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.

The Country Child – Alison Uttley (1931)

I’m quite sure that I must have read this in the distant days as an early reader, and this time, it was a charming interlude of an early childhood during the late Victorian time. Alison Uttley was born in 1884 and this story details a year of life as an only child in her rural upbringing at Castle Top Farm (here called Windystone Hall)  near Cromford in Derbyshire. 

It’s more of a collection of vignettes and scenes from the POV of Susan Garland (the titular character) than an actual narrative plot, and so this made it perfect to have as a “pick-up-put-down” read just before bedtime. (It’s also very calming to read just before you go to bed and so I thoroughly enjoyed this read.)

Is it autobiographical? Is it semi-autobiographical? No one seems to know, but it doesn’t matter, really, because the descriptions of rural life are just charming. (They are realistic and show it’s not all roses and sunshine, but it’s still a good read.)

It’s also a history (in some ways) of country life long gone now: of servants and farmhands, of ploughmen and horses and larders full of home-made and home-grown food and drink. The weather plays a leading role as well, since the family lead a very outdoor life. Some of the winter descriptions made me shiver! 🙂

This was a sweet read of times long past and was reminiscent of both “Cider with Rosie” (pre-blog) and “Lark Rise to Candleford” (pre-blog). Thoroughly enjoyable all the same.

ETA: Just learned about the author here. She was one of the first women to ever earn a degree from Oxbridge in Physics and went on to become a physics instructor. PLUS she wrote a zillion children’s books as well. Amazing story.

Review Roundup

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, so instead of individual reviews, I thought I’d do them in a combined post, just for a change.

The Weight of Heaven – Thrity Umrigar (2009) .

From Amazon: When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable, and their marriage founders. Then an unexpected job half a world away in Girbaugh, India, offers them an opportunity to start again. But Frank’s befriending of Ramesh – a bright curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of his attentions – will lead the grieving man down an ever-darkening path with start repercussions.

A title pulled off my TBR shelves, this novel follows an American family who are of Indian descent and how a significant event impacts all of their lives.

This was a pretty good read, but I find myself struggling to say anything of substance about it now that I’ve finished it. That’s not to say it was a poor reading experience in any way. Just not much to add to it!

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language – Mark Forsyth (2011).

From Amazon: This perfect gift for readers, writers, and literature majors alike unearths the quirks of the English language. For example,do you know why a mortgage is literally a “death pledge”? Why guns have girls’ names? Why “salt” is related to “soldier”? Discover the answers to all of these etymological questions and more in this fascinating book for fans of of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

A fun read of a shortish book about various words and their histories and etymological background plus how they might to link to (unexpected) other words. Good for a palate cleanser… Off the TBR as well.

Mariana (Persephone Classics): Dickens, Monica, Lane, Harriet:  9781906462048: Amazon.com: Books

Mariana – Monica Dickens (1940).

From Amazon: A lively young woman who has no idea what to do with her life, Mary is often at loose but happy ends: going to school and vacationing in Kensington; a hilarious failed attempt at drama school; a year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; and finally her romance with the right man.

Another read of which I have not much to say… (What kind of book blogger am I??) This was good but not deep in any way. Another palate cleanser, if you will. Glad I read it though. Anther off the old TBR pile.

So three quite chunky books off the TBR pile is good progress, I think. I’m reading another novel (also from the TBR) but I’m betting that I have more to say about this. It’s pretty complex…

February 2021: Reading Review

The reads for February 2021 included:

So to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in January 202110
  • Total number of pages read 3,056 pages (av. 306). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • Diversity 4 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.

Plans for March 2021 include a week off for Spring Break – whee! Finish up my ongoing read of “Far From the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy. I also want to continue to include more BIPOC writing on my list. Continue this pace of reading and continue this streak of reading more from my own TBR as opposed to those titles from the library. 

Pavilion of Women – Pearl S. Buck (1946)

Image result for pavilion of women

After having stumbled upon an old copy of the 1946 publication of Pearl S. Buck’s “Pavilion of Women” (no “The”), I was intrigued. I might have already read this but it’s been many moons ago and so I picked this up to read last week.

Wow. Great read. It’s follows Madame Wu and how, on her 40th birthday, she informs everyone (including her husband) that now their physical (i.e. s*x) is over, she wants him to find a concubine to replace her in that way. This decision upends her whole family and it will never be the same again.

What’s unusual about this is it’s a reversal of the typical gender roles fo this time: typically, it’s the husband who wants the concubine set-up and the wife is objecting. (For Madame Wu to turn this on its head is really notable, especially for the readers 60+ years ago.)

Additionally, it’s also more typical that the husband handle the logistics of this set-up; however, since the husband is reluctant to do this arrangement, Buck turns that on its head and makes Madame Wu be the person who handles all these details. In doing so, Buck completely reverses societal norms and mores. It’s really fascinating.

So, the narrative follows Madame Wu’s efforts to arrange this for her husband. Once it is done, Madame Wu proves her independence and relishes her new-found spare time and energy to read books in her room, knowing that her husband will be occupied with the concubine. It’s a clever way of showing how strong Madame Wu and how she takes charge of her life.

I would also argue that this plot is a reflection of the change in society, both in the Western world and that of China, especially in terms of gender roles and expectations in the rather rigid Chinese culture at that time.

The process is all going smoothly when Madame Wu meets a visiting foreigner (probably in a missionary capacity) called Brother John who has been hired to teach a foreign language to Madame Wu’s youngest son to improve his marriageability. Brother John not opens door to learning for this son but also for Madame Wu and her life is never going to be the same.

“I will spend the rest of my life assembling my own mind and my own soul. I will take care of my body carefully, not that it may any more please a man, but because it houses me and therefore I am dependent upon it.”

Madame Wu in the novel, “The Good Earth” (1946).
Image result for pearl buck

This is a book that reads really smoothly and I thoroughly enjoyed this. It also gives you a lot to think about once you’ve turned that final page as well, and I love that. Highly recommended.

(If you have to read this in HS and thought “meh!”, you might want to give it another read now once some years pass. You’re a whole new person, after all, so wouldn’t it make sense for it to be a different read from you were 17? :-))

The only squirmy part of this was Pearl Buck is a white person who is telling this very-Chinese story. Is it right that Buck takes the POVs of her characters and views them through the lens of a non-white country? Or is that coopting something that isn’t hers to own?

And yet, at the time of the book’s release, this received rave reviews across the book-critic world and, after having lived in China for 40 years, Buck knows her stuff about the culture and she presents the country and its citizens in a positive and respectful manner. However, is it ok for her, as a privileged white woman, to write as a Chinese peasant and tell his story?

Misery – Stephen King (1990)

A modern classic, I’ve been interested in reading Misery ever since I first watched the really excellent movie adaptation with Kathy Bates and James Caan (along with others).  It was the first (and actually the only) King I’ve seen because I am really quite a wuss when it comes to horror films…

However, this title is more suspenseful and psychological than horror (at least in my opinion) and although it does get your heart racing in places, it’s not that stressful to read. It’s also really REALLY well written (which I had forgotten) and I have it to hand it to King: the man can write like a dream.

To the plot: it revolves around the time when famous writer Paul Sheldon ends up in a snowy car wreck and breaks his legs. The other lead character, a very odd Annie Wilkes, ends up “rescuing” him from the scene of the accident and bringing him back to her home to recuperate. 

However, despite Annie’s background as a nurse, things go off the rails when she realizes who she has rescued (her favorite writer!) and he’s actually in her house. 

What adds even more thread to the screw is that Annie is Sheldon’s “Number One Fan” (quote from Annie) and she is really desperate for Paul to finish off his book series featuring one of her favorite characters. In fact, even though the poor guy is laid up with these two broken legs, she still persists in him writing from his sick bed as he recovers.

Sheldon is captive for the duration until he might be able to use his legs again, so his mobility is constrained and his freedom curtailed. As the hours and days go by, Sheldon realizes that Annie is mentally off. But what can he do when faced with his mobility problems? Additionally, Annie has stolen a lot of medicine throughout her nursing career and she doesn’t hesitate to give Sheldon the meds, initially for the pain and then later on, as a form of control. 

King does an excellent job of taking the reader on this journey of discovery with this pair of characters. As the days go by and Sheldon gradually recovers from his injuries, both you (as the reader) and the patient himself pick up clues about Annie’s mental health (or lack of it). (But – was she as crazy as she seemed?…) 

Anyway, all set in a distant cabin in a snowy landscape (so escape via foot for Paul is even more unlikely), King ratchets up the tension throughout the narrative arc and it reads like a hot-knife-through-butter. However, this is not a bad thing. As mentioned, King is an excellent wordsmith and this was a fast pleasure to read. 

I wonder if King has written any other non-horror books that I could chase down? Off to the library…

P.S. The 1990 movie is just a good as the book. 

P.P.S. The book won the 1987 Bram Stoker Award for a Novel among some of the accolades. No wonder. It’s a really good and well-written narrative.

Catching up…

Now the calendar has turned the month to February, thought it might be time for a little catch-up. The university has been in action for a few weeks now and the routines are setting into place rather nicely. I say it every year but it makes it no less true: I am so lucky (and appreciative) to hold a faculty position. It never gets old!

Life has been pretty smooth lately. I am teaching 100 percent online this semester which is new for me, but it’s working out. I do still come into the office (since my position is split between faculty responsibilities and some editorial ones) but since I really like coming to work, that works out fine. (I know – I am fortunate to have this set-up.)

The West Texas weather is edging into Spring with some regularly occurring warmer daytime temps. We still have the biting cold at night for the most part – that’s why I call our Spring “Ski-jacket-and-shorts” weather since you’ll need both of them by the end of the day!) It’s snowed in March before but it’s been 80 so it keeps you on your toes. It also means having a flexible wardrobe and dressing in layers if you want to keep up with the thermometer. 🙂

I’m now out of my reading slump (thank goodness). It’s interesting to watch how personal interests wax and wane over the weeks. After a serious bout of doing jigsaw puzzles, I haven’t done one since the new year, but now the itch is back and I’m planning on starting a new puzzle this weekend. <rubs hands with glee>

It has been similar with books. I was still reading per se, but it wasn’t books. I was reading absolutely anything else but just had a stubborn disinterest for them but I’m happy to note that this is no longer the case. (See ref above re: waxing and waning.)

My titles have been trending towards the “read-like-hot-knife-through-butter” category in that they haven’t been particularly demanding of my brain cells. That’s not to say that they haven’t been fun and interesting: just not giving me an intellectual workout. I think it was linked with the return to school. I was also not very well but that’s improved. (I can’t concentrate if I’m feeling a bit sick.)

Had a really good experience with Stephen King’s Misery and I’m interested in tracking down another King read so long as it’s a thriller and not horror. (Thanks to Mark, I have some titles to track down now. Thanks!)

Wanting another fairly smooth read, I picked up The Seven Dials Mystery, a random Agatha Christie murder-mystery. Goodness me. Christie can write well. It was a good palate-cleanser and I enjoyed it. It hit the spot.

Then I went looking for a POC author (since I’m working on diversifying my authors/titles this year) and came up The Book of Unknown Americans by Christine Hernandez. This was an enjoyable story and I loved its structure. Each character is given his/her own chapter from his/her own POV and the narrative just cycles through this handful of POVs so that you can see what different people are thinking and reacting at different times. It worked really well and I thoroughly enjoyed this read as well. No idea where I found the title – it might have been on the New Reads shelf at the library…

Since that title, I wanted to focus on a classic and preferably a classic that was sitting on my TBR pile, so I pulled down Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck (1946), a quiet but riveting plot featuring Madam Wu and revolving around a momentous 40th birthday. Madame Wu decides to upend her life and allow her husband to take a concubine which leads to a life of freedom for the protagonist. It’s a very domestic novel about a marriage in China and it’s been interesting so far.

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!