Library Loot: June 14 2021

Top to bottom, left to right:

  • Trees – DK Eyewitness Books (NF/nature)
  • An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science – Edward J. Larson (NF/history/geog)
  • The Round Tree – Louise Erdrich (F)
  • Started Early, Took my Dog – Kate Atkinson (F)
  • Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King (F)
  • An American Marriage – Tayari Jones (F)
  • The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen’s Childhood by her Nanny, Marion Crawford – Marian Crawford (NF/bio/auto)
  • The Secret of the Chimneys – Agatha Christie (F/murder)

Already read and finished the Stephen King book (ok) and now about to start on the then-scandalous Crawford memoir about the Queen’s childhood (and that of her sister). Ohh la la. (Rather a craze on the royals right now. 🙂 )

Summer reading

School and grades are now completely done which means, for me, that I can start the Summer of Liz. I don’t have anything required (outside the normal responsibilities) so the next three months are mine, all mine. 🙂 (I’m very lucky, I know.)

So – how to wisely spend this time? HA! I’m going to read and then read some more. I’m going to go through my wardrobe to see which outfits I can create/combine (just for fun) and I’m going to go and see my twin sis in CA for a few days.

So, speaking of reading (as we were), what titles have I read since the end of school? The above image tells the story:

  • Chasing the Monsoon – Alexander Frater (NF). Reread and ok. Probably doesn’t need to live on my shelves any more though. :-} (Off the current TBR shelf.)
  • Soul Clap Hands and Sing – Paule Marshall (F). I’ve read and enjoyed other Marshall work. This was a collection of short stories. Meh. Library.
  • Majesty – Robert Lacey (NF/bio). I love the majority of Lacey’s work (good sense of humor) and and enjoying the older bio of the monarch. Nothing too mind-shattering but enjoyable all the same. (Off the current TBR shelf.)
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (F). Loving this classic. (Off the current TBR shelf.)
  • 100 Great Artists: A Visual Journey from Fra Angelico to Andy Warhol – Charlotte Gerlings (NF/history/art). I’ve really been interested in getting some more culture so got this out of the library. A quick but wide-ranging tour of some of the artworks of the world (mostly [all?] Western hemisphere).
  • The Pale Horse – Agatha Christie (F). A murder mystery all wrapped by the end of your cup of tea. I do like a Christie every now and then. Library.

New TBR shelf…

Here are the titles on the new TBR shelf:

  • Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience – Shaun Usher (ed.) (NF/socio)
  • On Doctoring: Stories, Poems, Essays – Richard Reynolds, M.D. and John Stone, M.D. (eds.) (NF/socio)
  • The Girls from Winnetka – Marcia Chellis (NF/bio)
  • A Victorian Courtship: The Story of Beatrice Potter and Sidney Webb – Jeanne McKenzie (NF/history/bio)
  • Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places – Bill Streever (NF/geog)
  • My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell (NF/nature)
  • All Things Wise and Wonderful – James Herriott (NF/nature)
  • The Book of Not – Tsitsi Dangarembga (F)
  • Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (F/sci fi)
  • Majesty: Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor – Robert Lacey (NF/bio). Read. Good.
  • Time and Again – Jack Finney (F)
  • On Borrowed Wings – Chandra Prasad (F)
  • Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout (F)
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Anita Loos (F). Read. Good.
  • Mr. Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt (F)
  • Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World – Rita Golden Gelman (NF/travel). Read. Good.
  • Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey – The Countess of Carnarvan (NF/history)
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (F). Read. Good.

As always, the usual guidelines are in place: these are just suggestions for me and I’m happy to go off-piste if I want to. It’s summer time rules here! 🙂

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.”

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?…

The Feast of Lupercal – Brian Moore (1957)

TheFeastOfLupercal.jpg

A good read chosen specifically for Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2021 (or the Begorrathon as its nickname!), Brian Moore seems to be one of the more well-known Irish-Canadian authors with a large backlist. I’ve only read two of his books (The Lonely Passion of Miss Judith Hearnes and this one) but they seem to overlap in terms of how Moore focuses on two rather outside characters, desperately lonely but unable to change their situations in some ways. (I wonder if his other books feature similar characters?)

The Feast of Lupercal* focuses on middle-aged Catholic male teacher Diarmuid Devine (or Dev) who is lonely, single and panics when he overhears a colleague refer to him as “that old woman”. Dev believes that his life is slipping away which makes him chase after a young Protestant girl who is 17 years than he is and who is on the rebound from a relationship with a married man.

Dev is socially and sexually inexperienced and these traits, combined with the overarching and controlling impact of his strong Catholic faith, mean that this relationship is bound with guilt and numerous other issues, none of which make life easy for Dev or for his girlfriend (if that is what she is in the end).

It’s rather a bitter look at how religion can be a negative for someone who has bought into it looking for answers. There is no indication that Dev will stop following these religious guidelines (despite the problems that arise from them) and it’s clear that Moore believes that individual freedom is more important.

It’s a well-written book, very gritty and a domestic drama. Just know that it’s not a particularly happy book and you’ll be fine.

  • The Feast of Lupercal was, according to Wiki, a pastoral festival of Ancient Rome observed each year on Feb. 15 to purify the city and promote health and fertility. It was also known as Februa (which gives rise to the name of the month of February). It also has a link with wolves as the actual statue of Lupercal was said to be in the same cave that Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf. (Romulus was thought to have founded Rome.) Well I never.