Monday, 15 January 2018

Quick Lit January 2018

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy for quick reviews of current reading.

I finished up my first year of reading intentionally since giving up my job teaching literature (which consumed most of my reading time), and also the first year of logging the books I read (I can't believe I've never tried this before). Since you asked, I read 27 books, 14 of which were non-fiction. This surprised me, because I would have said I was a fiction reader. However, I noticed that I began mostly with non-fiction, and got heavily into fiction in the second half of the year. My self analysis is that I had to get my toe back into the water, and it's easier to guess which non fiction will appeal than to risk time on a novel that might disappoint.

So, a pat on the back to myself, and launching into this past month...

George Saunders - Lincoln in the Bardo
Many years back, I began a tradition of giving my children a gift on Epiphany to mark the last day of Christmas, and it soon morphed into a book-giving occasion. I bought this for my elder daughter, but read it before handing it on. The story takes place during one night, in a graveyard peopled by ghosts who for one reason or another cannot pass to the next life. Enter the ghost of Willie Lincoln, the young son of President Abraham Lincoln, who is held back by his distraught father's inability to accept his death. In a chorus of voices that reminded me of a Greek play, Abraham Lincoln's night of personal and political crisis, and the battle for Willie's soul, is woven into the story of Americans across time, class and race. If you like an experimental read now and again (or more often), you might well enjoy it. I confess to being surprised that it was so spiritual and uplifting, because somehow I expected nihilism or solipsism from a prize-winning novel (it got the Man Booker this year).

Rod Dreher - How Dante Can Save Your Life
American Conservative editor Dreher tells the story of how his failed return home led into a spiral of depression and debilitating auto-immune disease - and how The Divine Comedy became one of the counsellors who helped him back on the path to health and sanity. I started off feeling that this was a light read (despite the subject matter), but by the end I found myself quite uncomfortable as I applied Dante's vision to my own life (even though I had read the Comedy before). Inconsequentially, this was the first ebook I read on my new, larger phone, which I chose with reading in mind - and it was a much better experience.

Courtney Carver - Soulful Simplicity: How living with less can lead to so much more
I don't often buy a first book by an author - I'm pretty cautious in my reading choices (see above!) - but I've been reading Courtney's blog, Be More With Less, for some time now. This is much more than the how-to book I expected, though she does offer many practical suggestions for simplifying your life. Instead, she mainly tells her story from her heart and encourages you to use her story as a guide to examine your own life. A gentler take on minimalism.

Since January Quick Lit covers most of Advent and Christmas for us, my little guy and I have been soaking up a book that's been on our shelf for years: Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury. This contains seven of her best winter/ Christmas stories. It includes traditional tales such as The Night before Christmas and The Twelve Day of Christmas, retellings of folk tales such as The Mitten (get ready to make a big bear sneeze) and original stories with a folk feel, such as The Trouble with Trolls. The stories are intended for children a little older than my toddler, but most were accessible to him this year. It's a huge book to hold on your lap, but the Scandinavian-inspired illustrations are gorgeous, and most stories have a sub plot going on in the marginal illustrations. It's a perfect Christmas coffee table book, too.

Julia Donaldson - Room on the Broom
This was my two-year old's Epiphany book. I snatched up this board book version at a second hand book store while in Texas for Thanksgiving. Another winner from the creator of the Gruffalo. A witch flies through a gathering storm, losing her belongings left and right. She has room on the broom for every creature who comes to her aid, and friendship pays off when a hungry dragon flies onto the scene...
Pet peeve time: the original UK version has been changed in places. It always annoys me that publishers think that children can't cope with a word or two from another English-speaking country. Most would just think something like, "'Plait' is another word for 'braid'. Okay. Next page." Stop dumbing down toddler literature, I say!

The bravest literary thing I did this month was to choose an Epiphany book for my teenager without consulting her - she's going through a phase where apparently my taste is nothing but bad. I bought the new John Green YA novel, Turtles All the Way Down, because I know she's read more than one of his books and I thought she'd identity with one of the main characters. I spotted evidence that she started reading it, but I'm afraid to ask her opinion yet.

Hope the new year is going well for all. I'm going to try the Modern Mrs Darcy 2018 Reading Challenge to keep me reading during what is going to be a full year (we're moving - maybe more on that in the blog another time). Stay cosy and enjoy reading!