January Reading

Last year I read Carolyn Heilbrun’s autobiography The Last Gift: Life Beyond Sixty, because I like reading about other people’s lives, especially women and women writers. I’m generally interested accounts of how people deal with aging — maybe I’m trying to get inspiration about my own aging. For some reason, I’ve been interested in how to age well for some time now. Anyway, at that time I reread In the Last Analysis, her first Kate Fansler crime novels (written under the pseudonym Amanda Cross), which made me want to reread the others, and — joy! — I even found a few new ones. The only one I hadn’t read before from the list was Poetic Justice. The other ones will be read in February, I hope.

Cross, Amanda:

  • The James Joyce Murder
  • Poetic Justice
  • The Question of Max
  • Death in a Tenured Position
  • Sweet Death, Kind Death
  • No Word from Winifred
  • A Trap for Fools
  • The Players Come Again
  • An Imperfect Spy
  • The Puzzled Heart

I like the academic settings of the Kate Fansler novels, the feminist views of social and political issues, the look at women’s lives, including older women and childless women. The novels are at once slightly dated and still current — it’s sad that a lot of the feminist issues covered in them (the series starts in the 60s) are still issues today, although feminism has changed, of course. They remind me of Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels, at least the ones with Harriet Vane, especially Gaudy Night. Kate Fansler is an American, a woman investigator (she’s an English professor), mostly at American universities during the 60s and later, but she’s also independently wealthy and belongs to the elite, like Lord Peter. Her eventual marriage is similar to Lord Peter’s, too, in that it is a marriage of equal partners. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Kate Fanslers and would also like to read some of Heilbrun’s academic writing.

Pullman, Philip:

  • The Golden Compass
  • The Subtle Knife
  • The Amber Spyglass

Having read (and liked) his new prequel La Belle Sauvage in December (it was a Christmas present, much appreciated, from my partner), I decided a reread of the original series His Dark Materials was in order. It was even better than I remembered. The best thing about these books are the daemons — who wouldn’t love to have a daemon of their own? I wonder what mine would be. The characters are well-developed. The world-building is great: the different peoples (gyptians, armoured bears, angels and witches), geographies and universes, and the concept of dust. What I don’t like much is the unsubtle atheist message about the evils of religion. I’m not particularly religious myself (as a woman I think that all the “great” religions view women as second-class and therefore don’t speak to me), but I’m pretty sure the problem is not with religion but with human nature. If we had century-old atheist organizations, I doubt that their record would be any better. All human endeavor is flawed, one must take a stand against the bad and support the good.

Nevertheless, I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Book of Dust.

Innes, Michael: Death at the President’s Lodging

I thought I might like this mystery because of the academic setting, but I found it only so-so. A sort of “closed room” murder, where the potential suspects have to be eliminated. It was somewhat repetitive. Maybe I’ll try some other of these Inspector Appleby books, but I’ve got a lot of other series to catch up on, and I’m not sure if I’ll continue with these.

Le Guin, Ursula:

  • No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters
  • Gifts
  • Voices

No Time to Spare is a collection of Le Guin’s blog posts. I found this by lucky chance, and read it because I like reading blogs and I like Le Guin. I was surprised that she had a blog — the blog post not included in the collection are also worth reading. I was sad to hear of her death. It moved me to start with some of her other novels. Gifts and Voices are the first two parts of a trilogy, Annals of the Western Shore. In Gifts, two adolescents learn to renounce the supernatural gifts they inherited through their family line (or at least to reinterpret and use them differently). Voices I’m not done with yet.

Eliot, George: Middlemarch and Cervantes, Miguel de: Don Quixote (translated by Edith Grossman). These I’ve started reading in January, but am not finished. Don Quixote is a project with a friend, and Middlemarch is a reread. I think I last read it at university at least 15 years ago. It’s a project inspired by blog I follow.

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