Origin Story: the why, the what, and the wherefore

  • My last post was in mid-July, in whence I wasted some of my internet time (at the local library– rural KY means no wifi at home) updating this instead of writing my dissertation. Since then, I read 10 more books, spent another month in KY, and traveled home to the land of constant connection (D.C. suburbs.)

    Listing the books here, and recording thoughts as they occur:

    106) Here Goes Nothing, Steve Toltz– 3/5 stars; reminded me of A Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier

    107) The Jane Austen Society, Natalie Jenner– 4/5; enjoyed, made me want to reread all (of course). Would be good in a bookclub.

    108) Lucky Turtle, Bill Roorbach– 5/5 or more; loved this. Escape to the wilderness (one of my fav tropes), true love’s twisty track

    109) The Reading List, Sara Nisha Adams– 4/5; so good. Widowed grandfather connects with his family and himself through reading great books. Reminded me of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

    110) The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes– 3/5; good but maybe not memorable. Another about the bookwomen of Kentucky (see below). Loved the image of the fireflies.

    111) Book Woman’s Daughter, Kim Michele Richardson– 3/5; another Kentucky read, sequel to something I read a few summers ago. Didn’t remember the first book quite well enough, but didn’t want to reread. Enjoyed it, but more of a bookclub book.

    112) The Vanished Bride, Bella Ellis– 4/5; really enjoyed this. The Bronte sisters detect. I’d read more, I’d watch the series, made me want to reread all of all of them. Silly, of course. But fun.

    113) The Cruellest Month, Louise Penny– 5/5; loving this series.

    114) A Rule Against Murder, Louise Penny– 5/5; ditto

    115) Where the Deer and the Antelope Play, Nick Offerman–5/5; ok I just absolutely adored this book. I have a hard copy, read the first page or two, realized I was attempting his voice in my head and –miracle of miracles– my local library had the audio book available for immediate borrowing! Listened in two days, passed it on with an imperative statement to my partner. So so good. In this, he is consciously ethical in a way that really resounded with me.

  • Started Louise Penny’s Three Pines series and loving it. Read Still Life and A Fatal Grace in one gulp, kindle on dark mode until four AM. Love reading like that– makes me feel like I’m 12 with a flashlight under the covers.

    Penny shows such a deftness of community and emotion. Not without edges, I’m not sure I really trust everyone who is important to her main characters, but also it isn’t looking for the flaws in people. Pleasantly surprised. I have a fairly low opinion of cozy mysteries (I read them, but I don’t expect them to be great); these are philosophical in a way that is more commonly found in literature that takes itself more seriously.

    Going to try to refocus on the bag of books for the remainder of vacation, and spread these out over the fall. We’ll see how successful I am.

  • One of the features of our vacations for the last 5 years (at least) is my Big Bag of Books. C starts collecting books that have been recommended by book sellers, or that he notices advertised somewhere, and packs them all up for our time in Kentucky. So my reading for the next six weeks (until the middle of August) is drawn (mostly) from the bag.

    101: The Sanatorium, Sarah Pearse

    A super-remote sanatorium is turned into a fancy hotel– they added lots of amenities, but kind of doubled down on the scary atmosphere. Setting reminded me of the Poirot episode in the hotel (Trials of Hercules?… something like that– the one that combined several of the short stories from that collection); the murder could have been more closely integrated with the setting or with the characters– I was caught off guard, didn’t figure it out, but also don’t think I missed anything, I think it just needed more *something* to justify the conclusion. (This might be a problem of genre: maybe this is a suspense, not a mystery– I read everything as mystery, expect the conclusion to be gestured to and worked toward, but that’s a genre-specific thing.) Enjoyed it. Loved the setting, super spooky.

    102: The Postscript Murders, Elly Griffiths

    This was good, reminded me of The Thursday Murder Club. Old lady dies, is it murder, and who would want to kill an old lady? (Answer: plenty of people, obviously) In the way that an out-of-print book affects the plot, this reminded me of the Joanne Dobson mystery… but details of that plot are escaping me. Some long-dead scandal recorded in a racy novel that nearly nobody remembers. Anyway. This was good, and I need to reread the Karen Pelletier novels.

    103: The Messy Lives of Book People, Phaedra Patrick

    She name-checked The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo near the beginning, and that was wisely done. This isn’t that story, of course, but it is similar in the setup: someone gets close to a reclusive icon and kind of investigates what happened in their life. Didn’t see this ending coming, enjoyed it.

  • So I didn’t finish *any* of the off-the-shelf reads I had planned for June. But I’m happier with what I did get accomplished than if I’d done what I planned: I finished a chapter of my dissertation, and did a lot of creating (sewing, refashioning, organizing) before our 6 week vacation in KY.

    I read (listened to) 4 books during the month:
    * Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz
    * Moonflower Murders, Anthony Horowitz
    * Death of a Gossip, M. C. Beaton
    * Death of a Cad, M. C. Beaton

    First off, only 4 books! That is a record for me, and one I’m quite proud of. Those 20 book months are kind of a sign that I’m in an unhealthy cycle, that life is just a thing I do around the edges of my books. The edges took up more space this month, and that’s progress.

    About these: Love the Horowitz series, I don’t think Beaton is for me.

    I’ve read Magpie Murders before, but I didn’t remember it, so I decided on a reread after the first chapter of Moonflower left me a bit confused. (I think readers should have a fairly fresh memory of the first before the second– there’s a lot of call back to the first.) Enjoyable, I didn’t try too hard to figure out the criminal, because I think it’s more fun to just follow the author.

    Not such a fan of Beaton. I’ve listened to some Agatha Raisin, these were my first Hamish Macbeth books. She’s a little harsh for me. There are unexpected edges to her writing that maybe make it more interesting, but I find it jarring. I feel like she doesn’t really like these people very much. Plenty of super curmudgeonly characters are portrayed lovingly (I’m thinking of Fredrik Backman)– but I feel like a bad characteristic for Beaton is a reason to just write them off, to discard or disregard them. Oh well, all authors are not for all readers. Watched all the Hamish Macbeth series though, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    July is mostly unplanned. C brought a big bag of books for me, so I’ll work through that. And trying to finish another chapter, so we’ll see how that goes.

  • June’s reading is going to be a little different, though I loved the structure of the alphabet challenge in May. But June is (maybe) my last summer month at home, so I’m having a clear-the-shelves sprint. (I’m traveling in July and part of August, and I have a lot of new books coming, so it’s best that I read off the shelf while I’m home, rather than travel with books I’ve owned for ages.) And no non-fiction/morning reading. Trying to get as much done on my diss this month as possible, and so I’m switching it up by hitting the work first thing, instead of after an hour or so of reading. (Maybe some poetry in the morning if this feels untenable.) All of these, except possibly Ahab’s Wife, are read-then-donate books, so this feels like an excellent chance to clear some space.

    The list of 10:

    • The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett (off the shelf, gift from C)
    • Marilla of Green Gables, Sarah McCoy (off the shelf, gift from C)
    • Victoria, Daisy Goodwin (off the shelf, gift from C) (& audio from library, 14 days)
    • Ahab’s Wife, or, The Star-Gazer, Sena Jeter Naslund (off the shelf, library booksale)
    • The Guineveres, Sarah Domet (off the shelf, gift from C) [read or discard]
    • We That Are Left, Clare Clark (off the shelf, gift from C) [read or discard]
    • Becoming Belle, Nuala O’Conner (off the shelf, gift from C) [read or discard]
    • Everything Here is Beautiful, Mira T. Lee (off the shelf, gift from C) [read or discard] (& audio from library, 21 days)
    • Three Martini Lunch, Suzanne Rindell (off the shelf, gift from C) [read or discard]
    • Edgar and Lucy, Victor Lodato (off the shelf, gift from C) [read or discard]
  • Ok, this month came in at 20. But it didn’t feel mindless, so it’s fine. I read the 10 I chose for myself at the beginning of the month, liked some (some more than expected), some were a bit forgettable, but none so bad I bailed. (Working on bailing books I’m not enjoying, so those don’t show up here! Being this far ahead in my reading goals has benefits!)

    Some of the best this month:

    • Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
    • Mother of Invention, Katrine Marcal
    • Emma, Jane Austen
    • The Body Is Not an Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor
    • The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kamp
    • Unsheltered, Babara Kingsolver

  • I listened to this, and the closer attention of actual reading might have been a better choice. But still, this was great for listening as I did the few things that require me to put my book down. Her major argument (which barely needed arguing, but wow the info she marshalled) is that things are tested on male bodies, and that the resultant information gap is killing women. So from the AC in the office (which you’ve probably heard about), from the force that a crash test dummy can withstand, to the size of the car, to the size of the phone……. and it isn’t *just* inconvenience: when women have to shift their seats forward to reach the pedals in the car, that change in distance affects how force is distributed, how seat belts work, how a woman, vs a man, might survive. And so much else.

  • The Rajah Quilt is a quilt made by women on the convict ship Rajah in 1841. There were 180 women on the ship, based on the different skills demonstrated and the known histories of the women, around 30 women probably did the stitching. This intensively researched book tells the story of the women on the ship– circumstances before conviction, transportation, lives in Australia. There is a lot that isn’t known, but this book tells everything else. I thought this was going to be an introduction to a chapter in my diss, I ended up going another way. But I think this will be useful in another project I’ve had simmering about life in the colony in 1840’s. Fun stuff.

  • Enjoyed this overall. I need to read more poetry collections (I’m not sure if there’s a word that means explicitly what I mean– collection can be the collected works of [x], or an individual volume, written and published together with intention by the author. I like the continuance of the theme throughout variations. Possible words seem to be used indiscriminately–anthology, collection, volume…. )

    The poem in which victims of hate-based violence write postcards to their attackers from national monuments. The flash of moving up the St. Louis Arch in a tiny metal capsule resonated with me, a moment of memory of being small and frightened and excited. The poem was dense and beautiful and complicated and ultimately hopeful, as the violent keeps getting smaller and smaller, less and less defining. I read this through the lens of the language around victim vs survivor, and even more, of that being the only identifier. We talk about this concept when I teach Saidiya Hartman’s Venus in Two Acts– the impossible necessity of seeing the personhood of the one slaughtered, who only appears in the public record on the worst day of their life, who had a full life before they were so cavalierly renamed Venus or Aphrodite or Belle.

    “US & CO.” by Tracy K. Smith

    We are here for what amounts to a few hours,

    a day at most.

    We feel around making sense of the terrain,

    our own new limbs,

    Bumping up against a herd of bodies

    until one becomes home.

    Moments sweep past. The grass bends

    then learns again to stand.

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