- Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers, 2018. Number 3 in the Wayfarers quadrilogy, the one I accidentally skipped. I really like this one as well, but they do start to blur a bit. The focus on funeral rites was very interesting.
- Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
- Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir, 2021. My sister loved it and recommended it, and it did not disappoint. A very similar tone to The Martian but on a bigger scale. Unputdownable, and the ending was satisfying and touching. In the cold light of day I don’t 100% buy the way the alien encounter evolves, but Weir’s narrative drags you along pell-mell.
- Black Boy – Richard Wright, 1945. But the edition I had didn’t include the second part, so I need to finish it. Quotes pulled, TBD.
- The Brilliant Abyss – Helen Scales, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
- Great Short Books – Kenneth C. Davis, 2022. I love books about books, and this seemed especially helpful for my Great Books group. We’ve read a lot of doorstops and people are thrilled when one of our titles is short! I added a few to the suggestion list. A mildly enjoyable read – a bit too much of a survey (for each title, there was a bio of the author, a description/review, and a list of other books by them) without much personality.
- You Only Live Twice – Ian Fleming, 1964. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book October challenge, “A bestseller from the year you turned 18” – oh no, I screwed up! This was a bestseller from the year I was born! It sure seemed like a challenge to pick one…. I turned in my submission without realizing I did it wrong, so here’s my description: “The first James Bond novel I’ve read – much stranger and less of a typical thriller than I expected. I’m not sure how accurate the Japanese setting is, but the garden of poisonous plants is fascinating.”
- How to Be Perfect: the Correct Answer to Every Moral Question – Michael Schur, 2022. I learned about this book from a profile in Harvard Magazine, and since I loved The Good Place I requested it from the library. It’s quite good – the humor seldom landed for me, but the philosophical review seemed good as a lay person. I wish I could have talked about it with my dad.
- Dorp Dead – Julia Cunningham, 1965. The creepy cover of this book drew me in as a child when I was reading my way through the public library, and I checked it out a couple of times. I haven’t seen it since and didn’t remember much about it except that it was strange and scary. Re-reading it as an adult – hoo boy, I cannot believe this was on the middle-grade fiction shelves between Susan Cooper and Roald Dahl, although those can be scary in their own ways. Dorp Dead is super-dark and twisted, but also feels like it’s 90 degrees from a traditional story. Still unsettling after all these years. I remember being equally fascinated and mystified by her other title on the shelves at the 79th St. library, Burnish Me Bright. I see it’s illustrated by Don Freeman, author of one of my all-time favorites, the heart-warming picture book Norman the Doorman (as well as Corduroy, Dandelion, and Tilly Witch), which must have added to my confusion. I’d love to re-read that too, and now I wonder what her other books are like.
- In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss – Amy Bloom, 2022. I heard Bloom read an excerpt on This American Life and I was mesmerized. It’s amazing.
- There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love – Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell, 2017. I had some extra time in downtown Amherst and spent a very enjoyable half an hour browsing the Jones Library shelves. This impulse pick-up was bite-sized encouragement with colorful illustrations.
Calmgrove’s #LoveHain is finishing up with Ursula K. Le Guin’s stories in the Hainish cycle, October focusing on A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. I don’t have that book but the Library of America boxed set has the Hainish stories from it: “The Shobies’ Story,” “Dancing to Ganam,” and “Another Story.” I left a comment on the blog.
- 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.”