Bookworm

Lately

Daniel

This is the reason I've been able to get so much reading done lately. Can you tell? It's a sandbox filled with water. My god, it keeps him happy for hours at a time. Hours, I said. On nice days, anyway. So I just get out a lawn chair and sit there with my book while he splashes and digs and fills and empties and swirls.

So, next on the list of Penguin Classics is Esther, by Henry Adams. While I'm waiting for an inter-library loan copy I've been browsing the shelves near the thingy in the new library building. Next time we go I will try to remember to bring the camera so you can see this incredible thingy for yourself. You may recall from a previous post that the library designers had the wonderful foresight to place this Contraption That Is Toddler Heaven right smack in the middle of the adult area, thus enabling me to browse happily while my toddler plays happily.

The shelf that is closest to the contraption -- where I need to be if there are other toddlers around because, I'm sorry to say, Daniel requires a bit of supervision when he's not by himself -- is between the end of the mystery section and the beginning of the regular adult section. This explains why I recently read that dumb mystery by Jennifer Weiner. (Can't find the post to link to my one-sentence scathing review, can't remember the title, the book was stupid, trust me.) This explains why I recently read something by T.C. Boyle. And a few more -- you'll notice the alphabetical pattern, I'm sure.

The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant. Disappointing, to say the least. I expected great things from this book that's been hyped up so much. Let's just say . . . if you haven't outgrown your adolescent passion for The Mists of Avalon you'll probably love this, too.

My Life as a Fake, by Peter Carey. I'm not very far into it (several days in a row of rain) but I like it so far. I loved The True Adventures of the Ned Kelly Gang, which I understand is being made into a movie. This one appears to fall into the same genre as Loitering With Intent, for all you Muriel Spark fans out there: it's a novel about authors, the nature of fiction, writing, etc. It's a beautiful book, by the way. Alfred A. Knopf. Slightly unusual page size: narrow, for its height. I love Alfred A. Knopf.

Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett. A foray into the world of short stories. Ordinarily not my favorite place, but this just looked too good. Believe it or not, these stories all revolve around eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientists. Story number one -- hold on to your hats, ladies! -- features Gregor Mendel. Be still, my heart! Carl Linnaeus features prominently, too. Did you know he believed that swallows spent the winter under water? And other naturalists of the time believed they wintered over on the moon? Here's a brief quote from the beginning of the first story, which sets the tone for the whole book:
When Richard reached this point, he would look toward the back of the room and catch my eye and smile. He knew that I knew what was in store for the students at the end of the semester. After they'd read the paper and survived the labs where fruit flies bred in tubes and displayed the principles of Mendelian inheritance, Richard would tell them the other Mendel story. The one I told him, in which Mendel is led astray by a condescending fellow scientist and the behavior of the hawkweeds. The one in which science is not just unappreciated, but bent by loneliness and longing.

Science, bent by loneliness and longing. Wow!

Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood. Actually, this is sort of funny. I got the idea to read it because I saw it at the library, though the copy I read was one I had at home. It's from the U-Mich library, and my dad checked it out for me (can't remember why) ten years ago. Ten years ago! The reason I know this is because that was before the barcode days. It has an actual flap with a date stamp. Every few years Bookworm Dad calls me up and asks me about it. He's a prof, so no overdue fines, just polite reminders. And every time he asks I tell him I haven't read it yet. Well, Pops, I finally read it, and I'll bring it when I come for lunch next Thursday. :)

Cat's Eye was a good read, and it had several elements designed to warm my bookwormy heart. I liked the structure of the novel: middle-aged woman artist is getting ready for her first "retrospective" show. Scenes of her coming to town to get ready for the show are interspersed with memories of her unhappy childhood and adolescence. So, it's a retrospective on two levels. Nice! Even better, there are plenty of descriptions of her paintings, which are attempts to understand and resolve her childhood experiences -- the third level of retrospective. Nice! What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies is my high watermark for "writing about painting," and Cat's Eye is almost as good in that respect. What I didn't like? Well, I didn't really like any of the characters. The childhood scenes were painful to read. The adult scenes of this woman who worries so deeply what others think of her (what should she wear to the opening? ack!) were equally painful.

Brought to you by Green Turtle.

14 Comments:

  • I'll be interested to see what you think of the Adams -- I've never read him. It sounds like you had a lot of fun with these books! I didn't like The Red Tent either.

    posted by Blogger Dorothy W. on 8:13 AM  

  • I hated Red Tent with a somewhat insane vehemence. Some folks in my book group liked it, and I must say they tollerated my foaming at the mouth quite well. There are so many things that provoked my ire about the book that it is not worth starting the rant (or I may never stop...). Maybe if I see you at the pool and start to rant about it you could splash me in the face to get me to stop.

    And I LOVE Ship Fever--it is on my top ten favorite books of all time. I liked her two novels--Servants of the Map and The Voyage of the Narwhal--which also incorporated natural history and science into the plots, but they didn't hit me with the impact of the short stories.

    posted by Blogger Kate on 8:35 AM  

  • I agree about the childhood scenes from Cat's Eye. Such cruelty meted out by children is almost too painful to read. Have you read Atwood's The Robber Bride? The antagonist in that book would have fit very well in Cat's Eye!

    posted by Blogger Suzanne on 9:33 AM  

  • Maybe I should feed my adolescent passion by reading The Mists of Avalon because I really liked The Red Tent.

    posted by Blogger Marg on 4:21 PM  

  • That picture is Too Cute.

    posted by Anonymous Ella on 5:18 PM  

  • He looks like one very happy camper!

    posted by Blogger GuusjeM on 10:59 PM  

  • He's really growing! I enjoyed your reviews. :)

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 11:19 PM  

  • I'm listening to a series of lectures by a history prof at Penn concerned with the lives of exemplary figures in the 18th century. In the lecture about Samuel Johnson, he said that if his house were on fire, the one book he'd save is SJ's Lives of the Poets

    posted by Anonymous Father worm on 9:11 PM  

  • You say that part about adolescent passion and The Mists of Avalon like it's a bad thing?

    posted by Blogger Carson on 12:16 AM  

  • I'm joining many of the above readers in saying I hated The Red Tent. Ugh. But I liked Ship Fever.And I read Cat's Eye too long ago to remember anything about it. I will have to go back to it at some point, but I find scenes of childhood cruelty almost intolerable. They bring back too much of my own childhood experience.

    posted by Blogger Martha on 12:25 PM  

  • I love that sandpit/water thing.
    Can't do it here easily 'cos of
    1) water restrictions for the last few summers
    2) crazy sun/ozone layer interface

    I envy you.

    posted by Blogger Mummy/Crit on 7:57 AM  

  • Hi Bookworm! I happened by the Bookworm family last week in my car as you were all biking to, I assume, Dairy Queen! Don't you love DQ? I was reading your list of recent finds at the new library that, sadly, I haven't visited yet, and saw you are reading Peter Carey, one of my favorites. I think I have his "The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith" in my sidebar. I picked it up on our honeymoon in England at the airport bookstore. It was a totally random selection that turned out delightfully. It was very frustrating after that to go to the bookstore and look for other books by him because there weren't any! Now, of course, you can find a few.

    And! Love, love, love Roberston Davies!

    posted by Anonymous Nixie Knox on 8:53 AM  

  • Wow - you sure can read!

    We used to be so amused seeing how much fun our kids had in the little pools. Now that we have a big pool,. they rarely use it. Go figure.

    posted by Blogger Fred on 9:57 AM  

  • Oh, they already made and released "Ned Kelly" movie--it stars Heath Ledger (pre-Brokeback fame) and is pretty darn bad. It's too bad because I too liked the book.

    posted by Blogger hip_ragdoll on 12:11 PM