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Library Chicken Update CABIN-EXTRAVAGANZA 2017: THE CABIN-ING

Reading ListSuzanne RezelmanComment
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!

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!

CABIN-EXTRAVANGANZA: As you might imagine, weeks of prep are required for the Annual Family Trip to the Cabin Where Mom Gets a Glass of Wine, Puts Up Her Feet, and Reads the Entire Time. I have to make a list of all the books I want to bring and then carefully time my library hold requests so that I can pick up the books before we leave. I start working on my list weeks ahead of time: I especially like to get nice thick new releases (that I might not otherwise get to before they’re due back) and I don’t want to bring any potential duds (though of course there are always surprises). Over the years, my cabin memories have gotten mixed up with the books that I’ve read there (Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, and The Three Weissmans of Westport by Cathleen Schine, to name a few), so it matters to me what I bring, meaning that it’s important to carefully winnow the list. Or not. I’m not so good at the last part. This year was a record: I brought three bags of books, wildly overestimating (as usual) how many I would be able to get to. But as Amy reminded me, that’s the entire point of Library Chicken, right?

 

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This one was a lot of fun. A writer of Agatha Christie-like mysteries finishes his final book and commits suicide--or does he? And what happened to the last chapter of the manuscript? We get two mysteries for the price of one as the tale of the editor investigating the author’s mysterious death bookends the text of his final novel.
(LC Score: +1)

 

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

A semi-famous artist and animator, now a full-time mom, deals with depression and anger during one very long, very bad day. I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy this novel given my mixed history with Semple’s other books, but this one is funny and heartfelt and goes in the YES column. NOTE: The main character will be easy to identify with for those of us (I know I’m not the only one!) who are married to super-nice spouses while being not-always-so-nice (even though we try, we do!) ourselves. And if you happen to be the super-nice one in the couple, you could always read this to see what it’s like being the other half.
(LC Score: +1)

 

Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum

After having completed the Bertie and Jeeves oeuvre I wanted to read a Wodehouse biography. This one is solid and entertaining and deals well with the international scandal at the center of P.G. Wodehouse’s life, when, as an interned Englishman stuck in France during WWII, he agreed to broadcast on Nazi radio, even though he was in no way a Nazi-sympathizer himself. McCrum does a good job of explaining Wodehouse’s behavior (which was seen as providing traitorous propaganda to the enemy) without trying to excuse or defend it.
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Four adult siblings squabble over the disbursement of the family trust, which has been gutted as a result of the eldest’s irresponsible and immoral behavior. (Though maybe not in the way you expect.) At the beginning, the family seems to be made up entirely of mean-spirited jerks and pathetic losers, but new connections are forged and relationships shift, leading to a surprisingly sweet ending.
(LC Score: +1)

 

Ha’Penny by Jo Walton
Half a Crown by Jo Walton

The second and third books (following Farthing) in the Small Change trilogy, set in an alternate Britain (where the Nazis made an early peace with England and won the war on the continent) circa the 1950s. In Ha’Penny, following closely on the events of Farthing, we see England slip closer to fascism, while in the background a plot is hatched to assassinate the new Prime Minister and his guest, Adolf Hitler, on the opening night of a new London production of Hamlet. I had major issues with one of the relationships in this novel (and if you’ve read it, email me, because I would like to discuss it AT LENGTH), but it won me over in two ways. First, the actress involved in the assassination plot is one of the “famous Larkin sisters”, who are clearly and unashamedly based on the Mitfords, and yes, I’m up for reading anything and everything involving the Mitford sisters. (I may even occasionally cackle with glee while doing so.) Second, the Mitford-I-mean-Larkin actress is playing the title role in the production, a gender-bent Hamlet, and I found the backstage conversations about the motivations of a female Hamlet fascinating. (Also, I would now like to see this production. Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern, could you please make that happen?) Half a Crown jumps the action forward 10 years, to 1960 and an England with its own secret police force and soon-to-be-opened concentration camps. While the depiction of Britain’s fall into fascism felt scarily realistic, I thought the ending of the series was a bit too pat, though overall I enjoyed the trilogy.
(LC Score: +2)

 

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Secrets and lie detectors! Polygamy and Margaret Sanger! Feminism and bondage fetishes! The creation of Wonder Woman is one of those you-couldn’t-make-this-stuff-up tales, brought to life in this well-researched history by Jill Lepore, who always chooses interesting and unique topics to write about. (I’m also a big fan of her Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin.) It’s a great read, especially if you’ve just enjoyed the new Wonder Woman movie. (And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?)
(LC Score: +1)

 

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

This novel consists of a cleverly linked series of narratives from various people connected with the doomed revival of a popular children’s stage musical, Mister Monkey. Though a very different book with a very different style, I was reminded of The Nest, in that it starts out rather sordid and grim, but ends up with a bit of sweetness and hope.
(LC Score: +1)

 

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Fifteen years ago, a reality show depicting an exorcism performed on a 14-year-old girl became a pop culture phenomenon. Now her younger sister is 23 and is being interviewed for a book on the events of that show and their shocking aftermath, declaring in the process that she believes her sister was actually mentally ill and was denied needed treatment. I don’t want to give too much away, but Tremblay owes a large debt to Shirley Jackson in this creepy and occasionally disturbing novel.
(LC Score: +1)

 

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Smith tells the story of two young girls growing up in the housing projects of London, who meet in a dance class and become on-again off-again best friends. One of them becomes a professional dancer and the other, our narrator, becomes the personal assistant to an international pop star. For what it’s worth, this is one of those novels where I felt I missed the point somewhere along the way, but that didn’t actually hamper my enjoyment.
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

An extended family vacation in Mallorca leads to all sorts of secrets being revealed, with relationships upended and characters having to figure out a way to stay together—or not. This was a quick, entertaining read, but I was a little disappointed by the cliche nature of the family problems. Basically, all the men (with the partial exception of the nice gay couple) are sleeping around, and (DEEP SIGH) the 18-year-old daughter wants to lose her virginity before going home and starting college. (Is that still a thing? Really, is that a thing we’re still talking about as an important life goal? Could we maybe decide not to have it be a thing anymore?)
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

 

Howards End Is on the Landing by Susan Hill

In this memoir, subtitled A Year of Reading From Home, accomplished author and publisher Susan Hill devotes herself to reading and rereading the books on her own eclectic bookshelves. I’m always in the mood for a book about books, but I found Hill to be a bit of a lit snob, just a smidge smug and condescending. To be fair, I was probably never going to get along with someone who dismisses the Wimsey-Vane romance as ridiculous and has an entire essay on how she finds Jane Austen boring.
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

Library Chicken Score for THE CABIN 2017: 10
Running Score: 82

 

On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Coates’s memoir of his father)

The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi (need to finish reading Oyeyemi’s backlist) 

The Sinful Stones by Peter Dickinson (Inspector James Pribble #3)

Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie (the final Tommy and Tuppence)