Mabith's 2018 Reads
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Wives and Daughters - Elizabeth Gaskell
Daring to Drive - Manal al-Sharif
We Didn't Mean to go to Sea - Arthur Ransome
Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier
Dare to Disappoint - Ozge Samanci
Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata
Born Both – Hida Viloria
The Rise and Fall of Nations – Ruchir Sharma
Nobody's Child – Marie Balter
Redefining Realness – Janet Mock
Underground Airlines – Ben H. Winters
Born a Crime – Trevor Noah
The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
Faces in the Crowd – Valeria Luiselli
Victoria and Abdul – Shrabani Basu
This One Summer – Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
Roots – Alex Haley
Frogkisser! - Garth Nix
Letters to a Young Muslim – Omar Saif Ghobash
My Invented Country – Isabell Allende
Patternmaster – Octavia E. Butler
The Man Who Designed the Future – B. Alexandra Szerlip
Son of the Shadows – Juliet Marillier
Until We Are Free – Shirin Ebadi
Amatka – Karin Tidbeck
The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt
Child of the Prophecy – Juliet Marillier
Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jansson
Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler
The Nuremberg Trial – John and Ann Tusa
Black Boy (American Hunger) – Richard Wright
Zealot – Reza Aslan
The Last Ballad – Wiley Cash
The Fact of a Body – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Rootabaga Stories – Carl Sandburg
Poet in Spain – Frederico Garcia Lorca
Ingredienti – Marcella Hazan
Never Caught – Erica Armstrong Dunbar
March Book 1 – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
March Book 2 – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
March Book 3 – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
To the Bright Edge of the World – Eowyn Ivey
The Door in the Wall – Marguerite de Angeli
The Queue – Basma Abdel Aziz
Ladivine – Marie Ndiaye
The Gay Revolution – Lillian Faderman
The Boy on the Wooden Box – Leon Leyson
Strong Poison – Dorothy L. Sayers
Disordered World – Amin Maalouf
The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof – Annie M.G. Schmidt
The Invention of Murder – Judith Flanders
I'm Judging You – Luvvie Ajayi
The American Plague – Molly Caldwell Crosby
The Challenge for Africa – Wangari Maathai
Lotus – Lijia Zhang
Nada – Carmen Laforet
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft
My Several Worlds – Pearl S. Buck
Nobody's Perfect – Donald E. Westlake
How Dare the Sun Rise – Sandra Uwiringiyimana
The Inkblots – Damion Searls
Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson
The Crusades – Zoe Oldenbourg
The Lost Peg Leg Mine – Car Barks
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jan-Philipp Sendker
Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe - Kapka Kassabova
We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
Adam Bede – George Eliot
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Circe – Madeline Miller
In the Language of Miracles – Rajia Hassib
The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B. Du Bois
Off the Shelf – Carol Ann Duffy (editor)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – Harriet Jacobs
The Gulag Archipelago Vol 3 – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Backwash of War – Ellen N. La Motte
I'll Be Gone in the Dark – Michelle McNamara
Things I've Been Silent About – Azar Nafisi
Affections – Rodrigo Hasbun
The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal
I Will Bear Witness – Victor Klemperer
The Aquariums of Pyongyang - Kang Chol-Hwan
The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale
Vietnam – Stanley Karnow
SPQR – Mary Beard
Get Well Soon – Jennifer Wright
The Unwomanly Face of War – Svetlana Alexievich
Radium Girls – Kate Moore
The Bully Pulpit – Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Vanishing Velasquez – Laura Cumming
The Gulag Archipelago Vols 1 and 2 – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Come as You Are – Emily Nagoski
The Death and Life of Great American Cities – Jane Jacobs
The Chinese in America – Iris Chang
William Wells Brown – Ezra Greenspan
The Man Without a Face – Masha Gessen
Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi
The Spiral Staircase – Karen Armstrong
Bone Black – bell hooks
Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier
My Mother's Sabbath Days – Chaim Grade
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
MiddleMarch - George Eliot
Passing – Nella Larsen
The File on H – Ismail Kadare
The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake – Breece Pancake
Zorro – Isabel Allende
Poor Cow – Nell Dunn
Stone Butch Blues – Leslie Feinberg
The Sorrow of War – Bao Ninh
The Testament of Mary – Colm Toibin
The Book of Night Women – Marlon James
Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta
Beneath the Lion's Gaze – Maaza Mengiste
Chronicle of a Last Summer – Yasmine el Rashidi
Madonna in a Fur Coat – Sabahattin Ali
The Handmaid's Tale – Margaret Atwood
--Read more from my shelves (I don't actually buy that many new-to-me books, but they're mounting up a bit)
--Read fewer white, straight, cis, and/or abled authors (particularly for my US, UK, Canadian, and Australian reads)
--Authors from 50 unique countries
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell RE-READ
Gaskell is one of my very favorite authors, and this was her last novel. She actually died with about chapter or two left to write, but she had told people how it would end and one of them wrote a sort of concluding chapter (but in a way that acknowledges her death, not trying to mimic her style or write a fully literary chapter, it's done very sensitively).
Molly Gibson is an only child whose mother died when she was very young. Her father is the local doctor and they have a very close relationship. When one of his apprentices tries to secretly send Molly a love note he intercepts it and decides to send her to stay with the Hamleys for a short while. Mrs. Hamley is an invalid and Molly is so sweet and agreeable that she becomes like a daughter to the family. When their son Roger is home from college he interests her in natural history and they think of each other as siblings. She develops a mild crush on Osborne Hamley, the older brother (and golden child until he fails his exams). Her life changes suddenly when her father marries the former governess of the local aristocrats. Hyacinth Kirkpatrick is a shallow, vain, materialistic woman, which her father doesn't realize until it's too late. Molly clashes with her, but loves her step-sister Cynthia, who is a similar age, if a very different temperament.
As usual with Gaskell, every character has flaws and strengths, and Molly, sweet as she is, is no exception. The writing is beautiful, the psychology is extremely tight, and there is plenty of humor. This novel and North and South are my favorites by Gaskell. They're both just beautiful and I find Gaskell's characters so real. Also as usual with Gaskell, her novels feel incredibly, sometimes impossible, modern (even her fallen woman novel, Ruth, has moments like that).
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening by Manal al-Sharif
A very good memoir about a woman who went from extremely conservative Muslim to leading a group dedicated to protesting Saudi Arabia's restrictions on women driving. She was jailed for some time because of being pulled over driving and being a very visible leader of the online groups relating to this (despite the legal code not actually having restrictions about women driving).
It starts with the police (now I forget if they were the secret police force or the religious police force) coming to her door and taking her away, but quickly breaks off to give her life story and her development as a person and as a Muslim. It's really interesting and I enjoyed getting this look inside Saudi Arabia.
We Didn't Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
The seventh book in the Swallows and Amazons book series. This one features just the Amazons and a new, older, friend of theirs, Jim Brading, who owns a small cutter. He agrees to have them on his ship for a day and a half or so. The children promise their mother not to go beyond the Beach End buoy at the mouth of the river and not to go to sea. So you can guess what accidentally happens when Jim goes to get petrol but doesn't return after the onset of a thick fog.
Very fun as usual, with some proper danger. I think it's also the first book where the children's father actually shows up (vs being talked about). Only five (complete) book left in the series!
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier RE-READ
Comfort read that I went through very slowly starting in December. It's Marillier's first novel, one of her many historical fantasy stories and part of a trilogy. Her writing is pretty basic, but it is supposed to resemble an oral tale and you end up loving the characters extremely quickly.
It's inspired by the legend The Children of Lir and "The Six Swans" fairy tale, and includes a lot of Irish folk tales and Pagan religion too. Historical fantasy is by far my favorite, and Marillier rarely goes too far on the fantasy elements (no dragons, no unicorns, you don't have fairies on every page, etc...).
This first trilogy of hers and her little duo (Wolfskin and Foxmask) are my favorite by Marillier but I really like all her books.
Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey by Özge Samancı
This is the author's graphic memoir. She was born in 1975 to parents who were both vocational school teachers (one in technical drawing and one in sewing). Their parents both focused on pushing the girls to do well in school and focus on science so that they could get good jobs as adults. Ozge especially struggled in school and with their parents expectations.
Good solid book, enjoyed the art style used.
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
Perhaps Kawabata's most famous book, set in the snowiest region of Japan. It started out with a number of short stories about the same characters before being added to and published as the novel, which potentially explains why it didn't feel very cohesive.
It's generally about a man who is torn between his family and a woman he loves in a mountain resort town. I wasn't overly pleased with it. Didn't hate it by any means, but didn't love it or feel very interested in it while reading. It's a classic of Japanese literature though, and one of the novels mentioned by the Nobel committee that gave Kawabata the prize for the literature.
I have another short novel by Kawabata on my shelves and I'm not sure whether I'll read it now (wouldn't like to judge an author based on one novel though, and it was published over ten years after Snow Country).
>11 wandering_star: >12 Cait86: I hope you both get to some Gaskell this year! I think North and South is still my favorite if I had to choose. I really appreciate her willingness to write on trade unions.
>2 mabith:, I am so impressed by your list of best reads -- either you only read great books last year, or you managed to read a ton! I've got a number of your non-fiction wins on my Kindle TBR "pile" -- SPQR, Radium Girls, The Man Without a Face. I also really want to read Masha Gessen's most recent book on the resurgence of totalitarianism in Russia.
I brought home an advanced reader's copy of Daughter of the Forest from the bookstore when I was there full-time eons ago. My 2nd daughter, when a teen (now 35), loved fairy tales and re-told fairy tales. She loved that book.
Elizabeth Gaskell is one nineteenth century author I have largely neglected. I should do something about that. I am a huge Swallows and Amazons fan though.
>15 valkyrdeath: You know me!
>16 qebo: Gaskell, for me, is really something special. I love Thomas Hardy, I love George Eliot, but Gaskell is just something else.
>18 NanaCC: I do read quite a lot (262 books last year), though I also have a pretty good success rate for books I choose myself (vs book club books). I find it much easier to pick out great reads with non-fiction as well.
>19 avaland: I was 15 or 16 when I first read Daughter of the Forest, a friend of my dad's gave me an ARC copy. Great age for it, and I just read it straight through. It reminded me that just reading random psychology books was maybe not the best thing for my mental health.
>20 SassyLassy: Gaskell is seriously worth reading. She just knocks me out with aspects of her books that feel super modern, plus she's funny, plus she gets the psychology right. The recent BBC adaptation of North and South is what got me into her books. It's done extremely well and pretty faithful to the book. Swallows and Amazons are major comfort reading, even on my first reads! I've been eking out the books so slowly.
Born Both: An Intersex Life by Hida Viloria
A really good memoir. Viloria didn't know she was intersex until at adulthood, didn't really know that h/er body was different from more assigned-female-at-birth bodies until teenagehood. Viloria is a member of a very small club - those intersex people who were not operated on. Most go through many operations, largely at almost a whim from doctors who decide what sex the child *should* be. This is incredibly damaging in the long and short term and totally medically unnecessary. Frequently it means the individuals are unable orgasm as adults, not to mention gender identity issues.
I'm not sure how I became aware of this issue as a child, but somehow I did. I remember crying, age 7 or 8, after asking my mom if doctors really just blithely operated on babies without knowing what gender they'd feel like as adult.
Very good memoir, very important addition to the host of LGBT+ memoirs written largely by white, cis people.
The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World by Ruchir Sharma
People look at you weird if you gush about economics books, but this was a great read! Sharma renders it very understandable and interesting. I mean, of course it's interesting, it's a huge part of our lives but the language around it is such a barrier to everyday understanding.
I don't have any great words to describe the book, but I think it and Debt: The First 5,000 Years are really vital reading for understanding the economics of the 21st century.
Nobody's Child by Marie Balter
This is a memoir originally written in the 1980s under the title Sing No Sad Songs. Balter was raised in an orphanage until she was 5 when she was adopted by an Italian couple (who ONLY spoke Italian, while Balter only spoke English, tough start!). They were extremely strict to the point of abuse, and especially oddly, greatly restricted her from having friends.
When Balter was sixteen or seventeen (in the 1940s) she had her first serious episode of depression and anxiety after trying to live on her own away from abusive parents. She had her first stay in a mental hospital, Danvers State Hospital (the Castle), and then spent most of the next 20 years in and out of the hospital. At this time they were often using straight jackets, wet wraps (where the body is wrapped tightly in cold towels so the person cannot move at all), and shock treatments as punishments. These treatments are controversial enough even when people genuinely think they will help, let alone simply as punishment. After being treated with massive doses of stelazine (even though it was for schizophrenics) her health suffered greatly and she began to have vivid hallucinations. She stayed in bed and didn't speak for about two years.
It's not the best piece of literary memoir ever written, but it's interesting story and an important work. Balter struggled mightily to recover and to make a life for herself, and also to continue her education until she got to the point where she could help other mentally ill people, and especially to help people transition from institutionalization.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Before starting this memoir I hadn't realized that Mock is only two years older than me. I largely just knew her name and that she's trans. She had a difficult childhood in a number of ways, which is maybe what helped her be brave enough to transition starting in her freshman year of high school (1997!). She was back in Hawaii at that point, with her mother, a native Hawaiian, which may have also helped (a huge number of indigenous groups have a space in their culture for a third gender or trans people, and as they deal with cleansing the effects of colonization many are reclaiming those titles, perhaps especially Polynesian groups).
It's a very well done memoir, important and well worth reading.
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
This was a pick in one of my book clubs, and I admit I really wasn't looking forward to it. Mainly this is because white, male writers seem to have a fixation on writing alternative history where slavery never ended, one way or another (or where Germany won WWII). Not that there's anything wrong with alternative history writing in itself, but I have to wonder why the main people writing these books are those with the most privilege, who are free to treat it as an intellectual exercise. Do we really need MORE books on the "slavery didn't end" theme?
That being said, the book was much better than I expected, with a lot more nuance (though the basic premise of stowing people away on airplanes seems ridiculously unfeasible, is this the future where airlines don't scan anything?). That aspect doesn't really come into things at least. It's written so there can easily be a sequel, though I'm unlikely to read one.
I'm not saying avoid this book at all costs, but I don't think this (or other similar books) actually add anything to our view of either history or current society. If your book club picks it though, you don't have to totally despair.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
A book for a different book club. Noah is most well known now for being the host of The Daily Show and well liked for the job he's doing there. I first saw him on a variety of UK panel shows, where I quite liked him. When he was announced as the host and people in the US were trying to figure out who he was, a number of fairly recent tweets came to light involving anti-semitism, homophobia, and misogyny. They weren't more than a couple years old. Noah didn't take any responsibility for them and didn't even really apologize. I hope he's wised up by now, but the non-apology aspects made me pretty certain he hadn't at that time.
That kind of continues in the book, where he feels no responsibility, or even minor guilt, for pretty serious actions. It's a mostly interesting read, but knowing what I already knew about him the pattern of "I don't need to feel sorry for anything I do," made it difficult to enjoy the good bits.
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
A strange little novel with stories within stories. It was too topsy-turvy and experimental for my tastes, but I'll probably seek out something else by Luiselli.
This is part of the summary for the novel:
In Mexico City, a young mother is writing a novel of her days as a translator living in New York. In Harlem, a translator is desperate to publish the works of Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet. And in Philadelphia, Gilberto Owen recalls his friendship with Lorca, and the young woman he saw in the windows of passing trains.
Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu
The last book for January's book clubs!
A good read of a fascinating history that came so close to being totally hidden. Unfortunately, it's a sparse account, largely due to the destruction of letters and writings by those surrounding the Queen after her death. Still a fascinating account, just don't go in expecting the world (or the movie...).
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
A graphic novel by a pair of cousins (Jillian is the artist). I love the art style and really liked the book. It follows a pair of friends who see each other every year when their families stay in cottages by a beach. One is a year or two younger than the other. The older one's parents aren't getting along well and her friendship is tested too as the older gets a crush on a local teen.
It really deals with the divide of childhood and teenage-hood so well, plus the limitations of a child's view of their parents (and the parents' relationship). Recommended.
Roots by Alex Haley
I have been meaning to read this classic for a long time, and I'm glad I finally got to it. I was expecting a faster journey through the generations, but pleased enough that we stayed with Kunta Kinte, the character who is kidnapped by slavers as a young man, through over half of the book.
Are there issues with Haley? Yes. Did he actually trace his ancestry back to a specific African man? Probably not. Is it still an important book which should continue to be read? Absolutely!
And now I can watch the mini-series (the original and the new one!).
Frogkisser! by Garth Nix
Very fun stand-alone novel by one of my favorite writers. We're in a fantasy land of princesses and evil step-step-fathers (they had a stepmother and then after their father dies she marries again so that's a step-step-father).
And poor Princess Anya is forced to go on a quest in order to get some more anti-transmogrification lip balm to turn some frogs back into princes. She just wants time to read, but instead has to set out with one of the castle dogs (who can talk) and a boy who was changed into a newt. Plus she's soon being called Frogkisser by one and all!
Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
This book has roughly the same concept as Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, letters to sons about the world we live in and struggles and duties involved in fathering and just living in a world which marginalizes them.
Very good, and brought up a number of things I'd never thought of (which re-emphasizes the importance of own voices - the people in question telling their OWN stories, not being filtered through what a majority person thinks is important).
My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile by Isabel Allende
Great little memoir, just a snapshot really, covering Allende's view of and relationship with Chile. Plus a bit of how she became a novelist.
Allende is a strong personality, and I didn't always agree with her, but I loved her anyway. She is so wonderfully herself and happy about that. Recommended if you've enjoyed any of her novels.
Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler
Butler has created a very unique world and flings the reader into it. It is her first novel, and she's definitely still feeling out her gifts. I found the world interesting, though didn't love the novel. I felt a bit too lost the whole time. I can definitely see why the rest of the series takes place prior to the events of Patternmaster, and I'm eager to read those.
>41 mabith: Completely agreed. I was sad to go checking after I finished it and see the (rather many) controversies about the book (the plagiarism of the early part is especially bothersome), but, regardless of the faults it tells an important story that did happen to countless people, even if the specific details vary by person, and is definitely something people ought to read.
>47 AlisonY: Thanks!
>48 janeajones: If you've liked any of her fiction I think the memoir will be a sure thing.
>49 NanaCC: There's so much I can't bear thinking about right now, so reading is the main answer! Plus being unable to work, I've got the time for it.
>50 arubabookwoman: The new mini-series aired on the History Channel, Lifetime, and A&E in the US (and A&E in Canada), and on BBC. No idea how it compares to the original mini-series or the book though.
>56 mabith: Thanks! I hope you find it as worthwhile as I did.
The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes and the Invention of Twentieth-Century America by B. Alexandra Szerlip
The title really says it all! Bel Geddes designed everything from theatrical sets (and lighting methods) to the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair to housewares to highway design to the case for the Mark I computer. He was hampered at various stages by the fact that he did not have formal training in architecture or industrial design.
Really interesting book about an interesting figure. I got oddly excited when I realized one of his daughters was a main actress in I Remember Mama, a movie I really love.
Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier RE-READ
I've read this book so many times. This is the second in Marilliers Sevenwaters trilogy, and my favorite of that trilogy. The books advance a generation in narrator, so the protagonist of the first book is the mother of the protagonist of the second book. I admit to not always being a fan of this system as I get extremely attached to her characters and want more of them.
Her books are almost all historical fantasy, wherein the setting and people are real and the fantasy largely takes a bit of a backseat to fairly normal human concerns (love, family, loss, etc). This trilogy is a good place to start with Marillier, though keep in mind these are her first published books. Her writing is simple and this works because they're supposed to feel like oral tales. Her writing does tighten up as her books go on though.
I've been struggling for many years to find fantasy that I like and these seem to be good candidates.
Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran by Shirin Ebadi
Very good book, and important to help fill in a more accurate view of Iran for those of us relying on more mainstream news. Ebadi is a human rights lawyer and worked extremely hard to continue practicing in Iran, and speaking at conferences and such outside of Iran.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
A short and totally wonderful SF/SFF novel. Tidbeck brings you into a world without explaining it, in the way the best authors can. In this case even the characters don't totally know how their world works, they just know what their society requires them to do. It has a backdrop that is reminiscent of Soviet and communist China ideals (children raised in homes together, seeing their birth parents for only a couple days every week or two, etc...).
I absolutely loved this. Wasn't 100% sold on the ending, but it was still a fantastic read and a book I absolutely recommend.
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
A classic of mid-century history writing, and looking back on the previous decades of war. I've read a lot about WWII, about the 1930s in various countries involved, but now I want to read the aftermath, what happened next, how did people of the time begin to process the huge range of events and catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century and further histories.
It's still an important read.
Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier RE-READ
Well I decided since I'd read the other two in January I'd try and finish out the trilogy. This used to be my lesser favorite of the three, which is unfair. It is the more complex book in many ways, with a much more complex protagonist. I appreciate it more these days (and of the audiobooks this one has the best reader).
Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson RE-READ
I needed something sweet and funny and happy, so grabbed this for a re-read. I wish my library system had some of the Moomins books, but no luck. Jansson is so funny and yet the Moomins feel so real and human. I have this first three volumes of Moomin comics
Perhaps as a loose goal for this year I'll try to read one of Jansson's adult books.
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
Originally published in 1940, the book follows Rubashov, an old Bolshevik who is arrested in the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s and held to be used for a show trial. It's a classic that informed the views of many anti-communist leftists and very much worth reading.
Thanks for the good reviews and for bringing them to our attention.
>68 janemarieprice: Hope you like them both if you get to them!
>70 mabith: Thanks for reading them! I'm so behind on posting reviews and reading other threads this year.
The Nuremberg Trial by John Tusa and Ann Tusa
In depth study of the creation and implementation of the Nuremberg trials. It includes fairly detailed information about those who were tried, the judges and lawyers, how the allied countries worked together, etc...
Well worth reading, perhaps a bit dry for some.
Black Boy (American Hunger) by Richard Wright
This memoir was initially titled American Hunger but when a publisher only wanted to publish the first part covering Wright's childhood the name was changed to Black Boy. I read the complete version.
I've been meaning to read Wright for some time, and I wanted to get to this before tackling his novels, since it's interesting to see where personal experience informs fiction. It's a very good read, and his interactions with the labor movement US Communist Party are especially interesting.
Another title that should be required reading for everyone in the USA.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
My online book club is uniquely good at picking books I've been meaning to read, this title being another example. Aslan is focusing on history, and distinguishes Jesus of Nazareth from Jesus Christ. He brings in a lot of important details and how we know XYZ was changed, etc...
I was concerned that he brushes off authors of Biblical books publishing using the names of dead figures as a form of flattery. He doesn't go into that, but Bart D. Ehrman focuses heavily on that issue in his book Forged: Writing in the Name of God and the fact that the 'form of flattery' angle doesn't have much fact to back it up. I can't really compare the two arguments since Aslan doesn't go into it at all beyond that one sentence or two (Aslan does try to stay focused on the historical Jesus). It's something to keep in mind, however.
Interesting book, recommended if you like historical books about religion/religious figures.
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
Historical fiction based about a real person, Ella May Wiggins, a union organizer in North Carolina cotton mills in the 1920s, especially focusing in desegregating the union. She wrote lyrics for some working ballads, one of which was recorded by Pete Seeger (A Mill Mother's Lament). She was murdered in broad daylight by an armed mob. Dozens of people witnessed her killing yet the murderers were acquitted after 30 minutes of deliberation.
The book is told alternately from Ella's perspective and her daughter's decades later, telling the story to a nephew. It's pretty well done, though I didn't quite love the book. Something lacking in the union scenes, maybe. Pretty solid historical fiction though, and I basically recommend it if you like this sort of thing.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
This book... I am pretty bad at giving myself a break when a book hits too close to home. Instead of having a breather I typically decide to read the entire book in one sitting, for better or worse. Here is a partial description of this one from the author's website:
Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins an internship at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes―the moment she hears him speak of his crimes―she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
The author was sexually abused by her grandfather for a number of years (her sister was abused as well), and while the abuse eventually stopped there are no ramifications for her abuser, and he still visits them. She is told not to talk about it.
It is an extremely well done book and I highly recommend it.
Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg RE-READ
The classics stories by Sandburg, originally published in 1922. I grew up on these, and the Maud and Miska Petersham illustrations. After the last book I needed a little taste of comfort. Sandburg was so accomplished in so many types of writing. These stories do make me wish he'd written even more for children though. They're fun and silly and bound to enchant.
Poet in Spain by Frederico Garcia Lorca
Lorca is one of my favorite poets, so I jumped at this new set of translations (the book features the translation and the original Spanish). Despite a weird decision to leave punctuation out of the translations, it seems like good work (going by my pretty rudimentary Spanish).
I enjoyed reading the Spanish originals to my cat, though I'm not sure she appreciated them.
He Died at Daybreak
Night of four moons
and only one tree,
with only one shadow
and only one bird.
I search my skin for
the mark of your lips.
The water kisses the wind
without touching it.
I have the No you gave me,
in the palm of my hand,
like a wax lemon
Night of four moons
and only one tree .
On the point of a needle,
my love spins.
Sonnet of the Sweet Lament
I'm afraid of losing the wonder
of your stony eyes and the spice
that the lonely rose of your breath
lays on my cheek at night.
I'm sorry to be here on this shore
a tree with no branches, and sorrier
to have no clay or pulp or flower,
for the worm of my suffering.
If you are my secret treasure,
if you are my cross and my wet pain,
if I am the dog of your realm,
do not let me lose what I have won
and drape the waters of your river
with the leaves of my departing autumn.
Ingredienti: Marcella's Guide to the Market by Marcella Hazan
Just as it sounds, a guide to produce, meat, and dairy written by a renowned Italian cook. Her recipe books are given much credit for introducing the USA and UK to methods of traditional Italian cooking, and she was much beloved in general as a food writer. Nice little book, especially as she validated by dislike of using dried garbanzo beans and some other little cooking habits/thoughts of mine.
Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
I learned about Judge due to one of the original Drunk History videos created by Derek Waters (get a historian seriously drunk then have them talk about a historic event which you get proper actors to reenact lip syncing the historian's exact words). Then it became a proper series and they switched from actual historians to comedians and they don't get as drunk and I prefer someone who at least knows the facts while sober.
Anyway, it's a great book. It is short, because of course there's not immense amounts of documentation about Judge's free life. It is a reminder how deluded many slave owner's allowed themselves to be. Honestly thinking that enslavement and total insecurity (in terms of being sold suddenly, families being split up, rape, etc etc) was better than a hard but free life. Yet at the same time Washington carefully timed his slaves' time spent in Philadelphia, as if they were there longer than three months they had to be freed. You just want to shake these people. Judge was told she was to be given as a gift to Martha Washington's granddaughter which prompted her flight. George Washington decided "Oh she didn't go of her own free will, a Frenchman lured her away!"
Good book, recommended especially to other Americans.
March Book One by John Lewis, Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin
The three-volume set of John Lewis' graphic memoirs. This is one of those examples where comics add to the story, reminding us of the brutality handed out to Civil Rights activists in stark images. For many people it allows it to be more 'real' when they see rather than just read about these events. It also increases the reach and accessibility of Lewis' story.
I find it odd that a single volume edition hasn't been published yet, but oh well. I recommend getting all three books at once since they feed into each other. Highly recommended.
I've read Black Boy when I was a kid and had no idea it was only the first half of a longer book. I will have to read the complete version.
>38 mabith: I recently started Luiselli book, but set it aside (along with several others at the time). I may get back to it.
>41 mabith: Glad you enjoyed Roots. It was a really big deal when it came out (eons ago when I was young, sigh).
And that's another thumbs-up for the Wiley Cash novel. Everyone I've heard from has really enjoyed it.
You are pulling off some fine reading!
>83 janeajones: I never think Lorca gets enough love in the US, but I don't talk to all that many other poetry fans, so who knows if that's valid.
>84 chlorine: Definitely worth reading the full book. His experiences with the labor union vs the communist party is especially interesting.
>85 avaland: We want Noah to be our darling, but I think it's important to acknowledge these issues. And I still can't help but feel that if you've truly changed then you take responsibility for your past. I'll be interested to see how you find the Luiselli book if you get back to it. I'm not good with that kind of strange but enjoy the reviews of others who are! I haven't reviewed it yet but recently read Ladivine by Maria NDiaye, another strange book but one that worked for me more and which I'm still thinking about. I didn't love The Last Ballad as much as my aunt did, I don't think, but it was a good solid read.
>86 Tess_W: Hi, Tess! We're in the Big Fat Books group together. :)
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey RE-READ
Unlike most of my re-reads, this is not a favorite book. I just read it last fall or winter and only re-read it now because my book club picked it and now I'm leading the bookclub so wanted to remember the aspects of the book w hich I didn't like so that I could actually articulate them.
It's an interesting book and I like parts of it, but the magical realism elements just didn't work for me. They were fairly present but not really present enough and for me served no real purpose. Lots of people love this book so your mileage will probably vary!
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
A mid-century classic that it still pretty widely read, and arguably one of the best 20th century views of disability in children's fiction (which is a bit sad). It takes place in the middle ages and a plague is carrying off people left and right. It scares away the servants in Robin's health after he's developed severe weakness (and then paralysis, I think?) in his legs and can't go for help. Brother Luke, a friar, comes to get him and helps him recover some health and his good spirits. He helps him learn to swim with his new infirmity, gets him involved in making his own crutches, teaches him to read, etc...
Robin's parents are both away and once he's well enough Brother Luke takes him to his uncle's where he performs some page duties. There's a siege by the Welsh Robin saves the day, etc... It's very predictable but was generally quite good.
The weaknesses from a disability standpoint is that I don't believe de Angeli was basing this on a real condition, so it just feels quite arbitrary (compared to Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman, where she picked a real, from-birth, condition that's easily fixed today but couldn't be properly understood let alone fixed before the 20th century, therefore she had lots of resources on how this would feel, effect on the body, etc...). The book also skirts the edge of "can compensate for the disability so easily that there's less impact," but in general it's a pretty amazing book focused on a disability for 1949. I can easily imagine how much hope and strength and fortitude it will have brought to disabled children, and is likely still bringing them due to disability representation being so rare and often AWFUL.
The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz
This recent dystopian novel by an Egyptian writer got a lot of press. I ignored most of it and went into the book blind and without expectations. Probably wise, as I quite liked the simple and almost claustrophobic story. A friend who read lots of glowing reviews felt a bit let down that the book wasn't the immense masterpiece she felt she'd been led to expect. For me as well, the medical aspect and current (and legitimate) fears of losing my ability to pursue adequate healthcare for my nervous system disorder.
For me the book worked well. It's not a runaway 5 star read, but a solid 4. The scope is narrow, and you're never filled in on all the details of this world, but that worked for me here (it doesn't always).
Ladivine by Marie NDiaye
Another odd, strange, magical-realism book but this one worked much better for me than Faces in the Crowd or To the Bright Edge of the World, perhaps because in some ways it's more rooted in character. Three generations of women deal with their own sorrows and struggles. A large dog reappears in different guises throughout the book.
Again, I'm not totally sure why this worked when other books don't, but there we are. It's a quiet book, somewhat slow, and I've still been thinking about it though I finished it a few weeks ago.
The Gay Revolution by Lillian Faderman
A very comprehensive book on the gay rights movement in the US. It deals with key figures through their whole careers and looks separately at different aspects of the movement (specific lawsuits regarding protections in jobs, hate crimes, etc...). It also deals with the clash between more conservative and radical elements.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
This is a memoir by one of the Polish Jews whose survival was made possible due to working of Oskar Schindler. For Leyson there is no doubt that he would not have survived otherwise, due to his age and the fact that the vast majority of children moved from ghettos to concentration camps were killed upon arrival.
Leyson's experience and view of things is of course colored by the fact that he was a child, not an adult, and I believe it's only memoir published by a child working for Schindler. Is it the best memoir of the century (or even year), no. It is a good one though and an important one.
>96 auntmarge64: It's a great wider history, and has yielded a number of people and events I want to get specific books on. Admittedly, I keep not reading the Faderman book I really want to read due to no audio edition (I've read her memoir-ish My Mother's Wars as well).
Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers RE-READ
I keep meaning to do a chronological re-read of the Wimsey novels, but haven't quite managed it, probably because they largely don't need to be read in even remotely chronological order. So I thought I'd go back to remember the first book where Wimsey meets Harriet Vane.
This is the fifth Wimsey novel. Vane is a mystery novelist who has been living in an unmarried state with another (higher brow but less successful) writer. They split up and reasonably soon after he dies due to arsenic poisoning which she's been researching for her next novel. Wimsey attends the trial, which results in a hung jury, and wholeheartedly believes Vane to be innocent, so he takes the case. He needs to find the true culprit before the re-trial so that Vane can be guaranteed her liberty and spared the ordeal of another full trial. He's also fallen in love with Vane and repeatedly asks her to marry him.
Disordered World: Setting a New Course for the Twenty-first Century by Amin Maalouf
Like many of us, Maalouf is frustrated as the world seems to grow more and more divided despite the fact that it's even easier to see what unites us and what should make more people even more determined to work together (climate change and general humanitarian crises particularly).
This was published in 2009, and unfortunately things feel so much worse now. I'd love to see an update to this, though I wonder if he'd be able to summon the same reasonably hopeful tone.
The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt
This is an odd little Dutch classic, originally published in 1970. It features a cat who has turned into a human, but she can still communicate with other cats, most of whom are very displeased with her transformation. She befriends a journalist who is about to be fired for writing too many stories about cats. So she gets all the latest news from the cats around town and passes it on. Meanwhile he tries to train her out of her most cattish traits (like rubbing her head all over the fishmonger when buying fish).
It is a really odd little book, and I'm not sure how I'd feel about it if I'd read it as a kid. I liked everything cats, but there are just some very odd elements and then this really abusive character as well. Let me know if you read it in childhood!
The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders
Does what it says on the tin. Well written wide-scale history of changing attitudes toward crime and criminals in Victorian Britain. While there's some focus on how the media influenced this, perhaps that could be more thoroughly investigated. Overall it's a great read though, and really fascinating.
I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
Despite the flippant tone and the title, mostly the things she's judging in this book (vs her blog, I guess) are things people SHOULD be judged for (racism, sexism, abusers, etc...). A good read, with some laughs. This book was written just before a number of issues would explode into even larger problems, so it's extremely timely.
Oddly, the book made me feel pretty old, even though I'm the same age as the author (I'm very much a weird, nerdy, oblivious to pop culture person though, and she seems very hip).
The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby
I've had Crosby's books on my to-read list for a while, particularly her Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic That Remains one of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries, but ended up reading this one first.
I didn't know much about yellow fever and found the book really well done and interesting.
Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai
Maathai is a complicated figure who went a bit odd before she died, but her work and her experience and her knowledge are so important. In this she looks at a variety of issues and how change could happen and what impedes those changes.
Very important book, highly recommended.
>101 mabith:, I have another book by Judith Flanders about the Victorian home, I think. But The Invention of Murder one looks fun too.
>102 mabith:, Interesting. I just got trained at work to give trainings to others on how to be an ally to LGBTQ folks in the workplace & our trainer was sharing some of the lessons he'd learning from giving the training probably a hundred times over the last few years. He said that he used to refer to the class as a "safe space," for people to share stories and whatnot, but stopped doing that after he had a participant who was very hateful and -- when asked to be respectful of people -- said, "I thought you said this was a safe space for us to say anything!" So yes, some people should be judged for things. :) This book strikes me as having potentially useful ideas that I could incorporate as a trainer.
ETA: Just acquired it! Thanks for the recommendation!
>106 AlisonY: Thanks!
Lotus by Lijia Zhang
Zhang always wanted to be a writer but had to leave school at 16 to work in a factory. Over the next ten years there she taught herself English. She was eventually able to attend multiple universities abroad to study creative writing and became a freelance journalist, memoirist ("Socialism is Great!": A Worker's Memoir of the New China), and then a novelist. This is her debut novel.
The book follows Lotus, a girl from a rural village who leaves for an industrial center to work at a factory after a friend (or perhaps cousin, I forget now) returns to the visit and promises the moon. When we meet her she is a prostitute, an illegal occupation. We learn her story gradually as she opens up to a photojournalist who is photographing the local prostitutes and wanting to extend understanding about them.
I absolutely loved the book. I found it extremely well-paced, especially for a debut novel, and well written. The characters are complex and Zhang frequently went a different direction than I was expecting, in the best kind of way. I can't wait to see what Zhang writes next.
Nada by Carmen Laforet
For some reason I can't understand this book is sometimes referenced as Spain's Catcher in the Rye, which is a huge disservice to Nada and a strange comparison since it feels like the only similarity is a teenage narrator (and Andrea is starting university). It was originally published in 1945, when Laforet was 23.
Andrea goes to Barcelona for university and is staying with her grandmother, and two uncles and aunts. The house is crumbling and her extended family is deeply dysfunctional. Andrea must navigate those relationships and her own poverty while trying to make her small stipend stretch for her needs.
It was a really interesting read and an important part of Spanish literary history. It is part of the 'tremendismo' tradition, marked by a 'tendency to emphasize violence and grotesque imagery,' and it is also considered an existentialist novel. Not a five-star read for me, but still recommended.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I was really looking forward to never ever reading this book, but then my book club picked it and I just took over leadership so felt I had to read it. I understand why people enjoy it, sort of, but reviews act like this is the best book ever. Meanwhile the "just a fun, silly book" titles that are read as feminine are endlessly mocked and pilloried.
The way the references of the 1980s are used is frequently in list form. It's not clever or interesting, and it reads as "look how much I know." The writing is mediocre in the extreme, repetitive, and thrives on lazy stereotypes (the two Japanese characters being some of the most egregious examples). Plus, in a world where 80s nerd knowledge is seen as supremely valuable the narrator still does the "nerds can't get laid," nonsense. The plot is very weak and the main character is completely self-centered and a total Mary Sue (a trope women are universally skewered for when they write them).
I'm happy for the people who could just revel in the references and enjoy it, as in everyone else in the book club, but I couldn't. Here are some reviews about some of the issues. They do contain spoilers. If you only read one make it the first one.
Ready Player One: Gaming, Gender, and Identity
Ready Player One is Basically Twilight for Nerds
Ready Player One: Not Worth the Read
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
I always jump at old works of non-fiction in audio form when I find them. Sometimes they bug me so much at the beginning that I don't continue them (looking at you, Walden and the 'poor people don't appreciate the gifts of being poor like richer people can' nonsense).
Wollstonecraft is writing to try to change the mind of people set against women's rights, and of course that shows in the writing and her arguments. It is apologetic and denigrates anything seen as frivolous, as if you can't be picky about clothing and morals simultaneously.
Still, I think it's worth reading.
My Several Worlds by Pearl S. Buck
A less old non-fiction book, this memoir was published in 1954, when she would have been extremely worried about never seeing China again (though probably not totally hopeless yet).
I am a big fan of Buck, and I believe she is extremely underrated today, and whatever you think of her novels her life is fascinating. She was not a woman of extreme views, but one who always tried to see many sides of issues, a side effect of her parents views and the traditional Chinese tutor she had as a child. She did not trust the rising Communist forces in China but she acknowledged why the average peasant was on their side and the grave mistakes the Nationalists made. She truthfully faced the mistakes and abuses of the western forces in China's history. Above all she loved China, but began to realize after the Boxer Uprising that she would probably never be seen as a true citizen there.
Even if you don't want to read her novels (though I highly recommend reading The Good Earth and Pavillion of Women, at least), I recommend this book. Buck is worth remembering.
Nobody's Perfect by Donald E. Westlake RE-READ
This is the fourth book in the Dortmunder series, and in some ways a particularly silly one.
Dortmunder is in jail charged with burglary. It will be his third strike, meaning he will be locked up for life if found guilty, which of course he will be because that's how Dortmunder's life is and his public defender can't even manage to open his own briefcase. Suddenly in sweeps one of the highest paid lawyers in the city to get him out of difficulty... for a price (this all happens in the first chapter). Dortmunder must steal a painting for an insurance scheme, but as is usual some things go wrong...
If you want to laugh, this book series is for you. They're some of the funniest books I've ever read, and the first nine especially are pretty much all favorites that I've been re-reading for decades. The Hot Rock is the first book, but starting with it, Bank Shot, Why Me?, or Good Behavior are equally good.
I have never read any of Pearl S Buck's books, but my mother was a great reader and she always seemed to have one of her novels to hand.
>115 baswood: It is a danger with book clubs, but I have a good enjoyment ratio in my regular reading and read enough that the fun of book club is worth it. Generally we have a good mix of book reactions but that one just scored with everyone for some reason. I really do recommend Buck. I think when she's not forgotten she's unfairly stereotyped. Pavillion of Women particularly has a beautiful quality and balance (and is arguably better than The Good Earth, which was only her second book).
How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana
Uwiringiyimana grew up as part of a marginalized group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While living in a refugee camp it was attacked, and her family separated. Uwiringiyimana believed everyone had been killed, but as the victims of the attack regrouped they found it was just her little sister who was lost.
Eventually they (and other victims of the attack) were brought to the US, where it's frankly criminally negligent how they were treated. Taken to a random city where there was no one who spoke their language and no steps were even taken to help them learn English and certainly no one helped them process the traumas they had been there.
The memoir is beautiful and powerful and recommended. It does not portray a simple upward trajectory, but the struggle of trauma that hasn't been properly dealt with and the issues of statelessness.
The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls
This was a fascinating read about an interesting and extremely misunderstood subject. The book covers Rorschach of course but it goes far beyond following the test itself, its rise and fall in popularity and the general misunderstanding of its usefulness.
Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson
Finally read another Moomin book! This was the second published (in Finland, the English pub order is different) and it's not quite as perfect for me as Finn Family Moomintroll, but was very enjoyable and a single narrative vs a number of events. This book also explains (in a children's novel kind of way) why the Snorks look exactly like the Moomins but aren't called Moomins, which had been bothering me.
The Moomin world is such a fun one, and brings me a lot of joy.
*Sidebar for all the other luddites out there, my phone keeps trying to force this to be blogs. Ga!!
The Crusades by Zoe Oldenbourg
A mid-century non-fiction classic, a type of book I'm always interested in, particularly those written by women. Women historians have a hard enough time today, let alone then. I don't know enough to know how accurate this book still is, but it was well written and interesting all the way through. Maybe a bit dry for people who don't read a lot of history or who stick to the more popular history format.
The Lost Peg Leg Mine by Carl Barks
Touchstone isn't turning out well, but this is volume 18 of the The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library (for Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories only). Currently volumes 5-18 are out, as they've been publishing them to get the best loved/known period of his work out first. I grew up on these comics, when various groups were reprinting them (Dell, Gladstone, etc...) along with newer works by other artists and writers.
Each volume goes in chronological order, but the years over lap some as each volume is roughly the same number of pages (so this volume has stories from 1956, 1957, and 1958). Each also includes an introduction and a a short little essay on each story by different Duck fans/scholars. Taking up so much shelf space as I must have them all and these kinds of collections are rarely reprinted.
No super memorable exciting stories in this volume, but they're all still a lot of fun.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
One of those reads where I went in expecting to really enjoy the book, but in the end found it lacking.
It's set in Burma between the 1950s and the present. Julie's father has disappeared without word and she and her mother don't know where to look until they find a love letter sent from Burma. Julia flies there to attempt to find him or the woman the letter was from.
For me the book just didn't go anywhere or serve any purpose and it didn't have beautiful prose or important psychological observations either. Not of horrible read, but not really a good one either.
Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova
Kassabova grew up in Bulgaria, leaving with her family for New Zealand when she was 16 or 17 or so. After brief stays in western Europe she settled in Scotland. This book recounts her journey back to Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, the mixed populations of the region, the history, and the struggles.
Really interesting book, and very well done.
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book collects essays Coates wrote During President Obama's years in office, each preceded by notes on the essay, sometimes including self-criticism, often talking about reactions to the piece.
It's fantastic to have these works compiled in one place and held under the lens of the Obama presidency.
If you don't want to read the whole book, at least read his essay My President Was Black. It's long, but extremely worthwhile.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
This is epic fiction with autobiographical elements covering the years the author spent in India after escaping from prison in Australia. He is living there illegally, constantly afraid of being found out.
This book is almost 1000 pages long, and I don't think it needed to be. The plots are mostly isolated, random little bits. There's sort of a connecting thread through some things but for 1000 pages it should be more concrete, it should feel like it has some meaning or actually takes you somewhere.
There are good things about the book, there are philosophical snippets that I just loved, and the main character's learning process in regards to India, poverty, work, etc... That's not enough for a book of this length though. The author was captured in Germany and returned to prison in Australia, where the manuscript for this book was destroyed several times as he was writing it. Which, I feel like you can tell that as a reader. I also feel like you can tell a publisher went "the backstory of the real life escape, etc is enough to make this a bestseller, why bother with editors and feedback." That may be unfair, but it's how the book felt to me personally.
Adam Bede by George Eliot
This is Eliot's first novel, published when she was 40. It's damned impressive for a first novel, though I wonder if later in her career she'd ended it differently. Not all characters end happily, but it's a bit pat compared to Middlemarch.
Adam Bede is a local carpenter, greatly admired in the district. Dinah Morris and Hetty Sorrel are orphaned nieces of the Poyser family, fairly well off farmers. Dinah is a Methodist preacher and Hetty is a very pretty but vain and frivolous young woman. Adam is in love with Hetty and his brother Seth is in love with Dinah. Throw in the grandson of the local squire, secret loves, deaths, etc... and you've got the makings of a lot of drama.
The emphasis on realism and the psychological insight is part of what makes Eliot appeal to me so much, in addition to her brilliant writing style. Even the long works just fly by.
>132 avaland: Nice to have support about Pavilion of Women, that book just blew me away. Middlemarch still wins for me and Eliot, but I'm sad I only have three or four novels left to read by her.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston RE-READ
Loved this book the first time around, loved it this time. Janie is one of the fictional characters I've related to more (I don't really relate books to myself that much, it's just... not how my brain works). For me the book is a profound treatise on love, how it differs between people, different types of love, etc...
It's a wonderful work, and if you haven't read it yet I highly recommend it.
Circe by Madeline Miller
I really liked Miller's first novel, The Song of Achilles, but I absolutely LOVED Circe. It hit all my sweet spots and I think in general the story is more interesting than Achilles and Patroclus and the war and all.
In general mythology Circe is a nymph/witch/sorceress daughter of Helios (sun titan) and Perse (ocean nymph). She becomes adept at using herbs and potions, and transformations (there's a lot of turning dudes into pigs). Miller treats her story so well, and it's just a brilliant book.
In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib
This was a book club read, and one of my suggestions, and I'm happy to say most of the club enjoyed it. The author, who was born and raised in Egypt (leaving when she was 23), also resides in my own state, West Virginia, which made it that much more special.
It is not a happy book. The Al-Menshawy family has lost their eldest son, and we learn that he killed the neighbor's daughter before killing himself. The family is reeling, attempting to figure out motives and reasons and how to fit back into their city again.
If you need firm resolutions and to end a book knowing all the answers this may not be a title for you. I think Hassib did a very good job though, and I liked the way the book was constructed and written. It felt very genuine and realistic.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
A classic I've neglected for too long. If you tried to read Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery and just couldn't get past the ameliorating tone (most slaveholders were perfectly nice, etc), then try Du Bois.
Required reading for all in the USA, and a good read on top of it.
Off the Shelf: A Celebration of Bookshops in Verse edited by Carol Ann Duffy
Wonderful little poetry collection sent to me by a friend. Nice read, and obviously a perfect gift for a book (and poetry) lover.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
This memoir details Jacobs' life as a slave in North Carolina, her years in hiding near the plantation, her escape to the north, and her life there. The book was written under a pseudonym to protect her family and those helping her, and for years it was believed to be a novel written by a white abolitionist. The scholarship of Jean Fagan Yellin helped to prove the true author and show the work Jacobs did for the abolitionist movement.
The memoir is the one which gave us the phrase "far more terrible for women," in reference to the impact of slavery. It is certainly written for the white audience, particularly white women. Jacobs wanted to impress the fact that the typical view of a woman's place and needs was impossible under slavery, and to claim black womanhood as womanhood undifferentiated from white womanhood. Recommended.
The Gulag Archipelago Vol. 3 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Finally all finished with this epic work. It is an amazing piece of writing, and incredibly valuable. This volume focuses a lot on Solzenitsyn's own place and time and imprisonment and the life of 'exiles' who are nominally freed from the camp but frequently then placed in an even worse position.
All three volumes are about 2000 pages, and worth every word, in my opinion. However, the abridged version was abridged by the author, and I'd recommend that if the page count is scaring you off. I think it's still a valuable perspective that you don't get as fully from modern books. Solzhenitsyn is, of course, also just a fantastic writer. None of the books felt particularly long, due partly to the quality of the writing.
The Backwash of War by Ellen N. La Motte
This is an amazing work. La Motte is righteous with anger and the book is full to the brim with bitter sarcasm. This is a tone you don't see that often in WWI memoirs, particularly those written while the war was going on. She was one of the first American war nurses to work on the continent, and had this published in 1916. It was quickly suppressed after the USA entered the war and wasn't republished until 1934.
"A rose is a fine rose because of the manure you put at its roots. You don't get a medal for sustained nobility. You get it for the impetuous action of the moment, an action quite out of keeping with the trend of one's daily life. You speak of the young aviator who was decorated for destroying a Zeppelin single-handed, and in the next breath you add, and he killed himself, a few days later, by attempting to fly when he was drunk. So it goes. There is a dirty sediment at the bottom of most souls. War, superb as it is, is not necessarily a filtering process, by which men and nations may be purified. Well, there are many people to write you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side of war. I must write you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash. They are both true."
"Since he had failed-in the job, his life must be saved, he must be nursed back to health, until he was well enough to be stood up against a wall and shot."
“I was mobilized against my inclination. Now I have won the Medaille Militaire. My captain won it for me. He made me brave. He had a revolver in his hand.”
"He had performed no special act of bravery, but all mutilés are given the Croix de Guerre, for they will recover and go back to Paris, and in walking about the streets of Paris, with one leg gone, or an arm gone, it is good for the morale of the country that they should have a Croix de Guerre pinned on their breasts."
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
I finished this about two days before news came that this serial rapist and killer had been caught (due to a match to a relative on a DNA ancestry site). It was quite surreal, and interesting to be able to learn some details while the case was so fresh in my mind.
It's a well done book, particularly the parts totally written by McNamara. She died with the manuscript unfinished (though many parts complete written by her) and it was finished from her notes and articles on the case. This man was one of the most prolific serial rapists the USA has seen, but was not well known outside the areas he struck most. It is unclear whether or not he had a compulsion to kill or began killing only because of some close call escapes in order to give himself more time. The case is also a really interesting time capsule of the history of DNA as used in criminal investigation.
Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun
This is a novella about the life of Hans Ertl, after his move to Bolivia. Ertl worked on several Leni Riefenstahl productions and was Rommel's preferred cameraman. He was also a mountaineer. In Bolivia he attempted to make several expedition films of ascents there. His daughter, Monika Ertl, was involved in the guerilla movement in Bolivia and it's thought that she shot Roberto Quintanilla in Hamburg.
It's a really interesting subject for historical fiction, but met my frequent issue with novellas. I wanted a much longer book. Looking back though, I find it improving in my mind, and perhaps a longer work wouldn't have had enough facts to work with and would have strayed too much. An interesting one, in any case, and my first book by a Bolivian author.
The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal
Another novella by a South American writer (Argentina, this time). Juan Salvatierra was a mute artist, who worked on huge rolls of canvas to create a single painting over a kilometer long. After his death his children are trying to interest the art world in the painting. They notice that one roll is missing, and decide to look for it.
Not a bad read, but also not a book I absolutely loved. I think it can be hard to write a novella that feels complete and full enough for me. This one had a more traditional rise and fall to the plot, but I'm not sure it's left much impression on me.
I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1942-1945/To the Bitter End by Victor Klemperer
It seems that initially this second volume of diaries was titled To the Bitter End but more recently was changed to the title of the first volume (1933-1941), sometimes with a "volume 2" sometimes just showing the different years.
This is a technically a reread for me, but the first time was way back in middle school, so doesn't really count. It's a very important document, of course, though can be repetitive due to the nature of diaries and the fact that pages had to be taken to friends for hiding. While Klemperer's diaries are supremely valuable, he is not always a likeable person. It feels like he has some issues with internalized anti-Semitism, and frequently does the same things he criticizes others for (we all do at times, of course, but in this kind of work it's very evident). I will be trying to read the other volumes before too long as well (there is a later one, 1945-1959, The Lesser Evil).
And now I'm contemplating that copy of the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago I purchased some decades earlier and never quite got around to reading. It has the same cover as yours.
The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan
This memoir by a North Korean defective who spent half his childhood in a gulag for political 'dissidents,' was originally published in France in 2000. This is before the larger tide of memoirs by North Koreans and before the larger studies like Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.
It's an interesting difference from a lot of the books published now, because the author's paternal grandparents moved the family to North Korea from Japan, where they were quite well off. His grandmother was a committed communist, and of course the promises made to lure people to the country weren't kept. When any actual or perceived crime was committed the family of the criminal was also imprisoned, and this happened when the author was about 9. His grandfather was taken who knows where, and the rest of the family was taken to a camp, minus his mother whose father or grandfather was a well-regarded revolutionary. Before this they'd been living a relatively privileged life. The Bulk of the book is about life in the camp, and how that experience more than anything else disillusioned him about Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of 'Joe' Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water by Kate Summerscale
This is the book that started Summerscale's non-fiction writing career. Carstairs god-daughter sent a letter to the Daily Telegraph that ended up on Summerscale's desk. She'd seen the notice of Carstairs' death in the paper and thought her godmother a good subject for an obituary. She included a number of newspaper articles, and when Summerscale looked up Carstairs in the Telegraph's libraries she found a heap of notices on her racing career in the 1920s (establishing herself as the fastest woman on water, always dressed in men's clothing). Then articles about Carstairs' buying and transforming of an island in the Bahamas.
Carstairs was an absolutely fascinating character. Plenty of flaws, and maybe not someone I'd enjoy being around, but just fascinating. Summerscale must have moved with speed to track down people who'd known Carstairs, who was born in 1900 and died in 1993. She drove ambulances in WWI and in post-war Ireland, she started a car touring company with friends, she commissioned and raced motorboats, she had scores of girlfriends, and she bought the island, Whale Cay. (Her maternal grandfather was a founding partner of Standard Oil, if you're wondering where the money was coming from.)
Highly recommended. A shortish book, but well done.