May 2020 books read

  • Something That May Shock and Discredit You – Daniel Lavery (as Daniel Mallory Ortberg), 2020. Kind of a weird mish-mosh – I enjoyed parts of it very much but wished there was more straight-ahead memoir. But what sticks in my mind the most is the analysis of “transmasc energy” as originally exemplified by William Shatner’s Kirk – partly because I’m re-watching the original Star Trek, but also because I love windows into subcultures I’m not part of.
  • Cost Price – Dornford Yates, 1949. Sequel to Safe Custody with a lot more detail about the carved jewels, but burdened with tiresome late-Yates tropes, especially “woman who’s lower than hero’s social level but he magnanimously treats her well and so she’s head over heels for him.” The earlier book wasn’t in the Richard Chandos series, but this one features him and he drags that trope along – as well as too much focus on how ridiculously strong and naive he is. Ugh.
  • The Bront√ęs Went to Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson, 1931. Jonathan borrowed this through ILL and it sounded so bonkers that I read it as well before returning. What a strange, sometimes-delightful, sometimes infuriating book – it takes a long time to figure out what the heck is going on with this crazy family, and then once I did, actual ghosts turned up and broke the genre I thought it was in. Plus the protagonist ends up being quite mean. But it was fascinating and if I had a copy I might read it again – I think its strangeness would be a bracing shock all over again in a few years. I’ve certainly never read anything at all like it.
  • Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen, 1811
  • My First Summer in the Sierra – John Muir, 1911 – quotes pulled, tbd
  • Hungry Hill: A Memoir – Carol O’Malley Gaunt, 2007 – Irish Writers book group selection, but I didn’t pull any quotes. I hadn’t finished it when we discussed it in April, and I went back to it out of sheer stubbornness, but I regret it. One of the worst books I’ve ever read and not even in an interesting way – sentence by sentence the writing is competent, and the topic could have been fascinating, but there’s no there there.
  • A Child’s Delight – Noel Perrin, 1997. I’m a fan of Perrin, of books-about-books, and of children’s literature, so naturally I loved it. I’ve added a few titles to my to-read-someday list (The Planet of Junior Brown, I Go By Sea I Go By Land, Dogsbody, the stories of Laurence Housman) and loved all the essays about my already-favorites. My only minor disagreement is about the Magic Schoolbus books, which I think were over-hyped – but maybe I should give them another chance.
  • Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926) – Sean O’Casey, for Irish Writers book group. Not enough quotes to do a separate post; J&P was amusing, P&S hard to follow, but we agreed we’d really need to see them performed to get them. I knew these plays by title but didn’t know they were about the Irish revolution – I thought J&P was related to Leda and the swan… Words learned: “fistic” (related to boxing); “glad neck” blouse (deep V collar); “Shan Van Vok” – reference to “The Sean-Bhean bhocht,” a traditional song which also personifies Ireland.
  • The Shining – Stephen King, 1977. Not my favorite King but I was drawn back to it by thinking about Jack Torrance’s writing. The description of his play sounds pretty terrible, and the idea that it’s going to make him his fortune seems rather quaint even in the 70s… Might not read this one again ever – in fact, I’m 55 (1/2!) and that’s probably a good resolution to start making about books I’m not compelled by. Unless there’s some essay or idea I want to work out!
  • Magic, Inc. – Robert Heinlein, 1940. I was remembering the delightful Heinlein short about the dust devil (“Our Fair City”) and revisited this novella. It’s a weird mixture of small-business story in a world where magic can be harnessed for capitalism, which segues into an interminable watching-the-sausage-get-made political yarn. (The very detailed Wikipedia summary deals with the politics in one sentence, but it feels like a third of the book). There’s lovely chemistry between the narrator, Archie Fraser, and the old witch Mrs. Jennings, one of my favorite ultra-calm-and-competent Heinlein women.
  • Doctor Sleep – Stephen King, 2013. The sequel to The Shining which I thought I had never read until I started it again and I totally did try it already, presumably in 2013 or 2014. To my taste quite a bit better than the first, but a couple of plot holes: a not-very-sensical measles-immunity McGuffin, and a miniature train which goes on infrequent excursions to distant points up big grades (granted, there is at least one very long miniature railway – thank you King for making me research this – but nonetheless there is something so weird about the way this Look Park scale thing is described and then they’re heading off to like, Mount Sugarloaf for picnics – who maintains the track? how does this make sense logistically?) I might try the movie at some point.
  • The Practicing Mind: Bringing Discipline and Focus Into Your Life – Thomas M. Sterner, 2005 (early self-published edition). I thought this would be a fairly easy purge/low-hanging fruit from the shelves of self-help books I’m trying to purge – I’m a sucker for them! – but it’s actually quite good. Apparently Sterner went on to found a self-help empire, critiqued for promising the moon and the stars, but this original version is modest in its aims, and reaches them.
  • Red Dragon – Thomas Harris, 1981. I kept hearing how great this series was and finally checked it out. People are not exaggerating. I loved the sequel even more, but this first Hannibal book is remarkable – compelling, readable, and thought-provoking too. Thriller is not my favorite genre but yeah, this was a great read.

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