Books I have read lately

Since last time. And since last time was late in September, this is going to be a long, but quick and dirty, list. I felt like I’d fallen down on my reading lately, but maybe not: 47 books in about three months. I think my malaise comes from the fact that I was disappointed a number of times. I realized while reading this how fatigued I’ve become with the “social message” novel. I feel like a lot of people whose work was recommended this time around set out to write a novel “about” something. After flooding myself with so much reading this year, I’m really looking for complex, honest, point-blank stories that are memorable and jar my worldview, and I didn’t find too many of those in the places I was recommended to look. I think I may need to go back to reading more non-U.S. literature. It’s clear the U.S. literary press is currently recommending a certain kind of book that sometimes hits the mark for me and but often doesn’t.

I’m going to have to find a different strategy for 2018, because there are still 160 books I wanted to read in 2017 and didn’t.

I’ve also got some separate reviews coming for books that Richard Armitage has mentioned recently.


Strongly recommended, in no particular order

Karl Geary, Montpelier Parade. A short novel about a poor boy growing up in an unhappy family in 1980s Dublin. When he meets an older woman, his infatuation with her twists his life. Recommended by Catapult. Loved this one and still think about it sometimes: it does an amazing job of rebuilding the atmosphere of Dublin almost forty years ago, so even though I’ve never been there I felt like I “got” the city after this novel. Also effective in its portrayal of the often inchoate reactions of the adolescent male. Major negative: written in second person. Jay McInerney did that once and it was enough. It’s so good that I was able to get past that problem, though.

Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed. A “modern classic” (1986??) that was recently reprinted; I saw a review in the Guardian. It’s a sort of anthropology of eating in Tuscany, an exhaustive compendium of how Tuscans eat / ate when Gray was living there, i.e., a cookbook you can read. I adored it. Would make a great gift for a foodie friend.

Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire. A romance between the daughter of a traditional Pakistani family and the son of an assimilated Muslim family in London causes a political crisis. Read because of NBK’s “Booker Long List” reading project. Story is told from the viewpoint of five different characters and ranges from Raqqa to Boston and Pakistan. Each character is finely and sympathetically drawn, each setting made precise with just the right amount of convincing detail worked in. Best part for me would spoil the novel for you, so I’ll stop there, but the plot moves with a spellbinding pace to its end.

Jenny Erpenbeck, Gehen, ging, gegangen (2015), published in English this year as Go, Went, Gone. A retired Classics professor in Berlin becomes involved with a group of refugees demonstrating at the Alexanderplatz. I read it in the original, a gift from a German friend. Aside from the stories of the refugee experience in Berlin, I liked the way the plot wove together the professor’s reflections about the German past (he was a refugee himself as a child in the closing days of WWII, then a scholar in the GDR, and then in united Germany) with cultural questions about how the refugees will deal with their experiences. If I could recommend one book to Richard Armitage this year, this would be it.

Robin Sloan, Sourdough. An overworked software engineer in San Francisco is given a sourdough starter as a parting gift by two brothers of undetermined ethnicity whose takeout restaurant she’s become dependent on. When she begins baking bread from it, it takes over her life. This was the funniest novel I’ve read in a long time. OK, I might recommend this one to Richard Armitage, too, just for the fun of it.

Sasha Abramsky, The House of Twenty Thousand Books. Recommended somewhere in the literary press (don’t remember where, though). Abramsky discusses the library of his (late) grandfather, Chimen Abramsky, providing vignettes of his and his family’s life in various contexts that correspond to the collection, from the vanished world of Torah scholars and London socialists to rare book / Hebraica specialists and Jewish studies and history scholarship. I went through a phase about fifteen years ago of reading the memoirs of book collectors, and this reminded me pleasantly of that. Very accessible despite the many different phases of the senior Abramsky’s collection and the complex contexts that have to be explained; one of the pleasing things about Jewish history for me is how many different elements and cross-sections it integrates.

Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights. A novel as memoir originally published in 2001; a woman looks back at her life in the twentieth century. Discussed in the literary press due to reprint editions of some her work. Gorgeously beautiful prose, complex reflection, and no fear of making the protagonist prickly or unlikable — but no plot. However, I’m certifiably addicted to Hardwick now and the rest of her books, such as the library has, have come home with me.

Daniel Mendelssohn, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic. Loved it. Referred to in this post. I also recommend his book The Lost (on the Holocaust).

Sarah Perry, After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search. Recommended in the literary press. The author, whose mother was killed when she was a preteen but not brought to justice until she was an adult, tells the story of her mother’s life, her life, her mother’s murder, and the search for justice. More than anything it’s a narrative of her struggle to integrate different sore points in her history with the life she’s chosen for herself. This could have been cheesy true crime, but instead it offers a sophisticated reflection on identity and way the past eats its way into the present, along with some effective milieu studies.

Rachel Cusk: Aftermath. Found on a list of recommended feminist books. Brief personal memoir of the novelist’s separation from her husband, divorce, and the consequences. What she writes is so self-pity-less and the author has no fear of making herself unlikable at all. I loved her unabashed statements about the custody issue (something she was heavily criticized for in the press). She forms some narratives in the shape of Greek tragedies, which sounds contrived when described that way, but is really deft and was totally convincing to me, anyway. The ending (a short story) was a little strange, but otherwise this impressed me just as much as her recent novels have.

Rob Sheffield, Dreaming the Beatles: A Love Story of One Band and the Whole World. Recommended by my friend, the musicologist. This book is a description of various elements of the band’s music from the perspective of what they meant to their audiences at the time they appeared, and then later, in short chapters. I don’t think I could have gotten through a detailed study of the band, but this was really delightful. Smart: it discussed how different the Beatles sounded from the 80s and later than they did at the time, and this was what connected me to the book, as the author discussed Beatles covers, including the one that introduced me to the band (“Stars on 45,” I admit with embarrassment). A fun read.

Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen Every Day. Earlier this month, I was on a hunt for cookbooks I could give to the nieces — and ultimately decided their needs were still at the Betty Crocker level. However, of all the cookbooks I previewed, this is the one I most would have wanted to give as a gift to a young woman with intermediate skills. I’m not a regular reader of the blog, but the book comes the closest to the sensibility that I like to achieve in my own cooking, which is that it should be purpose-built, delightful, use the best ingredients at one’s disposal, but be a chore or pretentious. To me, cooking is an art in which even a very little independent effort can bring big rewards and this book demonstrates that in every recipe.

Bernard McLaverty, Midwinter Break. Recommended to me on the library page; McLaverty is an important Irish writer although I ignorantly hadn’t heard of him. A staid Irish couple take a midwinter trip to Amsterdam and come to terms with their increasingly conflicted marriage — with gradually more earth-shattering plot revelations. One thing that’s interesting about this book is the way the prose reflects the brittle quality of their relationship. There are also conflicts over religion and alcohol consumption, which drew me in. But in a year where five of my close friends announced their intention to divorce and/or divorced, I spent a lot of time wondering what keeps a lengthy marriage together, and this book offers a prosaic, straightforward reflection on that topic.

David Yaffe, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell. Recommended by my friend the musicologist. Not an exhaustive biography of Mitchell, but effectively combines song analysis with discussion of her life and relationships. I was not super familiar with Mitchell’s work, and I suspect that you would get more from this book than I did if you were. What held me: Yaffe is clearly a fan, but he doesn’t ever hold back from an honest portrayal of his subject even when she’s not behaving especially well. I didn’t like Mitchell after reading this, but I felt like I learned who she is, which is what I really want from any biography.

Recommended; also not a ranking

Lily Tuck, Sisters. Recommended in the literary press. A second wife is obsessed with, and surrounded by reflections and memories of, her husband’s first wife. Probably the most elegant thing I read in this space of time, more spare than the Elizabeth Hardwick novel above. The plot reminded me slightly of Sleepwalker, in that the narrator is unreliable and we’re confronted with very exact but conflicting details and difficulties in interpreting what’s real. A short, suspenseful, spooky read.

Ann Cleeves, Blue Lightning; Dead Water; Thin Air. Continuations of the Shetland / Jimmy Perez series of crime novels I started last time. They continue to be excellent. I think there’s one more in the stack.

Tom Perotta, Mrs. Fletcher. On the bestseller list. What happens to a mother and her son when the latter goes to college, and each encounters the new rules in a sexual scene s/he wasn’t expecting. I mostly enjoyed this, even though it relies to some extent on caricature of college students; it involved some wry reflection on an alleged sexual assault that I thought was accurate even if disturbing. I think that will make you love the book or hate it — that the plot turns on the one thing the mom fails to tell her son. Recommended.

Louise Penny, Glass Houses. The latest entry in her on-going Inspector Gamache series, this one puts Gamache in a serious ethical dilemma as he tries to address the drug traffic in Quebec. Sometimes the philosophical posturing gets a bit heavy-handed, and it’s not the best one in the series, not least because it makes up some history that’s not remotely plausible, but this book was on a number “best of” lists for 2017 and I would agree the characters make it still worth it. If you haven’t read any of these novels, my favorite is Bury Your Dead (2010).

Zoe Whittall, The Best Kind of People. Recommended on the local library page. When a private school teacher widely held to be a hero is charged with sexual abuse by a student, an affluent family unravels as it confronts its past. A “secrets come back to haunt us” piece that touches on the ways in which the question of age difference of sexual partners affects the gay community differently than the straight one with reasonably realistic characters and a way of turning predictable plot elements into interesting or wry moments.

Phillip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage. On every bestseller list. This is a “prequel” to Pullman’s famous His Dark Materials series, which I admired. This is a very strong book, but it didn’t transmit the fascination to me that the original three books did. Nonetheless, a compelling read on its own merits and you can certainly read it without having read the other books.

Val McDermid, Insidious Intent. The latest book in McDermid’s Carol Jordan / Tony Hill series (a police inspector and a very damaged criminal profiler in a star-crossed friendship). I get the feeling that McDermid is tiring of these characters, but I’ll probably be along for every outing of this interesting and contradictory couple. I thought the crime itself was extremely well constructed in this novel — one of the rare times that I think it makes sense to let the reader know from the beginning who the criminal is — but I didn’t buy the ending. Which I won’t discuss with you, because McDermid included an epilogue asking no one writing about the book to reveal it. Tant pis, you’ll have to read it yourself.

Julia Turshen, Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs. Also previewed on my attempt to find a cookbook appropriate for my nieces. It had a lot of good press, including an enthusiastic blurb from Ina Garten. But I felt like the small victories, on the whole, were for people who were comparing themselves to great chefs. And there was a weird, pushy tone about the writing that would have been more appropriate to a diet cookbook than something that was supposed to make you feel accomplished. Can a cookbook be pushy? In any case, recommended if your skills are above average and you’re looking for permission to coast a little.

John Green, Turtles All the Way Down. Automatic bestseller from the second it was published, as his previous YA novels have been so successful. Read because the nieces were reading it. A lower middle-class teenager and her best friend investigate the disappearance of a wealthy friend’s father, while navigating the general problems of being a teenager. The plot was not especially convincing, and I didn’t really believe that the main characters spoke like teens, but I think the book does a really good job of describing and making intelligible the spiraling mind of an anxiety attack. We all liked it.

Alice McDermott, The Ninth Hour. On bestseller lists and recommended in the literary press. In the early twentieth century, a struggling Brooklyn laborer with a pregnant wife commits suicide. The story and its aftermath are told from the perspective of their descendants. This is typical McDermott; all of her stuff that I’ve read plays in twentieth-century Catholic Brooklyn. Lots of reflection on love, sacrifice, guilt, and sin. Subtle female characters. A realistic picture of nuns. Surprise ending. A sort of warmer version of Alice Munro.

Recommended if the topic interests you

Scotty Bowers, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. This book is a bit older. I came to it because a former colleague of mine wrote a book on the Lavender Scare, which served as the basis of a film that premiered at TIFF this fall, where a documentary about Scotty Bowers also premiered (Bowers is quite old), and so I witnessed an interesting FB discussion about whether various scholars who’d been studying the history of sex in the U.S. believed Bowers or not, thus leading me to this book. It’s a running account of Bowers’ efforts at finding and participating in desired sexual experiences for members of the Hollywood elite in the years of classic cinema, interspersed with chapters about the trajectory of his own sex life, beginning with something that I would call child abuse (although Bowers doesn’t see it that way) at the hands of a neighbor during the Depression years. Bowers definitely kisses and tells, although I think everyone discussed in the book is either dead or out, and with a lot of detail about individual sexual preferences. I don’t know how much of it I believed, although some of it corroborates other information that’s emerged in the last several years. But it’s certainly entertaining, and it definitely made me think about the ways in which humans define their sexual preferences. Since Bowers has no problem with the word “queen,” I’ll say the book is like listening to several hundred pages of “queen” gossip.

Astrid Lindgren, War Diaries 1939-1945. An edited version of the war-era journals of the famous author of the Pippi Longstocking books. Read because NBK enjoyed them. I agreed with her that it’s interesting to read a narrative of the war written from the perspective of a neutral country. I also thought it was interesting to read how Europe looked to someone from Sweden, as opposed to (say) a western European or a German or Pole. I was frustrated though, because the diaries frequently refer to events in newspaper articles that Lindgren had clipped and placed in the diary, and these are referred to only tangentially. I would have liked to have seen the articles. Also, you will have to make reference to the dramatis personae at the end of the book frequently unless you’re very up on Lindgren’s family and contacts. It was an interesting read, but recommended chiefly to lovers of Lindgren’s books.

John Palmer, How to Brew. Stumbled across it on the new book shelf at the local library. Impressive assembly of knowledge presented by an expert, and I learned a lot about the chemistry of beer, and why it tastes the way it does, but my most important takeaway was that I’d still rather buy and drink someone else’s than brew my own. Recommended to chemistry lovers and brewer wannabes.

Kathy Flanigan, Beer Lover’s Wisconsin. Heard it recommended on a local public radio show. What it says on the tin — guidebook to local breweries and brews interesting primarily to people in the state or traveling through it. Comprehensive, up-to-date, and based on the places where my knowledge intersects with hers, this lady really knows her beer.

Benjamin Rachlin, Ghost of the Innocent Man. Traces the case of Willie Grimes, an individual wrongly imprisoned for violent rape on the basis of eyewitness testimony solicited through Crimestoppers, and his attempts to redress his grievances. The book highlights the work of a the North Carolina Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. Grimes was freed and exonerated in 2012. This would probably be interesting to you if you didn’t know anything about the subject; what most readers liked about it — its emotional tone — frustrated me. But the narrative is solid, even if some of the historical context is thin. This was on the local library’s list of recommendations.

Suzy Hansen, Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World. Not sure how I ran across this recommendation. An American journalist gets a fellowship to move to Istanbul; the book’s a travelogue and a description of how a part of the outside world sees the U.S. I was bemused, insofar as she seemed surprised that not everyone loves America the way Americans do. Some of us learned that lesson when we were twenty, and there’s a sense in which everyone who’s abroad for the first time (over-)assimilates the perspective of the land they’ve become infatuated with. I kind of rushed through the parts about how Turks see the U.S. and more closely read the parts where she talked about Turkey and Turkish history.

James Atlas, The Shadow in the Garden: A Biographer’s Tale. The prize-crowned biographer of Delmore Schwartz and Saul Bellow reflects and recollects on the topic of writing biography. Recommended in the literary press, and Delmore Schwartz is one of my favorite twentieth-century U.S. poets. I skipped the general reflections about biography (I’ve read Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne and Boswell’s Life of Johnson already, thanks) and read the chapters on Schwartz and Bellow. I think I will probably read his Schwartz biography next, and I guess I’m finally going to read Humboldt’s Gift, but this is so gossipy and little reflective that I can’t imagine you would read it if you weren’t interested in his other writing first.

Zona Gale, Portage, Wisconsin and Other Essays (1928). Sought out because I drove through Portage this summer on my way to see Pilgrimage in the theater, and saw a historical marker for Zona Gale. Charming description of a bygone age and all that. We read one of her short stories in high school, and I plan to seek out more of her work as I try to figure out “Wisconsin lit.”

Peter Manseau, The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost. Recommended on NPR, I think. This was a smart idea for a book. It’s really a history of early photography, but ties in all the weird supernatural beliefs of the Victorian era in the U.S. I didn’t know much about the topic and the book was intriguing and instructive. If you like Erik Larson’s books, you will probably enjoy this.

Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (1957). Everyone’s read this except me, I swear. I don’t know how it evaded me so long, but I saw it on the “staff picks” shelf at the local library one day when I was picking up books. Anyway, as is well known, it’s a satirical novel about university life with an unhappy medieval history lecturer at its core. I occasionally smiled at the university satire, but the main character is so unhappy and misogynist that it was hard for me to enjoy it. Ah, well, I’ve filled in one of those holes in my education.

Linda Gray Sexton, Searching for Mercy Street. Recommended in a list of books on dealing with suicide. The author’s memoir of growing up with her mother, confessional poet Anne Sexton. I loved Sexton when I was a teenager and the book interested me for that reason only. What an unpleasant childhood. Recommended for fans of Sexton and those interested in the important movement that she influenced in the U.S.

Norman van Aken, Norman van Aken’s Florida Kitchen. Was recommended on the local library’s “what to read” page. I was hoping for a book that discussed the history of Florida cuisine; instead I got a compendium of Aken’s Florida-influenced recipes. Recommended for fans of the chef or those with easy access to tropical ingredients and fresh fish / seafood.

Meh / not recommended

Lindsay Hunter, Eat Only When You’re Hungry. Short novel about a middle aged accountant who goes on a road-trip to find his drug-addicted son, who’s disappeared. Heavily praised in the literary press, the book does everything right in telling the story, and I liked the way it dealt with the backstory of the characters structurally. Nonetheless, it did not touch my heart.

Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere. On bestseller lists everywhere. In Shaker Heights, a wealthy suburb in Ohio where everything is “just so,” a bohemian woman and her daughter move in. When a family attempts an interracial adoption, the woman’s attempts to obtain justice for the baby’s birth mother upends the status quo and triggers a search for secrets that ultimately disrupts two families. This was okay — an airplane read with an obvious plot. There were lots of potentially memorable moments in this novel but none of them were looked at with any depth or complexity.

Zinzi Clemmons, What We Lose. Energetically lauded in the literary press. A memoir that shifts between the author’s care for her dying mother, her own struggle with being the African American child of an African mother, and scenes from her mother’s childhood in South Africa. I really wanted to like this, given the theme, but I never found my way into it. I read it before Clemmons dropped her bomb onto the mess around Lena Dunham; I will definitely try some more of her work.

Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give. Read because the nieces were reading it, and they were reading it because it’s on every YA recommended list for the year. I think novels like this are important, and they need to be written and read, especially by girls like my nieces, who got a glimpse into a world unfamiliar to them; I thought the problems the novel presented were honestly and sincerely treated, but in the end, it remained a novel about a problem for me. In any case Thomas is no doubt on her way to more works and I’ll look for more.

Erica Wagner, Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and the Story of the Birthday Letters. The library page recommended this to me. A discussion of the Hughes / Plath mésalliance that attempts to provide context to some of the most self-indulgent of Ted Hughes’ late poems. I broke off halfway through. Plath is one of my heroes, so in this conflict I am definitely Team Plath and Wagner could not stop fawning over Hughes, whose work I think is highly overrated. Especially in the wake of revelations of more definitive evidence that Hughes physically abused Plath, I’ve got no patience for this kind of apologetics at the moment. I recommend you read Diane Middlebrook instead.

Hillary Clinton, What Happened. I blogged about it here.

Naomi Alderman, The Power. Heavily recommended in the literary press. Young women suddenly wake up discovering that they can electrocute people at will. I think this book is getting a lot of attention because of resurgence in attention to The Handmaid’s Tale. I read a fanfic on this topic a few years ago that remained a WIP, but was spookier, sexier, and more emotionally complex. In any case, I broke off reading this book, which did not hold my interest.

Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Excerpted in The Atlantic, read because I’m an LIW fan. Biography / contextualization in history of Wilder’s books and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane’s, efforts to bring them to press. This book is part of the current florescence in Wilder scholarship, but we don’t learn anything new about either Wilder or Lane. The one strength this book has is the contextualization of their stories in the colonization of the U.S. plains and the description of the wars between European settles and Native Americans, which you may not find discussed in much detail elsewhere. But the second half of the book — warning: Fraser cannot stand Rose Wilder Lane — is just rehash. I couldn’t figure out if the epilogue, in which Fraser tries to connect Lane and Wilder to Trump voters — was just a late attempt to garner attention or if she really believes this, but as objectionable as I find Lane’s opinions, and as complex a person as Wilder was, I still don’t buy it. I don’t get why all the LIW scholar crowd hate Lane so much, since it’s pretty clear that none of LIW’s material would have made it press if not for her. And believe me, lots of very liberal women read the books and were not in the least harmed by Wilder’s ethnocentrism or Lane’s libertarianism. Fraser was on a local radio show, and I tried to call in to point out that the book demonizes conservatism in an ahistorical way, but I didn’t make it through the queue. Just as well.

Mary Dougherty, Life in a Northern Town. Heard about it on a radio show, driving home from Thanksgiving dinner. What I was expecting: a book about life on the southern shore of Lake Superior with some discussion of the local cuisine. It’s really just a book about how a foodie from somewhere else moved there and cooks the way she always did. Look, you too can have gnocchi in Bayfield! Whatever.

Matthew Weiner, Heather: The Totality. A book by the producer of The Sopranos and Mad Men (neither of which I watched), recommended in the literary press. A NYC couple constructs the perfect life for their perfect daughter, but their perfect lives are threatened by a stalker. I read this and felt a little dirty — like the book was written by a dirty old man, frankly. I struggle with this, insofar as I’m a fan of realism, but this book is so ostentatiously constructed it’s not realistic. I didn’t like it and thought maybe it was me. Then I learned that Weiner is the objection of harassment allegations, and I thought, yeah, it kind of all fits. Two really sexist TV shows and here’s a book that celebrates sexism, too — this isn’t realism, it’s a prurient satire cloaked in realism. Not for me.

Lavinia Greenlaw, The Importance of Music to Girls. Recommended by my musicologist friend. In short chapters, an English professor of creative writing ponders the significance of particular music at certain points in her life. Although it has the honesty in it that I like, it just never struck a spark with me, even though we had some of the music in common.

~ by Servetus on December 30, 2017.

31 Responses to “Books I have read lately”

  1. I had nearly forgotten about “Gehen, ging, gegangen”, thanks for reminding me. I’m currently reading La Belle Sauvage.


  2. So many interesting recommendations! Ahhh. 😀 Thank you!


  3. Absolutely love your reviews and look forward to the ‘ BIhr lately’ posts . I’m gobsmacked by the number and diversity of the books you devour. Not only do I do a mental ranking of “yes, no, maybe” for myself, but I find gift ideas for many of my bibliophile friends and family. Thanks – and I wish you well in 2018.


  4. Thank you! Looking to hunker down this winter and read/write. This may be what I need to help me through❤ Just releasing 2017 and existing in 2018. Meh.


  5. “I read a fanfic on this topic a few years ago that remained a WIP, but was spookier, sexier, and more emotionally complex.” -> Sorry but do you remember the link ? I’m curious to read it…


  6. I love this posts of yours, but they are not good for my mountain of unread books 😉


    • LOL. Yeah. I really need to decide if I’m going to follow US publishing so closely in 2018. I’m going to have somewhat less available time and there are priorities. I wish there were a better way to know in advance if a book is really worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your posts about the books you consume always give me a massive inferiority complex. I ready very fast, but cannot possibly keep up with you. Thanks for sharing your adventures in reading.


    • I think as I got unhappier this year, the pace picked up. You, on the other hand, got happier and then there was the grandbaby and the hip … you should be reading less than me!


  8. Like Kathy, I can only dream of reading that much! It would be a pleasant dream, as I really like to read too. I’ve earmarked a few of your recommendations for later, so thanks for the suggestions. Out of curiosity, how do you remember enough to write the mini-reviews here? Do you take notes at the time or do you just have a good memory?

    I was just given the Joni Mitchell biography for Christmas by my older son. She was one of my singing/songwriting idols in my teenage years, so I look forward to some of the song analysis. I know that she made some choices that I certainly wouldn’t make, particularly when it came to her daughter, but I’m hoping the book won’t really turn me off of her (like the Carol King biography I read impacted me).


    • For this post, I used the library function that records everything I checked out to compile the titles, and then I just free associated about each book. re: memory — It’s just my memory, so I don’t know how good it is. Average for a former academic, I suppose. There are plenty of things I forget, like when last I had my period and so on.

      re: the biography — I really liked it, but I’m only familiar with the most well known of her songs and I knew practically nothing about her life and only slightly more about her “milieu.” (Talking about it at Thanksgiving, it turned out that one of the dinner guests is friends with her first husband, and it sounded quite a bit from what she said like the picture in the book of him is very accurate.) I was on a bit of a reading kick this year about trying to learn how artists deal with the problems around doing or saying things that hurt others’ feelings, and this book definitely makes that clear. I did not dislike her after reading it, but I didn’t really like her before, and I definitely thought I wouldn’t want to be friends with her.

      So what problematic things has Carol King done?


      • It’s funny about memory, isn’t it? I remember a lot for work, because I have to. But things I do for entertainment don’t stick with me as well. Of course, that means I can re-read books and still be surprised!

        I’m looking forward to the Joni Mitchell biography. So, does that make me 4 degrees separated from Joni? Corresponding with you who met a friend of her ex-husband? Lol. But good to know it seems accurate. And it will be interesting to read how (if?) she makes amends.

        So, Carole King. Hmm. It’s 5 years since I read the book, so it’s a bit hazy. In part, I’m sure it’s something to do with idolizing someone for their work and having an image in my mind that was not accurate. It is an autobiography and reading her voice really turned me off, to the extent that I’ve barely listened to any of her music since. My recollection is that her lifestyle and the way she brought up her children bothered me. They were sometimes left in the care of only a nanny while she went on tour, and sometimes they seemed to be dragged along into whatever love relationship she was involved in. I suppose I should applaud her for finding a way to be so successful while having the primary care of her children. But I don’t know. It just left me with a bad taste.


        • on a similar topic, perhaps of interest:

          I guess ex-Mr. Mitchell is sort of a locally notorious figure in Iowa; perhaps you already know someone who knows him.

          re: Carole King, it seems like the children of famous people are often negatively impacted in some way, or at least there are a lot of stories to that effect. Although there are a lot of children of non-famous people who are neglected, too. It definitely dings one’s picture of them.


  9. […] at the end of the month, at least for a while; otherwise they will get out of hand as they did last time. Given workload, I’m probably done reading non-academic stuff for the month, but if I read […]


  10. […] read this book late last year and postponed a review because I thought I’d write more about the topic. I still may do that, […]


  11. […] novel about how to stop drug trafficking in Quebec. I wrote about my appreciation of this series here. I felt this novel was stronger than the previous one — and really did deal with consequences […]


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