The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family – by Mary S. Lovell. 2001

Nancy Mitford is one of my perennial favorites, especially The Blessing, which I first read as a teenager and still consider one of the funniest novels ever. I’m not a huge fan of Jessica Mitford, the other sister famous for writing, but Nancy’s autobiographical novels (Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love) make the family fascinating. I very much enjoyed this group biography, but alas, I read it early in 2006 (or even 2005?) and now no longer remember much of it. I had marked two amusing passages, though:

Nancy told of asking her nephew Stoker, when he was two and a half, “‘Can you talk?’ He answered, ‘Not yet.'”

Bob Treuhaft (Jessica’s American husband) was baffled by a telephone operator in England and handed the phone to his wife.

“What is the matter?” [Jessica] asked him. “She’s saying perfectly plainly that the number is Steeple Bumstead 267.” “That’s what I thought she said,” Bob answered miserably, “but I thought she was pulling my leg.”

End of 2006

I used to joke that if I had a blog, each post would start or end with “this might be my last post ever.” I think I’d better start doing that!

Balliett, Blue
Chasing Vermeer – 2004. Very good although not as brilliantly wonderful as I’d anticipated. It made me feel old not to have the energy to try solving all the puzzles and ciphers myself. That’s what Wikipedia is for… A

Blyton, Enid
Island of Adventure – 1944. I still have a tiny bit of sentimental attachment to some Blyton (particularly the Famous Five, because one of them is a real dog; also the Noddy illustrations, especially his cute little car), but boy is she lousy. Interesting to notice how repetitive and heavy-handed the description is; I guess that’s one of the things that makes it easy to read before one is particularly quick to pick up cues. She must have liked animals, because Kiki the cockatoo is the most memorable character (“Wipe your feet! Shut the door”), followed by Dinah with the ungovernable temper and Lucy-Ann the timid goody two-shoes. OK, for cardboard characters they sometimes are refreshingly realistic. Blyton also shows some inner-life-of-adults that explains why they get sick of the rambunctious kids. But wait… I think of Kiki as a cockatoo because she has a crest and that’s how she’s illustrated, but the text calls her a scarlet and grey parrot. Is there such a parrot, with a crest that it can “work up and down”? I haven’t been able to confirm that. C+

Cabot, Meg
All-American Girl – 2002. Recommended by my “little” sister (who’s now 15!) Very funny and very absorbing, and even the stereotypical characters (like Sam’s sister Lucy) turn out to have hidden depths. A

Christopher, John
The White Mountains – 1967; The City of Gold and Lead – 1967; The Pool of Fire – 1968. A classic trilogy whose images have stayed with me since I first read them, despite being mostly lifted from War of the Worlds crossed with Brave New World. A-

Collins, Wilkie
The Moonstone – 1868. Ground-breaking mystery and very amusing and enthralling, but I’d forgotten how weak the solution is. Believability was never Collins’s strength. A-

Daisey, Mike
21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ – 2002. Daisey was experiencing all the worst aspects of Amazon when people still bought that they were Different and a Noble Place to Work. He wittily deconstructs the simple capitalistic greed that led smart people to work crazy hours fulfilling warehouse orders. Very well-written to boot. A

Dickens, Charles
A Christmas Carol: In Prose; Being a Ghost Story of Christmas – 1843. I re-read this frequently anyway, but most recently after finally catching the Cider Mill’s version with Bill Gorman and Claus Evans. A+

Francis, Dick
I’ve been on a Francis kick in the course of which I’m finally giving up on some titles (I used to be a completist but have outgrown him to a certain extent).
Banker – 1982. A leisurely pace for a change. B
Flying Finish – 1966. Better/more plot than some, and one of the few really interesting lead characters, aristocrat-with-a-blue-collar-job Henry Grey. B+

Fredericks, Mariah
Crunch Time – 2006. Good YA about SAT prep; very Breakfast Club but also well-written. B+

Hoban, Russell
The Mouse and His Child – 1967. One of my very favorite books ever. It impressed me strongly as a kid and I still re-read it at least once a year, finding more each time. A perfect novel in so many, many ways. I am lucky to have an original, signed copy given to me by a FOF of Hoban’s; the inscription reads “FOR SHIRLEY AND ALFRED./WITH/BEST WISHES/FOR GOOD LUCK/ALL THE WAY/FROM HERE/TO/THE LAST VISIBLE DOG/FROM/Russ & Lil.” Am I a lucky duck or what? I think they gave it to me because I was a child and they thought it was a kid’s book. But it is so very much more. A+++

Jenkins, Emily
Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, A Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic – 2006. Very cute talking-toy story with more-than-usually-distinctive characters. A-

LeGuin, Ursula
The Dispossessed – 1974. Brilliant, thought-provoking, touching, but now that I’m older Anarres seems excessively rough on families in a way I didn’t notice before. A+

Shute, Nevil
Beyond the Black Stump – 1966. Fascinating and devastating view of American society through the eyes of a young Australian girl. B+
The Breaking Wave – 1955. One of the saddest of his novels, though I had forgotten that it still has a hopeful ending. B+
The Chequer Board – 1947. Very advanced in anti-racism for its time; it’s depressing that moving to Australia seems to have set Shute back so far. A-
The Far Country – 1952. Shut doesn’t normally do very well with characters outside his stolid Anglo-Australian types, but the exiled doctor Carl Zlinter is an exception. Shute’s rhapsodies about how healthy it is to eat pounds of meat and dozens of eggs (comparing the Australian diet to England’s rationing) are unintentionally amusing, especially because there is quite a bit of medical setting. He also manages to make himself look foolish by taking a swipe at modern art:

The artist had modeled his style upon that of a short-sighted and eccentric old gentleman called C├ęzanne, who had been able to draw once but had got tired of it; this smoothed the path of his disciples a good deal.

Kindling – 1938. For some reason I remember this as a James Hilton novel; I think there’s one with a similar plot. I wouldn’t have known how autobiographical this was had I not finally read Slide Rule; it’s an interesting defense of overstating a company’s financial prospects to shareholders, for the sake of the employees’ livelihoods. B+
Landfall – 1940. B+
Lonely Road – 1932. B-
Most Secret – 1945. Very grim. B
No Highway – 1948. The closest to Shute’s real life, it seems like. A
Pastoral – 1944. B
Pied Piper – 1942. B
The Rainbow and the Rose – 1958. B
Round the Bend – 1951. A+
Slide Rule – 1954. Gets off to an incredibly dull start–Shute seems just as boring as his characters, with the added disadvantage of not being involved in a plot–but picks up in the fascinating story of the rival dirigibles commissioned by the English government, one with the private sector (Shute’s company) and one with the public sector. That story is not primarily about Shute, simply told by him, and that’s why it’s interesting. B
So Disdained – 1928. B-
A Town Like Alice – 1950. A
What Happened to the Corbetts – 1939. Minor. B-

Niven, Larry, and Jerry Pournelle
The Mote in God’s Eye – 1974. Niven and Pournelle excelled at combining a huge disaster-movie style cast of stereotypes with intriguing SF, and this is one of their best. A-

Uttley, Alison
The Sam Pig Storybook – 1965/1971. Are these stories so perfect partly because they are colored by familiarity and memory? I feel like I grew up along with the four little pigs, nurtured by Brock the badger. A+
A Traveler in Time – 1939. Psychologically-realistic time travel/historical fiction. A