Monday, August 26, 2013

travel reading, and some news

Since I have last been in this space, the reading:

Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England, by Juliet Barker. A little dense at times, but overall quite good. I learned a lot.

In the Woods, by Tana French. Pretty much as good as everyone says it is. Our narrator's unreliable and a bit dickish, but I still enjoyed it immensely. 

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons. I hate to say it, but I like the movie better. It's not fair, really, to compare lines on a page with Ian McKellan's delivery of them, and I am sure I would have laughed myself silly at the book if I'd never seen the movie. And the book does contain the following description of a movie audience which anyone who has gone to the Kendall Square cinema lately will recognize:

That audience had run to beards and magenta shirts and original ways of arranging its neckwear; and not content with the ravages produced in its over-excitable nervous system by the remorseless working of its critical intelligence, it had sat through a film of Japanese life called "Yes", made by a Norwegian film company in 1915 with Japanese actors, which lasted an hour and three-quarters and contained twelve closeups of water-lilies lying perfectly still on a scummy pond and four suicides, all done extremely slowly. 

But other than that it was a bit of a let-down. I'll just be watching the movie again, I think.

Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine, by Eric Weiner. I really liked Weiner's The Geography of Bliss; this was not as good. In it he examines eight different religions in what he claims to be a serious attempt to pick one for himself, but the choices of RaĆ«lism (in which adherents believe that aliens created mankind for the purpose of lots of boinking) and Shamanism make it pretty clear that he's just looking for funny things to write about. He also "examines" Shamanism and Sufism by going to workshops in L.A., basically, which doesn't strike me as diligent research. This book let me down because I think Weiner's a better journalist than you'd guess from it; he's trying too hard to find bizarre people and write funny stories about them, rather than actually studying religion. The impression I was left with was that he was depressed with the project by the end, and with the resulting product as well. 

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, by Simon Winchester. I couldn't finish this. The first two-thirds were quite good, about the history and geographic elements of the Atlantic Ocean, but when Winchester got to his part about mankind's influence on the oceans, he refused to commit to the fact that man is causing climate change. He just kept hedging, and making excuses, and claiming that "several renowned scientists" still refuse to believe in anthropogenic climate change so he's not going to address it as a given, and I couldn't keep reading that bullshit on every other page - especially when the rest of those pages was a litany of the nightmarish things which man is doing to the earth's oceans. So I stopped reading. 

In my life:

Berowne asked me to marry him, and I said yes. As Dr. Johnson put it: the triumph of hope over experience. 

I spent a lovely few days with Berowne and my family in Stratford, Ontario, at the theater festival. We saw an absolutely incredible performance of "Othello", a very strong "Measure for Measure", a very weak "Romeo and Juliet" (no sparks at all), a good "Fiddler on the Roof", and "The Three Musketeers", which, poor story, is not suited for the stage. They tried. It didn't work. 

I had a wonderful time, but will always be the kind of person for whom the best part of vacation is coming home. My own bed, my dogs... and, soon enough, the man I will marry. It doesn't get sweeter than that.   

Monday, August 12, 2013

memoir, mysteries, and history both personal and national

Since we last checked in here, I have read:

Bossypants, by Tina Fey. It was okay. I chortled a few times, but wasn't overwhelmed with delight. It's mostly just Tina Fey talking about how she's unattractive, which doesn't exactly make normal humans feel good about themselves.

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, by Tony Horwitz. This was just fantastic. I love Horwitz's writing: he manages to be so detailed in his research while maintaining a thrilling narrative momentum, as opposed to just info-dumping. There were a lot of character sketches of Brown's company members, and that got dangerously close to too many people being introduced all at once, but I kept track of them much more easily than I often do in such situations. I highly recommend this.

Report for Murder and Beneath the Bleeding, by Val McDermid. McDermid's Tony Hill / Carol Jordan mysteries, of which Beneath the Bleeding is one, are so grim and so graphically violent that I have never been able to re-read one (re-reading mysteries is one of my ultimate self-comforts). So when I found she had written another mystery series said to be far lighter, I picked up the first one (Report for Murder). Alas, it was too light, and bored me so emphatically that I had to go back to a Tony Hill. BtB wasn't as dark as its predecessors, though the character of Carol Jordan continues to irritate me no end. I was intrigued and invested, which is really all one can ask of a mystery.

Acceptable Loss, by Anne Perry. A late entry in her William Monk series, which is grimier than her Thomas Pitt books. It was all right; seemed very short, as if truncated, and there was never any doubt about the villain. A decent afternoon's distraction.


This past weekend Berowne and I loaded the dogs into my car and drove up to my family's old farmhouse in Vermont, where my brother and his girlfriend stay for many weeks every summer. The canines bore the long drive bravely (although the return trip, in heat and traffic, was not as fun), and we all had a wonderful time eating and strolling and chatting and dog-brushing and eating some more. Berowne found an old logbook in which my grandfather recorded the summers spent there, from 1951 when he purchased the house to sometime in the 90's (I didn't finish reading the whole thing). It was simply wonderful: my grandfather's wry intelligent voice coming through the brief entries as clearly as if he were speaking, and all these cute little notices about the family:

My parents driving all the way from Arizona in their glorious Triumph sports car (pre-kids, of course); their departure is recorded as "D & H leave, top down, by 8". 

The many adventures of my grandparents' sheltie, who was easily startled by chipmunks. 

The entries about my brothers' developing tennis skills, in which I am kindly either described as "a soccer player" (at five? I was?) or as "hanging in" when it came to tennis. In later years the entries say that Beatrice "plays a little [tennis], reads a lot". Indeed.  

The result of every Wimbledon game which my grandfather watched on the tiny television set in the attic. (You may be thinking that tennis is important to this side of my family. You would not be wrong.)

It was the most charming thing imaginable, and a charming weekend overall, though we couldn't stay two nights. Next summer we'll stay longer, we swore as we drove away (top up, alas). Back at work this week, though with another vacation coming next week, and the associated delight of picking out the vacation reading. Play a little tennis, read a lot. What more do you need?