angela thirkell

Library Chicken Update: 6.6.18

Library Chicken Update: 6.6.18

Road trips equal audiobooks and other reading revelations in this week’s catch-up edition of Library Chicken.

Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (8.22.17)

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!    

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

The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power, and Intrigue in an English Stately Home by Natalie Livingstone

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)


Lincoln and the Abolitionists: John Quincy Adams, Slavery, and the Civil War by Fred Kaplan

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)


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, THE AFTERMATH: There’s always a bit of a dip in my Library Chicken score the week after the cabin. After all, once I’m back home I have to (1) return all those library books that I checked out for the cabin (which may take several trips), (2) catch up on TiVo (new episodes of The Great British Baking Show, So You Think You Can Dance, AND Grantchester on Masterpiece!), and finally (3) stare vaguely in the direction of the bags that need to be unpacked and laundry that needs to be done before deciding that “Nah, it can wait 'til next week,” (even though next week is the last week before school starts for the non-homeschoolers in the family, meaning that I’ll be frantically running around getting ready for orientation and there’s no way any laundry will get done). As you can see, with that whirlwind of activity there’s hardly any time at all for reading.


Frederick Douglass by William S. McFeely

I brought several big important biographies to the cabin but didn’t really get around to them. Fortunately, I was able to get to this one before it was due back. A thorough and very readable history of an important American life.
(LC Score: +1)


Passion and Affect by Laurie Colwin

Several years ago I zipped through all of Colwin’s novels, but I haven’t gotten to her short stories before now. I found this collection a bit disappointing—the stories were okay, if faintly depressing and not very memorable—until I read the two linked stories (“The Girl with the Harlequin Glasses” and “Passion and Affect”) about cousins Guido and Vincent and the women they love. Those two stories were fresh and funny and sweet and worth the price of admission all on their own.
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)


High Rising by Angela Thirkell

It’s been about three years since my last reread of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series, which means that I’m overdue. (Also, I sometimes need a break from big important Frederick Douglass biographies.) Angela Thirkell wrote 29 books set in Anthony Trollope’s fictional Barsetshire, publishing roughly one a year throughout the 1930s and beyond, taking her characters through WWII and (just barely) into the 1960s. I’ll confess that I haven’t read all 29, but I have a healthy selection on my bookshelves and I turn to them when I am in need of charming delightfulness. Unfortunately, that occasionally comes along with the occasional hint of anti-Semitism (sadly not shocking in a British novel of the 1930s). This first book introduces us to popular author Laura Morland, her precocious young son, Tony, and their old friend George Knox, who in a display of poor judgement has taken on a pushy, bad-tempered, husband-hunting secretary, leaving Laura and co. to set things right.
(LC Score: 0. off my own shelves)


Bone Vol. 2: The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith

This Week in Comics: As I’ve mentioned before, the Bone series by Jeff Smith has been acclaimed by critics and loved by various children in my own household, but I think I have to reluctantly admit that it’s not for me. There’s a lot here that is clever and charming, but the overall combination of silliness and seriousness doesn’t gel for me the way it seems to for others. That said, I’d still recommend it without hesitation for young readers interested in graphic novels.
(LC Score: +1)


Up From History: The Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell
Yep, this is one of those big important bios I didn’t get to in time. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)


Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott
And here’s more interesting history that was due back at the library. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)


The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
So I was excited to see that my library had this new (2009) translation, complete and unabridged in English for the very first time! But I didn’t realize that it was over 700 pages! And when I tried the first couple of chapters I only understood about 50 percent of what she was saying! I think I’ll have to clear my calendar before my next attempt at this one, and maybe do some background reading about de Beauvoir for context, because I was very seriously lost. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)


The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
Smith is an original and compelling YA writer and I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, but I guess it’ll have to wait a little bit longer. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)


Library Chicken Score for 8/1/17: -2
Running Score: 80


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

Mother and Son by Ivy Compton-Burnett (the queen of acerbic dialogue)

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (author of my new all-time favorite fantasy series

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey (I’ve been aware of this title for forever but I don’t actually have any idea what it’s about)

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (Sherlock fanfic by the author of Magpie Murders)