Updates (mea culpa)

Clearly, letting even one self-imposed deadline fall by the wayside encourages me to let more slide. And then the backlog is daunting so I just say, “I’ll have more time tomorrow; I’ll do it then.” So today is the cliff: one more postponement and I’ll crash over the edge. Don’t want to do that, so we’ll have a quick rundown of recent reads…

I had fun re-reading a book from childhood, The Little Prince and noticing once again how well the illustrations enhance the story.

I raced through the first five books in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles series. I mentioned the first one in an earlier post, but this time I consumed volumes 2-5 without a break.

In nonfiction I enjoyed Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home but then I always like books about books. I wish the author had given us a few more of her impressions from her “year of reading from home” rather than mostly a listing of books she had on her shelves. I also read (or listened to) Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century because although I used to love Perry’s historical mysteries, I’ve categorically refused to read any more of them since learning she herself is a convicted murderer. I have no problem with someone living a productive life after serving one’s time, but I think it’s the height of poor taste to choose murder mysteries to make her (very good) living. After reading this book, I have more complicated feelings toward her and I’m not sure if I’ll stick with my ban forever. Please note, however, that the narrator for this audiobook is really annoying and I will definitely not listen to any others she may have narrated.

A much better nonfiction read is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption and this one I highly recommend. Thought-provoking, discouraging and hopeful all at once. I need to come back and add more thoughts on this one, but I must get this post up, so for now I suggest you go find the book and read it.

I also recommend David McCullough’s latest book The Wright Brothers, who are probably my hometown’s most famous local boys.

In general fiction I’ve read Aquarium, The Bone Tree, The People in the Trees, and All the Light We Cannot See. I enjoyed all, but am not sure that any will make my top ten list for 2015.

A quick trip through At Bertram’s Hotel was an easy reminder that Agatha Christie can be relied upon for a good read. Casino Royale was my first time to actually dive into one of the books behind the James Bond film series. It also qualifies in two challenges: my TBR one and the Literary Birthday one. And I finally read Anna Karenina from start to finish, and thoroughly enjoyed it! (this one counts in my Back to the Classics challenge.)

There have been a few other books, but as I’ve already lost the draft for this post TWICE, I’m going to post as is and come back to add the rest of the links and perhaps a few more thoughts.

Currently I’m working my way through the shortlist for this years Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize, but those will be covered in another post.

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodieis another of those classic titles that I’d never read. What I knew from the blurbs were that Miss Brodie is a “progressive” teacher at a girls’ school, and she probably unnerved administration and parents alike. What I did not expect was to find that she was manipulative and small-minded and selfish and a great admirer of Mussolini and Hitler. I’m glad the book is more of the novella length because I was very disappointed with it.

The well-known quote from this book, “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life” certainly characterized this manipulative teacher’s philosophy. She assumed that she could get girls to do her bidding for her own selfish ends if she had simply taken them under her wing at a young age. She kept telling them (and apparently the men in her life) that she was a woman “in her prime”, as if this should be how everyone thought of her without questioning her motives or doubting her methods.

The book did portray the small-time politics of such a school, but really just showed an amoral and narcissistic woman.

I was not impressed. Three stars, for being readable, and short. And because it qualifies toward two of my reading challenges this year: Back to the Classics (I’m using it to qualify as A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title), and the Birthday Month Reading Challenge, as Muriel Spark was born 2/1/1918.


Pure Comfort Food in a book

“Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I no longer make a point of reading The Lord of the Ringsevery year, but I’m never too many years between visits to Middle Earth. I lost a week of college (or at least all free time that week) to my first reading of it, but it’s the subsequent times through that carry the most memories. The read-alouds with my young daughter, the time we had a map printed on a large foam board and then traced the progress of the storylines with dry erase markers, the time I had a long and detailed discussion of it with a group of online friends… So I won’t make a critique or synopsis here. Suffice it to say that this is like macaroni and cheese for the reading soul: pure comfort food. It’s not fluff and there are endless layers of depth to tease apart, but it’s familiar and beautiful and a delight every time.

I chose to read it this month because of one of the reading challenges in which I’m participating, where I commit to reading one book each month that was written by someone born during that month. JRR Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892 and the world is a better place because of it.


2015 Literary Birthday Challenge

I’m wary of committing to too many book challenges — that I might find it chafing against what I want to read, or that I simply won’t follow through… but I think I’ll give this one more a try. I signed up for the event hosted by You, Me and a Cup of Tea because it sounded easy enough and rather fun. Chasing down birthdays for the authors of books I want to read this year provided me with plenty of opportunity to procrastinate when I could have been doing things like folding laundry or, say, actually reading.

The idea is that each month I will read one book by an author who was born during that month. Goodreads has a group page set up  and there are links on that page to lists people are compiling of authors who would meet the criteria. I am planning to come back and update this page with each relevant entry.

Updates:

January     The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien  1/10/15

February    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark  2/25/15

March    The Inspector-General, by Nikolai Gogol  3/30/15

April     Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington  4/19/15

May      Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming  5/4/15

Now, I think that should be the end of the challenges I enter. Sometimes I have already found it confining to keep up with 2-3 book clubs, although I certainly read enough books to do so if I would just choose those which I am “supposed to read.”


I can’t believe that a new reading year is about to begin! 2014 has had quite a few delightful reads, so I will close this post by listing what I wound up deciding were my ten favorite new-to-me books of the year.

1  How the Light Gets In: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by  Louise Penny
I’m just not sure books get any better than this one, though one must have read the preceeding books to fully appreciate it.
2 The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir
I laughed my way through this whole book. I loved the sciency nerdy stuff and thought there were a lot of good insights into media coverage, human resourcefulness and the value of persisting.
3 The Golem and the Jinni (P.S.) by Helene Wecker
From the description, this would not seem like my kind of book at all, but I simply loved it. Beautifully written, and very much a charcter-driven book. I will be re-reading this one in the near future.
4 We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
I knew nothing whatever about this book when I read it (inhaled it, really). I’m glad for that, because if I’d known more I couldn’t have enjoyed it as much.
5 Twelve Angry Men (Penguin Classics) by Reginald Rose
I’d seen the (great) movie long ago, but had never read the play. I highly recommend it.
6 The Return of the Soldier Rebecca West
A surprisingly powerful novella on the effects of shellshock in the aftermath of WW1.
7 Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
This one was very painful to read. The author put it all out on the page – her raw emotions and golden memories. Gradually, one sees her find her way forward after her nearly unthinkable loss.
8 The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli by Lisa Abend
I loved this book about the workings at one of the world’s most famous restaurants, and the lives of the apprentices who were a part of it for one season.
9 Station Eleven by Hilary St. John Mandel
More than post-apocalyptic, this reads as a literary novel that follows human nature in the wake of a worldwide flu pandemic. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I was going to.
10 The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

In the end, I had to put this one on my list because it was just such a fun read.

I had to leave off several that could have qualified but perhaps were just nudged out by one or more of the above.