Tuesday, July 06, 2021

June, 2021 Reading and An Ambitious Plan

 Eleven books in June! That's a really good total for me. I must credit The Spawn, who checks out books I'm interested in on *his* card, then when I need them renewed, he encourages me to finish quickly. Okay, yeah his tone gets a little snotty, but who can argue with results?

1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Fiction. I audiobooked this one, and I'm so glad I did. The narrator of the book, Bahni Turpin, is a treasure. She also narrated the previous audiobook I listened to, The Hate U Give. I was totally invested in all these characters. I was continually making excuses to go to the car. (Car time = audiobook time) The Underground Railroad is dazzling. Brilliant. Historical fiction meets fantasy meets alternative history with nods to figures in popular culture. Whitehead's writing is ...well, I already said dazzling and brilliant. If you were here, sitting in my purple chair, I'd be shouting dazzling! brilliant! at you until you went and found your own copy or threw something at me. The Underground Railroad feels almost as if it should be a pop-up book. That's what it did to my brain.

2. Blitzed - Norman Ohler. Nonfiction. Translated from German, Ohler examines how the Nazis were into drug use. In fact, they were the ones who invented methamphetamine! From the late 1930s to the end of WWII, almost everyone from 18 to 80 was speeding into history. It definitely explains the rapidity of Hitler's army taking over Europe and striding on into Russia. Meanwhile, Hitler, who didn't smoke, drink or eat meat, was turned into an addict by his personal physician. There's also some not-surprising and disgusting information on how new variations on their pharmaceutical concoctions were tested on prisoners in the work camps. An eye-opening read! I'll never look at WWII the same.

3. What Is The Panama Canal? - Janet B. Pascal. Nonfiction. An educational, informative look at all the false starts and missteps as well as political machinations that went into the building of the Panama Canal. Again, Tim Foley's illustrations add to the narrative.

4. Who Was Norman Rockwell? - Sarah Fabiny. Nonfiction. Rockwell's not one of my favorite artists, but I firmly acknowledge his importance in American art history. The book was a bit of a snooze for me, mostly because of my marginal interest.

DNF Philip Roth - Blake Bailey. Biography. I read about 150 pages before giving up. Not sad. Not sorry.

5. The Four Winds - Kristin Hannah. Novel. I read this book quickly, because that's the pace Kristin Hannah sets for her readers. I wanted to love this book, and I didn't. The writing seemed flat. It was also heavy on the melodrama, which she really didn't need to employ in the bleak Dust Bowl setting. The 1930s characters have modern speech inflections, which took me out of the story several times. Speaking of the characters, they are either sterling good or bad with no redeeming qualities. Did I mention that it's a bit repetitive? A former lawyer, Hannah writes as if she's presenting a case for a jury trial rather than a nuanced novel for readers to absorb and enjoy.

6. What Is The Story of Alice in Wonderland? - Dana Meachen Rau. Nonfiction. I'll be honest: Even as a child Alice and Wonderland seemed like too much of a muchness. I'm a Dorothy and Oz girl. 

7. Hamnet - Maggie O'Farrell. Novel. The story of Shakespeare's family, set during the 1680s, during a time of plague, and in the years before, when Shakespeare met Anne (Agnes, in this novel) Hathaway, who herself is a remarkable literary creation, as captivating as anything The Bard could have penned. I shied away from this novel for almost a year, and now I'm in equal parts mad at myself for doing so and thrilled that I finally read it, thanks to my book comrade, Care. Hamnet is haunting and mesmerizing. I would love to experience it as an audiobook. Believe the hype.

8. Who Is Ken Jennings? - Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction. This is one of the short entries in the Who Was...? series, that number around 50 pages. Not a fan of the shorter books. They feel like filler. They feel like the book reports you do in 5th grade. I feel affection for Ken Jennings, dating back to his original 74 game winning streak. I appreciated the sidebar bio of Alex Trebek, but c'mon people! Give Alex his own full-length book!

9. Me and Patsy Kickin' Up Dust - Loretta Lynn. Memoir. To read a Loretta Lynn memoir feels like sheer love, because she's basically talking it. Her Kentucky cadences jump off the page. You can hear her voice. In this one, she discusses her friendship with legendary singer Patsy Cline, as well as her life and career around this time (early 1960s). One of Loretta's twin daughters, Patsy Russell, who was named after Patsy Cline, co-wrote this book with Loretta.

10. Still Woman Enough - Loretta Lynn. Memoir. Okay, yeah, I fell down a Loretta Lynn rabbit hole (oh oh lol I just made an Alice in Wonderland reference after talking shit about it a few paragraphs ago) but there are much worse things. Still Woman Enough was written after Loretta Lynn's husband of 48 years died, and she was free to talk more frankly about their rocky relationship. And talk she did! The framework of this book is going back and revisiting the movie version of Coal Miner's Daughter and what they got wrong and what they got right, and what happened after Loretta and Doolittle rode off into the sunset at the end of the movie. It was funny, it was beautiful, it was heartbreaking. I can't believe I've had this book for years, maybe decades and only now just got around to reading it.

11. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr. Novel. This was my second audiobook for June, and I have mixed feelings about it. I admire the author's reach and grasp and how he knows and knows and KNOWS so much about science, so much about everything, but the book felt a little too tight, a little claustrophobic. The back-and-forth structure of the book between the characters and the skipping around in time was sometimes annoying, but worked in my favor when Disc 9 had a scratch and didn't play correctly and I realized that I didn't miss much between Discs 8 and 10. I appreciated knowing how all the characters ended up (GO Marie-Laure!) but I was more than ready to exit the novel with two more discs to go. I'm glad that I made the decision to audiobook this one, because I think I might have DNF'd an actual paper copy.

An Ambitious Plan

I realize that I never got back to blog about Part 2 of my May, 2021 reading. Days and weeks went by and my relationship to what I read, even though I truly enjoyed it, was getting fainter and fainter, and I felt colder and colder towards the material. This delaying and the resulting feelings was a cause for concern. If nothing else, Blue-Hearted Bookworm aka Blob, is my online book diary! I don't want impressions of my reading to get completely lost. I can imagine my Future Bookworm Self cursing my Present BS.

 It doesn't take a fully loaded bookshelf to fall on me for me to come to the conclusion that I need to update more often so that I don't have to struggle to reconnect with the essence of my feelings for the book. So: I'm going to try to do updates on Blob once a week, or at least once every ten days. I think my impressions will be fresher, but the books will still have time to settle inside of me. Let's see how it goes.


Sam said...

Interesting choices, Susan. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that the Germans fought much of WWII while high on drugs, but I was. After all, the North Koreans, Chinese, and Vietnamese have used the same tactic to make their armies seem almost superhuman at times. I'm curious enough now to start looking for this one.

Your take on "All the Light..." is much like mine. I did read a physical copy, and I often had to force myself to go back and pick the thing up because it seemed to take forever for the two story lines to finally coincide. I ended up disliking the book...a lot.

The Loretta Lynn reading sounds like fun. She is a special entertainer and we want see the likes of her ever again. I had the good fortune of meeting her a couple of decades ago through a mutual friend and was very impressed with her friendliness and sense of humor.

Bybee said...

Omg Sam! You met Loretta Lynn! Wow.

When I went to Nashville with my mom a few years ago, we also went to Hurricane Mills. What a huge piece of land, and so far away. How did Doo ever find it in the first place??

Jeane said...

When I was an art student I really admired Norman Rockwell. Now- he seems kinda saccharine to me. I have a thick book all about his art and style and life, haven't turned the pages once. I like the sound of Hamnet. I'm sad to say I don't know anything about Loretta Lynn- though she sounds like an amazing woman, and I've probably heard some of her songs! My kids were always kinda freaked out by Alice In Wonderland. One of them refused to see the animated movie, ever- she found it frightening! I read nearly all the Oz books when I was in grade school. Didn't realize that about the Nazis and drugs, but I'm not surprised. Mentioned it to my husband here and he said Oh yeah, Hitler's doctor would inject caffeine directly into his veins. The man never slept! No wonder he was such a psychopath. Would be glad to see your book posts more often. The short reviews really get to the heart of the matter succinctly.

Ruthiella said...

I agree, Alex Trebek deserves his "Who is" book over Ken Jennings. Without Alex making the game show what it was, where would Ken be now?

I loved The Underground Railroad too. I thought it was really cleverly constructed. "Dazzling and brilliant" is right!