What are you reading the week of March 28, 2020?
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This book is an absolute hoot if you like dark, Kafkaesque comedies. It's the story of two men told in alternating chapters. One, named Peretz, is a philologist at a research facility known as the Administration. The Administration is a surreal, nightmarish institute where nothing is ever accomplished because everything is without meaning. The Administration oversees work on The Forest with divisions devoted to penetrating and removing the forest and another division focused on preservation. Peretz came to the Administration to study the languages of the people who live in the forest, but he can't get a permit to enter. So he has nothing to do, but he's not allowed to leave either. In a wonderfully comic scene, he's evicted from his hotel room by the panicky hotel manager wearing pajamas because his visa expired at midnight, and it's illegal to rent a room to someone without a valid visa.
The other man is named Candide. He's a helicopter pilot who crashed in the forest some years earlier. He is living with the locals who took him in and nursed him back to health. The forest has its own strange rules and the people of the forest are as baffling as they are unfamiliar. Candide is always planning to leave the village the day after tomorrow to find the City, but he somehow forgets to actually go. This may or may not be because they had to reattach his head after he crashed. It's never quite clear. The natives are simple villagers who prattle on about anything and everything and refer to Candide as Silent Man because he doesn't. The villagers are as full of rumors and fairy tales as the forest is full of dangers.
I have to say, that I'm really enjoying this book, although it may not be to everyone's taste. Imagine a production of Waiting for Godot staring the Marx Brothers. The novel doesn't seem to be going anywhere, but I think that's the point. Boris Strugatsky describes the conception of the book as representing the present (The Administration bustling with activity but accomplishing nothing) and the future (The Forest which is wild, dangerous and unpredictable).
I'll be spending my usual day or so going through a stack of my "between books" and then will start Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven Zipperstein. Not exactly light reading, but I've been meaning to get to it for a while and saw some positive comments about the book here on LT recently.
Pratchett's footprints are all over this one, with its drive-by puns and throwaway commentary on cultural icons from Elvis sightings to Star Wars fandom, propelling Gaiman's story seed of the Antichrist switched at birth with the wrong Human baby, but it does drag on forever -- I mean, where is there to go after Armageddon is cancelled?
I watched the Amazon / BBC miniseries between the first reading and this re-visit, and I have to say that the TV version actually tightened up the action considerably (regrettably, at the cost of losing the footnotes, which are a huge part of the book's charm). But at least in written form, one could comprehend what the children were saying. Little kid actors with heavy English accents, who talk very fast and in a very high register, are one of my pet peeves. They definitely needed subtitles.....
It was my first experience with both Gaiman and Pratchett, and at the time there was little of their work published in the US. Went to Britain and found them all over the place. I reread the discworld series after pratchett passed.....
Over the years I was able to meet both authors at various conventions and book readings, I asked both if they would make a sequel, they just sadly shook their heads Did get them both to sign my original copy which I treasyre,
* “from Untitled Notes” from Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs – Finished!
* Excerpt from Diary by Anais Nin from The Norton Book of Women's Lives edited by Phyllis Rose
* “L’Envoi: The Faded Actor” from Laugh with Leacock by Stephen Leacock – Finished!
* "Rosalyn Yalow" from American Heroines: The Spirited Women who Shaped Our Country by Kay Bailey Hutchison
* “Temps Perdu” from A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
* “Night” from Living in the Weather of the World by Richard Bausch
* “The Blue Muslin Sepulchre” by Nancy Hale from Scribner's Magazine - March, 1936
Also as noted above, today I start Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven Zipperstein. Also, I'll post short reviews of the two "between books" I finished last night on my 50-Book Challenge and Club Read threads over the next couple of days.
2) Since I got sick I've read The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay in the few hours a day that I'm awake; I didn't enjoy it.
3) I've got the Covid-19 virus, or such is the opinion of the Dept. of Public Health here. I've not been tested but have all the symptoms, am on the list of "presumed infected" in the city, and am under a 14-day quarantine. Please be careful and don't get this: it's bad. It's by far the worst I've ever felt. Such fevers, and the non-stop coughing, and the muscle and joint pain, and a throat as sore as if it had ground-up glass coating it. Am living on easy-to-swallow food: apple sauce, yogurt, chocolate pudding, ice cream, and clear liquids.
The Turn Of the Key – Ruth Ware
From the book jacket: When Rowan Caine stumbles across the ad, … it seems like too good an opportunity to miss – a live-in nanny post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten – by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family. When she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare.
Well, I didn’t read the book jacket before I read the book (which I won through Bookreporter.com). My niece loves Ware’s thrillers, so I thought I’d give the author a go.
Written in an epistolary style, the book opens with the main character in prison and her desperate letter to a solicitor asking for help – because “I didn’t kill that child.” Her letter continues outlining all that happened – how she stumbled upon the job opening, submitted her resume, went for the interview, and began the position. And how quickly things began going wrong. There are twists and turns and unexplained happenings. References to ghosts and previous “bad history” of the house. A “poison” garden behind a tall wall and locked gate. A mysterious housekeeper who clearly doesn’t like Rowan. A handsome gardener/handyman who seems too good to be true – and could he be the person causing all this havoc? In no time at all, Rowan is a sleep-deprived mess, who shows very poor judgment.
I will say this for Ware, she kept me turning pages and second-guessing, even if I didn’t quite empathize with Rowan or believe the way the kids or their parents behaved. Her final reasoning seemed really off to me, as if Ware just had to find one more twist to include. And then that final letter just completely caught me off guard.
As a suspense thriller it was better than most. I can certainly see why my niece is such a fan.
Lett’s historical fiction novel relates the life of Maud Baum, wife of Frank L. Baum who wrote The Wizard of Oz books. The novel goes back and forth between Maud’s childhood and her marriage to Frank and then years later to her relationship with the young Judy Garland who is playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I especially enjoyed reading about the life of Maud and her life with Frank. This makes me want to learn more about their real life relationship. At the end there is an afterword by the author which goes over what was true and what was made up. Interestingly, it was a picture of Maud Baum and Judy Garland on the movie set that inspired Letts to write this book.
I read The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory yesterday/today and it was extremely saccharine and did not please me. Don't know what I'll read now. I'm thinking about plunging in to Katherine by Anya Seton
Today I just finished Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey - it officially comes out in July and I HIGHLY recommend it when you can get a copy!
I'm reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, listening to Amy Poehler (and a passel of other celebrities) read her memoir Yes Please, and just started A Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev as my next ARC.
i'm having a hard time focusing, so i am fitfully starting Ducks, Newburyport, The Worm Ouroboros, and Docile (on audio.)
the extent to which these books are wildly tonally/thematically dissimilar... might be a reflection of something or other.
Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle (4 stars)
(domestic thriller/spousal abuse)
* Excerpt from A Daughter of Han by Ning Lao T’ai-T’ai from The Norton Book of Women's Lives edited by Phyllis Rose
* "Clara Barton" from American Heroines: The Spirited Women who Shaped Our Country by Kay Bailey Hutchison
* “Carpe Diem” from A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
* “The Knoll” from Living in the Weather of the World by Richard Bausch
* “Across the Busy Years: Fourtheen Republican Conventions – III. Behind the Scenes in 1916” by Nicolas Murry Butler from Scribner's Magazine - March, 1936
I've now started Maravilla, a coming of age story of a young girl set in East LA, by Laura Del Fuego.
I think I'm going to read The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah next. I really liked The Nightingale and I'm hoping that her other books are as well-written.
So sorry to hear you caught this nasty thing. Take care of yourself, and good thoughts coming your way.
The Children’s Blizzard – David Laskin
Audiobook read by Paul Woodson
On January 12, 1888 a massive cold front brought plummeting temperatures, gale-force winds, and blinding snow to the northern plains. The day had started out unseasonably mild, and children walked to school without their usual heavy coats, gloves and hats. Caught completely unawares and unprepared many of them died in the blizzard that is still talked about in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Laskin has pieced together the stories of several immigrant families and what happened to them during the two days of the storm. There are stories of heroism and determination. Children who kept their heads and found shelter. Teachers who shepherded their classes to safety. Men and women who died searching for their livestock. Many who survived the initial storm and exposure, later died of complications – gangrene that resulted from severe frostbite, or heart arrhythmias that caught them unawares.
It’s a gripping tale, told masterfully.
Paul Woodson does a fine job reading the audiobook. He sets a good pace and his narration held my attention throughout.
High school exists on the peripheries. Thoughts of the future are mostly absent. At first I took this for a weakness, but as time, and the narrative, went on, I began to think this was meant to represent the issues of the societal constraints that the culture inflicts on this relatively poor community of color. Things get more serious as Cece's story moves along, she grows into her sexuality, and the people around her start dabbling in, and sometimes succumbing to, harder drugs. The police become more of a presence. Watts explodes. And Cece begins struggling to break away from the continuing patterns of futility. Though parts of the novel dragged, overall I think it was well worth reading.
Next up, some "between book" reading, followed by a Istanbul Passage, a spy thriller by Joseph Kanon. I very much liked his book, The Good German, which I read a few years back (I haven't seen the movie), so thought I'd give him another go. Cheers!