Reading Review: April 2021

The reads for April 2021 included:

  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (F). Loved this and plan on reading more Atkinson.
  • The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin (NF). Meh.
  • Bird: DK Eyewitness Books (NF). I’m starting to get into a bit of birdwatching but I’m a big novice right now. Thought I’d learn some basic facts.
  • Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie (F)
  • Living, Loving, and Lying Awake – Sindiwe Magona (F/short stories). OK.
  • Belfast Diary: War as a Way of Life – John Conroy (NF/history/geog). Pretty interesting how it “normalizes” a war-torn society and culture.
  • Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America – S. Mitra Kalita (NF). OK.
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn (F). Despite my aversion to short stories, these worked. Plus it’s on a list of Favorite Reads by President Obama.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles (F). Loved this. Definitely going to read more Towles.
  • Dinner ASAP – Cooking Light (NF/cooking). I’ve been cooking some of these recipes – very good and not too complicated for this neophyte chef.
  • All Creatures Great and Small – James Herriot (NF/memoir). Just a good read.
  • Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody – Mike Dawson (GN/autobio). Fairly typical teenaged angst for GNs.  

So to the (rather obsessive!) numbers:

  • Total number of books read in April 202112.
  • Total number of pages read 3,656 pages (av. 305). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction. 0 plays.
  • 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.

Plans for May 2021 include continuing 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. Sounds pretty doable to me. Plus – it’s the end of the semester and I’m off for the summer. 🙂

A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles (2016)

“By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration – and unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”

Just loved this read by author Amor Towles – enough so that I immediately went to the library and booked out his other book, Rules of Civility and am very looking forward to that read.

(This rarely happens so fingers are crossed that it’s a good read. It was published in 2011 so a few years ago now and on his author website, he seems to have written some other well-received works so more to dig into at some point. Oooh. And he’s written an intro to the 75th anniversary edition of Fitzgerald’s Tender in the Night (Scribner, 2019). (Impressive.))

So what’s so good about this Towles/Gentleman in Moscow? I think one of the main attractions was that it was so well written. Towles is a master at the written word and he’s developed an interesting character in Count Alexander Rostov that I really cared about and thought about, even if I wasn’t actually reading the text at that particular moment.

The gentleman in question is a Russian count who has been given a lifetime sentence in 1922 for a perceived infraction against the government. This sentence means that he can live for the rest of his days in a lovely posh hotel but he can never leave the premises so this isn’t a high-action novel or anything. It’s a thoughtful and fascinating look at a man who tries his best to make the most of a bad situation and who has lived a full life prior to the incarceration.  

Rostov has never held a job but he is well-educated and witty. With this enforced sentence, he is forced to watch history change Russia as it happens outside his windows. Just fascinating and difficult to put down.

There is no doubt that this will be in the year’s Top Ten Books at the end of the year. For sure.

“After all, an educated man should admire any course of study no matter how arcane, if it be pursued with curiosity and devotion.”

And then I just liked this quote:

“As at home in a tin as it is in Limoges, coffee can energize the industrious at dawn, calm the reflective at noon, or raise the spirits of the beleaguered in the middle of the night.”

Swabbing the decks…

Haven’t done a “swabbing-the-decks” post lately and thought that now would be a good time to fix that. I’ve been reading but for some reason, have lost some impetus to blog about them. It’s not that they have been bad reads but I think I’m at that point of the university semester when I’m plumb tuckered out with regard to words in general. (I teach a writing-intensive class which I love to do. But so. Many. Words.)

So what is it that I’ve been doing with myself? Well…

I’ve been reading and here are some brief reviews:

Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn (2020) F

Loved this very fast fictional narrative about a Hawaiian family and the saga of their lives in the mid 1990s, especially the life of young Nainoa Flores who falls over a cruise ship when he is just seven years old. A group of sharks approach him in the water. Everyone expects the worst but instead, the young boy is brought back to the boat in the mouth of one of the sharks all in one piece, and his family view this as a favor from the ancient Hawaiian gods. 

You’ll have to read on to find out how this impacts Nainoa’s childhood and the rest of the family but suffice to say, this was a super-great read and I’m only sorry that I didn’t do a proper blog post on this. (It was also one of former President Obama’s favorite reads for 2020, so if it’s good enough for him, it’s going to be great for me. (And it was.))

I’ve also been rather interested in learning more about birdwatching so I’ve been paying more attention to trees and sounds when I go outside now. To help increase my (rather paltry) bird knowledge, I pulled out the really lovely DK Eyewitness book on the topic and found it fascinating. So far, I’m still practicing seeing the birds – a lot have good camouflage or I have bad eyes! – but I can hear their songs so trying to use those as a clue to identification as well. 

There was an Agatha Christie in the list as well, this one Evil Under the Sun, which was just a fun and non-demanding read. I’m very glad that she was a prolific writer since she’s given me lots of titles to read. And have another title on the TBR pile from the library. <rubs hands with glee>

Another read (when I was yearning for a read from another culture/country) ended up being Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America by S. Mitra Kalita (2005). This is NF focused on three Indian families who all chose to live in Middlesex County in New Jersey, an area which has the largest Indian population in the world outside India (apparently). 

Author Kalita traces each of these long-term residents’ journeys as they land in America and start their lives in suburbia and it’s actually quite fascinating (especially for me, since I was an immigrant as well but with a different trajectory. [Am I still an immigrant even though I’ve been here decades now? When do you stop being an immigrant? Do you stop being an immigrant?)) 

So this was a fast and interesting read and I enjoyed it. Plus – another off the TBR. Go me. 😉 

Other stuff: I’ve just started a new jigsaw puzzle. (Fun.) We’ve been watching Netflix and I’ve even been exploring some new recipes. (Who is this person who is doing this? I’m not really a chef but I’ve suddenly become more interested in food and would like to find some different recipes to try…I think it’s linked with reruns of The Great British Baking Show that I’ve been forcing the Super Hero to watch in the evenings…)

So – nothing too exciting but it’s been nice. I hope that you can say the same. 

Library Loot: April 26 2021

Library Loot included:

  • Rules of Civility – Amor Towles (F/drama). Loved his latest, A Gentleman in Moscow, so picked up this earlier novel.
  • The Poisoner’s Handbook – Deborah Blum (NF/history). Victorian time and poisons? yes please.
  • Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness – Suzy Favor Hamilton (NF/sport/health). I’m a former serious runner so thought this looked interesting.
  • Mind of Winter – Laura Kasischke (F/drama). Supposed to be a good psychological thriller, I think.

I still have some other reads from my last Library Loot but couldn’t resist a quick trip to the library to look at other titles.

I promise that I’ll write more in the near future. The semester is starting to get busy since lots of things are due for grading, but as soon as I get some breathing space, I’ll be back. How is life in your worlds? I do hope it’s going smoothly for you all.

Library Loot: April 22 2021

Library Loot for April 22 2021:

  • South Sea Tales – Jack London (F/short stories). Just saw that this is short stories. Bleugh. I am not an aficionado of short stories. What was I thinking?
  • The Pale Horse – Agatha Christie (F/mystery). Can’t go wrong with a Christie.
  • The Secret River – Kate Grenville (F) Wanted to read some Aussie lit.
  • The Lion in the Living Room – Abigail Tucker (NF/bio). We have kitties in our life: what can I say?
  • A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towlers (F). (Just finished this. Post to come.)
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly – Anthony Bourdain (NF/autobio). I’m into cooking right and although this is a reread, I remember it as pretty good.
  • Cooking Light: Dinner ASAP (NF/recipes) – I know: me with a cookbook but I’m searching for new recipes. 🙂

So – any ideas of what I’ve picked up? Any recommendations?

Library Loot: April 07 2021

Loot from my local library included the following:

  • Belfast Diary – John Conroy (NF about 1980s Northern Ireland during the Troubles).
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn (F). One of former Pres. Obama’s favorite books of 2020, apparently. If it’s good enough for him… 😉
  • A Caribbean Mystery – Agatha Christie (F/murder mystery). Love me some Christie.
  • The Secret River – Kate Grenville (F/Australian). I’ve heard good things…
  • Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King (F). I would like to read more King so seeing if I can handle his less-scary titles first.
  • Emma – Jane Austen (F). In the mood for a good classic.
  • The Water Museum – Luis Alberta Urrea (F/short stories). I don’t always get on that well with short stories but I’ll give them a go with Urrea’s work since he’s really good.)

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! 🙂

The Time Machine – H.G. Wells (1895)

The Time Machine (1960) - IMDb

After reading The Invisible Man (1897), I was curious about other H.G. Wells’ work so picked up this title up. This was his debut novel and was shortish and fairly famous and is early sci-fi – all good things in my book. I enjoyed it more than The Invisible Man, mainly because the protagonist was much more likable. (I know that I don’t have to like the protag to enjoy a story, but it doesn’t hurt if you do like him or her.)

So this novella features the lead character called only The Time Traveller. (He’s given other names in later adaptations but in the original version, he is just called this.) He is an inventor and scientist of a type, and is describing his adventures at a small dinner party with a handful of friends. It’s an effective framing device for the story and allows Wells to show how the other guests react to what The Time Traveller describes in his adventures.

As with The Invisible Man, there is quite a bit of solid science talk here to explain how time travel could theoretically work, and in the early stages of testing, The Time Traveller only travels a few hours of time. As he gets braver, he continues to travel forward hundreds of years where he meets two new species of beings, the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are small surface-dwelling vegetarian peoples who are peaceful but not very active and have little initiative. (Was Wells criticizing the veggie diet here? Was he a big meat-eater in his real life?)

On the other hand, the Morlocks are larger warrior-type people who live entirely underground their whole lives, and it’s clear to the reader who Wells admires more. This is also a pretty political novel, just as The Invisible Man was in some ways, since it’s very referential to the social-class-based system: the weakened posh Eloi up above in the sunlight living a charmed life whilst the Morlocks are stuck working in mines under the surface of the earth, producing all the power for the Eloi. It’s not subtle at all, but that’s not to say that it’s not a powerful set-up at the same time.

The narrative continues with The Time Traveller moving even further forward in time, over centuries, to see how the Earth continues to develop and as the years drop off, he sees Earth collapse under the fading sun as society and its peoples fade away as the temperatures drop and freeze. Like I mentioned, it’s not subtle or hopeful, but if you read it in the political subtext, then it’s pretty interesting.

Wells himself was a futurist with a progressive view and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times. He was trained in biology at the Royal College of Science (you can see his science training in the writing), and he was an outspoken Socialist (also obvious in his writing that I’ve read). He married but messed around, including having a three-year affair with Elizabeth von Arnim and one with author Rebecca West.

I’m enjoying these reading adventures with Wells and he was pretty prolific so there is more from which to choose. Which one is next?…

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.