12/28/2016 by syrbal-labrys
I’ve not kept up with my reading. And I’m patently failing to hit my 52 books this year — because I stalled out completely on Steven Pinker’s very statistically written tome about our allegedly “better angels”. Having someone try to prove to me that mankind is less vicious and violent than in centuries past while reading daily bits of bitter repudiation in the Trump news…..oh, so not working for me.
I did get 49 books finished, in spite of wanting to put out my eyes rather than watch Trump be inaugurated next month. So on to it, then – from #40? My favorites are in bold print!
#40 (a re-read) The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling is mostly a delight. It is not, of course, just the Mogli stories. Tales of the Inuit in the frozen north are more evocative, more thrilling. And there is a chilling vibe to “Her Majesty’s Servants” told in the language of animals serving a 19th century army…as the analogy to what military service for an empire does to humans!
#41 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie has all the lyricism his fiction uses to capture the reader. The fantastical novel of “special” children born in the midnight hour of India’s independence in August 1947 really reminded me of “The Tin Drum.” Snapshots of history blended with personal metaphors and events holds the reader spell-bound. Book is better than the movie, I promise.
#42 The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill is a delight I’d have read aloud to my children over the winter vacation, if I still had children! It is charmingly and appropriately frightening story of a magical child’s growth into life as her protector ages and heads for death’s door. A delight.
#43 The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner is a warm tale stretching nigh a century on a tiny Italian island. You sink, satisfyingly, into the story – reading slower to make it last longer. It is a book about a small place with a big heart, with typical failings and fights and untypical triumphs and loves.
#44 The Wonder by Emma Donaghue is a fiction based on an actual phenomenon – a bit like the reality show horrors of the 19th century. It will give the thinking reader a wrench to throw at any the modern day proponent of Pascal’s Wager. In this tale, a “Nightengale nurse” is hired to watch an Irish Catholic “wonder child” who is allegedly living without food for several months. It astounds and appalls.
The canny reader recognizes anorexia’s signature in the nurse’s description although the nurse herself does not recognize starvation. Her goal is to find how the child has been sustained and kept from death. When the secretive feedings are stopped by the vigilance of the watchers, the child is then at risk of death. The religious trappings of the family and hidden sins of the family make the parents willing to sacrifice the child to death for the fame and support that will result. Yes, children, say it with me “Religion Hurts and Kills!”
This being fiction? Donaghue pulls out a happy ending, the reality was enthralling horror!
#45 Witches, Druids & King Arthur by Ronald Hutton – as with most Hutton books the content hold interest, but this one was more scrambled than most. I was fascinated by the threads of connection between ancieant world paganism, Christian and Islamic thought as it morphed for survival into hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, and so forth. But how that connected to King Arthur or the Druids (already handled in an earlier Hutton book) confused me. Most interesting, oddly, was the last bit about “living with witchcraft” wherein he finally discusses the effect of his writing and research both on his subjects and himself. He tells of the quandary of anthropological and other explorations of modern phenomenon like modern paganism — and of drastic screw ups by others in that line of work. I have a new catch phrase now: “Don’t pull a Tanya on me!” — yes, I end on a tease.
#46 Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger both intrigued and frightened me. When a noted war journalist examines the phenomenon Of “missing” war or traumatic times to seek the end of PTSD suffering, you pay attention. He makes a case for the idea that belonging and sense of purpose lent by war and other disasters, plus competency and effectiveness are the “legs” on the stool of mental health. Homecoming to disconnected, impersonal society with imposed stratifications creates depression and PTSD even in non-soldiers. That much is easy to agree with, but that issue in a society not made of platoons and companies – but 100s of millions of nigh faceless entities in competition for jobs, homes, etc? Suddenly the “what to do” becomes impractical. Junger himself is not blind to the problem -0 he acknowledges that the closest “civilian” society gets to that militant purposefulness is gangs and then, the issue of gang (tribal) warfare. It is an admirable diagnosis of a problem, but still looking for a cure. Well worth the read to see examples of issues American does not confront or acknowledge.
#47 La Rose by Louise Erdrich is a fiction that makes your teeth grind. Even in your sleep, ok? A grueling grief soaked tale of Amerindian-White interaction. An Indian father accidentally shoots the young son of a white friend and neighbor–also related by marriage since the dead boy’s mother is his (half)sister-in-law. The surprise solution is to give his own son to the grieving couple; in the end it unites both families in incredible new ways. But only after much knuckle-chewing troubles due to fear, addiction, grief, and spite. The denouement is understated – like a hot air balloon suddenly cooling to descend: masterfully done.
#48 The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard fascinates and seduces in the way only an untold history can manage! The gripping history of real pirates of the Caribbean and their short-lived era of elected captains and disability pay for injured crewmen boggles the mind. The book is awash with noble characters — the surprise is many if not all of them are pirates!
#49 Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen taught me a great deal. I didn’t previously know
“gothic” actually meant “Oh gods, why did I start reading this damned book” nor did I realize how badly I needed Google translate to find my way through all the Latin and French bits. I enjoyed Dinesen’s work on her life in Africa, as I enjoyed other Europeans who lived in Africa and had their lives thus transformed. But I didn’t much enjoy this, apparently ending a story on a slightly stale joke or proverb (even if it is in Latin) isn’t much to my taste. All stories shared Dinesen’s rather luminous use of language, but then took a perverse and often nonsensical turn at the end that ruined the logic of the story with remarkable staleness.