dorothy gilman

Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (5.2.17)

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken.

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!

It’s a good week in reading when your stack of ‘books I enjoyed’ is taller than your ‘meh’ stack. It’s a great week in reading when you find one of those books that you know you’ll be recommending to friends (and friends-of-friends and acquaintances and innocent bystanders and random passers-by) for years to come. It’s an extraordinary week in reading when you can’t decide which of two outstanding books to gush on at length about first. This week, Ada Palmer and Rebecca Solnit were definitely at the top of my list:

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

First Ann Leckie and now this—there are some incredible things happening right now in the science fiction genre, folks. In the high-tech future of 2454 where affinity-based Hives have replaced geographically based nation-states and mini-communes called bash’es have replaced the nuclear family, ex-criminal Mycroft Canner tells a story of high politics and forbidden theology, deliberately choosing to do so (as he tells us repeatedly) in the outdated style of an 18th-century novel, referencing heroes of the Enlightenment along the way. Plus there’s a young boy who can bring inanimate objects to life with a touch, living in secret and protected by a bodyguard of tiny green plastic army men—but that’s only the beginning. This book is hard to for me to talk about (just ask Amy) without a lot of excited hand-waving and “oh, yeah, I forgot about this other thing” and “but wait ‘cause meanwhile” and “AND THEN” sorts of sentences. About three-quarters of the way through, I thought I was starting to get a handle on what was happening, which is when the author lifted up the top of this carefully-crafted society to show the ugliness and corruption underneath, an unexpectedly dark turn that I was completely unprepared for. This is volume one of a series—warning: the action doesn’t so much wrap up at the end as come to a brief pause —and I have no idea what’s going to happen and I WOULD LIKE TO READ THE NEXT BOOK NOW PLEASE.
(LC Score: +1)

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit

Anyone who has read accounts of real-life disasters knows that, unlike what we’ve been repeatedly told by Hollywood and our political leaders, people in the midst of catastrophe do not inevitably devolve into panicked every-man-for-himself monsters. Instead, the vast majority of people turn to each other to provide help and support, coming up with creative and intelligent solutions for immediate problems. Often, the greatest danger in the aftermath of a natural disaster is actually a phenomenon called “elite panic”, where the Powers That Be, experiencing their own panic at their loss of control and fearing the hordes of humanity that will be unleashed now that the thin veneer of civilization has been ripped off, treat the citizens they’re supposed to be protecting as the enemy, giving orders to shoot looters, withholding information from the general public, and blocking “non-official” relief efforts. In this book, Solnit gathers historical accounts of how people have reacted to disaster, showing that human decency is not the first casualty in times of chaos, and that in fact these disasters often bring out the very best in those people who are most affected. She goes on to meditate on the nature of utopia (with assists from the likes of William James and Peter Kropotkin) and to explore why communities can respond with hope and even find joy in times of fear and enormous loss. What is special about how people react during disaster, and how can we create that sense of purpose and connection when we’re living our everyday non-catastrophic lives? This book made me cry and also made me BURN-IT-ALL-DOWN angry (I recommend frequent breaks while reading the Hurricane Katrina chapter) but mostly it made me feel hopeful about human nature and the choices we can make in our own lives to create meaning and community. Also, while I wouldn’t necessarily compare our current political situation to an earthquake or a hurricane (I’d actually probably go with zombie apocalypse), I found this book (published in 2009) incredibly relevant to what many of us are experiencing right now—both the fear and sorrow, and the hope and joy people are finding in coming together as activists. Sometimes you read the right book at the right time and it just might end up changing your life. (Also, I’m putting together a fund to send a copy to every writer on he Walking Dead because you people need to LIGHTEN UP. Seriously.)
(LC Score: +1⁄2, returned overdue)

After O’Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia edited by Hugh Ruppersburg

I was feeling very virtuous and self-sacrificing about picking up this collection (given that I’m not the biggest fan of so-called Southern fiction), but wow, once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. There are 30 stories here—some Southern-y, many not—written in 1990-2005, by authors with a connection (sometimes a bit tenuous) to Georgia. There are the authors you’d expect to see (Alice Walker, Bailey White) and ones you might not expect (Michael Bishop, Ha Jin) and there’s not a bad story in the bunch. If you need a pick-me-up, do yourself a favor and find a copy of “The Widow’s Mite” by Ferrol Sams. You can thank me later.
(LC Score: +1)

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Every once in a while a book comes along that seems tailor-made for me, but somehow we just don’t click. A mysterious Library that sends Librarian agents to alternate worlds to collect one-of-a-kind literary creations? Check! An adventure that involves zeppelins, vampires, remote-controlled alligators, and a Sherlock-alike? Check!! A universe where the Forces of Order, represented by dragons, and the Forces of Chaos, represented by the Fairy Folk, are battling it out?!? CHECK, CHECK, and CHECK! I expected to fall in love with this series, but for whatever reason this novel didn’t quite work for me, which is a bummer. I’m firmly of the “it’s not you, it’s me” camp, so if that sounds interesting for you or for your favorite middle/high schooler, I’d say go ahead and give it a try. (You gotta at least read the remote-controlled alligator scene.)
(LC Score: +1)

Mrs. Pollifax Pursued by Dorothy Gilman

Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer by Dorothy Gilman

Mrs. Pollifax adventures #11 and #12—I’m getting close to the end of the series, which is upsetting. How will I get my black-belt world-trotting grandma fix now?
(LC Score: +2)


Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff

As anyone who’s listened to our podcast on 84 Charing Cross Road knows, I find Helene Hanff delightful. This is her short memoir of not making it on Broadway as a playwright. Unsurprisingly, she continues to be delightful.
(LC Score: +1)


The Wishing-Ring Man by Margaret Widdemer

And, speaking of delightful, this is a follow-up (of sorts) to The Rose-Garden Husband from a couple of weeks ago, where Phyllis and Allan return to help out a young woman who is tired of being a muse to her famous poet grandfather and just wants to be a normal girl. There’s a romance kicked off by a ridiculous coincidence (and very briefly imperiled by a ridiculous misunderstanding) and it’s all very fun. Plus, considerably less racism than in The Rose-Garden Husband!
(LC Score: 0, read on Kindle)

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Chinese-American businessman Charles Wang loses his cosmetics empire fortune and goes bankrupt, forcing his family to come together to deal with their new reality. I am a sucker for any kind of “family-comes-together-to-deal-with” plot and I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and all the Wang children, who include a once-famous-now-disgraced New York artist and as aspiring stand-up comedian.
(LC Score: +1)

The Gay Revolution by Lillian Faderman

I’ve been reading a lot more about activism and the history of civil rights lately, but I just couldn’t get to this book before it was due. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)


Fanny Burney: A Biography by Claire Harman

I recently read a great biography of King George III—Royal Experiment: The Private Life of King George III by Janice Hadlow—which reminded me that I need to read more about Fanny Burney, famous author and courtier to George’s wife, Queen Charlotte, but then I got caught up in 18th-century-style science fiction and Hurricane Katrina and everything else. RETURNED UNREAD (which is okay because I need to read Burney’s Evelina anyway).
(LC Score: -1)

Library Chicken Score for 5/2/17: 5 1⁄2 Running Score: 17


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

Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell and the Making of Gone With the Wind by Darden Asbury Pyron (the quest to read all things Georgian continues)

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith (heard great things about this one)

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn (I LOVE EPISTOLARY NOVELS GIVE THEM ALL TO ME)

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (because wow, that is a GORGEOUS cover!) 

Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (4.14.17)

Here’s your (new!) weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. 

Here’s your (new!) 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!

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft edited by Leslie Klinger

I’ve watched television and movies inspired by Lovecraft’s tales, played board games based on his works, and read countless novels and short stories set in the world he created, but I’ve read very little by the man himself, which is embarrassing given my self-proclaimed status as a hard-core bookish sf/fantasy nerd. This beautiful oversized volume collects 22 of Lovecraft’s Arkham Cycle stories, with extensive annotations by Klinger and a short biographical preface. (Spoiler: Lovecraft was super racist!) Lovecraft definitely has a specific (and repetitive) style — narrators share events almost TOO TERRIBLE TO RELATE involving INDESCRIBABLY HORRIFIC TENTACLED ENTITIES the mere mention of which MAY DRIVE YOU MAD — and may not be for everyone, but this is a great introduction to his work, definitely worth passing along to any teens or adults who may have a Cthulu t-shirt or two but have never gotten around to reading the original. (LC Score: +1)


The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

As a fan of Victorian novels, I can’t tell you how many characters I’ve watched gracefully waste away after being stricken with consumption. And there are times (especially after a not-so-successful day of homeschooling) where being an invalid on top of a mountain somewhere, breathing the crisp fresh air while a handsome young orderly adjusts my lap blanket before wheeling me to another part of the meadow, sounds pretty awesome. Except, of course, for the whole coughing up blood and dying part. Mann’s famous (and famously long) German novel, set just before the Great War, describes the kind of sanatorium I’ve always imagined myself in and the people that inhabit it more or less permanently. I enjoyed this novel, though I only understood about 80% of it, not including the almost-entirely-in-French chapter that my translation (by H.T. Lowe-Porter) didn’t bother to translate to English and which I didn’t understand t al, forcing me to spend quite a bit of time arguing with Google Translate before discovering a more recent and more friendly edition (by John E. Woods) online. (NOTE: For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading this book alternately with the Lovecraft collection and they went surprisingly well together. I have no idea what that means.) (LC Score: +1)


Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief by Dorothy Gilman

This 10th entry in the Mrs. Pollifax spy series — think Miss Marple, CIA agent — has, as usual, a faintly ridiculous plot (set in Sicily this time around), but makes a delightful change from tentacled monsters and German consumptives. (LC Score: +1)





The Rose-Garden Husband by Margaret Widdemer

I think I picked this up based on Amy’s recommendation — and it is indeed a charming little romance, once you get past the racism, which is still kind of charming. (At least compared to Lovecraft.) (LC Score: 0, read on Kindle)




The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell

Russell, burnt out from her high-powered London life, moves to Denmark after her husband gets a job at Lego. This is the memoir of her “Danish happiness project”, investigating the claim that Danes are the world’s happiest people and trying to figure out why. I’ve had this book on hold since I read a similar travel memoir — The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth — but apparently the idea of moving to Denmark strikes a nerve with my fellow metro Atlantans, because I had to wait months for it to become available. I was reminded of the very similar (but non-Danish) The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and of the two Scandinavian memoirs I think I preferred the Booth book, but it’s still an entertaining read. It left me with NO desire to move to Denmark, however. (LC Score: +1⁄2, loses half a point because I returned it overdue)


Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux

I love a literary biography, especially of a female writer, but it’s unusual for me to read one about an author I’ve never heard of or read before. Woolson is primarily known today for her close friendship with Henry James, but in her time she achieved both popular success and critical acclaim. While the reviews of the day hailed her as a permanent addition to the American literary canon, my library doesn’t even have copies of all her major works, though it carries several biographies that (no doubt) emphasize her relationship with James and her death by probable suicide in Venice, proving that fame is fleeting but gossip is forever. (LC Score: +1)


Georgia Odyssey: A Short History of the State by James C. Cobb

I grew up in Florida, so while I learned how to pronounce Ponce de Leon correctly (hint to fellow Atlantans: ‘ponts-dee-lee-on’ is not the usual way to say the name of that street downtown where the Kripsy Kreme is located), I don’t know much about Georgia history. As I’m going to be teaching a class on the history of my adopted state in the fall, I’ve started reading up and have learned that most of Georgia history can be subtitled “Don’t Be Bringin’ Any of That Yankee Nonsense Down Here.” After reading a couple of volumes heavy on cotton crop statistics and making my way through all 1,037 pages of Gone With the Wind, it was wonderful to discover this lively and surprisingly entertaining history by native Georgian and UGA professor James Cobb. At just under 200 pages, it lives up to its title’s promise, but Cobb packs a lot in there. (LC Score: +1)

Library Chicken Score for 4/14/17: 5 1⁄2


On the to-read stack for next week:

Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars: The Story of America’s Most Unlikely Abolitionist by Catherine Clinton (for the Georgia class)

Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White (reread for the Georgia class)

Fanny Burney: A Biography by Claire Harman (because it’s the week of Fanny, I guess?)

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (because I’m gonna need some space opera after spending all that time in Georgia)