Monthly Reading Review: July 2017

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So another month has passed, and let’s check in with how my reading is doing… (just out of interest).

The reads for July included:

So to the numbers:

Total number of books read in July: 5

Total number of pages read1,563 pages (av. 313).

Fiction/Non-Fiction4 fiction / 1 non-fiction.

Diversity2 POC. 4.5 books by women.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 3 library books, 2 owned book and 0 e-books (although one is in progress…).

Here are the top three most popular posts from the last month:

Plans for August: There are some big changes coming up for me, so we’ll have to see how that goes. (They are good changes.)

 

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Can You Pls Pass Me the Catch-Up?

catch_upI’m not quite sure what it is, but I seem to be in the midst of a Summer Snoozefest when it’s a bit too hot to really do anything major, and nothing seems to be perking my reading fancy. Fussy, I know. Summer time in Texas is underway and in full swing.

I’ve finished some middling reads, although I’m at a loss to explain why these weren’t great as lots of other people have thought just that.

The first is Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See. I fully accept the blame for this read not being that satisfying as I’d gone into it thinking it was a collection of short stories, when actually it’s a pretty clever complex novel about WWII.

It’s strange how just one expectation about your book read can impact your real experience of actually doing a read, but it can. Ahh well. You win some, you lose some. I’ve read some of Doerr’s work earlier and had thought it was the Bee’s Knees (see The Shell Collector review), and All The Light You Cannot See continues that trend of being extremely well written. He is a craftsman of a writer, to be sure, and so I think that what threw things off was the rather complicated tapestry structure of the plot when I was rather hoping for a more straight-forward short story read that would compliment my Monkey Mind instead of having to, umm, actually work for the plot. :-)

I know loads and loads of Very Important Readers have loved this book, so perhaps don’t take my word for it…

I also finished up Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett. A short novel – perhaps a long novella – this featured a fairly normal Bennett plot of Haves and Haves Nots up in the Potteries, except this one focused more on the theme of religion a fair bit. The role of the church (and the people who attended) was a central theme, but it wasn’t too heavy-handed. Still well written, but again, I think it was me expecting something else when I was reading it as it took forever for me to finish, and that’s usually a sign of trouble for me, Will Robinson.

So now I’m wheeling around thinking about my next read… 

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Suggested Summer Reading…. (Part One)

Summer-Reading-Guide-HEROAs a public service to you (and a rather fun thing for me to do at the same time), I thought I’d gather some of the titles that I’ve read over the years and that seem to have a summer kind of feel…

Just seeing these titles brings up memories of outside fun in the sun and reading inside in the cool, so perhaps you may like some of them for your reading choices this season. (The list is in completely random order, btw…)

I’m not sure that some of these would qualify for the traditional “Beach Read” definition, but they’re enjoyable all the same. (I’d read them on the beach, but perhaps I’m weird!)

And, naturally, I’d love to hear your suggestions (even if your summer isn’t here yet).

Books with a child’s perspective (and sometimes coming-of-age narratives) would also make up quite a few of my recommendations. (Who can forget those days of summer when you’re a kid [if you’re a lucky kid])?

So, to start off, I thought I would begin the list with some more traditional summer-focused (perhaps “summer-feel”) books.

Since I’m in America, I’ll start off with Twain’s two great summer books, Tom Sawyer  (1876) and Huckleberry Finn  (1884). Sure, there are “teachable” moments in each of them, but these just remind me of childhood in some ways. (Admittedly, my childhood was nothing like them as I grew up in Bedford, England, but they’re still good to read. Our town did have a lovely river though… )

Oh, and don’t forget the adorable Anne of Green Gables who will charm your socks off.

A more English-y summer selection could be, let’s say, Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908) (which I adore) but which has no blog post (pre-blog). Hmm. May have to reread this little gem again over the next few hot months….  It’s as close to perfect a gentle summer read as anything you’ll find.

For a more caper-ish approach to English summer, try Just William – Richmal Compton (1922), which has some really funny scenes  in it regarding its titular character, William, and some of his adventures… (Plus there is a series of books about him… Lots of summer reading ahead!) Compton also wrote some more adult fiction which others have raved about, so you could check that back-list… Good caper novels are also some of those by John Buchan (who wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps et al.)

If you’re more interested in the gently humorous adventures of a particular young bear, then you can’t go wrong with the the Paddington Bear Series as they are set in mostly sunny summers (despite being in England ). Yes, they’re children’s lit, but they are so sweet, and sometimes when it’s 114 degrees outside (as it was the other day), you just want gentle and sweet…

If you’d rather have an arachnid as the star, don’t forget about E. B. White’s delightful (and rather poignant) Charlotte’s Web  (1952).  Sidenote: E.B. White also has several books of well-mannered and pretty gentle essays that are perfect to read on a lovely summer day in a hammock, for example. Try this one for starters: Essays of E. B. White (1977). Reading it is like having a great cup of tea (or glass of iced tea) with an interesting and funny conversationalist.

Ray Bradbury has a couple of strong contenders in this category,  Dandelion Wine (1957) being my favorite. (He also has a sequel of sorts, Farewell Summer  (2006), and it’s almost as good as that first one, but then it gets all weird in the last chapter without explanation, so perhaps a more muted endorsement there.) If you’d like something more challenging, check out Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for a good spec fiction type of read. (Haven’t read his other sci fi titles, but I expect that they are pretty good.)

From English soil, I’d suggest Winifred Foley’s trilogy that starts off with A Child in the Forest (1974), an autobiographical book of Foley’s childhood  of living in a loving but poor family in the forest in Gloucestershire. Marvelous commentary on her life, with some really good and very witty pieces in there as well.

Along those same lines (but with a very different British childhood experience), check out this title, From Middle England: A Memory of the Thirties by Philip Oakes (1980) which is another very witty childhood recollection, this time of growing up in an English boarding school.

(Other boarding school stories which are not very demanding reading but would still be fun include Mallory Towers series from Enid Blyton…)

Oh, almost forgot this one: The Railway Children – Edith Nesbitt (1906). (Lots of jolly hockey sticks, how dashingold thing, perhaps a midnight feast or two, and lashings of ginger beer…)

For a great summer read, you certainly can’t go wrong with Laurie Lee’s classic, Cider with Rosie (1959) (pre-blog) followed up with its sequel of sorts, As I Walked out one Midsummer Morning (1969).

For an American perspective of growing up, perhaps you’d like the play, Brighton Beach Memoirs  (Neil Simon (1984), which details the childhood of a funny young man as he navigates those teenaged years on the East Coast during the 40’s…  🙂

(That reminds me: if your community has any local plays, serious or otherwise, they can be really fun to attend and it’s great to see (probably) local volunteers acting their hearts out. Just go with a generous spirit… 🙂 )

Moving into a slightly older age group with the characters’ lives, I’d suggest Seventeen – Booth Tarkington (1914) which covers a gently humorous approach to the tragedies and fragile joys of having your first love. (This is a U.S. book, but the feelings are universal.)

For a complete change of pace but still linking with the topic of coming-of-age/young people, I rather think that Lucy Knisley’s graphic novels have a summer-y feel to them: Displacement and French Milk seem warm-weather to me… Or what about An Age of License: A Travelogue or even her first book Relish?

This leads me to funny (or what I think are funny) books. Have a try at some of these if you’d like to have a good laugh (assuming you have a similar sense of humor as I do):

  • A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson (1998) or any of his earlier works. (He gets crabby and grumpy in the more recent books, but the old ones are still rather fun.)
  • P.G. Wodehouse books are mostly light-hearted summer fun
  • Three Men in a Boat– Jerome K. Jerome (1889) (pre-blog but worth searching out)

The Jerome book is in a diary format with short entries, and if you’re in the mood for some good and pretty funny epistolary (journal/letter format) reading, I can suggest the absolutely gorgeous read, Letters from New York – Helene Hanff (1992).

More diary joy resides in The Country Diaries: A Year in the British Countryside (Alan Taylor (ed.) (2009)) which, just as it says on the tin, covers a whole calendar year of real diary entries about rural living in England from people through history up to the present. An excellent read, and great for picking and putting down, should the summer temperatures affect your concentration…

(You could also try The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diaries edited by Irene and Alan Taylor. More of the same except broader in scope —  a much longer read from a wider selection of sources…)

And Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader (2007) had me nodding with agreement as he talks about how the Queen of England discovers the joy of reading… 🙂

Some other authors with lots of titles that don’t particularly need to be read in order (because – summer!) and that are just plain good and perfect for hot days:

And then don’t rule out the older titles for they also can be great. For example, the long novella/short novel, Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton 1911) is a great read packed with lots of things to think about during and post-reading.

Christopher Morley is a US author, but if you’ve not heard of him, never fear. He’s available on Project Gutenberg and elsewhere, and for just a plain good read of a book about the joys of books and reading, look no further than Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop . *Perfect* for bookie people, these may very well bring tears to your eyes as they are so gorgeous…

English author, T. H. White, is more known for writing about King Arthur and his men, but he does have a gorgeous and poignant back list title called Farewell Victoria (1933) which is a novel following the life of an older character who is struggling to keep up with the process of time at the turn of the twentieth century. (He wasn’t the only one, naturally, as there were/are whole generations with the same struggle.)

I’ll make a break here, but watch out for the non-fiction-heavy book list of suggested summer reading coming soon.

In the meantime, what are your recommendations for some hot weather reading?

ETA: I’ve just noticed that this list of recommendations has very few POC authors or topics in this. I’ll get that addressed soon as there’s a ton of good reads in that category as well…

What I’ve Been Reading….

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So, my last post was all about everything going on without actually talking about books, but I promise there has been reading (naturellement), but it’s not been stupendous with any titles yearning for a long chatty blog post.

As part of the ongoing Century of Books, I picked up a Miss Read (Friends at Thrush Green) which fit in perfectly with the year 1991. (That’s pretty late in life for Miss Read to be still publishing, but it worked and also encompasses fairly modern issues such as alcoholism and senility for some of the characters. People have criticized this title for being darker than her other titles, but it worked for me. This was a thoroughly enjoyable romp full of bubbles and light, and was actually a perfect antidote to the current world situation. A good palate cleanser.

I picked up and put back down two more titles, and then came across an older F. Scott Fitzgerald title, This Side of Paradise, which is his first novel and published in 1920. It follows the life and times of college student Amory Blaine and his relationships with others as he goes through life. Not particularly gleeful to read at times, but a good solid read.

Fitzgerald had just broken up with Zelda earlier the summer that he wrote this novel, and, convinced that he would win Zelda’s heart back if it got published, he sent it to New York publisher Maxwell Perkins. Perkins reluctantly published it, and bingo, Zelda takes back Fitzgerald the spring that the book comes out. Barely a week after the book is published, Zelda and Fitzgerald get married. (Just found out that the title, “This Side of Paradise” comes from a line in a Rupert Brooke’s poem. Huh.)

I’m only about halfway through this read, but am really enjoying it for the most part. (In a bit of slow patch right now, but I bet it picks up.) More to come, I’m sure.

Browsings – Michael Dirda (2015)

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A glorious and exuberant tour of a life steeped in books, Michael Dirda’s Browsings is a balm for the literary soul. Enough of such hyperbole, I say. But this was a good book, and Dirda is like having a very literate friend who seems to have read just about everything. Any time you read some Dirda, your TBR list is going to lengthen with books and authors who you didn’t even know existed.

Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize winning book review columnist who has written for a lot of elite pubs (including WaPo and NYT). He has a Ph.D. in comparative literature (including Mediaeval poetry) and yet writes in an inclusive yet scholarly manner. Not having an enormous background in Mediaeval poetry (and similar), I must own up to not being familiar with about half of the titles that he writes about, but he writes about these books in such an accessible way that you don’t mind. I think this is quite an achievement – that someone with such an academic background can make poets of the Middle Ages seem appealing is not for the faint-hearted.

“None of us, of course, will ever read all the books we’d like, but we can still make a stab at it. Why deny yourself all that pleasure? So look around tonight or this weekend, see what catches your fancy on the bookshelf, at the library, or in the bookstore; maybe try something a little unusual, a little different, and then don’t stop. Do it again, with a new book or an old author the following week. Go on – be bold, be insatiable, be restlessly unashamedly promiscuous…”

This book is a collection of a year’s worth of book review columns that Dirda had put together for The American Scholar, and ranges across every kind of book there is. Having a Ph.D. from Cornell, Dirda has taught literature at the university level, including one about the “Boy’s Own” kind of adventure books from 1860-1930, a few of which look appealing. (To see the type of books that he suggests for interested readers, see my review of The 39 Steps by John Buchan [1915] here.)

I may be going overboard in my gushing his praise, but I loved this read and I think you may as well. Don’t be put off if you’re not well grounded in long-forgotten esoteric titles – this will be happy hunting ground for you, I promise. Enjoy!

General Catch-Up…

catch_upEvery now and then, I like to do a general round-up post about what’s going on in my life. It’s a nice break to write about something else other than books and reading, and it helps me keep my life on track when I can see it as an overview. So – this post is one of those posts.

The weekend was so RAINY. I know, rain may be more common in your part of the world, but I happen to live in a semi-arid environment (almost a desert/scrub-land sort of world), and so rain does not come often. It tends to be rainy in May, but apart from that month, there’s not much precipitation coming from the sky.

So, guess what? It rained for almost a full two days over the weekend. It must have been a couple of inches, and it was pretty steady throughout, with occasional minutes of heavier rain. Normally, I love and adore rain, but since we have brought Nova (a young German Shepherd) home, we’ve learned that she is one of the biggest fans of rain and mud in the entire canine world. If there’s mud or filthy water or puddles, you can almost double-dog* guarantee that she will be in with all four paws for most of the time. I’m all for having a good time, but Nova? You need to wipe your paws when you come in the house. Muddy footprints *everywhere* and on our clothes from when she jumps up to say hi, and so the house has been FILTHY. Sigh.

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This isn’t Nova, but it well could be.

This rainy weather also meant that there were some good reading moments at my usual hangouts, and this was great. Got to get some reading and writing done (no ‘rithmatic though :-)), and I found this to be really satisfying. The past weekend had been spent completely re-organizing my bathroom cabinets and some of my bedroom drawers which has meant that some of this weekend was spent walking around admiring my now really tidy storage. (Am I the only person who does this?) The reorganization was one of the more satisfying ways to spend my time, and I managed to get rid of two shopping bags of bathroom junk which has freed up a ton of space now. Aaaah. Bliss to open the cabinets and see lots of empty space and what has remained now corralled in storage containers…

(One thing I’ve learned about organizing is that those canvas over-the-door shoe hangers are magnificent for storing bits and pieces apart from shoes.)

Reading has been happening as well. I finished Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain the other day. Incredible read and highly recommend any of Boyle’s work. (He is one of the more prolific writers so quality can vary, but most of his stuff is great.) That’s led to me prowling the TBR shelves (as you do) to find my next read which ended up being Mary Norris’ wonderful memoir/grammatical manifesto called From Me to You. Norris has worked at The New Yorker for years and is known as the Comma Queen (gotta love that title), and this is a fun read to experience. It’s good to hang with your own tribe every now and then.

Then I’ve been missing reading a classic of some kind, so I’ve picked up Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Love it completely, but Hardy is so good anyway.

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Watching: We’re riveted to the new Masterpiece show about Queen Victoria, and now I’m curious just how accurate the narrative is. (Cue reading Victorian biography I have sitting in my shelves…  In a minute…)

Saw a French movie called Elle which took some awards at the recent Golden Globes. (My recommendation is that you don’t pay money and time to see this film. So much violence against women that didn’t contribute to the forward movement of the plot…) One movie that more than makes up for that yucky experience is Hidden Figures which spotlights the contributions that a small group of African-American female mathematicians made to NASA’s early space flight program. (Really good film.)

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And then we’re in the process of researching new furniture for the living room and now narrowing down the choices to “really comfortable” combined with “not bad looking”… It’s not as easy as it sounds, let me tell you, but I think we have it narrowed down to a manageable number of pieces. The next step is to measure… We’re looking for a settee/couch set-up which sort of “hugs” you when you sit in it (as opposed to “bouncing you out” when you first sit down). It’s a lot of sitting down in furniture shops right now, but as I mentioned, we’re getting there. Hopefully something by the end of the month, which means that we’ll also need to sell the current furniture to make room for the new purchase!….

Know anyone? 🙂

  • See what I did there?…

The Weekend in Review…

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(Above) – The tree under which I was reading. If you look closely, you might be able to see some dry brown seed pods amongst the leaves. When there is a gentle breeze, these pods rustle with the leaves, and makes a really relaxing sound. Hooray for Sundays!

It was a fun weekend. I’m not sure it could be said that we did a whole lot, but that was also one of the reasons why it was so lovely. The weather has suddenly become autumnal here on the South Plains, and so the light has become crisper and the colors are finally becoming reds, oranges, and brown (although not, perhaps, in the pic above!). I do love autumn in a million different ways, so it’s definitely my favorite season.

I spent yesterday sitting outside in an open space on campus right by the library. Just reading away whilst a nice breeze brought the temps down from 87 degrees (on the thermometer) to something much cooler than that. I’m really lucky to have such pleasant places to go to outside. It’s quiet (generally). No traffic. Not much foot traffic, and under a huge blue sky. Lovely way to spend some time.

I’d been feeling that I hadn’t been reading that much lately, so made a concerted effort to make that part of the weekend. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed doing that. I think I’d just got busy and tired, and went for the activity of least resistance: Narcos TV show on Netflix. Wow. Pablo Escobar was (is?) a ruthless man. I’m wondering how true it is.

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Speaking of versions of “true”, I’m interested in watching the biopic about Dr. Dre. I’m not really a huge hip-hop kinda person, but ever since watching Straight Outta Compton, I’ve become pretty interested in the culture and major players. It’s a very different world than the one in which I live, so I’m inquisitive about that. It’s very far removed from my everyday life!

Back to books: Had great fun reading. I’m trying to read more of my own books (HA!) and was doing really well until the library called this morning with an ILL. I did it to myself though, and if it’s an ILL it means that the title is going to be a good one, so I’m looking forward to it. I’ll let you know what it is when I pick it up, mainly because I can’t remember what I ordered so it’ll be a surprise for all of us!

I’m not sure that I’m going to get a blog post up about the Kennedy book that I read the other day (The Ladies of Lyndon). It was good, but not notable really (and I say that as I can only remember very vague things about the plot).

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I did read a cheap print of a graphic novel of Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was one of those cheapo Barnes and Noble books, and at first, I wasn’t sure that I could keep reading it. The art wasn’t that great, and I kept thinking I’d rather go back and read the original. (It’s one of my fav books.) But then something clicked, and the book and I got on really well from then on. I do have to admit that the graphic novel was more scary than the actual book. Maybe I’m a visual person in how I read as I don’t remember being so scared at the novel itself. Whatever triggered that reaction, I was glad that I was reading it out in the open under a sunny sky when I was reading it. Some of those comic panels were actually rather frightening – more so than the book. Weird how that can be, huh?

(For a more substantive review of the original Dracula, I have a post here.)

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Original movie poster from 1975.

Finished up a quick re-read of The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. An old book from 1972 (nicely filling a spot on my Century of Books project), I thoroughly enjoyed this read although I did have to jump over the truly sexist comments that mark the second third of the story. If you haven’t read this, it’s a spec fiction (perhaps) about a family who move into the community of Stepford. The mother in this family is proud to be a Women’s Lib supporter and is rather horrified when all the wives around her were only focused on domestic duties and being subordinate to their husbands in obvious ways. Why was this? Was she the only one? Then she meets a friend, similar to her, and wonders if she too will change… Does she? You’ll have to find out. It was a spooky read with lots to think about so expect a chatty blog post about that soon. (As an aside, check out this slightly strange website. I have to hope it’s a joke.)

I’m not 100% sure what the next title will be, but it may well be straight non-fiction. I’ve only read fiction this month (which is strange for me). It’s been great fun though, so perhaps I’ll keep on that streak. Who knows? I won’t until I browse my TBR shelves and also find out about that ILL. The suspense, my friends… I’ll let you know.