Project Bookworm Update: Books One through Eight
So far, my new project is going swimmingly! We’re five days into August, and I’ve finished eight books, checked off six categories (double-counting some) and am only sixty pages away from finishing the ninth. Now, I don’t expect this rate to continue; two of the books I finished were begun in July and several of them are on the shorter side (200-250 pages), so I’m sure I’ll come across some longer books that will balance them out. But I’ve certainly found how to motivate myself. ;) In between blog posts, you can follow along if you’re curious on Instagram or the page I’ve set up to track my progress. I just need one of those little counter bars. hehe
Unintentionally, all eight of the books I’ve read were written by women! Five are fiction, three are nonfiction. Four were physical books, three were e-books, and one was an audiobook. Three of the authors were women of colour and two were from the world outside the US & UK (Australia & Trinidad). The earliest book was published in 1969 and the latest in 2015.
Of course, what you really want to know is whether you should read them!
I’ve already talked about book one, What the Dead Know, so I’ll move on to book two, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. I’d been meaning to read this since it was published (I did my college honours thesis on the Balkan region), but I’d never quite gotten around to it. I got the push I needed when a Serbian friend recommended it to me. Now I wonder why I waited so long! This book was absolutely perfect for me: it weaves together contemporary life with folklore mysteries and quirky back stories a la magical realism, involves villages and forests but also cities and modern science (thus not infantilising the region), and leaves so much up to the reader. I adore authors who trust their audience, and Obreht has done so wonderfully. I loved it from the first page right through to the last, and I just hope she is working on her next book. In case you can’t tell, I would highly, highly recommend this one. If you’re looking for companion reads, I’d point you in the direction of Deathless by Cathrynne Valente for a darker, more fairy-tale than folktale look at Eastern Europe in wartime (Russia this time) or Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Croatian author Dubravka Ugresic, which is a rather more esoteric mix of folktale and everyday life.
I can’t say that I cared much for The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow. It didn’t live up to its promising subtitle: The Story of Sarah Losh, Forgotten Romantic Heroine-Antiquarian, Architect, and Visionary, simply because Uglow couldn’t really find enough sources for a book-length biography. So instead it’s a book about Losh’s eighteen century social context and family, with the occasional look at her life, which could have worked (I’m always happy to read social history!), if Uglow didn’t jump around quite so erratically, in both time and subject. I’m happy to read a book that makes me work, but the chronological jumping in particular made it much more difficult to form a full view of Losh’s time and place. I was also alienated by her colonial view of history and the occasional moments of classism. All this would have taken to fix is an acknowledgement or two of social privilege and the point of the view of the people in the various colonies, but as that never happened, I remained perturbed. She had this habit of attributing emotions to her subjects by quoting novels that were written around the same time period, which is something I find a bit questionable, albeit creative, and she seemed to interpret the main people she wrote about in the best light possible, a little more so than I would have liked. It had enough interesting bits that I kept going despite these qualms, but I’m not sure I’ll be trying her other books. Although they do all have appealing topics!
Luckily, I loved the other nonfiction book I was reading in tandem: Not for Everyday Use by Elizabeth Nunez. I loved it so much, and found it so thought-provoking, that I’d like to write an entire post on it, so for now I’ll just say that I recommend it to absolutely everyone! As a literary memoir, I imagine even those who usually prefer fiction will find it enjoyable.
Scream in Silence was the next in Eleanor Taylor Bland’s mystery series featuring Illinois cop Marti MacAlister. These aren’t traditional-style puzzle mysteries (a la Agatha Christie), more like police procedurals, but I love how Bland includes bits of Marti MacAlister’s personal life, and I admire the way each of the books really brings attention to the vulnerability of various segments of society. These aren’t comfort reads for me, since most of them portray at least a bit of either child or elder abuse, and sexual violence often comes up as well (none of these are ever written about exploitatively), but I’ll continue to read them, as they expand my world view, and I love catching up with Marti and her family. I’d certainly recommend them to others, especially those looking for diversity in their crime/mystery reading, although I’d tack on a trigger warning.
Yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t feeling well. Usually I’d settle in for some Netflix, but I decided to try to find a book equivalent instead, so I downloaded The Camelot Caper by Elizabeth Peters. She’s one of those authors who sounds just up my alley on paper, and yet I’m never quite sold by her books, and this one was a disappointment. I expected a bit of a gothic romp, but what I got was so silly I can only imagine it was intentional pastiche. Which would be fine, if the characters ever came to life. Even the settings, full of English landmarks and steeped in history, fell flat. As it was, I was relieved to reach the end of this one. We all have different tastes, but I’d recommend Daphne du Maurier or Susanna Kearsley or Mary Stewart for anyone looking for a bit of gothic romance instead. ;)
Once I’d finished the Peters, I still wasn’t feeling well, so I decided to go straight into another novel. All I knew about The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim was that I’d found it on a young adult fantasy list. Let me tell, that cheerful, pretty, purple cover is possibly the most misleading cover I’ve seen in some time!!! This is a dark, gritty, suspenseful novel that I had me calling my mom when I had to walk Thistle around the block in the dark, because I was so creeped out. Far more crime than fantasy (the only magical element is the protagonist and her mother’s ability to create terribly accurate astrological charts), the crimes center around violence towards women, which is not my favourite. However, I cared about the characters from the first page (I’d love to spend more time with them!), and appreciated the atypical coming of age storyline, even as I kept turning the pages because I had to know what happened next. Lim is Australian, and the book is set in Melbourne, so it was also fun to explore a new city in the pages, and I imagine I’ll be looking for more of her work in the future. I just won’t read it near bedtime. I’d definitely recommend this to readers who enjoy thrillers or those looking for an unusual narrator. Just don’t be fooled by that cover, and expect a fun little steampunk adventure, with astrology thrown in for spice, like I did.
Oh my goodness, this post has gotten long! Only one book left to write about: Gale Lawrence’s The Indoor Naturalist. I’ve read and loved Lawrence’s other natural history essay collections, which are all based on a column she wrote for her Vermont newspaper, and aimed at novice amateur naturalists, so I was intrigued about what she’d find to write about in the more domestic setting. I shouldn’t have been surprised at how much she manages to cover; from the more obvious pet and houseplant sections, we move on to everything from yeast to centipedes to dust. A charming little collection, it would work wonderfully as bedside reading as well, if you can manage to stop an just an essay or two. I ended up gobbling these up, and if it’s not my very favourite of her books, I’d still happily recommend it to everyone. Lawrence is another one of those authors I think would win over even readers who don’t usually care for nonfiction. Of course, the closer you are to New England, the more relevant you’ll find her topics, but this book is less place-specific than the others. Much better than the unfortunate cover implies!
It’s funny, in retrospect the first books of the month have included some disappointments as well as some new favourites. However, even the less than great ones don’t seem to be dampening my reading enthusiasm, which seems like a good sign. And with that, I think I’ll go bury my nose in a book for awhile, and give my hands a rest.