Thirteen books this quarter! That’s the pace I should be aiming for all the time.
- Amos Towles, Rules of Civility. This was a book club book and I think those of us who voted for it did so because we’d all liked the author’s A Gentleman in Moscow so much. This novel had some moments, but was not nearly as charming as his other one. The story involves a young woman working as a secretary in New York who has a chance meeting with a man and ends up being thrown (along with her roommate) into the whirl of high society. She ends up juggling a literary career, several men, and her general zest for life. But nothing much really happens and, frankly, I didn’t think the book was very interesting.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. I read this in high school and didn’t particularly like it then. I decided to reread it because a couple of friends were discussing it on Facebook. I still didn’t like it. All of the characters are selfish and entitled. Gatsby's obsession with Daisy is creepy and not really adequately explained. Tom Buchanan is a bad husband - and a bad person, in general. And everyone else (especially Nick) is just hanging around partying with no depth. I was glad to have forgotten most of it in the past 45+ years.
- Alexander McCall Smith, The Peppermint Tea Chronicles. It’s always enjoyable to spend time with the 44 Scotland Street characters. Dominica conspires to get Angus new clothes, Bertie and Ronald obtain a dog, Stewart appears to be embarking on a new romance, and Pat is definitely falling for Matthew and Elspeth’s new au pair. In other words, nothing major happens, but it is all very cozy and delightful. Highly recommended.
- Janice P. Nimura, Daughters of the Samurai. This was another book club selection. It tells the story of three Japanese girls (originally five, but two didn’t stay long) who were sent to the United States in the late 19th century to go to school and bring modern education for girls back to Japan. This was a fascinating book and I learned a lot both about Japan and about the evolution of women’s education in the U.S.
- Pete Hamill, Snow in August. This is a very strange book. The story involves an Irish-Catholic boy in Brooklyn who befriends a local rabbi, who has a complicated Holocaust-related history. He also incurs the wrath of a local tough guy, who beats him up badly. The writing is absorbing and I enjoyed reading this - up to the last couple of chapters, which takes a very strange turn that I didn’t find entirely satisfying.
- Alexander McCall Smith, The Department of Sensitive Crimes. This is a new series, in a new genre, called Scandinavian blanc (to contrast with Scandinavian noir). The idea is to have a special police group that handles oddities. For example, a young woman’s boyfriend disappears, but he was actually imaginary all along. The book is moderately entertaining, but not really as funny as I think it was intended to be. I might read the next one in the series if I find it used, but I am unlikely to go out of my way for it.
- Sally Rooney, Normal People. This was another book club book. The plot, such as it is, involves two people in a small town in Ireland who enter into a relationship, that sort of continues as they go to college. The woman has been abused and is a masochist, while the man suffers depression, partly related to his insecure social status. Both of them have other screwed-up relationships with other people. Overall, an unlikeable book about unlikeable people. I rarely say this, but I absolutely hated this book.
- Sisterhood of Congregation Beth El, From Manna to Mousse. This is a congregational cookbook from the 1960’s. The recipes are predictably awful, with lots of prepackaged ingredients. There are also some that are unpredictably awful, like the one that uses baby food banana in a marinade for chicken. I find this sort of thing amusing, albeit unusable.
- Dick Francis, Second Wind. A meteorologist, who often provides weather predictions to horse trainers, accepts an invitation to fly through a hurricane, and gets entangled in mysterious goings on on a Caribbean island. Like all Dick Francis heroes, he has remarkable powers of survival and recovery, bounding back from a couple of near-fatal incidents. At any rate, Francis is a reliable escapist author, with strong plotting and plenty of excitement. Recommended.
- Dr. Seuss, You’re Only Old Once. I got this from a friend who is thinning his shelves. The silly rhymes and drawings are typical of Dr. Seuss. But I was disappointed to see yet another take on aging that is all about health issues. I will probably pass it along to someone else.
- Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation. Yes, I know every else read this 20 or so years ago. Frankly, it didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know. Low-wage workers are exploited, factory farming and meat processing are bad, etc. The pandemic has, of course, added new dimensions, but none of this was news even when this book was written. It’s still reasonably worth reading - just not the revolutionary work it was portrayed as.
- Nancy Pickard, Twilight. Two people have been killed where a rail-trail intersects a highway. Jenny Cain agrees to look for possible solutions to improve safety, but has to fit this in with her efforts to put on a Halloween Festival for her small town charitable foundation. That’s all interesting enough and plenty of exciting and mysterious thing happen. Unfortunately, the conclusion is something of a cop-out.
- Marcus Barbeau. The Golden Phoenix and Other French-Canadian Fairy Tales. I’m lucky if I find one or two tellable stories in a book of folk tales. This one, however, was excellent. I found all of the stories tellable, though there are a couple I am unlikely to bother learning. I have, in fact, already told one of them at a story swap. I also appreciated the chapter at the end that discusses the (mostly European) origins of the stories and where they were collected.
Movies: Only one this month, which was via an AARP free on-line Movies for Grownups showing.
- Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day: Miss Pettigrew has been fired from her job as a governess and the employment agency no longer wants to help her, so she picks up a slip of paper and presents herself as a personal assistant to an actress. Surprisingly, they hit it off and Miss Pettigrew is swept up in a social whirl. She gets a makeover, sorts out her employer’s love life, and finds a romance of her own. I thought this was a charming movie and well cast (with Frances McDormand in the title role).
I entered the Style Invitational 3 more times (brining me up to 5 out of my goal of 6 for the year). I even got ink for one of them.
I’ve read 30 books, out of my goal of 52 for the year.
I got another 4 stories (2 personal stories and 2 folktales) into tellable condition, so I exceeded my goal of 4 new stories for the year.
I still need to do a bunch of organizing tasks and do a used bookstore run. Sigh.
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