Books I read this week: January week 4

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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale is fascinating. In 1860 a 3 year old boy was murdered on the grounds of  his family’s estate.  As he was taken from the room where his nanny and sister slept, it quickly became obvious that the murderer was someone who lived in the house. The question of who did it became the purview of Mr. Whicher, top detective at Scotland Yard.  This book is part mystery, part history lesson, and it reads like a novel. One of the most interesting elements is the lack of trust most people had in police and detectives at the time, and the somewhat dysfunctional relationship between local police and Scotland Yard. Whicher detected his way to the murderer, and even had them in custody, but was unable ultimately to prove it to the courts’ satisfaction. The fact that the person that he suspected eventually confessed didn’t matter in the course of things; Whicher’s career was ruined, as was the family’s life. The whole thing is so interesting, and very well written.

A Victorian detective was a secular substitute for a prophet or a priest. In a newly uncertain world, he offered science, conviction, stories that could organize chaos. He turned brutal crimes- the vestiges of the beast in man- into intellectual puzzles.

Many felt that Whicher’s inquiries culminated in a violation of the middle class home, an assault on privacy, a crime to match the murder he had been sent to solve. He exposed the corruptions within the house-hold: sexual transgressions, emotional cruelty, scheming servants, wayward children, insanity, jealous, loneliness, and loathing. The scene he uncovered aroused fear (and excitement) at the thought of what might be hiding behind the closed doors of other respectable houses. His conclusions helped to create an era of voyeurism and suspicion, in which the detective was a shadowy figure, a demon as well as a demi-god.


Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy Book 1) by Jeff Vandermeer is a book that I’ve had my eye on for a while, and finally picked up at the library. I’d been on the fence about it, but after reading a description that described it as a cross between Lovecraft and Lost I decided that I needed to read it. That description is pretty apt, as a group of scientists enter a quarantined area to investigate it. They’re the 12th expedition to go in, and the return rate has been far from positive. Things get really strange really fast, and that’s really all I can tell you without ruining things. It’s great science fiction that also falls solidly in the weird fiction category. I’ve read my fair share of weird fiction, so some of the big surprises were perhaps not as surprising as they could have been, but it’s really well written and highly enjoyable. 

Far worse, though, was a low, powerful moaning at dusk. The wind off the sea and the odd interior stillness dulled our ability to gauge direction, so that the sound seemed to infiltrate the black water that soaked the cypress trees. This water was so dark we could see our faces in it, and it never stirred, set like glass, reflecting the beards of gray moss that smothered the cypress trees. If you looked out through these areas, toward the ocean, all you saw was the black water, the gray of the cypress trunks, and the constant, motionless rain of moss flowing down. All you heard was the low moaning. The effect cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.


Authority: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy Book 2) by Jeff Vandermeer takes everything from the first book and turns it on its head as you get more information (or perhaps misinformation) about what’s going on. If we’re going with a Lost analogy, the first book is on the island, and this book is about Dharma. Kind of. It’s also excellently written and a great read.


Acceptance: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy Book 3) by Jeff Vandermeer takes the previous two books and kind of puts them in a blender. You do get answers, and it’s pretty awesome.  I really recommend all three.


Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher is a collection of essays, written after a while of her undergoing electro convulsive therapy (or shock treatments). ECT affects memory, and that’s a theme of a number of the essays. She writes a bit about fame, a bit about her parents, a bit about Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor. There isn’t completely a through line, but the essays are conversational and sly, and her personality shines through them. She’s a compelling person, and she’s not shy about her shortcomings or mistakes. She’s also not reticent about her successes, which is nice. This was a quick read, but I enjoyed it.

There’s a breed of women in Hollywood who wander among us looking very tense and very mad. Of course they’re angry. Who wouldn’t be enraged about having to ensure you’re looking an age you haven’t been in a generation?

I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.

Books I read this week: January week 2 and 3

Aaaaah! I get behind a week and all of the sudden there’s a million books to post about. Ok, so just 8. But still. I’ve been reading really good stuff.

Come Hell or Highball: A Mystery (Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries) by Maia Chance is a quick, clever mystery. Lola Woodby’s husband dies and she finds herself with a pile of debt and kicked out of the ancestral manor by her husband’s brother. With only her cook for company (who insists on staying with her until she can get paid), she hides out from the creditors and her family at her husband’s love nest. Together they get swept into a hunt for a stolen film reel, a murder, and all sorts of madness.

(I got this one from the library and I’ve already returned it, so I have no quotation from it.)

Slade House by David Mitchell is weird and creepy and awesome. Every nine years, on the same day, a doorway appears in Slade Alley that opens into a grand mansion. The people who go in, don’t come out. As the book moves through time and through unfortunate visitors, the reader discovers more about what happens in the house and why. I can’t really say more than that without ruining things, but it’s definitely worth a read. It apparently ties in to his book The Bone Clocks, though I think you’re supposed to read The Bone Clocks first, as I think this probably spoils elements of it. But I haven’t read The Bone Clocks and this stood up perfectly well on its own.

There’s a small black iron door, set into the brick wall. It’s small all right. I’m four feet eleven inches, and it’s only up to my eyes. A fat person’d need to squeeze hard to get through. It has no handle, keyhole, or gaps around the edges. It’s black, nothing-black, like the gaps between stars.

The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato is SO GOOD. SO GOOD. A pop star (with major Lady Gaga vibes) disappears without a trace. A little while later, a woman who has been investigating her disappearance vanishes in a boating accident. The mystery of their joint obsessions lies at the crux of this book, which is written in the form of an academic piece. There’s an abstraction from the story that gives the same effect (or the wanted effect) of found footage films, and the inclusion of real life references and context make the lines between fiction and non-fiction even more blurry. There are secret organizations, real life historical persons, the real history of the Chicago train line,  conspiracies, and so much more. It’s like Disabato took all of the things she knows and carefully researched about all of the things she loves and put them all together in this book. You can tell because none of it feels forced, it all just flows gorgeously together. I came away from this book with a list of things I want to learn more about.

They were at war with the whole world, but lightheartedly.

Molly’s Ghost Network is a strange piece; it catalogues not only a hypothetical transit system, but also one that would be nearly impossible to build and ridiculous to implement.  … The Ghost Network exists in a world without decisions, where every proposal is adopted, where construction isn’t based on the realities of the city.


The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper by Carlie St. George is short, only about 40 pages, but it’s so good. It’s a retelling of the Cinderella story, in a noir setting. That could be super hokey, but the tone and the flow of this work perfectly. There are two more stories set in this world and I can’t wait to read them.

It was half past eleven when I saw her. She was standing at the top of the staircase, with restless fingers and defiant eyes, wrapped in blue silk that clung to her hips. Her legs went on, and on, and on.

The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of “Joe” Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water by Kate Summerscale is the story of Joe Carstairs, a seriously fascinating woman. She lived from 1900-1993, and lived much of her life dressing and carrying herself as a man. She raced speedboats, bought her own Caribbean island which she ruled as its Queen, and generally just did whatever she wanted. She had a relationship with Marlene Dietrich, Dolly Wilde (Oscar’s niece), and a string of other women. It’s a fascinating read.

Dolly was known for her sparkling conversation. Yet Dolly’s words, unlike those of her uncle, were evanescent, careless, utterly resistant to repetition or transcription.


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is a mindblower. I finished it and immediately had to round up other people to read it because I HAD to talk about it. It’s one of those books that has so much in it that you have to talk it through and even then you won’t get to everything. The characters are so complex, so full of depth. Nothing that they do seems out of character, but you don’t necessarily understand why they do what they do. It’s just so thought provoking and excellent. And the writing is gorgeous. Beautiful, beautiful sentences.

Lotto is a golden boy, popular, lucky, rich. A talented actor, he has the world at his feet in college, and when he meets Mathilde and she agrees to marry him, he has everything he could want. They have struggles, as his mother cuts him off financially and acting jobs become harder to come by, but Mathilde works, and their love keeps them happy and content. The first section of the book is Lotto’s story, his perspective on their life. The second half is Mathilde’s, and let’s just say that there are some discrepancies. And my goodness is it gorgeous as you begin to realize how little we really know anyone, how much our perception of the world is influenced by our assumptions, how far from the truth we might be.

I remember coming out of watching the movie Identity (totally spooky movie, if you haven’t watched it, you maybe should) and feeling completely shaken about the world- was everyone else a figment of my imagination? Was I just in someone’s mind? It totally upheaved my sense of reality. This book did the same thing, as I started looking at everyone around me in terms of what I might not know about them.

There’s a decent amount of sex and some swearing, but if you’re comfortable with that, I highly recommend this one.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood is odd and strange and disconcerting, and everything I expect from Margaret Atwood. In the slight future, the economy has collapsed and most people are living out of their cars, prey to roving bands of thieves. Not quite Mad Max style; there are still laundromats and convenience stores and hotels, but most people are pretty hard up. Stan and Charmaine are a married couple hard on their luck, until they see an ad for the Positron Project. If accepted, they will move into the city of Consilience, where they will be given a lovely home to live in, a job, and a safe life. In order for the city to work, however, every other month they will be inmates in the city’s prison, while an alternate couple takes a turn in their home. When the month is up, they trade places, going back to their life while the alternates serve their time in prison. With the prison as the pivot on which the society turns (you either live there or work there) the economy and society flow easily and well. Life in the prison is pleasant, and everyone is happy. But when Charmaine begins a relationship with the man who lives in her house on the alternate months, the cracks begin to show and things take a very Atwood-y turn.

It’s a fascinating, weird book. I’m still thinking about it- some of the places Atwood goes are chilling in their potential. There’s a lot of sex in this one, slightly more than I would say is necessary, but it is in service of the plot.

Oblivion is increasingly attractive to the young, and even to the middle-aged, since why retain your brain when no amount of thinking can even begin to solve the problem?

Everything in this town is retro, which accounts for the large supply of black vintage items in Accessories. The past is so much safer, because whatever’s in it has already happened, It can’t be changed; so in a way, there’s nothing to dread.


I got The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George out of the library, and 5 pages in I realized that I had to just buy it because I wanted to mark passages on every page. So it has the distinction of the first book I’ve bought this year. I HAD to. I felt the same way reading it as I did when reading The Night Circus- that someone had written down my heart’s delight. It’s the story of Monsieur Perdu, owner and purveyor of The Literary Apothecary (which really should have been the title of the book. Why don’t people run these things by me?), a bookshop on a boat. Perdu is my kind of bookseller, the kind who won’t sell a book to someone if it’s the wrong book for them. He gives prescriptions for books that will heal the heart, fix the soul, make you cry if that’s what you need, give you courage, give a measure of grace. When a woman in need of all of those things moves into his apartment building, his own inner walls begin to crumble, and he finds himself (literally) on a journey to face his own past.

The story itself is fairly straightforward, but the prose is absolutely delectable. I just checked, and I marked 40 different passages, most of them because they were just so very pretty. This book falls solidly into my own personal set of scriptural texts, those books that bear witness to gospel of the power of stories. It’s one of those books that if you don’t like it, I don’t want to know, because it speaks so purely to my soul and to the things that I know to be true that someone not liking it would be a rejection of the parts of myself I hold dear.

But it’s well known that reading makes people impudent, and tomorrow’s world is going to need some people who aren’t shy to speak their minds, don’t you think?

He calls books freedoms. And homes too. They preserve all the good words that we so seldom use. Leniency. Kindness. Contradiction. Forbearance.

“Here you go, my dear. Novels for willpower, nonfiction for rethinking one’s life, poems for dignity.” Books about dreaming, about dying, about love and life as a woman artist. He laid out mystical ballads, hard-edged old stories about chasms, falls, peril and betrayal at her feet. Soon Anna was surrounded by piles of books as a woman in a shoe shop might be surrounded by boxes. Pedu wanted Anna to feel that she was in a nest. He wanted her to sense the boundless possibilities offered by books. They would always be enough. They would never stop loving their readers. They were a fixed point in an otherwise unpredictable world. In life. In love. In death.

I’m currently reading The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, which I should finish today.  Then I’ve got a stack of books from the library. I’m trying to alternate between library books and my library on the Haunted Kindle. I have a long list of books to get through, which is pretty much heaven.

Books I read this week: Jan. week 1

One of my goals this year is to buy less books (isn’t it every year?) and I’m going to achieve this goal by reading what’s already on the Haunted Kindle and utilizing the library. I’ve missed the library so much. This week’s reads include two from the library, woohoo goals!

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey is a dense book. I’m not quite sure why, but it took me 5 days to read its 272 pages where it took me a day to read all 455 pages of The Silkworm.  The book is in the form of a long letter from a woman to a friend she has known since childhood, a friend who has betrayed her. As the letter continues, the words flow in a stream of consciousness way until the full truth of all of the relationships are revealed. It’s a very “slice of life” book; not a lot happens that anyone would deem world changing, but the whole world is in the details of these people’s lives. It’s a very interesting, poetic read.

  We are all looking for miracles and small mercies. I mean this. Who are we to decide on another’s behalf what is miraculous, what is merciful?

All life is a joke and falling for it is the best we can do. Better than refusing to laugh along, which I sometimes think is the route to madness.

Time is a drug that wears off.


The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike Book 2) by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) is a solid followup to The Cuckoo’s Calling. It doesn’t quite have the same glitter- I didn’t enjoy the cast of characters as much- but it’s a twisty, enjoyable mystery. Strike is hired to track down a writer and bring him home by the writer’s wife, when he can’t do that, it turns into a missing person’s case. And when a manuscript by the missing man is leaked and it contains thinly veiled caricatures of almost everyone he knows, it’s not long before it turns into a murder case. As with Cuckoo’s Calling, the clues are all there, there’s no cheating, and there are plenty of plausible suspects and red herrings. The background stories of Strike and his ex-wife, and Robin and Matthew move along nicely.


The Daughters: A Novel by Adrienne Cole was an impulse library pick up. I rarely go to the library with particular books in mind (I did with The Silkworm), I usually just let books yell at me from the shelves, and this one did. It’s the story of Lulu, an opera singer who has just had a baby. She comes from a line of women who believe that, due to an ancestor’s “deal with the devil”, when they give birth to a daughter something they love will be taken from them. Lulu fears that her daughter’s birth will cost her her voice, as her own birth cost her mother her singing career. It’s a beautiful look at what motherhood costs, the sacrifices made, and the hopes we hold for future generations. It’s also a meditation on the role of stories in the formation of our identities, and how the past influences us. I really, really liked this one.

I could tell Kara a story. She has a lot to learn about me, about the past. Where she comes from, where she’s going. And anyway, isn’t that the function of stories? To teach our brains to dream? It would be daunting to fall asleep into the noise of complete darkness, infinite probability. Wihtout the guide of a little narrative, a little magic, how would we know where to go when we closed our eyes? 

Best Books of 2015

This is the first year that I’ve taken a look at what year the books I read were published, so I’m actually able to put together a list of my favorite books that came out this year.  Interestingly, the majority of the books that I rated 5 stars were 2015 publications (3 were super late 2014- late enough that I’m counting them as 2015. I can do that, it’s my list.)

Here are my top rated books of 2015, in no particular order. If you want more info on any of these books, click through to their Amazon page or search for the title in the “Search this Site” box to the left to go to my original review.

The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura: Such a fascinating, insightful look at how languages interact and how those who speak and write in English are privileged in a great many ways.


The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen: An incredibly fun read about a mysterious writers’ society. (Fair warning- one graphic sexual scene)


The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery: It’s all about octopus. What more could you ask for? Utterly fascinating.


Vermilion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp by Molly Tanzer: Pulpy westerny ghosty goodness.


Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert: One of my top 3 of the year. There’s just SO MUCH in this book. I think a reread is in order. It’s an electrical jolt of creative inspiration.


Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson: This is another top 3 book. I have never laughed so hard reading a book. Lawson is honest and completely hilarious. (Fair warning- lots of swearing.)


Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente: Manages to be an utterly gorgeous ode to the golden age of film while also being completely solid sci-fi.


All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews: The final of the my top 3 books. The heartbreaking, gorgeous, thought provoking story of a suicidal woman and the sister who doesn’t want her to kill herself. SO SO SO SO SO good.


Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar: Another book about a suicidal woman and her sister, but that’s only part of the story, as this book focuses on Vanessa Bell, rather than Virginia Woolf, her sister.


The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock by Lucy Worsley: This book was exceptionally good. Chock full of fascinating information and history, written like a novel. I’d buy it for everyone I know, except that would look a little weird.

My other two 5 star reads (that did not come out in 2015, or close to 2015) were:


The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn R. Saks: An incredible memoir of living (and thriving) with acute paranoid schizophrenia. A truly exceptional book.


The History of Love by Nicole Krauss: A gorgeous story of the power of literature and love. Vibrant, complex characters who will break your heart.

 

Books I read this week: December week 4

Here’s what I read over the last week or so of the year.

Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist was a bit of a hard book to get my head around to begin with. It’s a series of vignettes about different points in the lives of a married couple when they have had to deal with death. What threw me was that some of the vignettes concern experiences that only the wife had (when she was a child, before she even knew the husband) yet all of them are written in the voice of the husband. I thought that was a strange choice for a woman writer- in effect taking the woman character’s voice from her- but there did turn out to be a reason for it. I get it, and I don’t know of a different way it could have been done, but I’m still not sure I love it.

But anyway, the story itself is lovely and sad, as this couple find themselves dealing with the task of “cleaning up” after deaths of family members- selling homes, cleaning out belongings, finalizing finances. And through it all, they love each other and live their lives, and are strengthened by their experiences.

And even through every offering you make, we both know the baby himself is not really an idol. He’s just an altar- a place to lay sacrifices. The sacrifice you make here is so profound I’ve never dared to mention my own- real but lost and invisible in the face of the cataclysm of your new motherhood. But the look of sameness in the routine of my life is not real. I have laid something precious on the altar of the baby too. My own sacrifice– it was you.


After Birth by Elisa Albert was on a ton of best of 2015 lists, and for good reason. It’s a raw, honest, powerful book. It’s the story of a newish mother (her baby is a year old) who is struggling with post partum depression in addition to the general upheaval of her life that came with a new baby. She befriends another new mom (of a newborn) who is also struggling, and the two of them create a support system for each other. The whole book is in a stream of consciousness form, and every emotion connected with motherhood is present here. Reviews that I read found the main character abrasive and some of her views offensive (she is stringently pro-breast feeding and thinks formula is horrible), but I found her honest and real (and I totally used formula). Some characters in fiction have different opinions than we as readers have. It happens. The experiences that these characters have are not everyone’s experiences. But I found myself more aware of those with new babies around me after reading this, checking in, making sure that they’re ok.

Another day gone, okay, and I get it, I got it: I’m over. I no longer exist. This is why there’s all that talk about kids having as express train to enlightenment. You can meditate, you can medicate, you can take peyote in the desert at sunrise, you can self-immolate, or you can have a baby, and disappear.

Who can say I’m not a good mother? Who can say I don’t read the subject headings in the books? The How to Care for Your Child if there is Absolutely No One with Any Primal Knowledge Around to Guide You guides. What to Expect When There Is No Received Wisdom Whatsover.


On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn with Them by Melissa Dalton-Bradford is such a lovely book. Bradford’s oldest son died in a water accident just as he was starting college- he died saving a friend from drowning in a canal. Bradford wrote about that loss in her previous book, but this book is the result of her search for peace after his death. She read every book she could get her hands on about death and people’s experiences continuing on after their loved ones died, and she collected the passages that rang true to her. She put them in order of experience- the day they died, the next morning, at the funeral, a month later, a year later when people don’t talk about them every day anymore- and then added her own essays about her experience. The result is a compendium of shared experience that could bring comfort to the grieving and understanding to those who love them. I really highly recommend this one.

Remember: grief always outlasts conventional comfort.

The child was a gift. The grief does not smother the gratitude. And death is not the end. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Yet none says that since death is not the end, we should not grieve. Though grief does not smother hope, neither does hope smother grief.


Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More by Rachel Macy Stafford is a follow up to her book, Hands Free Mama. It’s a good look at ways to have less distraction and more connection in your day. It’s an easy read with some good ideas.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity to connect to what really matters lies in the silent spaces of our day. When we resist the urge to fill every minute with noise, excess, and activity, we open the doors of our heart, mind, and soul to let the joy come in.


The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a really solid read with a lot of good information. He breaks down how habits work, in practice and neurologically. When that foundation is laid, he goes into how to change habits. There are lots of good real life examples. We’ve already used the ideas to help a nail biter in our home.

Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.


Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine is a really powerful book. It’s a collection of poems about being black in America, and it hurt my heart and made me angry and want to change the world. Many of the things that Rankine writes about are small moments of large import- when her friend (her educated friend) tells her that she didn’t know black women could get cancer, when a white woman chooses to stand rather than sit next to a black man on the train. All those little moments build on top of each other until they feel crushing. And then there are the larger moments, the moments that crush all by themselves, when men are pulled over and arrested because they fit a profile, when they are killed for daring to ask why. This is the kind of book (like After Birth) that probably makes some readers defensive, because this isn’t their experience, because they feel accused, complicit, because they don’t want to know. But sometimes reading is about reflecting your own experience, and sometimes it’s about listening to someone else’s.

As usual you drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said. It is not only that confrontation is headache-producing: it is also that you have a destination that doesn’t include acting like this moment isn’t inhabitable, hasn’t happened before, and the before isn’t part of the now as the night darkens and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.

And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.


Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira is a sweet, sad, story. Laurel has just started as a freshman at a new high school, and is given the assignment to write a letter to a dead person. So she chooses Kurt Cobain because he was her sister May’s favorite before she died. Laurel continues to write letters to dead people (Amelia Earhart, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix) as she tries to sort through her grief, the break up of her family, her new friends, and her part in her sister’s death. Dellaira does a great job of capturing the feeling of being a young teen who knows too much and who feels responsible for everyone else’s happiness- both in the characters of Laurel and May. As they keep secrets from everyone else and believe that their view of what is happening is correct, they’re crushing their own souls. The characters are nicely developed and complex, and while some of the events are predictable in a YA novel sort of way, that’s not a bad thing.

River, you were a star so bright, One that people made wishes on. Until you took so many drugs that you took your life. Do you think that everyone gets to be a star like that? Do you think that everyone gets to be seen? Gets to be loved? Gets to glow? They don’t. They don’t get to do it like you did. They don’t get to be as beautiful as you were. And you just wanted to burn up.

There was something between me and the world right then, I saw it like a big sheet of glass, too thick to break through, I could make new friends, but they could never know me, not really, because they could never know my sister, the person I loved most in the world.

 

Books I read this week: December week 1 and 2

Here’s what I read over the last couple weeks.

M Train by Patti Smith is a worthy followup to her first memoir, Just Kids. I LOVED that book. While it was a pretty straightforward recounting of her early years, this is a more meandering look at her later life. Each chapter is book-ended by a visit to her favorite coffee shop, and as she sits, she looks back, remembering friendships, travel, love. Her writing is beautiful; there’s a poetry to it that is really enjoyable.


I thought I had already read Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie, (it’s an easy assumption, I’ve read a lot of her books) and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I hadn’t. It’s a solid and tangly mystery- a young girl is murdered at a Halloween party after boasting that she once witnessed a murder. Hercule Poirot is the detective on this one, with Ariadne Oliver, the mystery writer, backing him up. She’s a fun character, and the rest of the cast is great as well.


All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists by Terry Gross was interesting. It’s a collection of interviews that she has conducted on her radio show, Fresh Air. I say interesting because I think I would have preferred to listen to them (though she does say that there are some of her favorites that she left out because they didn’t “read” as well), but the content was still good. I actually found her comments about how they put the interviews together the most compelling part; a LOT of work goes into putting that radio show together.


I bought The Cuckoo’s Calling  by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) 2 years ago, and had put off reading it because I wasn’t sure how good it was going to be. It’s a contemporary detective novel, and I just wasn’t positive that it was going to be an enjoyable read. I needn’t have worried. It’s a super solid mystery, no holes, no raised eyebrows, no cheats. The clues are all there. And the characters- my goodness, the characters.

If you’ll allow me to digress for a moment- one of the main plot points of the book Speak Easy by Catherynne Valente is that Zelda and Frankie (F. Scott Fitzgerald) play cards with a fairy. He’s a dangerous fairy, and the stakes are high- a name that goes on forever, a life in Paris, a marriage, a healthy baby girl, fourteen novels, death by fire locked in a room with nobody coming for you, and most importantly, a “heart beaten into a lovely tale where a girl comes out on top and the beats come so hot and sweet they’ll knock you dead and you’ll beg for a sequel”. Some of those are Zelda’s stakes, some are Frankie’s, some belong to the house, and in the end, Frankie wins it all. Zelda goes with him to try to get hers back, but he keeps her heart, her story, and gives her back her death by fire. “He thinks he’s being kind. Generous.” But all she wants back is her story, the story that as the reader you know is The Great Gatsby. And it’s heartbreaking and gorgeous and true, this story about Frankie and Zelda.

The reason I tell that story is because it’s inched into my brain and now I wonder about what the wagers of other writers would look like. I think Ms. Rowling’s winnings would all be about her characters. An orphaned wizard, a smart, goodie two shoes witch, a red haired best friend, a villain without a name, a lovesick bully, a long bearded kind old professor. All of these would be in that winning pot, characters that will live on in hearts and minds for decades. And you’d think that would be a big enough pot.

But apparently Rowling won a jackpot, because her characters in this book are just as living and breathing as anything in Harry Potter. I’ve found myself thinking about them days later, and not just the main characters, who are excellent, but the side characters as well. Each one is a fully realized individual, to the point that I feel like I could say, “that sounds like something they would do”. When the conclusion comes, it all makes sense, like I said, there’s no cheating. It’s a rock solid set up, it all plays. That’s hard enough to do, but inhabiting that with living, breathing people, not just characters; that’s a gift that makes me want to wager with a fairy.

The mystery at the core of the book is an apparent suicide; a young model throws herself from her apartment window. But her brother thinks it’s murder, and he hires Cormoran Strike, private detective, ex-military man, illegitmate son of a rock star, to look into it. Add in his temporary secretary Robin, who harbors dreams of being a detective herself, and you’ve got magic. There are two more books in the series so far, and they’re all I want to read, but I’m holding out so that I can stretch out the experience. Dang J.K. Rowling!

There is a decent amount of swearing in the book, but not egregious.

Because I really just want to read those books, I’m bouncing between a couple that look really good but I’m not sure that I’m in the right mood for. We’ll see where I end up.

 

Books I read this week: October and November

This happens almost every year- I do really well keeping up on posting about what I’m reading, and then I hit the end of the year and give up the ghost. Then I have to do a major catch up. So here we go. I read some really good stuff these last couple of months.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling.  I’m pretty sure that, barring some major personality/lifestyle change on her part or mine, I will read every book that Mindy Kaling publishes from now until the end of time. She’s smart and clever, and I enjoy her observations and insights. And I find her fascinating as a person, so I really enjoyed this collection of essays which dips into her personal life a little bit more than her first book. She has some great passages here about confidence and friendship, and just being a person.

If I host a dinner part at my house that you are invited to, then first of all: congratulations! You are living in a thrilling science-fiction world where robots probably walk among humans as equals, and also, I know how to cook.


Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die by Amy Fusselman. This book is fascinating. The author was inspired by a visit to Tokyo, where her host took her and their children to a park where there are pretty much no rules. Kids are allowed to climb trees, build with tools, light things on fire (in a fire pit), and anything else they can think of, as long as they’re not hurting someone. This prompts a consideration of how we think (or don’t think) about space and what we allow kids to do and experience. It’s really good, and not just because I find Tokyo eternally compelling. (I didn’t know about the park when we lived there, and I’m quite sad about that.)

It wasn’t just that the children were flying in the air there, it wasn’t just that they were making insanely great structures, it wasn’t just that the playpark hut was a junk lover’s dream. It was because the place existed at all for just this reason: this full and complete allowance of a self, including all the ineptness, failure, and possibility of death, because it is understood that only with this allowance to we have the capacity to be great.


The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan. I don’t even want to tell you how long it took me to read this collection of poems. I think I started it in 2011. It’s less than 300 pages long and it took me 4 years to read. I just dipped in and out of it over time. Don’t take that as a judgement of the poems, they’re lovely, poetry just takes a long time for me. The poems did start to click better more me about halfway through.

Extreme exertion

isolates a person

from help,

discovered Atlas.

Once a certain

shoulder to burden

ratio collapses,

there is so little

others can do:

they can’t

lend a hand

with Brazil

and not stand

on Peru.


Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson is probably the funniest book I’ve ever read. I laughed so much reading this book. It’s a collection of essays about Lawson’s life, which is a life with mental illness. The title refers to her decision to grab onto happiness when she could, and to not just be happy, but be furiously happy. This expresses itself in absurd, gorgeous ways. I read somewhere that you are more interesting to other people when your own interests are unique and diverse, and in this case, it’s certainly true. She has a love of taxidermy that is hilarious and fascinating; I honestly just adore her. There are some really great insights about struggling with mental and physical illness in the middle of all of the madness and hilarity; some very honest moments. There’s a lot of swearing in this book, which is unfortunate, because otherwise I’d buy it for everyone I know.

Victor thinks taxidermy is a waste of money, claiming that “there are only so many things you can do with a dead raccoon.” But I have proven him wrong time and time again. Victor pointed out that what he’d actually said was “There are only so many things you should do with a dead raccoon,” and honestly, that does sound more like something he’d say, but I still disagree.

Brains are like toddlers. They are wonderful and should be treasured, but that doesn’t mean you should trust them to take care of you in an avalanche or process setotonin effectively.


The Martian by Andy Weir is another book with a lot of swearing. Just saying. I usually don’t even notice swearing in a book, and I thought, “Wow, this book is sweary”. That being said, it’s also pretty great. An astronaut gets accidentally left behind on Mars and has to figure out how to stay alive until he can be saved. The book didn’t really kick into high gear for me until the people at NASA on Earth came into the picture, but I love how the whole book is about people being smart. They’re all able to do what they do because they’re intelligent, and have learned a lot, and can work around problems. There’s no dumb person in this book, which is pretty awesome.

Yes of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works everywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.


A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller. I read this book for book club, and I’m glad, because I’d never heard of it and probably would never have picked it up. Miller wrote a previous autobiographical book that was optioned for a film, and this book is about the process of he and the producers “rewriting” his life to make it less boring. He has a lot of ideas about seeing your life as a story and making conscious choices about the narrative arc (so to speak) that you’re creating. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, and some stuff I don’t agree with, (his ideas about what constitutes an “interesting” life are not always in agreement with mine) but overall it’s a really thought provoking book.

The night after we talked, Jason couldn’t sleep. He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only bveing used. In the absence of a family story, she’d chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence. “She’s not a bad girl,” my friend said. “She was just choosing the best story available to her.”

Jason decided to stop yelling at his daughter and, instead, created a better story to invite her into.


The Monogram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah is a new Hercule Poirot mystery that’s been approved by the Christie estate. I was wary going in, because it’s not Dame Agatha, but it’s remarkably solid. Hercule is well and consistently written, and the mystery is twisty and really well done. The clues are there, but subtle, and I really enjoyed it.

I do not believe that anyone about to kill for the first time would imagine he might first want to eat a scone.


Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard is one of the best Lovecraft inspired books I’ve read. At the beginning of the book, Detective Carter is tracking a serial killer with his partner and they’ve found him in time to save the kid he’s kidnapped, and then Carter’s partner starts laughing hysterically and shoots himself. It’s a super eerie scene, and one that sets the stage for Carter to investigate strange happenings with eldritch overtones. When he inherits a bookstore from a man he’s never met he meets Emily Lovecraft, grandaughter of HP Lovecraft himself. And this meta element is what makes the book awesome- it takes place in the real world, where Lovecraft really lived and wrote books, but what he wrote about is actually happening. The Lovecrafty parts are so well done, with the madness of learning too much expressed in a visceral way that I haven’t read in other homages. Most authors go with the “that which can’t be described” trick, but Howard delves into what it would feel like to experience knowing things that the mind isn’t supposed to, and can’t, comprehend. It’s really creepy (I started reading it while B was out of town and had to stop until he got back home), but really really good. And the end is incredible. I can’t wait for the next book.

Carter’s sight blurred with double images, multiple images, and they were not the same. He was breathing heavily, becoming aware of the sound of his breath rasping in and out of his throat, the coldness in his lungs. What a shambolic scarecrow a human is. How full of paradox and obsolescence. Life quivered fitfully inside him, a flickering light in a stormy universe. He felt small and inconsequential. He felt the truth pressing in upom him, up from the ancient Earth beneath him, down from the still more ancient stars above, a pressure of reality that would crush him like a louse between fingernails.

None of this changes that. I don’t care if he is offing people with pixie dust instead of a gun like a good American; he tried to kill me, and he came into the store to threaten you with math and philosophy.


Radiance is by Catherynne M. Valente, who is one of my very favorite authors. This is her first adult book in a while, and it’s so very very good. It’s described in the blurb as a “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” which really is the description of my dreams. It’s set in an alternative 1920-30s where the solar system has been colonized- each planet claimed by a different country. The moon is claimed by Hollywood, and it’s where all the movies are made. It’s where Severin Unck grows up on camera- her father, a famous movie director, documenting her every moment. Once she’s grown, she disappears during a documentary film shoot, and the book rotates around everyone involved’s knowledge or ignorance about what happened. There are so many pieces that fit together, so many voices, so many compelling characters. The science of the science fiction is solid, the pulpy elements are glorious, and the whole thing is a beautiful ode to film. It’s just so good.

Everyone adored her. She was like laughter turned into a person.

This is the version I’ve seen. I have watched it over and over. It is beautiful. It is right. It is full of hope for the future. It is perfect. It is a whopper of a lie.

 


This month really was a goldmine of books from my favorite authors. A new Jonathan Howard book, two new Valente (see below), and a new Gail Carriger. My heart overflows. Manners & Mutiny is the last (I’m assuming) of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, which features Sephronia Temminick who attends what her mother thinks is a proper ladies finishing school, but which is really a school for assassins. It’s just about my favorite thing. There are dirigibles and bad guys called The Picklemen, and it’s glorious. In this last of the series, Sephronia and her friends fight a conspiracy to steal the school itself, and Sephronia has to come to terms with some of her choices from previous books. I highly recommend the whole series, it’s lovely.

After all, Bunson’s was a school for evil geniuses, and scientists weren’t encouraged to experiment with fashion, only weaponry.

He clearly did not know what to do when approached by a pretty young lady wearing a wicker chicken who ought- by all standards of decency- to be long abandoned on the moor… chickenless.

Dimity had firm opinions on cucumber, which she felt was nothing more than slimy, embarrassingly shaped water and should never, under any circumstances, be presented at table.

 


Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente was another glorious surprise. I swear, she somehow has a pipeline into my mind and just writes things that I’d be interested in. I may, in fact, be her exact target market. Anyway, this novella is an imagining of Zelda Fitzgerald’s life, if her life were a Grimms fairy tale. The blurb calls it, “a bootlegger’s brew of fairy tales, Jazz Age opulence, and organized crime” and that’s pretty much right. It’s strange and sad and glorious.

Parties are where you go to do nothing as hard as you can.

Standing between his girl and a boy who just needs to be seen so bad he’d turn on all the lights in hell.


The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by EB Hudspeth is an odd, but neat, book. The first half is the “biography” of Dr. Spencer Black, a Victorian doctor convinced that mythical creatures (like satyrs and mermaids) really used to exist and were the precursors of humans, and that mutations and deformities in humans are caused by those genes trying to reassert themselves. He loses any respectability in the doctoring community and begins to create his own mythical creatures (using carcasses and… not carcasses) to show how the mythical creatures could have existed. The second half of the book is made up of incredibly detailed anatomical illustrations of different mythical creatures, and they’re really quite beautiful. It’s a strange, creepy book, where the horror of what’s happening kind of sneaks up on you.

I must know why five fingers are intended before I can discover the cause of six.


Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. I highlighted so much of this book, it isn’t even funny. It’s a inspiring, encouraging, daring look at what makes creativity, and how we can interact with our creativity. I just don’t even have words. It’s a book I want to buy for everyone I know (and there’s only a little swearing in it, so I could). I highly, highly, highly recommend it.

 

At such times, I can always steady my life once more by returning to my soul. I ask it, “And what is it that you want, dear one?” The answer is always the same: “More wonder please.”


Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse: A Novel by Faith Sullivan is a lovely, lovely book. It’s the story of Nell’s life, beginning with the birth of her son and the death of her abusive husband, and going through the rest of her years to her death. The book itself begins with her obituary, written by herself, and it’s beautiful to see those lines expand into everything they really encompass in her life as the rest of the book unfolds. Nell is a reader, and books are her foundation and safe place as the small town she lives in goes through ups and downs, through World War 1 and its aftermath, through love and friends and loss. She is a kind, thoughtful woman, and the book is gentle and thoughtful, even though sad things happen in it. I really really liked this one.

In 1909, Nell discovered P.G. Wodehouse, who became her treasured companion and savior. She recommends his books to all who know distress. And, of course, to all who don’t. But further, she simply recommends reading- Dickens, Austen, Steinbeck, or whom you will. In books are found solace, companionship, entertainment, and enlightenment. The stuff of our salvation.

Motherhood was the most insecure of all undertakings. If you stopped to think, even for a moment, every choice you made was the wrong choice.


Paulina & Fran: A Novel by Rachel B. Glaser is a gorgeous character study. It’s the story of two girls, Paulina and Fran, who both attend an art school, and who are in turns enamored and at odds with each other. Neither is terribly likable; they’re prickly and vain and rude in a distinctly real way that makes reading about them less an entertainment and more like voyeurism. Both are people I feel like I could have known in college, like they could step off the page and exist in the world as real people. Glaser does an excellent job of capturing the tangly feelings of college life, when you feel like you should have everything figured out, and maybe even feel like you do, but you really know deep down that you don’t have any idea what you’re doing. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable book to read, but it’s incredibly well written, and I really liked it.

She felt Gretchen was the kind of girlfriend she would be offered again and again by the adult world, the real world, but Paulina was someone truly original, someone who existed only once.

She rushed home thinking, I will become a myth who murders old loves.

All month she’d camped out by his heart with little love of her own, but a stubborn need to star in someone’s life.


Newport: A Novel by Jill Morrow is made up of things that make me happy, the 1920s, summer houses in Newport, seances and spiritualism. It’s a fun, tangly story about a lawyer who is sent to revise a client’s will, only to discover that the client’s children are contesting the changes because their father believes that his dead wife is communicating to him through his new fiancee’s niece. There are tons of family secrets and the past coming back to haunt people, and it’s a great read.

“It’s art,” Adrian said. “It’s not accountable to you.”

Random thoughts

The girls are in the middle of writing persuasive essays about why they should get a turtle. It’s amazing how much less they argue about having to do writing when it’s on a subject they have a vested interest in.

We got our shipment last week and our house is now full of stuff. It’s not too bad, the living room, upstairs reading area and the girls’ room are pretty much under control. The school room didn’t really get anything added to it (except to the closet, which is now a mess) so it’s still pleasant. I’ve spent the last week doing tons of laundry- all of our clothes and bedding got here smelling moldy and musty. So now I have massive piles of clean laundry in my room, which is an improvement from massive piles of smelly laundry. Hopefully everything will be organized and put away by the end of the week.

Facebook has been seriously depressing lately- so many people arguing about so many things, and so many of them are so angry and (at least to my mind) misguided. I’ve had to unfollow a few people because I was getting frustrated whenever I saw their posts.

I have had this song stuck in my head for weeks now. It just makes me laugh. It’s the “lalalalala grapes” part that gets me.

I’m reading a book called Savage Park by Amy Fusselman and it’s really interesting. It’s all about how we do and do not mindfully inhabit space, and how that, combined with a fear of death, leads us to be overprotective when it comes to kids playing. It’s really thought provoking, but the thing that really gets me is that she describes an amazing park in Tokyo that we never went to and I’m super sad because it sounds amazing. I wish I had a transporter and could just zap myself there for a day. I have some shopping I’d like to do there too. :)

We stopped reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban about halfway through. The dementors were freaking the girls out, which I suspected would happen.  Now we’re reading Anyone but Ivy Pocket which is really quite funny. Tiny picked it out at the library, and it was an excellent choice. Lots of sly humor.

We all got new bikes last week. Tiny is learning how to ride without training wheels, which she couldn’t do in Tokyo because of all of the hills. But we’ve got lovely flat roads here. She’s coming along nicely.

I’m seriously obsessed with the soundtrack to the new musical Hamilton. I haven’t been this in love with a whole album for a long time, single songs, sure, but not a whole album. The music is just electric. I don’t know why it surprises me, it’s the music of a revolution, and anyone who knows me knows that’s a major soft spot for me. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics are so complex and clever, they make me grin. I remember when I saw In The Heights and I couldn’t breathe at one point  because I couldn’t believe he was doing what he was with the language, the rhymes were just so unexpected and glorious.

And I love beyond words the fact that this is a musical about Alexander freakin’ Hamilton. Who does that? I love that Miranda was obviously fascinated by Hamilton, to the point that he wrote an entire musical about him, and his work makes other people care about Hamilton. I think that’s where the best art comes from- not someone trying to figure out what will sell or what the market wants, but someone creating something because they’re so fascinated by it that they have to.

There aren’t any songs up on youtube yet, but this clip has my favorite song in it. (Although I also LOVE the song Satisfied, it’s so heartbreaking and gorgeous. There’s just SO much in it. It’s such an example of narrative through song.)  I’m thrilled that Miranda was just awarded a McArthur Genius Grant.

We’ve been doing poetry in school, and we just started Ogden Nash. The girls have been writing poems once a week inspired by the poems we read each week. I’m trying to get them to see both that poetry is work, that it’s worth working to get something right, but also that it’s fun and that they shouldn’t freak out over it. Their poems this week were about a squirrel and a rat. Z was more self conscious about whether or not hers was “good”, which makes sense because she’s older, but I’m hoping that we can keep the fun and joy in the creativity as long as we can.

That’s all my thoughts for now. What are you thinking about?

Flying Butler Academy update

It’s the middle of the third week of school. It’s going well, we have our super positive days and our complain-y days. A hard truth of homeschooling that goes along with the fun field trips and craft projects is that when your kids wake up in an anti-school mood and won’t stop griping about how much they don’t want to do school, you are the one that has to get them ready in the morning, work with them through their attitude to get the school work done, and then you don’t even get to send them home because you ARE home, and you have them for the rest of the day. That can make for some frustration all around. But on the whole, our days have been good.

We start each day with our “inspiration time”, which is either music, art, or poetry. This month’s composer is Bach, and we listen to a piece of his and then talk about it. If it’s a new type of music (this week was concertos) then we write down a definition it in our music glossaries. And by we I mean the girls. Sometimes the girls conduct the music or dance to it. This month’s artist is Mary Cassatt, and we look at a painting and then the girls draw their version of it in a sketchbook that’s specifically for those drawings. Sometimes the girls fight this and get super frustrated, and sometimes they really enjoy it. For poetry I read a poem aloud, then the girls each get a copy and they each read it aloud and then we mark the rhyming scheme and note anything else interesting about it. This month is Mary Ann Hoberman. Her poems are a lot of fun and really accessible.

Next comes writing and grammar. So far this month we’ve worked on parts of speech and how they work together to make interesting and evocative sentences vs. boring ones. We just started on descriptive writing, which flowed nicely out of working with a lot of adjectives.

Then comes Spanish. We’re using Getting Started with Spanish: Beginning Spanish for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age which is working incredibly well. The girls now know about 30 words and are fairly comfortable with them. I just made them flashcards that they can use to practice with, and today I had them make sentences with the cards and then the other girl had to translate the sentence. They had a lot of fun with it. The book breaks it down into little bit sized steps – on a number of days we did more than one day’s lessons at once. I really do highly recommend this book.

TEXAS! is next, and yes, that’s what we call it. :) It’s a mix of history, social studies, government, and economy, all aimed at around 4th grade. Right now we’re working through the different regions of the United States and what makes them different from all the other regions (climate, economy, etc.) and how they impact Texas and the other parts of the US. The curriculum is fantastic, and the worksheets approach the information from a number of different angles. The girls have really enjoyed the mapping activities that require them to glue little icons for national monuments and such on their appropriate places on the map, using atlas, cardinal directions, and graphing notations to find the proper location.

We do science next. We did a fun experiment with eggs and vinegar last week, and this week we’re growing bacterial cultures in petri dishes (at least I hope we are).  Each day we check in on our experiment and the girls keep notes on their observations and hypotheses. We were scheduled to do more than experiment this week, but when I scheduled everything I wasn’t really looking at how long the experiments would take. So we adjust.

For math we are still using Math U See, and I cannot say enough good things about it. Z just started fractions, and the manipulatives that they have and the way they present the information makes SO MUCH SENSE. I flipped ahead and the way that they teach finding common denominators made me understand the process for the first time ever. I knew how to do it before, but not why. And unlike some facets of Common Core that make sense to adults but are confusing for kids, I think this will make sense to Z too. Tiny is starting multiplication and it’s easy right now because it’s skip counting.

We’re using Words Their Way for spelling, and it is working SO well. The girls are noticing and understanding the spelling patterns and are actually applying those patterns to other words.

Starting next month we will be adding in cursive, and life skills (health, manners, and cooking, on a rotating basis). I’m still looking into extra curricular classes- Z takes aikido once a week, but Tiny doesn’t have anything yet, and they both want to start piano.

So that’s what we’re doing and how it’s going. Yay school!

Books I read this week: Mid August to mid Sept.

I hit this point every year- when I get behind on posting and then just keep putting it off longer and longer. But here’s what I’ve been reading (albeit very slowly) for the last few weeks.

Lolita – The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design by John Bertram and Yuri Leving was seriously one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. It’s an analytical look at the history of how book cover artists have interpreted the character of Lolita for the cover of the book, and how that has changed and adapted over the years. There are a bunch of different essays that come at the subject from different angles, and the whole thing was incredibly interesting. It always bothers me when Lolita is portrayed as a sexually provocative girl who seduces Humbert; that portrayal shows a complete and utter misunderstanding of the point of the book. (I’m looking at you, Katy Perry.) The essays consider what responsibility a book cover has to accurately portray the inside of the book, and the politics that go into creating a marketable cover. The book also includes eighty new covers created specifically for this book. You don’t have to have read Lolita to read this (though it does discuss plot points), it can stand alone as a really interesting look at how art and story combine, and how sometimes the covers can drastically change how we read a book. I find it especially interesting given our culture of victim-blaming how Lolita has become responsible in so many people’s minds for her own kidnapping and repeated violation.

I started rereading Lolita again when I finished this book, and found it was not right for the mood I was in (it was our last days in Tokyo, I needed something lighter).

Where the first cover is figurative and simple, these covers are more abstract and intricate, like works in stained glass, if stained glass suddenly became the medium of choice for psychedelic expression.

“Humbert Humbert,” said Lolita’s author, “is a vain and cruel wretch who manages to appear ‘touching”. That epithet, in it’s true, tear-iridized sense, can only apply to my poor little girl.” Robbed of her childhood and dead at seventeen, Dolores Haze was denied her right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The vulgar designs that appear on so many covers of Lolita betray not only the child Nabokov depicts in his narrative but the very ideals of democracy-equality, justice for all- that the novel celebrates and reflects.

 


Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories: A Miss Marple Collection by Agatha Christie was about half stories that I’d read before and half that I hadn’t. These are the first stories that ever featured the lovely, aged Miss Marple, and they’re great. One of them is actually the basis for a later novel- I started recognizing it part way through. They’re solidly written, tightly characterized, and thoroughly enjoyable.


A Murder Is Announced: A Miss Marple Mystery  by Agatha Christie : I thought I’d read this one before, but apparently I hadn’t. It’s pretty excellent. I figured out what was going on decently early, but only because other modern authors have used the same twist.  The set up is that an announcement appears in the daily paper that a murder is going to occur at a house in the village at a certain time and date. All of the village residents think that it’s an announcement for a party, so they show up to find out what’s going to happen. The residents of the house in question didn’t place the advertisement, and pretty soon the lights go out and someone bursts through the door, demanding everyone’s money and jewels. Shots are fired and the robber ends up dead. And the mystery of who he was and what really happened begins. It’s got great characters, solid plotting, and a solution that had to have been mind twisting at the time it came out.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie was another one I thought I’d read but hadn’t. It’s set in more modern day, which is always disconcerting for me, but Dame Agatha lived a long time and wrote a lot of books. This one centers around an organization that claims it can make people die seemingly natural deaths using witchcraft and psychic powers. It could easily be the plot of a Modesty Blaise book. I highly enjoyed it.

Back to Homeschool by Misty Krasawski was a reread, and a short one at that. It’s only about 100 pages, and is meant to be a daily devotional type experience meant to prepare you to start a new homeschool year. I read it on the roadtrip from California, all in one shot, but it was still helpful in getting my mind in the right place.


Simply Homeschool: 2nd Edition: Have Less Fluff and Bear More Fruit by Karen DeBeus is also a good, short reread. Her focus is on keeping things simple and hitting the essentials. It was a nice reminder.

Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain is about Beryl Markham, who wrote the book West With the Night that I read a month or so ago. It was a bit odd reading this book, as it’s written in the first person, just like the book that Markham herself wrote. So it was a little strange reading Markham’s words when they weren’t really hers. But the book covers different things than Markham’s own book, and fleshes out some areas of her early life and then goes into a lot more detail about her relationship with Denys Finch Hatton, who barely appears in West With the Night. This probably has to do with the triangle that occurred with Markham, Hatton, and Karen Blixen (who later wrote Out of Africa under the name Isak Dinesen). The descriptions of Africa are gorgeous and evocative, and Markham’s personality really comes through in line with what she herself wrote. I really really liked this one.

I have a chart that traces my route across the Atlantic, Abingdon to New York, every inch of icy water I’ll pass over, but not the emptiness involved or the loneliness, or the fear. Those things are as real as anything else, though, and I’ll have to fly through them. Straight through the sickening dips and air pockets, because you can’t chart a course around anything you’re afraid of. You can’t run from any part of yourself, and it’s better that you can’t. Sometimes I’ve thought it’s only our challenges that sharpen us- and change us, too.

The last thought I remember having was This is how it feels then. This is what it means to be eaten by a lion.


Rooms by Lauren Oliver was an unexpected book. I picked it somewhat randomly from my collection on the Haunted Kindle, and quickly discovered that it is the story of a haunted house- literally haunted by ghosts that inhabit the very boards and pipes of the house, and figuratively by memory. A man dies, and his family begrudgingly comes back to his house to have the will read and figure out how to dispose of this things. Their visit is observed by the two ghosts who live in the house, and as a third ghost is introduced, every character’s secrets begin to be revealed. It’s a haunted house story that isn’t really scary, but is disquieting and thought provoking. There are some lovely, sad characters, and I really enjoyed it.

She didn’t have top forgive him– the idea came suddenly, like a deep breath of air after a long submerging. It was all over now. She didn’t have to forgive him, and she could love him and hate him at the same time and it was all right.


Spirits of New Orleans: Voodoo Curses, Vampire Legends and Cities of the Dead (America’s Haunted Road Trip) by Kala Ambrose is a book about haunted locales in New Orleans, written by a psychic who talks to ghosts. It was entertaining and made me want to visit New Orleans again.

Over the last month I’ve also read the first two Harry Potter books to the girls. They loved them, and we just started the third last night. I’m glad we waited until now to read them; I really think that there are ideal times to read certain books, and I think now is the time for these books. We’re going to read book 3 and see if we’ll go on to book 4. I don’t know that we’ll move onto the 5th book, it gets super dark, but I don’t know how much of that the girls will pick up. We’ll just have to see. But neither of them likes what they call “love plots”, and those start up in around 5, so maybe that will be a good place to stop anyway.

I just got Shirley Jackson’s new collection Let Me Tell You from the library (hallelujah for the library!) which I’m going to start today.

What are you reading?