Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Less Holland, more books

 It's the last evening of my month sabbatical which is the sort of thing that should, possibly, make me reflective. Instead I find myself wondering if "reflective" is the word I want. You'd think I'd be better with words because I've spent a lot of the last month--or, more accurately, the last couple of weeks, reading. The Seattle Arts & Lectures Summer Reading Bingo apparently appealed to my competitive nature. Oh, I read next to nothing for the two weeks we were in Holland, and I squandered all the prime reading time on the flights watching movies instead. I'll ease in to writing about books, if that's what I'm going to do, by saying that The Queen of Katwe was a fine film, as was If Cats Disappeared From the World, though the cat movie (Japanese, with subtitles) was a bit more subtle. And I didn't watch that one until I was on the homeward trip because I'm not crazy. (Nor did I know, on the outward journey, that I would meet quite so many cats in Holland. But that's another post.) Quite deserving of all its public acclaim was Manchester by the Sea, while I found Bridget Jones's Baby to be laugh-out-loud funny. The Girl on the Train featured a fine red herring. I know that I saw one or two other films (seriously, I binge-watched on that tiny screen) but I've no memory of what those might have been. Forgettable, apparently.

Books though. I need to read only four books before Labor Day to get a blackout on my bingo card and, by gum, I think I should be able to accomplish that so go me! I used to read this way--sort of chain-reading, though I don't so much light the next book with the final chapter of the previous one--but it's been quite some time. I'd forgotten how pleasant it is to read just for pleasure. (And, it's just occurred to me, that I finally dropped the tendency to note bad breaks and such in the layout. I guess that will all come back soon enough.)

 Happily, pretty much everything I've read has been good, too--some things surprisingly so. I've just finished The Underground Railroad (the "fiction" square) which has a Pulitzer and an endorsement from Mr Obama so, really, it's pretty fatuous for me to note "it's good," but it is. Engrossingly and horrifyingly so. Harriet the Spy (banned) was maybe more of a surprise; it's a children's book I've heard of probably all my life so you'd think I'd have read it before but I hadn't; it turned out to be a pretty remarkable book. With all due respect to the Potterverse, I sort of feel like the 1960s were a golden age for children's literature. I may be mistaken, of course. The Secret Garden (filling the "made into a movie" square) was written a lot earlier and it's pretty darned fine as well. Fahrenheit 451 (science or science fiction) was one of the few clunkers; it seemed overly preachy and simplistic to me. Possibly that's why sci-fi and I parted company quite a few years ago. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (SAL speaker) felt somehow distant throughout; it might have been better to have read that one more slowly.

I feel that the graphic novel of Remembrance of Times Past: Swann's Way (graphic novel) would have been pretty incomprehensible had I not fairly recently reread the actual book; no matter what the creators might say, I don't see the graphic novel leading anyone to read the text book. (Scott also took issue, over my shoulder, with the depiction of M. Swann; apparently he should have curly red hair.) The Astrologer (Washington author) was, as ever, a delight though it is a book with irritating typesetting. Still, any book with Tycho Brahe in it is well worth a few bad breaks. A young woman with a lemonade and baked good stand happened to declare that Common Sense was her favorite 18th-century book so, oddly, that is my "recommended by a young person" entry; it was interesting to see how influential it must have been for the founding fathers--and just how obsessed Mr Paine was with property rights. What the Mouth Wants (LGBTQIA author or character) was so much more than its category--another surprise bit of brilliance and it naturally leads me to remember My Life in France (recommended by a bookseller). I liked that one so much that I asked for Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my birthday.

And now we're firmly into those books I read pre-Holland and it's all a bit hazier. True Grit (book in a category you haven't read before) thrilled me less than it did Scott (I still hope that he enjoys Beverley Nichols when he reads one of his books). The Penelopiad (set in a different country) definitely had its moments but was really a bit slight for something by Ms Atwood. Black Boy (memoir) I started before I was aware of the bingo (but not before the start of the reading period) and I didn't realize it wasn't fiction for the first fifty or so pages; it was another book that took me by surprise. What struck me most about Go Tell It On the Mountain (by a person of color) may have been the respect shown for mothers which, I am sure, was not necessarily the author's intent. Persuasion (a book you read in school) appealed to me no more than it did close to forty years ago; I am consistent if nothing else, while I rather enjoyed Lady Susan (read in a day) though it is so short that I feel like I sort of cheated there.

 What am I forgetting? Oh, my one library book (thus far, anyway, I have holds for two of my final four) was The Sellout (recommended by a librarian) which won the Man Booker a few years back and, really, it only reinforced my low opinion of the Man Booker. Highland Fling (published the year one of your parents was born) was also pretty wretched; happily Nancy Mitford went on to do better things (and, happily, I had read them before this one, her first). Crime de Luxe (chosen for its cover) was a mighty weak mystery so I have to assume that the final book (that I'm not remembering) was pretty bad as well.

And yet, now that I look at my bingo card I see that such was not the case at all. The missing book is Thaliad (poetry) and I inhaled that one in surprise and wonder. It was pretty darned fabulous in its creativity and execution. That's the thing that I have appreciated most about the summer bingo project; it has led me not only to read obsessively, it has caused me to read a lot of stuff that has been on the shelves for months or years. (The only challenge with the "you've been meaning to read" is going to be deciding which of the books piled up around the house to choose. I'm feeling like it could be a Graham Greene novel or, if time allows, Mozart's Starling.)

I don't think I intended to spend so much of my sabbatical with a book in my hands but I can't say that I'm complaining. No, I didn't get the back side of the fence painted, and the garden beds are still pretty overgrown and in need of weeding. I haven't had any massive epiphanies about the meaning of life or even cleared all the crap off the ping pong table. But I've been someone else over and over and over again and that, in my world, is enough.


  1. Your bingo-ing is inspiring, and just the impetus I need to break free of my reading habits and go exploring, so thank you for that. Your adventures have been far-flung and wide-ranging indeed (though I think you could have been a *tad* more adventurous with "Washington author" -- I suspect you've read that one before).

    I, too, have disdain for the Man Booker, having just read "Offshore" by Penelope Fitzgerald which left me scratching my head. "Harriet the Spy" on the other hand, is a fine book and not only did I appreciate 1960s children's fiction then, I continue to enjoy it now. I heartily recommend Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books if you've not yet consumed them.

    I inhaled science fiction in my teens, and now I'm wondering if any of it was actually good, so I have my own little project to take a look at the Nebula and/or Hugo award winners over the decades.

    It sounds like you had a very fine sabbatical indeed!

  2. I am honored to have inspired you in any way, though I should clarify that I used to think quite highly of the Booker (which is what it was when "Offshore" won); it's since it's become the Man-Booker that I think there have been some pretty awful winners. I did feel like Harriet was a young Alex, though I'm sure you'd never be so foolish as to let your notebooks go astray. Good luck with the sci-fi! (Remember when you undertook to read at least one book from each section at Michael's? Now *that* was impressive. Was it Pop-Fic that broke you?)

    1. I found Louis L'Amour to be okay, and I found some regency romances that I actually enjoyed. It was horror that broke me. No, thank you.

    2. Wasn't horror in popfic? I cna see the pile of VC Andrews in that section but I can't remember if that's where all the Stephen King was. Seems like it should have been. Is there a used bookstore in B'ham these days?

    3. My plan had been to read from each section of pop fic and I'm sure horror was there and that was the end of that project. Henderson's is still plugging along, but I believe he's the only one.

      My first SF Hugo-winning attempt was Dune, which I gave up on after 45 pages. Politics. Blehh.