March 2021 Reading Review

The reads for March 2021 included:

So to the (rather obsessive!) numbers:

  • Total number of books read in February 202116.
  • Total number of pages read 3,266 pages (av. 266). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fiction10 fiction / non-fiction. 1 play.
  • Diversity 3 BIPOC. books by women.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books (whee!) and e-books.

So I had a productive reading month which was really fun. Plus, I also pulled out some cross-stitch and finally finished up a project that I’ve working on for quite a while. Just need to get it framed and then it’s done. 🙂

Review Roundup: London, Humans, Life After Life…

I’ve been reading quite a lot lately. It’s so interesting to see that I have a tendency to fluctuate in my reading levels. Looking back at trends over the past several years, I see that my reading levels falter in January and February and then pick up the pace once it gets into the Spring months. Is it to do with the amount of sun? Is it something to do with the moon? 😉 

I’m not sure but I’m glad I’m back into one of my most important hobbies. So – what have I actually been reading? Let me do a quick round-up for you.

Londoners – Craig Taylor (2011). A nonfiction collection of conversations, really, that Taylor has gathered from a wide range of people who live in, love, hate, or perhaps left London. This was one of those perfect reads at the perfect time for me and I loved it. It was fit in with my temporary Monkey Mind and I could really hear what his interviewees said. This was such a fascinating read and I highly recommend it if you’re searching for a good book to pick up and put down. Loved it.

The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde (1895). The play itself. I have been wanting to go to a live play or other cultural event, but the pandemic has put the kibosh on that option right now so I picked up this Wilde read. I haven’t seen or read this one and it was full of Wilde’s sly witticisms and sense of humor. Good. 

Then, still with a bit of a Monkey Mind (and thus lower levels of concentration), I was at the library (shocker!) and saw the most recent edition of the photo collection by Brandon Stanton called Humans. (He did the photo books called “Humans of New York” and has a really good blog, which I reviewed here and this was just as stellar). Stanton takes extremely good photos and allows his interviewees to really talk. Just fascinating if you like that kind of thing. (This is one of the projects that I wish I had done.) 

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (2014). Looking for a solid good read and wanting to pull a title from my homegrown TBR (as opposed to the library), this was quite a chunky read (and yet I wasn’t scared off by it) – 536 pages. (Normally, I would run screaming from such a high page count but it was ok.) This was such a good read but it definitely plays with time and structure so you need to concentrate. The protagonist, Ursula, reincarnates over and over throughout this story but what is truth? Anyway, a very clever novel and easy to read at the same time. I’m definitely going to pick up more Atkinson at some point. 

So that’s me all caught up re: recent reads. Tell me about yours. 

Oh, and I bought a new rug for my office at home. It makes me very happy! 🙂

Library Loot: March 31, 2021

The library books:

  • Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie (F/mystery)
  • The Great Gatsby: A Reader’s Companion to the Novel – Richard Lehan (NF/lit crit)
  • A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles (F)
  • Seeking Pleasure in the Old West – David Dary (NF/history)
  • Before You Put That On – Lloyd Boston (NF/style)

The thrift books:

  • Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker (F)
  • Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (F/sci fi)
  • Us Against You – Fredrik Backman (F)
  • Living History – Hilary Rodham Clinton (NF/auto)

So, lots from which to choose here. I’m a happy camper.

Review: Greek and Roman Myths

I was perusing another book blog (sorry – not sure how whose it was but it was good), and was greatly impressed with this person’s familiarity and knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology. At the very same time, I’d also been thinking about reading (and reminding) myself about these very same myths that I’d read way back in junior high (or even earlier).

And then – serendipity: I found a Scholastic book of myths in the thrift shop the other day so I snapped that sucker up.

This was very fun to dip my toes into the ancient world of gods and goddesses and their overlap with the messy and imperfect lives of the humans, and I thoroughly enjoyed this reminder of old gods such as Perseus and Theseus and new ones (to me) such as Atalanta. Can’t forget old Midas and Pygmalion as well…

This very quick read was followed up with a supplemental read of the fabulous DK Eyewitness book about mythology, but this volume encompasses much more than just the Greek and Roman world as it also includes myths and cultural beliefs from across millennia and across the world.

I had been rather hoping for a more focused look at the Greek and Roman myths, but sometimes you don’t know what you need and the Book Gods fill in the gaps for you, and that is what this DK Eyewitness read was for me. This was like a visit to a really well-curated museum exhibit on the subject.

Thoroughly enjoyed this and now I’m on the lookout for more myths. I’ve missed my myths. Ha.

The Long March – Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (1998)

Chahta hakia hoke: We are Choctaw.

With Cathy at 749Books focusing on All Things Irish this month, I’ve been pulling some Irish-related titles from the shelves and in doing so realized that I know shockingly little about Irish history. So – wanting a quick primer on the Emerald Isle, I read this title. (I also have another FANTASTIC novel that I’m finishing up but that’s a different post.)

This read was about the terrible potato famine that occurred in 1845-1847. The juvenile title covers how the Choctaw people in Oklahoma collected money from their tribespeople to send to the Irish during their time of need…

Despite having lived close to OK for many years, I was not familiar with this event of the Choctaws supporting the far-away Irish so my interest was piqued when I saw the title on my library website.

Even better – it was a kid read which meant two things: (one) it’s probably really well explained (assuming the author is good) and (two) it wouldn’t take long to read and learn. I was right on both counts.

The protagonist, Choona, a young Choctaw boy, is familiar with the terrible Great March (or the Trail of Tears) which his tribe had been forced to undertake when their lands were taken away from the tribe, and as the reader learns (along with Choona) of the overlaps between these two displaced peoples, s/he also learns the importance of being true to yourself and others.

(In fact, there is such a connection between the Choctaw tribe and Ireland that Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, was inducted as an honorary tribal chieftain.)

So – what was good about this read? Well, it was really well researched by Fitzpatrick and she had worked closely with her Choctaw contacts, both the actual Chief of the Choctaw tribe and the Executive Director of a non-profit that works with the actual tribe. This automatically added authenticity and drive to the book for me, at least.

Additionally, the artwork was stupendous. Fitzpatrick, the author, is also a professional illustrator and it was obvious that she had taken great pains to reflect Choctaw life and people accurately and with care. I wonder how she had come across this story originally, as I haven’t heard of it before now. I’m really glad that I’ve learned about this as it’s a really interesting story.

Fascinating (to me) note: According to this title, the state name of Oklahoma (actually Okla Homa) is Choctaw for “Red People”.

Germinal – Emile Zola (1897)

In the fiery rays of the sun on this youthful morning the country seemed full of that sound. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing towards the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth.

I’ve finally finished up a never-ending read of Zola’s Germinal and in honor of this experience, I thought I’d show the review-related haiku that I made up:

“There is a lot of mining.

It is cold and dark.

Things don’t go well for anyone.”

Crikey. This was a dark book – and “dark” in several different ways as well. It follows the lives and times of a village whose livelihood revolves around a company mine, and in so doing, Zola integrates his (many many MANY) thoughts on politics and socialism and the rights of workers.

It’s well written, that’s for sure, but from my own readerly perspective, the man really needs an editor to cut some text for him in the long run. (I am certain that he could have said the same thing but in fewer words.)

So, although I can’t say that I actually enjoyed this read, I am glad that I’ve read some more Zola now. (I enjoyed his other read, The Ladies Paradise here.)

More of a [raw] broccoli book than anything but glad I read it. Probably won’t read it again. 😉

India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking – Anand Giridharadas (2011)

What separated me from [India] was more than just the barriers of time. There was the further distance of my own false visions and the need for revisions. Fragments of memory floated in me. Some were once true but had, in the time of my parents’ absence from India, become false; some were true from the start and so remained; some were never true. To return to India in this way, as the son of those who had left, was to know dizzying change – and change as much in the seer as in the seen.

Strolling through another Dewey decimal number, I found myself in the world of travel and wanting something really different from Victorian books, I thought I would go to India and I pulled this one off the shelf. I entered the book thinking that it would be along the lines of a more traditional travelogue (albeit one from the POV of a returning resident) but it was a rather different read than that. It was good, for the most part, but it wasn’t quite what I had expected (although I accept that perhaps the subtitle should have clued me in a bit more).

Giridharadas is an American-born son of first-generation immigrant parents who emigrated to the US for new opportunities and a better life than they believed they could get if they stayed in India. Having only experienced Indian life through infrequent trips “home” to India throughout childhood, the author decides to upsticks and move back to India as an adult: to experience an “intimate portrait” of his new-to-him country and culture.

Having grown up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Giriharadas only knows the India of these infrequent trips “back home” with his family, and as a fellow immigrant myself, I can relate to how these trips, fun as they can be, are sometimes hard work with pressure to do everything and see everyone within the short time limits of the vacation. It’s a lovely problem to have – so many friends and things to do! – but it’s also pretty tiring at times.

Giriharadas wants to experience “real” Indian life through his own lens, as opposed to that of his parents’ own memories. What was the “true” experience of life in India? Was it as his parents (and he) remembered? Or would it be new and updated now that technology was widespread and easily adopted for many people? And how had that impacted the culture and lifestyles of typical Indian citizens?

So, this book is like a memoir in some ways: his parents’ memories seen through the filter of his own American childhood (and the visits) but it was also an outsider’s perspective on how life had evolved in the modern world for the India of today.

Chapters are divided into large themes, such as “Anger”, “Pride”, “Freedom” – large categories that allow Giriharadas to group many disparate topics together and which works for the most part.

As a reader, the different pieces were fit together like a jigsaw puzzle but it did wear a little thin towards the last third of the book. (But how else to cover such a huge variety of subjects? I don’t know.)

The first two-thirds was the strongest piece, the final third (as mentioned) was a little drawn out and rather too navel-gazing for me, but then I had entered the book thinking it was a straightforward travelogue so it may have been some of my own fault really.

Despite this slightly tepid review, I did enjoy the majority of this read. Giriharadas is a solid writer with good descriptive skills and a journalist’s eye towards the internal and the external world. As an Indian, he was allowed access to “real life” India via his friends and family and it’s interesting to read how his perspective changes the longer that he lives there.

People change – and so do countries – and it was thought-provoking for me to think that something similar might occur to me should I ever upsticks back to England after more than 30 years away in the Colonies…

Library Loot: March 04 2021

I’ve been busy at the library lately so thought I’d update my stash of interesting titles:

  • The Colorado Kid – Stephen King (F) – was looking for another read by King since I loved his Misery title… (This edition actually has what I consider to be the WORST cover art in the world. I’ll get you a pic…)
  • The Water Museum – Luis Alberto Urrea (F/short stories). Love Urrea’s other work
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Stick – Zora Neale Hurston (F/short stories). Other Hurston reviews here: Barracoon (NF), Their Eyes were Watching God (1937)…
  • Mrs. Malory Wonders – Hazel Holt. (F/mystery). Just was looking for a cozy murder book and this title came up…
  • Bookmarks: Reading in Black and White: A Memoir – Karla F. C. Holloway (NF). I ILL’d this title but it looks rather different inside than I was expecting. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Around the World in 80 Days with Micheal Palin – Michael Palin. (Loved his travel book on the Himalaya mountains and wanted to read some more good travel writing.)

And more titles… (Told you I might have got carried away… 😉 )

  • The Sittaford Mystery – Agatha Christie (F/mystery). Already finished this – good fun.
  • My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier (F/thriller/mystery). Was looking for a Gothic thriller type of read… (Just realized that I’ve already read this. Sigh. No worries. Moving on…)
  • Ice: The Antarctic Diary of Charles E. Passel – Charles E. Passel (NF/travel/adventure).
  • The Round House – Louise Erdrich (F/Native American).
  • Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (F).
  • A Traveller’s Life – Eric Newby (NF/travel).
  • DK Eyewitness Books: Astronomy. (NF). Just looked interesting.

Which one to read first?…. I know I’m going to read the astronomy Eyewitness book this weekend for starters and make a start on “The Commitments” by Roddy Doyle for Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2020 project.

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. 

The Best American Travel Writing 2019 – Alexandra Fuller (ed.)

I am a big fan of the America’s Best (insert your choice of writing style here) and so couldn’t resist scooping this title up when I saw it for sale.

(See previous reviews for 2000, 2010, 2011, 2016 and 2018 here.)

And – just like eating a big old box of chocolates, there was a mixed bunch of offerings and for the 2019 edition, and only one stinker in the whole selection. 🙂

I was pleased to see that this edition’s editor was female – so often they are typically white males which usually means that 90 percent of the content are also white males. Fuller very ably turned that formula on its head and this book includes almost 50 percent female writers of mixed diversity. And funnily enough, the excellent quality of the writing doesn’t suffer for this proportion! 😉

Snide remarks aside, the writing topics varied from bachelorette parties in Nashville to a tiny village in China where dissident residents are taken on a “tourist” ride by the authorities to the aquatic world of the lion fish and its passionate followers.

In all honesty, I loved nearly all of the articles/essays included so I think that equals a great read for me. Referring back to the analogy of the box of chocolates, each essay hit the spot (apart from that one I mentioned earlier) and that might have been me just being a picky reader.

Authors included a wide variety (not sure of the ethnicity of these folks though) and their work had been published in an array of outlets, including Harper’s, Airbnb magazine, The New Yorker, the Smithsonian magazine and more, but every essay included was extremely well written and well organized.

If I were teaching a creative nonfiction writing class, I’d certainly require my students to read some of the examples as models to follow.

This was a true joy to read at the start of the new year. Hopefully, it portends lots more “pure joy” reads in the near future!