osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

A couple of Unread Book Club books: G. Clifton Wisler’s Red Cap, which is far less emotionally moving than one might expect of a book set largely in Andersonville prison (the largest and deadliest Confederate prison in the American Civil War). Ah well. They can’t all be winners, I guess.

And also Ann Turner’s Elfsong, which sounds like it ought to be a thing I like: a girl who accidentally meets an elf while out searching for her lost cat, which the elf has enticed away to be his new mount, what could go wrong?

But I felt it was trying too hard to awaken a sense of wonder. The elves can hear the songs of all the things on earth, and pass this ability on to Maddy and her grandfather. And these are not just regular birdsong or the pleasant plash of a brook or whatever, but songs with words, so wherever you go you’ll be surrounded by baby mice singing

My place, mine
my turn, mine

or rocks rumbling

We were here before you.
We were a river of fire,
then a river of stone.

Which would be delightful and magical - I rather like the little poems - if you could make it stop. But it sounds like Maddy is going to surrounded by a constant inescapable din for the rest of her life and that sounds dreadful.

What I’m Reading Now

Sheila O’Conner’s Sparrow Road, which I plucked from a Little Free Library a few months back purely because the cover seemed promising - and I was right! So far it is atmospheric and mysterious and there are possible ghost orphans (I think they’re metaphorical rather than real ghosts but still) and I’m feeling it.

I’ve also begun Kate Seredy’s The Chestry Oak, which kicks off with a Hungarian prince in his castle listening to planes pass overhead during early World War II… and I can already tell this is going to be a tale of woe and disaster and I’m sort of dreading it honestly.

Also Isabel R. Marvin’s A Bride for Anna’s Papa, which gets points for being set in a Minnesota iron mining camp, just because I’ve never read a book set in such a place before. Have only just started this one. Will let you know how it goes!

What I Plan to Read Next

I need to decide what to read for this month’s reading challenge, “a book published before you were born.” The Chestry Oak fits the bill, but I was planning to read that anyway, so maybe I ought to branch out.

But on the other hand I may not get through it without the additional incentive of fulfilling my reading challenge. It will probably not be that harrowing, self, there is no reason to believe that this is Grave of the Fireflies: If It Were a Book Set in Hungary.
osprey_archer: (books)
Caldecott Monday returns in a blaze of glory! Well, I suppose "blaze" might be a bit of an overstatement, but I do like Karen Ackerman's Song and Dance Man very much - we had it when I was a child (I am in fact reading it out of my childhood copy) and I always liked the vibrant motion of the pictures where grandfather shows off his old vaudeville routines to his grandchildren.

It occurs to me that this book, in conjunction with the later books in the All of a Kind Family sequence, are probably responsible for my vague yet firmly held belief that vaudeville was Super Cool. Was it really? WHO KNOWS. The movies killed it and we shall ne'er see its like again.

Song and Dance Man is probably also responsible for that sense of nostalgia: it ends with Grandpa gazing up the stairs toward the attic where his tap shoes and his natty striped vests and his bowler hat all repose in an old theater trunk, not unhappy - he is after all surrounded by his beloved grandchildren - but wistful, perhaps, that it's not possible to slip back in time just for one night, and dance on the vaudeville stage just one more time.
osprey_archer: (books)
Charles J. Sykes' How the Right Lost Its Mind is a view of the Trump takeover of the right from within - Sykes used to be a right-wing talk-radio host in Wisconsin. (He does not actually say so, but the timing makes it look like he ceased to be a radio host in part because of his outspoken opposition to Trump.) It's super weird to read a book where someone says nice things about Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin whom the Wisconsin friends on my Facebook feed loathe.

However, it's an interesting book, and not just because it is from a different viewpoint than I usually read. Sykes' analysis of the world of right-wing talk radio is interesting - and reminds me in a strange funhouse mirror way of some of the uglier parts of Tumblr discourse: both right-wing radio and left-wing Tumblr create echo chamber environments where there is no percentage in trying to be the voice of reason, because it opens you up to the charge of being a traitor. How dare you get soft on our enemies! They are demons! POSSIBLY LITERALLY.

Both sides considered this an apocalyptic election. Large swathes of right were every bit as terrified of a Clinton presidency as sensible progressives were of Trump's. Which I sort of knew, but it seemed, hmm, performative in a sense? - and it's clear from Sykes' comments that many people on the right saw the left's terror of Trump as performative in the same way: we've been labeling Republican candidates as fascists since George W. Bush if not before (I'm starting with Bush because he's the first one I remember), so when an actualfax fascist ran for office it sounded like we were just singing the same old scare-mongering song.

(I remember a number of articles by left-leaning people where the authors attempted to clarify that, okay, they'd called candidates fascists before, but this time they really meant it, which doubtless undercut their credibility among anyone who was not already inclined to agree - and Sykes does a good job outlining how the right-wing media has taught its consumers to distrust anything that comes from outside of a right-wing media bubble, to the extent that it becomes impossible to fact-check.)

I'm dwelling upon this because it's the part that struck me, as a left-leaning person, as a sort of action plan for the future - do not call people fascists unless you really mean it! - but it's not a big part of the book. He holds the right squarely responsible for capitulating to Trump. There are a number of excellently scathing turns of phrase in this book, but here's one that strikes me as a real mic drop - an excerpt from a television interview Sykes did with Megyn Kelly before the election:

"I've cautioned my fellow conservatives, you embrace Donald Trump, you embrace it all. You embrace every slur, every insult, every outrage, every falsehood. You're going to spend the next six months defending, rationalizing, evading all that. And afterwards, you come back to women, to minorities, to young people and say, that wasn't us. That's not what we're about. The reality is, if you support him to be president of the United States, that is who you are, and you own it."
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I’ve finished another book from the Unread Book Club: Patricia Clapp’s Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth. On paper sounds like something I ought to like, a sort of Catherine, Called Birdy, but with Puritans, if you will.

But Constance lacks Catherine’s endearing prickliness and she spends a wearing amount of time gazing up at men through her lashes just to see them sputter and turn red. C’mon, Constance, if you’re going to flirt with someone for entertainment, at least pick someone who knows it’s a game.

What I’m Reading Now

[personal profile] littlerhymes sent me the next Billabong book, From Billabong to London! The Great War has begun, and because of Plot Contrivances not only Jim & Wally but also Norah and Mr. Linton will all be going to London. Hooray! I am excited to see England through their eyes.

It may not be for a while yet, though; I only just finished chapter three and they have not yet left Billabong, let alone Australia.

And I’m working on another Unread Book Club novel: G. Clifton Weaver’s Red Cap, which I’ve adopted as my new bedtime story, although it is becoming increasingly clear that it is a Horrors of War novel rather than a War Is an Adventure novel (children’s novels can go either way). This is not perhaps the best thing to go to sleep on. We shall see.

What I Plan to Read Next

Unread Book Club progress so far: I’ve read 28 books, and have ten left to go (including Red Cap. There are still five months left till the end of the year, so this seems quite doable!

I’m rather looking forward to Duncan Wall’s The Ordinary Acrobat: A Journey into the Wondrous World of the CIRCUS, Past and Present, which is a memoir of Wall’s own acrobat training as well as a circus history. If the memoir part doesn’t grow like kudzu and choke out the history, I think it should offer an interesting insider’s point of view.
osprey_archer: (art)
The gift shop at Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst had a picture book about Dickinson, Michael Bedard’s Emily, which of course I absolutely had to buy because it was illustrated by one of my all-time favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney. So many of her books are about creation and imagination, of course she was the perfect choice to illustrate an Emily Dickinson book.

And indeed she was: her precise yet gently numinous drawings of flowers and landscapes are simply perfect for an Emily Dickinson book. The narrator is a child who lives across the street, and gazes at the house with its mysterious occupant with a brooding fascination, especially once she and her mother are invited to visit. (Not to see Emily, of course, just to play piano and chat with her sister.) So there are many pictures of the house, which you think might get dull, but each rendition is different (I particularly like the one of the house in moonlight, in the snow, and another where the narrator looks through the window at the house), and that repetition really dramatizes the fascination.

And I just really liked the text of the book too, so much that it was hard to choose just one passage to quote. But here is one:

Downstairs, Mother played. Tomorrow she would visit the yellow house. I asked her and she said that I might go. It made me feel afraid.

Perhaps the lady in the yellow house is also afraid, I thought. That is why she hides herself. That is why she runs when strangers call. But why - you cannot say. Maybe people are a mystery, too, sometimes.


Next week, we’re getting back to the Caldecott books! Next up is the 1989 winner, Song and Dance Man.
osprey_archer: (books)
I finished reading A. T. Dudley’s At the Home Plate, which is one of a series of sports stories that I inherited from my great-great-uncles. (In fact I believe it’s the last of the series. I am not sure why I read it first.)

It’s moderately amusing if you’re interested in books from the early twentieth century, but in the end I think my great-great-aunts had better taste in literature: they received the Little Colonel series for their Christmas presents, and not only can I reliably tell all the characters apart (by no means an assured feat in A. T. Dudley), but I have strong feelings about many of them. My mother and I once got into a shipping argument about Lloyd’s eventual paramour, who is eminently suitable - I cannot argue that he’s not suitable - but it’s just so bloodless: she chooses him by gazing at him and totting up all his virtues that would make him a good husband.

But at the same time there is not really another contender - they have been knocked out by going on a gambling spree, falling in with Demon Alcohol, or being kind of controlling - and Lloyd’s vocation is clearly to be a great hostess and leader of society, for which one needs a husband, so there you are.

This idea of vocation is actually quite important in these books; the main characters discuss it seriously, and they end up with a wide range: Lloyd is a hostess, but there’s also an illustrator, a writer (Johnston’s readers seem to have identified her, semi-correctly, as a self-insert), a social worker, and a homemaker (which is a distinct calling from hostess: it implies less wider responsibility). I liked the range, and the fact that all these vocations are treated as fine and noble callings (not all women need to follow the same life path!), and the fact that many of them don’t get married and that’s just fine. In fact there are important single women throughout the books - and important married women - plenty of female mentors for these girls all round.

I could have written so much more about these books in my senior thesis had I but thought of it at the time.

I really think the Little Colonel series might have the same kind of continued popularity as the Anne of Green Gables books - except that they’re so darn racist. And not in the way where the author used a racial slur or two but the book would be fine if you cut a couple lines. The racism is baked into the premise: there are scenes and thematic points that revolve around it. The glowingly patriotic take on the Spanish-American War is irremovable.

It’s a crying shame that Johnston could be so thoughtful and compassionate about some things and so completely wrong on others, but so it goes, I suppose.
osprey_archer: (books)
I read David Gushee's Still Christian: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism before I went on my road trip, and it has suffered a bit from the time lag before I wrote this review. I enjoyed it as I was reading it, but in retrospect the book's problems loom larger in my mind, although to be fair part of this is simply that it is not the book I was hoping for. I wanted more exploration of wider trends and on-the-ground conflicts within American evangelicalism, but it's really more a memoir about Gushee's life and career and only touches on those conflicts insofar as they affected that.

Also, Gushee is careful not to say anything too inflammatory about anyone. I also would hesitate to write a juicy tell-all memoir about my colleagues - just imagine how awkward that would make staff meetings - so I can't really fault him, but the book would be more interesting with more nitty-gritty detail about the key players and conflicts in the drama.

It's like reading someone vagueblogging a fandom wank. Name some names!
osprey_archer: (books)
I enjoyed Lucy Worsley's Jane Austen at Home so much that, rather than take advantage of DC's multitude of museums (they've got a postal service museum, you guys! A MUSEUM ABOUT MAIL), I spent a large proportion of my day in DC reading while ensconced in a cafe with a pot of Earl Gray tea at one hand and a chocolate croissant in the other.

It's just a very pleasant book. It's probably not the deepest study of Austen ever (I could have done with a bit more about the books themselves, although it is probably unfair to wish a biography were literary criticism), but it's light and engaging. And Worsley has a good eye for when Austen is being sarcastic in her letters, which (given that Austen seems to be have been sarcastic just about every other sentence) seems to trip people up.

Also, in Lyme Regis, Worsley actually stayed in the selfsame lodgings that Austen inhabited all those years ago. I'm so impressed by the way she melds the experience of being there now with what we know of those places in the past - so you get a very powerful evocation of what it might have been like ("powerfully evocative" does not always mean "accurate," I know, but it's nonetheless a pleasure to read.)

And she's so unobtrusive about the fact that she stayed in THE VERY ROOMS were Jane Austen stayed. I would be screaming it from the rooftops, and probably bore my readers with a lengthy description of the scones at the charming little seaside teashop on the beach - but Worsley just mentions it, I think in part to let her fellow Janeites know that staying in the very rooms hallowed by Jane herself is an option (I'm certainly intrigued!), and then gets swiftly back to her real subject: Jane.

I do have a couple reservations. One is that Worsley seems sometimes almost too insistent on the importance of Austen's relationships with other women - like admitting that Austen also had strong relationships with a few men (her father, one or two of her brothers) would undermine this - but I suspect this is a reaction against earlier biographies that did overemphasize her connections with men because of the cultural assumptions that relationships with men are always more important than relationships with women.

The other is that Worsley suggests that Austen might have been clinically depressed, which I found interesting but not quite convincing - although to be fair, I may just need more time to get used to it. I realize that one perhaps should not assume to much about an author's inner life based on their work, but Jane Austen through her novels has always struck me as one of the most balanced and level-headed and mentally healthy writers ever - to the point of being quite unsympathetic to the Mariannes of the world.

It certainly is a possible explanation for Austen's fallow period in Bath. And yes, the irritability and sadness and sense of helplessness in some of her letters might be symptoms too.

But on the other hand, who is not occasionally irritable and sad? And how can we call a sense of helplessness a symptom of anything when it was such a genuine reflection of her reality? Worsley makes it very clear that she was pretty much at the mercy of her male relatives - who fortunately seem to have been pretty decent chaps - but nonetheless they decided where she lived and who she'd live with (one brother saddled his female relations with his new bride) and how much money they'd have.

And when, through her writing, she does gain some financial independence, she pursues it gleefully, driving hard bargains with her publisher when her brother (who had been acting as her agent) becomes too ill to do so. The sense of helplessness disappears when she's no longer actually helplessness.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished The Railway Children! [personal profile] asakiyume had acquired a copy of the most recent movie for us to watch, which gave me extra impetus, but it was a real pleasure to read so I probably would have galloped through it anyway. Highly recommended if you like early twentieth-century children’s books.

Also highly recommended: the 2000 film version of The Railway Children, which is quite faithful to the book - it cuts a couple of scenes (and one of the cut scenes is the one tragically sexist scene in the book, which is otherwise so good about letting the girls be just as heroic as their brother) but doesn’t add much, which IMO is generally where adaptations go wrong, adding in scenes that don’t suit at all. The biggest addition, I think, is that the film draws out some of the stuff about class relations which is latent in the book - but it doesn’t become overbearing or anything; it’s still quite secondary to the fun adventures.

Also Jerry, by Jean Webster - who is most famous for writing Daddy-Long-Legs - and this is definitely a case where I can see why that’s the book she’s remembered for, although Jerry is not without charms. A young American man - and, as a side note, his name is Jerymn, which I have never seen before and would be inclined to take as a misspelling of Jermyn except Webster spells it that way every single time. Has anyone else run across this name? How do you pronounce it?

Anyway, Jerry - to give him his easily pronounceable nickname - Jerry is vacationing in a dull Italian country town when he meets a beautiful American girl. To get closer to her (and enliven his dull days), he masquerades as an Italian tour guide. She sees through him at once, but doesn’t let on, and the rest of the book consists of the two of them gleefully upping the ante of the masquerade.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m almost done with Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope, which sadly I think is not nearly as good as either The Fragile Flag or The Fledgling, although also not nearly as bad as The Time Bike. A good middling Langton! And I will continue to search for The Swing in the Summerhouse, which is about, I think, a magical swing, which I think is just perfect and delightful and I hope the book lives up to it.

There are also a couple of post-Time Bike books in this series, but I am a little leery about reading them. Still, if I do run across them…

What I Plan to Read Next

My next reading challenge is coming up! It is “a book published before you were born,” and the only challenging part of this will be fixing on just one. The library has kindly purchased Kate Seredy’s The Chestry Oak for me (this is the first time I have made a purchase request at a library! I feel so powerful!), so perhaps that; but there is also the possibility of reading more Nesbit...
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Pierrepont Noyes’ My Father’s House: An Oneida Childhood, which I liked very much; although of course I would, being fond of a) childhood memoirs (I tend to agree with C. S. Lewis that “I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting”), b) memoirs about cults (really anything about cults), and c) the nineteenth century.

But even if you are interested in only one of those things, this is an engaging book; much recommended. The one thing it will not give you is a clear description of the Oneida Community’s collapse: Noyes was ten at the time and found the whole thing ominous but fuzzy.

I also finished rereading A Wrinkle in Time. I’m glad I reread it because I no longer feel that vague gnawing sense that I just didn’t get it - but at the same time, it’s a bit sad to reread it and realize that I’m just never going to love that book the way that some people do.

What I’m Reading Now

Kidnapped! I only intended to begin it, but somehow I ended up halfway through the book already. It’s such a cracking good adventure yarn, it’s very hard to put down!

I have begun Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope! It’s early days yet, but I have high hopes that it will live up to the other books in the series - or at least the early books in the series; I hold a real grudge against Time Bike for being so dreadful that it stopped my exploration of the Hall Family Chronicles, even though I adored both The Diamond in the Window and The Fledgling. But fortunately the good books in the series are the kind that are just as good if you read them first as an adult.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Railway Children, which I also intended to read next last week, but I bought Noyes’ memoir at the museum and it simply had to take precedence, so… But this week I am quite determined! Railway Children or bust! Unless I find something simply irresistible in Amherst.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I galloped through Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night, and enjoyed them so thoroughly that I lent them straightaway to Emma and therefore cannot quote from either of them, more’s the pity. Although in the case of Have His Carcase this is not such a problem, because it’s easy to discuss its virtues without reference to direct quotes: it has one of the most perfect twist endings to a mystery that I have ever read. Everything’s a horrible muddle up to the end, and then one little detail comes into focus – absolutely unexpected and yet perfectly foreshadowed – and all is illuminated.

Gaudy Night, though, could bear quoting, and extensive quoting, and I want to read it again and bookmark the relevant quotes about the contemplative life – the life of the mind vs. the life of the heart (insofar as they are set against each other) – the way that this thematic argument intertwines and somewhat obscures the mystery (at least to Harriet’s mind) and yet is integral to it.

…also, I want a story where Harriet Vane and Agatha Troy meet. They have so much in common! They’re both prickly artists, both pursued by detectives who are tragically awkward about love (although Alleyn at least has the dignity not to propose to Troy every five minutes), and both at one point in their lives murder suspects, although Troy only sipped of the cup that poor Harriet drank nearly to the dregs.

Perhaps Peter commissions Troy to paint Harriet’s portrait. (Harriet doubtless hates the idea, but acquiesces on the ground that if she must be painted by anyone, it might as well be Troy.) Murder, inevitably, ensues.

What I’m Reading Now

I spent most of yesterday reading C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life sitting either on a lakeside bench shaded by a weeping willow or in a white wicker rocker by the open window, and it has proven itself more than equal to both settings. I ought to write more about it; perhaps later.

And I’m about halfway through a reread of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and alas it is still no more than moderately pleasant. I had thought that perhaps I read it before I was ready for it, but maybe it simply was never going to be the L’Engle book for me. It just spells everything out, emotionally speaking – Meg meets Calvin and almost instantly there’s absolute trust and he’s pouring his heart out to her – and I guess I want more emotional tension between characters, never mind they’ve got cosmic evil to fight.

What I Plan to Read Next

Busman’s Honeymoon is next in queue!

And then, I think, I shall have a crack at E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. I am a little concerned that one Nesbit will lead to another – and with Nesbit there seem to be absolute piles of others for it to lead to – but after all there are worse things.
osprey_archer: (books)
I have begun Strong Poison, and it is fabulous! Peter Wimsey has just proposed to Harriet Vane at their very first meeting (while she is behind bars on a murder charge) and is adorably taken aback when she tells him he's #47. Everyone wants to marry a possible murderess!

A part of me wants to just stay in and read it all day, buuuut I am in Ann Arbor, Land of Bookstores, so I think I must sally forth to contemplate their offerings. After I've had my tea. During which I can surely read a couple more chapters.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Sun in the Sky, about which I felt pretty meh all the way through the end. I won the book as a prize, so a part of me doesn’t really want to part with it; but I also can’t really see myself reading it again, so there’s no reason to keep it.

I also read Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife, which appeals to many parts of my id all at once and therefore filled me with great fondness. Rather than focusing on Maid Marian as the sole woman among the Merry Men, here Marian lives in a forest glade with an ever-growing band of outlaw women - although I think outlaw might give the wrong impression; they’re not robbing the rich to feed the poor, but feeding the poor with the fruits of the forest and healing them with their herb lore. Eventually they are joined by a band of renegade nuns.

As if this weren’t enough - loads of women working together! Herb lore! Renegade nuns! - there’s also a scene where Marian has to save Robert’s life by climbing into his bed to warm his fevered flesh with her own body heat. Yessss.

Spoilers )

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve been reading Albertus T. Dudley’s At the Home Plate, which I inherited from my great-great-uncle. In fact I have a whole set of A. T. Dudley’s books, given to different great-great-uncles over the years, as one aged out of the Dudley bracket and another grew into it.

This one is from 1910, and moderately amusing, although let me be real I was hoping for excessive wholesomeness a la William Heyliger, whose characters think things like “The patrol leader, [Don] thought, should be a fellow who was heart and soul in scouting - a fellow who could encourage, and urge, and lend a willing hand; not a fellow who wanted to drive and show authority."

THE SHEER BEAUTIFUL EARNESTNESS OF IT ALL. I have the feeling that Mr. Heyliger must have a deeply slashy novel somewhere in his immense oeuvre, if only I can find it.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’m heading out on my road trip today, so it’s TIME FOR DOROTHY SAYERS’ STRONG POISON!!! I hope I haven’t overhyped myself about it at this point.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS. I have just discovered that there are not one - not two - but THREE movies based on Gordon Korman's Bruno & Boots books! Which are about Bruno and Boots, two good-hearted, prank-pulling, (eminently slashable) boys at the Canadian boarding school MacDonald Hall, who are forever getting up to SHENANIGANS and occasionally endangering the school and also sometimes saving the school and dashing across the street to hang out with their female counterparts Cathy and Diana at Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for Young Ladies.

There is a scene where Miss Scrimmage accidentally shoots her sign (were Bruno, Boots, Cathy, and Diana responsible? Of course they were responsible) and it afterward reads "Miss Scrimmage's Fishing School for Young Ladies."

As far as I know this scene has not been adopted for stage and screen, buuuut I only watched one of the three movies so far, SO THERE IS STILL HOPE. Although possibly not that much, as Miss Scrimmage in the movies is a crunchie granola type who probably doesn't shoot signs.

Now, personally I would have preferred it if the movies had more or less transmuted the books directly from page to screen because I am a purist like that and also because it might have restrained the filmmakers from being quite so anvilicious about how Change Is an Inevitable Part of Growing Up and Also a Good Thing Except When It Isn't.

But anviliciousness aside it's a quite enjoyable adaptation. In particular, they have a good handle on characters, particularly Bruno & Boots relationship (Bruno making madcap plans and Boots, dismayed, totally failing to restrain him in any way), Cathy and Bruno's Who Is the Best Prankmaster competitiveness, and headmaster Mr. Sturgeon's fundamental decency as a human being.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
It's my birthday! Happy birthday to me!

The main birthday festivities are occurring tomorrow (I'm making a yellow cake with vanilla buttercream & raspberry jam in the middle), but today I celebrated by treating myself to Carol Ryrie Brinks' Two Are Better Than One, which is absolutely as delightful as I hoped and I'm glad that I managed to hold off on it until today. (I've had it since June 30th and it has been DIFFICULT TO RESIST.) It's about FRIENDSHIP and IMAGINATION (the two friends in question write the kind of ludicrously epic novel about their dolls that you can only write when you're twelve or thirteen) and also GROWING UP, but not in that way where books about growing up sometimes seem like they're about renouncing everything you actually like in favor of things that grown-up persons are supposed to be interested in.

Cordy and Chrystal keep playing with their dolls as long as they want, never mind they're just a bit too old; and when they do lose interest (realizing with a start of guilt that they've forgotten the dolls for ages) they don't shamefacedly hide the dolls away, but give them a proper send-off with a great big doll wedding. I fully expect they will write ludicrous novels together all through high school, just for the fun of it.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

David Blaize, an early-nineteenth-century English boarding school story that is EXACTLY as slashy as everyone always promised me it was, God bless you all, absolutely everyone is in love with David and at least one boy swears that he has been saved from vice (read sodomy) by that love, which is probably the most Edwardian thing ever to Edwardian except perhaps the interminable cricket matches. You would think that at some point, in between all these school stories and Lagaan and Dil Bole Hadippa! I would begin to get a hang of what's happening, but no, I still have no idea.

But at this point I actually find the incomprehensibility part of the charm, along with the hero worship and the boys gazing starry-eyed at the members of the cricket eleven. And David Blaize has the added charm that it is also a voyage of intellectual discovery - David discovers Keats, and learns to find beauty in the text of what he previously considered endlessly tedious Greek translations.

There is also a really splendid chapter where David and his friend-who-is-totally-in-love-with-him-even-though-David-is-tragically-straight, Maddox, go swimming in the sea and read poetry in the beach grass after. Just really lovely atmosphere.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m plugging along in Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Suns in the Sky, which I am very glad I did not read when I got it, because I would have been Very Displeased by the soppy romance of it all. Now that I am older I can appreciate a bit more what Bat-Ami is trying to do by focusing on the romance - they're bridging cultural divides and stuff! through love! - but it cannot be denied that I would be way more interested if the book either focused entirely on the refugee experience or was about young American Christina Cook's intense friendship (possibly romance? I'm not sure this wouldn't be over-egging the issue pudding in a book set in the 1940s) with a refugee girl.

What I Plan to Read Next

I am trying to resist the siren call of Dorothy Sayers until I've actually begun my road trip (July 5th! Just a week now!), so it's all a bit up in the air until then.
osprey_archer: (books)
We owned a copy of Owl Moon when I was a child, and while I don't remember reading it much, I always loved the cover: a little girl and her father walking up a snowy hillside, silhouetted by the moon. It's a scene of absolute peace and joy and just looking at it gives me a feeling of contentment.

The story is very sweet, too: the little girl and her father are going out in the woods at night to go "owling," that is, looking for owls. Not to hunt them or anything, just to see them in the peaceful quiet darkness of the woods.

When you go owling
you don't need words
or warmth
or anything but hope.
That's what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shining
Owl Moon.
osprey_archer: (books)
I criticized Martin Edwards' The Golden Age of Murder when I first read it, but I must say it has been a productive book for me in leading me to new and interesting authors: first to E. M. Delafield, who isn't even a murder mystery author but nonetheless got caught up with those who were (now that sounds like the plot of a detective story in itself), and now with George Bellairs' Death of a Busybody.

I must say I feel that E. M. Delafield was the more successful find. Bellairs, eh; Death of a Busybody is a perfectly adequate English country village mystery, but I don't feel the urge to search out any more books by him.

And his detective, Inspector Littlejohn, has given me a new appreciation for the depth Ngaio Marsh gave to her Inspector Alleyn. Now you may object that Inspector Alleyn is not exactly over-endowed with personality himself, which may be accurate when compared to the eccentricities of for instance a Poirot -

Speaking of Poirot, I saw Wonder Woman recently and the new Orient Express was one of the previews and maybe I just imprinted too hard on David Suchet, IDK, but I'm not sure I approve of this new Poirot. Do we need a new Poirot? Why all the remakes all the time???

ANYWAY. The point I intended to get to is that Inspector Littlejohn has no discernible personality at all. While I prefer this detective's personal lives to remain second fiddle to their mysteries, lest they throttle their books like strangler figs, it turns out that there is indeed such a thing as too little personality in a detective, too. Littlejohn is little more than a conduit for exposition, and mostly indistinguishable from the other characters who act as conduits of exposition in this book, which makes the thing sadly forgettable even though I enjoyed it in a mild way as I read it.
osprey_archer: (books)
The most important part of packing for a road trip, of course, is deciding which books you’re going to take along. As my road trip is too long to allow for taking books out of the library, I shall have to take a selection from the Unread Book Club already lined up on my shelves, which as you can imagine makes me feel most productive & efficient.

I’ve already made a few definite choices. Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane/Peter Whimsy quartet is coming: it will fulfill (indeed overfulfill) my next reading challenge, “three books by the same author,” and also I have meant to read these books for forever and expect them to be a treat which all in all makes them perfect for a vacation.

I’m also taking Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, because, aptly, I kidnapped it from the shelf of a friend and ought to get it back in a reasonably timely manner.

But I’m still happily contemplating my other choices. Should I, for instance, take along Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers? I feel like The Three Musketeers AND all those Sayers books might be a little too much.

On the other hand, one should never underestimate how much reading time one will have on holiday! And The Three Musketeers is just one big book to haul around, rather than a lot of little books, which is a point in its favor.

Other contenders:

Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope. I hesitate because perhaps I ought to let more time elapse after reading The Fragile Flag before reading another Langton book? Otherwise it might lead to unfair comparison.

Sheila O’Connor’s Sparrow Road. I found this in a Little Free Library and took it because I was enchanted at having a book from a Little Free Library. No idea if it’s any good. Has anyone read it?

Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp. Children’s magical time travel fantasy! A genre that has fallen sadly out of fashion in late years, as has portal fantasy. Yes, I probably ought to give this one a go.

Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife. A Robin Hood retelling. Possibly a nitty-gritty retelling with plague and starving to death? Hmm.

Patricia Clapp’s Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth. Massachusetts is on my itinerary. Of course I ought to take this book along.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

”But you mustn’t say what you wished,” said Mr. Grant. “You don’t get it if you do.”

“Don’t you?” said Mrs. Brandon. “What did
you wish?”

“I can’t tell you,” said Mr. Grant; and truly; for his incoherent and jumbled wish had been entirely a prayer to be allowed to die some violent and heroic death while saving Mrs. Brandon from something or somebody, to have her holding his chill hand, and perhaps letting her cheek rest for a moment against his as his gallant spirit fled, all with a kind of unspoken understanding that he should not be really hurt and should somehow go on living very comfortably in spite of being heroically dead.

Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons is a joy and a delight if you like 1930s British novels in the vein of D. E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book or Stella Gibbons’ Nightingale Wood. It is perhaps less accessible than either of those two novels - I found myself stumbling repeatedly on who was who in the ever-growing cast of characters - but the passages about the exigencies of calf love, or the gruesome interest that people take in an impending death, are well-observed and very funny.

Two more books down in the Unread Book Club! I finished Scott O’Dell’s Sarah Bishop, which changes from a tale of historical fiction into a “surviving in the semi-wilderness” story like a darker “my whole family is dead” version of My Side of the Mountain. This is one of my favorite kinds of stories, so this caused a certain amount of seal-clapping. Yes, Sarah Bishop! You move into that cave and smoke fish for the winter and built your very own dugout canoe!

And also Natalie Kinsey-Warnock’s The Night the Bells Rang, which is, eh. Pretty mediocre. I kept thinking of other books that did the same thing better: Nekomah Creek for growing up & dealing with bullies, Miracles of Maple Hill for sugaring-off in Vermont (and if we take Vermont out of it, Little House in the Big Woods has an excellent sugaring-off too), Rascal for the end of World War I in small-town America.

What I’m Reading Now

Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, which is super dense. It’s so dense I’m not sure I’m going to read it, which is sad when I’ve had it on hold so long at the library, but it’s just exhausting.

I’ve also started Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Suns in the Sky, which I won as an honorable mention prize from Cricket Magazine in my youth and did not read because I was cranky about only being an honorable mention.

What I Plan to Read Next

I have begun the happy business of contemplating what I ought to take along to read on my road trip! My musings have grown so long that I am going to make them a separate post.

In the meantime, I am also musing about what book I ought to read for my next bedtime story, as I have just about exhausted my stock of Miss Read books. I meant to move on to James Herriot, but upon reflection that’s really too similar, both cozy English countryside quasi-memoirs, and perhaps I ought to read something quite different as a palate cleanser first. But what?

I’ve been contemplating a reread of A Wrinkle in Time. Perhaps this is my chance.


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