Thursday, December 16, 2021

Book Stack ~ November 2021

  A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

My reading goal for the last two years has been to get through this enormous stack of books that keeps migrating around my room, and so far I've done a really, really bad job of it. Many of them are books people have given me and aren't necessarily what I might have chosen myself, so I've found ways of avoiding reading them. But I've finally decided that the people who gave them to me did so for a reason--that they believed I would enjoy them--and I should stretch myself and try something different.

That's where the Penelope Lively book I read in October comes in, as well as this second one by her, Passing On. A friend, who has herself passed on, gave both to me many years ago. Like the last one, practically nothing happens in the entire book (although the thing that happens is maybe a bit more significant than the weight the author gives it; and in treating what happens lightly she also conflates homosexuality with pedophilia, which is problematic in the extreme, but I was willing to give her the benefit of it having been the "olden days" when she wrote it, but it turns out the have been published in 1999, which isn't so very long ago, so, ugh, I really can't recommend it, despite what I'm about to write in the rest of this paragraph). So, nearly nothing happens in the lives of the two main characters, who come off as dull, dull, dull, yet somehow I was drawn in and compelled to keep reading. Which seems to me to be a major writing goal--write a page-turning book about boring people who do and experience nothing of significance. In this way, I suppose Lively's writing is as realistic as you can get.

Now onto books I chose for myself. To help get me through the long, tedious drive across country, I read Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty, as a way of unwinding when I reached my hotel room each evening. It's a lovely, lovely paean to the natural world and cry for its protection from a bright young author from Northern Ireland, who writes with heartbreaking honesty about his love of nature, his autism, and his experiences being bullied for his atypical personality. If there are more teenagers like McAnulty out there (as far as I can tell, none of them live in my house), there might be hope for this world.

When I got home from my long, tedious drive back across the country, I sank into the latest Kopp Sisters novel, Miss Kopp Investigates, by Amy Stewart. I love how this series evolves, incorporating both historical facts and the author's imaginings, and bringing different members of the Kopp family to the fore with each edition (in this one youngest sister Fleurette gets to be the heroine). I also love to read a story about strong women characters for whom romance is not their primary (or even secondary or tertiary) goal or outcome. 

Finally, I listened to several audiobooks to help me get through that (say it with me) long, tedious drive across country and back, pictured in reverse order:
  • Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz. It's the sequel to Magpie Murders, which I read some time ago, and it has the same book-within-a-book setup, giving me two mysteries to solve, two narrators (one for each book), and enough twist and turns to keep my attention over endless miles of highway. Plus it was really long (over 18 hours), and got me through two and a half days of my long, tedious drive across country.
  • The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman. This pair of mysteries takes place in a luxury retirement home, with an ex-MI6 agent, an aging union leader, a morose retired psychiatrist, and a former nurse as the band of unlikely sleuths solving multiple murders, breaking up organized crime rings, and sometimes contributing to the general mayhem of an otherwise sedate care continuum community. The stories are many layered and hilarious, and the narrator is a delight. I'd be tempted to go on another long, tedious drive across country just to listen to these two books again.
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. This is a book I'd been *meaning* to read, but hadn't gotten around to it yet. C read it and reported that it was very strange and hard to get into. I've heard the same elsewhere, so when a friend recommended it in audio format, I figured that would get me over the hump. It was still strange and hard to get into (the hardest part is that a large percentage of especially the early part of the book is quotes from various sources, including in-text citations, which the narrator insisted on reading). I wondered at first if Saunders wasn't lazy, just using all of these quotations rather than weaving the information into a narrative, but then realized that the many conflicting accounts (beginning with Lincoln's eye color and appearance and leading into impressions of young Willie and the evening of the party while the boy lay upstairs dying) were part of the story. What is truth when everyone has a different version of it? And then the book gets really weird, with the many characters in the cemetery running around doing wacky things. It was dark by the time I got to this part, and the strange melancholy tale accompanied me across Massachusetts, through that annoying snippet of New Hampshire, and up into Maine and wrapping up just as I pulled into my driveway. So the story is all intertwined with this dark, gloomy drive, on the edge of exhaustion after a long, tedious trip across country, and I can't really say what I thought of it. I may have to go back and read the solid book.

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