Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 6 library books, 1 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. 😉
Well, I apologize for that unintended slightly-longer-than-I thought break there. Life has gone a little awry (just as it probably has for you all as well), and it’s taken me a little bit to get my bearings back. Our university classes all had to be moved online in a remarkably short amount of time, and it seems that I have spent most of the last couple of weeks either online in workshops learning how to do this effectively or messing around with the software needed to do it.
However, I feel more comfortable with the software now and have a stronger idea of just how to make this transition work for both the students’ academic experience and my own personal one. I’ve learned to keep things as simple as possible and we’re all taking it day by day.
Like an awful lot of others out there in book-blogging land, I found it hard to concentrate on reading for a little while, but this is coming back to me now. Thank goodness.
Anyway, I thought I would make this post more of a catch-up post than anything and then I can move onto getting back into the swing of things.
So – to the reading. I really enjoy Cathy746’s blog which focuses on reading from Ireland, and when I learned that she would be running February as “Read Ireland” month, I really wanted to join in with that. I toddled off to the TBR shelves and read the following as a tribute to the Emerald Isle:
The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind – Billy O’Callaghan (F/short stories).
For two titles without links, I’m afraid that I didn’t write up official reviews for them. However, I can report that the Binchy was a great read – like “a big cup of tea with chocolate digestives” good read and it hit the spot at a time when stress was quite high re: the class online transition. (To give you an idea of that, I have never taught online nor have I ever taken a class online, so I had a lot of learning to do! I’m much more comfortable with the whole process now, thankfully to the high level of support from both the university and my faculty colleagues.)
The O’Callaghan short stories were good with a couple of great ones in there. I think reading short stories as a unit is a bit of a gamble, and to be honest, I’m not convinced that reading the stories one after the other (as I did with this title) was the best way to experience them. I think I’ll probably make more of an effort to spread out the short-story reads a little more in the future. I bet that is a completely different reading experience that way.
Anyway, O’Callaghan is an Irish author and this was a good read. I also have one of his novels on deck so perhaps that might be more up my alley.
Another read that was definitely up my alley was an old collection of themed essays from the acclaimed zoologist Sir David Attenborough. Called “Journeys to the Past”, this collection of writing pieces goes back to the 1960s when Attenborough was traveling to far-flung places such as Madagascar, Tongo and Australia’s Northern Territories “doing what he does best, journeying with camera and pen to observe animals and tribal customs in some of the remotest parts of the world,” says the book cover.
Although written 60 years ago, this essay collection more than meets the mark for excellence in nonfiction writing. I had wondered if there would be some non-PC descriptions of places and peoples, but there were none. (I shouldn’t have worried. It was Attenborough, after all.) A thoroughly enjoyable armchair travel with an erudite and humorous host who plainly adores what he was lucky enough to do. He’s is just as thrilled meeting the local tribal representatives and learning their customs, despite his main focus being on animals, and his enthusiasm and respect for the individuals who he meets in the course of his travels were a balm for this frazzled soul.
This was by far one of the best of the reads I’ve had in the past few weeks, and if you’re looking for some gentle reads combined with some far-off travel (from the comfort of your own shelter-in-place home), then you won’t go wrong with Sir David.
A completely different read from Attenborough was a short read by NYT critic, Margo Jefferson, who wrote a small collection of provocative essays about Michael Jackson. (Yes, that Michael Jackson. Thriller one.) Jefferson takes a pretty academic lens to Jackson’s life and provides much food for thought about him. I’m still thinking about this read and am contemplating putting together a full review of this book since it’s got a lot of material inside the slim page count. (I’ve read some other Jefferson work: check out the review of Negroland here.)
So, I’ve been reading. And napping. And learning new software. And playing with my animals. And going for walks. And more napping. 🙂 I’m planning on adding more reading to this list from now on.
January has come and January has gone, and what do I have to show for it? Not a bad turnout for reading, as it happens. I’m particularly chuffed about the number of titles that have been picked from the TBR, a trend I am planning on continuing since I’m on a book-buying ban until May. (We’ll see how that goes, yes?) Additionally, five titles meet the criteria for being POC-related. Here are the deets:
Living Earth – DK Eyewitness Books – Miranda Smith (ed.) (TBR) – no blog post
Bop – Maxine Chernoff (F- short stories) (TBR) – this was a DNF. – no blog post
101 Things I Learned in Culinary School – Louis Eguaras and Matthew Frederick (NF) (TBR) – no blog post
A slight lack of blog posts about a lot of these reads, but this was a combination of being busy, going on vacation, going back to school and procrastination/not that much to say, so it’s all good.
Moving on to February, it’s one of my favorite celebratory occasions – Black History Month – so expect some focused reading on that. Right now, I’m fully immersed in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1947) which is an amazing read. It’s a large book (Scary Big Book in terms of page numbers) – 580 pp – so it’s taking a little while. But whoo-whee — it’s good.
The Booker Prize winning title for 2019, Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Women, Other was an excellent and enjoyable read. Although somewhat complex in scope, the book is made up of short stories, each focused on a British woman of African descent, some related to each other and others not but all with an overlap to someone.
(It’s actually quite a complicated set up, but someone has put together a diagram of how each of the characters related to another, if that helps. It would have been helpful if I’d found this during the read. I’ll try to dig it up online for you… )
So there are twelve characters of a variety of ages and backgrounds. As a reviewer on MookesandGripes writes: each of the four main stories introduces the reader to one of four key figures, and then goes on to introduce the reader to two more key characters associated with each of those four already mentioned.
I hadn’t known about this pattern before I had finished the read, but I do think it would be helpful to keep it mind. I had picked up that different stories mentioned characters who had previously been mentioned, but you do have to keep your wits around to keep track of who was whom with whom. It’s a good book if you don’t – Evaristo is a good writer for certain. It’s just that when you see these interlinking pieces, it elevates the novel to a higher level of appreciation (or at least it did with me).
Another interesting characteristic of the novel is that Evaristo chose to write each of the stories using non-standard English (re: grammar) so there are no full-stops/periods. It’s fine – you get used to it – and I’m wondering if she made that choice to give the book more of a stream-of-consciousness feel. It does feel as though you’re privy to the character’s own private thoughts as Evaristo recounts their narratives in this style.
It’s a strongly feminist book and takes pains (although it’s done seamlessly) to be as inclusive as possible in terms of who each of these female characters represent, socioeconomically, sexually, gender identity, professionally, etc. However, regardless of the demographics given for each character, Evaristo has managed to make each a believable character for me. There was no “checking off a list” feel to the book, in terms of representatives from each of the particular groups. Each was presented “as is” and not “other”ed (re: the title). It was really smoothly written and organized with the message of inclusivity woven throughout the story as opposed to being layered obviously on top.
So, there were lots of things that I really enjoyed about this book, not least the way that Evaristo has managed to eerily and accurately reproduce the exact dialect (and a lot of the vocab) that people in my town had used when I lived there growing up. It was like hanging out with my English friends (in terms of conversational style) and it made the read very convincing for me. Every time I opened up the book, I was typically sucked in to the narrative and didn’t come up to the surface until a suitable breaking point in the structure.
You know, I’m not always in agreement with the judges of the Booker Prize each year but I’m definitely supportive of this year’s selection. Congratulations to the author. To the readers who haven’t read it yet: get thee to a bookstore or library and fix that situation. Prepare to put some focused time and effort into the read and it will repay you many times over.
See here for a review of Evaristo’s Mr. Loverman. (LOVED it.)
The lovely FoL group had a half-price book sale a weekend or two ago, and who am I to turn down such a kind invitation to see what new titles I could find? So, I went and I found. 🙂
I really tried to stay on target and not fill up my shopping bag (since the December FoL Book Sale was still so recent), but I did find one or two titles to fit my needs!
Bottom to Top:
The Not so Big House – Susanka (really good interior decorating/design book).
Turtle Diary – Russell Hoban (1975) – epistolary novel that I saw somewhere that looked good and the library didn’t have its own copy. ETA: Read. Post to come.
Olive Kitteredge – Elizabeth Strout (2008) – the first novel introducing an interesting character – there’s been a recent release of a follow-up title, but since I couldn’t remember the original story, thought I’d better reread this before picking up that new one!
Bettyville: A Memoir – George Hodgman (2015, NF/auto).
And then I had briefly mentioned that quick visit to the bookshop on Venice Beach but didn’t give the deets on the title that I bought there? Here it is: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (2019)… I’ve heard a lot about it from the British bloggers and I was waiting for it to come out in paperback. Very looking forward to that read!
Like so many others in the book-blog sphere, I enjoy taking a look back at what I’ve read over the past twelve months of 2019 – some have been complete winners and some not, but overall, I’ve been happy with what I’ve read.
Big trends in choosing my titles have been mostly in choosing POC titles and topics and preferably the combo of both titles/authors of color. This has been eye-opening for me, and is a trend that will definitely continue over the future. I’d like to get to the point where I don’t really have to search out names and topics… Until then, I’m going to carry on this special effort to continue that focus until it’s a habit. It’s up to me to educate me, after all.
To the Top Ten Reads of 2019 (in no particular order):
The Rotter’s Club – Jonathan Coe (2001) (F). A novel written around the time that I grew up in England so brought back many happy memories. Plus written in a very creative structure and approach. I have the sequel on the TBR. <rubs hands with anticipatory delight>
There, There – Tommy Orange (2018) (F). An excellent fictional read written about Native Americans in the modern world by a young Native American writer.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – David Grann (2017) (NF/history/Native American). True tale of a series of early 20th century murders in a First Peoples tribe which happened to own large swathes of land with oil reserves on it…
Greengates – R.C. Sheriff (1936) (F). A lovely straightforward mid-century British novel.
Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? – Beverly Daniel Tatum (2003) (NF/sociology/African-American/race). (No blog post [only due to job busy] but you might check out this list of related AfAm NF titles I’ve read…) A timely NF that looks at race and how it plays out in the country today. Valuable on so many levels. We also saw the author speak – wonderful as well.
The October Country – Ray Bradbury (1955) (F/short stories/spec pic). A collection of different spec fiction stories written by a master writer.
The Parable of the Sower – Octavia E. Butler (1993) (F/spec fiction/sci fi). Really good sci fi novel by one of the first (and best) sci fi authors of color (also a woman). Try it even if you’re “not into sci fi”. It’s a good read, however you categorize it.
Other annual reading-related statistics:
Total pages read: 25,253 (average: 275 pp).
Total number of titles read: 94. (Compare with 2018: 77.)
DNFs for the year: 4.
Mixed gender (e.g. an anthology etc.): 11.
POC: 30 (for a total of 32%). Close to one in every three titles. Go me. 🙂
NF: 54 (57%)
TBR Titles: 60 off the TBR (of 64% of the total read).
December is wrapping up. It was a busy month but mostly fun, having Christmas and end-of-the-semester in there plus a great trip to New Orleans. (More to come on that trip.)
The reading was pretty good as well:
All-American Murder: The Aaron Hernandez Story – Alex Patterson (NF Sports). I know – a book about American football and me? But strangely interesting…
London and the South-East – David Szalay (F) Random pick of library shelves. Not bad…
Home-Fires: The Story of the WI in WW2 – Julie Summers (NF/History) Very good history of the Women’s Institute in England…
New Orleans: DK Guide. Travel guide.
Catchphrase, Slogan and Cliche – History – Judy Parkinson (NF/history)
Paddington Goes to Town – Michael Bond (F) Really needed something fairly easy and straightforward to read immediately post-semester!
The Snowman – Raymond Briggs (F/GN). See above.
English Country House Murders: an Anthology – Thomas Godfrey (F). See above.
Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjej-Brenyah (F-Short stories). Challenging but in a good way.
Total books read: 9
Total pages read:2511 pp. (av. 279 pp.)
NF: 4 (44% of monthly total)
F: 5 (56% of monthly total)
TBR:8 (89% of monthly total read). Go me.
Total % TBR for year to date: 64%. (Happy with this number.)
POC author/topic(s):2 (22% of monthly total). Will. Do. Better.
Male to Female:5 males + 2 females + 2 of mixed genders.
Oldest title: 1969 (Paddington Goes to Town/Michael Bond…) .
Longest title (re: page count): 533 pp.
Shortest title (re: page count) (excluding DNFs): 32 pp.
And – strangely enough, no relevant book review posts either. (There were some other posts but not about the actual books, which is weird for a book blog, yes?) I can only attribute this aberration to running out of time and energy at the end of the semester, but trust you’ll forgive me. 🙂
There was a lovely visit with my mum and, naturally, we completed a jigsaw or two, the large one was only completed with super-human effort by us both in an effort to finish it before she left early the next day. Completely fun and very worth it.
Moving into the new year, I don’t really have any complicated reading plans. I’m definitely going to partake in the Non-Fiction November when it comes around, but apart from that, I’ll take it as it comes. I might do Simon and Kaggsy’s Year Project but again, pretty open-ended on that right now.
I’m collecting info for the Best-of-Year blog post, but might skip the Best-of-Decade post that is traveling around the blogosphere right now. Depends on time…
Whatever your plans, wherever you may be – here’s to a year of peace and plenty for you. (Oh, and some good reads as well.) 🙂
We had the annual winter sale for our local FoL and as usual, there was an abundance of goodies for all… (I know. It’s not that I *needed* some new titles, but who am I to turn down unfettered access to tons of good new-to-me titles?)
So, let’s go through which titles made it through my marketing filter (with rather big holes!). At the top pic, from L-R (vertical titles):
The Pottery Barn: Bathrooms (NF)
The Pottery Barn: Living Rooms (NF)
Workspace (another interior design book)
Moving to the horizontal pile, from the bottom up:
When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals – Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy (NF)
On Doctoring: Stories, Poems, Essays – John Stone and Richard Reynolds (eds.)
Essays of E.B. White – E.B. White (love me some E.B.) (NF)
The Rosie Effect – Grahame Simpson (F) – continuation from The Rosie Project
The Barrytown Trilogy – Roddy Doyle (F)
Old New York – Edith Wharton (F)
All Things Bright and Beautiful – James Herriot (NF? F?)
And then this pile as well above (<smh>) bottom to top:
“Dress Your Best” – Clinton Kelly and Stacy London (NF). ETA: Read. Meh.
“What Not to Wear” – Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine (NF). ETA: Read. Meh.
“If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home” – Lucy Worsley (NF – social history)
“Lost Country Life” – Dorothy Harley (NF)
“Days of Grace” – Arthur Ashe and Arnold Rampersad (autobio)
“Great Tales of English History 2” – Robert Lacey (really interesting historian about UK history)
“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African” – Allison, ed. (NF/bio) 1798
“The Free People of Color of New Orleans” – Martha Gehman (NF/history)
And then this with the most gorgeous cover pic: “Living Earth” by DK Eye Witness (just love this series of books):
<rubs hands together with glee at glorious reading ahead>
Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).
This prompt took me down a few rabbit holes (in a good way) and forced me to take a good objective look at what I’ve been reading in terms of POC-related authors, topics and titles. To that end, I’ve collected many of the POC titles that I’ve read and reviewed on my blog over the past few years, certainly not as a method of boasting or as positioning me as any sort of expert, but more as a reference for others who may also be interested in digging a little deeper into this subject.
I’m also rather hoping that others may also have lists of related titles that they might want to share… There’s always room for more books on the TBR, don’t you agree?
COMPLETED AFRICAN-AMERICAN RELATED NF TITLES (from last couple of years):
And the Band Played On – Randy Schiltz (1987) NF – DNF, but on hold for a later date.
Hostages to Fortune – Elizabeth Cambridge (1933) F
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? – Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D. (2003) NF
Plus (because I am a complete nerd) this jigsaw puzzle:
November plans? Not really. I am very open to whatever comes my way and I’m happy to keep jogging along in this particular lane. I might need to rein in the book purchases though. (With the caveat that there is a December book and jigsaw puzzle sale on the cards…) :-}