to tell her family to F-off in no uncertain terms.
Interesting note: Her family has become very successful with their herbal-woo business, and their lawyer issued a disclaimer statement about this book. Evidently, this lawyer knows nothing about effective PR.
Interesting note #2: this family is easy to find on Facebook. They haven't made their accounts or friends list private. I looked only because I want to see what the father looks like, especially since he had 3rd degree burns to his face. Haven't found him yet, but I only had 5 min to look. I'll come back and update this if I look again and find him. Also, the nice brother Tyler still looks a bit .... oddly fundamentalist. He seemed so normal in the book.
Why I Read This Now: Book club. I'm really looking forward to the discussion later this month, although I imagine there won't be much disagreement. I wasn't at our meeting when we picked the books for the year, and when I saw this one I thought it looked like the best of the lot. I can't imagine we will do better.
Recommended for: I think everyone should read this. However, the abuse in Educated is extreme, so if you're not in a place to read about that, put this one on the shelf for now. I'd love to hear some physicians weigh in on some of the injuries. No one believes the herbs saved any lives.
One other thing I need to add: Over the last 15 years, I've spent hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours reading websites and blogs, and listening to podcasts and documentaries of (mostly) women who have escaped fundamentalist religious upbringings*. My initial thought when I learned about Educated was "right up my alley" and then I immediately thought, "but I'm heard everything by now." I was wrong because Westover had actually worked through this more --what I'm used to reading and hearing is briefer --this was the same abuse and toxic family and toxic beliefs, but MORE. And then because of her education, and writing a book rather than a blog post, Westover was able to take it to a higher level of cognitive processing.
* why would I spend so much time on this? Because I escaped fundamentalism too, and although my experience is very different from what I've read and heard, there are enough similarities to make my blood run cold and to think "that could have been me." And then some of it is just so whacked as to be fascinating. Educated is way over in the extreme side of whacked and far out of my past experience, and for that I'm incredibly grateful.
I thought Educated was a remarkable book too. Thank you for your brave and personal review.
>23 Nickelini: oh my - what a great review. You gave me a shiver down my spine when I got to the last bit and learnt you'd grown up experiencing fundamentalism too. It's a title on my 'must get around to reading that soon' list. You've definitely bumped it up.
Terrific review, Joyce. One of those books I see and think, I’ve already read about that kind of story (forgetting that I liked Glass Castle and Liar’s Club and so on). Your comments got my attention.
>23 Nickelini: Great review. I agree, the book glosses a bit over her immersion into hardcore higher ed—which is challenging enough for folks with traditional upbringings. But I figure hey, it's her story and she did a really good job of making it pop, so she can choose to put her focus wherever she likes.
>27 lisapeet: But I figure hey, it's her story and she did a really good job of making it pop, so she can choose to put her focus wherever she likes.
Ha! Note taken. You caught me--there I was saying I would have liked a lot more of this, and less of her "and then I went home for Christmas." The cycle of her returning to her family was incredibly frustrating, but like a battered woman, she kept thinking that it would be all right and somehow she could meld the crazy stuff she's been raised to believe with the rational that she was finally learning. This frustration has caused some readers to rate this book 3 stars, but I can't fault a book because the author's real life situation doesn't match my desire for her to tell her family to F-off in no uncertain terms. . And yet, there I was criticizing for something else I didn't like along the same vein. Good catch -- I'm always trying to be on top of the critical angle when I review, so yeah, I did the same thing, didn't I?
>27 lisapeet:, >24 mdoris:, >25 AlisonY:, >26 dchaikin: Thanks for reading through my long rambling review.
>28 Nickelini: Oh, I wasn't trying to catch you out on anything or crit your review! More like explaining why I felt so forgiving toward her when I think in a lesser account—less brave, less honest, less striking—I would have harped on it. Because I did note the same thing you did.
Oh, I know. I couldn't think of another way to say it at the time. I really do appreciate seeing holes in my thinking-- always trying to improve. Yeah, I think there are a bunch of us who wanted to hear more about that aspect.
6. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciusness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan, 2018
cover comments: for a book on psychedelics, this cover is uninspired and ho-hum; however, it does fit the scientific rather than "woo woo" approach that this book follows.
Why I Read This Now: a few weeks ago I found out Michael Pollan, an author I adore, is coming to Vancouver. I thought it would be best if I read his latest book before the event. Yay, me, I finished it today and see him tomorrow night.
Comments: When I read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma years ago, it changed my life. This book could be life changing for many people too. It is a detailed look at using guided psychedelic therapy to treat a wide-range of mental health issues, including but not limited to the fears of the terminally ill, addiction, and treatment-resistant depression. Clearly the mental health field needs to find some different solutions, because what we have now isn't working.
How to Change Your Mind is a highly readable and interesting account of the history, present use, and future possibilities of LSD, psilocybin (a word I never remember how to say or spell) and a few other more obscure drugs.
Like me, Michael Pollan eschews pseudo-science and new age flakiness, and thus he takes an evidence-based, factual approach to this topic.
I look forward to a future when I can visit a guided psychedelic therapy spa, although I'm not holding my breath. Maybe in Europe . . .
Recommended for: Everyone. The people who should read it most--those who think psychedelics are horrible, dangerous substances, won't be open to it though. Otherwise, anyone interested in mental healthy, philosophy, psychology, alternative ways of looking at the world . . .
Rating: Because this isn't a topic that is particularly pertinent to my life at this time, and because I didn't need over 400 pages on this topic . . . 4 stars.
7. English Country Houses, Vita Sackville-West, 1941
cover comments: delightful and perfect for this little book. Love the greyed-periwinkle colour.
Comments: The front flap of my edition says "Written during the Blitz by one of England's most celebrated writers, this text was undoubtedly a morale booster for a British people laid siege to during a time of war . . . " Undoubtedly, or maybe not. She never mentions the war, but does say several times that there really have never been any wars on English soil -- the English like to go elsewhere to fight. Far away places like France, Scotland, and Ireland. And she reiterates that the English people like peace and quiet. Hmmm, okay ....
Anyway! This 92 page book is mostly about the grand English country houses that I love to read about, watch in films, and visit if possible. It reminded me of a similar book that I read years ago and thought was a riot -- Some Country Houses and Their Owners by James Lees-Milne. That one was perhaps more fun because it talked about the eccentric home owners. With English Country Houses, Sackville-West sticks mainly to the buildings themselves for the most part.
At times, the author can be quite amusing. For example: "The English are a rural-minded people on the whole, which perhaps explains why our rural domestic architecture is so much better than our urban. Our cities, generally speaking, are deplorable. There is a lack of design which must make the French smile. When the French hint delicately at this we are apt to murmur 'Bath' and then come to a full stop."
However, far too much of the time she throws out one historical or architectural detail, and then give a long list of the houses that exemplify it. At one point she says, "....and, again restricting myself to the tantalising system of giving a mere list . . . " Yeah, no, not such a tantalizing system, more tiresome.
I wonder who the target audience was who she had in mind --I'm doubting it was the average Brit who was getting targeted by the falling bombs. Did her reader have a familiarity of the places she listed and described? Because I didn't, and would have been completely lost if I didn't google almost every property she mentioned. And I was happy to do that, because that's the sort of thing I call "fun." But it does make the reader work. This book deserves to have colour photos and maps to make it a really great reading experience. There were a handful of line drawings, and they were very nice, but this needs more.
Looking up these places on the internet was interesting to see what's changed with some of them since WWII. A few had links to British tabloids, with articles of people or events that would fall into the category of "misbehaviour of the rich and famous." Others had become museums or hotels, but most seemed to be high-end venues to rent for your dream wedding.
And now I've written a review almost as long as the book. Just one more thing:
Fun fact I learned: Berkeley Castle, in Gloucestershire, has been lived in by the same family for almost 900 years. It seems this family has always been good at having sons that live until at least they can begot more sons. New addition to my future travel list.
Why I Read This Now: it looked like a quick interesting read
Rating: 4 stars
Recommended for Anglophiles, English history geeks, armchair architects.
>31 Nickelini: I don't know of a guided Psychedelic therapy spa in France, but perhaps Mark does in the Netherlands.
>31 Nickelini: that review was so interesting. I didn't even know that psychedelic therapy was a thing - you inspired me to go on a fascinating Google jaunt around this topic. Very interesting to learn that the UK government drug advisor got sacked 10 years ago for suggesting that LSD and ecstasy are less harmful than alcohol (indeed, he put in his paper that alcohol was the 5th most lethal drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone). LSD was 14th on his list.
Amsterdam seems to have the therapy spas. I've never tried hallucinogenics - I don't think I'd be brave enough to give it a go.
It may not be your thing, but I enjoyed this account of the Beatles LSD journey - https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/beatles-acid-test-how-lsd-opened-t...
>32 Nickelini: also interested in this review, as I've wanted to read something by Sackville-West for a while. Perhaps not this one as I get your point on lists of houses not being that scintillating , but good to see evidence of the humour I'd expect from her writing. I think it's The Edwardians that I have on my reading wish list, and also the biography of her by Matthew Dennison (Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West).
>33 baswood: & >34 AlisonY:
I don't know of a guided Psychedelic therapy spa in France, but perhaps Mark does in the Netherlands. , and
Amsterdam seems to have the therapy spas.
Well, if I ever need this service, it looks like the Netherlands is the place to go.
...you inspired me to go on a fascinating Google jaunt around this topic. Well I hope that's a good thing and you had fun.
Very interesting to learn that the UK government drug advisor got sacked 10 years ago for suggesting that LSD and ecstasy are less harmful than alcohol (indeed, he put in his paper that alcohol was the 5th most lethal drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone). LSD was 14th on his list.
That's pretty ridiculous seeing how incredibly destructive alcohol can me to the body and to society (and I'm not anti-alcohol, or a non-drinker), and also seeing that you can't OD on LSD, and you can't get addicted to it. I'm surprised it was as high as 14 since it's not lethal. Now I'm off on an internet search!
English Country Houses probably isn't the best start for Sackville-West. I think the only thing I've read by her before this was The Edwardians and I loved it -- more fun and less stuffy than I expected. And I had a literary crush on the main male character, which is rare for me.
>31 Nickelini: I too found Omnivore's Dilemma changed my life. I think it was a fantastic book! I have had How to Change Your Mind on the MUST READ NEXT pile but it has languished there for some time. Thank you for your great review. It has nudged the book to the top of the pile. We just picked up A Place of My Own The Architecture of Daydreams at Munro's in Victoria and husband just finished it and thought it was very good. Have you ever read Botany of Desire? I thought it was wonderful too and his book about gardening.
>31 Nickelini: happy to see this show up on someone’s reading - How to Change Your Mind was a wow read for me last year, and I feel bad I can’t follow it up (well, unless I go to the Netherlands, maybe... and make arrangements to be out for a day without anyone to worry about. )
And I agree with you on the cover. I don’t like it. Good conceptually, forgettable visually.
One of the audience questions at the Michael Pollan event was "where can I do this?". Apparently he has info at his website -- not actual directions and names, but leads to follow for those so inclined. I have not looked, so don't know if it's cryptic or not.
>31 Nickelini: I'm really interested in the whole concept of guided trips and microdosing—not necessarily for myself, although I have to say I had great experiences with psychedelics in my teens and early 20s, but because I think the field is fascinating and breaking interesting new ground. And I'm not averse to it on a personal basis, but my interest would be much more recreational than therapeutic, and I'm not sure if that's the point of what he's talking about. I suppose I could always, you know, read the book and find out. And I'm sure I will at some point.
Actually, he does mention the recreational side of this and thinks it's an inevitable outcome. That's why I mentioned the psychedelic spas in Europe, because I think that's the most likely version of it. He does touch on the subject of micro-dosing too, and it came up when I saw him (no scientific proof that it does anything at all and it might be a placebo but more study is needed. Also, he finds it ironic that the drug that is pretty much the anathema of capitalism is being used to increase productivity)
8. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, Heather O'Neill, 2014
cover comments: zillions of worse covers out there, but this one took about 2 minutes to put together. Although hands are deceivingly difficult to draw, so 5 minutes.
Comments: Heather O'Neill is undoubtedly one of my favourite writers, and unfortunately she only publishes books every once in a while.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is the meandering story of 19 year old Nouschka Tremblay, who along with her twin brother Nicolas, has grown up in Montreal in the shadow of her father, a famous Quebecois folk singer. Who had also ended up in jail a few times. The twins have never known their mother, who Etienne impregnated at age 14. Like Baby in Lullabies for Little Criminals and several of the characters in the stories in Daydreams of Angels, Nouschka & Nicolas have pretty much raised themselves and so are a little on the feral side.
I adore O'Neill's writing. I challenge you to name a writer who rocks the simile like she does. As I read, I folded down corners of bits I wanted to revisit, and then copied the best into my reading journal. By the end I had copied out 36 different passages. Eight journal pages.
(yes, I fold down corners in books -- books are tools to take me places. They're not sacred objects to put on a mantel.)
Rating: I didn't like this one as much as Lullabies for Little Criminals, which I rated 5 stars plus, or Daydreams of Angels, which was 4.75. At times, this was a bit of a challenge, because Nouschka makes some bad choices, and she's not 12 like the protagonist in Lullabies. And there were parts that were extremely seedy . . . I already get enough seedy in other areas of my life, so I could stand a bit less in characters I'm trying to cheer for . . . still, in the end, O'Neill just has a way of describing life that no other writer does, and that I love seeing the world through her eyes, so .... 4.75 stars.
Why I Read This Now: I started this a couple of weeks ago when here in Vancouver we had an unexpected and offensive cold snap, and I thought, well! if we're going to have freezing temperatures, I'm going to read a book set in Montreal (where they really know how to do cold). And our cold keeps coming .... I've finished the book, so time for the cold to finish too. But no, more snow expected tomorrow . . . time to find a book set in the tropics I guess.
Recommended for: After 3 books, Heather O'Neill had firmly become one of my top living writers, so I encourage everyone to read her. She writes GritLit, so prissy people won't like her, nor will those with no sense of humour.
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