Saturday, August 07, 2021

Reading Update

Book #53 of 2021 was His Last Duchess, by Gabrielle Kimm. I was interested in this book because of the title, since it made me think of the Robert Browning poetic monologue, "My Last Duchess." Sure enough, that's what the book is about. But instead of Browning's subtle treatment, we get a lurid bodice-ripper. I did enjoy learning about the art techniques of the time; I didn't check it out but I assume the author's descriptions of the creation of frescoes are accurate. 

Book #54 was Olympus, Texas, by Stacey Swann. I have a weakness for retelling of Greek and Roman myths, and this one is in that category. In this book, the pantheon of Olympus is transformed into a dysfunctional family in Olympus, Texas. Imagine the behavior of Zeus, Hera, et al playing out in a small southern town! Pretty explosive stuff. 

Book #55 was John Green's collection of essays, The Anthropocene Reviewed. My son introduced me to the podcast of the same name, and we often listened to it together while he was still living at home. The book has a lot of the podcast episodes in it, but also some new material. I could hear Green's voice in my head as I was reading. He has a lovely, emotional prose style, and I enjoyed reading his takes on many aspects of current life. 


Book #56 was That's Not What Happened, by Kody Keplinger. After a school shooting in a small town, there's a narrative that has emerged. Everyone knows it and everyone believes it. But Lee, one of six survivors struggling with the arrival of the third anniversary of the event, knows another truth, and she thinks it's time everyone else knew it too. But she finds that the way everyone else thinks it happened has become too important to challenge. 


Book #57 was If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, by Gennifer Choldenko, who wrote the book Al Capone Does My Shirts, which I read in 2007 and loved (the link is to my review).  I didn't love this one. The characters seemed quite stereotypical and I wasn't convinced by the over-the-top drama of the plot.


Book #58 was Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, by Lulu Miller. This is about Miller's obsession with the story of David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist and the first president of Stanford. She thinks she will get insights from his story for dealing with her own life, which has been messed up in various ways, many of them caused by her own behavior. She interweaves her own story with what she's learning about Jordan and about taxonomy. The main thing I took from this book is that the way we categorize things is only one way to do it; there could be many others. I had heard a bit of this idea before in reference to Linnaeus, another man whose categorizing of living beings has deeply affected the way we see the world. The title refers to the idea that fish don't really have enough in common to be a category. There's a lot of fascinating information in this book, including a great deal about eugenics, which Jordan turns out to have been crazy about. There's also some haunting description of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Oh, and an unsolved murder (?) mystery. The book reads like a very long podcast, and I thought it was well-written. It was interesting to explore the history of Miller's learning about her topic, and the ideas are thought-provoking. I wasn't entirely sure why what she learned about Jordan helped her in her own situation, but it's always mysterious how these things happen. I'm not sure whether to recommend this or not; it's strange, but I learned a few things I'm glad to know.

Book #59 was The Wife Upstairs, by Rachel Hawkins, a retelling of the Jane Eyre story. I found it completely unbelievable, even more so than the original. 

Book #60 was a reread, Pillars, by Rachel Pieh Jones.  This time I read it to my husband, who also liked it. The link is to my review when I first read it.

Book #61 was On Immunity, by Eula Biss. This book on vaccination was published in 2014, but it is of course incredibly timely right now. I found it interesting, as the writer took her thinking in several directions that were new to me. However, I have not read very much about the topic, so others may not find her ideas as new. Here's a taste: "'Antibiotics, vaccines, they're both like time travel,' a friend wrote me that spring. 'You go back in time and you're able to prevent a catastrophe, but who knows how you have irrevocably altered the future? I love my babies, and I go back in time (vaccinate) in order to prevent the catastrophe I can see, but then I risk the catastrophe I can't see.' This was my friend who writes science fiction poetry, of course. And I knew what she meant. ... Every day with a child, I have discovered, is a kind of time travel. I cast my mind ahead with each decision I make, wondering what I might be giving or taking from my child in the future. I send him off to preschool, where he learns about germs and rules, wondering all the time who he might have been if he had not learned to wash his hands and stand in line as soon as he could talk. But even when I do nothing, I am aware that I am irrevocably changing the future. Time marches forward in a course that is forever altered by the fact that I did nothing." 


Book #62 was a reread, As Soon As I Fell: A Memoir, by Kay Bruner, which I read, but did not review, back in 2015.  Bruner tells the story of a crisis in her marriage, and how she responded to it. Since she was a missionary at the time, her response was complicated by what the mission organization did. All of this led to a radical transformation of the way Bruner saw the world, and, especially, God and how He works in human lives. When was God there for her? All along. Was He waiting for her to pick herself up and fix her life and her marriage? No! He was there all along. As soon as she fell. This is a very good book and I recommend it.


Book #63 was A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds, by Scott Weidensaul. This was so good. I wanted to read it again right away as soon as I finished it (but I didn't, because I had so many other books checked out from the library that I had to read before they vanished from my Kindle). Reading it was like hanging out with birders, which is so fun because they invariably have so many interesting stories to tell (at least the birders I've met - perhaps I have just been fortunate). There is a lot about habitat loss and the way birds struggle due to climate change and other issues, but it's also just amazing to read about the variety that exists among birds, the way they adapt to changing situations, and the obsessive ways humans work to fix the problems - and surprisingly successfully! I loved the writing, too. I would like to share some of it, but unfortunately the book has vanished from my Kindle. 


Book #64 was Dakota: A Spiritual Biography, by Kathleen Norris. I visited South Dakota this summer for the first time, and I was fascinated to read this study of life in small towns in this world of huge distances and deprivation (relative to the mainstream US way of life). I don't know how true this book is now; it was published in 2001. I enjoyed it, as I have all the Norris I have read before. And I started thinking about how the places I have lived have affected my spiritual life. 


Book #65 was Celine, by Peter Heller. I didn't love this as much as the other Peter Heller books I've read so far (I wrote about them here). Celine is a charming character but not very believable as a detective. Many of her conclusions come purely from her intuition, in a kind of magical-realist way. It also didn't have as many birds in it as Heller's other books. (Full disclosure: I also tried Heller's novel The Painter and didn't even like it well enough to finish it.) I think I will try some more Heller, because I did like the first two I read so very much.

1 comment:

Karen Edmisten said...

Thanks for the reactions to the Heller books. I've read only The River and I loved it so much. I'm looking forward to his new one, The Guide, which comes out later this month.