Books read in May

So this wasn’t a super exciting reading month, but in reviewing my reviews, I see that I didn’t push Suite Fraincaise hard enough. That was a fabulous read and will remain foremost in my mind for a long time. I spent too much time finishing off the House at Riverton. Don’t repeat my mistake.

Tales From Outer Suburbia
Shaun Tan
Read for sporadic book club.
I renewed this several times before I got around to reading it, and I only got around to reading it because someone had it on hold and I couldn’t renew it any more. Then, of course, I read it in no time at all and thought it fabulous, and what the heck was I thinking, not reading it before this?

You’ve probably run across that weird kid growing up. Not the creepy weird one, or the socially awkward weird one, but the one who seems to be off in his or her own world. Maybe you talked once or twice to this weird kid and thought, “That person is a bit off, but damn, are they interesting.” These stories remind me of a weird kid world. Everything was incredibly familiar and just a bit off and very enjoyable.

This Green House
Joshua Piven
By the man who brought us the Worst Case Scenario Survival Guide, you can now count on him to help green your home. This is chock full of plenty of projects ranging from easy to hard. Two of my favorite were retrofitting your toilet so you could flush with greywater, and how to make your very own washing machine. It involves a Rubbermaid container, a (new) toilet plunger, a drill to make a hole and your own muscles to get the clothing clean. It’s genius! There were all sorts of fantastic gems in this book.

Poetry Daily
Diane Boller and other editors
One poem per day of the year (even including February 29) from the people who bring you a new poem every day.

The Man from Beijing
Henning Markell
On the one hand, I tore through this novel and put off daily chores so I could read more of it. So, super awesome. On the other hand, it was slow in parts, there were some pretty amazing coincidences that were never fully explained and I found the end dissatisfying. So, not so awesome. The books strengths are in its first two sections, after that its seemed like I was just reading to find out who dunnit.

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide
Pleasant & Martin
This book suffered greatly from the way in which the information was presented, which was too bad because there is a lot of good information in it. It seemed like every single page referred me to yet another page in the book. A few times of flipping from page 27 to page 188 to see what they are taking about seems acceptable, but after the first few times I think there’s an indication that your book is suffering from layout issues, or perhaps your information needs to be categorized in a different way.

Suite Francaise
Irene Nemirovsky
Read for Kenton Library book club.
I just searched for a list of titles for good books to read and rejected more than five out of hand because they were set in World War II and I’m tired of reading about Nazis. If you think the WWII novel genre has become stale and overdone, and you don’t read about Nazis either, I suggest that you make an exception for this book. Here’s why:

  • The book was written by an author in 1942 and just recently published. Why is that? That’s one of the things that makes the book great.
  • The writing in this book is superb, observing the flight of the citizens of Paris in the wake of the German invasion and also life in an occupied French village.
  • The book is unfinished, only the first two parts out of a planned five.
  • After you finish the book, you get to read notes the author made about the novel and also what happened to keep her from finishing the novel. That story, along with the unfinished story she wrote, provide a memorable one-two punch.

The 100 Thing Challenge
Dave Bruno
Dave Bruno and I got off on the wrong foot when, in his preface, he used his cat as an example of the disposable American lifestyle. It seemed that one of the family cats was killed by coyotes and when they brought home a new cat to replace the dead one, the other cat was angry for months. Bruno attributes this to the other cat realizing he was disposable, and easily replaceable.

I, however, chalk up this situation not as an indication that Americans have a over-consumption problem (we do) but to the fact that Dave Bruno is not a responsible pet owner. If he knew that coyotes were a problem (he did) and chose not to keep his cats out of harms way, I would say he is guilty of animal neglect and perhaps abuse. And I don’t blame that other cat for being mad, as clearly he was living with a family that didn’t care enough for him.

So, given that all that happened in the preface, it’s amazing I made it through any of the rest of the book. But I did, and despite Bruno’s lack of respect or responsibility for his cats, there were some good bits of knowledge to glean from this short book. He does a great job connecting things he had acquired with the fantasy future he developed in his head. Through his descriptions of the prowess of his pen collection (really!) and his master woodworker fantasy I realized that a goodly number of objects I’ve been holding on to are perhaps things that I hold on to because of who I want to be, not who I actually am, and will perhaps never be.

Also, for those of you thinking about reducing your possessions to only 100 things, but have no idea how that is even possible as just your bed has potentially 12 things (bed frame, box spring, mattress, mattress pad, fitted sheet, top sheet, blanket, comforter, pillow, pillow, pillowcase, pillowcase) know that Dave Bruno would count “bed” as one thing. In fact, “library” was one of his things, encompassing all his books. So he wasn’t super rigid. And also, because he has a wife and children and, according to his rules, shared items didn’t count, he didn’t count any plates, cups, utensils, pots, pans etc. on his list.

The House at Riverton
Kate Morton
So this is the kind of book to read when you are on a very long vacation and feeling very lazy and not really caring if what you are reading is super interesting. It’s got promise: good upstairs/downstairs scenes set in an English country house before WWI, a family tragedy, a very old narrator looking back across her life. But it is a very long book and the main character herself is a little slow to pick up on details like, for instance, who her father is.

It’s not a bad book, but its one of those that isn’t good enough to be truly enjoyable, and not bad enough to put down so I kept on grimly reading until the end.

The Ha-Ha
David Kirby
David Kirby’s poems are much too long and narrative for me to ever memorize, but I greatly enjoyed them. I enjoyed them so much that I rationed myself to one poem read per day. His form is somewhat rambling, and he manages to cleverly hit the humor and the passing pathos in nearly every one.

Started, did not finish
Diana Gabaldon
I spent the early part of my adolescence reading the kind of romance novels depicting a very Fabio-like man on the cover. The romance part of it was a draw, of course, but I also liked the historical fiction settings.

Being a learned adult with access to historical fiction novels that don’t have Fabio-like men on the cover, I sometimes worry if the historical fiction book I’m reading that includes romance does not, in fact, fall into the Fabio cover category. I had that fear with this book and it was partially that fear which caused me to discard it.

It was also slow to start. We spent an agonizingly long time establishing that the main character was a WWII combat nurse who deeply loves her husband, but hasn’t spent much of her marriage with him, due to the war. After about 25 pages of this, I got the gist and also the drift that when she was plunged back into “back in the day” Scotland, the guy she meets she would feel very romantic feelings for, but I’m guessing there would be no sex. I read to the point she was thrown back in time, a bit more and decided to end the Fabio/not-Fabio conundrum and stop reading.

Balthazar’s Odyssey.
Amin Maalouf
This had an interesting plot (merchant goes on quest for rare book he accidentally sold) and was well written, though the prose was a bit dry. I’m blaming this on the translation. However, it was kind of slow and I wasn’t very attached to the story, so I put it down. If you are interested in 17th century end-of-the-world fiction this might be for you.

2 thoughts on “Books read in May”

  1. A goodly amount of books. I think I got to 3 books in May. Ho-hum, I would say! My class is doing a reading challenge right now – 10 books, 10 different genres. I need to get the same fire that they have!

  2. Too bad yours had a Fabio type cover. You should go back and read the Gabaldon books. There IS sex and lots of good stuff. I raced through them all but completely avoided the illustrated one.

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