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Something to Remember Wednesday

What I've Finished Reading

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, a rec from k_t_bug which fulfills one of my reading challenges for 2017: Read a book about Antarctica. I finished this in about two days.Collapse )

What I'm Reading Now

In The Hidden Land, things are getting serious - the king has been killed, despite the cousins' best efforts, and Ted (whom everyone in the kingdom still thinks is his fictional self-insert, Prince Edward) has just been crowned king. This involves having a lot of people swear fealty to him, and there's one of Pamela Dean's odd, likable digressions about how uncomfortable this makes him - because his name in the game is the same as his name in the "real world," he doesn't want his cousins taking the oath to serve "Edward" and insists on them specifying that it's only in his capacity as King of the Hidden Land. His scrupulousness is sympathetic, and so is their impatience with him. War is coming - shouldn't they try to get back to their own world? Can they?

And a couple of other things, but I'll get to them next week.

What I'm Reading Next

[2017 reading goals update] I'm no further along in my plan to make a list of previous recs, or in my "two books from every continent" goal, but I've gotten some good recommendations for "genres I don't usually read": a memoir from osprey_archer and tons of romance from wordsofastory. I'm going to add a genre for myself: YA dystopia, represented by The Hunger Games. I bought the Hunger Games soundtrack a couple of weeks ago on impulse at a library book sale, and it turned out to be exactly what I wanted to listen to at this moment in history. The books may be nothing like the soundtrack, but I am going to give them a try anyway.

I'm still trying to "read down" my bookshelves and make more space. I might read one of the 99 Novels I already own: either Falstaff by Robert Nye or A Confederacy of Dunces. I'm saving Catch-22 and Kingsley Amis' Anti-Death League for later because I'm expecting to like them more (possibly a mistake).

Murder and Rumors of Murder Monday

What I've Finished Reading

The House by the River totally fulfilled all its promises and delivered a suspenseful but ultimately pretty harmless good time. Alison and the undercover detective dig up the Darke patriarch's secret racket, the earl and his daughter realize that they are only being courted as extra protection against scandal if the big insurance scheme fails and back away quickly, Alison's mysteriously deserting husband [spoiler!]turns out to have a wife somewhere or other whom he thought was dead but is really alive, so Alison's fake marriage is invalid and she is free to marry Noel Darke, who has spent a lot of the book unconscious. Also, the mad brother isn't really mad; he just found out about the family business so Pere Darke and his confederates bullied him into doubting his senses. Now that the game is up, he's going to make a full recovery!. Oh, and in the very last paragraph there's a ghost.

Florence Warden is described on this book as "England's Anna Katherine Green," which reminds me that I was supposed to look for something by Anna Katherine Green.

What I'm Reading Now

The first few chapters of The Murder at the Vicarage are perfection itself. This is the first appearance of Miss Jane Marple, whom the vicar-narrator's young wife calls "the worst cat in the village."

"And she always knows every single thing that happens -- and draws the worst inferences from it."

Griselda, as I have said, is much younger than I am. At my time of life, one knows that the worst is usually true.

Everyone's got a secret, but no one's been murdered yet. That state of relative grace is obviously not going to last much longer.

Still reading Murder Up My Sleeve, which is . . . interesting. Gardner's mild cinema-serial pulpiness isn't really my style, and it seems the price you pay for a racially diverse cast of characters in 1937 is that whenever there is a disagreement, all the characters will start talking about the "nature of [their] race." But it moves a lot faster than The Case of the Careless Kitten and the convolutions of the plot are reasonably enjoyable instead of tiring. Philosopher-sleuth Terry Clane's "Oriental" powers of concentration feel very comic-bookish to me, but the comic books probably got them from stuff like this.

What I Plan to Read Next

Either Tana French or more Christie, depending on whether the library has The Seven Dials Mystery. Maybe something else.

Whatever Words I Say Wednesday

What I've Finished Reading

I didn't love the last hundred pages of The Golden Notebook as much as the first five hundred. Why is that?Collapse )

There's a lot more to say about this book but I'm going to put it off until later, at least until the comments. In the category "well-off left-wing women have a bad time in the twentieth century," I think liked The Group a little better, but I'm glad I read this one.

I'm still feeling a little book-hangoverish from The Count of Monte Cristo. I've even begun to think that maybe the slightly disappointing ending was a deliberate protective measure, like the way deep-sea divers have to pause on their ascent to avoid whatever horrible thing happens to their lungs if they come up too quickly.

What I'm Reading Now

From October 1976 until 1979, when I returned to Naples to live, I avoided resuming a steady relationship with Lila. But it wasn't easy. She almost immediately tried to reenter my life by force, and I ignored her, tolerated her, endured her. Even if she acted as if there were nothing she wanted more than to be close to me at a difficult moment, I couldn't forgive the contempt with which she had treated me.

And just like that, here we are again. It's like I never left. I've been putting off starting The Story of the Lost Child partly because I want to "read down" some of my other books first (to make room on the shelf, because Elena Ferrante books are books I keep) and partly because I know I'm going to feel a loss when it's really over. But here we are.

So why do you think it is that Anna Wulf's awful relationships were a source of irritation to me in an otherwise enjoyable book, while I greet Lenu and Lila's even more awful relationships with open arms and a kind of joy in bitterness? Differently-focused narration? Anyway, here we are, back in Naples for the last time.

What to do, then? Admit yet again that she's right? Accept that to be adult is to disappear, is to learn to hide to the point of vanishing? Admit that, as the years pass, the less I know of Lila?

This morning I keep weariness at bay and sit down again at the desk. Now that I'm close to the most painful part of our story, I want to seek on the page a balance between her and me that in life I couldn't even find between myself and me.

Also reading: The Hidden Land by Paula Dean. The cousins have been stuck in their Secret Country for some time now, making do. Ted, whom everyone thinks is his formerly fictional self-insert Prince Edward, is trying to prevent the assassination of the king, but the back cover tells me it isn't going to work. So far it promises to be just as sticky and strangely-paced as The Secret Country, though maybe with a little more plot?

What I Plan to Read Next

I have this anthology called Fiction in the Heart of Dixie: An Anthology of Alabama Writers, maybe that? We'll see how long it takes to finish my current books, now that all my reading time is being eaten up by employment.

The Making of a Murder Monday

For me, as for many others, the reading of detective stories is an addiction like tobacco or alcohol. The symptoms of this are: Firstly, the intensity of the craving — if I have any work to do, I must be careful not to get hold of a detective story for, once I begin one, I cannot work or sleep till I have finished it. Secondly, its specificity — the story must conform to certain formulas (I find it very difficult, for example, to read one that is not set in rural England). And, thirdly, its immediacy. I forget the story as soon as I have finished it, and have no wish to read it again. If, as sometimes happens, I start reading one and find after a few pages that I have read it before, I cannot go on.

-- W. H. Auden, "The Guilty Vicarage"

Do you want to read an article by W. H. Auden on detective fiction? The Guilty Vicarage is available online. I've decided I need to read some Freeman Wills Crofts; his chapters in The Scoop and Behind the Screen were good, and Auden names his Inspector French as one of only three "completely satisfactory detectives" (with Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown). I do not agree with Auden that Father Brown is a completely satisfactory detective, though the ideal version of Father Brown that exists only in my head is completely satisfactory.

What I've Finished Reading

Partners in Crime is 100% silly fluff, with the advantage over The Secret Adversary that no one attempts to explain the political context to any level of detail. Tommy and Tuppence goof around a lot and pretend to be different fictional detectives, and mostly manage not to bungle most of their cases too badly. At one point Tommy is rescued from an unscrupulous tough by Albert, the office boy, who just happens to have been practicing his lasso skills ("Albert watches a lot of movies" is the weak running joke). In the end they catch a spy in typically blundering fashion and retire from the fake detective business because Tuppence is going to have a baby. Awww.

What I'm Reading Now

The House By the River has overrun its slow start and become a genuine page-turner. It's also alarmingly efficient. In the past hundred pages, our intrepid typist Alison Cleveley has fallen in love at first sight, witnessed a murder, provided evidence for the police, been shot at by a mysterious assailant, moved to Manchester to avoid interfering in the "interests" of her beloved (his family wants him to marry an earl's daughter to shore up their social position and dwindling funds; he would rather marry Alison but she's disappeared for his own good), befriended a bookie (and former private investigator) at her boarding house who seems overly interested in her mysterious brush with murder, allowed a different fellow boarder to coax her into marrying him and coming with him to Australia, despite her total indifference, mentally justifying her action with the thought that at least now Noel will have to marry the rich woman he doesn't like. They've just left the church and Sydney, the sacrificial husband, has gone off to see to the luggage. As Alison sips coffee in the hotel lounge and wonders where Sydney has got to, a message arrives for her: his sister is dying, and he's been summoned home immediately, so she should just head back to the boarding house and wait for further correspondence. SORRY ALISON. This neatly avoids any wedding-night awkwardness, but leaves Alison understandably confused and even more underwhelmed than before. Would this be the perfect time for the bookie/PI to reappear with the results of his investigation? Probably!

The library is closed for repairs until January 15, so I've been unable to replenish my Christie supply. I decided to give Erle Stanley Gardner another go with the first chapter of Murder Up My Sleeve. It's bracingly silly! A sarcastic man of the world, recently returned from China, is called into the district attorney's office and questioned about a mysterious Chinese weapon, the sleeve gun. It's a tube with a spring you hide in your copious Eastern sleeve and activate by leaning your arm against a table. Wikipedia informs me that this was, in fact, an experimental British weapon during WWII (several years after the publication of Murder Up My Sleeve), and also that it wore out quickly and didn't work very well. This book already has a lot of thoughts to share about The Oriental Mind, and I can tell there are plenty more to come.

What I Plan to Read Next

I'm not sure! I'm looking forward to the next two Christies, when the library opens back up.

One of the differences between me and W. H. Auden: Auden never re-reads a detective story and forgets them the minute he's finished: this is, he says, one of the things that separates "literature" from the detective genre. For me this is true some of the time, but not always. I'm finding Christie pretty reliably re-readable, even books that depend heavily on deception and surprise, like Roger Ackroyd and Orient Express; reading the structure while knowing the ending is an auxiliary pleasure to having been surprised by the ending. But I also enjoyed re-reading The Secret Adversary, which is not a brilliantly plotted book by any means, and will probably feel the same about the equally silly The Seven Dials Mystery.

Some reading goals for 2017

This is the last year-end summary thing, I promise!

Is there really anything to be gained from piling one challenge on another? Maybe not, but here we are anyway. 99 Novels is still underway, and who knows? maybe I'll even pick up the pace a little. It's been a good bunch of books so far. Also on my to-do list for 2017:

1. Read ten books that have been recommended to me in the past year (or from previous years that I haven't got around to yet). I'll be making a list! I love lists, as you may have noticed.

2. Read at least two books from every continent (excluding Antarctica). US and UK are excluded from this challenge since they're massively over-represented already.

3. Read a book about Antarctica!
Done! Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (thanks, k_t_bug!)

4. Read a book each in 5 genres I don't normally read (suggestions are welcome!)
i. Memoir - Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett - rec from osprey_archer
ii. Romance - Hold Me by Courtney Milan + lots of other recs from wordsofastory
iii. YA dystopia - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (in progress!)
iv. _________________________ (TBD)
v. _________________________ (TBD)

5. Read 5 books of poetry published in the last 10 years.
i. Body Switch by Terri Witek

6. Read 5 books of poetry published before 2007.
i. Marmion by Sir Walter Scott

That's it. I'm also trying to read what I already have (with the eventual goal of freeing up some shelf space, though that looks very far away right now), using the library more, and buying less. I thought about making a non-fiction reading resolution, but that's basically covered by my ongoing "read the books you already own" project, and the sad truth is I don't care that much about whether or not I ever read nonfiction.

What Goes Around Wednesday

What I’ve Finished Reading

CleaCollapse )

The Count of Monte CristoCollapse )

Alas, [Spoilers for the end of The Count of Monte Cristo] there was no Mercedes/Dantes reunion, except arguably in heaven, which we all know doesn't count unless one of you is already a ghost.

What I’m Reading Now

She said to me today as I was leaving: ‘And now my dear, when are you going to start writing again?’ I might have said, of course, that all this time I’ve been scribbling off and on in the notebooks but that is not what she meant. I said: ‘Very likely never.’ She made an impatient, almost irritable gesture; she looked vexed, like a housewife whose plans have gone wrong – the gesture was genuine, not one of the smiles, or nods, or shakes of the head, or impatient clicks of the tongue that she used to conduct a session. ‘Why can’t you understand that,’ I said, really wanting to make her understand, ‘that I can’t pick up a newspaper without what’s in it seeming so overwhelmingly terrible that nothing I could write would seem to have any point at all?’ ‘Then you shouldn’t read the newspapers.’ I laughed. After a while she smiled with me.

The Golden Notebook is a little like the Alexandria Quartet, but readable. That's not fair or accurate to either, but it is a breath of fresh air after the convolutions of the Not Durrells. I don’t know where I got the idea that The Golden Notebook was intimidating and “difficult” - it wasn’t from Burgess, who only hints that the project is imperfect and regrets that Anna is too critical and humorless. I don't think it's the back cover copy, which is straightforward enough. Maybe it's just that it's a big book with an abstract cover? Anyway, this impression of difficulty was totally wrong. Anna is a writer who keeps four notebooks on four different themes; one day her best friend's troubled son, who is being inappropriately nosy here, challenges her on whether it's honest to keep different parts of herself separated in this way. Meanwhile, there is lots of earnest dialogue about the breakup, imminent and ongoing, of the Communist Party in Britain (the book begins in 1956 but extends backward and forward in time) and lots of unhappy affairs extensively analyzed.

What I Plan to Read Next

Books from my bookshelves. The Story of the Lost Child. I found The Hidden Land at a used bookstore (the sequel to The Secret Country), so that too, eventually.

2016: The Year in Books, Part 2

It's time to keep the spirit of procrastination rolling into the New Year with more book memes! Questions snagged from egelantier and littlerhymes. Head under the cut if you want to hear me say "I don't know" a lot.

so long and thanks for all the booksCollapse )

Maybe I should have thought about these answers a little more? I'll probably come back to this later and have changed my mind, and be amazed at what I've forgotten to mention.

2016: The Year in Books

Books I finished in 2016 by month, not counting compulsively re-read bag-of-chips type books or anything I skimmed so that I could get it off my bookshelves before moving to a new apartment. Non-compulsive re-reads are marked with an asterisk. Titles in bold are from 99 Novels - a challenge I am obviously not going to finish anytime soon.

Books to the left of me, more books to the rightCollapse )

Non-fiction 24
Detective fiction: 74
Authors new to me in 2016 (fiction): 58
. . . that I really loved: 13

I stopped marking favorites this year because there were too many to choose from. The vast majority of books I've read this year have been good, and even the bad ones have been enjoyable for the most part; the few true slogs (Fifth Law of Hawkins comes to mind) were not part of any reading resolution, so I ditched them without ceremony and went on to something better.

A few highlights: the endless weirdness of Titus Groan, BALZAC's terrible life choices, reading Lady Chatterly's Lover, Possession, and The Count of Monte Cristo with osprey_archer (and all my flist regulars), getting blindsided by Invisible Man, finishing Ngaio Marsh, getting on the Elena Ferrante train only a couple of years late, and ALMOST getting to the end of Lost Time in time to start the whole thing over again with a Proust reading group in 2017.

This year, if all goes well, I will have less time to read. I'm in the process of changing jobs, and whatever I end up with, it won't give me nearly as much time to sit at a counter in idleness. On the other hand, if I wind up unemployed, I will have more time than I know what to do with.

Mad About Murder Monday

What I've Finished Reading

The Scoop and Behind the Screen, two collaborative mysteries by Assorted Members of the Detection Club - both lightweight and pretty delightful, free of the racist and antisemitic set dressing that marred The Floating Admiral. Hugh Walpole's opening chapter for Behind the Screen is a little masterpiece. These were originally published as "guess the killer!" serials with prizes for the best answers sent in by readers, so there's a brief discussion of the winners at the end.

I liked The Little Stranger, but I'm not entirely sure what to say about it yet! More a ghost story than a murder mystery. . .or is it?? (it depends).

Christie's The Mystery of the Blue Train has such a charming depiction of a solicitous father (one of Christie's better American millionaires) encouraging his stubborn, unhappy adult daughter to get a divorce. By far my favorite thing about this book was their relationship: imperfect, but genuine and sweet.

Unfortunately, [Lots of spoilers for The Mystery of the Blue Train]she gets murdered before she can get a divorce and her ongoing affair with a con man would have hurt her case even if she'd lived. Still, I really liked that her dad was being so encouraging and "modern" about it. I wish the whole book had just been about them dealing with the non-fatal consequences of her behavior and maybe learning to confide in each other a little more as equals.

Also, WHY is everyone so hot for Derek Kettering? WHY? He is a bog-standard cad who does not even manage to be charming in a bog-standardly caddish way. Literally the only thing he has going for him is [spoilers within spoilers]not being a murderer and he can't shut up about how providential his wife's murder was, which the narrative treats as admirable honesty instead of the not particularly admirable self-absorption it is. I guess it doesn't help that I liked his wife; she may be imperious and egotistical, but she felt like a real person with flaws, or at least a snappy 1930s romcom character with flaws, whereas Derek is just a generic douchebag. I wish she and her affectionate millionaire dad had been whisked away into a snappy 1930s romcom where the only victims are an assortment of dignities. The end can't rank with the best of Christie's awful romances, because no actual strangling takes place, but it's noteworthy anyway.

Also! The virtuous heroine used to work as an old person's companion in St. Mary Mead! Miss Marple does not appear because she hasn't been invented yet, but you know she's watching.

What I'm Reading Now

Partners in Crime: Tommy and Tuppence playing detective for some kind of poorly delineated spy purpose. It's just an excuse for them to put pipes in their mouths and pretend to be Sherlock Holmes, which you don't really need an excuse for in the first place, let's be honest.

The House by the River is a 1905 novel, in a very cheap, rapidly crumbling paperback, which the front cover assures me "is not only a love story, but is, as well, a rattling good detective story, by a very popular author." The popular author is Florence Warden. The story so far: a nice young typist who is Not Like Other Typists has just met a nice young man who seems to like her, learned that the nice young man has a fiancee, and stumbled across a corpse. It's promising enough in an undistinguished way.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Seven Dials Mystery or Murder at the Vicarage, maybe something else. I may need to take a week's hiatus from the Reading Memes to catch up on some things; we'll see.

Emergency Lost Time Update

I know it isn't Thursday yet, but something terrible has happened. [Is this a spoiler? I had no idea it was coming.]

Albertine is dead. She left Little M. early in the morning one day, and since then he has been trying a number of sad, hilarious schemes to manipulate her into coming back - trying to make her jealous or excite her pity or avarice. She died very suddenly in an accident that was no one's fault. The telegram arrived just as Little M. was fantasizing about an accident or illness that would allow him to rush to her side, which allowed me to hope for a moment that her death was itself a fantasy that would soon be dispelled. I am still hoping, several pages later, that the telegraph was a lie, cooked up between Albertine and her aunt to scare Little M. and force his hand in the marriage issue, or to make him more pliable for a little while.

Maybe it still will be? I don't want Albertine to live with Little M.; they are destined to be unhappy together. But I also want her to be alive, flirting with waitresses, animated by unknowable thoughts.

[A] suffering until then unimagined, that of learning that she would not come back. And yet, had I not told myself many times, that quite possibly, she would not come back? I had indeed told myself so, but now I saw that never for a moment had I believed it.

I am impressed by Proust's ability to describe this feeling while simultaneously producing it in me, the reader. But I am also upset.


blase ev

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