November 2011 Reads

I never got around to posting my November Reads in December (most hectic month ever), so just pretend that I posted this a few weeks ago. Great.

For those of you that haven’t been following along, I’m working my way through those color stacks in the pictures behind me, trying to read every book I own that I haven’t read (see other monthly reads posts here. Trouble is, I keep buying new books. Or receiving them (thanks, Bev!). So It’s kind of hard to call a color stack done. Thus the mix of colors going on here.

In addition to books from my color stacks, I also usually have some additional non-fiction going on. I decided to forgo reading a book about writing/editing/language this month because they inspire me to work (on the novel that will never be finished) and I didn’t have the time. It would be like reading a book about chocolate when you’re on a diet. No thanks. I did start in on another textbook, though. Which I kind of think is embarrassing, but this blog is called the Nerd Nest after all. I’m embracing it.

November 2011 Reads

Here’s what I read this month.

How to Be Good

How to Be Good 2001 by Nick Hornby

What you need to know: Easily on my top five book form this year. Probably on my top 20 books ever.

I love Nick Hornby. I may have gone on a Hornby buying spree at Prospero’s (goodbye, store credit) because Hornby very well be my favorite living author now that Vonnegut kicked the bucket, but I’m uncomfortable saying that for sure until I’ve read the his oeuvre. Just like I’d never say that a band was my favorite unless I’d heard all of their albums – one of them could be god awful, and what kind of fan would I be if I didn’t know? Anywho, High Fedility and About a Boy are up there on the books I love list (the movies are great too) and an Education (Horby’s first screenplay) was an awesome movie. This book is right up there: it did not disappoint.

Horby is known as the contemporary master of the male confessional, but this book proves that he understands women just as well. From the cover and such, I thought that this novel would be about a woman trying to hold a disappointing marriage together. While that was partially the case, and Hornby accomplished the impossible by making this topic both realistic and hilarious, the book was so much more than that. It challenges the liberal belief system of the upper middle class. Some of the characters realize that the humanitarian values of the left don’t match with the lifestyle they live and try to convince everyone to walk the talk. But it’s funny, really. Brilliant. Thought provoking. Highly recommended.

And now for a quote: “The moral education of my children has always been important to me. I have talked to them about the Health Service, and about the importance of Nelson Mendela; we’ve discussed the homeless, of course, and racism, and sexism, and poverty, and money, and fairness… Now I see that [my daughter] is a stinking patrician Lady Bountiful who in twenty years’ time will be sitting on the committee of some revolting charity ball in Warwickshire, moaning about refugees and giving her unwanted pashminas to her cleaning lady.”

The Conspiracy Club

The Conspiracy Club (2003) by Jonathan Kellerman

What you need to know: May very well be the worst book I’ve read this year. I’m trading it in at the first opportunity.

This was the wrong book to read right after reading A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation in October. Kellerman’s style is elementary – he uses short sentences and chapters to fool the reader into thinking the plot is fast paced when there’s really nothing going on. Kellerman spends a disproportionate time on things that don’t matter to the plot or characterization (the longest and most detailed scene in the book was not anything to do with the killer, but a fancy dinner with a bunch of elderly conspiracy buffs). For a murder mystery, it’s pretty lame.

Also, the narrator is pretty much emotionally void.

If it didn’t bother me so much to stop in the middle of the book, I wouldn’t have finished it. I have no idea how this guy’s novels are consistently on the best seller list. (I chose the quote below because the use of the word banal really bothered me. Not the right word there. You know what actually is banal? This guy’s writing, that’s what.)

And now for a quote: “Dergraav’s second reign of murder lasted another decade. In the end, he was snared by the most banal of circumstances. The screams of a prostitute he was attempting to asphyxiate attracted a gang of hoodlums from the neighboring slum, and Dergraav fled into the night… she reported the doctor to the police.”

The Nine Tailors

The Nine Tailors (1934) by Dorothy L. Sayers

What you need to know: Interesting setting and characters at times, but undeniably over-detailed and dull.

This one of last of the 10 mystery classics I thrifted last April. I love that I found these, even though some of them seem really predictable because they set industry standards and have been copied so much. The authors and characters have popped up as allusions in other books I’ve read this year.

The Nine Tailors (which refers to church bells, not a bunch of sewing guys) drags in places and seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time on weird things (it’s sort of interesting, but do I really need to know a history of change-ringing?). At least everything ends up being important, even if it doesn’t seem so at the time (which is more than I can say for some contemporary murder mysteries *cough* The Conspiracy Club *cough*).

Lord Peter Wimsey, the hobbyist sleuth in the book and the central character in Sayer’s mystery series (of which this book is a part), was dull in comparison to the protagonists in the other mystery classics. The ending is surprising, which was nice, but unbelievable at parts (as in not realistic; not as in “unbelievably awesome”). It’s kind of cool that there are two intersecting mysteries going on at once (an emerald necklace theft and a murder), but it almost seems as if the mysteries aren’t the main focus of the plot. I didn’t hate every second of reading this, but the likelyhood that I’ll re-read it in the future is low (i.e. don’t rush out to the stores to buy it).

And now for a quote: “By contrast with the brilliance below, the bell-chamber was sombre and almost menacing. The main lights of its eight great windows were darkened throughout their height only through the slender paneled tracery about the slanting louvres the sunlight dripped rare and chill, striping the heavy beams of the bellcage with bars and splashes of pallid gold, and making a curious fantastic patterning on the spokes and rims of the wheels. The bells, with mute black mouths gaping downwards, brooded in their ancient places.”

Half Broke Horses

Half Broke Horses (2009) by Jeannette Walls

What you need to know: Best sort of biography ever.

I loved this book so much! Wells calls it a “true-life novel” because it is both a novel and a biography on her no-nonsense, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do what needs to be done grandmother. Wells wanted to write the novel in the first person in order to capture her grandmother’s distinct voice, which made the work so much more captivating. And don’t let the biography part fool you- this thing is action packed from the very first page during which a flash flood almost kills Lily and her siblings.

I also loved the honesty about the time period: the book shows what it’s really like to live in a dug out (way harder than Little House on the Prairie lets on), how life in the big city for a single gal all alone sucks and is demeaning, how hard it is to keep one’s own values as a teacher, what cowboys were really like, what living on a ranch was like, how to keep up with changing times and technologies, and the difficulties of raising children. And boy, does she do all that with spunk.

And now for a quote: “A distinctly malodorous aroma arose from the hole, and for a moment I missed my snazzy mail order toilet with the shiny white porcelain bowl, the mahogany lid, and the nifty pull-chian flush. As I sat down, though, I realized that you can get so used to certain luxuries that you start to think they’re necessities, but when you have to forgo them, you come to see that you don’t need them after all. There was a big difference between needing things and wanting things- – though a lot of people had trouble telling the two apart — and at the ranch, I could see, we’d have pretty much everything we’d need but precious little else.

Next to the seat was a stack of Sears, Roebuck catalogs, and I picked one up and leafed through it. I came to a page advertising silk bodices and lacy chemises. I won’t be ordering from this page, I thought, and when I was done with my business, that was the one I tore out and used.”

Sociology

Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory (2007) Scott Applerouth and Laura Desfor Edles

What you need to know: One of my favorite textbooks from college. Don’t judge.

Reading two chapters out of a textbook might not sound all that impressive, but those two chapters were 84 pages. Teeny tiny font, multiple column textbook pages. I was really busy during the semester I took Sociological Theory in college, so I got to read the assigned pages in this book but precious little else. Most people forget or sell back their textbooks as soon as a class is over, but I’m going to get my several hundred dollars worth, thank you very much.

I started again on this one because

a) Sociological Theory takes up about 1/4 of the Masters program I’m considering and I feel that reading this will help me reach a decision.

b) This textbook has tons of awesome primary sources at the end of each chapter. Essays that I would buy and read anyway.

c) I miss school and reading is my favorite part of school anyway. Unless I decide I’m going to use said Master’s degree, I can learn everything on my own for free.

Chapter 1 was the introduction chapter, which made me feel as if I’d learned almost nothing in school, and Chapter 2 focused on Karl Marx, one of the two most important figures in Classic Sociology. Reading about Marx was a breeze, but reading original Marx (10 essays and excerpts) when your brain is mostly taken up with keeping Etsy orders straight and talking to children all day is a giant feat. I read those in the few solitary moments this month when my brain was fully functioning. Yay for brain push ups.

And now for a quote: “Though Marx’s prediction that capitalism would be replaced by communism has not come true (some would say, “not yet”), his critique of capitalism continues to resonate with contemporary society. His discussions regarding the concentration of wealth, the growth of monopoly capitalism, business’s greedy pursuit of profit (demonstrated, for instance, by the recent scandals surrounding corporate accounting practices and the manipulation of energy markets by Enron), the relationship between government economic policy and the interests of the capitalist class, and the alienation experienced in the workplace all speak to concerns that affect most everyone even today.”

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? What have you read lately?

November2011  Reads

P.S. Jake took these pictures while also talking with one of the puppets we got for Jonas for his birthday, so most of the pictures looked a lot more like the one above. What a goof.