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Sunday Salon: the Determined Post

April 3, 2011

The Sunday Salon.comY’all, I have been labouring under the tyranny of my review backlog since I returned to blogging. But no more! Today, I am putting my foot down, and making a real effort to get myself caught up. On the scale of grand ambitions, I decided to write about all of my March reads (except Passing, which I already discussed) in one giant go. Of necessity, I’ve been pretty superficial, but I read so many good books that I hope I still manage to convince you to pick up one or two. So go get another mug of coffee or a fresh pot of tea, and then settle in for a twenty-one book extravaganza!

When March began, I was still in a reading slump, but I was excited at the possibility of adopting a dog. I ended up reading five books on ‘dog training’: I loved both The Other End of the Leash by Patricia B. McConnell and Bones Would Rain from the Sky by Suzanne Clothier. Neither of these are dog training manuals, per se, but rather meditations on how humans and dogs interact; they’re also both beautifully written. While dog owners will find practical advice (from McConnell, I learned that leaning backwards, or better yet, turning around so you’re facing away from them, when calling your dog makes them come more quickly; I tried it and it’s true!), the books have much more to offer. I’d say both would appeal to readers who enjoy popular science books or nonfiction books about animals. Also, as someone who studiously avoids ‘dog memoirs’ like Bad Marley, I’d say these books are bigger than that, in their combination of the personal with the more scientific. Both women have made dogs and dog training a large part of their lives; rather than simply pet owners, they’re behavior specialists who train dogs in specialised fields and are more broadly animal husbandrists (both run farms). I think that makes their perspective a bit different (both have multiple dogs at one time and have suffered losses as well). Two of the others fall squarely in the ‘dog training’ section, and they left me lukewarm: Adopting a Dog by John Ross and Barbara McKinney had helpful advice on choosing a rescue dog but lost me with his harsh training techniques (thank you, I’d rather not use a prong collar on my beloved companion), 30 Days to a Well-Mannered Dog by Tamar Geller with Jonathan Grotenstein was a bit too fluffy and disorganised (to be honest, it reeked of celebrity ghost writing). Finally, Don’t Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor was a more general description of clicker training (and more generally, positive reinforcement practices) as it applies to all species, including humans! It was an easy read, with quite a few amusing anecdotes, and if I ever marry I have ideas on how to create a happy home (ahem), but it felt a bit dated to me.

When I finally busted out of my reading slump, I found myself reading Letters From Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi. It wasn’t what I expected, since I didn’t realise it was a collection of syndicated columns she wrote for a Japanese newspaper over the course of a year. I very much enjoyed it, and although I couldn’t help wishing for more descriptions of Burmese life and a bit less politics, I’m aware of how churlish that sounds. It’s also a minor complaint; this is a book I would love to have for my own shelves. It has a very different feel from Freedom for Fear, but her intelligence, optimism, wonderful writing style, and love for Burma shines as brightly. On a very different note, I found myself giving another author a second go; I adored Nancy Marie Brown’s The Far Traveller (a biography of a truly incredible medieval Icelandic woman), so when I saw she had a new book out, I couldn’t wait to read it. The Abacus and the Cross is written in a similar format, in that it’s a loose biography with one person at the center, but with plentiful descriptions of the day-to-day life and big-picture politics to give the reader a firm grounding in medieval life. In this case, Brown looks at the ‘Scientist Pope,’ who was in office during 1,000 A.D., and she uses his life to debunk many of the myths people have about the so-called Dark Ages. As someone who has long resented Enlightenment historians’ determined tarring of medieval life, this book was a breath of fresh air. I highly recommend it to everyone, and you better believe I’ll be referencing it when I come across people who want to lecture me about the Dark Ages.

Meanwhile, I was reading a bit of popular science as well: The Hedgehog’s Dilemma by Hugh Warwick. This is obviously aimed at a British audience, since we don’t have wild hedgehogs Stateside, but I enjoyed Warwick’s gentle self-mockery and ability to mix serious everyday ecological issues with the more playful side of humanity’s relationship to nature. He loses points for a ploy I’ve come across quite regularly amongst British nonfiction works, in which he travels to the US to meet a bunch of very odd Americans and depicts them in a not-too-flattering light (in contradiction to his much nicer descriptions of the British eccentrics he runs across). But still a fun read! And he gained his points back with his fascinating study of the odd interlinked effects of conservation movements. I referenced The Good Women of China by Xinran as a book I as thinking about abandoning, since while it was marketed as nonfiction it just didn’t feel very believable. Some of the stories and coincidences Xinran shares seem too incredible for me to swallow at face value; China is a huge place, both geographically and population-wise, but Xinran’s China is apparently much smaller. And women becoming mentally retarded due to bullying? Can that really happen? That being said, while I don’t believe the particulars, I do think the general outlines of the stories are problems Chinese women really face. More disturbing was Xinran’s discussion of homosexuality; while a small part of the book, she seems to believe that being abused by men in childhood makes girls grown up to be lesbians. Oh, and this book should definitely come with a trigger warning: rapes are a frequent part of the women’s stories, a frequency I believe wholeheartedly. At the end of the day, I’m glad that I read it, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend it to people. Still, I want to read more of Xinran, I’ll just be sticking to her fiction.

In the midst of my nonfiction spree, Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon snuck in! All I have to say about it is that I love her mystery novels, and while this isn’t the very best on the mystery front, it is a satisfying conclusion to the Wimsey-Vane story arc. (Actually, there are some adorable short stories set later than this book, but I read those years ago.) Now, the only Wimsey book I have yet to read is Five Red Herrings: looks like after that I’ll just have to reread them from the beginning! The one thing that disturbed me is Sayers’ blatant class-ism; I couldn’t help cringing at her depictions of the commoner townspeople. But I suppose no one’s perfect. If you’ve yet to give Sayers a try, I suggest you treat yourself (whether you’re a mystery lover or not). You can either begin with the very first Wimsey book, Clouds of Witness, or jump to the first Wimsey-Vane story, Strong Poison. Whatever you do, do not go straight into Gaudy Night; it might be her most famous book, but unless you have the backstory and investment in their relationship, you won’t appreciate it. Also, don’t google Harriet Vane unless you want massive spoilers. ;) And continuing my mystery mood, I gave a new author a try: Mardi Oakley Medawar is a Cherokee who writes a historical mystery series with a Kiowa sleuth in the nineteenth century. Witch of the Palo Duro wasn’t perfect, with the writing sometimes clunky and random historical details thrown in that seemed to be the author showing all the research she’d done, but the protagonist’s voice is irresistible, and I will definitely be reading her later books to see if her writing improves. I’d recommend this for those who enjoy ‘classic’ style mysteries (i.e.: a circle of suspects, gradually discovered clues, a final denouement) and can overlook some stylistic issues in favour of memorable characters and settings. Also, as someone who tries to read more diversely and loves mysteries, it’s a God send to find a series written by an author of colour that isn’t gritty. I just can’t do noir, even when I admire the author tremendously.

Oh dear, I’m not doing well at this brevity thing, am I? Well, I guess getting through eleven books with around 1300 words isn’t bad, at least for me! If I can talk about the other eleven in a similar manner, I’ll end up with a post the same length as most of my TSS ones.

On to my sole reread of the month (I know! I resolved to reread three books every month! But in January and February, at least I got to two each time; better than nothing.): The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (shout out to Steph & Tony, from whom I won a copy of Penguin’s Pevear & Volokhonsky translation!). The first time I read this, I was a young, impressionable seventeen-year-old, and I adored it. This time around, I found it a bit more difficult to ‘get into’ the black humour at first, although I immediately connected with the narrative of Pontious Pilate (Bulgakov’s rewriting of Jesus’ death now strikes me as an obvious inspiration for Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses). The good thing is, once I found my rhythm, I fell in love all over again. Best of all, Margarita’s story, her delight in becoming a witch and playing hostess for Satan at his annual ball, was just as oddly exhilarating as I remembered. While I praise the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation (did you expect anything else?) for matching Bulgakov’s idiosyncratic style, I must say I found Pevear’s introduction (which I read after my reread) a bit disappointing; I think more of a background to the Stalinism Bulgakov lived through would have been helpful for readers not familiar with Russia’s twentieth century history. Still, if you haven’t read Bulgakov before, he’s one of the few Soviet writers I truly enjoy!

Erm, each book’s description is getting longer rather than shorter, isn’t it? It’s so painful for me, when I could do a whole post about so many of these books. But I’m determined to get at least something about each of them down, so they don’t languish in obscurity. With any luck, even my paltry thoughts will inspire some of you (and feel free to ask me questions in the comments if any of the titles pique your curiosity).

And God Said by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman is an incredible piece of nonfiction, and it will definitely end up on my best of 2011 list. Hoffman looks at how translations have affected the Bible (primarily the Old Testament, since he’s Jewish, but he includes a bit of the New as well), and between his marvelous analogies (a method of argumentation I usually frown on, but which works well in linguistics), his incredible ability to present complicated ideas in a simple manner, and his clear-eyed willingness to admit when there’s no right answer, he’s a breath of fresh air. Since Christianity, particularly the ‘literal Bible’ school, is so politically influential in my society, I wish this book would become an instant best-seller. As it is, I can only tell you that if you read one book of the ones I’m discussing today, make it this one. You won’t regret it; it’s quite short and an easy read, although if you’re anything like me you’ll be pausing to scribble frantic notes at pretty much every page! Also, Hoffman has included the most marvelously helpful ‘further reading’ appendix I’ve ever encountered in my nonfiction reads. (He even has advice for nerds like me who suddenly find themselves with an inexplicable desire to study Biblical Hebrew.) The book has a website that, despite its unfortunate design, contains a lot of useful information that will hopefully convince you to read the book.

I was intrigued by the premise of Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen; a first generation Chinese-American girl in the 70s decides to become Jewish. But for me, the execution didn’t quite work; while the narrative voice had a quirky freshness to it, I don’t do well with fiction written in present tense. The epilogue was a bit too neat and tidy as well. That being said, Mona was a well-drawn character, and the cast of supporting ones were individual enough that I could see a sitcom playing out. If you’re looking for a lighter read that still addresses some important issues, if you enjoy coming-of-age stories or books set in the 70s with some hippy flavour, do give it a go. I have similar mildly disappointed feelings about The Untelling by Tayari Jones; this one is set mainly in the 90s (I think…maybe late 80s?) in Atlanta and deals with Ariadne, a twenty-five year old woman with enough emotional baggage from the past to make her current worries look small. I loved the first half of the book, because Jones is a masterful writer (she’s one of the few that flip back and forth in time without losing me, and since I was listening to the audiobook, that’s saying something). But the last third or so just started to drag; I couldn’t help wishing the main ‘scene’ would happen already, because at least then I’d see the aftermath. The ending was satisfying, precisely because Jones doesn’t make it a fairy tale. A solid book, and one I’d recommend for those who enjoy ‘women’s fiction’ (although I seriously loathe that term), but I didn’t love it like I did her debut, Leaving Atlanta. I will be watching out for her next book, though, because her writing style is so powerful! On a more positive note, I adored Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea. I read his first novel, The Hummingbird’s Daughter, a couple of years ago and loved it. However, his nonfiction book about Tijuana (Across the Wire) was so raw and painful (though well written) that when this one was published I was afraid of what it might look like and thus put off giving it a go. So I’m deeply indebted to Emily for posting about A Beautiful North: every page of this was something to savour, and when I closed the back cover it was with a bittersweet sigh. Urrea taps into the deep cycle of myth and legend telling, channeling the hero’s journey into the twenty-first century and creating a wonderful heroine who I won’t forget. (He seems to be the rare male author who writes completely believable, strong, loveable female protagonists.) While the novel is ‘realistic’, in that there’s no magic of any kind, I still can’t help comparing it to Neil Gaiman and it has a bit of a charmed fairy tale narrative. No gritty realism here, although there are many sly digs at various policies, both Mexican and American, and their harmful effects! AND there’s a road trip narrative that’s destined go down as one of those American classic moments (I-70 baby! a trip I myself have embarked on more than once). All of these elements added up to another title destined for my best of 2011 post. I just discovered Urrea has another novel coming about later this year, and I’ll be reading it as soon as I can get my hands on it! I highly recommend him to everyone; I can’t decide if I love The Hummingbird’s Daughter or Into the Beautiful North more, so read them both and tell me what you think.

Continuing with the ‘novels you should go read now’ theme, Damascus Nights by Rafik Schami was another wonderful treat. For those of you who adored The Hakawati, have savoured Arabian Nights (in the Husain Haddawy translation, I hope) and now have a burning desire for more novels narrated by Middle Eastern storytellers, y’all are in luck. Damascus Nights opens when Salim, a coachman famed throughout Syria for his storytelling abilities, loses his voice. As a fairy tells him, his only hope is to receive seven precious gifts, which his friends eventually decide means they should each tell a story. Schami strikes the perfect note, and while through most of the story I was vaguely dissatisfied that women were so tangential (all his friends are other old men), the last chapter more than made up for that. Schami himself is a professional storyteller, originally from Syria but living in Germany (the novel is translated from German), and I was delighted to see that my library has some of his other books (both adult novels and picture books I’ll be checking out for my niece). I truly think he could become a favourite author of mine, and while this runs a close second for ‘if I could make you read one novel I’m posting about today, this would be it’ to Into the Beautiful North. International and translation lit junkies, Schami could be your next fix. ;)

When I realised I hadn’t read any popular science books this year, I went on a nice browse during a library visit. Of the ones I selected, I got to two last month: The Invisible Sex by J. M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer, and Jake Page and Suburban Safari by Hannah Holmes. Both were informative, fun, satisfying reads that I can highly recommend. The Invisible Sex is a look at the role of women in prehistory; it rewrites the ‘caveman hunter, woman passive womb on legs’ story, looks at the origins of those false theories (*cough* unconsciously chauvinistic male anthropologists *cough*) and sorts through known data to try to imagine what life for men and women could have been like. One of the best things is that the authors always draw a clear line between what we can know and what must remain speculation; their honesty is quite refreshing, if at times surprising (for instance, the famous skeleton ‘Lucy’ might just as well be male: it’s only classified as female because of its size). I learned a ton of interesting information, and there was none of the dreaded evolutionary psychology that makes my blood pressure raise to dangerous levels. The introduction, in which the authors seemed at pains to clarify that they weren’t ‘crazy feminists’ had me a bit nervous; fortunately, the rest of the text calmed those nerves. Ever since reading about the grandmother hypothesis in Natalie Angier’s excellent (seriously, go read it) Woman: an Intimate Geography, I’ve been curious to know more. The Invisible Sex more than satisfied that curiosity, and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who wishes to know more about humanity’s origins without a sexist framework! Suburban Safari was a nice complement to The Hedgehog’s Dilemma; since Holmes is American, I could look forward to seeing many of the species she describes in my own backyard! (Although, she’s in Maine and I’m in Texas, so it wasn’t perfect. Have you noticed how much New England seems to figure in naturalist books?! It’s a bit odd.) Her style mixes personal stories with scientific research, and she isn’t afraid to admit her own biases (like trying to help her favourite animals through various interventions). The book is structured as a year of her exploring her own yard (beginning in the spring); she also goes on various trips and interviews various experts about ecological issues, in particular ones relating to native species vs. invaders. I learned a lot of interesting information, and although much of it was disheartening, the overall tone of the book was still cheerful. I’m always on the lookout for accessible science writers, and Holmes has several other books that sound interesting. Definitely one I’d recommend you look into! I don’t think she’ll ever be a very favourite author of mine, but one I’d like to read more of nonetheless.

I grabbed A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues by Andre Compte-Sponville from my library shelves, because I want to read more nonfiction stuff by non American/British authors this year. This is the second popular French philosopher I’ve read, and unfortunately I’ve found both to be quite chauvinistic. For me, this chauvinism tinged my feelings about the rest of the book to such a degree that I can’t say I got much satisfaction from reading it (the really offensive chapter came in the middle, so the first half I was fine, but the second half I resented). Seriously, what is it about best-selling French pop philosophers that lets them get away with such sexist nonsense?! That’s about all I have to say about that; I think I’ll be returning to my tried and true Alain de Botton instead. To end this post on a high note, I tore through The Body at the Tower, the second in Y.S. Lee’s ‘The Agency’ series. It’s just recently published, set in Victorian London about a new recruit at a fictional spy group run by women that operates on the idea that middle and lower class women are invisible and thus make the best spies. Lee is a Victorian scholar who really brings the period to life, and I very much enjoy her protagonist, Mary Quinn. This is marketed as young adult, and is on the fluffier, easy-to-read side of things, but a nice satisfying read nonetheless, and one I’d be happy to see more young women reading. Woot for good role models! ;) While the market seems to be saturated with historical fiction set in Victorian England with headstrong female leads, I promise you this one is different; give it a go when you need to bring some fun into your reading life.

And there you have it, all of my March reading in one post. Sorry to go on for so long, but desperate backlogs call for desperate measures. And as I said earlier, feel free to ask anything in the comments; I would love an excuse to expand on many of these books. ;) I purposely didn’t include any passages, to keep this from becoming even longer, but I hope that doesn’t stop you from looking into any books that sound appealing.

59 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2011 1:55 am

    You know that it’s torture reading this, right? Not for length but because I want to read about half the books on this list. I’ll limit my comments, then, to two…I’ve tried Gish Jen before but something about her style has always had me abandoning her books about fifty pages in. I think I finally gave away “Mona” a couple years ago, so I’m relieved to hear that you were disappointed by the book. I’ve had “The Master & Margarita” on my kindle for the longest time now, and your review makes me want to start reading it this second.

    I’m glad you decided to write about all these reads – thanks!

    • April 9, 2011 2:04 am

      Heehee: sorry for the torture! ;) And yes, Gish Jen isn’t for me; I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t connect with her! Which translation do you have of Master & Margarita?

  2. April 3, 2011 7:39 am

    Not book related at all, but I continue to be Diane to let me get a hedgehog.

    …and a miniature pig.

    …and a pygmy goat.

    …and a chinese crested.

    She’s kinda done with me. :)

  3. April 3, 2011 8:11 am

    See, I read The Untelling before I read Leaving Atlanta, so even though I think Leaving Atlanta is a technically better book, The Untelling made me fall in love with the way Tayari writes. I’m so excited to read Silver Sparrow – I’ve heard such great things about it.

    Your recommendation for Into the Beautiful North is probably the first one that has swayed me to read it. I have it on my shelf, but I just haven’t picked it up. I’ve been nervous (even though I read Alberto Urrea’s comic and loved it!

    • April 9, 2011 2:05 am

      That’s so interesting, Lu! (Re: Tayari Jones) I had the same experience with Sarah Waters; my first read of hers, Tipping the Velvet, is still my favourite while most who read in a different order seem to prefer Fingersmith.

      And I think you’d really love Into the Beautiful North! Just up your alley!

  4. April 3, 2011 8:51 am

    I’ll definitely be checking out Witch of the Palo Duro, I’m always on the look-out for mystery series with slightly different characters. I don’t like the series with a professional cop/PI in it most of the time, because they’re usually so very gritty. But this one sounds interesting.

    And God Said sounds like a book for me! I remember translating the Christmas story (I believe from the book Matthew?) from the original Greek (or as original as there is, in any way) in my Ancient Greek class. And boy, did the story look different than the one in the Bible when we were through! So many words twisted, so many meanings lost…

    The Invisible Sex (and Women: An Intimate Geography) both sound really great. I’m up to my neck in dinosaur books right now for my own history study, and then it will be early mammals, before I reach human evolution and prehistory, but I did put them on my list for then.

    And oh, did you have to mention Y.S. Lee’s The Agency series? Like I don’t have enough series on my TBR list already! (78 currently, if you’re interested, and those are all series I haven’t started yet. Still, it sounds better than listing all those books separately, right?).

    My Sunday Salon is about my own back log, in reading Early Review copies, and the unexpected guilt that comes with those pesky, wonderful, free books:

    • April 9, 2011 2:07 am

      I don’t like gritty ‘crime’ novels either. ;) And God Said is marvelous; it focuses on the Hebrew, but it can definitely be generalised to the universal problems of translation.

      I’m giggling at the idea of you finally reaching prehistory from the dinosaur era!

      And that’s kind of insane you have 78 series on your TBR list. At least The Agency only has two books so far! As someone who swore off ARCs, I understand the guilt thing.

  5. April 3, 2011 8:54 am

    Wow, what an interesting collection of books…and I can understand wanting to deal with the whole lot of them at once.

    They show a bit of variety, which I think makes reading more fun.

    I tend to review each book when I finish it, not because I’m so good or anything, but I remember the details better that way. I could take notes as I go, but that feels too much like work…LOL


    • April 9, 2011 2:10 am

      I’ve definitely all about variety! :) And I wish I was more on top of things, reviewing books as soon as I finished them.

  6. April 3, 2011 9:02 am

    Nice! I just added several books from your posts to my TBR list. I always put off looking them up on the library, because they hardly ever have them and it just ends up annoying me…

  7. April 3, 2011 9:23 am

    Good heavens. Now I have many thoughts and I feel like if I say them all my comment will be ridiculously long. I’m glad you liked Busman’s Honeymoon. I sort of can’t stand it. I don’t know why, I don’t usually fall victim to the whole “now they’re together I’m no longer interested” thing. But I just have never been able to get fond of that book. Elizabeth Peters (who in all other ways is plainly crazy about Dorothy Sayers) pokes very gentle fun at Peter as he appears in that book, and I always think of that and can’t take him seriously. :p

    And God Said looks really great! I am currently in an obsession about translations and how they are done. I’m going to a talk later this month about translating modern Greek, and I am madly excited to hear what they have to say. It must be insanely hard to do a really good translation.

    • April 9, 2011 2:11 am

      Heehee: I think Peter definitely makes a fool of himself, but I find it rather adorable.

      And God Said definitely sounds perfect for your current obsession! Be careful, though; I now have a strong desire to teach myself ancient Hebrew. And then ancient Greek. :O

  8. April 3, 2011 9:46 am

    Thank you so much for mentioning that a sequel to The Hummingbird’s Daughter is going to be coming out! Now I’m very excited :-D. I’ve also put a hold in for Damascus Nights from the library, just to give it a try. I’m considering Witch of the Palo Duro, although I don’t usually like mysteries very much.

    Oh, and I also love YS Lee’s Agency series, so it made my day to hear that you like it too!

    • April 9, 2011 2:12 am

      Isn’t that exciting?! And I hope you enjoy Damascus Nights. If you’re not a big mystery fan, you might still like Witch of the Palo Duro if the setting (a Kiowa camp in the nineteenth century) appeals to you; there’s lots of cultural tidbits.

  9. April 3, 2011 10:06 am

    Wow, I don’t even know what to comment on, LOL. I wanted to read Into the Beautiful North when it first came out but completely forgot about it, so thanks for reminding me. I’ll be putting that on the TBR. And I’ll be putting And God Said on the TBR too, as a Christian I obviously read the Bible and believe in its truth, however there are many times I’m not completely sold on what it is saying as “truth”. (homosexuality being a sin comes to mind, to begin with) So I for sure think I’ll enjoy that one!

    • April 9, 2011 2:13 am

      Definitely get to Into the Beautiful North one of these days! And yes, I think And God Said will be marvelous for you. :)

  10. April 3, 2011 10:13 am

    In reference to your comment, “you better believe I’ll be referencing it when I come across people who want to lecture me about the Dark Ages,” does that happen to you a lot? Do people come up to you on the street often wanting to lecture you about the Dark Ages? ;)

    I always wondered where to start with Dorothy Sayers, so thanks for the suggestion where to start.

    See you Saturday as the Hitchcock film fest rolls on. :)

    • April 9, 2011 2:14 am

      Actually, people say things like “Of course they believed the world was flat” pretty frequently. :p More commonly, I’ll be reading either a nonfiction book that casually refers to the ‘Dark Ages’ or historical fiction set in the Middle Ages that portrays it as the most backward time you can imagine; in that case, the lecture/argument is all in my head I suppose. ;)

      I’ll be curious to see what you make of Sayers!

  11. April 3, 2011 11:09 am

    I’ve only read one of the books you mention…Into the Beautiful North, which I loved. And Urrea is just the nicest person, if you ever get a chance to meet him. He spoke at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books a few years ago.
    I have The Master and Margarita on the shelf. Like so many other books, it keeps getting overlooked.

    • April 9, 2011 2:15 am

      Oh, that’s so neat about Urrea! Also, considering your track record with the Russians, I’m not surprised you overlook M&M. ;)

  12. April 3, 2011 11:41 am

    It’s my understanding that Urrea’s new book is a sequel to The Hummingbird’s Daughter. I’m really excited about it too.

  13. April 3, 2011 12:45 pm

    Wow Eva, way to conquer your backlog! I am a bit exhilarated for you, just vicariously. :-)

    So glad you loved Into the Beautiful North – it sounds like you liked it even better than I did, so it makes me feel good that my post facilitated that for you. I agree with everything you say re: its “realism” coexisting with a kind of fairy-tale vibe, and the extremely likable characters. At times they were maybe a bit too likable for me, although that sounds perverse. Maybe it was just a bit of a stretch to believe that, for example, the dump-dwellers were so happy & well-adjusted. Nevertheless, a small complaint about a very enjoyable novel.

    And I’ll have to try that trick about turning around while calling my dog!

    • April 9, 2011 2:17 am

      Thanks Emily!

      I understand what you mean re: the dump-dwellers, although I thought Urrea provided enough description of ‘background dump-dwellers’ who weren’t well-adjusted to cancel things out. I guess at that point, I’d realised it was a quest/fairy tale type thing, so it didn’t feel like it was quite in the real world.

      Hope the dog trick works!

  14. April 3, 2011 1:05 pm

    The Hedgehog’s Dilemma is the one for me from your list, sounds interesting and fun.

    • April 9, 2011 2:18 am

      It’s a nice light nonfiction read, definitely one I’d recommend! :)

  15. April 3, 2011 1:54 pm

    So I’ve just counted up the number of books I’m curious enough to go look for, from your lovely reviews, and it’s 8. 8!!!! You don’t need any blurbs to convince me to try some new books you liked!

    I’m delighted to see some mysteries on your list, and I’m checking out Lee and Medawar as soon as I can.

    I think you more than made up for your reading slump, by the way! lol I’m glad you enjoyed so many of the books you read too, Eva.

    • April 9, 2011 2:18 am

      Heehee: you do the same thing to me Susan! :p And I’m really enjoying my delve into mysteries this year.

  16. April 3, 2011 2:32 pm

    I have another window open to order “And God Said” at this very moment. It sounds like exactly the sort of thing I tend to love; I’m terribly interested in translation and Christian history separately, but when you bring them together my interest quotient overflows. It sounds like it’ll be a great compliment to the excellent (but very very long) Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years that I’ve just picked up as my April project.

    • April 9, 2011 2:19 am

      Oh yay: I think you’ll definitely enjoy it! I imagine that book on Christianity would be rather long. hehe

  17. April 3, 2011 3:15 pm

    Like Alice, I’m also quite intrigued by And God Said. It looks VERY promising. Eventually, I too will get around to reading Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. As I type this it’s sitting on the arm of my futon taunting me to read it !

    • April 9, 2011 2:20 am

      It definitely lives up to its promise! :)

  18. April 3, 2011 3:19 pm

    Did you say you were only going to give very short reviews to catch up?? ;P Well done for writing this post, and I always enjoy reading multiple reviews, especially if you’ve written them! I’ve been meaning to read The Agency series for a while and I’ll probably get to them at some point. Glad to hear you enjoyed them. I’ve also got The Master and Margarita on my TBR which I started years ago but never managed to finish.

    • April 9, 2011 2:22 am

      Well, short for me! ;) And thanks for the compliment. :) I think the second part of M&M is much better than the first, so persevere!

  19. April 3, 2011 5:46 pm

    The Other End of the Leash is one of my favorite dog books. And I did enjoy Suburban Safari too. All the rest of these are new titles to me, more to add to my list!

    • April 9, 2011 2:22 am

      Have you read McConnell’s other book about dogs? I want to!

  20. April 4, 2011 10:02 am

    So glad you enjoyed your re-read of Master & Margarita! I admit that I didn’t really connect with it when I read through it last year, though I could see how it was considered a classic and had a lot of merit. I think it’s one of those books I’ll get more out of on a second reading!

    • April 9, 2011 2:25 am

      I can see why some don’t connect with it, especially since you’re not big on magical realism! I was excited to win your giveaway though. :)

  21. April 4, 2011 11:22 am

    Can I just say two things? First, I am so impressed by the diversity of your titles, the thoughtfulness of the mini-reviews, and your determination to review them all. (Okay, that was three things already, but . . . )

    Secondly, curse you for adding so much to my list. I’ve been meaning to read Urrea for a while, so now onto the list . . . along with Hoffman and the Warwick and and and

    Bulgakov is one of my favorites, but man, that was a laborious read for me . . .

    Thanks so much.

    • April 9, 2011 2:26 am

      Heehee: thanks for all the compliments Andi! I love being a book pusher. ;)

  22. April 4, 2011 2:33 pm

    Excellent post Eva and I do admire how you were able to write so well about so many books and keep the post fairly short! I’m especially interested to reread The Master and the Margarita since I don’t believe the one I read in college is the translation you are referring to. I am also quite intrigued by And God Said. I’ve always wondered about the effect of translation on the Bible but haven’t had the chance to read about it. Thanks for sharing all of your March reads with us!

    • April 9, 2011 2:27 am

      Thank you Kathleen! This translation came out fairly recently (I think 2006), so probably different from the one you read in college. It’s fun to compare translations, isn’t it? And prepare to be shocked by And God Said. ;)

  23. April 4, 2011 4:26 pm

    So many of the books you talk about here sound so good! I’m intrigued by Damascus Nights in particular, so I’ll have to see if the library has it. (I may have to pick up Arabian Nights too; I enjoyed the Hawaddy translation when I read it some years ago, and I have a fondness for rereads!)

    • April 9, 2011 2:28 am

      I hope your library has it! And isn’t rereading fun? :)

  24. April 5, 2011 4:06 pm

    I definitely want to read the Bulgakov, I wonder if I can get my classics group to read it with me?

    And God Said sounds very interesting. I’m fascinated by Bible translation history. I’ve been curious about INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH so I’ll add it to my idea list. Your reminder of WOMAN reminds me I need to make it a priority one of these months.

    Anyway, thanks for writing about these books, even briefly. It helps to know what Eva’s been reading lately :) I also need want more ideas.

    • April 9, 2011 2:30 am

      I bet you can sell it to your classics group: lots of scope for discussion! And I’m glad to inspire you. ;)

  25. April 6, 2011 10:17 am

    I’m ashamed to say that quite a lot of British people, like Warwick, do tend to put Americans down a lot. There used to be a general ‘feel’ that Americans were stupid: the whole George Bush, simple wacky humour (Will Ferrell, SNL, etc.), ‘Americans are NOT stupid’ video on Youtube, religious fanatics along the Bible belt thing, ‘Like, OMG!’-TV shows. Because of the few silly eggs, everyone kind of lumped a nation into one category. Then again, I think a lot of people abroad to that with us Brits too – We have a reputation for being very dry and sarcastic, very stiff upper-lip and quite snotty (probably thanks to the slew of Hugh Grant and Colin Firth films).

    Anyway, what was my point? Oh, yeah. I’m certainly not one of those people to generalise because I love American culture and I imagine Warwick is probably a middle-class snob anyway because, let’s face it, he wrote a book about hedgehogs and no-one over here sees hedgehogs except for those who live in the country (and you have to be either a farmer or rich to live in the country over here).

    The Master and Margarita sounds like something I’d really want to read. :)

    • April 9, 2011 2:32 am

      Don’t worry about it Ceri! I’ve noticed most BBC shows and British movies also put in subtle digs to the US, but it doesn’t bother me too much. And I’m glad you love American culture! ;)

      Heehee: he’s a scientist, so he spends a lot of time in the country, but he didn’t seem to look down on the lower classes! Of course, as an American, I’m a bit oblivious to classism. You should read the book and tell me. ;)

  26. April 6, 2011 7:06 pm

    Once again I am in awe, as well as entertained by, the sheer number of books you have read. Not only that, but so many of them sound so good.

    I will be looking for The Other End of the Leash at my library. I would love it if Dakota came when called.

    • April 9, 2011 2:33 am

      Heehee: thanks CB! I hope The Other End of the Leash helps you out with Dakota. :)

  27. April 14, 2011 7:46 pm

    Phew, what a list Eva! I see you got quite a bit of reading done, and some really interesting and varied books as always. A few I’m interested in, including And God Said.


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