Sunday, March 03, 2024

Everything I Read in February, 2024


17. The Way of the Househusband, Vol. 7 by Kousuke Oono - When I picked up my copy of the 7th book in the Way of the Househusband manga series, I noted the cat on the cover and hoped it meant there would be plenty of cat stories in this particular volume. And, there were! In the first story, a woman wears sunglasses because she doesn't want to be seen as she enters a cat cafe. Inside, Tatsu is working and shows her how to give a cat a meat tube treat then she lets her guard down. There are several other cat-centered stories and at the end of the book, the author's note tells you why. He had recently adopted a cat. This is by far my favorite in the series, although they are all wickedly funny. The cats made it blow to the top of the list. 

18. How to be Both by Ali Smith - There are two sections in this book and I found out after reading it that they're reversed in some books. Half of those printed had one section at the beginning and half the other. In my copy, the part at the beginning of the book is about a girl who is a bit precocious and has quite a clever rapport with her mother. Her mother becomes obsessed with a fresco in an Italian castle and books tickets to go see it. Then, the mother tragically dies and George (short for Georgia) is grieving.  In the second section, a very talented child (who also loses her mother) is the child of a bricklayer who builds walls. When her talent is discovered, the father agrees to help her get art training. But, in order to do so, she'll have to pretend to be a boy because it's the 15th century. There's a lot of word play and what I've read indicates that the use of "both" is quite ingenious. But, that went right over my head. I liked the book better when it was about a special rapport between a mother and child and then her grief and that of her family. The art bits . . . at some point Francesco views and follows George as a spirit so George is brought back and there is a bit of a conclusion to her story but it's from a distance and kind of vague. I liked George enough to want to finish her story out with her, so that was disappointing but I've found most of Smith's books are a bit of a head trip. 

19. The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett - The movie made from this book in the 1960s is one that I watched over and over again as a child but, like my recent discovery that The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a book first, I had no idea there even was a book. So, I was excited when I found a copy in the book sale. It's only 127 pages long and illustrated, so The Lilies of the Field is a very quick read, which I appreciated after finishing How to be Both. Homer Smith has decided to see the West. He's from South Carolina but learned some skills in the Army and that's freed him up to travel and occasionally stop to earn enough money to keep going. When he sees some women working in a field, he pulls in. They are nuns who escaped from East Germany and they're trying to get a farm up and running with the ultimate goal of taking in city boys who need guidance. Mother Maria Marthe thinks Smith (whom she calls Schmidt) has been sent by God and she puts him to work, first on the roof of their house and then building a chapel. Smith doesn't even know why he's staying. She's not going to pay him. But, he likes the nuns, eats and works with them and occasionally brings them food, sings with them, and teaches them a bit of English. Just a lovely story. I need to see if I've got a copy of the movie. Must watch it, again!

20. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - I would probably not have read this book if not for friend Carrie sending it to me and when I did, I was quite surprised. I'm not sure what I expected. Maybe a coming-of-age story? And, once I got into it, I was a little confused. Why was it called Olive Kitteridge when the beginning of the book seemed to be about her husband, Henry? When the second chapter had an entirely different focus from the first, I finally looked at the cover blurb. Ooooh, it's a book of interconnected stories in which Olive is always present in some fashion but not really a book about Olive. From then on, I read the book like I do short stories, giving each separate story/chapter time to roll around in my head before I moved on to another set of characters and their challenges. Gradually, you get to know Olive as a complex character who has both good and bad characteristics. Some people are afraid of her or find her unlikable. But, Olive is just Olive and at times she can be an incredibly understanding and soothing soul. It didn't take long for me to appreciate both the writing and the character, once I understood the format of the book. A 5-star read and a Pulitzer Prize winner. I often dislike award-winning books but I loved Olive Kitteridge. Thank you, Carrie!

21. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa - I tried to read The Memory Police a year or two ago, but couldn't wrap my head around the concept of things disappearing but still existing in the world, so I set it aside. This time, I knew what was coming: a world in which it's the perception of objects that disappears but there are people who don't lose that perception and if they're discovered, they're taken away by the Memory Police. It's the kind of world building that requires you to simply let go of reality and accept that something weird is happening. When the heroine, an author, is asked to shelter her editor, who hasn't lost his memories, she and an elderly friend accept the challenge. But, while she is working on her novel and protecting her friend, things continue to disappear and life becomes more difficult. Meanwhile, there is a story within the story as the author/protagonist continues to write her novel, which has parallels to her own reality, with something crucial disappearing forever. I'm glad I gave this book a second chance. While I never was fully able to let go of disbelief, the dystopian island where memories disappear was an unusual and fascinating concept and I found Ogawa's writing quite lovely. 

22. Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto - Three novellas in which sleep plays an outsized role. In the title story, "Asleep", a young woman is having an affair with a married man whom she refers to simply as "my boyfriend" or by his formal name with "Mr.", never by his first name. His wife is in a coma and he didn't start dating the heroine until after his wife had been comatose for a while. She has quit her job and he's paying to keep her in an apartment and unemployed. But, she's constantly sleeping; her level of sleep mirrors the unconsciousness of his wife. In another story, a woman describes how the cousin who had become her brother's lover is sleepwalking after his death has sent her into a spiraling grief. This is my first book by Banana Yoshimoto and it's been sitting on my shelf for probably at least 2 decades. I didn't love it but at the same time I appreciated her unique word choices, to the point that I found myself rereading lines. I would definitely read more by this author. 

23. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh - I couldn't find my personal copy of The Loved One when I looked for it, hoping to join in on a group discussion. But, after the discussion had ended, I managed to locate a copy at the library sale. It's a large print and quite thin, so it was perfect for stationary bike reading. In The Loved One, a British poet named Dennis is unsuccessful at selling his poetry so he gets a job at the local pet mortuary and cemetery, The Happy Hunting Ground. When his roommate loses his job and then passes away, Dennis handles the funeral and burial details and meets Amy, a makeup artist who pretties up corpses. They fall in love, although she's uncertain that a poet is necessarily the right man to marry when Mr. Joyboy comes calling. Amy is Mr. Joyboy's protégé and he is helping her to work her way up in the funeral home. A wickedly funny and kind of stomach-turning satire with a love triangle. 

24. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin - A book about religion (Pentecostal), racism, sex, desire and sin, poverty, and how these things all fit together in the world of 1950s Black life. Having read The Fire Next Time, I presumed that Go Tell It on the Mountain was at least partially autobiographical and after reading the book I found out I was correct, but there were things I totally missed, like the fact that the characters all had Bible names. A very slow and somewhat difficult read but written with such detailed description of emotional and physical sensations that it's almost painful yet pretty damned impressive. What I read indicated that critics have difficulty determining whether it's an attempt at scathing rebuke of religion or the opposite. I lean toward rebuke. 

25. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown - When a hurricane sinks a ship and most of its cargo goes down with it, a few crates float to a nearby island. There, a single crate is left mostly intact with a robot inside. Roz is activated by a romp of otters (I looked it up; a group of otters on land is a "romp"). Roz explores the island and introduces herself to the animals but they think she's a monster until . . . well, that's probably a spoiler. I liked the way the book unfolded so I won't mess it up for anyone who reads this. However, I will tell you that I found The Wild Robot slow in the beginning, but once something happened to soften the hearts of the animals and allow Roz to make friends with them, the book became a pure delight and actually quite heartwarming. By far the sweetest robot story I've ever read but with some heart-pounding moments, as well. 

26. You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh - A reread. The first two books I read by Thich Nhat Hanh were excellent but I didn't read him again for a long time. Recently, I've been reading his books with some regularity and I think I've finished 6, now. What I've found is that reading his books regularly helps me to keep my eye on the ball, so to speak, to stay grateful for the present moment and learn to take joy from little things. "Mindfulness" is such a wonderful concept. There is a particular poem in this book that I've been reciting to myself when needed, since I first read it. It doesn't rhyme so I gave it a tune (admittedly a terrible one but it helps me recall the words) and when I need to calm down, deal with anger or hurt or frustration, it helps immediately. I can't recommend Thich Nhat Hanh enough. 

27. Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington - One of my Aussie Instagram friends mentioned this book amongst her Australian favorites before the end of the year and all of the others on her list that I'd read were books I enjoyed, so I grabbed a copy before the start of my book-buying ban without knowing a thing about it (I have never seen the movie, either). For those who don't know, Rabbit-Proof Fence is the true story of three half-caste Aboriginal/White girls who were taken to have their native language and knowledge replaced by the White immigrant's preferred methods and the English language. There's some history leading up to their forcible removal from Jigalong Station to the "school" North of Perth, then the journey they were taken on, followed by their observation that the place was more jail than school and their escape back home, which took 9 weeks and was done with such cleverness and skill that even professional trackers couldn't locate them. An amazing story but so depressing to find that natives in Australia experienced the exact same kind of forced removal to horrible so-called schools that Native Americans went through. 

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  1. I highly recommend watching the film version of Olive Kitteridge. Frances McDormand is outstanding. You'll wind up wanting to read the book a second time, as well as Olive, Again (which I thought was even better than Olive Kitteridge).

    1. I didn't know there's a movie! I'll have to look it up. Same with Olive, Again. I don't own it but maybe I can eventually check a copy out.

  2. I liked the Wild Robot a lot, too. The sequel- not quite so much, but still good. I read Rabbit-Proof Fence years ago, after seeing the film. Film blew me away, I couldn't stop thinking about it. The book was tougher to get through- I think because of the somewhat stilted prose. I had to keep reminding myself this was a true story recorded from the main character's oral history, and English wasn't her first language. It just felt a bit stiff- but still, a stunning (and depressing) story.

    1. I'm going to read the second of the robot books, soon. Hope I like it better than you did. As to Rabbit-Proof Fence, I agree that the writing was a little stiff and clunky. It probably helped that I haven't yet seen the movie. I did kind of figure that the reason the prose wasn't perfect was because English wasn't her first language. It's so awful to find out the exact same cruelty that was forced on Native American children happened to the natives of Australia. I found it depressing for that, as well. But, I was blown away by the girls' survival skills. We could all learn a lot from those who used to survive before Europeans invaded.


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