May 28, 2018

More Books.

"After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.” 

― Amor TowlesA Gentleman in Moscow

Little French Girl by Anne Douglas Sedgwick - (bookclub) This was my 3rd time reading LFG.  It remains one of my favorite books.  

Howards End by E.M. Forster (Close Reads bookclub) - I quite enjoyed portions of this novel and I quite snoozed through portions of this novel.  It is rumored that the Schlegel Sisters are based upon the true-life Stephen Sisters (Virginia Woolf...), though Forster claims, unconvincingly, that they're not.  Virginia Woolf has intriguing critique on Forster's works - she and he were contemporaries (both part of Bloomsbury Literary Group) and acquaintances/friends - and she co-opted Howards End into her own novel, To the Lighthouse.  So I think my biggest appreciation of Howards End is going to be as a door into Woolf's story.

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay - (library) this book was filled with cardboard characters, simplistic verbiage and all kinds of necessary (for me) suspension-of-disbelief.  T'was “meh”.  But I finished it in 2 days.  So, take that as you will.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - The reluctant hero, the cantankerous neighbor, the man with a "heart too big."  Britt-Marie remains my favorite Backman book, but Ove is a close second.  

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles - just delightful.  Gentleman, indeed.  Probably end up being my favorite from this year.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – (bookclub)  I've now officially read the complete oeuvre of Jane Austen.  Mansfield Park is my last and latest.  Here's how I personally rank them:  Pride & Prejudice>Emma>Lady Susan=Sense & Sensibility>all the rest.  P&P is one of my top-5-forever-favorites.  I have a love-dislike relationship with Jane Austen.  Mansfield Park seemed to me to be a wordy version of Cinderella filled with characters that were all not-quite-likeable, and just glimpses here and there of Austen's fierce wit.  Reading it was just a slog.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle - I must have read this as a child, but I don't remember it at all.  It must not have resonated with me then, just as it didn't resonate with me now.  I know L'Engle is highly regarded, but it's hard for me to fathom that all that acclaim comes from this book.  Maybe the series ...?  I'll never know, because I don't intend to read more.

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng - I read thru the first 77 pages before deciding I didn't really care about any of the characters. I skimmed/skipped til the end. This book just wasn't my cuppa. 
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (library) - similar to The Rosie Project and Britt-Marie Was Here, you the reader are in the head of an unreliable narrator whose account of events is filtered thru un-self-aware eyes. I liberally skimmed Eleanor, as it lacked the charm of Rosie and Britt-Marie. It was just an ok pageturner for me.

True Grit by Charles Portis - (Close Reads bookclub/podcast) a reread.  Just as good the second time through.

Bear Town by Fredrik Backman – (library)  Fredrik Backman wrings your heart.  That’s what he does in his writing.  That said, in Bear Town, he’s trying to wring my heart against the backdrop of the “needs” of a sports team (and by extension, the hoped-for revived economy of a town) vs the cries for justice from a raped 15yo.  He exposes the varying motivations of his 385 broken characters (I exaggerate. but not by much.) as they choose “sides”.  In a couple different places, one of the voices of reason claims that “This town doesn’t always know the difference between right and wrong … But we know the difference between good and evil.”  And see, as an Enneagram One-er, I personally don’t see shades of gray between wrong & evil and right & good; my heart could not be wrung effectively in this book.  Because a girl was raped.  And it doesn’t matter what one’s motivation is; in my humble opinion, it will never be ok to turn a blind eye to what you know is true of evil perpetrated.  So this book was just a huge exercise in frustration for me.  My ranking of Backman’s novels:  Britt-Marie>Ove>Grandma>Bear Town. 

A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde - (bookclub)  Dorian is Wilde's homage to aestheticism; he even has an entire "introduction" dedicated to explaining to the reader "art for art's sake."  But goshdarnit, if I don't think he failed in his expressed goal.  I think it's quite impossible to read his story as anything BUT a moralistic warning against the excesses of unfettered hedonism.  Books reveal much about their authors, and Dorian, I think, reveals much of Wilde's self-loathing due to his own struggles with sin. Pair this story with Wilde's short story The Selfish Giant, and consider a fuller picture of the oft stereotyped Oscar Wilde.

Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut - Big Dude loved this book.  So I read it, too.  It's Vonnegut, so of course, it's all kinds of weird and quirky and darkly witty and brilliantly written and just a wee bit confusing at times - it's a sort of modern Noah's Ark narrative written from a million years in the future, flashing back to the events and characters of the apocalypse.  I tend to miss the "big picture" in pursuit of the small puzzle pieces; so I got kinda hung up on not knowing who the narrator was for the first 220 pages.  Turns out it totally didn't matter to the story. (Ghost Leon Trout, son of Kilgore Trout, just in case you wondered).  Big Dude, on the other hand, *is* a "big picture" kind of guy, so he totally picked up on this being Vonnegut thumbing his nose at Darwin.  Now that I think about it, the way Big Dude and I differed in our approach to this book is much like how we approach life at large.  I'm glad I have him to supply me with the simple summaries of "big picture".  :-)

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