Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Nod Back at November

 Way back in November, I plugged away at Ducks, Newburyport and completed four other books. I'm not going to finish Ducks by my birthday, but I'm on page 820, so I'm cruising into that last marathon mile. This novel will be part of my personal landscape forever.

Here's what else I read:

1. Who Was Nellie Bly? -Margaret Gurevich. Nonfiction. Nellie Bly died a little over a century ago, but judging by this biography, she'd be perfectly at home in 2020 and on social media and probably TikTok, too. She was brash, audacious and full of confidence, taking on assignments like getting herself admitted to a mental asylum, and traveling around the world in less than 80 days. But Bly wasn't just some feathery influencer. She got things done, like shining a merciless spotlight on the conditions in the mental asylum. I'm glad that she hasn't fallen into obscurity. On the contrary, author Margaret Gurevich writes so vividly that Nellie Bly fairly leaps out of the book at the reader.

2. Waterland - Graham Swift. Novel. I can't imagine what possessed me to read this book. Actually, I can. Paging Nancy Pearl! Everyone's favorite librarian has been tweeting out favorites from her backlist, and I've been avidly taking notes. It pains me to say so, but even Nancy sometimes comes up with a clunker. How to describe this book? It's like Hardy and Lawrence and Melville all got together and got drunk and decided to slop out a novel together, each taking a turn ham-fisting the quill pen. Then, that guy who wrote Goodbye, Mr. Chips dropped by and they invited him in for a pint. Oh God No. Just no.

3. The Queen's Gambit - Walter Tevis. Novel. My favorite read for the month. I was intrigued, seeing reviews of the Netflix series, and when I saw that the book was only 2 bucks on Kindle Amazon, I had to give it a go, and it did not disappoint. Just the opposite. It was a lovely mashup of Jane Eyre and The Lost Weekend and every great sports novel. Did I mention a bracing shot of feminism? The chess matches are described in detail, and I know almost nothing of the game, but Tevis makes readers feel as if they're quite knowledgeable. A quick, fluent read that delivers. I've been nagging people to read The Queen's Gambit. Consider yourself nagged. In return, you can nag me to binge watch the Netflix series.

4. Who was Theodore Roosevelt? - Michael Burgan. Nonfiction. Theodore Roosevelt was a larger-than-life character, and my admiration and sympathy goes out to author Michael Burgan who had to contain his life in the conventional 106 pages of this series. The reader can almost see the seams bursting. It's a lively read, but I was disappointed that because of the constraints, Roosevelt's near-fatal 1913 trip down the Amazon barely got two sentences. Oh well, it only makes me more determined to read River of Doubt by Candace Millard, which deals solely with the perilous journey. It's been on my wishlist for a couple of years now, ever since I audiobooked her fascinating book about James A. Garfield's assassination. 


Jeane said...

I just finished watching Queen's Gabit and really enjoyed it. Should have guessed it was a book first! Now I'm adding that one to my list. Are you enjoying Ducks, Newburyport? One glance at a synopsis of that online had me cringe: a single long run-on sentence? it makes me think of Ulysses which was a nightmare I never even came close to finishing, but probably the comparison my brain makes between the two is not apt.

Sam said...

Like Jeane, I just finished watching the Netflix series. I was really taken by the story despite not even noticing until near the end (I don't watch the opening credits after the first episode) that it was based on a book. And that it was written by Walter Tevis, the same man who wrote The Hustler, The Color of Money, and The Man Who Fell to Earth. What a writer!

Bybee said...

Comparisons to James Joyce are very apt! Lucy Ellmann's father was a well-known Joyce scholar. I think Ducks, Newburyport is an "easier" read because the narrator is stream-of-conscious-ing about a world we know intimately.

I simply must read more of Walter Tevis! Wonderful storyteller and gorgeous prose style.