So you can make all the resolutions you want about how you’re going to blog more often and write more in-depth posts on individual books, but when the new year coincides with the start of a new term and you also have to finish planning your 69-section department course schedule for next Fall, well, that resolution isn’t going to be met right away. Still, I have been reading some, so here, in the interest of writing something about those books, is a list:
Romance: Short and Satisfying
(Because only one was sweet). On the 7th day of Christmas I remembered that Janet had sent me a Betty Neels book called The Fifth Day of Christmas. I was behind on starting it! I thought of this as a novella but it was 185 pages and I think I just forgot what size paper Harlequins are. Anyway, I enjoyed this aside from two things. 1. the ridiculous updating of a record player to a CD player–cut that out, publishers! What’s wrong with a classic? (Especially as the book in every other way dated to Betty Time–vaguely 50s-ish). 2. The usual Selfish Other Woman was Clever (i.e. intellectual), so of course could not be the affectionate domestic type the hero needed. Of course not. But. Rich Dutch doctor was not too opaque or mean to the heroine; nurse heroine was of the beautiful and reasonably confident type, not the doormat type; Scottish and Dutch settings were grand. I had a good time as always in Betty Land.
Along with several Twitter pals, I read Lavender Parker’s novella Flower in the Desert. I really liked the heroine, Ruby, and the survival-in-the-wilderness first half. Then it kind of fell apart. I pretty much agree with Meoskop’s review, though the second-half problems mean I’d rate it more like a B-.
Mysteries: Gritty to Cozy
I read Stuart MacBride‘s Aberdeen-set police procedural Cold Granite. I’m tired of serial-killer-preying-on-children plots and the fact that a number of different crimes ended up connecting made MacBride’s Aberdeen seem very grim (also, it was raining/snowing non-stop). But I liked DS Logan McRae and WPC Jackie Watson and will probably read more of this series.
Right now I’m reading James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, featuring a clergyman in 50s Cambridgeshire. This should be right up my alley–Runcie is the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury and knows whereof he writes. But I’m hovering on the edge of a DNF. A book like this depends on liking the character and setting, and there’s a lot of distant reportage of Sidney’s thoughts. A passage like this makes me want to put it down:
He started to think about the question of belonging and identity: how much a person was defined by upbringing, education, profession, faith and choice of friends.
“How much can a person change in a life?” he wondered.
(If you’re going to give your character these reflections, dig a little deeper!) But then a few pages later I’m snort-laughing at Sidney’s thoughts about his dinner-party hosts:
Their home . . . had previously been the type of establishment in which rich Victorian men had kept their decorative mistresses. Sidney considered this rather appropriate as Juliette Thompson certainly had a whiff of the Pre-Raphaelite about her. Her beauty was both doomed and untouchable: unless, of course, you were Nigel Thompson MP.
For that, I’ll stay on the fence a little longer (the book is 6 stories so it’s easy to bow out along the way).
I’m not sure what to say about Charles M. Blow’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. This review is far more interesting about its dualities than I can be. I read it more quickly than I’d have liked because I had to return it to the library. Blow vividly evokes the Louisiana of his childhood and he’s great at sketching the members of his community and extended family in a few lines. I found the chapters on his childhood engrossing. I was less interested in his experience with a college fraternity, though I understand how it fit into his exploration of his desire for belonging and the violence and abuse that are always a part of his life. I didn’t feel I needed so much description of hazing, and the sense of belonging and friendship were never really depicted. In fact, I felt reading this that other people were not very interesting to him except insofar as they cared for him; he doesn’t really talk about his love for them. Perhaps it’s a common pitfall of memoir that others are treated mainly instrumentally, interesting for their function in the writer’s life rather than for themselves.
Money, Money, Money, Money
I am listening to a Big Fat Book: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It’s really too dense for successful listening–I can understand most bits as they go by but it’s hard to hang on to the big picture. But let’s get real: I’d never have made time to read this in paper. I am most interested in the parts I can connect to my own family history, like the rise of a patrimonial middle-class and the return, since the period around the world wars, to the starker inequalities of the past and the importance of inherited wealth (have we talked about housing prices in my city?). I’m also wondering if there is a French intellectual style, because phrases like “first we need to clarify the concepts” remind me of reading French critical theory in grad school.
I took a break from this to listen to Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money, a much livelier narrative history that covers topics like money itself (the creation of coins and bills), bonds, stocks, insurance, and mortgages. Ferguson is great at pinning these abstract topics to stories about particular individuals/institutions. Enron, blah, heard it before–but I loved the bits about Nathan Rothschild and his impact on the Napoleonic wars.
Plans Doomed to Fail
Even though I’m already having trouble with my resolutions, I’m making more reading plans. Will 2015 be the year I finally finish Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings? Will I get back to favorite romance authors like Miranda Neville, Jeannie Lin, Molly O’Keefe, all of whose books are piling up in my TBR? Will I finally read Susanna Kearsley instead of hoarding her books? Stay tuned!
A friend of mine mentioned she is trying the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge in an effort to read more variety. I decided that was too much like homework for me (and I have no desire to tick some of those boxes, like reading a whole trilogy in one year). But I did download it, because I’m curious to see how many I tick by reading whatever I feel like. And knowing me, at some point in the year (if I don’t forget all about it) it will eventually start influencing my choices. Because I’m nothing if not a competitive homework keener.