osprey_archer: (books)
Elizabeth Warren’s The Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class was just as difficult as I feared, emotionally speaking. It is infuriating to read about bankers swindling people left and right and then having the audacity to whine that the slap-on-the-wrist consequences they got were too much regulation - and just as infuriating to read about the Obama administration’s failure to stick any actual consequences to the banks. If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big to fucking exist! Bust some goddamn trusts, dude!

Which actually went some way to explaining to me one facet of Donald Trump’s appeal: the Democrats flubbed their chance to fix things back in 2008. Of course some people are going to turn hopefully to the Republicans, desperate to believe Trump as he blithely lies about his plans to “drain the swamp,” simply because the Republicans are the only other choice in American politics.

Emotional difficulties aside, it’s a good overview of everything that has gone wrong with the US, economically speaking, since the 1980s. And it’s not all grimness: Warren is deliciously sarcastic. Like this bit, describing politicians ignoring the signs of impending economic crash: “I guess it’s hard to hear when your ears are stuffed with money.”

Or this: “When we fail to invest in infrastructure, it’s as if everyone in America is joining hands and saying, ‘Let’s get poor together!’”

Or this - I think this might be my favorite - “Donald Trump is the President Most People Didn’t Want,” which I think is what we ought to call him from now on, not least because saves us from repeating his name ad nauseum and I think he gets a tiny flare of happiness every time it is uttered, no matter what the context.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Unread Book Club update: Last Wednesday I finished Gildaen, as I didn’t want to leave it hanging when I went away to Miami. If you looking for a fun magical cod-medieval adventure starring a rabbit, I quite recommend it.

While I was in Miami I read A LOT because there were a couple of days when we were more or less trapped inside by thunderstorms, but most of it was NetGalley books which I like to give their own separate post (I finished… five…) and also When Marnie Was There which I also want to give its own separate post because I liked it so much, AND ALSO I still need to review Megan Whalen Turner’s Thick as Thieves which I read before the trip and - say it with me now - wanted to give its own post because I enjoyed it so much…

Oh, but I did read E. W. Hornung’s Mr. Justice Raffles on the trip! Which is the fourth and final Raffles book, a novel rather than a set of short stories like the others, which I thought might be why it often gets shunted to the side in Raffles discussions - perhaps Hornung just wasn’t good at novels?

But actually he does perfectly fine at novels; Bunny and Raffles are in as fine a fettle as ever, and there’s also a totally badass girl who engages in plucky pre-dawn canoeing. But the villain is a Jewish moneylender, and while he does not reach Svengali levels of anti-Semitic caricature, there’s definitely enough of that about his characterization to justify the fact that the book is generally shunted aside.

What I’m Reading Now

Sherwood Smith’s Fair Winds and Homeward Sail: Sophy Croft’s Story, which is the story of a side character from Jane Austen’s Persuasion and quite charming. I really like all of Smith’s Regency romances: her pastiche is good, and you can tell that she knows the period really well because she wears her research so lightly - especially impressive in a book like this, which is stuffed chock full of characters in the navy and could easily bog down in infodumps about naval terminology.

I’ve also started reading Elizabeth Warren’s This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class (for my reading challenge: “a book of any genre that addresses current events”), which is good so far but also sort of a bummer to read because I know that as long as Trump is president and the Republicans control Congress we’re not going to make progress toward any of these goals; we will at best be fighting a holding action, if we can manage that.

What I Plan to Read Next

Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons. If only I’d taken it to Miami with me! Oh well.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Lorna Barrett’s cozy mystery Murder Is Binding, which I had doubts about last week - but in the end I quite liked it! It had a reasonable explanation for why our heroine the mild-mannered mystery bookshop keeper is forced to turn detective (the sheriff has taken a dislike to her, which will presumably force our heroine to keep investigating things for the rest of the series), and I liked the plotline about the heroine and her semi-estranged sister trying to reconnect.

I also finished Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The President’s Daughter, a children’s novel about Theodore Roosevelt’s younger daughter Ethel, which was okay. The pacing’s a bit off - it spends too much time on Ethel’s dislike of her new school and difficulty making friends there and resolves it quite suddenly in a chapter at the end.

And honestly, much as I love boarding school stories, it seems like missing the point to write a book about Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter and then spend most of it at boarding school instead of with the Roosevelt family. Any character could go to a boarding school. I want more Roosevelts!

What I’m Reading Now

Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey, the book that the movie Homeward Bound is based on, although the feel of the two stories is very different for me - probably because the dogs & cat in Homeward Bound can talk (to each other/the viewer, at least), whereas the ones in The Incredible Journey don’t.

So it’s sort of like we’re watching them do everything from above, rather than inside their heads, which is distancing for me: I’m finding it hard to get attached to any of the characters.

What I Plan to Read Next

I decided to read Elizabeth Warren’s new book for my next reading challenge (“a book that addresses current events”), but I am currently 27th on the hold list at the library so that may not arrive in May. So for May, I’m going to skip ahead to the next challenge on the list: an immigrant story.

I loved immigrant stories when I was a child - The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang; Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear; that one book Lynne Reid Banks wrote about a Canadian family emigrating to Israel, although I never quite forgave the father for uprooting his unenthusiastic wife and daughter from their happy lives in Canada to drag them to a war-torn country for the sake his dream. Follow your dream yourself, dude.

Oh hey. I was going to say “But I don’t have any on my to-read list right now,” but then I stopped to look up the title of the Banks book (One More River), and it turns out that Banks recently wrote a novel about a family immigrating to Canada from the UK during World War II. So perhaps that should be my immigrant story!

Well, it’s a possibility. Does anyone have a recommendation? (I’ve already read Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again and An Na’s A Step from Heaven.)
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Mockingjay. D: D: D: TEARS FOREVER.

I also finished Miss Read’s Miss Clare Remembers, which I enjoyed very much for the sort of bird’s-eye view of English history that it offers. Miss Clare is reflecting on her life as she waits for a friend to visit, which covers everything from the 1880s to the 1950s, although it must be said that bulk of the book is pre-World War I and before.

What I’m Reading Now

Still The Red Queen. There are only two days left in March! WILL I FINISH IT BEFORE THE END? I’ve only got two hundred pages left, so I think yes.

The more important question is “How will Carmody pack in enough story to wrap up all the loose ends she’s got dangling?” Elspeth hasn’t even met Matthew again - I’ve been waiting for Elspeth and Matthew’s reunion since book 3, goddammit! - let alone restored Dragon to her throne, found the last sign of her quest, spoken the ancient promises in the place where they were first made, confronted her nemesis Ariel, disarmed the weaponmachines permanently, or led the animals to a new home where they will be free from the depredations of humanity.

I’ve given up on hoping that it won’t feel rushed. Right now I’d settle for Carmody managing to get all that in.

I’m also still reading Miracles on Maple Hill, which continues to be a delight. There are whole scenes which pretty much consist of Marly listing the different flowers or berries that grow on Maple Hill at a certain time of year, which sounds tedious when I write it like that but actually is wonderful. I feel like children’s books have really tapered off the natural history in recent years, which is really too bad.

What I Plan to Read Next

I was puzzling over what to read for my April challenge, “A book of poetry or a play,” BUT THEN I found a copy of Tolkien’s translations of the Middle English poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. Problem solved!

And the TransPacific Book Exchange is back in action: soon I will have Norah of Billabong! YESSSSSSS.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

A couple of NetGalley books, one of which I’ve already posted about & one of which I really liked and am therefore finding it difficult to post about. Why is it always so much easier to write about the books you hate?

I guess there is an element of vulnerability in saying that you loved something, or that something touched you or inspired you, in a way that isn’t true of saying that you hated something.

What I’m Reading Now

Ethel Turner’s The Family at Misrule, the sequel to Seven Little Australians, because my heart finally recovered from the ending of that first book. The second book seems less likely to BREAK MY HEART AND CRUSH IT INTO PULP, but then I didn’t expect it of the first book either till the very last chapter, so WHO KNOWS.

I’m also reading The Collected Raffles, which is all four books of Raffles stories collected into one; I’ve finished the first two, and they are just as much ludicrous late-Victorian you-don’t-even-need-slash-goggles-to-see-this fun as they were when I read the first few stories online.

It really is nicer to have them in book form though. I don’t mean to knock ebooks - God knows without them, my quest to read obscure old books would be utterly hamstrung - but I do feel that I retain more & often have more of an emotional response when I read books on paper.

...although being an ebook certainly did not keep me from having an emotional response to Seven Little Australians, so maybe not so much.

What I Plan to Read Next

GUESS WHO JUST FOUND DOROTHY SAYERS’ HAVE HIS CARCASE. THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S ME. I now have all four Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane books!

...I’m actually still not planning to read them for a few more months (I’m saving them for my reading challenge “Three or more books by one author”), but it’s nice to have them all.

For books that I am planning to read next in the literal sense: Isobelle Carmody’s The Red Queen. I’ll be back visiting my parents for the weekend, so I will have lots of lovely empty time to read, which is really the best way to read a Carmody book IMO.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Finished Reading

I finished this year’s Newbery winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which on paper sounds like exactly the sort of thing I should have like - there’s a dash of dystopia and a bit of magic and a little natural history and a very small dragon - but the thing glueing it all together was soppy sentimentality (did you know love is what makes the world go ‘round? Unless of course it’s hope!) and I just wasn’t feeling it.

However, I often prefer the Newbery Honor books to the winners themselves, so I’m excited about reading those over the course of the year.

Progress on the Unread Book Club: I finished Robin McKinley’s A Knot in the Grain, which I remained lukewarm about until the final story, which I quite liked. The first four stories in the collection take place in vaguely fairy-talish fantasy worlds, whereas the final story takes place in the real world, with just a subtle dollop of magic - chocolate sauce on the ice cream of the story, as it were.

And I felt a pleasant frisson of identification with the heroine, Annabelle, who copes with the stress of having her parents move her to a new town by rereading all her old fantasy favorites from childhood. This is exactly the sort of vaguely counterproductive thing I would have done had my parents uprooted me when I was sixteen. And I, like Annabelle, would absolutely have decided that a fellow teenager was worth befriending upon learning that one of her favorite books was The Borrowers.

What I’m Reading Now

I started Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno, on the grounds that I liked his Alice in Wonderland, only to swiftly discover that this is emphatically the wrong reason to read Sylvie and Bruno. The introduction informs me that Carroll labored for decades to ensure Sylvie and Bruno was not much like Alice at all; it attempts mightily to insist that this was all for the best and not an artistic failure at all, but I am not so sure.

What I Plan to Read Next

Mockingjay!

And the library is not going to get me The Origins of Totalitarianism swiftly enough for it to serve for my March reading challenge (“a book over 600 pages”), so I was going to fall back on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but then I realized that I have the final Obernewtyn book sitting there staring at me right on my shelf and it’s over a thousand pages long and I really need to read that, so. Sorry, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I will read you someday!
osprey_archer: (books)
I finished Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity, which fulfills my first challenge for the 2017 Reading Challenge! *pause for cheering and kazoos* This book has been on my TBR list since 2008, so I'm glad I finally read it, but I have mixed feelings about it as a book; it spends more time musing philosophically than I think any novel that is not Sophie's World ought to do, and quite a bit of that philosophical musing is about the Nature of the Invalid, which gets tiresome. "Can the healthy and the sick ever bridge the chasm between them? PROBABLY NOT."

It's a bit like an A Passage to India of illness, now that I think about it.

The characters are finely enough observed that I think they would have stood the test of time much better if the narrative left more room for interpretation. Too finely observed to be sympathetic in some ways; I understood and even empathized with Hofmiller's bad decisions, because he makes them entirely - as the title suggests - out of pity (I think a modern Hofmiller would call his feeling sympathy; it's not as condescending as pity implies) - and yet some of them are horrible decisions, like the time that he wildly exaggerates the likelihood that a new treatment will help Edith, a young woman partially paralyzed by I think polio, although the book never specifies the disease.

Well, he wants to make her happy, which is understandable and yet so terribly, terribly, wickedly short-sighted. And having set himself on this path, he's too weak to pull himself out of it; he begs Edith's doctor not to tell her that Hofmiller exaggerated (even though the doctor intends to do this in the gentlest way possible: Hofmiller is a layman, didn't understand the technicalities, certainly no suggestion that he was exaggerating on purpose because it was just so pleasant to be the bearer of good news, etc. etc.). Hofmiller promises that he'll tell her himself when the time comes, and I guess the doctor must be taken in by Hofmiller's cavalry uniform and the honor and backbone it seems to promise he possesses, because he agrees to this dubious plan.

In the event, Hofmiller is never put into a position where he has to confess, but I don't believe he ever would have managed it. The keystone of his character seems to be that he does whatever he thinks will be most approved by the people he's with at the time; and at no point would Edith or her father ever want to hear that this new treatment is in fact totally unsuitable for Edith's condition.

What I liked about this book - and also what made it painful to read - is that the Hofmiller's flaws are so small and common and in ordinary circumstances would probably cause only small problems, but he finds himself in a situation where they end up leading to tragedy. It's a sort of small-scale Greek tragedy - a small and sordid tragic flaw, leading despite Hofmiller's good intentions to a bitter ending.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I've Just Finished Reading

Edward Eager's Magic or Not?. I was on the fence about the first two Eager books I read, but this one totally charmed me; it's one of my favorite fantasy subgenres, where it's unclear if there really is magic going on or just a whole lot of imagination - but just a little more evidence on the side of magic than against it. (Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Headless Cupid also falls in this category.)

What I'm Reading Now

I've been reading Carl Safina's Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, which I've really been enjoying. Safina doesn't just talk in the abstract about animal cognition: he observes animals in their natural habitat and social context and tells us their stories, and it gives his book an almost novelistic feeling. The first section is about elephants - I love elephants! - and now I'm in the part about wolves, and there's a wolf pack that is in the process of splitting apart and it's full of epic drama.

Like seriously, this stuff would make an amazing novel. Although I think a novelist might almost inevitably end up making the wolves seem like furry four-legged humans? So perhaps it's just as well that it's nonfiction.

I've also started Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity, my first book for the 2017 Reading Challenge ("a book in translation"). So far, our narrator has been invited to a party at an important local landowner's house, where he committed the faux pas of forgetting to ask the daughter of the house to dance - only to discover, when he tried to correct his mistake, that the daughter of the house has been crippled by an as-yet-undisclosed accident (I'm betting riding accident) and can't dance. She bursts into heart-rending sobs when he asks.

What I Plan to Read Next

I'm almost done with The Count of Monte Cristo! So I've been looking for a new book to read at bedtime, and I have decided it's time to treat myself to the Ivy + Bean series.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

May Gibbs’ The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, which I didn’t like nearly as much as The Magic Pudding, unfortunately. I think perhaps you need to be introduced to Snugglepot and Cuddlepie at a tender age to appreciate them properly?

What I’m Reading Now

G. A. Bradshaw’s Carnivore Minds: Who These Fearsome Animals Really Are, which starts with an impassioned plea for humans to treat animals better. If you ever want to confirm your suspicions that humanity is actually kind of awful, read a book about animal intelligence.

What I Plan to Read Next

My first reading challenge for 2017 is “a book in translation,” and I spent some time whiffling between possibilities (more Zola? Dosteovsky? Perhaps I should try Balzac?) before realizing in a blaze of light that I have the perfect book already on my shelf: Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity, which I have intended to read for nearly a decade now without ever buckling down to it. The time has come!
osprey_archer: (books)
It's bitterly cold outside, so after popping over to the post office to mail one last package, I decided it might be best to stay inside for the rest of the day.

Thus, I have spent the morning in contemplating the plethora of 2017 Reading Challenges (the link goes to a master list of reading challenges), although in the end I didn't find anything I like as much as the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenges.

(Although I was tempted by the Share-a-Tea Reading Challenge and the Old School KidLit Reading Challenge, I'm not sure either would actually count as a challenge for me, given that they practically describe my reading habits already.)

But! Uh oh! There are two lists to choose from. I have studied them both with some attention, but probably inevitably settled on the Reading For Growth list.

1. A Newbery Award Winner or Honor book. This will be filled by the 2017 winner.

2. A book in translation. LOTS of choices for this one! Should I jump straight from The Count of Monte Cristo to The Three Musketeers? Should I finally read some Dostoevsky? Perhaps I should read another Zola or give Balzac a try. Choices, choices!

3. A book that's more than 600 pages. Perhaps I'll finally read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell! And then I could watch the miniseries, too.

4. A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection. Not sure about this one. Possibly an opportunity to read a Shakespeare play I haven't gotten around to yet?

5. A book of any genre that addresses current events. ...Do I have to?

6. An immigrant story.

7. A book published before you were born. Otherwise known as Half the Books on My TBR List.

8. Three books by the same author. Two possibilities for this one! Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet, or Dorothy Sayers' Harriet Vane/Peter Wimsey novels. Actually I plan to read both of these sets in 2017; it's kind of a toss-up which one will go for the challenge.

9. A book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author. I have poked around a bit and finally concluded that any author who is marginalized in any way probably counts.

10. A book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending. Does anyone have a book with an unreliable narrator or an ambiguous ending they'd like to recommend? It seems a bit hard to know that sort of thing before you read the book. In another post, the blog writer mentions Atonement, which I have meant vaguely to read, so I suppose I might go with that.

11. A book nominated for an award in 2017.

12. A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award winner.

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