Monday, February 15, 2016

winter afternoons

Presidents' Day, and coming off the frigid temperatures that meant we couldn't safely go outside for the last two days. And Berowne was away working on a film all weekend, so it was just me with a stir-crazy toddler in a very small house, and I am not creative in those situations. Fortunately I was able to reach out to Facebook for suggestions, and we got through just fine. Well, the part of Saturday evening when she projectile vomited all over me was kind of rough, particularly since we have a dog, which means you can't just whisk the child into the bathtub and leave the puke to clean up later, if you get my drift. The whole kerfuffle was one of the most disgusting experiences of my life, and I have been seven weeks pregnant and trapped in a room with someone who was eating ranch dressing, so I know of what I speak. 

But she's all right, which is what matters. Not much inclined to nap today, but hey, it can be Berowne's problem now!

Read since last posting:

Boy Made of Dawn, by R. Allen Chappell. Very slight book about the Navajo Nation; ostensibly a mystery but there is no doubt of the solution. A decent afternoon's read.

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. I resisted this one for a while, not just because of my knee-jerk aversion to bestselling books, but because the premise (from the blurbs) seemed SO excessive in its pathos. It can't just be a German boy and a French girl during WWII, no, she also has to be blind, OH GEEZ. Well, it does have the element of Everyone Dies which is inevitable in a book set in Europe during WWII, and the French characters are all two-dimensional (either noble members of the RĂ©sistance or plump, oily collaborators), but otherwise I was pretty unprepared for the experience of reading this book. So beautiful it is almost physically painful, and I couldn't put it down, and when I finished it I said HOLY SHIT out loud.

Despite the aforementioned knee-jerk reaction, I do actually like it when hyped books live up to the hype. When they don't, there's the sense of... "this is all we ask of a book now?" and I hate that. Not an issue here!

Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher. Fisher seems like an awesome person, and I know this came out of her stage show, but I still wish that someone had edited the shit out of it. It's a very endearing mess, but it's still, structurally, a mess.

Spider Woman's Daughter, by Anne Hillerman. Hillerman took over her father's Leaphorn/Chee mystery series (set in New Mexico and Arizona and featuring Navajo policemen and culture) after he died, and this first of hers is tentative and formulaic, but certainly no worse than the last few that he wrote. The call-back to the events of a previous book meant that someone familiar with the series could figure the solution out about a third of the way through, but also made the whole thing feel more comforting and grounded in Tony Hillerman's characters and world. I think it was a good choice. Total hilarity at the end, with the villain explaining their nefarious plan at great length and in risible dialogue to the hero, but far more experienced writers than Hillerman fall into that trap all the time. I will happily read any others she writes in the series.

Moriarty: A Novel, by Anthony Horowitz. Bluh. Too cynical and self-satisfied for my tastes.

Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth, by Lee Jackson. Decent popular history, but got a bit tangled up in numbers and dates occasionally. I skimmed a whole chapter that seemed to be little other than a list of the years that particular slum areas were torn down.

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee. Well written, and a very strange reading experience, as others have articulated better than I. I can easily see why an editor would have read it, come back to her, and said, "We want a book about this childhood she keeps referencing." And I found the casual killing-off of a major TKAM character to be a much harder blow than Atticus going all states'-rights.

The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, by Seth Mnookin. Clear, intelligent, devastating, and angry. Should be required reading.

Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems, by David Rakoff. Essays about, basically, being entitled (Rakoff is reporting on entitled people, not being [overly] entitled himself). Lightly amusing and, as I've said before, a decent afternoon's read.

I've actually discarded quite a few books over the past couple of months, without addressing them here. It's refreshing to let myself do that, but I still feel guilty enough that I'm currently struggling with whether I'm "allowed" to discard one of the books I'm reading. It's gorgeously written, but in the first two chapters I was already clubbed with both incest and dialect, and the rest of it has all been about a woman who is so beautiful that men literally cannot control themselves around her. Ugh, NOT A THING. Also there is more incest pending, and the fact that everyone but the two people involved knows that they are brother and sister, and the incredibly contrived plot mechanisms and the other characters' irrational actions created just to ensure that they don't find out they're brother and sister, are driving me crazy. Okay, talked myself into allowing it! (The book is Land of Love and Drowning, by Tiphanie Yanique, and I am super impressed by Yanique's talents and will definitely give future books of hers a try, but I just couldn't take the story of this one.)

May you all be warm, and free of stories which are not serving you well.