Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!
PANIC AT THE LIBRARY. For four long days this week my library’s online systems were down, meaning that I could not check on holds or renew books as they came due. As you might expect, this threatened to throw the entire precarious system at Library Chicken HQ into disarray. Fortunately, I weathered the technological storm better than I would have expected—and in the process, discovered that some time ago the maximum number of checkouts per card had been doubled, from 25 to 50 (!!!). Somehow, I WAS NOT INFORMED of this life-altering event, but I’m doing my best to make up for lost time. Meanwhile, my family members have started gathering in small groups to have hushed conversations, and I may have overheard something about an “intervention”...
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell
August Folly by Angela Thirkell
Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell
Now that we’re back from summer vacation and the high school kids have started school, it’s time for me to really dig into all that non-fiction reading and class prep I have on my to-do list for my outside classes this fall. But instead I decided to read the next five Thirkell Barsetshire books. As I’ve said in a previous update, they are charming and delightful (and only very occasionally racist and/or anti-Semitic) and a favorite comfort read of mine. Thirkell published about a book a year (these five take us from 1934 to 1938) set among various families and villages in fictional Barsetshire. There are eccentric but lovable noblewomen, English country house weekends, obnoxious lady novelists, hapless clergymen, public school intrigues, and, in every book, at least one awkward but good-hearted pair of young (and sometimes not so young) people will end up engaged. (NOTE: All of Thirkell’s teenagers and 20-somethings seem five to ten years younger than their supposed ages. This is especially noticeable in The Demon in the House, in which teenage Tony Morland acts about 8 years old throughout, demonstrating either (a) that our modern youth do in fact lose their childhood innocence much earlier than past generations, or (b) that Thirkell never actually hung out with any young people. It’s a little weird, but I try not to let it bother me.)
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)
Mother and Son by Ivy Compton-Burnett
After all that sweetness I need some sour. Compton-Burnett, like Thirkell, was a prolific English writer of popular novels during the 1930s and later, but there the resemblance ends. Where Thirkell is warm and gentle, Compton-Burnett is cold and cynical. Her books have a very distinctive style, consisting almost completely of dryly ironic dialogue, forcing a reader to pay close attention since it’s often difficult to tell which character is speaking (they all sound the same) or even which characters are part of the current conversation (since the author rarely deigns to let us know their movements). I think it’s safe to say that she is something of an acquired taste, and when I first read one of her novels, I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to acquire it. But I read another, and then another, and now, every so often, I find myself in a mood for an Ivy—it’s a very particular clear-out-the-cobwebs sort of craving that no other author will satisfy. In Mother and Son, an overbearing matriarch with an overly-attached adult son advertises for a companion, but really, the plot doesn’t matter because I’m in it for all the sharply intelligent, passive-aggressive, calmly hostile conversations that will inevitably ensue.
(LC Score: +1)
The Sinful Stones by Peter Dickinson
Inspector James Pibble #3. In this mystery, Pibble finds himself (for complicated personal reasons) on a remote island with a cult-like group of monks. Unsurprisingly, all is not well. Dickinson’s Pibble mysteries continue to be bizarre and unlike anything I’ve read before (in the best way!).
(LC Score: +1)
The Green Gene by Peter Dickinson
This standalone novel by Dickinson takes place in a world just like our own—except that Celts have bright green skin (and can therefore be easily segregated from right-thinking Saxons). Our protagonist, an Indian researcher and medical statistician, has been hired by the British Race Relations Board to track down the elusive “green gene,” allowing them to identify carriers even if they’re not actually green-tinged. Although he’s a “Saxon” (at least according to his identity papers), he has to deal with other forms of racism and eventually discovers that the embattled and oppressed Celts can be ruthlessly violent towards their own people when dealing with ideological schisms. Published in 1973, it’s not exactly a cheery book, but it is a fascinating (and unfortunately relevant) take on racism from a unique perspective.
(LC Score: +1)
My Real Children by Jo Walton
I never know what I’m getting with a Jo Walton novel but I always enjoy the journey. Here, a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s realizes that she seems to be switching back and forth between two distinctly different timelines, each with its own set of memories. In one, she marries the man she shouldn’t have and suffers a great deal of personal sorrow; in the other, she has a lovely and fulfilled life, but the world is going to hell. Which one should she choose to live in? (NOTE: If ambiguous endings drive you crazy, be warned that Walton doesn’t tie everything up neatly here, though I felt fairly satisfied with my own interpretation of events.)
(LC Score: +1)
Frederick Douglass: Autobiographies edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read Frederick Douglass before now, though I’m glad I tackled McFeely’s biography before diving into Douglass’s autobiographies. This Library of America edition collects Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845); My Bondage and Freedom (1855); and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, 1893). Following his first published autobiography, Douglass’s practice was to use the text of the previous book, virtually unchanged, in each subsequent book, updating it with chapters describing the most recent events in his life. Narrative describes his life in slavery and is the emotional core (along with being the shortest and most successful of his works). I’ll be adding it to our own homeschool curriculum. HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED.
(LC Score: +1)
The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Having read Between the World and Me, I’m already a devotee of Coates, and this memoir of his childhood (his first book) just confirms my admiration. Here we meet Coates’s unconventional family, including the older brother who taught him the Knowledge he needed to survive the streets of Baltimore, and the ex-Black-Panther father who raised him to be a Conscious black man in racist America. In passing, he casually (and constantly) references everything from the pop culture of the time, the fantasy worlds of D&D and superhero comics, and the by-words of Knowledge and Consciousness, leaving me slightly dizzy (since I didn’t understand more than half) but always swept away by his narrative.
(LC Score: +1)
Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore
This odd little book (by the always-interesting Lepore) explores the life of Joe Gould, a bizarre little man who was somehow discovered by (and won the patronage of) notable writers and intellectuals of his day, including e.e. cummings and Ezra Pound. He claimed to be writing a massive oral history of the world (though it’s not clear if it ever existed) and became semi-famous after a New Yorker profile by Joseph Mitchell. He was also mentally ill and weirdly obsessed with race, with a history of stalking and harassing women. It’s a fascinating story, though I was left not quite sure what Gould ever did to merit his 15 minutes of fame. I suspect that Lepore was similarly puzzled.
(LC Score: +1)
A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations by Juliet Nicolson
Nicolson’s paternal grandmother was the writer Vita Sackville-West, whom she highlights in her engaging history of her fascinating female ancestors and the well-known English country homes they lived in. Meanwhile, Livingstone is the wife of the current lessee of Cliveden (now run as a five-star hotel), another famous home that played host to Restoration-era scandals, the Cliveden Set, and the 1960s Profumo affair, all explored in her entertaining book. Donations to the Library Chicken travel fund (so I can visit all these places myself) will be happily accepted!
(LC Score: +2)
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
1980s mixtapes and magic—didn’t get to this one, but I’ll be checking it out again soon. RETURNED UNREAD. (LC Score: -1)
I really should know better than to check out nice thick history books from the new releases (due back in two weeks, no renewals) section. RETURNED UNREAD. (LC Score: -1)
Library Chicken Score for 8/22/17: 7
Running Score: 87
On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (PRINCESS LEIA WILL LIVE FOREVER)
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey (final Alan Grant mystery)
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan (bookstore in the title = I’m sold)
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen (both for pleasure and for prep as Middle School Lit approaches)
SUZANNE REZELMAN is home | school | life magazine’s Book Nerd. Subscribe to home/school/life to read her brilliant book recommendations and literary musings every issue. Your library list will thank you.