- 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. Quotes pulled, TBD, but wow it’s great.
- A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens, 1859. Quotes pulled, TBD.
- 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.
- 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!
- In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash – Jean Shepherd, 1966. I’ve read this at least once before, several decades ago, and at the time thought “Hairy Gertz and the Forty-Seven Crappies” was one of the funniest things I’d ever come across. But he’s shrunk on me a bit, especially because Bill Bryson took on many of the best parts of Shepherd’s style and now I see more of the misanthropy.
- Your Fully Charged Life: A Radically Simple Approach to Having Endless Energy and Filling Every Day with Yay – Meaghan B. Murphy, 2021. Pretty good self-help. I liked her “charges” : take charge, positive, love, work, health, extra, recharge.
- Red at the Bone – Jacqueline Woodson, 2019 – quotes pulled, TBD
- World Religions: the Great Faiths Explored and Explained – John Bower, 2021 ed. A classic Dorling Kindersley book, ie full of detailed, annotated images even when that’s not the best way to convey the concept, accompanied by text of varying quality. This was first released in 1996, probably the peak of DK mania in my corner of the public library world, but I don’t remember ever seeing it before. I don’t think I learned much, but the visual aspect is very immersive.
- The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring – Richard Preston, 2007 – quotes pulled, TBD
- The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing, 1962 – quotes pulled, TBD, but in case I don’t get back to it: HATED
- Annals of the Western Shore: Gifts (2006), Voices (2006), Powers (2007) – Ursula K. Le Guin. I’d been saving up re-reading these for the 3rd or 4th time until I couldn’t resist any longer. In my opinion these are right up there with the Earthsea series: wonderful in every way, absolutely compelling and moving, set in novel but believable societies.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950) and Prince Caspian (1951) – C. S. Lewis. I stumbled across this #Narniathon21 challenge in time to catch up this month – they’re doing one per month on the last Friday, so I got to add my comments (titles are linked). I’ll probably assemble these into a single post as I did on my last re-read.
- Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival – Velma Wallis, 1993. Recommended by one of the coordinators of the “Examining Privilege” group at Mount Holyoke. An enjoyable story about elders left behind by the tribe in hard times, who thrive on their own and end up rescuing the others.
- Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn, and Save as a Force for Change – Tanja Hester, 2021. An excellent and incredibly comprehensive guide. My favorite aspect was the questions to ask about any purchase (or investment): “For whom? Can everyone do this? Is it too cheap? What am I funding?”
- Serve It Forth – M. F. K. Fisher, 1937. I’m re-reading The Art of Eating, which I probably read every summer from ages 14-20 but not in a few decades now. The individual books are quite different from each other, so it makes sense to list them separately. This one was her first, and it’s a weird mixture of memoir and a history of food and cooking. The history chapters have no sources and are full of generalizations, cultural stereotypes, and implausible anecdotes, all asserted with great self-confidence. The memoir chapters reference people without explaining who they are or what she’s been through with them, but it bizarrely works. The short story “The Standing and the Waiting,” where she re-visits an old favorite restaurant after many years with a new partner, is a compelling example – I’m always intrigued when exposition is omitted but we’re still somehow clued in.
I didn’t read this all the way through, but want to record the fruits of skimming 1001 Tarot Spreads by Cassandra Eason (2021): amusingly specific cases. We have spreads for
- “If You Work for Your Parents and Feel Your Ideas and Initiatives are Disregarded”
- “If You Want To Become a Makeup Artist/Therapist To Celebrities”
- “If Your Longed-For Retirement Is Seen As Free Babysitting for Grandchildren 24/7 By Adult Children”
- “Will You Be Lucky in an Auction or Bidding on the Internet?”
- “If You Have to Live in Staff Housing”
- “If You Are Not Happy Where You Are Stabling or Grazing Your Horse” – my favorite!
Note that the spreads basically ask a really sensible question for each card, which suggests actual action. For example, in “If You Need a Fast Decision, Permission, or Visa and You Have Been Caught Up in Red Tape,” the first two cards are to help you answer the questions “Has your application been lost somewhere in the system/put to one side and forgotten?” and “Who/which department should you put polite pressure on to hasten the decision?” It reminds me of a great article I read years ago and wish I could find again. The writer had worked at a psychic hotline and was very successful by just offering common sense suggestions, like when a guy’s car went missing and the writer suggested he look near his vindictive ex-girlfriend’s place. The car was there.
- 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).
- The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race – ed. Jesamyn Ward, 2016. A great assortment of essays. Read for Mount Holyoke’s Examining Privilege group.
- This is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar, 2019. Picked up because of a rave review. Innovative and interesting SF, but not my kind of thing – overwritten and too vague/abstract to appeal to my old-school self.
- The Blessing – Nancy Mitford, 1951. Umpteenth re-read – the humor never stales.
- Devil’s Den to Lickingwater: The Mill River Through Landscape and History – John Sinton, 2018 – quotes pulled, TBD
- L’Écume des Jours – Boris Vian, 1947. An old favorite, re-read because the Far Out Film group watched the Gondry adaptation. The movie wasn’t bad at all but couldn’t quite capture the surreal and beautiful melancholy of the book.
- Strange Flowers – Donal Ryan, 2020 – quotes pulled, TBD
- Ten of The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer, 1400 – quotes marked but lost in a Nook accident (had two editions with the same title, BAD)
- The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby – Charles Kingsley, 1863. I’ve read this a few times since I was a kid, but not as many times as my very favorites. It’s so so weird, often with an arch tone that feels like Kingsley talking to other adults – or just to himself – over the reader’s head (on top of the to-be-expected reactionary and racist attitudes), but there’s nothing else like it.
- The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made – Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, 2013. I read this when it came out, remember loving it, and checked it out again when I got the chance to see a screening of The Room followed by a Q&A with Sestero. He’s really charming and a natural story-teller, the opposite of Tommy Wiseau, and once again I couldn’t put it down.
- All the extra content from The Books of Earthsea: the Complete Illustrated Edition (2018, illustrated by Charles Vess), followed by re-reads of A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), The Farthest Shore (1972), and Tehanu (1990) – Ursula K. Le Guin. The collection is a giant doorstop (seriously, so many reviews mention that it’s too big and heavy to hold, and they are not exaggerating) and the illustrations are nice. I read everything that was new – the highlights were Le Guin’s introductions to each of the novels – and then returned the monolith to the library and started on my umpteenth re-read of the series, which is one of my favorite works of art ever.
I also started re-reading Middlemarch since I led a Second Monday book discussion on it, but after the first dozen or so chapters I fell back on the quotes I pulled last time – which I still haven’t posted, but I have all the draft posts to search and refer to in the WordPress back end. One of the big reasons I plug away at this blog even if no one reads it but me!