Friday, June 05, 2015

Fiona Friday: trapped kitty . . . and everything I haven't reviewed this year

First things first, your weekly kitty fix:

Fiona and I spent some time hanging out together in our home library when Someone Who Shall Remain Unnamed stuck a foot through our living room ceiling, this past weekend, causing unfathomable drifts of pink insulation to pile up on the living room floor. While Husband worked to patch the ceiling and tidy, Isabel was locked into the master bedroom and Fiona and I stayed in the library. They were both annoyed but eventually I carried Fi to the master bedroom, brought in food and water, and by the time we were freed some 5-6 hours post-disaster, I had a cat sleeping across my legs and a recent college grad snoring at the end of my bed. Isabel, who had continued pacing irritably, bolted.

On to books:

I may have already mentioned some of these when I managed to do end-of-month round-ups (which I screwed up and stopped doing) and I certainly talked about plenty while I was reading them; but, I keep looking at the list of books I never got around to reviewing and, frankly, it's stressing me out. So, I'm going to do a quick run-down of everything that doesn't have a link in my unpublished 2015 Books Read file.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick - The tale of a young boy and a young girl living in two different time periods. Both are deaf and the story, told mostly through Selznick's amazing illustrations, slowly reveals an unusual link between the two. Another lovely book from Selznick. I didn't find it as magical as The Invention of Hugo Cabret but I enjoyed it.

In the Loyal Mountains by Rick Bass - A collection of short stories that are so beautifully told I often wondered if they had really happened. I had to keep reminding myself I was reading fiction. The only thing I disliked about this collection of stories was that I felt they lacked a sense of completion. I wanted the endings all tied up nicely in a bow and they're not. The writing is stellar, though, and In the Loyal Mountains is worth hanging onto for a reread.

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing - I bought and read Echo Spring for F2F discussion. Laing focuses on 6 alcoholic writers, some more familiar than others. Several destroyed their lives with alcohol, a couple were able to overcome their addictions. Woven into her search for understanding their destructive paths is the parallel tale of her own experience with an alcoholic. I found the book fascinating but was hoping for a broader perspective of the connection between addiction and the art of writing; so were most of the members of my F2F group. But, I enjoyed the reading.

The Third Twin by C. J. Omololu - A young adult book sent to me by a friend, The Third Twin is the fast-paced tale of teenage twins who take turns pretending to be someone they're not: an imaginary twin they've created, who is wilder and more daring than either of them. I can't recall but I think the name either twin uses when pretending is Alicia, so I'm going to run with that. Alicia's dates are beginning to turn up dead. Is one of the twins guilty? Have they managed to conjur someone real from their imaginations? Or, has someone found out about "Alicia" and taken over the identity? A quick read, not well-written but a page-turner. I wouldn't call it a great book because the writing was a little sloppy, but I chose to turn off my internal editor and just relish the surprising twists.

Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - An epic poem that tells the tragic love story of Evangeline and Gabriel, Acadians who are sent from their Canadian home by the British. Evangeline spends years wandering America, seeking Gabriel, only to find him dying. I read an annotated version of Evangeline (which I plucked off the shelf when I was in the mood for a classic) and I think I would have had difficulty without that extra bit of help. I loved the language and savored the beauty of the story, even though it ends tragically. It's surprisingly moving and beautiful.

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns - I watched part of the PBS production to which The Roosevelts is a companion and found it fascinating so I was excited when I found a copy of this oversized book at my local library branch. It is absolutely packed with photos and tells about the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt and their families. It took me forever to read because I love old photographs and actually pulled out a magnifying glass to study the details of most of them. And, then, in the end the point of checking the book out was completely thrown out the window when I decided to buy my own copy. Oh, well. So much for trying to save money. It's worth owning, though, in my humble opinion.

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican - The one book that has continued to haunt me, this year. Peter, Noah and Lorelei are all outcasts who've moved to a private Catholic school hoping to improve their lives. Each has his or her own challenges at home; and, at school they must band together to deal with the bullies who are allowed to cause them grief because bullying/hazing has become a school tradition. A darkly comic tale that honestly exposes how the adults can cause just as much trouble as the students through dishonestly, violence, the choice to ignore bad behavior, and playing favorites -- and how sometimes trying too hard to become popular backfires. I'm planning to reread Brutal Youth, soon.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig - Matt Haig is one of my favorite people in the Twitter world and a fairly new addition to my list of favorite authors. He's outspoken about depression and how we stigmatize people with mental illness. In Reasons to Stay Alive, he describes his own experience with despair and how he's found ways to keep himself going, even in the darkest times. While his experience is vastly different from my own, there were moments that I thought, "Yes, this!" and "Exactly!" An important book. Even if you've never been depressed, it may help you to understand and deal with the people you encounter who experience depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal thoughts.

The Great Depression and WWII: 1929-1949 by George E. Stanley - An unfortunately slim book -- really almost a booklet, it's so small -- containing brief descriptions, photos and excerpts from primary sources. I bought this to supplement my reading about the Great Depression, in particular, and was disappointed. And, yet, I did learn a few new things. I considered returning the book but decided there was enough useful material to hang onto it as a reference.

Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman - An excellent children's book about the Great Depression by the author of the Newbery-winning Lincoln: A Photobiography. Packed with excellent photos and references, as well as some wonderful photographs. When I finished reading Children of the Great Depression, I realized I might as well have sent back the Stanley book because the references in Freedman's book were far better. Live and learn.

For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke - An Australian classic that tells the story of a young aristocrat named Richard Devine. When Devine's father finds out his wife was unfaithful and disowns Richard, the disgraced former heir leaves his father's house and comes across a murdered man. Accused of the man's murder, he changes his name to Rufus Dawes and is tried, convicted and transported to Australia, where he experiences a number of hardships and adventures while totally unaware that his father died before managing to change the will. By far the most exciting, gripping, captivating story I've read, this year.

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly - I was surprised how short this classic work of journalism is. Nellie Bly was a young journalist who was asked if she'd be willing to fake madness to get herself committed, specifically so she could write about the conditions at a New York asylum. She succeeded and found that women were being treated so cruelly that even those who were quite normal when committed often went crazy from mistreatment. A hard read and not quite what I expected but fascinating.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare - This was my third or fourth reading of Romeo and Juliet but it's been ages since the junior high lit reading and I've never read a version that was annotated. It was eye-opening. I had no idea how dirty the story is and it clarified the relationships between characters as well as the insanity of their behavior. So much rude humor. I still love it for particular bits of dialogue but I really wanted to whack the characters on the noggin.

There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do by Michael Ondaatje - A volume of poetry with 15 years' worth of Ondaatje's work and by far the most fascinating volume I've read, this year. Sometimes his poetry is completely baffling, with phrases that crash into each other, a lack of punctuation . . . kind of a drunken feel to the writing. At other times, it's lucid and visceral enough to make you either laugh or cry or just make your skin crawl. An amazing collection.

Nine Horses by Billy Collins - There was a hangover effect from the Ondaatje that diminished the effect of Nine Horses. I usually love Billy Collins but his writing is predictable and sometimes a bit fussy. The wildness of Ondaatje made the switch to Collins feel like a strange plummet into a 10-foot pile of pillows. Having said that, once I got over the lasting shadow of Ondaatje, I enjoyed Nine Horses and was surprised to find that one of my favorite Collins poems was in this volume.

How Penguin Says "Please" and How Tiger Says "Thank You" by A. Samoun and S. Watts - Two children's board books that contain the quoted word(s) in 8 different languages. I've meant to photograph the interiors but I admit that I found the pronunciation of some of the languages so baffling to read that I had to listen to them online. That made me hesitate. I wasn't sure whether I actually liked the books because some of the languages (Russian, Egyptian, Chinese) are so difficult. But, as a child I loved knowing how to count to 10 in a half-dozen different languages and they're a nice introduction to language for small children, even if not the lmost familar to Americans.

Ally-saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey - It's only been a couple weeks since I read Ally-saurus and I still plan to review it but for the sake of catch-up I'll just tell you that it's imaginative and I loved it. More to come.

Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal - A Czech classic about a man who spends his day compacting paper and rescuing books from the jaws of his machine. Definitely a book for lovers of words, Too Loud a Solitude is impressively bizarre and unique. It's also pretty grim but oddly satisfying. At times, it turns the stomach (when he must compact bloody paper covered with flies from a butchery and entire families of mice go into the compactor along with the paper they've burrowed inside) but there's just something marvelously perfect about Too Loud a Solitude.

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  1. I really want to read Brutal Youth. Have heard much goodness about it. Thanks for the reminder. Enjoy your weekend and feel good because now you've talked about all your books read. :-)

    1. Brutal Youth is great. It's the kind of book that sticks with you and definitely would be a great discussion book. I may see if I can talk my F2F group into reading it. It just came out in paperback, this week. Good time to buy! :)

      Thanks! It's a real load off, being done with almost everything. I do plan to review Ally-saurus, of course, and I just finished reading a short play. I never seem to stay caught up for long, but I feel so relieved!!!

  2. Whoa! Lots of books.

    1. Yeah, you can see why the quantity of unreviewed books was bugging me. I haven't even read that much, this year (relatively speaking).

  3. Romeo and Juliet was my first real experience of Shakespeare in that I studied it at High School for my English Literature exam together with Thomas Hardy's "Far from the madding crowd." There are so many great lines in it - the ones that every Shakespearian student cites. But it was also the first I saw in performance. And unbelievably Owen studied it at middle school and once again at High School so on both occasions I was able to help him interpret it. The play where everyone discovers that wherefore does not mean "where" but "why."

    1. Romeo and Juliet is utterly fascinating. I've read it many times and I know I studied it in junior high World Lit but I must not have paid much attention. It was really revealing to read a modern annotated version. I think I finally got to the point that I was beginning to understand written Shakespeare. But, as you know, it's just meant to be performed and makes so much more sense when you see it than when you sit down to read it.


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