December 2021 books read

  • That Hideous Strength – C.S. Lewis, 1945. Re-read of the third in the “Space Trilogy.” I always enjoy this one as much as the first two but in a different way. Although there are SF elements, it centers more on the psychology of Mark Studdock. He’s a fairly awful person, but Lewis manages to make me root for him – a bit by default, because he’s the protagonist, but more so by the most realistic, cringey depiction of an outsider trying to become an insider (in academia, yet) that I’ve ever read. But the sexism in this one is off the charts, even for Lewis. It does fit in with the very flawed writers I love (Burnett, King, Yates). Most of Lewis’ books are much better, and to my mind often unwittingly undercut his reactionary views because he’s too good of a writer for the didacticism to work.
  • The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World – Paul Morland, 2019 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Power of Awareness: And Other Secrets from the World’s Foremost Spies, Detectives, and Special Operators on How to Stay Safe and Save Your Life – Dan Shilling, 2021. Checked out from the Forbes new books display. The Gift of Fear is way better.
  • Shoal Water – Dornford Yates, 1940. One of the gaps in my Yates collection that was filled late, so this might be only my second read. A mostly stand-alone thriller – instead of Chandos, we have new guy Jeremy Solon to make the love story easier, but old guy Jonathan Mansel to help him out. Not bad, but not his best.
  • Stuart Little – E.B. White, 1945. I always forget quite how weird this book is – not only the peculiar transition between little-kid stuff (rescuing the ring, helming the toy boat) and angsty teen/young adult (Margalo, substitute teaching, Harriet), but how the story just… stops. As I child I think I lost interest along the way so didn’t mind so much. The success of this book should probably be chalked up to a combination of Garth Williams’ wonderful illustrations and the dearth of anything better.
  • Leap of Faith: Finding Love the Modern Way – Cameron Hamilton and Lauren Speed, 2021. I got hooked by Love Is Blind on Netflix so picked this up from the new books display. A quick read – not much substance but enjoyable.
  • Dornford Yates: A Biography – A.J. Smithers, 1982. My recent Yates kick led me to check this out from the UMass library – interesting, but a bit of a hagiography (quite a trick since Yates was a next-level asshole). I picked up two good words (both in the same paragraph!): armigerous (entitled to bear a coat of arms) and fugelman (leader).
  • Novelists Against Social Change: Conservative Popular Fiction, 1920-1960 – Kate Macdonald, 2015. A serious treatment of Yates, as well as Buchan (whom I know a little) and Thirkell (only by reputation), without buying into their views. She says “While being Leftish-leaning all my adult life I have long enjoyed reading novels of the Right: a paradox that has been many times awkward to explain.” She “offers a template for reading politicized authors against the grain.” Wish I could have talked about this with my father! I wrote her a little fan comment on her site and she actually replied, which was a thrill.
  • Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison, 1977 – quotes pulled, TBD, but just in case I never get there: WOW!!!
  • Inferno – Dante Aligheiri, 1320 (Allen Mandelbaum translation, 1980) – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 – Seamus Heaney, 1997 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens, 1843. I think I’ll make this an annual re-read (last was 2018 per GoodReads) – I love it every time.
  • Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place – Jackson Bird, 2019. A really good intro to trans issues in general, as well as a nice memoir. Wish J.K. Rowling would read and absorb this…
  • Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most – Greg McKeown, 2021. Eh… nothing really new? I did like that each section was summarized cumulatively, so that you re-read the summary of the first section multiple times. I was struck by “Relieve a grudge of its duties by asking, ‘What job have I hired this grudge to do?'” – I don’t really hold grudges but it has a more general application. I also liked “To simplify the process, don’t simplify the steps: simply remove them,” which tied into this fascinating study I had just read about, finding that people are less likely to hit on removing features to solve a problem even when that would be advantageous (eg balance bikes vs tricycles).

Year in review

Once again I managed to get most everything recorded in GoodReads, and as a reward it generates a spiffy Year in Books. 37,039 pages read over 123 books; shortest was Secret World of Teddy Bears (so I have the jogging teddy bear right there!) and longest was Brothers Karamazov; most popular The Midnight Library with almost 2 million other readers, and least Wife Apparent, only 8 others.

On the blog itself: in the “good” column, I caught up with the monthly lists in a push over the last few weeks of December (I back-date the posts to match when the reading happened). In the “OK” column, I’ve been more-or-less keeping up with transcribing quotes from the book group books (the only ones where I make that effort, but that’s still around 40+ a year) that have to go back to a library. In the “not great” column, I’m slowly falling behind with transcribing quotes from ebooks – which is a problem because the Nook doesn’t allow them to be offloaded or backed up, and if I had to reset I would lose them. I don’t even have an inventory of which those are, which would be a helpful first step! And in the “might need to give up on this” column, I am totally underwater on turning those draft quotes piles into publishable posts. I have around 125 mess o’ quotes drafts and each would take at least an hour or two’s work to organize and polish up even minimally. It’s still worth creating the drafts because I can search and reference them for my own purposes, and who reads this blog anyway aside from dear Jonathan? Answer from analytics: 2,293 pageviews last year (ie very few, if any, actual people). The most popular post is still my review of Tisha from 2004, which has been true for quite a while (because it’s an obscure book that people love, and because a number of people left comments, some of which are actually helpful).