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I finished Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, Jonathan Gould, and give it five stars.
Yes, I'm that person who "hates" the Beatles. Well, I don't exactly hate them. I like some of their songs, but I've heard them all way way way too many times. If I could not hear them for 20 years or so they might sound fresh again. In fact occasionally I hear one I haven't heard in a long time and like it - that happened last week with "Hey Bulldog". Mainly I hate how people, especially those my age, think they're the be all and end all of popular music. They're good, but there's a lot of music I like much more. I'll admit, there are a lot of their songs I do hate. Mostly ones by Paul.

So they came along when I was 8 or 9 and I instantly loved them and along with my friends obsessively listened to their records and argued over which was the cutest. But then I discovered the Rolling Stones and the Beatles went into the big pile of "other stuff I like". By that time my mom was saying how cute they were, like choirboys, and that kind of put the kibosh on them.

It's been interesting, as an adult, to look back on that time and learn about adult stuff that was going on. I knew Elvis had caused a ruckus but he was old hat by the time I was aware of music. This book describes all of that - the music that influenced the Beatles, the political and social zeitgeist. It has short biographies of everyone involved and how the relationships among the group functioned - how their original presentation of themselves as a group instead of individuals spoke to young people; how for a long time they each felt understood only by the other group members; the breakup.

It has a lot of information about how their songs and albums are structured, and about John and Paul's writing process, which I found really interesting. The author was a working musician and it shows.

I still don't want to hear any Beatles for another 20 years, though.

Things I have learned:
- John was the most middle class one - I'd thought he grew up in a slum, the child of a single mother. He fooled me with that working class hero album.
- Pet Sounds didn't do well commercially, though it made up for it later.
- I thought John sang "I Get By With a Little Help from my Friends".
- Richard Lester is American; Nik Cohn, British.
- The Beatles all admired The Band and their music.
- John was an even bigger prick than I'd though.

Now reading One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd, Jim Fergus. Here we have an interesting alternate history - apparently a Cheyenne chief really did suggest to the BIA that if the US would send 1000 white women to marry his braves, it would result in peace between the nations. This speculates on what would have happened, in the form of a journal and letters by one of them.

I'm afraid her voice isn't that of a 19th century woman, even one who has been sent to an asylum by her family for her promiscuity (living as the common law wife of a man whose status is beneath her and bearing him two children.) She's far too wordly and liberal minded about a black woman in the group and about the Indian spouses. One reviewer suggests the book would be more interesting if it were unclear whether she was unfairly persecuted by her family or if she was really crazy, and I agree. But I'm going to finish it.
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The Night Watch, Sarah Waters. Stories of several intertwined people. starting in post-war London and going backwards. In 1947 they're adjusting to post-war life. Someone remarks on how during the war, everybody was so kind and helpful to each other, just as in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, the Rebecca Solnit book I read recently. As the book moves backwards in time various things are revealed. Each of the characters has their own secrets and I liked seeing how relationships changed – had changed – in ways I didn't expect. There were also great descriptions of wartime life – ambulance drivers, a huge fire.

I liked it a lot, though at the end I was frustrated, hoping it would circle back to 1947 and we'd see what became of the characters, if changes hinted at the end of the first section came to pass. I'm still thinking about all the characters, comparing now and then, and re-read the earlier chapters to glean hints. I like feeling this engaged by a book.

Spoilers here!
The scene where Kay is certain that Helen has been killed by a bomb, and rushes to the scene, is very exciting and well written - the way Mickie helps her, the description of the fire and the firefighters. But don't we know, the whole time, that she's going to find that Helen is perfectly fine - because she's with Julia? So it's kind of an anticlimax.

One thing that was really wrong was the suicide scene. It didn't work because we hadn't seen Alec before this, hadn't seen anything of his and Duncan's relationship. Had he always been impulsive, always been able to convince Duncan to go along with his harebrained schemes? And beyond that, it just didn't feel believable. "I've been called up - what am I going to do? I know, I'll kill myself - you too - and that will convince them that war is wrong!" "I say, that's a wizard idea!"

He's portrayed as an utterly passive character. After Fraser re-enters his life, we see him putting on Brylcream and leaving his shirt open, the way Fraser does. He moved in with Mr Mundy and is having some kind of sexual relationship - that he doesn't like - with him. So it's possible that his relationship with Alec was the same, and going along with the suicide idea is in character, but it wasn't written convincingly.

It's possible I missed it in the earlier chapters but I didn't quite understand what happened after Alec made the cut. What did Duncan do - get hysterial? make an attempt that failed? lose his nerve entirely? And because he'd signed the note he was able to be prosecuted for attempting suicide? I'm skimming through it again to find out.

Other reviewers complain about something else that I think she got absolutely right: how Viv and Reggie were still together in 1947 despite how he abandoned her at the hospital after the abortion. Why is she still with this cad? Because that's exactly what people do, make excuses and stay with someone even though they do awful things. Maybe she likes the excitement, maybe she likes having the freedom she wouldn't have in a full time relationship, maybe she really is in love with him. Now in 1947, maybe seeing Kay and remembering why she gave her the ring is going to galvanize her to end it. She does say to Fraser "...what she'd done for me, you see, made me think of something else, that I didn't want to remember." and she feels like she could do anything.



Now I'm reading Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, by Jonathan Gould. Yes, I'm that person who "hates" the Beatles. Well, I don't exactly hate them. I like some of their songs, but I've heard them all way way way too many times. If I could not hear them for 20 years or so they might sound fresh again. In fact occasionally I hear one I haven't heard in a long time and like it - that happened last week with "Hey Bulldog". Mainly I hate how people, especially those my age, think they're the be all and end all of popular music. It's mostly that there's a lot of music I like much more. Though I'll admit, there are a lot of their songs I do hate. Mostly ones by Paul.

So they came along when I was 8 or 9 and I instantly loved them and along with my friends obsessively listened to their records and argued over which was the cutest. But then I discovered the Rolling Stones and the Beatles went into the big pile of "other stuff I like". By that time my mom was saying how cute they were, like choirboys, and that kind of put the kibosh on them.

It's been interesting, as an adult, to look back on that time and learn about adult stuff that was going on. I knew Elvis had caused a ruckus but he was old hat by the time I was aware of music.

This book has a lot of great background about music and social stuff in the culture and how the Beatles picked up on it. All this time I thought John was the working class one - he fooled me with that album title - that he was illegitimate and grew up in a slum. Come to find he was the most middle class.
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Uh oh, just noticed I haven't updated this since April. Here you go.

The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey. I’ve had this around for a long time and figured it would be fun with the Richard III news lately. I’m really liking the characters and the history and enjoy the idea of a detective trying to solve a mystery from his hospital bed with help from researchers. Also amusing how everybody’s sitting around the hospital room smoking.

I don’t know a lot about the War of the Roses or British rulers before the Tudors, so I’m going to Wikipedia and my book of kings and queens for background. I like the theme of how much of the history we “know” is wrong, but I know enough to take the detective’s conclusions with a grain of salt. Amusing that the Stanley mentioned here is an ancestor of Lord Derby in the book I just read (Life Mask, Emma Donoghue), and of the Lord Stanley who originated the Stanley Cup.

Reading My Father: A Memoir, Alexandra Styron. I read part of this in Vanity Fair and liked it enough to get the book. Memoir of growing up as the youngest daughter of William Styron, a difficult and apparently narcissistic man who was ultimately crippled by depression and his guilt about not living up to his full potential by never writing the Great American War Novel. It's a good picture of depression and its effects, and of how everybody in the family was affected by him. I also enjoyed the story of how she set out to understand him by writing about him and researching his papers at Duke University. Not sure I understand some bad reviews because this is more about her than him - it's her memoir.
I'm not a huge fan of his, read Sophie's Choice and saw the movie, but in both I felt the story of Sophie was far more interesting than that of Stingo, who is, of course, Styron. I never read Confessions of Nat Turner and am not in a hurry to do so but the stuff about the book and its reception was interesting.

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie. I love books that drop you into a strange culture and you have to figure out where you are and how things work. The details like how showing one's hands is vaguely rude and everyone wears gloves of some kind are great as are the religions of the Radch and other cultures. I hope there's more about that

This was a fun and satisfying read; she did a great job of conveying the viewpoint of an AI - what? "person" isn't right, though Breq has personality and feelings. I'm not good at intrigue so I hope I understood all of the double cross and double double cross and wheels within wheels. . I'm not sure if I understood the point about Breq's icon that occurred at the very end.
I like how people and places have exotic names, but things like "gun" and "year" are just normal English words. The gender thing is just not a big deal, for me - neither applause-worthy nor distracting. Actually it fits with my perception of myself: I'm an "it" until reminded that I'm female by other people or biology.

The only thing that made me suspend disbelief was wondering, if a human was in suspended animation for 1000 years then woken up, wouldn't they be freaking out and unable to deal with the changes that had taken place? Maybe "years" has a different meaning. Or more likely, they have a way to treat it, like the correctives for things like broken bones.

Al Jaffee's Mad Life: A Biography, Mary-Lou Weisman. A short but very entertaining biography of Al Jaffee, writer and cartoonist best known for his work on MAD magazine.
He was born in New York to immigrant parents. His father managed a department store in Savannah. In 1927 his mother got the crazy idea to take her four young sons back to Lithuania, to the shtel where she grew up, because she was homesick. Al, the eldest, was six years old. His father refused to accompany them and somewhere along the long journey Al realized that he could not depend on his mother for protection or survival. They found lodging with his mother's father and other relatives, in the vanished world of pre WWII Europe complete with outhouses and kerosene lamps.

His mother reassured the boys that their father would come "soon" to take them home, but weeks turned into months with no father, though he sent them packages of Sunday comics every few weeks. Al realized his father was similarly untrustworthy for having let their mother take them away, and for not coming to their aid. Things were chaotic: their mother was obsessed with doing charitable works and spent their money on others, while her boys didn't have enough to eat. Al remembers always being hungry. She'd lock them in the house while she went out to help the poor.

The boys adapted; they were on their own most of the time and made their own fun with home made toys and games with the local kids. On the eve of WWII their father finally showed up and took them back to America. Their mother was eventually killed by the Nazis. Back in the USA Al was a greenhorn with his hobnailed shoes and accented English, again the odd kid out.

He'd always been good at drawing, impressing other kids with his copies of comic characters. In Lithuania he drew in the dirt; in America he kept drawing on paper. His teachers recognized his talent and he was chosen to go to the new High School of Music and Art, along with his friend Wolf Eisenberg. Wolf later changed his name to Will Elder. After high school he freelanced for MAD and worked on various comics till he joined Trump and Humbug (both failed) and eventually MAD.

I know him only from MAD and hadn't realized he did other comics. He created a syndicated strip called "Tall Tales" with vertical strips and jokes that worked with that format – he figured it was a good way to get onto the comic page. Somebody should put together a book of these. At MAD he both wrote and drew all kinds of stuff. I have one of his "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" books around here somewhere, and his most famous contribution is probably the foldin that appeared on the last page.

It's an entertaining and poignant book. He's frank about his family problems and the legacy of distrust his chaotic childhood left him. His next youngest brother Harry was his playmate and drawing partner growing up, but as an adult he became more and more paranoid and disoriented and died alienated from family. A third brother had become deaf from meningitis in Lithuania; he went to a school for the Deaf but his disability limited their communication. Al's first marriage ended unhappily but as he says, his MAD family came through for him. Eventually he married a second time, more happily, but at the end of the book he's joking about how hard it is for him to enjoy himself. He’s still alive though I don’t know what kind of shape he’s in.

The Jew of New York, Ben Katchor. Typically surreal graphic novel by Katchor. According to Wikipedia, "inspired by Mordecai Manuel Noah's attempt to establish a Jewish homeland in Grand Island, New York in the 1820s." Weird story and odd drawings which is why I like it.

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie. I liked this almost as much as the first, though the story was a little less complex. We see more about ships and stations and their relationships with their officers. The book suffers from middle book problems; some things happen that I suppose will be resolved in the final book. I still am fascinated by Breq, though she's almost a Mary Sue: sees all, understands all, knows how to deal with every situation. Is she capable of behaving unethically or cruelly? It would seem not. That's not bad, it just makes her interesting in different ways than most protagonists. I don't think an AI could be an unreliable narrator, either.

It strains credibility a bit that she can survive so many hair-raising situations but I’m happy to go along with it.

The Night Watch, Sarah Waters. World War II-era London and people with secrets. Liking it.
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Life Mask by Emma Donoghue took a while and I give it two stars, sadly. It's a long novel set in the 18th century, centering around three people who share a character trait of being indecisive and boring. Anne Damer is a an aristocrat and a sculptor; she's friends with Lord Derby who has for literally years had a chaste relationship with actress Eliza Farren who has risen from the lower classes to stardom on Drury Lane. Eliza is unwilling to make an arrangement with him while his ailing wife still lives. Anne and Eliza become friends but scurrilous rumors suggesting they are Sapphists threaten both their reputations.

The problem with the book isn't so much that it's long and boring, but that the characters aren't brought to life. Anne's thoughts and feelings are described more than the others. It's hard to see why Derby is so besotted with Eliza that he's willing to wait for her and why Anne is so drawn to her - we're told of her beauty and grace and Derby and Anne's delight in that, but beyond that she doesn't have any particular appeal. She's a comedy actress but doesn't come across as clever or funny, and her personality is vague - she says she's never felt love for anyone. She just goes through year after year of performances with a few thoughts about her fellow thespians, but there's no insight into how she prepares for a role or her feelings about acting. A character who's the center of admiration needs to sparkle. The backstage scenes are lifeless, and if Eliza is so appealing, why doesn't she have other stage door Johnnies?

Part of the plot is one of the character's lack of self knowledge, which accounts for some of the vagueness. This was mildly interesting to me in the sense of wondering in times when sodomy and Sapphism were judged harshly, how would would a person who realized they were drawn in that direction come to terms with it. But as a story, it was unsatisfying. There's much much more intrigue about various characters as the book winds along, but after a while I just didn't care.

Oh yeah they're based on real people, and the politics was interesting enough to make me go to Wikipedia for more background - so was Hugh Walpole - but that wasn't enough.

Now I've started The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey which I've had around for years. I don't know much about Richard III but in light of recent events, would like to learn more even if it's fiction.
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I finished My Side, Ruth Gordon's second autobiography, and enjoyed it very much, again. What an interesting life. I was impressed by how hard she worked and how open to life she was. There's a section about worrying and wishing for more that I found very moving. I don't think I'll read her third one which I have but haven't read, because that one looks like mostly anecdotes.

But I did feel like reading another book I've had around, Jed Harris, The Curse of Genius by Martin Gottfried, because of his relationship with Ruth Gordon and their son, Jones Gordon. Skimmed it, but it was interesting.

If the name isn't familiar, he was a theater producer and director, the wonder boy of the late '20 with four consecutive hits. But his career faltered and flamed out, eventually. He was a mean SOB who took great pleasure and pride in being a mean SOB - tormenting playwrights with false promises about producing their plays, insulting and belittling actors. He directed Laurence Olivier in "The Green Bay Tree" and on opening night he whispered to Olivier waiting in the wings, "Good-bye, Larry. I hope I never see you again." Olivier got his revenge by basing his portrayal of Richard III on Harris' movements, expressions, and appearance. George S. Kaufman famously said that when he died, he wanted to be cremated and have somebody throw his ashes in Jed Harris's face.

It's interesting to wonder what attracted Ruth Gordon, a woman of huge kindness, sweetness, and kindness to him. Probably some of it was his intelligence, and vice versa. He was hugely successful and Ruth liked the finer things in life, and in 1928 he was at the top of his game and sexy. She had Jones with him because she was afraid it was her last chance to have a baby after several abortions. Ruth got smart and moved on, but there was no shortage of women who were willing to put up with him. At least two who were involved with him suicided and he was blamed.

He was hateful to Jones, too. When Jones was four years old his father told a friend, "That kid's no good." Later, as a young man, Jones lived with him and endured constant criticism and thrown ashtrays.

Anyway, this book is mostly a collection of anecdotes about Harris and I ended up enjoying it, while feeling sorry for anyone who ever tried to do business with him or be in any kind of relationship with him. What a monster. Of course he lived to be almost 80, the stinkers always do.

Now I'm reading Peter Pan because Ruth Gordon made her debut in it in 1915, and I've never read it though I saw the Mary Martin production several times and probably saw the Disney version. It's a bit twee for me, seems like it's more for nostalgic adults than children, but I like that there are truly scary parts.

After that I think I'm going to read Life Mask, a historical novel by Emma Donoghue. I didn't like her Slammerkin much but Room was one of the best books I've ever read.
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Now reading My Side, Ruth Gordon's second memoir. This one's more of an autobiography, starting with her first real job as an actress in a road company doing one night stands and travelling by train, trying to learn how to act. Marriage to a fellow actor who helped her, finally roles where she knew what she was doing and proved she could act. Lots of abortions, train rides, love affairs, funny stories, other actors. Loving this.
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I read this one on vacation, finished it on the plane coming home:

Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields, Simon Louvish. Five stars. A detailed biography that tries to get to the truth of all the stories Fields told about his origins, and to the man behind the persona he created. Louvish had access to voluminous scrapbooks that Fields kept of all his appearances and to family papers, and he did exhaustive research in to archives at the Library of Congress and other places to seek out old scripts for vaudeville skits, studio correspondence, etc., etc. There are a lot of transcripts of routines (some reviewers didn’t like this, which I found puzzling – surely if you’re reading this, you like Fields and get a kick out of these.) There are great portraits of Eddie Cantor, Bert Williams, Fanny Brice, and others not well known today.

I hadn’t realized that Fields had such a long career as a juggler or that he’d traveled the world in that role for years before he became the comedian we recognize now. I liked it a lot and it was a perfect airplane and poolside book. The last part of Fields’ life wasn’t as well described as I would have liked but overall it was great. Apparently this was the go-to Fields biography for several years but now it’s been superseded by James Curtis’ W. C Fields. I’d like to read that one too.

Then I read this for the rest of the flight:
Swallow the Ocean, a Memoir, Laura M. Flynn. So-so memoir of growing up with a mother who was paranoid schizophrenic. Her father left and wasn’t able to get custody for several years. She does a good job of describing daily life with her mom and sisters, her mom’s many restrictions based on paranoid delusions, and the girls' ambivalence about wanting to get away and live with their dad. A running theme about a story the sisters make up about their dolls who are captives and the dolls' schemes to escape became a bit tiresome.

I had a lot of questions that didn't get answered: How did they learn to live "normal" lives where people have clean houses and don't have arbitrary restrictions on what they can eat? How has her childhood affected her life now - was she able to cast off much of the abuse, or does it haunt her? When her mother rammed her father's car after he got custody, did anyone press charges? (It didn't sound like it - why wasn't she prosecuted?) And finally, why do the girls still maintain contact with their mother? People I know who have relatives with this kind of intractable mental disease seem happy to have them out of their lives. I know it's complicated, but...

Not really "read" but enjoyed very much:
The Face in the Lens: Anonymous Photographs and Anonymous: Enigmatic Images from Unknown Photographers, Robert Flynn Johnson. Anonymous and strange photographs of the sort I collect at flea markets and estate sales so what's not to like? I liked the first one so much I ordered his other books of photos.

Mad forever; a new collection of the best from Mad magazine. A Christmas gift from my dear husband who knows my unhealthy love of MAD magazine. I have a hardbound anthology from 1958 that was my dad’s and didn’t know there were any others till he got me this one from 1959 and another from 1960. I've read all of it before, many times, but the drawings still have the power to make me laugh.

Actual book I'm reading right now: Myself Among Others, Ruth Gordon. Gordon’s acting career started in 1915 and lasted till her death in 1985. She was smart as a whip and a keen observer of all the interesting show people she met, and all her friends were as interesting as she is. This memoir (the first of three), is a collection of anecdotes about them. I first read some of it in Vogue in 1970 and have read it several times; I guess it’s a comfort read for me. I thought of it after finishing the Fields biography because it covers some of the same years though their careers didn’t intersect at all.
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I just finished A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit. I ended up with two copies and thought it looked like a book [personal profile] wild_irises would like, then I felt like reading it myself.

Her thesis is that after disasters, ordinary people quickly find ways to help each other and come together in new communities of hope and optimism, despite loss. Authorities and elites are certain that there will be riots and chaos and come in to rule with a heavy hand - for instance, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, communal kitchens were quickly set up and neighbors helped each other fight fires, while the authorities drove off amateur fire fighting attempts and caused more damage, and the police declared martial law and issued shoot to kill orders for anyone in the damaged area (including rescuers.) It's an interesting idea and she's done a lot of research to back it up.

This is one of those books that should have been a long New Yorker article. She describes various kinds of disasters and the grassroots efforts versus the government reactions with many examples. I skimmed the last half because it became too repetitive. However, it was edifying for me because I was unaware of the scope of the atrocities in the wake of Katrina.

This morning I started Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields, Simon Louvish. It has mixed reviews (people complaining because it has too much script dialog) so we'll see.

It was a big decision because tomorrow we're going to Hawaii for 10 days and I need books for the plane and beach. I'm also taking The monuments men : Allied heros, Nazi thieves, and the greatest treasure hunt in history by Robert M. Edsel and Broken Harbor by Tana French and two more I forget.
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Today I finished The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. One of the best books of the year for me.

A David Copperfield-ish story of a young man whose happy live in New York City with his mother is shattered when she's killed in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum. It's rather slow moving and somewhat frustrating because he can't express himself very well and doesn't confide in adults who might help him. Well, from the wisdom of 59, I've forgotten what it was like to be 15 and unable to tell grownups my thoughts, so I'm thinking "just tell them you don't want to _______" or "why don't you get in touch with _______ for crying out loud???"

Still, even as time passes, he keeps doing stupid shit and not being honest with people who could help him. Despite all that, it's a terrific read with a lot of great characters. Hard to read because there's so much loss and sadness; his mother's death pretty much guts him and that's just a start. I got frustrated by the slow pace which was partly my fault for reading it a bit at a time instead of sitting down for a good long read, as it deserves. Near the end the pace suddenly picks up and I could barely put it down, and the ending was utterly satisfying.

I just want to note that I loved Boris, and that I really liked how she used the dog that he had in high school who's still alive years later to show how little time has actually passed despite so many things happening, and how terribly young he really is.
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Burial Rites, Hanna Kent. Wow, what a great, evocative novel.
It's 1828 in Iceland. Three servants have been convicted of murdering of their master and another man, and condemned to death. Each has been sent to stay with a farm family to work as a servant until the details of their execution are settled.
Agnes Magnusdottir, older and more experienced in the world, is the one the others claim was the ringleader. She's assigned a priest to prepare her for her death.
This book is based on a real case. I gather that Agnes is kind of a Lizzie Borden figure in Iceland, in the sense that everybody's familiar with her. Some see her as purely wicked; others see more nuance. This book takes that stance. The author was an exchange student from Australia as a teen who learned about Agnes and got interested in her life. The story takes place over the months that Agnes stays on the farm, getting to know the priest and the farm family, helping with harvest and lambing, gradually telling her story to the priest and to us. It's very evocative of the hell of peasant life with all its hard work and misery. The weather, and ravens, are huge parts of the atmosphere, too. I couldn't put it down. Some mysteries are solved, others are not. Is Agnes a reliable narrator?
I had a few language quibbles: one character is named "Natan" and people are always remarking that he might as well have been named "Satan". But wouldn't they be speaking Icelandic? There are a couple of other things like this but not a problem.

Cockroaches, Jo Nesbo. Good mystery; a complicated plot with a lot of interesting characters. I'll be reading more of his books.

Innocent Blood, P. D. James. Reread. Psychological mystery about a young woman, adopted, who traces her parents and finds that they murdered a child. Her mother is about to released from prison and the daughter suggests they rent an apartment together for the months before she goes to Cambridge. There is more going on that she doesn’t know.
This is a great, suspenseful thriller but I have to say that the emotions of many of the characters are really weird and don't make a lot of sense. The ending, emotion-wise, was a mess that strained credulity, and I'm not talking about the sex. I didn't notice this the first time I read it. I ended up giving it 3 stars, down from 5 midway through.
Oh yeah there is also a carefully knit, meaningfully given sweater that is destroyed in a fit of anger, and this bothered me more than the child murder.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, Box Brown. A rather interesting graphic novel biography of the wrestler with acromegaly, with a lot of info about the mechanics of pro wrestling, some of which I knew, some I didn't. Andre wasn't a very nice guy, it seems, but he didn't have a great life because of his size and constant traveling for his job. He was one of a kind, that's for sure. It's not the kind of detailed art that I like but its rough style suited its subject.

The Redbreast, Jo Nesbo. A great, complicated mystery/thriller set in present day Norway, but the story has roots in WWII. I had to go to Wikipedia to read about what happened to Norway during that war: they were occupied by the Germans, and the Royal Family fled to England. Some Norwegians volunteered to fight for the Germans on the Eastern Front, or to work as nurses in their hospitals. After the war nine hundred of them were sentenced to jail as traitors.
Harry gets drawn into a mystery involving some of these people while doing surveillance tasks, and there's plenty more going on besides that. Betrayal, heartbreak, loss… all that and a fast paced mystery.

A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregor. The objects are from the British Museum. I'm reading the essays at random. They're interesting little slices of history, many of regions I know nothing about. Very pleasant.

Hawaiiana: The Best of Hawaiian Design, Mark Blackburn. It's a book of values for collectors. I don't care about that but I love looking at pictures of old travel brochures with Hawaiian maidens, Hawaiian shirts, souvenirs, pineapple shaped ukuleles, etc.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. A David Copperfield-ish story of a young man whose happy life in New York City with his mother is shattered when she's killed in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum. It's rather slow moving and somewhat frustrating because he can't express himself very well and doesn't confide in adults who might help him. From my perspective of 59, I've forgotten what it was like to be 15 and unable to talk to grownups, so I'm thinking "Use your words! Just tell them you don't want to _______" or "Why don't you get in touch with _______ for crying out loud???" The slow pacing is partly my fault for reading it thirty minutes at a time during exercise instead of sitting down for a good long read, as it deserves. There are so many great characters. I'm enjoying it despite my gripes.

Now I Remember: A Holiday History of Britain, Ronald Hamilton. Brief histories of the rulers of Britain. I'm learning a lot about the Medieval ones that I don't know much about.

I'm still reading the last 4; I don't usually have so many books going at once.
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Faithful Place, Tana French. A novel posing as a mystery, very absorbing, dark, haunting. Sad, sad, sad, about broken people, broken families, what might have been. Disturbing for me because of horrible, horrible family stuff that I was lucky to miss but can barely stand to read about. I guessed the killer right away but had no understanding of the nuances of motivation until the very end when they were horribly made clear.

One of the best books of my reading year, although I wish I could stop thinking about the characters and their fates. I read a lot of mysteries and true crime and almost never am touched by them. Perhaps because for me the saddest thing is the haunted feeling of what might have been, and if only. This one hit me hard.

Now reading Hawaii The Big Island Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook, Andrew Doughty, because we're going there in January. I have a Maui guidebook by the same author and can barely stand his stupid jokes, smug bragging ("we're the ONLY guidebook that will tell you the truth about...", and opinions (things he raves about sound awful to me, things he dismisses are things I've enjoyed.) But despite that it has tons of maps and useful stuff.

After that I may read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent which I just got at Goodwill.
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Fairyland : a memoir of my father, Alysia Abbot. I really enjoyed this. I lived in San Francisco during the years she describes and liked the way she anchors the story on Haight Street, and shows its changes by describing businesses that came and went. More than that, it's a beautiful account of growing up with a gay dad who may have done some irresponsible things but who loved her, completely and unconditionally. She does a good job of showing how her adoration of him as a little kid turned to self consciousness as she became a teen and wished he wasn't so, well, gay. And how despite his love, she did long for a mother and found surrogates. I was glad when she went off to her own adventures at college and could feel her ambivalence about having to come home and care for him as he was dying.

Now I'm reading Faithful Place by Tana French. Gripping so far.
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The Fault In Our Stars, John Green.

I can't say how well this book portrays teenagers with cancer because I'm not one, but a friend whose niece did have cancer really liked it and said he got it right. It really felt like he did - the guilt that Hazel, the 17 year old narrator, feels about that pain her death is going to cause her parents; her parents' smothering and hovering; her wise-beyond-her-years cynical attitude.

I liked it; both Hazel and Augustus are utterly charming and dear (and yet feel realistic because Augustus reminds me of my godson) and it's a sweet story. I was glad it was more than that, too, with some twists and turns and suspense.

The one thing I didn't like, ironically, was Augustus' feelings for Hazel. To instantly fall into a crush and after what, three or four get-togethers, want to do a life-changing thing for her - it's certainly romantic, but for me that's not love. They don't even know each other well enough to really be in love. It was almost like Twilight though not as creepy because at least Hazel is smart and interesting in ways Bella can only dream of. But at this point in the story, Augustus doesn't even know her well enough to know how smart, etc., she is.

I think you have to know somebody for a while and see them at their worst - these two don't even have any fights, for god's sake. Maybe this is a YA convention I'm not used to. Hazel's doubts and slow realization of her feelings felt more right. So the ending wasn't the glorious climax for me that I suppose it was for other people. That's okay, I found plenty to like. But I don't think I'll bother re-reading this and a friend's son wants it, so that works out fine.

Now I'm reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, and I'm really enjoying it. Been a while since I read a history book.
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Still feeling coldish and in need of light reading so I turned to graphic novels:

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir, Nicole J. Georges. Nicole finds out from a psychic that the father she thought was dead is actu-ally alive and her family has been lying to her all this time. It's a great premise that got me to buy this, but the actual story isn't that interesting. She jumps around from her troubled childhood with an abusive mom and stepfathers, her current unhappy relationship, and eventually the story of who her father really was and why it was a secret. The drawings are in the naive style that I like from Aileen Kominsky-Crumb but find annoying by anyone else, though she can really draw faces well.

The Tale of One Bad Rat, Bryan Talbot. A well done story of a girl fleeing sexual abuse and looking for heaing in the Lake District, home of Beatrix Potter, whom she idolizes. Beautiful art.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel. Complicated, dense, fascinating memoir of growing up in a dysfunctional fami-ly with unhappy parents. Her father was ap-parently gay, but closeted, and seems to have been manic depressive. Bechdel describes her own childhood neuroses and her eventual coming out, and wonders if that triggered her father's death, which could have been a sui-cide. I read Dykes to Watch Out For for years (when I lived where I could pick up papers that carried it) and already loved her drawings but this is on a whole other level as she finds connections between various family events, literature, her own coming out, gay history, and more.

Stitches: A Memoir, David Small. Beautifully drawn coming of age story of a boy growing up in a loveless home. He has an operation for a cyst on his neck and finds out his parents have lied to him about that, and other things.

Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, Alison Bechdel. Probably not fair to compare them, but I can't help it. I didn't like this one as much as Fun Home. It was a lot more wordy and cerebral, and I admit that I just didn't understand a lot of the psychological terminology she used to tell the story. Also I read To The Lighthouse a few years ago and for me it was eh, so I didn't have that connection. I mean, I got the main point - and it was very poignant for me - that her mother just didn't have love to give and Alison figured out early that the best thing she could do was to not need anything. That's pretty much my relationship with my mother, so it meant a lot to me, but in some ways it was a simpler and less interesting story.
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I finished a couple of books I had going, because I've been sick and they were pleasant light reads. First Canary: The Story of a Family by Gustav Eckstein. An odd but charming book about a family of canaries and their relationships and experiences. Gustav Eckstein was a psychologist who studied animal behavior and I don't know if these canaries were part of his research or simply laboratory pets, but he observes them with both scientific interest and fond affection. It's sweet to think that in 1936 somebody could write a book about his family of canaries and get it published.

Today I got done with Hello World: A life in Ham Radio, Danny Gregory and Paul Sahre. Gregory got interested in ham radio after finding a scrapbook of QSL cards, the postcards hams send each other to confirm they talked, at a flea market. They're graphically appealing, usually with a picture or something about the place where the ham lives, and information about the call. This book is both a history of one man's multi-decade hobby, and of radio and amateur radio in general. It's interesting and the cards are fun to look at.

I was mildly frustrated that they didn't explain why it's called "ham radio" until pretty far along. Wikipedia has this: "The term "ham operator" was commonly applied by 19th century landline telegraphers to an operator with poor or "ham fisted" skills. Early radio (initially known as wireless telegraphy) included many former wire telegraph operators, and within the new service "ham" was employed as a pejorative term by professional radiotelegraph operators to suggest that amateur enthusiasts were unskilled. In "Floods and Wireless" by Hanby Carver, from the August, 1915 Technical World Magazine, the author noted "Then someone thought of the 'hams'. This is the name that the commercial wireless service has given to amateur operators...""

There are also various folk etymologies including one that the first radio station had the call letters HAM, etc.

Anyway, I enjoyed the words and pictures and it was a good read on hot days and when I had a cold and couldn't read something more demanding.
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Fledgling, Octavia Butler.

(Probably most of you have read this but if not, there will be spoilers.)

A young girl wakes in a cave, injured and in pain, with no memory of what’s happened to her. She slowly heals and makes her way outside, and uses her hypercharged senses to orient herself. Eventually she (and the reader) discovers she’s a vampire with the appearance of a young black girl.

The device of someone with amnesia is useful – she narrates her re-entry into the world. It’s fascinating to watch her slowly recover some of her memories of what she needs, how to care for herself. Later, when she encounters others of her kind – Ina – they explain everything to her about her family, her past, her people. I liked that too. They’re white, but she was a genetic experiment to combine human genes with Ina to create an Ina whose dark skin lets her tolerate sunshine and who can stay awake and think during the day. She’s 53, almost mature in Ina years.

She finds out she’s lost all her whole family, her male and female relatives who live in sex segregated communities, and her previous family of symbionts. She remembers nothing about them. There’s interesting suspense about who’s doing the killing and why. The twist: it’s not villagers with torches but racist vampires.

Along the way I realized I was uncomfortable with the relationships. Ina form families with human symbionts by biting them and using their venom as an addicting drug. After Shori leaves the cave she’s picked up on the road by a guy named Wright. She bites him in self defense and it’s pleasurable for him and draws him to her. That’s how it works. Once a human is bitten, the Ina can kind of control their mind, and after more bites they can be bonded to each other. Symbionts age more slowly than humans and don’t get sick, but they’re tied to their Ina and can die if their Ina does. They live wherever their Ina chooses, in a family of other Ina and symbionts. Many keep the same nocturnal hours. They might marry other humans in the Ina family and have children, though apparently there are Ina who see their symbionts as lesser creatures and who don’t treat them well, though we don’t see this.

There’s a lot of talk about how the symbionts have free will and can leave but we never see this actually happen. Wright accepts the bond without really understanding its implications. Shori bites Celia and Brook because they need to be taken in by one of her kind after they’ve lost their Ina (her father) but again, after enough bites they’re tied to her too. They had to choose to let her take them on but it didn’t seem like much of a decision for them – do each of them really want to do this? It feels like they just go along.

Theodora was the different one: Shori uses her as a random food source when she’s still learning what she needs, but realizes she’s drawn to her – her scent, her cluttered office etc. Theodora loves her, too, but how much of that is simply because of Shori’s venom?

Perhaps this is an allegory of slavery. Ina love their symbionts, they’re family, and they protect and care for them. But Ina need their blood to live, and symbionts aren’t free to go. Not really. So I think discomfort is what Butler wants us to feel.

It’s surprising to read reviews where people are offended because she looks like a child and has sex with human adults (and seems to be experienced with sex, I guess? It’s not really clear) which to them is pedophilia. I didn’t even think about this. I wasn’t visualizing her, I knew she was actually 53, pedophilia isn’t an issue for me, and this isn’t pedophilia. I think even if I had visualized her – something I rarely do when I read – it wouldn’t have bothered me. She’s 53, nearly mature. I guess the case could be made that she’s more like a young girl who hasn’t reached menarche – we know she’s not quite old enough to mate with other Ina, but old enough that her scent makes males uncomfortable. Not enough information.

What did make me uncomfortable was all the touching: hugging, snuggling up together in bed, back rubs, her need for constant touch from her symbionts and their willingness to give it. I felt skin fatigue just reading about it. But that’s my problem, not a problem with the book.

I was hoping there might be a twist, that her amnesia would turn out to be hiding something from her and from us. But once you get used to the Ina and their world, the plot is straightforward. I didn’t like Shori very much, truth be told. She’s sure of herself in a way that sometimes comes off as arrogance – that trips her up in the book, too, a few times. I didn’t like that she has this New Agey-name while nearly everybody else in the book has regular, familiar names. Maybe her mothers and other ancestors we never get to meet had similar names, but it was jarring.

It was an interesting, thought provoking book that I’ll be processing for a while. I’m sorry that Butler died before she could write a sequel. I’d very much like to know what happens to Shori and her family next.

Then I read nearly all of Child's Play by Reginald Hill on the plane. British mystery about a strange will and missing son and other complications, with Inspector Andy Dalziel.
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I finished The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths, a mystery from the POF of a woman archeology professor who gets involved with solving a murder. I liked it at first, interesting archeology stuff and gripping myster, though I was kind of irritated by a lot of mentions of her thinking about how fat she is. Probably not unrealistic but maybe a little too much. Anyway now that I've finished I have to say it was a big disappointment. The mystery just was solved a little too easily and with clues that the Mary Sue-ish protagonist discovered; there were some emotional things that didn't feel right (when she realizes someone she trusts may be untrustworthy, the description of her reaction didn't have the resonance I thought it needed; there are all these times when she's in danger but stupidly blabs to lots of people about her wherabouts and other things; something bad happens to a pet (and it was obvious this was coming) but she doesn't do anything to protect another pet. Finally it contained my most hated trope every and I'm going to say what it is because I think this book is so bad it should be spoiled: people have sex one time and a pregnancy results. At least the man isn't on his deathbed which is usually how this works.

Bah.

Then I started Fledgling by Octavia Butler which is fantastic and which I do not expect to be disapponting.

After that I think I'll read another mystery - I'm in Hawaii and I brought a Reginald Hill and a P.D. James (that I read years ago and have forgotten.)
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I read Trustee from the Toolroom, by Nevil Shute. Keith Stewart is a mechanical engineer who loves building models of things like engines and clocks, and writes a column about that for Minature Mechanic magazine. His comfortable life with his wife in a London suburb is upset when his sister and her wealthy husband, who've left their daughter in Keith and his wife's care, are shipwrecked sailing from England to Vancouver. Keith, a man who's never left England, must find a way to get to a remote South Seas island to see about his sister and brother in law's graves, salvage the ship, and death with something else that will greatly affect their daughter's future. It turns out that his columns have readers all over the world and there are many fellow engineers who are happy to help him along his journey. He even manages to earn a considerable amount of money as consulting engineer.
It's a pleasant and satisfying read, with some amusing characters along the way. I know little about engineering or sailing but enjoyed the descriptions of handling sailboats and various engineering and mechanical things. Keith's tiny generator that he built for fun figures into the story, impressing everyone and making friends for him wherever he takes it.
Keith's a likeable guy but it's a little strange that during his months-long adventures he doesn't seem to miss his wife or worry about her or their ward, and doesn't even write home. But on the other hand, that's a lot like some of the engineers I know.
What I liked is how the common language of engineers and problem solvers is shown to unite a group of very disparate people, from a barely literate guy who built is own sailboat and sailed it across the Pacific, to a business tycoon.

After that I started Hello World: A life in Ham Radio by Danny Gregory and Paul Sahre. Gregory got interested after finding a scrapbook of QSL cards, the postcards hams send each other to confirm they talked, at a flea market. It's both a history of one man's multi-decade hobby, and of radio and amateur radio in general. It's interesting and the cards are graphically interesting.

However, I'm a astonished that so far they haven't explained why it's called "ham radio". Wikipedia has this: "The term "ham operator" was commonly applied by 19th century landline telegraphers to an operator with poor or "ham fisted" skills. Early radio (initially known as wireless telegraphy) included many former wire telegraph operators, and within the new service "ham" was employed as a pejorative term by professional radiotelegraph operators to suggest that amateur enthusiasts were unskilled. In "Floods and Wireless" by Hanby Carver, from the August, 1915 Technical World Magazine, the author noted "Then someone thought of the 'hams'. This is the name that the commercial wireless service has given to amateur operators...""

There are also various folk etymologies including one that the first radio station had the call letters HAM, etc.

I also started The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths, involving an archeology professor who gets involved with solved a murder. So far, very good. I'm not sure what I think about all the mentions of her thinking about how fat she is. Not unrealistic but maybe a little too much.
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I finished The Round House, Louise Erdrich. I loved it. An Indian woman is violently raped on the reservation, and her son, now grown, narrates the story of how his thirteen year old self dealt with it. There’s lots about family and friendship and of course Indian legal issues. The relationships the kid has with his friends and family feel really true. I loved it even though it has one of my most hated tropes, kids trying to solve a (potentially dangerous) situation on their own. The descriptions of ghosts and the tales his grandfather tells are perfectly done, and fit neatly into the images of the rez and his world where spiritual and practical things meet. There are many beautiful images of people and Indian lives, like a description of older women dressing up and then dancing gracefully at a pow wow.

Not sure what I'm going to read next. Probably the mystery I mentioned in my last post.
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Watch the North Wind Rise, Robert Graves. A poet from our time (1949) is transported years into the future, which is now a peaceful, Goddess worshipping world culture where money, technology, and wars have been eliminated and people live in rural villages and in defined social groups. I love utopia/dystopia fiction, and part of what I love is being dropped into this alternate world and figuring out how things work. This one doesn’t have that because from when he arrives, everything is explained to him (and us.) I don’t believe for a second that this culture would work; I don’t have that much faith in humanity, but it’s interesting to speculate. What made it a page turner was the interactions between the protagonist and other characters including a troublesome woman from his past who has somehow appeared in the future with him. But that sort of fizzled out and it was ultimately kind of philosophical musing about Goddess culture and good and evil, which was okay (especially because of my acquaintance with the Goddess) but eh.

Now I'm reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich and really enjoying it. About a crime on a reservation in North Dakota and the narrator, the victim's son, reacting to it. There's a lot of great stuff about family and friendship, not to mention issues about crimes that happen to Indian people.

After that I'm going to read The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, a mystery somebody recommended.
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