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.
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 Esperanza Rising just in time to count it for this month’s book challenge (“an immigrant story”), although I must say the book felt mechanical, in a way: it never surprised me, never deviated from the expected emotional beats that the premise suggested. So that was a bit disappointing.

Unread Book Club progress: I finished Janice MacLeod’s Paris Letters, a memoir about MacLeod quitting her job, moving to Paris, falling for a Polish butcher (in Paris) and settling down there and supporting herself by selling illustrated letters from Paris on Etsy. The watercolor illustrated letters are gorgeous and filled me with the desire to paint letters myself, although like my youthful desire to illustrate my diary I suspect that this is a desire that will die stillborn. Painting is beautiful but writing is so much faster.

What I’m Reading Now

Emilie Buchwald’s Gildaen: The Heroic Adventures of a Most Unusual Rabbit, from the Unread Book Club. A brave rabbit in medieval times meets a shapeshifting magical person and sets out on adventures together! They have met the banished huntsman of the boy king who is being slowly corrupted by one of his advisors, and have set off to the palace to try to save the king and kingdom from this villainy.

What I Plan to Read Next

MY ENGLISH PENPAL SENT ME WHEN MARNIE WAS HERE!!! Naturally I shall take it with Miami with me and read it on the beach, which is not exactly the right kind of beach for When Marnie Was Here, but still the proximity of saltwater ought to be enough, don’t you think?
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Mary Stewart’s A Walk in Wolf Wood, which Mom read to me when I was but a wee lassie and which I remembered really enjoying without remembering any of the details, but upon reread it is blazingly obvious that this book went directly to my giddy young id.

It begins with a man walking into the woods, weeping so hard that he barely seems aware of his surroundings - this is the kind of quality crying I want from my books! - and it only gets better from there. The weeping man has been sundered from his lord the duke to whom he swore a blood oath of brotherhood in their youth! They have been ripped apart by a foul enchantment that has made the weeping man a werewolf, while the enchanter takes his place in the castle and schemes to usurp the duke’s place!

There is definitely a scene where the werewolf lies at his lord’s feet in chains, waiting for the sun to rise so he’ll be changed back into a human being. The duke covers him with his ermine cloak so he won’t be totally naked when that happens. THE LOYALTY KINK. BE STILL MY BEATING HEART.

I also finished Gary Paulsen’s The Island, a quiet and thoughtful book that regularly surprised me, not perhaps because it’s so surprising in itself as because I was reading it as a Misfit Escapes Society and Finds Meaning Elsewhere book - possibly with a side order of But Then Meddlesome Humanity Destroys His Happiness and Solitude. I fully expected the media or the locals or the psychiatrist Wil’s parents hire to hound him off his happy island abode.

But in fact they come and poke around and decide this is all pretty stellar, really (except for the local dude Wil has to punch in the nose, but he’s a real bottom-feeder anyway) and, their curiosity satisfied, leave him alone. And Wil isn’t even a misfit in the first place, really; he’s about as normal as it is possible to be and still run away to an island to try to absorb the essential nature of the blue heron.

...which still kind of makes him a weirdo, let’s be real, but that’s the kind of weirdness that will probably get him a professorship someday.

What I’m Reading Now

I finished Tolkien’s translation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”! So I’m taking a small breather before diving into the next poem in this collection, “The Pearl.” I quite liked Gawain, but I’d read that story before in prose, whereas I haven’t read “The Pearl” (although Humphrey Carpenter discussed it at some length in his biography of Tolkien, so I know what happens), so I’m curious to see if that affects how I react to it.

I’m also reading Lorna Barrett’s Murder is Binding, a cozy mystery lent to me by a friend. I started this with some trepidation because I don’t usually like cozies - I think the inherent silliness of a cake baker! or bookseller! or librarian! or whatever who just sort of accidentally solves murders on the side gets to me - but actually this one seems tentatively fun. The heroine has a difficult relationship with her sister which they are trying to repair, which seems promising.

What I Plan to Read Next

I have to come up with a book about current events for next month’s reading challenge. This is my least favorite challenge on the list, but nonetheless I will persevere. Any suggestions?
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Jane Langton’s The Fragile Flag, and aaaaaaaah, I really liked this book, you guys. Young Georgie (also the heroine of Langton’s The Fledgling) finds an old American flag in the attic, which gives people visions if it wraps around them; she decides to march on Washington with it, in hopes of convincing the President not to launch the Peace Missile (for which read Reagan’s Star Wars; the book was published in 1984).

Naturally the march swells to enormous size as it continues on, and George manages to meet the president in the end, etc. etc. Of course it’s escapism, but it’s really nice escapism in the current political climate. And the book is beautifully constructed, too, all the pieces of the plot (it’s more complicated than I’ve made it sound here) all come together like clockwork, and strike like midnight at just the climactic moment.

I also finished Warren Lewis’s The Splendid Century: Life in the France of Louis XIV, which I read because the Inklings book I read recently praised it (Warren Lewis is C. S. Lewis’s brother) and also because I’ve long meant to learn more about France, and indeed it is a pleasant and readable introductory work to seventeenth century France.

And, for the Unread Book Club: I reread William McCleery’s Wolf Story, which in our youth my brother and I liked so much that we importuned our father to read it multiple times. I think he got bored and started making up new twists in the story to amuse himself, although I can’t be sure because the father in the book (who is telling a story to his child in the book) also gets bored with the story he is telling and keeps trying to come up with twists to end it quickly. It’s very meta.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m slogging through Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red, which I am not liking nearly as much as I expected sadly. I think this is partly the fault of my own expectations - I thought this would be about Natasha’s childhood or at least give us large lumps of backstory, perhaps flashbacks!, but it really does not. But it’s also not very strongly written.

Really not feeling this one. Maybe I’ll just give it up.

I’m also working on Gary Paulsen’s The Island, which is an oddly poetic book - I mean, not odd really, or only because my main association with Paulsen is Hatchet which is more of a survival story. This one involves a lot of our hero sitting on the island, contemplating nature.

And I continue to chug along in Tolkien’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight!

What I Plan to Read Next

Norah of Billabong is winging its way through the mail to me as we speak! So definitely that.
osprey_archer: (kitty)
I started the next member of the Unread Book Club: Sarah Dessen’s This Lullaby. I have long meant to read something by Dessen, but now that I’ve started This Lullaby I think it’s all right that I haven’t, actually, because I can’t remember the last time that I have so yearned for the heroine (Remy) to break the putative romantic hero’s fingers. In the first hundred pages, Dexter:

1. Sits beside Remy so enthusiastically when he introduces himself that he somehow manages to knock her against the wall. How is that even possible?

2. Insists that Remy give him a ride in her car. Remy tells him no but then just sits there when he lets himself in - she’s already in the car, by the way, she could have just driven off and left him, or run him over, or locked the doors, or done any number of things other than passively let him get in.

3. Then he drops food in her car. After she tells him not to bring food in her car in the first place. And I don’t mean he accidentally spills; I mean he gets a French fry out of his bag and purposefully drops it onto her gearshift while lecturing her about the importance of loosening up. This is when I decided that I wanted her to break his fucking fingers.

4. He also shows up randomly wherever Remy is, in a way that is probably meant to be romantic meet-cute but actually makes him seem like a stalker, especially when

5. Remy slaps a creepy guy in a club and Dexter shows up out of nowhere to save her from the bouncer by pretending to be her date. Because I guess “She’s with me” is a better defense than “I’m drunk and this random stranger is trying to drag me out of the club for nefarious purposes, so I slapped him.”

6. I have just gotten to the part where he climbs through Remy’s bedroom window. I hope she will suffocate him with a pillow and the rest of the book will be about how she gets rid of the body, but I can already tell that they’re going to get together and Remy is probably going to go skinny-dipping and track sand into her beloved car to show that she’s no longer “uptight.” For which read “possessed of reasonable boundaries.”

I think I should probably just quit while I’m ahead. Or at least less far behind than I could become if I keep reading this. Unless it actually does end with Remy snapping and running Dexter over with her car when he tries to forcibly cadge a ride with her yet again?
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Finished Reading

William B. Irvine’s A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt - And Why They Shouldn’t, which is about the history and social function of insults. It includes a chapter about friendly teasing & ambiguous insults, which I found especially interesting, and also a fair amount of space on how to respond to insults - one of the suggestions was to say “Thanks,” which I think is beautiful in its simplicity and ability to throw the insulter off their game. (Probably not for backhanded compliments, but otherwise.)

He also talks about the self-esteem movement a bit, the main point being that the movement saw the correlation between high self-esteem and achievement and got the causation backwards - probably, excuse my grumpiness, because cooing “You’re so special!” at everyone is so much easier than taking the time and effort to foster genuine achievement.

Irvine also makes the point - which ought to be obvious, but lots of commentators seem to miss it - that if the Millennial generation seems narcissistic, it’s because that’s the inevitable outcome of inflicting “You’re Thumbody special!” programs on a generation. You can’t din that in a generation’s ears for years and then act shocked, shocked! when they take narcissism tests and answer “Yes” to the question “Are you special?”

Unread Book Club progress: I finished Virginia Sorenson’s Miracles on Maple Hill, which has lots of delightful detail about tapping maples, wildflowers, the countryside, etc. It doesn’t go very in-depth about Marly’s father’s PTSD, but after all it’s a book about Marly, not her father, and I did think the author did a nice job showing how her father’s less-than-joyous return from a prisoner of war camp has affected Marly while balancing that with the more light-hearted “And then we met the resident mountain hermit!” bits.

What I’m Reading Now

Tolkien’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I must confess I had some concerns about it: I skipped a lot of Tolkien’s poetry when I read Lord of the Rings, and long-form poems in general are not my thing. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’m liking it so far. (It helps of course that I already read & liked the story in prose.)

I’ve also started reading Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red, which suffers a bit from not being my Natasha headcanon, ha - but we’ll see if Stohl wins me over to hers as I keep reading. I’ve only just started, so she’s got plenty of time.

What I Plan to Read Next

Warren Lewis’s The Splendid Century: Life in the France of Lewis XIV is waiting for me at the library. Warren Lewis is C. S. Lewis’s brother and mainly remembered for that these days, although (according to The Company They Keep) his books about French history are well-researched and well-wrought reads in their own right. I have long meant to learn more about France and this seemed like a good spur to give that a go.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Progress on the Unread Book Club! I finished reading The Collected Raffles, which turns out to be only the first three Raffles books, but fortuitously it turns out that the fourth is available freeeeeeeee on Kindle so of course I shall read that. I find these books awfully charming.

What I’m Reading Now

Still slogging through The Red Queen. Good news! Halfway through the book - this book, let me remind you, is 1100 pages long - Elspeth and company have finally started to move. If the pacing continues as it has been, then Carmody is going to have to cram Elspeth’s confrontation with Ariel into ten pages at the end.

I don’t know if I’ve been so disappointed in the conclusion of a much-loved series since Harry Potter. And in fact, this is giving me new appreciation for the seventh Harry Potter book: whatever flaws they have, at least they did not include Harry indulging in pages-long speculations about what might happen next, only to conclude with him abruptly ceasing to speculate on the grounds that it’s useless. YOU DON’T SAY.

I have also started my next Unread Book Club book, although as often happens this is more of a “I read this so long ago I no longer remember anything about it” book, Miracles on Maple Hill. Young Marly and her family are moving out to the old family farm in hopes that the fresh air, wide open spaces, and ability to avoid cranky-making strangers will help her irritable father recover from the trauma of being a POW in World War II. WILL IT? I think probably, although it did win the Newbery which also gave us the miseryfest of Out of the Dust, so who knows.

What I Plan to Read Next

Netgalley has come through for me with a book called Touring America by Automobile in the 1920s, which is a published diary about family road trips to the National Parks in the 1920s. Road trips! In the 1920s! On the mess of a road system then in existence! To the National Parks! Aaaaah I hope there are descriptions of campfire cooking and middle-of-nowhere diners with surprisingly good pie.
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


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)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I read Barbara Robinson’s The Best Halloween Ever, which I impulse-bought last week, and… I’m actually pretty sure I read this before, and totally forgot about it because it’s a totally forgettable book. OH SELF.

What I’m Reading Now

I got this year’s Newbery book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon! It seems promising so far! Admittedly, so far I’ve only read about five pages…

I’ve also gotten started a book from the Unread Book Club, Robin McKinley’s A Knot in the Grain, which is a collection of short stories that I have long owned and vaguely meant to read and never quite gotten around to because, honestly, I’ve never been that hot on either short stories or Robin McKinley. Or, I mean, I enjoy McKinley’s books - I have fond memories of both Beauty and Rose Daughter, say; but if you asked me to tell you which of those two Beauty and the Beast retellings was which, I’d be dead in the water. They don’t stick in my mind.

Although I will probably remember the Death of Marat dessert in Sunshine to my dying days. Also the cinnamon rolls that sold out every day, and Sunshine’s customers tried to bribe her to keep some behind the counter for them. Mmmmm.

Anyway! A Knot in the Grain is okay so far. The stories feel a bit insubstantial, which is the problem I often have with short stories: there’s not enough time to really get to know the characters or the world. Although so far they’ve all taken place in the same world as The Hero and the Crown (another McKinley book I’ve read but barely remember), which presumably helps if you do remember it.

What I Plan to Read Next

I was planning to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for my next reading challenge (“a book over 600 pages long”), but I might change that to Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism if the library gets it to me in time. It seems everyone else has decided 2017 is a good time to read that book, too.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Two books from the Unread Book Club! I read Irene Hunt’s Across Five Aprils, which is an account of the Civil War from the point of view of a southern Illinois farm boy on the home front, which I thought was very well done although also possibly one of those children’s books that is going to appeal more to adults than children. It gives a real sense of the powerlessness that one can feel in the face of the great events of the day, which I found painful and touching as an adult but which might not have made my little heart go pitter-patter when I was ten.

I also enjoyed the details of daily life and the complexity of the characters - the neighbor with a bad reputation who somewhat redeems himself in times of trouble; the beloved brother who goes over to the Confederate army and thus puts the family in danger from some of the angrier Union partisans in the area. Did he do right to follow his conscience knowing that might be the cost? Why the heck did his conscience lead him that way anyway? (I suspect this is a more pressing question to a reader now than in 1965 when the book was published; I think there’s much less tendency now to see the Confederacy with the romantic doomed-lost-cause luster that still held some cachet then.)

On the lighter side, I also read John Tyerman Williams’ Pooh and the Psychologists: In Which It Is Proven That Pooh Bear Is a Brilliant Psychotherapist, which was a birthday present from my friend Micky years and years ago and is the most Micky book in the history of existence, although as none of you know Micky I’m hard-pressed to explain what that means.

In any case, even though the humor is a little labored for my tastes, I will probably end up keeping this book forever just because it’s so characteristic of its giver.

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve started reading Miss Read’s Village School, which is the first of a series of charming books about English village life that I have vaguely meant to read for years because my mother has always been devoted to them. It’s very charming! I read two chapters before bed and it is just the right mixture of soothing but also interesting enough that I always look forward to it.

What I Plan to Read Next

I meant to stop buying books till I’d gone through the Unread Book Club, but then I went to a Goodwill and found Barbara Robinson’s The Best Halloween Ever for 69 cents and I really liked The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and The Best School Year Ever and… I totally bought it. So that.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I’ve knocked two books off the TBR pile! Although actually, I think they were both rereads, but it’s been so long since I’ve read them (if in fact I did read them before) that I don’t remember them at all.

Joan Blos’s A Gathering of Days is a Newbery book, so I almost certainly read it during the Newbery Project 1.0 (when I was eleven), but I reread it just in case I hadn’t and subsequently realized that I’d forgotten this because it’s a super forgettable book. But also it’s pretty short and there’s some fun bits of American history in the 1830s info sprinkled in, so I’m not sorry I reread it.

Janet Taylor Lisle’s A Message from the Match Girl is one of those books where there’s maaaaaybe something magic going on but it’s never quite certain either way. I approached this book with trepidation once I realized this, because Lisle wrote another book (Afternoon of the Elves) that sort of feints in this direction but turns out to have no magic at all, not even the “is it or isn’t it?” kind, and I felt quite betrayed.

But A Message from the Match Girl manages its balancing act a little better, which oddly is probably why I forgot it almost totally after reading it (I did get a few whiffs of memory as I reread: the scene where they find a package in the pocket of the bronze Match Girl statue at the park lodged somewhere in my mind). It’s competent at what it does, so it didn’t upset me, but Lisle doesn’t do it as well as Zilpha Keatley Snyder (or for that matter Elizabeth Marie Pope, in The Perilous Gard), so I didn’t remember it particularly either.

What I’m Reading Now

The Hunger Games! I’ve just finished part 2 and OH MY GOD, KATNISS, I am amazed that she’s still on her feet and moving forward rather than a sobbing wreck.

Over the years I’ve picked up a lot of spoilers for these books, not on purpose, just by vague osmosis. On the one hand I wonder what reading these would be like without knowing beforehand, say, that the rules of the game would be changed so that two tribunes from the same district could both win (I expected that to happen much earlier in the book, honestly), but on the other hand I think this would be absolutely gut-wrenching to read without being spoiled for a lot of it beforehand and honestly I am okay with not having my gut wrenched right now.

What I Plan to Read Next

Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I’ve also, in much lighter reading fare, borrowed the first Miss Read book from my mother, who promises that it is about charming English village things (the first book in called Village School) which sounds just delightful right now. I think it will be my new bedtime book.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

The second Ivy + Bean book, which I think will be my last Ivy + Bean book, because it’s not much better than the first. In this book, Bean cuts her sister Nancy’s hair as she sleeps, and honestly I just feel so sorry for Nancy and I know the books are never going to let her get her own back.

I also read John Muir’s Stickeen, which is about Muir’s walk along a glacier-top with a dog named Stickeen. At one point Muir has to inch his way along an ice bridge that crosses a massive ice chasm, chipping his path with his ice-ax because the ice bridge has eroded down to a knife-point, and he’s writing about it all chill and relaxed because he is basically the epitome of a nineteenth-century adventure hero, except in the flesh. OH JOHN MUIR. I’m amazed no one wrote dime novels about him.

What I’m Reading Now

Helen Rappaport’s Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, 1917 - A World on the Edge, which despite the somewhat awkward nesting subtitles proves to be absorbing. It’s compiled from the reports of foreign reporters who were in Petrograd at the outbreak of the revolution, and it’s fascinating to see the city descending into anarchy - and the patchiness of it; some streets are totally quiet, and people are going about their business standing in queues for bread, and a few streets over there’s a machine gun on the roof and protesters standing below shooting back at it with guns they stole from a police station they robbed earlier that day.

I’ve also started The Hunger Games! Why didn’t I do this years ago? They’re in the Capitol now, and Katniss is all “This is the best food I’ve ever eaten,” and also “I HATE YOU ALL SO MUCH.”

Like seriously, I’m surprised the judges didn’t start conspiring to have her eliminated as soon as she shot the roast suckling pig on their buffet. This is surely a sign of unacceptably rebellious attitudes.

ALSO THE PARADE SCENE, OH MY GOD. All the tributes paraded through the Capitol in their ridiculous fancy clothing, and Katniss and Peeta wearing clothes that are literally on fire. I love the combination of glitziness and underlying horror.

What I Plan to Read Next

Clearly I’ll have to read Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
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

The first Ivy + Bean book, which I did not find nearly as enchanting as I hoped. Ivy and Bean are just such - twerps, I think is the only word for it; the crowning moment of the book is when they throw worms in Bean’s sister’s face, and you know, I have an older sibling, and he could be very frustrating when I was seven, but somehow I managed to refrain from throwing worms in his face.

On a cheerier note, I also read Thomas Mallon’s Yours Ever: People and Their Letters, which is absolutely charming. I love letters and books about letters and letters between famous people, and Mallon packs lots of characterization into his brief portraits of these famous letter-writers.

Of course it helps that the letter-writers are so very characteristically themselves: Byron, for instance, bragging of his “Don Juan,” “Could any man have written it who has not lived in the world? - and fooled in a post-chaise? in a hackney-coach? in a gondola? against a wall? in a court carriage? in a vis-a-vis? on a table? and under it?” He probably expired filled with dismay that he never managed to do it in a hot air balloon.

Or Richard Nixon, paranoid, thin-skinned, obsessed with his legacy. His neediness is actually rather touching, at least as long as you don’t think about the fact that he had the power to turn that thin-skinned paranoia into quite a lot of damage.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m reading Blinky Bill, which is Australia’s answer to Beatrix Potter. Like Beatrix Potter, it is full of adorable pictures of anthropomorphized animals looking cute, and also like Beatrix Potter, when you actually read the text you discover that the adorable animal illustrations are a thin veneer over ANARCHY. Blinky Bill is forever narrowly escaping death and also accidentally (or not-so-accidentally) squashing other critters and there is nary a moral in sight.

I don’t know about Blinky Bill’s reputation in Australia, but it occurs to me that Beatrix Potter, like early Disney, has a reputation for treacliness that is totally at odds with the actual content of her stories. Maybe it’s just because we associate these stories with early childhood and assume that they must therefore be sweet and anodyne.

What I Plan to Read Next

Well, I’m giving the second Ivy + Bean book a go. We’ll see if it’s an improvement.


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