A Town Like Alice – Neville Shute (1950)

Although this title may be shelved as a “romance”, it’s definitely not in the same genre as Mills and Boon and co.; to me, it was just a pretty good (re)read although the initial read occurred so long ago that it was really a new read. 🙂

This novel tracks the course of Jean Paget, a young woman from England, and her ongoing relationship with Sargent Joe Harman, both of prisoner-of-war captives in Malaya. They become good friends and post-liberation (and once WWII is over), Jean emigrates to Australia to be with Joe permanently.

So, this novel really has several distinct parts to the plot: the first part is when both Jean and Joe are prisoners in Malaya, about their lives and loves etc.; the second part is when they both emigrated to Australia to start new lives together, and the third part demonstrates how Jean (and her inherited large wealth) invest in the small outback community of Alice Springs (which is, as you may spot now, why the novel is called “A Town Like Alice.”)

It’s a straightforward story and it’s well written for the most part (in terms of structure, grammar etc.) It does suffer from historical anachronisms when any of the characters mention the native people of Australia and it was a little jarring when you’re reading it from a 21st century perspective. But them were the times, I suppose. 

The plot rather sagged in the second third of the book and TBH, I was a tempted to DNF but for some reason, I became determined to finish the damn thing so I did. I must have read this during my teen years when I was growing up in England but I don’t really remember it much so it was like a new read for me. 

(And, of course, I can’t let this post go by without a mention of “A Town Called Malice” by The Jam from 1982. 🙂 )

Glad I read it. One more off the old TBR pile, but probably won’t pick up another Neville Shute in the future…!

January 2021 Reading Review

The reads for January 2021 included:

  • The Borden Tragedy – Rick Geary (NF/graphic)
  • Daytripper – Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (NF/graphic)
  • Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (reread – F/spec fiction)
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk – Katherine Rooney (F)
  • The Best American Travel Writing 2019 – Alexandra Fuller (ed.) (NF travel)
  • The Closed Circle – Jonathan Coe (F)
  • News of the World – Paulette Giles (F)
  • A Town Called Alice – Neville Shute (classic – F)
  • Misery – Stephen King (F)

So to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in January 20219
  • Total number of pages read 2.739 pages (av. 304). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • Diversity 1 BIPOC. books by women.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books and e-books. One borrowed book.

Plans for February 2021 include picking up a classic or two (but which one? That’s the question. I’m thinking either Dickens or Zola but I’ll see what jumps out.) I also want to include more POC writing. Continue this pace of reading and perhaps read more from my own TBR as opposed to those titles from the library.

Library Loot: February 01 2021

I’ve been reading and I’m working on a general catch-up post about this but in the meantime, I thought I would do a Library Loot post. I did, actually, have a few more than this pile of titles but I think it was a case of the old “eyes bigger than your stomach” so about half of them were taken back last week. :-}

This pile includes:

Educated – Tara Westover (NF)

The Seven Dials – Agatha Christie (F/mystery)

Misery – Stephen King (F) – just finished this so post to come. (OMG. It was so good.)

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier (F) – reread

Plans for reading this week include choosing a classic (I have a hankering for one of those), write up a couple of posts about some recent reads I’ve completed, and then get back into the swing of things.

Looking forward to February!

News of the World – Paulette Jiles (2016)

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Life continues with university classes now back in session – the first class is today so I’ve been busy prepping for that and doing general office-y things that have cropped up. I hadn’t been in the office (officially) since last July (due to all the medical stuff) so there has been quite a bit of catch-up although I have been doing the odd thing here and there during the interim. It’s good to be back as I really enjoy my job and I am fortunate to have really good co-workers and boss. 

Wanting to try something new, I rather rashly signed up DH and me for the local chorale group. (What could go wrong with that?!) 

Turned out that, despite having slogged through years of piano and (briefly violin) lessons, I couldn’t actually remember how to read music or sing, so that activity has been crossed off the list now. I was so out of my depth. I think I had thought that this would be more of a casual sing-along when, in fact, it’s a VERY SERIOUS group full of professional singers. They were friendly-ish, but DH and I decided that we’d rather watch the latest episode of the remake of “The Karate Kid” than pretend to know which page of music we were on.  All is well. Just not what I had anticipated. 😉

Reading-wise: While I have neglected my book-reading, I’ve been tempted (and typically have succumbed) to the lure of trawling on the internet, traveling from various blogs scattered here and there, so I haven’t actually done that much actual reading of books per se. (Must. Break. That. Habit of web surfing.) I place most of the blame on people such as yourself for writing such interesting blogs! 😉 (What a good problem to have!) 

I did just finish a read of News of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016). This is fiction set in 1870 Texas and follows the lives of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and Johanna, a young orphan being accompanied to her relatives in San Antonio after having been kidnapped by a band of Kiowa raiders. Johanna only knows life as a Kiowa tribal member which means that she is surrounded by things that she doesn’t understand or know about — a very fish-out-of-water type of situation. The same can be said for Kidd, an elderly man whose livelihood consists of traveling across Texas giving readings of the latest news to isolated communities. 

And, if you think about it, the state of Texas could also be viewed as being inexperienced, since the book is set around a time when Texas’ own statehood is still quite new… 

This was a good read. Initially, I had been concerned that it would be more of a typical “old people/child relationship” type of story, but it’s much more than that, which was very appreciated by this reader. There was definitely a generational influence in the overall narrative, but I liked how Jiles took that idea and applied it to a larger context. 

Really strong descriptions of Texas and its inhabitants along with some excellent writing, this was a fast and enjoyable read last weekend. Plus – the actual book itself has some lovely production values: deckled pages, French flaps (in a soft covered book) and in a good font. 

I enjoyed it. 

In brief…

Although I have been somewhat absent from the blog (sorry), I have been busy doing other things. I’ve also been reading (albeit somewhat slower than normal) and I thought I would just do some short reviews about those titles:

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (2003)

An excellent read from Atwood, part one in the (sci-fi-ish) MaddAdam trilogy, and now I’m psyched to track down the next installment. I went to the library but someone else has the same idea and had checked out the one copy so, frustratingly, I have to wait. Waah. But at least I have about five quillion other titles from which to choose my next read whilst I cool my heels. 

Then I whipped through a quick and fluffy read of Katherine Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. It was ok but rather a forgettable read. My friend loved it, though, so perhaps take my experience with a grain of salt. It might have been me…. 😉

Now, I’m immersed in some excellent NF: America’s Best Travel Writing 2019 (Alexandra Fuller, ed.) and so since we can’t travel right now, this is the next best thing (since we can travel via the written word). A longer review to follow…

And then – guess what? It snowed seven inches last night and so we’ve been snuggled up inside when we haven’t been outside goofing around with Nova Dog (who ADORES snow). 

Plus – a jigsaw puzzle. Wow. I just love these things. 🙂

Catching up…

So, as mentioned in the previous post (re: me not being up to reading actual books), since I’m now feeling a lot better, I am now actually picking up books and having a lot of fun doing so. 

In the spirit of brevity, I thought I’d just do a quick review round-up of the titles I’ve finished up – a mix of both library books and my own TBR. To the reviews:

Cider with Rosie– Laurie Lee (1959). A reread but still very enjoyable. Absolutely delicious descriptions of England in the 1930s: the countryside, the food, the perspective of life as seen by a young happy boy… All good things. If you haven’t ever read this title (or perhaps it’s time for a reread?), then you wouldn’t go far wrong if you added this to your TBR pile. (TBR title).

The Best American Travel Writing 2019– Alexandra Fuller (ed.); Jason Wilson (series ed.). This is one of the NFs I have going on right now so review to come. (TBR title.)

Oryx and Crake– Margaret Atwood (2003) – This is one of the F I have going on right now so review to come with the end goal of me reading the whole trilogy. (Library copy.)

All Things Bright and Beautiful– James Herriott (1974). I was looking for some comfort reading at the start of December and then remembered how sweet the Herriott books can be. So, off the shelf with this one. And – it was a super read. (TBR title.)

A forgettable collection of essays by Nick Hornby (Housekeeping vs. the Dirt) along with an actual DNF of another essay collection, this time by David Sedaris (2020). I’ve read other work by Sedaris and have found it to be a little patchy in quality, and this was the case with this selection of his work. (Library book.) 

Had the annual read of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol– just love Dickens’ writing and this story was an excellent start to the holiday season (library copy). Other seasonal reads included: Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales (TBR copy), Tolkein’s Letters from Father Christmas (sobs but in a good way) (TBR copy). Carol Ann Duffy, England’s poet laureate (still?), had a short stocking=stuffer kind of read with Another Night Before Christmas (TBR copy) and then David Sedaris’ collection of holiday-related essays called A Christmas on Ice (TBR copy). (This book is pretty funny unlike his book mentioned above.)

John Steinbeck.

By then, I had had enough Christmas reading and started to move on to different titles on the TBR pile. I started with a John Steinbeck title, America and Americans, which collected together his thoughts on America (the country) and the people who live in it. Travel writing sort of thing and very good. 

Pulled a few graphic novel-type books for an afternoon of a different kind of reading. The best was the Get Fuzzy cartoon collection, but Honorable Mention should go to The Borden Tragedy by Rick Geary, a graphic novel that details the Lizzy Borden murder case back in history. Really interesting, btw. (Library.) 

I whipped through a few books by English H.E. Bates: The Darling Buds of May, A Breath of Fresh Air, and When the Green Woods Laugh– a good selection of some strong English countryside writing. I enjoyed it at the time but I must admit it was more of a palate cleanser than an epic read. So, three more off the TBR. 

And then rounding out the holidays was a reread of Emile Zola’s The Ladies Paradise. This one I loved (see an earlier review of this read here) and after researching Zola a little more, realized that he has masses of other work out there so I’m excited to see what other titles I can find on the stacks. ETA: Just checked out Germinal by Zola, so we’ll see!

As the new year beckons, I raise a glass of champers to you and yours for a peaceful, productive and fun 2021. Happy reading ahead!

My year of reading…

New Year's Eve | CDC

Similar to others in the book blogosphere, I rather enjoy being quite nerdy and reviewing how my reading patterns went over the past year, although I had thought I had read more than this. However, no worries. It’s not a race so all is fine. Just interesting. 

So, to the numbers:

TOTAL books read in 2019 – 48. (Average: 4 books/mo.) This is waaaay down from a typical reading year, but then this wasn’t a typical year! I’m ok with that.

Biggest monthly totals in the summer months (when school is out). Smallest total was in January. 

This was composed of a focus on NF. (Actual numbers were 23 F and 52 NF. Of the NF, the majority were bio/autobio, similar to last year’s total.)

Authors:  25 M and 23 F. I’m happy with this split…

Authors of color (AOC)/Topics related to POC21 (44%. That’s pretty good, I think.)

Where were these books from? I’m pleased with this one: 69 percent were from my own TBR. (Progress of sorts.)

Publication details:

Number of pages: 13,961.

Year range of publication date: 1843 (A Christmas Carol/Dickens) to 2020 (various). 1996 average.

Shortest book length: 98 pp (When the Green Woods Laugh/H. E. Bates). Longest: 581 pp (Invisible Man/Ellison). 298 pp. average.

Overall, this was a fun reading year and I really enjoyed my focus on increasing the number of BIPOC authors in the list (42 percent of the reads were by BIPOC authors). Definitely going to continue with that campaign.

Another focus: reading more from my TBR. (Insert hollow laugh right here.) 😉

Additionally, I had two really good solid reads of the AP Style Book (for professional development), so it was a good mix of work/play. I had an enjoyable year. 

Goals for 2020? None really (apart from the yearly read of the AP Style Book :-] ). Just more of the same, so long as it’s fun. 

June 2020 Reading Review

The reads for June 2020 included:

So to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in June 20207
  • Total number of pages read 2181 pages (av. 321). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • Diversity 5 BIPOC. books by women.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books and 0 e-books.

Plans for July 2020 include a month of teaching online Summer School at the university, prepping their lectures and grading work… Apart from that, lots of reading, jigsaw puzzles and hanging out. Temperatures are very hot outside for the most part, so it’s a pretty indoor life right now. 😉

Our city has a few lakes and flooded canyons. Here is one of them on a lovely weekend morning walk the other day.

She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman – Erica Armstrong Dunbar (2019)

Crikey. This was one heckuva read about an amazing Black woman. It’s also an excellent nonfiction book with cool modern graphics integrated in amongst its well-written text. (I know. Lots of praise but this volume deserves every ounce of that.)

If you’re unfamiliar with Harriet Tubman, get thee to at least the Wikipedia page and read about this true American hero. (No hyperbole there.) Her life story just blew me away. 🙂

Harriet Tubman (1885). Photograph by Horatio Seymour Squyer. National Portrait Gallery.

So – not only is this the life story of an astonishingly brave woman, this title presents her history (or herstory) in a modern and extremely graphically-pleasing format. And — it’s well-written. As you can perhaps surmise, this was an informative and wonderful read for me, and I highly recommend it for you.

She Came to Slay:
Erica Armstrong Dunbar, author.

If you’re not familiar with Tubman (and disregarded my advice in the second paragraph to go and read the Wiki page on her), you’re missing out. Tubman may have been small in stature (five feet tall) but holy cow – she had the biggest and bravest heart and used that courage to save hundreds of people from slavery.

Not only was she a leader in the historical Underground Railway system for escaped slaves, but she was also a hardcore soldier, a brilliant spy, a suffragette for the vote AND an advocate for old people. And – she had brain surgery without anesthetic. Phew. Can you see why I am amazed by this fabulous woman?

Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the Charles and Mary Beard professor of history at Rutgers in New Jersey, has done a great job here of relating Tubman’s life and endless achievements, all done in an energetic and graphically pleasing presentation which made this a pure pleasure to read.

It’s written in a conversational tone (despite Armstrong Dunbar’s academic status), but this tone comes across as friendly and informative, similar to watching an approachable historical documentary onscreen but while retaining the sheen of academic rigor to the text.

Credit: Toledo Public Library.

A powerful and mesmerizing read about one of the most impressive historical figures I have ever come across. I’m astonished that Tubman is not more well known for her life and times – she should be. This will be definitely be one of the top reads for 2020. Amazing.

(Curiously – Tubman was scheduled to be honored on the design of the $20 dollar bill [to replace racist President Andrew Jackson] but true to form, the Orange Goblin has put the kibosh on that for now. See this CNN article for the (disgusting) details. Sigh.)

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You’re still here? Shouldn’t you be at the library checking this book out? Or buying it online? Why – yes. You should. 😉

Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights – Gretchen Sorin (2020)

With the world in this state of flux (for all of the many different reasons), I’m really interested in learning more about the history and the lives of the many people who call the U.S. “home”.

At the same time, I’m also committed to reading more BIPOC authors and topics, so toddled off to the library to see what I could track down on the shelves.

“Driving While Black” covers some of the history of American civil rights through the lens of automobiles and their overlap with social history. This was a fascinating read.

As the cover copy states, this book “reveals how the car – the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility – has always held particular importance for African Americans, allowing [B]lack families to evade the many dangers presented by an entrenched racist society and to enjoy, in some measure, the freedom of the open road.”

And although a lot of this history may not have been unfamiliar to me, the manner of how these two topics were combined and presented was eye-opening for me, as a white reader. Through careful documented research, Sorin puts together a thorough timeline of the parallels between the introduction (and subsequent widespread adoption) of the car and the increasing social roles of Black people in America:

Travel for Negroes inside the borders of the United States can become an experience so fraught with humiliation and unpleasantness that most colored people simply never think of a vacation in the same terms as the rest of America.

The Saturday Review, 1950

Geographer Karl Raitz has described the American roadside as a public space open for everyone, but the roadside itself only represented private interests.

This presented a dilemma for Black travelers: sure, you can buy a car (if you can afford it); sure, you can drive your car along the roads for great distances throughout the U.S., BUT if you want to actually stop at any point along your journey, these “private interests” (the hotels, restaurants, rest-stops etc.) are not always going to be welcoming for you and your family.

So, the introduction of the car to Black consumer symbolized freedom, just as it did for other car owners, but only the freedom of driving along the actual macadam. If you, as a Black driver, became hungry or tired and wanted to stop along the way, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. Do you see the dilemma now?

Sorin goes into well-documented depth on this using oral and written histories to bring you, as the reader, into this problematic world. As the twentieth century progressed, American life slowly and incrementally improved for Black families but it was geographically uneven and in irregular fits and starts. Sorin’s decision to intertwine consumer history of the car industry and the social history of Black America made this a riveting read which made me shake my head as the stupidity of racism.

Throughout the twentieth century, America was a confusing mix of integrated and non-integrated places which made traveling by car hazardous for Black drivers without significant preparation.

What were your options for help if you had a flat tire by the side of the road on a highway? Where would your family sleep at night? Have you packed enough food and drink for the non-stop journey (obviously you can’t stop at any old restaurant along the way)? Would your life be safe if you were driving in this particular community after sunset? (There were more than 150 “sundown towns” across the U.S.). And don’t even think about what your choices were if one of your party became sick and needed medical care…)

It is insane that the Land of the Free allowed these horrible constraints on some of its very own citizens. How traumatic for these early Black travelers just to drive to see other family members!

“At the Time of the Louisville Flood” – 1937 photograph by Margaret Bourke-White. (Getty Images.)

You’ve probably heard of the Green Book (link to book review), one of several travel guides for Black drivers on where to go, where to eat and where to stay, but this was just one of several publications that were popular at the time. (Huh. Didn’t know that but it makes sense that Victor Green wasn’t the only one to see the need.)

As cultural mores slowly started to shift and the white-owned travel business saw that more money could be made by catering to Black business, more hotels and restaurants gradually started to cater to these new customers. The Civl Rights Act of 1964 further accelerated this program (although it was achingly slow in parts of the South), but people were stubborn to change and adapt.

The problem of [B]lack business is not the absence of [B]lack support, but the absence of white support.

John H. Johnson, owner, Ebony magazine, 1971.
The Post-Racial Negro Green Book by Jan Miles (2017).

And although life has improved for Black Americans in the 21st century, it’s still got a ways to go. (Witness: police brutality et al.)

In 2017, author Jan Miles published “The Post-Racial Negro Green Book“, which is her take on the historical travel guide but this one is a 2013-2016 state-by-state collection of police brutality, racial profiling and everyday racist behavior by businesses and private citizens. Yikes.

Suffice to say that this was a powerful read for me. It wasn’t perfect in terms of the writing (quite a bit of repetition which could have been caught by a sharp-eyed editor), but the content more than made up for that.

Highly recommended!