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?

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