February Reading

These are the books I read in February (with some comments):

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    138 pages, my quota for February. Still enjoying it.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Ca. 35 pages – didn’t have as much time to read in February. It’s still interesting and I’ll keep on. Will try to read a bit more than that in March.

Poetry:

  • Ted Hughes, Collected Poems
    Still find this one challenging and read but a few poems.
  • Helen Gardner (ed.) The New Oxford Book of English Verse
    I read the first 29 poems in this anthology. I’ve owned it since my days at university but have only read a few poems here and there. I thought it might be a good idea to do poetry reading with this book – it gives an overview of the development of poetry since Chaucer. I particularly liked the poem “Philip Sparrow” by John Skelton. It’s about the death of a pet sparrow, and how the funeral is organized with a flock of different birds taking the roles of the officiants. Here’s an excerpt:

    […]
    When I remember again
    How my Philip was slain,
    Never half the pain
    Was between you twain,
    Pyramus and Thisbe,
    As then befell to me,
    I wept and I wailed,
    The teares down hailed,
    But nothing it availed
    To call Philip again
    Whom Gib, our cat, hath slain.
    […]

Short stories:

  • Ramona Asubel, A Guide to Being Born: Stories
  • Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger (eds), A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon
  • Christine Lucas, Fates and Furies
    I’ll write a separate post with some details about the stories I liked best.

Non-fiction:

  • Jon Kabat-Zinn, Meditation Is Not What You Think: Mindfulness and Why It Is So Important. Coming to Our Senses Part I
    I find Kabat-Zinn’s works on meditation to be interesting and helpful for my meditation practice. I plan to read the whole series. I can also warmly recommend Full Catastrophe Living (about MBSR mindfulness-based stress reduction) which I read a couple of years ago.

Graphic novel:

  • Nora Krug, Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home
    This is an excellent memoir-type graphic novel where Krug explores her family’s and home town’s involvement with the Nazi regime. As a German, I can relate particularly well to this story. It should be interesting for anyone who wants to learn about what it’s like to live with that kind of family history.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers
    Loved it, rather to my surprise. I’d expected it to be boring. I’ll write a separate post about it.
  • Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye and Sula
    I enjoyed both novels very much (they were both rereads, but I hadn’t read them for a long time). I’m in the middle of writing a separate post about Sula and I’ve already written one about The Bluest Eye. Be warned, both reviews contain spoilers!

No vacation in February and it was a short month. So, I didn’t manage to read as much as I did in January, but I did manage to meet my monthly reading goal, although it was a near thing.

January Reading

As I had a long holiday over Christmas and the New Year, I had more time than usual for reading in January and I exceeded my monthly goals. These are the books I read (with some comments):

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    138 pages, my quota for January. My edition has 1380 pages and I’m planning to finish in October, so that’s the number of pages per month). I’m liking it. The cast of characters is manageable (I thought it would be worse) and they are interesting. Some likeable, some less so, a good mix.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Ca. 125 pages – that was just the address to the reader, an explanation why the author felt he had to write this Anatomy (an exhaustive description of melancholy). He argues, if I understand it correctly, that everyone is to some degree mad (or melancholy) and that makes it of interest to all. The author has a very flowery language, using lists of words to describe everything. Takes some getting used to, but once you do, it’s surprisingly entertaining. Also somewhat satirical. I haven’t set a date by which I want to be done, I’m just letting it develop.

Poetry:

Ted Hughes, Collected Poems
I got this huge book last year and have been working my way through it in stops and starts. I read my quota of 31 poems (but actually read a lot more – I stopped counting). I find this collection challenging. At least three quarters of the time, I don’t understand the poems, but they still somehow keep me engaged. I’m hoping that reading more poetry will help with the understanding. Maybe poetry isn’t always meant to be understood, but rather felt?

Short stories:

M.R. James, Complete Ghost Stories
This is a Kindle edition that I bought last year, because I liked the looks of it, and it was cheap. I read a few of the stories last year but didn’t finish them. So, I made them my January project, since they are just a few more stories than January has days (although I didn’t read them daily). They have just the right amount of horror that I’m not scared witless. A kind of understated horror that leaves things open to the imagination. Very worthwhile.

Non-fiction:

Julie Yip-Williams, The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After
This autobiography is based on a blog. The author was an immigrant from Vietnam, who, despite disability (bad eyesight), managed to build a successful career and gain a lovely family, but was then faced with a cancer diagnosis. An interesting and moving read, but in places it has a fairly materialistic mindset. It’s sometimes it’s a bit obnoxious.

Most cancer memoirs seem to be written by well-off people (at least all the ones I have red). I suppose poor or working-class people don’t have the resources to write cancer memoirs. I’m fascinated by this type of memoir, because I want to know how people deal with such life-and-death scenarios and where they find hope. Some of these books are very thoughtful and inspiring — this one not so much, I’m afraid.

Graphic novel:

Una, Becoming Unbecoming
Autobiography of a young girl growing up in Yorkshire during the time of the Yorkshire Ripper. Shows how society and the police dealt with the crimes (victim-blaming) and the effect this had on Una. Very highly recommended.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, Hard Times
    A short novel compared with Dicken’s other door-stoppers. I choose it because I decided on my Dickens reading goal late in January and I wanted to finish the first novel. It’s set in fictitious Coketown, a town full of factories, focused on capitalism. It shows what happens when the only things that count are “facts” that is, materialism, profit, and self-interest without any tempering with humanity, religion, and culture. It is satirical in places (very funny) and critical of the exploitation of workers. Sometimes also sad and moving. A good read.
  • Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore and The Bookshop
    Offshore is about life on a barge on the Thames.
    In The Bookshop a widow starts a bookshop in a quiet sea-side town in England. She has some success but runs into unexpected obstacles. Some rather nasty small-town class conflicts and political manoeuvering. These were both very good, I think I’ll read more by Fitzgerald.
  • Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
    This was a gift, but I’d considered getting it for myself. I enjoyed it — it has lovely descriptions of nature and the story was engaging, with elements of suspense and romance. The ending was a surprise. I’ve seen reviews that argue that the premise of a small girl growing up mostly by herself in a swamp is farfetched and I kind of agree, but I’ve found out that the author also lived in unusual circumstances at times, so maybe those inspired the novel. I may want to read some of the other, autobiographical works of the author.
  • Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
    I’ve owned this book since it came out, because I really enjoyed the first book of The Kingkiller Chronicle series, The Name of the Wind. I don’t know why I didn’t read this sooner. The story continues with the adventures of Kvothe and is as well written as the precursor. I’m waiting (as many readers are) for the next volume. But I don’t mind waiting. Good books need time. I reread the first book in December and still loved it (although Kvothe, the main character, can be an absolute arrogant fool).
  • Margaret Atwood, The Testaments
    Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Not bad, but not great. It takes place after the events in Handmaid’s Tale and tells what happens to some of the characters from that novel. I think it ties up the narrative too much – everything is explained, nothing is left open. This is not very believable, as the conceit of the two novels is that the story is reconstructed from randomly found documents. One would think that not everything could be reconstructed. I think that The Handmaid’s Tale can stand very well on its own.