You can read about why I decided to start doing this here.
* denotes a book that I had already read at least once before
How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (Scott D. Sampson)
The King’s Curse (Philippa Gregory)
The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood (ed. Kerry Clare)
The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe)
Inside the O’Briens (Lisa Genova)
Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen (Jane Hawking)
*The Constant Princess (Philippa Gregory)
First up, I loved loved loved How to Raise a Wild Child. I keep meaning to write a review for it for the parenting website I (very occasionally) write for, but I haven’t been organized enough. I might have to get it back out of the library if my notes weren’t good enough. This book really struck a chord with me. I grew up all over the place, but a lot of my clearest, fondest childhood memories involve nature: finding frogs in our basement window well when we lived in the PMQs on a base, chasing snakes in long grass, star gazing while camping with our tent trailer. E. is a big city child through and through and there are times when that makes me very uncomfortable because I am a country girl at heart, even though Q.’s job will never really allow us to live in the country. I have worried in the past about how to foster a love of nature in E. while living in a city. This book not only gave me some good ideas (E. now has a nature table in his room) but it also reassured me that we’re doing the right things: caring about our garden and including E. in the work to maintain it, looking for nature when we’re out on our walks, bird watching (I have resisted taking on my mother’s hobby but can’t help myself), spending time in the parks and the slightly more wild ravines of our city. Sampson makes the point that for younger children, a backyard is plenty wild enough. As your child grows, his/her need for wild places expands until, as an adolescent, s/he’s ready to embrace the vast wilderness that dominates so much of this country. I still wish we lived in a more rural setting, or closer to the water, or spent more time than a week at a cottage every summer, but this book made me feel better.
I’m starting to think I’ve read too many edited volumes about mothering because The M Word left absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited two months before writing this post. I can remember enjoying reading it, but none of the chapters has stuck with me, except for one about a mother who wonders if she is still a mother when both her children are dead, and that stuck with me because it was just unbearably sad.
The premise behind The End of Your Life Book Club is the author’s mother is dying of cancer and she and her son (both mad bibliophiles) decide to read the same books and discuss them when they’re together (often while waiting to see doctors or undergo treatment). It’s as much a story about grief and loss and family and mother/son relationship as it is about books, and I think I liked those aspects of the book better because Schwalbe and his mother don’t tend to read the same types of books as I do. While I enjoyed reading what they thought about reading those books, I didn’t immediately put the same books on hold once I’d finished.
I came to Inside the O’Briens because I loved Still Alice when I read it a couple of years ago and there was an ad on the subway for this one. So instead of buying it at the bookstore which had paid for the ad, I got it out from the library. I kind of wish I’d realized before getting the book out that Genova’s ‘thing’ is neurological conditions. Obviously I knew from reading Still Alice that she’s trained in that field, but I hadn’t realized that ALL of her books follow a similar pattern of diagnosis and reaction and progression. I think Still Alice is the better book, although Inside the O’Briens was still a good read.
Q. and I watched (and really enjoyed) The Theory of Everything a few months before Travelling to Infinity came in at the library (I think I had it on an inactive hold for a while because I had too many other books). It was an interesting read, especially given I’ve spent a lot of time at Cambridge. Apparently this version is significantly shorter than the original (Music to Move the Stars). The cuts are probably a good thing- it’s still pretty hard to wade through it at times. Hawking’s not a natural writer, and she was obviously still very angry about the conditions under which her marriage ended when she wrote the book. It makes for uncomfortable reading at times.
The King’s Curse was the second surprise Philippa Gregory novel I found in the airport. This one tells the story of Lady Margaret Pole, and it treads familiar ground if you’ve read her other Tudor novels which cover the reign of Henry VIII. What I think is most interesting about Gregory’s works is I think she’s changed her opinion on Henry VIII since writing The Other Boleyn Girl. I think she was much more sympathetic to him originally and the more research she’s done, the more she’s come to view him as monstrous. When I finished Travelling to Infinity, I had a brief moment where I didn’t have any other library holds, so I went back and reread The Constant Princess, in which Gregory tells the story of Catherine of Aragorn’s marriage to Arthur and then to Henry after Arthur’s death. I wanted to compare the two accounts. And I find that once I start reading Tudor novels I need to read them all again to feel satisfied, so there will be more Philippa Gregory appearing in July’s list!