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.

General Catching Up…

February is almost done but it seemed to move very fast for me in some ways and rather slow in others. I teach at a university and we had some really bad weather last week (including about four inches of snow and ice). Since our area is not that experienced with snow, the entire week of classes and work was cancelled due to the weather, which was pretty weird. It was fine but it did make my week seem a bit off. 

And how did I spend that precious time? Not really sure. I know that there were some naps and a couple of library trips and some reading from the TBR. The Superhero had to go to work (since he’s a first responder person) which meant a lot of alone time for me (which was fine). I watched some more of the really addictive The Great British Baking Show (I love Noel Fielding), and made some bread-and-butter pudding (since the weather was so cold and it seems a very cozy pudding to me). That was yummy and easy to make. 

This week, I’m back in the office and prepping lectures and answering emails. The weather is now back up to the 60s as a high and the only traces of all the snow we had last week are a few patches in the shadows. Not to be surprised though, as West Texas is known for its weird weather patterns. I call the early Spring months the “ski jacket and shorts” months because you will probably need both of them by the end of the day. 😉

I’m still teaching online which is becoming more second nature to me and probably to the students as well. My preference is to teach F2F but with things as they are in the world around us, online it is so I’m striving to provide an equal educational experience via the online world. I have a feeling that it’s a learning experience for everyone who does it and I’ve definitely learned some tricks of the trade.

(Naturally, there has been a jigsaw puzzle in progress. Perfect weather for such an indoor sport!)

Book-wise, I had a B&N gift card burning a hole in my pocket (left over from Christmas) so I went there and spent a lovely hour or so strolling around their stock shelves. Ended up buying two NF paperbacks: America’s Best Travel Writing 2020 (edited by Robert McFarlane) and Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman. Very looking forward to reading these at some point in the near future…

Right now, I’m reading a book called “By the Sea” by Abdulrazak Gurnah, a fiction and rather a broccoli book if I’m honest. (“Broccoli books” are those that perhaps don’t taste that great but are really good for you… 🙂 )

ETA: “By the Sea” ended up being a DNF. Way too obtuse and wordy for me right now.

Library Loot: Feb. 22 2021

I checked out the following titles from my local library:

  • Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum – Elizabeth Warren. (I really enjoy looking at textile art…)
  • Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches – Jill Fredston. (I was in the auto/bio section and this just looked very interesting.)
  • India Calling – Anand Giridharadas. (Still fascinated by India…)
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick – Zora Neale Hurston. (I enjoy her work.)
  • The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells (Was looking for a classic and this looked short!)

So, of course, I’m not actually reading any of these just yet and reading something completely different.! 😉

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?

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.

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!

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!