December 2020 books read

  • Straight – Dick Francis, 1989. Francis used to be one of my favorite authors, but I’ve cooled on him with age. This one didn’t sound familiar, but I do think I read it once long ago (many I’ve read multiple times). I did enjoy the protagonist inheriting his brother’s jewelry business and figuring out how to keep it going; Francis’ expansion into milieus unrelated to horses kept my interest in his books going, plus I’m a sucker for getting-good-at-work plots.
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants – Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2013. Quotes pulled, TBD, but just in case I don’t get there: I have to say this is one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years – maybe the past decade – and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m re-reading it for a different book group now and bought my own copy because I love it that much. It has changed multiple aspects of the way I see and think about the world.
  • Lost Horizon – James Hilton, 1933. I’ve read this several times before and enjoyed it again despite the racism and misogyny. I probably first encountered it through watching the movie on TV with my family, and then I went on a James Hilton deep dive in the 80’s or 90’s. LH reminds me of other “secret advanced community” stories that I knew first, like Heinlein’s “Lost Legacy.”
  • The Forgotten Door – Alexander Key, 1965. Slight but cool children’s book by the author of Escape to Witch Mountain, with a very similar storyline.
  • The Overdue Life of Amy Byler – Kelly Harms, 2019. Ehhh…. it featured a librarian so I wanted to like it. I don’t read a lot of contemporary light fiction but I think it was well-done for that genre? It was just trying so hard to be funny and “relatable” that it ended up exhausting.
  • Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol, 1842 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • All 7 in the Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling, 1997 – 2007. I had surgery in December and, as planned, I re-read the HP books during my recovery. I was last seriously incapacitated (by flu) in the early oughts and re-read all the ones that had been published by then; it’s a very fond memory and I looked forward to the revisit. Rowling’s TERFishness now taints her, but my purchases are in the distant past and I still love the work. Recovery led to lots more re-reads!
  • Kavik, the Wolfdog – Walt Morey, 1968. A favorite from childhood that still holds up, despite being a straight lift from the original:
  • Lassie Come-Home – Eric Knight, 1940. Holds up even better! I love the characters we meet in passing, especially Rowlie the traveling potter.
  • The Postman – David Brin, 1985. A favorite post-apocalyptic novel that led me back to others. The P-A traveling theater troupe is such a trope (hah) that I wonder where it came from. It’s also in Folk of the Fringe, Station Eleven, and the play Mr. Burns – those come to mind but I’m sure there are others.
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens, 1843. For the umpteenth time, after watching A Muppet Christmas Carol (delightfully ridiculous).
  • Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (tr. Pevear & Volokhonsky), 1878 (2000). I just read the Garnett translation for a different book club in April; this was a slow read with an Amherst College group, 50 pages a week starting in August. I haven’t even gotten to the previous quotes but I marked new ones – it will be interesting to see how much they overlap. I’ll probably do just one post for both but haven’t decided yet.
  • The Deadly Isles – Jack Vance, 1969. Vance is one of my favorite SF/fantasy writers, and I mostly enjoy his mysteries. I hadn’t read this one before; not his best but it’s interesting how the flavor of the characters is consistent. I felt the lack of his brilliant imagination of alternate cultures and environments…
  • Trullion: Alastor 2262 – Jack Vance, 1973 …so I jumped to this set of three (each title is taken from a planet in the Alastor star cluster), among my favorites of his SF/fantasy works. The first is set on a watery world and introduces the game of hussade, which apparently was imported into the Star Trek expanded universe???
  • Marune: Alastor 933 – Jack Vance, 1975. This one has stuck in my mind since I first read it decades ago. On this planet the profusion of moons means there’s seldom darkness, and the Rhune culture has developed rituals around the type of light each combination sheds. They find the act of eating in public shameful – one character says of the typical non-Rhune: “Without shame he displays his victual, salivates, wads it into his orifice, grinds it with his teeth, massages it with his tongue, impels the pulp along his intestinal tract.” The plot of each of these novels is a not-terrible whodunit, but it’s the atmosphere I love. Jonathan says he remembers public eating as taboo from Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun (1957) – if I didn’t hate Asimov so much I would read it to confirm. It’s also in Bunuel’s Phantom of Liberty (1974), which I haven’t seen, but it made such an impression on my parents that they mentioned it several times.

Year in review: 38,422 pages over 113 books, a few more books but many more pages than last year because there were a bunch of doorstoppers. Most popular: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, over 9 million other readers (!); least, “Un Autre Monde” (J.-H. Rosny aîné), 4 other people.

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