Friday, December 01, 2023

Everything I Read in November, 2023

132. Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson - I'm a fan of short stories, in general (although I like them to feel complete), but particularly quirky ones and Kevin Wilson's writing is nothing if not bizarre. In the title story, "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth," for example, three recent college grads are unable to decide what they should do with their lives, having chosen their degrees badly. Then, one day they come to the mutual decision to start digging. For months, they dig tunnels and chambers while the protagonist's parents drop food down to them. It's compelling because you have no earthly idea where the story is headed. In "The Museum of Whatnots," a 30-something woman with almost no possessions lives above her workplace, a museum of odd collections. She's not interested in much of anything or anyone, apart from a doctor who comes in to stare at a collection of random spoons. And, these wonderful stories were written while the author was still in college. Amazing, mature writing for a man who was so young. I want to read everything Kevin Wilson has ever written. His writing reminded me of George Saunders, another author whose work I've been trying to read in its entirety. 

133. The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi - Jamie loses his job during the pandemic and ends up delivering food. When one of his customers offers him a mysterious job with significantly better pay, he accepts. But the new job is on a different Earth with Godzilla-like creatures and it's both dangerous and smelly. A very silly book but fun reading. My only complaint is that everyone sounded alike to me; they all had the same sense of humor and verbal quirks. I was fine with that. While not Scalzi's best, I can appreciate The Kaiju Preservation Society for what it is, a light-hearted multiverse sci-fi. 

134. Step Ball Change by Jeanne Ray - Step Ball Change was my most recent stationary bike read and it was perfect for the purpose! The text was large enough to see, the story is lighthearted, and it was an older book so it fell flat in its little book holder. What a fun read. Caroline and Tom have been mostly happily married for over 40 years and have four grown children, a house that's falling apart, a contractor who practically lives with them he's there so often, and busy lives, she in her dance studio and he as a lawyer. When Their only daughter, Kay, gets engaged to a son from the town's wealthiest family and then Caroline's sister Taffy comes to visit because of her impending divorce, things get a little wild. Taffy's dog is a nuisance and her soon-to-be-ex won't stop calling. Kay's fiancee's family expects them to pay for half of a wedding for at least 600 guests, son George keeps bringing Kay's former fling Jack for dinner. It's a madhouse. But, it's a very fun madhouse and I loved this book. It's an older title I once passed on to a friend, thinking I'd never get to it. She handed it back saying, "I laughed so hard I spit in it. Sorry about the spit, but you really must read this book." She was right. 

135. The Borrowers Afield by Mary Norton - The second in the Borrowers series begins shortly after the disaster of the first book. Driven from their home beneath the floorboards, Pod, Homily, and Arrietty must traverse the fields, hedges, and orchard to find the badger's set to which their relatives moved long ago. While searching, they find a temporary home and meet another tiny person who is called Spiller. He's dirty and fiercely independent; he can't bear to be asked questions. But, he's also very helpful to the Borrowers because they are accustomed to living in a home with people from whom they can easily borrow food and other supplies. But, even Spiller isn't enough to stop the fight against the elements and, eventually, some dangerous humans. This series is so much better than my vague memories. 

136. Fing by David Walliams - I've been curious about why the comedian from Little Britain is such a wildly popular children's book author for ages, so I tossed a couple of his books into my cart when I broke my book-buying ban to load up on Kevin Wilson's older titles (yep, did it again). Fing's reviews are pretty polarized and I fall into the middle. The story of a terrible child who is always asking for more, more, more till one day she asks for a "fing" and her librarian parents must plumb the depths of the library to find out what exactly that is. Then, the father goes to the deepest, darkest, jungliest jungle to obtain a fing, which is nasty and mean and bitey. Because the parents are total wimps, so they give her everything she desires. There's a bit of bathroom humor, an overload of onomatopoeia, and the "world's worst child" trope that's been done to death. But, Walliams gave the trope his own unique spin and I did like the moral at the end of the story. This one would probably be best loved by 10-year-old boys who like all things gross. I didn't hate it enough to say "never again" but I'm hoping my second Walliams book is a little less yuck and more story. 

137. Spy x Family, Vol. 10 by Tatsuya Endo - I think this may be the best of the Spy X Family books, if not the funniest, as it goes into Twilight's (the spy father's) origin story but it also has plenty of fun things going on. For example, Anya gets a dreaded Tonitrus Bolt, a form of punishment. It is her second and Twilight is so upset that he passes out. When her bus is delayed, Anya is asked to help the headmaster carry some things. I think Anya's attitude in this particular story is pretty funny. Yor goes shopping and it's a sign of how different she is, not knowing exactly what Anya's referring to when she asks for "crunchy cakes". She stops a disaster from happening when a woman almost falls down a flight of stairs with a pile of boxes and the woman is so happy that Yor is invited to join a mother's group for tea and later volleyball. These things make Yor very uncomfortable but she's hoping to learn how to fit in and act like a mother. So fun. 

138. Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater by Kathryn J. Atwood - I won a copy of this book from the author via a Facebook drawing and started reading it practically the moment it hit my mailbox. A Young Adult set of historical bios, not in-depth but enough to make you feel like you knew each of the women and understand how stunningly courageous they were. I have read more about WWII in Europe, Eastern Europe, and Great Britain than the Pacific, so I learned some answers to some of my questions about the Pacific Theater, the reason Japan initially attacked China, and how the Japanese occupation spread, in addition to what these women did, at risk of their lives. I appreciated the clarity of the writing. The author warns readers that there are some disturbing descriptions of torture and rape and I'm glad I was prepared for that as they are definitely hard to read. But, you need to read the hard parts in order to understand just how much the heroes in this work of nonfiction risked. I had about a week-long book slump before this book arrived. One note: I read about the Bataan Death March right before bed and that triggered one whopper of a nightmare, so I advise not reading right before you go to sleep. 

139. The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag - This story about a magical house that appears only to those who are drawn to it and the women who come there to heal is absolutely wonderful. I feel like saying much more would be to give too much away. But, it is reminiscent of Sarah Addison Allen's writing, with its magical touches, set in Cambridge, England, and loaded with literary references. I've already found a new home for my copy. I feel like this is a book worth sharing. 

140. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss and E. G. Keller - A sweet, silly, and surprising story about a bunny named Marlon who meets another boy bunny. They play all day and decide they want to get married so they can continue to be together all the time. But, a few of the animals tell them that two boy bunnies can't get married. No biggie, there are plenty of others who think it's fine, so they are married by a cat. I've been curious about this book for some time because it's a banned book and I always want to see for myself whether or not a book is worth banning. As usual, there's nothing rude, sexual, or offensive, in my opinion. And, I liked the storytelling. It was a little on the quirky side, which you know I love since I already said so in regard to book #132. 

141. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo - Raymie's father has left her mother for a dental hygienist, so she's decided to learn how to twirl a baton in order to try to win a local talent competition to catch her father's attention. Louisiana is poor and lives with her grandmother. They steal food in order to survive and she wants to win the same competition to pay for food so they can stop stealing. Beverly has been in competitions all her life and she just wants to sabotage the whole thing. When they end up taking twirling lessons together, what starts out as an unexpected trio competing for the same prize ends up as three girls banding together, a sweet tale of how friendship makes difficult times more bearable. I got a little teary, at the end. Side note: I bought my copy of Raymie Nightingale at the Mississippi Book Festival about 7 years ago when Kate DiCamillo was a featured speaker. She is hilarious. If you ever get a chance to see her speak, go!

142. A Christmas Memory and Other Stories by Truman Capote - If you've been following me for any length of time, you know I reread several favorite stories every year during Christmas season. "A Christmas Memory" is one of them and I have a lovely children's version. Last year, I found out there was a Thanksgiving story, as well, so I ordered a copy I saw on Instagram of a book with both stories and one additional Christmas story and read the Thanksgiving story on Thanksgiving Day and the two Christmas stories the day after. I enjoyed all three but the two that were new to me are particularly bittersweet. "A Christmas Memory" is the most tender and joyful of the three. I missed the illustrations so I'll probably reread the children's version of "A Christmas Memory," as well, in a couple weeks. 

143. The Worst Noel: Hellish Holiday Tales (essays) by Various Authors, including Ann Patchett, Louis Bayard, Marian Keyes, and Elizabeth Noble - I meant to reread The Worst Noel in 2022 but didn't get around to it so it's just been sitting out, waiting for a year to pass. Published in 2005, I apparently read the book before I became a blogger in 2006. Some of the essays are, indeed, about hellish experiences but some are not so bad. The point is that it's a book in which the authors try to make light of bad experiences, although some just wallow in them. The first time I read this book, I recall laughing a lot. This time, I found them a little sad. So, apparently, your mood has a lot to do with how this book lands. It has gotten terrible reviews at Goodreads. I gave it a 3.5/5. It's nothing great. I enjoyed some of the essays and I don't think it deserves such a low rating (less than 3) but I don't plan to keep it for another reread. 

This month was pretty good but not brilliant, as reading months go. My one bad reading week was due to busy-busy things wearing me out. But, then Women Heroes of WWII arrived and it broke the spell. 

As to the best and worst, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth and The House at the End of Hope Street were my absolute favorites. But, there was only one book I could have done without entirely, Fing, and two I enjoyed but didn't love as much as expected, The Worst Noel (because I found it funny the first time and not so much, this time around) and The Kaiju Preservation Society (there were brief moments that I found a bit dull, although I love Scalzi's sense of humor and that got me through the repetitive bits). The rest were varying shades of wonderful. 

I completely forgot to do a flatlay photo and had already started distributing books to their places (library donation stack, classics shelf, shelves where the rest of a collection lives) before I realized I'd forgotten. Oh, well. A stack photo will do. 

©2023 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

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