What I'm Reading: April 19-June 28, 2021

Here are six books that I read between April 19 and June 28, 2021, in the order that I completed them:


Maurice by E. M. Forster

232 pages

Unfortunately it's now been a while and I don't quite remember where my hankering to read some E. M. Forster came from this year. Was I mentioning him to someone? Did I see the cover of the movie version of Maurice? Was I just reading about Forster for some reason on Wikipedia? I know that all of those things happened this year, but I'm not sure whether they happened before or after I decided to finally pick up this book.

Maurice is E. M. Forster's novel in which he tackles the subject of gay love. He was gay, but he didn't write about it in the novels that were published during his lifetime. This one was written around 1913-4, and published after his death in 1971.

I don't know if I'd call it Forster at his finest. He writes about Maurice, who is a young man who is kind of an ass, but strong and good looking, who just happens to be gay, from his days as a schoolboy until after he takes a degree and becomes something boring like a stockbroker. What this does have is Forster's characteristic surprisingly vivid depictions of feelings between people, and not just romantic relationships. I found the book really interesting and really good.


Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty

after 216 pages

I did seriously try to read this dense economic text, and I was also finding it fascinating. However, after spending over a month crawling through it at a rate of less than six pages per day, I finally admitted to myself that spring 2021 was just not the right time for me to tackle a book like this. Will there ever be such a time? We'll see.

Unfortunately I didn't really get far enough into the book to really tell you what Piketty had to say, because he was still explaining the basic economic principles that he was going to be basing his analysis on. Yes after over 200 pages.


Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

276 pages

Many, many, many years ago, I'm pretty sure that my mom recommended this book to me. I'm also pretty sure that I read it back then. What I remember is that my mom recommended a book to me, and the book ended with a character visiting a family on a farm and letting them know that (spoiler alert) Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. At the time, I'd heard of Abraham Lincoln but was unaware that any such thing had happened to him, and thus this was a huge surprise.

So, this is an old children's book, which of course I love. Caddie Woodlawn is one of a large number of Woodlawn children, and she's a tomboy who runs wild with two of her brothers. This has been arranged as a scheme of her father's to try to keep her healthy instead of frail like a sister of hers who died. Caddie's family is more well-off and her world more developed than that of the Little House books, and she's a great character. The book itself, like most old children's books, is what I can only call "problematic." The treatment of indigenous people is cringy (although Caddie is friendly toward them) and so is the eventual resolution of the issue of Caddie being too much of a tomboy.

I got this book from the library and it still had its library checkout card, revealing that that particular copy of the book circulated like gangbusters all through its acquisition in the 1970s until the mid '90s. However, I don't think it's well-known in Canada anymore.


The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn

422 pages

What can I say? These Bridgerton books are tickling me in just the right way. I don't find them particularly smart but I guess they're a comfort, and certainly go down easier than big economics texts. This second book in the series tells the story of oldest brother and holder of the Viscount title, Anthony Bridgerton, and his love Kate. Anthony has anxiety about dying young like his father (who died of an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting, which is, to my shock, depicted accurately). Kate is afraid of thunderstorms, which I didn't realize were so common in England.


Castle Waiting, Vol. 2 by Linda Medley

375 pages

Turns out there is indeed a second volume of Castle Waiting, although Linda Medley must've made someone mad because her name is barely on it for some reason. I think the first book featuring Sister Peace's story is better, but honestly this second volume is really good as well. It's mostly just about people spending time together having a good time, being really loving and welcoming and agreeable. I dunno how much of this sort of thing can be found in comics generally but I really enjoyed it. It's too bad there isn't more.


Why Good Sex Matters by Nan Wise

after 46 pages

The subtitle of this book is "Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, and More Purpose-Filled Life." I had to abandon it in the early going because I was getting a complex about it. Wise's proposal that seeking and feeling pleasure are good things that can help with regulating mood and stress and allowing a person to just feel anything about anything is a strong one, but a book about functional and dysfunctional sex is just not something I need in my life right now for various reasons.

Five Years Ago This Month: July 2016

Five years ago this month...

...I reviewed The Moviegoer. I liked the title of this book more than I liked the content, which I've since largely forgotten.

...I looked back at July 2011. As with the month prior, nothing much was going on on the blog. I did go to Montreal, which I still remember just being hot and not very enjoyable. We'll see if I ever go back.

...I reviewed Lonesome Dove. I'm still not sure how I feel about this book. I think about it every time I encounter the Western genre, but my feelings are a bit ambiguous at this point.

...I posted a Saskatchereference. It wasn't a great one - just a Reductress article.

...I was distracted. The formatting of the post was all over the place and I've tried to fix it. What I wasn't able to fix was the link to the initial Star Trek Discovery teaser. I don't know how much I've actually written about Discovery over the past few years but I've largely found it disappointing. On the other hand, it's getting better!



What I'm Reading: March 31-May 14, 2021

When I decided to periodically write about the books I'm reading this year, instead of doing it all at one go in December/January, I didn't imagine how hard it would be to actually sit down and write something everything month or so. But let's just say I didn't imagine a lot of things at the beginning of 2021 that have since transpired.

Here are five books that I read between March 31 and May 14, 2021, in the order that I completed them:
 

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

402 pages

My book club watched Netflix's Bridgerton around the time it was released. I couldn't finish the show (I think I made it about halfway, to the duel episode) because I found the depiction of race to be too confounding and also I just wasn't that interested in most of the characters. However, we decided to read The Duke and I as part of our ongoing project to find a romance novel that we can all enjoy.

The story is about Daphne Bridgerton, eldest sister but fourth sibling of the Bridgerton family, who is looking for a husband in Regency England. Everyone is rich and gorgeous and there is also a gossip columnist called Lady Whistledown. Daphne gets involved with an old friend of her brother's, who has recently inherited the title of Duke from his asshole father.

To my very extreme astonishment, I enjoyed this book a lot. It is absolutely not a perfect book: everyone is too quippy and also everyone is constantly threatening to murder other people (in a non-serious, but sort of serious way) which is... odd? And yet it has this core of fun in it that I found really hard to resist. There is an issue of consent in the book that I think could have been avoided altogether by the reality of fertility, and also Daphne suffers from not-like-other-girlsitis, but other than that it was just so relaxing to read this book. I've since read the second in the series, which I'll be addressing in a future post, and have the third on hold at the library. I can barely believe it either.

 

The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

375 pages

A horror novel that started off strong and then descended into absolute incomprehensible chaos, but not in a good way. The main character here is a woman in her thirties who clearly has a pretty loose grasp on reality and sanity after some extreme bullying and other incidents in her youth and some more recent workplace and relationship struggles. She is an antique appraiser or something of the sort, and she gets called in to catalogue a collection of various items for sale by the descendent of a well-known but reclusive taxidermist.

I dunno exactly what was going on here and where it went so wrong. The protagonist, whose name I unfortunately can't recall at the moment, is really well-developed and interesting. She's an excellent unreliable narrator. But then I think Nevill just had too many ideas that he tried to pack into one novel: taxidermy, incest (?!), religion (!?), marionettes, an old creepy house, "cruelty plays," etc. etc. With a main character as fragile as the one in this novel, I feel like the author at least needs to have a firm grasp on what is going on, and I just didn't feel that here.

Still, this had a lot of potential, and I'm inclined to give Nevill another try or two, we'll see if I get along better with one or more of his other novels.

 

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

247 pages

Note: this book was formerly published under a much more problematic title, for no clear reason except that ole Aggie must've been kind of racist?

My second ever book by Agatha Christie was another one of her more famous ones, and I feel as if I liked and disliked the same things as I did with Murder on the Orient Express. Basically the characters are all very broadly drawn and the mystery isn't really possible to figure out with the clues we're given. On the other hand, I'm probably a bit bitter because I accidentally spoiled the whole thing for myself by flipping to the back to see how many pages were left and glimpsing something I shouldn't've seen.

I couldn't put it down for the whole last half.

 

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, Vol. 3 by Ito Junji

255 pages

The third and final volume of the Uzumaki horror manga finds our main characters in a town they can't escape, full of whirlwinds, gradually transforming into a spiral itself. I do find myself wondering whether Jeff VanderMeer took any inspiration from this manga for his Southern Reach Trilogy, because there are some similarities in the two works for sure.

 

Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary

155 pages

Looking at Beverly Cleary's bibliography after her death in late March, I realized that I had never read any of her books, and decided to remedy this by reading the very first one, Henry Huggins, published in 1950. The book is about Henry, eight years old or so, and his dog Ribsy. Each chapter is a different adventure of Henry's, with Ribsy being more or less involved. Over the course of the book, Henry does all sorts of things like losing a friend's football and therefore having to figure out how to earn enough money to buy a new one, breeding guppies, and taking Ribsy to a dog show in the park. Henry is a really charming little boy and overall I enjoyed the book.

The book is definitely aimed at an audience of children, but of course as a budding connoisseur of old children's books, I found it fascinating. So much about childhood has changed in the 71 years since this book was published. At the beginning of the book, Henry is eight years old, alone in downtown Portland with something like ten cents in his pocket, navigating his way home on a city bus.