Thursday, June 14, 2018

May 2018 Reads

A roundup of books I read over the last month.

April 2018 Reads
March 2018 Reads
February 2018 Reads
January 2018 Reads

I really did have good intentions of posting May's reads closer to the beginning of June, but since we're not yet halfway through the month, I'm still going to call this a win.

For my Naturalists' Book Club last month, I read Henry Beston's The Outermost House, about the author's year on Cape Cod, which is considered a classic of nature writing. I admit that at first I was like, "Huh," with regard to its classic-ness, but as I read on I became more engaged with Beston's quiet style, observations, and musings and by the end I'd folded over the corners of multiple pages that held bits of writing I wanted to come back to. Here's one of my favorites: "A second notion, too, came into my head as I saw the turnstones fly away—that no one really knows a bird until he has seen it in flight. Since my year upon the dunes, spent in a world of magnificent fliers, I have been tempted to believe that the relation o f the living bird with its wings folded to the living bird inflight is almost that of the living bird to the same bird stuffed. In certain cases, the difference between the bird on the wing and the bird at rest is so great that one might be watching two different creatures. Not only do colours and new arrangements of colours appear in flight, there is also a revelation of personality. Study your birds on the ground as you will, but once you have thus observed them nd studied their loveliness, do not be afraid to clap your hands and send them off into the air. They will take no real alarm and will soon forgive you. Watch birds flying." I also found it so refreshing to ready nature writing by a man from he early 20th century that has nothing to do with hunting or fishing!

As I was doing one last revision to The Book, before sending it off to my first reader, I wanted to read another long-distance hiking book as, I don't know, a crutch, an example, a beacon of hope. But all of the books of that sort that I own I've already read two or three times each and am bored with them, so I gave A Blistered Kind of Love by Angela and Duffy Ballard, about a young couple's hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. I also picked up, on the recommendation of a friend, Grandma Gatewood's Walk, by Ben Montgomery, a biography of the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. I'd heard of Gatewood, who hiked the AT three times wearing sneakers and carrying a denim duffel on her shoulder, but I had no idea about her full story or how tough-as-nails she was. It's a fascinating read.

I brought A Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, with me on our island camping trip, thinking it was a book about the sea. Instead it is a series of philosophical musings using seashells as starting points and metaphors. I have mixed feelings about it. While I found that I was in agreement with most of the ideas, especially those about a woman and mother's need for solitude and creativity, I thought they were couched in rather vague language when I would prefer real life stories and examples. I think it's a book I will return to in the future, however.

I picked up a copy of Death Comes to Pemberly, by P.D. James, which is a Jane Austen pastiche that imagines a murder taking place on the Pemberly ground and good old Wickham implicated as the number one suspect. I'd already seen the BBC dramatization, so the resolution of the crime did not come as a surprise, but I was curious to see how James pulled off Austen's voice (very well, as it turns out). It's more of a courtroom drama and commentary on the inadequacies of the early 19th century judicial system than a classic who-done-it, but I found it enjoyable, even if there was, to me, an excessive amount of rehashing the events of Pride and Prejudice for the benefit of readers who had not delved into that book recently or (perish the thought) not at all.

I am still on my vintage Barbara Michaels kick and the book I read in May, Here I Stay, was the first of hers where I just did not like the main character. She was neurotic, codependent, angry, and grouchy with no good reason (well, other than having lost her parents at an early age and having been responsible for raising her brother, who is in a terrible accident at the beginning of the book). I don't buy into the idea that fictional characters have to be "likable," but it is nice when they have some redeeming qualities, or some claim to empathy, but I did not find that with the protagonist of this book (whose name, funnily enough, is Andrea).

And, finally, I read To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey. It was meant to be an informal book club read with two friends, only one didn't read it and couldn't make it to our get-together, and the other friend and I didn't end up talking about the book a whole lot (is this how all book clubs are?). The book tells the story of an explorer, Colonel Forrester, as he leads a small expedition into Alaska's interior in the early 1900s, and his wife, Sophie, left back home at the Army barracks, pregnant, alone, and searching for a medium to express herself. It's written in epistolatory style, as if pieced together from journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings, book excerpts, and other paper ephemera, which I thought at first might be distracting, but was in fact very engaging and Ivey does a wonderful job capturing the voices of the various authors and correspondents. Like Ivey's first book, The Snow Child, there's a heavy dose of the mystical, or perhaps the mythical, with Native American legends coming to life in bizarre but believable ways. Elements of historical obstetrics, natural history, and early photography also make their way into the narrative, combining to make an altogether a fascinating read.

The twins are still adamant about my reading aloud from Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody series every night, and we finished two volumes last month: A River in the Sky and The Falcon at the Portal. We did a lot of reading huddled around the campfire on our cold camping trip. I had hoped we'd quit the series before Falcon, even though it's one of my favorite books in the series, because it's the one in which two certain characters get together (if only briefly). I had remembered the scene as much more explicit than it was—which goes to show that a good writer can establish a mood or a feeling without going into graphic detail—and it means that it was not unduly awkward to read aloud. E has been so inspired by the books he chose to do his school project on Howard Carter and Amelia's vocabulary is rubbing off on them: the other day Z said of one of his teachers, "She's a lot more affable after school."

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