December 2022 books read

  • Darkness at Pemberley – T. H. White, 1932. I love White (Once and Future King is one of my all-time favorites) but I had never read this, and I kept getting it confused with Death Comes to Pemberley (P.D. James, have also never read), not realizing it was a different book and not about Elizabeth Bennet solving mysteries. (My reaction to that is ugh, but I was thinking I should give James a chance due to her reputation, until I saw this well-written takedown – culminating in “this is EXACTLY the kind of Austen pastiche enjoyed by people who don’t actually read Austen, and who believe that all period fiction just needs some velvet and horses and servants to thrill us to our middlebrow Masterpiece Theatre marrows.” Burn. I was almost going to check it out but it really sounds terrible! But back to the book at hand…) Darkness is very weird, a how-done-it that’s almost more horror than mystery, but it held my interest and had some witty bits.
  • The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford, 1915. Quotes marked, TBD
  • The Death and Life of the Great Lakes – Dan Egan, 2017. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1974. Many times re-read, this time because I was thinking about the ways humans are failing at dealing with climate change, and it reminded me of the fatal flaw of the Moties (it’s the crux of the plot so I won’t spoil it).
  • The Day the Guinea Pig Talked – Paul Gallico, 1963. I went through a Gallico phase as a kid because my grandmother loved him; she had at least The Snow Goose and one of the Mrs. ‘Arris books, maybe more. I also have a vivid memory of picking up Manxmouse at the library – I should revisit that one. This book I don’t think I had ever heard of, and I had pet guinea pigs! Alas, I didn’t care for it at all. Apparently it was his first book for children and to me it shows (but on Goodreads at least it has many fans!)
  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers, 1940. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag – Robert Heinlein, 1942. Re-read because Job (last month) reminded me of it, and it’s one of my favorite Heinleins – especially because it’s from when he wrote short (it’s a novella) or had good editing. The idea of mirrors as portals was a good segue to:
  • The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) by Lewis Carroll, edited by Martin Gardner, expanded and updated by Mark Burstein, 2015. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Sodom et Gomorrhe – Marcel Proust, 1922. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • The Annotated Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (1843), edited by Michael Patrick Hearn, 2004. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Silver on the Tree – Susan Cooper, 1977. Read for Annabookbel’s #TDiRS22.
  • The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe, 2012. Oops, I already read this but had absolutely no memory of it! The books the mother and son read are just touched on; it’s really more of a memoir, nice but nothing new, so I think that’s why it evaporated out of my mind the first time, and will again.
  • Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals – Michael Hyatt, 2018. OK self-help, but I’m cooling on the genre as a whole. I’m doing pretty well with my goals so this didn’t light any fires in me. The only tidbit that stuck out to me was one of the reasons Hyatt gives for writing down your goals: it filters new opportunities (i.e., can hold you back from chasing the new shiny object if it’s not part of your existing list).
  • Superman, Last Son of Krypton (1978) and Miracle Monday (1981) – Eliot S! Maggin. I was one of many fans of Superman: The Movie who bought Last Son of Krypton because they thought it was either the source or the novelization of the movie. The cover was a still from the movie, and moreover, there was a sections of photographs from the movie inset. It does have the Superman origin story, but otherwise the plot is very different. But I’m glad for the mistake, because I loved these books as a teenager and they still hold up. In Maggin’s universe, Clark Kent is Superman’s one real love: he wishes he were human, so he’s enchanted with Clark’s life, wants to protect him, daydreams about him… it’s fascinating and plausible. Maggin also gives you sympathy for Lex Luthor, provides Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen with inner lives, and overall renders the superhero story into a real novel. They are not perfect books by any means, but they are surprisingly delightful.

And a quote I enjoyed from from “Talking Movies” by Adam Gopnik, New Yorker 12/5/2022:

We’re used to seeing the steady, pained smile and middle-distance gaze of a moviemaker being told by a movie lover how movies are made: we praise the dazzling dialogue of the screenwriter (whose draft was never used, but who won the credit through arbitration, while all the good lines were written the night before by the director’s pet script doctor) and the mastery of the film editor (though the scene of the helicopter swooping down the canyon of buildings was storyboarded by the second-unit art director, while the editor’s real work was managing to excise the cough of the leading man without damaging continuity) and how sensitive the director was with the women leads (whom he could barely stand to be in the same room with).

Notable this month, three books abandoned! I think these were all in a row and the “I’m just not enjoying this” was cumulative. I often put down books and don’t come back to them, but these were all active decisions to stop reading forever.

  • Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith, 1950) – too creepy. I got almost half-way through, but the kind of tension she excels at is just not my thing. The Talented Mr. Ripley was plenty.
  • Billy Summers (Stephen King, 2021) I got on a bit of a King kick and hadn’t tried this new one, but a) it was dull and b) the assassin protagonist’s cover is that he’s writing a book, and I’m tired of that as a King subplot. I could see it heading in the “Rat” direction.
  • So I went on to try The Wind Through the Keyhole (Stephen King, 2012), which is part of the Dark Tower series but short. I finally read the first two in 2016 but wasn’t very motivated to continue. This I abandoned about a quarter of the way through when I hit this bit of dialogue: “There’s the dit-dah wire, and even a jing-jang.” He has such a tin ear for fantasy names. A ding-dong too far!

Year in review

Goodreads shows 130 books read and a total of 44,050 pages – it’s been going up year over year (I’ve added more book groups and read-alongs so that helps explain it). Shortest was the graphic novel of A l’ombre, 47 pages, and longest was (ugh) The Ink Black Heart at a whopping 1408. More than 6 million people also read Pride and Prejudice, but only 47 read The Day the Guinea Pig Talked.

Blogwise I’ve kept up with the monthly lists and have finally started publishing some of the drafts of the quote dumps, which I’ve now identified as such. I have a goal of five published blog posts per month this year, but we’ll see how that goes!

November 2022 books read

  • Job: A Comedy of Justice – Robert Heinlein, 1984. Multiple re-read, one that I shared with my father (both fascinated by eschatology). I keep forgetting that this is much better than most late Heinlein. It combines the angst and love of a couple trying not to be separated from The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag with the mutiple universes of The Mark of the Beast, and includes a depiction of Heaven as a colossal bureaucracy directly inspired from:
  • An Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven – Mark Twain, 1909. Re-read because of Job – always delightful. “As many as sixty thousand people arrive here every single day, that want to run straight to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and hug them and weep on them.  Now mind you, sixty thousand a day is a pretty heavy contract for those old people.  If they were a mind to allow it, they wouldn’t ever have anything to do, year in and year out, but stand up and be hugged and wept on thirty-two hours in the twenty-four.  They would be tired out and as wet as muskrats all the time.”
  • Die with Zero: Getting All You Can from Your Money and Your Life – Bill Perkins, 2020. I have very mixed feelings about this book – on the one hand, it’s a thought-provoking look at the timeline considerations of paying for experiences (you have to be young enough to enjoy them), and it’s good for ants to get a taste of the grasshopper virtues. But it’s a terrible book for grasshoppers because he discounts the uncertainties of both investing and aging, stating that you can plot a smooth curve of how to spend and give away everything before you die.
  • Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith, 2015. When I read #5 last month I though I was caught up with the series, but I subsequently realized I had missed this one, #3. It’s very dark… and quite tedious. So I went back to re-read:
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith, 2013. … and this one, which I remember very much enjoying the first time around, has shrunk on me significantly. It’s not because my opinion of JK Rowling as a person has plunged (which it has), since typically the author’s character doesn’t much affect my liking for their work – but I do think the thoughtful critical assessments of her work itself I’ve read have sunk in and cumulatively taken most of the shine off.
  • The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables – David Bellos, 2017. A wonderful companion to Les Mis, recommended by the leader of our slow read book group. During the months we spent reading the novel, we speculated about how Hugo could have kept all the threads straight – that’s one question this book didn’t answer, but it shed light on many other challenges of writing and publication.
  • Winter – Ali Smith, 2017.
  • A Natural History of the Future: What the Laws of Biology Tell Us about the Destiny of the Human Species – Rob Dunn, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Great Impersonation – E. Phillips Oppenheim, 1920. This is one of the classics referenced in Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads. It’s quite strange; I enjoyed it but kept expecting it to go in a different direction, so I didn’t predict the big twist which I easily could have seen coming. A lot of suspension of disbelief required!
  • Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be: A Rock and Roll Fairy Tale – Jennifer Trynin, 2006. Our friend who reads all the rock bios recommended this, and another mutual friend has a cameo. Trynin writes well. I had never heard of her and didn’t become a fan of her music, although she’s one of the most rock-star-looking people I’ve ever seen! Her journey from unknown, to a bidding war between every big label in the early ’90s, back to unknown, was interesting, but the book didn’t grab me. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Reading this great review (which I found searching for an example rock-star-look photo) makes me want to try it again someday, but realistically my TBR list will always be too long.
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens, 1843. My annual re-read, but the Amherst College group is discussing it in December, so I might go again!
  • The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann, 1924.
  • The Grey King – Susan Cooper, 1975. Read for Annabookbel’s #TDiRS22.
  • Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s – Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein, 2014. This is my prime teen/young adult listening and still stuff I love, so I really enjoyed this book. Lots of variation in how the artists today think about their early work! My favorite bit was the “Mixtape” sidebar in each chapter, focusing on similar songs to the chapter’s topic, like “5 More Melodramatic Songs About Heartbreak” for “Poison Arrow,” “5 More End-of-the-Seventies Songs That Pointed the Way to the Eighties” for “Being Boiled.” Some of the mixtape songs are quite obscure, so I’ll listen my way through at some point!
  • Citizen of the Galaxy – Robert Heinlein, 1957. Comfort re-read of one of my very favorite Heinleins. It starts as an homage to Kipling’s Kim, continues with a character based on Margaret Mead, and culminates in a board meeting proxy fight. And it all works… for me at least.
  • The Mummy Market – Nancy Brelis, 1966. One of the many books I loved and re-read at my public library as a kid, only registering where it was in the shelf layout, rather than the author or other such minor details. Luckily this title stuck with me so I was able to find a used copy as an adult. Three siblings get sick of their strict housekeeper/guardian, “The Gloom” and go looking for a parent at the market of mothers, run by volunteer children for children. I see that it’s still out of print but has garnered a lot of love on GoodReads and was eventually turned into a 1994 movie called Trading Mom. The trailer literally opens with “In a perfect world“!
  • Some Christmas Stories – Charles Dickens, 1911 (Chapman and Hall edition, cobbled together from earlier publications). I thought this was going to include the other Dickens Christmas classics like The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth, but it’s just a grab-bag of inferior pieces. The opener, “A Christmas Tree” (1850), is an evocative description at least.

October 2022 books read

  • Fairy Tale – Stephen King, 2022. I loved loved loved the first part, a realistic modern-day story about a teen who befriends an old dog and her cantankerous owner. King is brilliant at depicting ordinary people and getting you to care about them. The rest, a fantasy quest in an alternate world, was nowhere near as compelling. But this book helped me realize that King’s sloppiness is probably part and parcel of his gift for breakneck narrative. I remember reading a review of Cujo (I think) by Algis Budrys (I think) where he complained that the car couldn’t have had the engine King described, a little detail that King could easily have researched to get right. I had similar “did rather spoil the joke for me” moments – where he describes a 1970s mall as having “a climbing wall, a trampoline area called Fliers, an escape room,” for example. Another annoyance was the heavy-handed symbolism of butterflies, all monarchs because that’s the easy/common choice. But if King were the kind of writer who finessed all the details… he wouldn’t be Stephen King and we wouldn’t have 80+ of his books. I often prefer quality over quantity, but quantity can have its pleasures too.
  • Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell, 2020. Read for Second Monday, but I only marked two quotes so not worth a whole post. It was good, but the choice to make the protagonist clearly William Shakespeare but refuse to name him a little annoying.
    • “her patience has slipped out from under her, like ice from under her feet”
    • “the body clings to life, as ivy to a wall”
  • À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs #1 & #2 – Stéphane Heuet, 2000-2002. The drawing quality is worse than the first one, but it was worth reading just to have a condensed review of the original. I would continue with these if any local libraries get the sequels… not worth inter-library loan.
  • Les Misérables – Victor Hugo, 1862. Almost seven months of the slow read book group, totally worth it and so much fun. Second set of quotes marked, TBD (first set from Great Books in June).
  • Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses – Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2003.
  • Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy, 1878.
  • The Ink Black Heart – Robert Galbraith, 2022. I loved the first few in this series, before JKR turned into a transphobe (Nathan J. Robinson’s essay is brilliant on the “limits of imagination” there), and I was curious about how terrible this book would be, at 1000+ pages and stuffed with screenshots of chat channels and tweets. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, but it’s sure not good either. The plot is a transparent self-validation of a creator harassed by toxic fans, the chats/tweets don’t ring true, and it should have been edited down by at least half. Quite sad, but grist for my thoughts about flawed-yet-readable authors.
  • Greenwitch – Susan Cooper, 1974. Read for Annabookbel’s #TDiRS22. Another one in the Dark Is Rising series that was new to me.
  • How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion – David McRaney, 2022. Very interesting, especially the claim that our individual mental fallacies – stemming from laziness and bias – are often overcome when we think as a group.
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami, 2007. I listed to a podcast featuring three runners who loved this book, one who said it was his favorite book ever, far ahead of his second favorite. I’d been meaning to read it for years anyway, although I’ve yet to try one of Murakami’s novels. The podcast folks claimed it captured some of their thoughts and experiences of running in ways nothing else did; not me, and in fact what was most interesting to me was the connection he draws between the writing process and training for marathons.

September 2022 books read

  • 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style – Matt Madden, 2005. A delightful and ingenious reimagining of Raymond Queneau’s Excercises de style in graphic-novel form. I especially loved the homages to R. Crumb, Winsor McCay, the Bayeux Tapestry, Charles Atlas ads, and Chick comics; and Madden’s clever ringing of various conceptual changes reminds me of Sol LeWitt’s methodical approach.
  • Pachinko – Min Jin Lee, 2017.
  • The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter – Colin Tudge, 2006
  • Daniel Deronda – George Eliot, 1876.
  • The Bridge Across Forever – Richard Bach, 1982. A friend brought up Jonathan Livingston Seagull (as the epitome of a terrible best-seller, as I recall), and I mentioned this one, which led to another re-read. Bach is one of my love-them-despite-their-flaws authors; he might easily be the worst of the bunch (some others are Frances Hodgson Burnett, Dick Francis, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Nevil Shute, Dornford Yates), but he’s got something that draws me back. It’s such a weird combo of sappy and quirky, of wish-fulfillment and unwitting self-owns. And although I don’t believe in the kind of eternal/astral soulmates he describes, Jonathan is my forever partner and I root for stories of true intimate partnership. The real Richard Bach and Leslie Parrish broke up, but the couple in this book still has a place in my heart.
  • The Dark is Rising – Susan Cooper, 1973. Read for Annabookbel’s #TDiRS22. I was surprised to realize I had never read it before, so it’s lovely to have this monthly journey to complete the series.
  • Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads – ed David Morrell, Hank Wagner, 2010. I love books-about-books, and although thrillers aren’t my favorite genre, I enjoy some of them. I added a few to my to-read pile, from old (Oppenheimer’s Great Impersonation) to sort-of-old (Goldman’s Marathon Man).

August 2022 books read

  • Hot Money – Dick Francis, 1989. Re-read but maybe only for the second time as I think I got it towards the end of my first Francis deep dive. He’s shrinking on me as I age, but I went on to:
  • Longshot – Dick Francis, 1991. This one is still a winner. The relationship between survival writer John Kendall and the family he accidentally falls into is charming, and the plot is good.
  • Detransition, Baby – Torrey Peters, 2021.
  • Summer World: A Season of Bounty – Bernd Heinrich, 2009. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Le côté de Guermantes – Marcel Proust, 1920-1921. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values – Robert M. Pirsig, 1974.
  • Over Sea, Under Stone – Susan Cooper, 1965. Re-read for Annabookbel’s #TDiRS22
  • The Stand – Stephen King, 1978. Umpteenth comfort re-read of the original edition, as I think the updated/uncut version is worse in many ways. But I notice the racism of the original sticks out more each time, and I wonder to what extent he fixed that in the 1990 edition. (I read it once, but that was more than 20 years ago – I agree with the GoodReads reviewer who calls it “probably the single greatest argument for a good editor in publishing history.”)
  • Ex Libris – Matt Madden, 2021. Intriguing meta graphic novel.
  • The Secret to Superhuman Strength – Alison Bechdel, 2021. Much better than Are You My Mother? – equally pretentious, but it worked for me and I very much identified with Bechdel’s love for workout gear and athletic fads.
  • When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi, 2016. I heard a lot about this touching memoir when it came out and finally got around to reading it – it is very good.
  • Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran – Andy Taylor, 2008. Unfortunately not very well-written or interesting, especially compared to In the Pleasure Groove, but that one had a co-writer (Tom Sykes). If AT had a ghost for this, they didn’t do a very good job. He doesn’t seem very self-aware or to have thought about what readers would want to know. Nonetheless I’m a big enough Duran Duran fan that I’m glad I read it. And this comparison is making me change my mind a bit – perhaps AT has more good bits scattered in there, hidden in the thicket of cliches…
  • Mistress Masham’s Repose – T. H. White, 1946. Another many-times comfort re-read. I shared the especially funny bits with Jonathan so I’ve compiled them.
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith, 1955. I finally read this after watching Purple Noon with the Far Out Film group (I also saw the 1999 film early on) and liked it OK – not my favorite genre and so dark, but I can see why it’s a classic of its kind.

And a short story: “Cold Clews,” one of Erle Stanley Gardner‘s stories featuring Lester Leith, recommended by Jonathan. Leith is a con man who simultaneously solves thefts and gets the goods for himself by incredibly baroque con jobs, and this was the wackiest one in the collection Jonathan read. I see this format is described as “puzzle plots.”

July 2022 books read

  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of his Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts – Hugh Lofting, 1920. The Doctor Dolittle books were a huge influence on me as a kid – they’re about love of animals, passion for learning, pacifism, anti-materialism, egalitarianism, and rejection of convention. I read and re-read many of them, especially Doctor Dolittle and the Secret Lake and The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I own all of them except this one (I had the abridged picture book edition which doesn’t count), and Jonathan brought it home from the League of Women Voters book sale! And… it’s nowhere near as good as the subsequent ones, plus super-racist/colonialist. But it’s got the origin story of a bunch of the household animals.
  • Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen – Mary Norris, 2015. Who the heck is the audience for this book?!? I mostly enjoyed it despite Norris’ unsuccessful attempts to simultaneously appeal to grammar newbies, New Yorker nerds (right there the Venn diagram shrinks to nothingness), and memoir lovers.
  • Improvement – Joan Silber, 2017. For Second Monday but I didn’t pull any quotes, which means it left little impression. Not bad, but not at all memorable.
  • Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape – Barry Lopez, 1986.
  • A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens, 1859.
  • When I Grow Up – Julianna Hatfield, 2008. I love Julianna’s music (Minor Alps, a collaboration with my brother, is brilliant and never got the recognition it should have IMO…) and this was candid and compelling, but a depressing and harrowing read.
  • The Sculptor – Scott McCloud, 2015. I was blown away by Understanding Comics when it came out, and have admired McCloud ever since. This was both more accessible and more enthralling than I expected. The end made me cry. Graphic novels aren’t may favorite genre, but this one is great.
  • The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science – Culdasa (John Yates), 2015. This is the first truly helpful meditation book I’ve read to go beyond the basics of “note your thoughts, let them go.” It explicitly lays out steps to proceed through the stages of meditation (using the breath at the nostrils) and how to handle the hindrances and pitfalls that arise. I borrowed it through the library but will buy my own copy – a step I rarely take these days, only with books I will intend to keep for the rest of my life.
  • From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my Nine Year-Old Self – Katherine Langrish, 2021. Read for #Narniathon2021.
  • No Exit – Taylor Adams, 2018. Change of pace: a can’t-put-it-down thriller. I loved its plot twists even though a couple telegraphed themselves from miles away. I’d rank this with Vertical Run as a reader’s advisory “Sure Bet.”

Peter Caws papers: the last few were in Spanish so I didn’t list them, but this month I digitized and uploaded “The Paradox of Induction and the Inductive Wager.” I learned strong and weak induction in CS 250 and could barely wrap my head around that, so to really follow this argument I’d need to read it a bunch more times. I’d rather focus on digitizing more papers, but it’s out there now for anyone else who wants to dive in!

June 2022 books read

  • The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis (alternate subtitle: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis) – Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, 2020. For Nature & Environment. I thought I had marked quotes, but apparently not? It was as encouraging as a climate change book can be and still be realistic… sigh.
  • Mary’s Neck – Booth Tarkington, 1932. A Jonathan recommendation I loved discussing with him. It’s the tale of a Midwestern family who try to join the in-crowd at a summer resort in Maine. Lots of humor that builds over the episodes, with recurring characters whose foibles create suspense as you wonder what social disaster will ensue this time. I probably wouldn’t read it again but I’m glad I checked it out.
  • The Letter of the Law – Carole Berry, 1987. I love books set in workplaces, and Jonathan recommended this Bonnie Indermill series because she’s in a different environment each time. This is the first, featuring a law firm. I did finish it but it wasn’t very satisfactory – it felt like there was no there there, with not enough humor and a boring mystery.
  • Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult That Bound My Life – Sarah Edmondson, 2019. I picked this up after listening to part of an episode of the A Little Bit Culty episode. I’m intrigued by cults in general and had heard a bit about NXIVM but haven’t watched the documentary (The Vow, HBO). NXIVM seems to be like Scientology in combining features of religion, self-help, and MLM. I did finish it, but it left me puzzled about why the cult was able to attract and keep so many people.
  • The Dutch House – Ann Patchett, 2019.
  • Les Misérables – Victor Hugo, 1862 (tr. Isabel F. Hapgood, 1887). I’m reading this slowly in French with the Amherst group but finished it fast in translation for Great Books, so will end up with two sets of quotes. In case I don’t get to this ever, giant plug for the amazing Les Misérables Reading Companion podcast, which I am enjoying alongside our weekly discussions. I wish there was something similar for more books, but it’s a tremendous amount of work. Thank you, Briana Lewis, for your labor of love! (I did kick in a donation to help cover the costs because it’s so great)
  • The Last Battle – C. S. Lewis, 1956. Re-read for #Narniathon21.
  • Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role-Playing Games – Lizzie Stark, 2012. I enjoyed this, and it would make me want to try LARPing if I had all the time in the world…

May 2022 books read

  • Thrush Green – Miss Read, 1959. Finally checking out an author who was really popular back in my Pennsylvania library days, with the first in one of her two most popular series (Chronicles of Fairacre is the other). A little low-key for me, but appreciated the mix of characters and the “changing of the guard” between generations.
  • Justine – Lawrence Durrell, 1957.
  • We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast – Jonathan Safran Foer, 2019. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata, 1948.
  • Firestarter – Stephen King, 1980. Multiple re-read, picked up this time because of starting to watch Stranger Things. ST is deeply indebted to this novel not only in plot and time period, but even down to the title font. I’ve never seen the Firestarter movies – they both look terrible! – but the book holds up.
  • Decision at Doona – Anne McCaffrey, 1969. I hadn’t re-read this in years… wow, the sexism is off the charts (despite being written by a woman!), but I still enjoy the alien cat-people. It’s kind of fascinating how many of McCaffrey’s plots revolve around bureaucracy – typically omnipresent, powerful but dumb, with honorable intentions miscarried by tinpot dictators, always vanquished by her cunning heroes who know how to work with the system.
  • Emma and the Blue Genie – Cornelia Funke, 2002. Very slight, got rid of it.
  • In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way; A Graphic Novel – Stéphane Heuet, 1998-2013 (tr. Arthur Goldhammer, 2013). I’ve been reading through ISoLT with two friends, fifty pages at a time, and absolutely loving it (read the whole thing in college, almost 4 decades ago, and loved it then but barely remember it). I often enjoy graphic novels. So when I found out about this series I was elated, but actually reading it was disappointing. It does have some virtues. As Goldhammer points out in the introduction, paring the text down so severely reveals aspects of the structure that are easy to miss. Heuet’s style is classic clear line style, which I adore. And it seems like he’s done his research – the time period comes alive, and it’s helpful to see the characters visually fleshed out, wearing period-appropriate clothing. But alas, his skills aren’t up to the (huge) job. The faces in particular are poorly rendered, and because Proust is so much about character, that’s a fatal flaw. Nonetheless, I’ll read volume 2, which is as far as he’s gotten.
  • The Magician’s Nephew – C. S. Lewis, 1955. Re-read for #Narniathon21.

April 2022 books read

  • The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin, 1974. Amherst College slow read group. I was the only one who’d read it before (multiple times) and it was fascinating to go through with non-SF readers. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs – Marcel Proust, 1913. Two friends from the Amherst slow read group and I are tackling all of À la recherche du temps perdu fifty pages at a time, and we are absolutely loving the experience! Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Final Day – William R. Forstchen, 2017. I should have stopped, but I read through the third in this “After” trilogy. This has a bit more plot than the second, with a “big twist,” but ehh…
  • Breakfast With Buddha– Roland Merullo, 2007. This was recommended by a book group friend and I was intrigued, but I didn’t read any background so it took me a while to settle into what genre it was even trying for. Good Reads reviewers reference Mitch Albom and Robert Pirsig – there’s a lot of room between those two and I guess this is in there somewhere. Not successful as a novel IMO, but not bad as a spiritual journey. Some of the images, especially the pinch of dirt clouding a glass of water until time lets it settle, really stuck with me.
  • Never Cry Wolf – Farley Mowat, 1963. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind – Pema Chödrön, 2008. Pretty good. I’ve been doing a short practice (using Insight Timer) for several years now, but I’m still a beginner and find going back to the basics helpful. Coincidentally I’d been researching eyes-open meditation, and Chödrön recommends it “because it furthers this idea of wakefulness. We are not meditating in hopes of going further into sleep.”
  • The Horse and His Boy – C. S. Lewis, 1954. Re-read for #Narniathon21.
  • Wed Wabbit – Lissa Evans, 2017. I saw a more recent Evans recommended – maybe on a Twitter thread on “the book you’d most like to read again for the first time”? – and checked this one out because it was in the library holdings. Middle grade humorous fantasy – not as funny as promised on the jacket copy, but well-done and a pleasant read.
  • The Metamorphoses – Ovid, 8 AD (tr. Allan Mandelbaum, 1993) – quotes pulled, TBD

March 2022 books read

  • One Second After – William R. Forstchen, 2009. An apocalypse (EMP burst) novel I recently saw recommended. A surprisingly decent read considering the foreshadowing of the author’s descent into wingnuttery. Aside from the Gary-Stu-ishness of the protagonist (who is a professor at Montreat College – the setting of the book – just like the author, imagine that), it’s depressingly believable.
  • New Kid – Jerry Craft, 2019. A YA graphic novel I heard about on this great TAL episode – first graphic novel to win the Newbery, which makes me feel nostalgic for my librarian days when I would have known about it from t=0. Really good!
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne, 2017. Quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time – Jonathan Weiner, 1994. Quotes pulled, TBD, but WOW, so glad I finally read this!
  • One Year After – William R. Forstchen, 2015. Significantly worse than the first one but I finished it and will read the 3rd… my want-to-know-what-happens itch got turned on.
  • Mumbai New York Scranton – Tamara Shopsin, 2013. A friend suggested this, partly because I grew up in NY and lived near Scranton (it was a pleasure to see the Electric City sign and the Wegmans references!) Unique and touching, and it gave fascinating insights into the process of illustration.
  • The Silver Chair – C. S. Lewis, 1953. Re-read for #Narniathon21.
  • Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love – Jonathan Van Ness, 2019. Picked up during a bout of insomnia and enjoyed it very much. JVN’s writing voice captures his Queer Eye persona perfectly.
  • Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals – Oliver Burkeman, 2021. Temporarily convinced me that not only can’t I do everything, but attempting to is a problem. I picked up a genuine new habit from this book: on my daily list, I now record the number of the week based on SSA life expectancy (so today, 5/6/2022, I’m in week 1477 and will switch to 1476 on Monday). The plan so far is to recalculate on my birthday – every year that number will go back up a bit, since the longer one lives the longer one is likely to live. That’s all that stuck so far, but I would like to read this again in the future. Really good.
  • Tao Te Ching – Stephen Mitchell, 1961. Re-reading Ursula Le Guin got me interested in Taoism again. I browsed through a bunch of interesting and wild source documents in the Mount Holyoke library which are very different (lots of ritual and theory), and I can see why this text is what resonates in our culture – it leaves room for so many interpretations. I have Le Guin’s own translation, but it was in the other room and I had this on my e-reader to pick up during insomnia.
  • Faust, part I – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1808. I read the Carl R. Mueller translation from 2004, most of the Randall Jarrell from 1976, and bits of others. Wow, what a meta and overstuffed play – it seems like it would be impossible to produce. Quotes pulled, TBD.