- Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why – Laurence Gonzales, 1998. A fascinating exploration of disasters and how people cope with them. Children six and under have among the highest survival rates, presumably because they listen to their instincts. The people who do best accept the situation, stay calm, get organized, make a plan, execute manageable tasks well, and keep a positive mindset. There was a whole chapter on Steve Callahan, whose book Adrift I’ve read twice. It also motivated me to start re-learning the poems I have known by heart in the past, and to add some more, because of the comfort that kind of mental furniture can provide. Sobering and inspiring. For my future reference here’s the list of poems I have known at one time, in the order I learned them (to the best of my recollection):
- The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton, 1913. Quotes pulled, TBD.
- The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating – Elisabeth Tova Bailey, 2010. Charming small book read for Nature and Environment, which evoked many memories of the pet snail we had in Paris when I was a kid. Bailey’s illness tunes her in to the small snail scale. Bailey quotes from many books, and thanks to her I added Helen Keller’s The World I Live In to my TBR pile because of her descriptions of touch and smell. I only pulled two quotes so no separate post.
- “The previous spring, when I could do almost nothing, spending time with a snail had been pure entertainment. But as my functional abilities improved just a bit, watching a snail began to take patience. I wondered at what point in my convalescence I might leave the snail’s world behind.”
- “With only thirty-two adult teeth, which had to last the rest of my life, I found myself experiencing tooth envy toward my gastropod companion. It seemed far more sensible to belong to a species that had evolved natural tooth replacement than to belong to one that had developed the dental profession.”
- The Cat Who Walks through Walls – Robert Heinlein, 1985. Over the past few years I’ve re-read most of the late Heinleins and keep telling myself “no more” – they are so tedious – but my completist streak wins out. This one I picked up again from a random comment on Ask a Manager about limburger cheese. I remembered the bonsai tree and not much else – understandably so, I’m afraid.
- The Guest – Emma Cline, 2023. Of course I kept hearing about this “book of the summer,” but it was the New York book group that prompted me to request it from the library. Unfortunately I got busy and didn’t follow along in real time, but I’ll enjoy catching up at some point. The book itself was a compelling read – not quite can’t-put-it-down, but close – without enough depth to stick in my mind much.
- Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes, 1966. I’d read the story on which this was based many times before, but I’m not sure I’d actually read the whole novel before. It’s much weaker than the story, padded with a lot of unnecessary rumination. The original story is concise and memorable; it sounds like Keyes was a one-hit wonder.
- Z is for Zachariah – Robert C. O’Brien, 1974. I re-read this when thinking about epistolary SF my sister might like. I loved loved loved Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H, which was probably my favorite novel when I was 12 or so (time to re-read!), and I remember my excitement as a young adult when I realized O’Brien had written more books. It holds up pretty well, especially in the female protagonist’s resistance to being controlled, but it’s on the bleak side – I think also true of his other books, The Silver Crown and A Report From Group 17, which I’d also like to revisit.
- The Telling – Ursula K. Le Guin, 2000. Re-read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
- The King of the Golden River – John Ruskin, 1851. I picked this up at a relative’s house in the UK, looking for something brief to read before bed. I’d heard of it for years, both as a children’s classic and because my mother is/was a devoted Ruskin fan. It fits seamlessly into the gazillions of tales I absorbed from the Andrew Lang fairy books – not distinctive to me in the way George MacDonald or Oscar Wilde’s fairy stories are. But I’m a little shocked I had never actually read it before.
- Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre – Max Brooks, 2020. Read because my sister and I compared our enjoyment of his earlier oral history novel, World War Z. This wasn’t as great, but an OK page-turnerish read.
- Leaves of Grass (deathbed edition) – Walt Whitman, 1892. Quotes pulled, TBD.
- The Galaxy, and the Ground Within – Becky Chambers, 2021. Last of the Wayfarers series – I loved this one too! But then I realized I never read the third, so I’ll do that next. I very much enjoyed this tale of travelers temporarily stuck at a galactic truck stop, building community and solidarity. These books are warm-fuzzy wish-fulfilment, but the qualities of the different aliens are so specifically and believably rendered that they have become part of my mental furniture. A tour-de-force of a very particular kind.
I am bummed that I forgot about the Massachusetts Center for the Book challenge this month. Often I’d be able to count one of the books retroactively, but for August it’s “a book in translation” and I didn’t have one! I’m missing out on the raffle, but there are so many people participating that the chances of winning are tiny anyway.
- The Trees – Percival Everett, 2021. Quotes marked, TBD.
- Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time – Ben Ehrenreich, 2020. Quotes marked, TBD.
- The Dead Zone – Stephen King, 1979. One of my favorite novels, which I re-read in 2016 because it’s partly about the rise of an unhinged politician. Relevant again now, alas. On the positive side, it has a great depiction of a teenager overcoming a reading block, and a star-crossed couple who can’t be together and yet have an emotionally satisfying resolution.
- Little Lord Fauntleroy – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1886. Comfort re-read.
- Ginnie and Her Juniors – Catherine Woolley, 1963. Another childhood favorite, but I hadn’t re-read this in a long time. It’s number 6 in a series (“Ginnie and Geneva”) – this is the only one I’ve read and I’m not driven to check the others out, despite the vivid writing. What I most enjoy is the climactic moment when Ginnie soothes a high-strung toddler that her parents can’t manage. Poor Ginnie’s mother gives good advice, but all she herself does is cook…
- The Song of the Lark – Willa Cather, 1915 (although Cather revised it later – details in the post I’ll eventually build around the quotes)
- Birnam Wood – Eleanor Catton, 2023. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book June challenge, “a book set in a country you’ve never visited.” I wrote “Compelling, well-written thriller that gives a real feel for New Zealand’s people and countryside.” It was more place-educational than I expected; I learned the terms hapū, hui, iwi, Oamaru stone, Pasifika, rūnanga and some indigenous plants (harakeke, horopito, toetoe, totara). Plus this slang: “‘Tu meke is, like, thanks. In the sense of, you didn’t have to do that. Above and beyond.’” “‘And hard out is, like, impressive,’ Jessica said. ‘Like, awesome, I’m impressed.’”
Seven members of the Amherst College slow read group went on a camping retreat together and read four stories. We tackled them in order of length, with hiking and eating in between. It was delightful! We read:
I picked this up browsing the “books about books” shelves (000s in Dewey, Zs at Forbes which uses the rare Cutter classification system) and it looked entertaining. It was, and Gekoski‘s early days as a “book runner” gave me the term for what I also used to do: pick up books at low prices that my instincts told me would sell for more (although I was hitting yard sales and thrift stores, and he was dealing with much fancier stock). I was surprised that the introduction kept referring to Tolkien’s Gown – turns out it’s the same book (UK title), so presumably an oversight.
The best anecdote may be that Edward O’Brien, editor of a series of “Best Short Stories,” featured Hemingway in the 1923 collection, and went so far as to dedicate the volume… to “Ernest Hemenway.”
- “Tolkien maintained that he never wrote ‘for children,’ as if that were in itself patronizing. ‘Children are not a class or kind, they are a heterogenous collection of immature persons,’ he wrote, which presumably was not intended to sound patronizing.”
- “The further that [D.H.] Lawrence moves from the particularities of his subject, the less successful he is likely to be, and the more likely an undergraduate is to underline the passage.”
- “[J.D. Salinger] refused to allow proofs to go out to reviewers, and objected violently to having a picture of himself on the back of the dustwrapper. Dismayed, his editor inquired, glacially, whether he wanted the book published, or merely printed?”
- “[The problem with children’s books is that] children handle them, with grubby little hands. They love the rhythm and repetition of the same story, read over and over until they know it by heart. Rereading is one of the delights of childhood. It makes the world safe and predictable, but it’s murder on the books.”
- “I often wonder if Hemingway wasn’t simply an adept who found the right prose style both to enact, and to conceal, the limited range of his vision, and the crimped range of his sympathies.”
- Darkness at Pemberley – T. H. White, 1932. I love White (Once and Future King is one of my all-time favorites) but I had never read this, and I kept getting it confused with Death Comes to Pemberley (P.D. James, have also never read), not realizing it was a different book and not about Elizabeth Bennet solving mysteries. (My reaction to that is ugh, but I was thinking I should give James a chance due to her reputation, until I saw this well-written takedown – culminating in “this is EXACTLY the kind of Austen pastiche enjoyed by people who don’t actually read Austen, and who believe that all period fiction just needs some velvet and horses and servants to thrill us to our middlebrow Masterpiece Theatre marrows.” Burn. I was almost going to check it out but it really sounds terrible! But back to the book at hand…) Darkness is very weird, a how-done-it that’s almost more horror than mystery, but it held my interest and had some witty bits.
- The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford, 1915.
- The Death and Life of the Great Lakes – Dan Egan, 2017.
- The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1974. Many times re-read, this time because I was thinking about the ways humans are failing at dealing with climate change, and it reminded me of the fatal flaw of the Moties (it’s the crux of the plot so I won’t spoil it).
- The Day the Guinea Pig Talked – Paul Gallico, 1963. I went through a Gallico phase as a kid because my grandmother loved him; she had at least The Snow Goose and one of the Mrs. ‘Arris books, maybe more. I also have a vivid memory of picking up Manxmouse at the library – I should revisit that one. This book I don’t think I had ever heard of, and I had pet guinea pigs! Alas, I didn’t care for it at all. Apparently it was his first book for children and to me it shows (but on Goodreads at least it has many fans!)
- The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers, 1940.
- The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag – Robert Heinlein, 1942. Re-read because Job (last month) reminded me of it, and it’s one of my favorite Heinleins – especially because it’s from when he wrote short (it’s a novella) or had good editing. The idea of mirrors as portals was a good segue to:
- The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) by Lewis Carroll, edited by Martin Gardner, expanded and updated by Mark Burstein, 2015. Quotes marked, TBD.
- Sodom et Gomorrhe – Marcel Proust, 1922. Quotes marked, TBD.
- The Annotated Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (1843), edited by Michael Patrick Hearn, 2004. Quotes marked, TBD.
- Silver on the Tree – Susan Cooper, 1977. Read for Annabookbel’s #TDiRS22.
- The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe, 2012. Oops, I already read this but had absolutely no memory of it! The books the mother and son read are just touched on; it’s really more of a memoir, nice but nothing new, so I think that’s why it evaporated out of my mind the first time, and will again.
- Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals – Michael Hyatt, 2018. OK self-help, but I’m cooling on the genre as a whole. I’m doing pretty well with my goals so this didn’t light any fires in me. The only tidbit that stuck out to me was one of the reasons Hyatt gives for writing down your goals: it filters new opportunities (i.e., can hold you back from chasing the new shiny object if it’s not part of your existing list).
- Superman, Last Son of Krypton (1978) and Miracle Monday (1981) – Eliot S! Maggin. I was one of many fans of Superman: The Movie who bought Last Son of Krypton because they thought it was either the source or the novelization of the movie. The cover was a still from the movie, and moreover, there was a sections of photographs from the movie inset. It does have the Superman origin story, but otherwise the plot is very different. But I’m glad for the mistake, because I loved these books as a teenager and they still hold up. In Maggin’s universe, Clark Kent is Superman’s one real love: he wishes he were human, so he’s enchanted with Clark’s life, wants to protect him, daydreams about him… it’s fascinating and plausible. Maggin also gives you sympathy for Lex Luthor, provides Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen with inner lives, and overall renders the superhero story into a real novel. They are not perfect books by any means, but they are surprisingly delightful.
And a quote I enjoyed from from “Talking Movies” by Adam Gopnik, New Yorker 12/5/2022:
We’re used to seeing the steady, pained smile and middle-distance gaze of a moviemaker being told by a movie lover how movies are made: we praise the dazzling dialogue of the screenwriter (whose draft was never used, but who won the credit through arbitration, while all the good lines were written the night before by the director’s pet script doctor) and the mastery of the film editor (though the scene of the helicopter swooping down the canyon of buildings was storyboarded by the second-unit art director, while the editor’s real work was managing to excise the cough of the leading man without damaging continuity) and how sensitive the director was with the women leads (whom he could barely stand to be in the same room with).
Notable this month, three books abandoned! I think these were all in a row and the “I’m just not enjoying this” was cumulative. I often put down books and don’t come back to them, but these were all active decisions to stop reading forever.
- Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith, 1950) – too creepy. I got almost half-way through, but the kind of tension she excels at is just not my thing. The Talented Mr. Ripley was plenty.
- Billy Summers (Stephen King, 2021) I got on a bit of a King kick and hadn’t tried this new one, but a) it was dull and b) the assassin protagonist’s cover is that he’s writing a book, and I’m tired of that as a King subplot. I could see it heading in the “Rat” direction.
- So I went on to try The Wind Through the Keyhole (Stephen King, 2012), which is part of the Dark Tower series but short. I finally read the first two in 2016 but wasn’t very motivated to continue. This I abandoned about a quarter of the way through when I hit this bit of dialogue: “There’s the dit-dah wire, and even a jing-jang.” He has such a tin ear for fantasy names. A ding-dong too far!
Year in review
Goodreads shows 130 books read and a total of 44,050 pages – it’s been going up year over year (I’ve added more book groups and read-alongs so that helps explain it). Shortest was the graphic novel of A l’ombre, 47 pages, and longest was (ugh) The Ink Black Heart at a whopping 1408. More than 6 million people also read Pride and Prejudice, but only 47 read The Day the Guinea Pig Talked.
Blogwise I’ve kept up with the monthly lists and have finally started publishing some of the drafts of the quote dumps, which I’ve now identified as such. I have a goal of five published blog posts per month this year, but we’ll see how that goes!