Books Read: May 2015

Finally trying to catch up with these.

You can read about why I decided to start doing this here.

For January, see here.
For February, see here.
For March, see here.
For April, see here.

* denotes a book that I had already read at least once before

The Birth Order Book (Dr. Kevin Leman)

The Buried Giant (Kazuo Ishiguro)

The Rosie Effect (Graeme Simsion)

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College (Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang)

H is for Hawk (Helen MacDonald)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (Jane Smiley)

The White Princess (Philippa Gregory)

It Sucked and Then I Cried (Heather Armstrong)

This was the first month since I started keeping track that I didn’t read a book I’d already read before. I think this was for two reasons: I was away for close to a week visiting my sister, which meant I didn’t read much, and I had a steady stream of holds coming in from the library. I tend to reread old faithful books when I’m in between holds, or when I’m in a frame of mind that craves comfort.

The birth order book I read in March was much more interesting than this one. I also have an irrational dislike for authors who insist on putting “Dr.” in front of their names, especially with self-help/health genres. I guess it stems from being in academia, where everyone who publishes has a “Dr.” in front of their name, but no one would be so crass as to spell it out. If you’ve got the qualifications, mention them in your bio on the back inside cover.  This is not a good book to read if you have an only child, as he’s dismissive of any possible positive attributes. His opinion sounds exactly like the stereotype of the only child skewered by Lauren Sandler.

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain was interesting, but I didn’t learn much from it, I think because I’ve already read so much about child brain development. It’d be a good resource if you were just getting interested in the subject.

I have to admit, I was really disappointed with both The Buried Giant and The Rosie Effect. With the latter, I just felt Simsion was repeating himself, with a much less plausible source of tension in the plot. The behavior and reactions of the two protagonists was believable in The Rosie Project, but not in the sequel. I’m not sure what the problem with The Buried Giant was, except that I’d read somewhere it was a retelling of the Arthurian myths, and I guess that meant I went into it with certain expectations that were manifestly not met. My problem, not that of the author’s, obviously. Still. I have read a lot of Ishiguro’s work, and I don’t feel like this was among his best.

H is for Hawk is fucking brilliant and I couldn’t put it down. It is one part the story of the author’s attempts to train a goshawk, one part a memoir of grief and loss (the death of her father is the catalyst for her decision to purchase the hawk) and one part an examination of the eccentric (and not entirely successful) falconry of T. H. White, the author of The Once and Future King. There is a particular form of nature writing that I absolutely love (see A Buzz in the Meadow, which I read in January), where the author not only brings you into their part of the natural world but also alters the way you see the world around you. H is for Hawk is one of those books.

I’m claiming I read Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, even though I didn’t read all of the summaries of the hundred novels Smiley chose. I mostly read the summaries of novels I’ve already read, partly to avoid spoilers, as some of her choices, particularly those from the Victorian and early modern periods, I still intend to read. But it was also to see if her thoughts about those novels aligned with my own (which sometimes proved to be the case and sometimes did not). The first two-thirds of the book, where Smiley writes about the novel as a genre, were fascinating.

I don’t have much to say about Heather Armstrong’s book. I read it because I had read that she was stepping back from Dooce, so I felt it would be an appropriate time. It was really odd to read about her relationship with her husband knowing that their marriage has since ended.

When we went to visit my sister and practically-brother-in-law, I had a spare five minutes in the airport with a cooperative E. so I took a quick gander through the bookstore. Lo and behold, I discovered that Philippa Gregory had published not one, but TWO new books without my noticing. Once upon a time I would have immediately bought them both, but since I’ve curbed my book-buying habit, I settled for putting them on hold at the library. The White Princess continues her series on the War of the Roses, this time focusing on Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, wife of Henry VII, and mother of Henry VIII. She was the peace offering that was meant to unite York and Lancaster after the defeat and death of Richard III. I will freely admit that I love love love Philippa Gregory. She writes about one of the most interesting periods of English history (she has a whole earlier series on the Tudor monarchs as well), she’s a trained historian so she knows how to do her research and pick up details, she’s an engaging novelist so she knows where she can play with the truth or fill in the blanks, and she doesn’t write about my period of history, so I don’t know enough (most of the time) to get annoyed with the liberties she takes. (I have a good friend who has a doctorate in medieval literature and a pet interest in the Tudors and she can’t read Gregory’s books. Fair enough. There’s a reason I never, ever read popular accounts or novelizations of Roman history.) I will say that when you’ve read ALL of her books, they do start to get very repetitive. They are always worried about the French or the Scots (or the French AND the Scots), they are always worried about the succession, they are always worried about rebellions, etc. But when you stop to think about it, that probably is a fairly accurate reflection of how they felt. The War of the Roses and the Tudor reigns weren’t exactly periods of calm, peace, and prosperity. I tend to binge on Philippa Gregory- once I read one book I want to read them all again (and I own quite a few, so it’s a slippery slope).



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3 responses to “Books Read: May 2015

  1. Pingback: Books Read: June 2015 | Res Cogitatae

  2. Pingback: Books Read: July 2015 | Res Cogitatae

  3. Pingback: Books Read: August 2015 | Res Cogitatae

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