Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Month In The Life: March 2018

And the year is officially one quarter over! Compared to the first couple months of the year, March was pretty calm. My mom's visit wrapped up early in the month, and my husband was out of town a little, but otherwise not much besides celebrating my in-laws' birthdays (like my husband and I, they share a birthday month). A laid-back schedule meant a banner month for me on the reading front, which felt great! I keep acquiring new books to read, so I need to get through the ones I already have.  

In Books...
  • Henry and Cato: Ever since I saw the movie Iris, I wanted to read one of Iris Murdoch's books. This one went on sale for the Kindle, so that's what I went for. It was good, with interesting parallels and themes and well-crafted prose, but it didn't blow my mind. It was good enough to make me want to pick up other things she's written, but it isn't something I'll need a copy of for my own shelf. 
  • Good Omens: I've come to be a big Neil Gaiman fan and this was actually somehow my first encounter with Terry Pratchett, and this has gotten a lot of raves so I went in with high expectations. Which were mostly met! This book is delightfully witty and fun to read. It's not perfect, but it's damn good. 
  • The Martian: I actually think this worked better as a movie? It's solid, don't get me wrong, but on the page the formulaic-ness of the plot (a problem arises, is solved, and then another problem arises, is solved, etc combined with a rescue mission) becomes very obvious. It doesn't mean I didn't like it, but it wasn't outstanding either.
  • Exit West: This was the book club pick for this month, which worked out perfectly because I'd gotten it as my Book of the Month a year ago but hadn't had a chance to read it yet. I was a little wary because magical realism is not something I particularly enjoy, but this was just gorgeously written and strongly rooted in a beautifully portrayed relationship between two young people in a city that's descending into violence. It's a stunning book.
  • Court Justice: As a college football fan (and someone whose husband loved the NCAA football video games), I've been interested in the O'Bannon lawsuit and the ongoing debate about the idea of paying college players, so this book seemed right up my alley. It didn't work, though, for me. The writing was clunky, and it felt like there was more information about O'Bannon's life and career than there was about the lawsuit. I'm sure there's a good book to be written about it all, but this isn't it. 
  • Stiff: I read Roach's Spook last year and enjoyed it, so I went back to read her first book! I learned a lot of really fascinating things about dead people and what happens to them, and my inclination towards organ donation was re-affirmed. 
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: I've been hearing good things about this book for years now, and happily, my recommenders were right! This is a fascinating book, exploring the life of the titular lady (whose cancer cells were the beginning of one of the most widely-used cell lines in the world), medical ethics, and what's become of the children Henrietta left behind when she died at only 31. It's a little uneven in the pacing, but definitely worth reading. 
  • Possession: This book is so dense and rich I'm sure it takes a second or even third reading to really fully appreciate it, but I enjoyed it enough that I'll be happy to return to it someday. Compelling characters and an interesting, nerdy mystery that requires them to find and follow literary clues to solve it? Sold. 
  • Of Human Bondage: Books like this are why I continue to refuse to DNF. About halfway through, I was not really enjoying this character study of a shy, sensitive young man who can't figure out what he wants to do with himself. But by the end, I was glad I stuck by to watch him struggle and grow and change and finally find a kind of happiness. 

In Life...
  • I bought a car: It's actually less exciting than it lease was ending, so I decided to keep the car I've been driving for three years already. But this is the first car I've actually bought and I'm excited that it's mine (well, it's my credit union's, but it's basically mine). 
  • Campaign season begins: Our filing period for candidates for political office opened on March 5 and closed March 16, which meant a lot of time for me with elections offices websites and spreadsheets. Now that who's running for what is all set, primary campaigns begin (including one that my colleagues and I are working on)!

One Thing:

As a lifelong devotee of University of Michigan sports, there is no better place on the internet to read about football, hockey, and this time of year, basketball than MGoBlog! It's been a long time since I was an active commenter, but Brian Cook and his team are the first ones I turn to for analysis and commentary about the Maize and Blue! 

Gratuitous Pug Picture: 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book 122: Marlena

"I've never believed in the idea of an innocent bystander. The act of watching changes what happens. Just because you don't touch anything doesn't mean you are exempt. You might be tempted to forgive me for being just fifteen, in over my head, for not knowing what to do, for not understanding, yet, the way even the tiniest choices domino, until you're irretrievably grown up, the person you were always going to be. Or in Marlena's case, the person you'll never have the chance to be. The world doesn't care that you're just a girl."

Dates read: January 30- February 2, 2017

Rating: 6/10

When you think about it, we usually meet our friends for the most stupidly mundane reasons. A girl who was a friend of mine in high school was someone I'd made friends with in first grade because we were always at the end of the tallest-to-shortest line together. My friend Kailey and I became friends because I just happened to be one of the first people she met when she moved to my school district in fifth grade. One of my closest friends in college was someone who'd become close to my then-boyfriend through the Greek system and we just all started hanging out together. It's strange to think that people who have been huge parts of my life are people I very well would never have known if not for mere accidents of geography and chance.

In Julie Buntin's Marlena, fifteen year-old Catherine encounters the friend who will change her world forever, the titular Marlena, because she happens to move next door to Marlena's family. A year earlier she'd been known as Cathy, a motivated student at a private high school outside of Detroit, but then her parents divorced and her mother, short on resources, moves her and her brother Jimmy to the northern Lower Peninsula to start over. Catherine decides to become Cat, and her seventeen year-old neighbor becomes her best friend. Marlena is what could be delicately described as a troubled young woman: her mother has long since vanished and her father cooks meth in the woods, she's the closest thing her decade-younger brother has to a parent, she's hooked on opiates and has a squicky relationship with the older man who provides her pills to her. The intense friendship that springs up between the girls draws Cat into a new world: drugs and booze and sex and cutting class. But after a year, Cat tells us, Marlena will be dead, found drowned in a shallow stream in the woods.

The story is told on two tracks: mostly the story of the year in which Marlena was a part of Cat's life, but also Cat all grown up, working at a library in New York City, long past that time in her life. Or is she? The unhealthy relationship she developed as a teenager with alcohol is still with her, threatening to unwind her relationship and career. This is not as successful a framing mechanism as it could be: the portions in Michigan are dominant and the underdevelopment of the portions in New York render them almost superfluous. I think with some editing to balance out the narratives better, the book would have been more powerful. As it is, it's good: the friendship between the girls rings true, and Buntin draws them and the supporting characters in ways that make them complex and interesting.

Although I am in no way trying to imply any kind of impropriety, there's no denying that this book has distinct similarities to Emma Cline's The Girls and it's interesting that both came out around the same time. Both are books about young, relatively sheltered teenage girls who find themselves drawn into an intense bond with an older girl. The older girl in question in both stories draws the younger into "dark" situations: drinking, drugs, sex. Both books intersperse the story of the one-time friendship with flash-forwards to the girl all grown up, looking back on that time of her life. And since the comparison is obvious, it has to be said that for me, Cline's is better. Buntin's makes me excited to see how she follows up this debut, but it falls short of greatness and lacks the raw power of The Girls. I'd still recommend it, though, especially for those that enjoy stories about strong female friendships and coming-of-age stories. 

Tell me, blog friends...did you ever have a super close friendship as a teenager?

One year ago, I was reading: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine 

Two years ago, I was reading: Yes Please

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Take Place In Other Countries

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! While I read mostly books set in the country in which I was born and live (which I imagine many of us do), my reading goes all over the world! And that's something I love about reading, how I can travel anywhere I want from my chair/bed/reading locale of the moment. Here are ten mostly recent-ish reads that take place outside of the US that I really enjoyed!

The Bear and the Nightingale (Russia): I've written about this Slavic folklored-based young adult book before to tell you how much I loved it but I LOVED it! The first two books in this series are both great, honestly, and I can't wait for the third to come this summer!

Stay With Me (Nigeria): You think you know where this book might be headed when a couple's interfering, traditional in-laws get the husband a second wife because his first one hasn't gotten pregnant yet...but you have no idea. And the plot continues to twist on and on in ways that are completely unexpected.

Rebecca (England): This Gothic suspense novel has lots of repression, largely takes place on a countryside estate, and features a head housekeeper as the main antagonist, so it's very English indeed.

The Blind Assassin (Canada): Margaret Atwood is Canadian after all, so it's only reasonable that she sets this incredible, rich story in her homeland.

The Book Thief (Germany): Bring all the tissues for this World War 2 story about a young orphaned girl who loves to read.

Big Little Lies (Australia): I still haven't managed to sit down and watch the TV show (which was set in California), but the book was super entertaining and it just goes to show that rich lady competitive mommy-ing is not a uniquely American phenomenon.

The Queen of the Night (France): There's a little bit at the beginning that's in America, and another bit in Germany, but this is mostly in Napoleonic France and it has the best kind of truly insane plot and I love it so much.

The God of Small Things (India): This is one of my two "cheats", because I first read this book quite some time ago, but it's so good and basically anything I know about Kerala at all comes from this book.

In The Woods (Ireland): I don't read a lot of mystery, because I find it gets formulaic and often is plot-over-character when I prefer the other way around. But this book has inspired me to collect the rest of the Dublin Murder Squad series because it was so well-told and I want to read mooooore.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Sweden): My second cheat, because I read these books during the summer of my first year in law school, but I did really love this trilogy, the first book especially. I've got no interest in the continuing series with a new author, though.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Book 121: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

"As soon as the dancing was finished, many of the young men rode off to Texas to hunt  buffalo and raid the Texans who had taken their lands. They were especially angry against white hunters who were coming down from Kansas to kill thousands of buffalo; the hunters took only the skins, leaving the bloody carcasses to rot on the Plains. To the Kiowas and Comanches the white men seemed to hate everything in nature."

Dates read: January 26-30, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Lists/awards: New York Times bestseller

History is written by the victors. Growing up in the north, I learned about the Civil War the way I thought everyone did: it was fought over slavery and the Union Army were the good guys. But when I moved to Alabama for law school, I knew people who would, tongue only halfway in cheek, refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression, and who insisted passionately that it was fought over federalism and states' rights. It makes you wonder how many more of the things we learn about have a completely different narrative from the other side.

Like Manifest Destiny, for example. From what I recall from my K-12 history classes, this was a largely positive event, stretching the US from sea to shining sea. There's some token acknowledgment that it meant "resettling" the Native Americans, but it's not dwelled upon. Dee Brown's Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, though, tells the story of the settling of the American continent from the people who were there first.

Since he focuses on the era of Manifest Destiny (there's some information about how European arrival in the Americas played out, but it's a small portion of the book), Brown confines his focus to the West. It's heartwrenching to read about from the perspective of now, because you know that each chief that tries to negotiate in good faith with the white people will eventually be cheated and that each warrior who tries to fight back against the people who were eroding their way of life will eventually lose. Brown uses as many Native American sources as possible to show how the westward march of white settlers progressed from the point of view of the people who were pushed away from the land and lifestyle they'd always known in order to make room. With each passing year, restrictions on their territory become tighter and tighter, but their inability to safeguard even the small promises that they were able to extract is just relentlessly sad to read about.

I think it's important to wrestle with all parts of American history, and remember that many of what we think of as gains come from losses by someone else. As such, I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who's interested in how this country has treated its original residents.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever read any books about the less pleasant side of American history? 

One year ago, I was reading: Stranger In A Strange Land

Two years ago, I was reading: On The Edge of Gone

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're looking at our current TBR, so here are the next ten books I'm planning on reading this spring! As always, book club selections will be added in here, but here's what's on the horizon as I know it so far.

Possession: Booker Prize winner! This is a prize I've had a pretty good history with, so I'm gradually trying to get through all of them.

Of Human Bondage: Although my big bulk of classics reading happened a few years ago (before I started the blog), I've still got ones I'm working through. I'm expecting this to take a while because it's quite long.

Sophia of Silicon Valley: I'm hoping this tale of Bay Area workplace b.s. is more like The Devil Wears Prada (which I really liked) and less like The Nanny Diaries (which I didn't really care for), but I'll have to read it to see!

Freedom: Obligatory Franzen? Honestly, I thought The Corrections was really good and am interested in his follow up. It's gotten recommended to me a couple times too.

Silent Spring: As far as I've been told, this book made an actual difference when it came to public awareness of the dangers of pollution, so I've been wanting to read it.

The Color of Water: I've seen this pop up on a couple of lists about interesting writing about race in America, and I haven't read a lot from a bi-racial perspective, so this seemed like a solid choice.

Sex at Dawn: I really enjoy (and recommend!) a podcast called The Psychology of Attractiveness, which is about, well, attractiveness and mating behavior. This book deals with similar issues and it's been well-reviewed.

Chosen Country: Ever since I moved out west, I've found myself more interested in the kind of regional mindset that plays out here, which shouldn't come as a surprise. This is about the standoff at the wildlife refuge in Oregon a few years back, and the factors that played into it, so it's right up my alley.

The Kingmaker's Daughter: The next book in Phillipa Gregory's The Cousin's War series. After a weak initial volume, I've mostly enjoyed these. Nothing wrong with a little fluff.

Rosemary's Baby: Horror classic! I really liked The Stepford Wives, and I liked the movie, so I'm hoping this book works as well for me.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book 120: Helter Skelter

"Did Charlie teach you this? I asked, genuinely curious. Charlie did not need to teach them, they said. Charlie only turned them around so they could look at themselves and see the love within. Did they believe Charlie was Jesus Christ? They only smiled enigmatically, as if sharing a secret no one else could possibly understand."

Dates read: January 22-26, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Lists/awards: New York Times bestseller

I think there's a basic human inclination to be fascinated by evil. Why else the popularity of the true crime genre? Why else so many biographies of Adolf Hitler? Why else was HBO's The Jinx so fascinating to so many (myself included)? The depths of human depravity, people who seem to operate outside the social contract to which the rest of us are can be hard to look away. And one of the most enduringly popular cultural atrocities that illustrate the heinousness we can't look away from are the Tate-LaBianca murders, masterminded by Charles Manson.

The definitive account of these crimes is Helter Skelter, written by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry. It's hard to imagine a more knowledgeable source: Bugliosi was the prosecutor who successfully convicted Manson and his girls (some of them, anyways) for the murders and sentenced to death, later commuted by the California Supreme Court to life in prison. While most of us are familiar with the broad outlines of the case (particularly the parts that concerned Sharon Tate, the extremely pregnant wife of Roman Polanski), Bugliosi fills in all the details: the people at the Polanski/Tate residence besides Sharon who were murdered, and the LaBiancas, and the grisly details, and a general idea of why. He can't give us exactly why, because only Manson knows and he never told before he died.

The book takes us through the process from start to finish: the discovery of the bodies, the investigations, the eventual linkage of the two sets of murders, how the Manson Family's involvement was discovered, how the motive was unearthed, the charges, the trial, the sentencing, and the aftermath. If you're looking for a narrative perspective from the perspectives of the killers, that's not what you'll find here. It never really gets in the heads of Manson or his girls, and it couldn't, because they never really opened up to the prosecution team. There are still questions by the end of it, but they aren't questions that can be answered from the outside.

Helter Skelter is a big book, over 600 pages, but it reads fairly quickly. The writing is nimble, and though it doesn't scrimp from talking about some details of blood type analysis or fingerprinting as it applies to the case, it doesn't get bogged down in technicality. The biggest single flaw of the book is Bugliosi's self-aggrandizement. He clearly did a phenomenal amount of work and won a case that could have easily gone the other way if Manson hadn't been a difficult client for his lawyer to work with, but he definitely spends more time than is really necessary bemoaning the investigative deficits of the police and making sure the reader knows how much of the case was 100% a result of his own handiwork. By the end I'd started literally rolling my eyes whenever Bugliosi gave himself a big pat on the back. At the end of the day, it's an incredibly detailed account of the crime for anyone who's interested in reading one, though if your interest is in true crime generally rather than this crime specifically it might not be the best investment of reading time.

Tell me, blog friends...what's an evil person/event that fascinates you?

One year ago, I was reading: Green Girl

Two years ago, I was reading: To Die For

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Surprised Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're going through books that surprised us. I'm going to split mine up, and highlight first five books that surprised me by how good they were, and then five that I was surprised to find I did not enjoy.

Happy Surprised

Anna Karenina: Never having really read Russian lit, I thought I didn't like it because it was too long and boring. And then I read this book and discovered that I really did love Tolstoy. Both this and War & Peace are a million pages long and amazing.

Moby-Dick: Again, a book with a reputation of over-long snoozer, this time about some dude obsessed with a whale that ends up killing him, the end. But this book is actually delightful and has a ton of information about whales and whaling, religion, seafaring life, and so much more, as well as creating some truly unforgettable characters.

Jane Eyre: I thought this was just a gothic romance, which has never held that much appeal for me, because all you ever hear about is Mr. Rochester and his crazy wife in the attic and the looooove story. I was happy to find out that this is much more a book about a young woman discovering herself and making her own place in the world and very much liked it.

The Rosie Project: I usually shy away from romances (no offense to those of you who love them, they're just generally not for me), but I'd read such good things about this one and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I really did enjoy reading it! It's just incredibly charming and a breezy, pleasant book.

So Big: I never would have picked this up but for its Pulitzer Prize (I'd never even heard of it before), because a story about a young woman being widowed with a baby son and scraping out an existence in midwestern farm country doesn't sound like something I'd really like. But Selina DeJong is an incredible character and I got totally sucked in and this book is really really good, y'all.

Not Happy Surprised

Don Quixote: I've gone on a classics kick over the past several years, and found that I actually liked a lot more of them than I thought I would. And then I got to Don Quixote and words cannot adequately describe how much I hated it and it was so long and reading it was like torture.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: Everyone I knew who'd read this book described it as super funny and really good. And then I read it, and found its cavalier treatment of mental instability horrifying. I know they're making a movie of it and I think it might work onscreen, but it fell so very flat on the page for me.

Crazy Rich Asians: This is kind of along the same lines...rave reviews for a frothy fun romp and I mostly wondered if Kevin Kwan had ever been in a relationship before, because the one at the center of the book was deeply unrealistic and not in a good way.

Fahrenheit 451: I loved many of the dystopian classics I read in high school, and I wanted to love this one (it's about book burning! how could I not love it?) and I found it so boring I honestly can barely remember it.

Yes Please: This pains me, because I love Amy Poehler so much and wanted to just love every second of her book but it did absolutely nothing for me at all. It was neither interesting nor funny nor insightful. It was just kind of there.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Book 119: Snow

"It wasn't the poverty or the helplessness that disturbed him; it was the thing he would see again and again during the days to come- in the empty windows of photography shops, in the frozen windows of the crowded teahouses where the city's unemployed passed the time playing cards, and in the city's empty snow-covered squares. These sights spoke of a strange and powerful loneliness. It was as if he were in a place that the whole world had forgotten, as if it were snowing at the end of the world."

Dates read: January 18-22, 2017

Rating: 6/10

Lists/Awards: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2012)

When someone asks me if I like the movie Goodfellas, I never know what to say. It's a well-directed, well-acted, well-told story, so I think it's a laudatory work of film and I admire its accomplishments. But I didn't actually enjoy watching it and I have no desire to do so again. It's one of those weird things that happens sometimes for media in all forms, for me. I'll find something to be a significant piece and worthy of praise, but that doesn't mean I always actually like it.

Orhan Pamuk's Snow falls into that weird, middle-ground territory for me. It's a well-crafted tale, rich with context and layers of meaning. But I didn't actually enjoy reading it all that much. From a third-person narrator point of view (we'll get to that later), Snow tells the story of Ka, a Turkish poet who has spent much of his adult life in political exile in Germany, newly returned to his home country for his mother's funeral. When he hears from an acquaintance that a beautiful former college classmate, Ipek, is freshly divorced, living in a border town called Kars, he finds himself a pretext to visit there to see her. The pretext is that there's been a recent wave of suicides among devout Muslim young women, who have been forbidden by government policy to wear their headscarves, and he's there to investigate.

The snow is already falling thickly when Ka arrives in Kars, and it ends up closing off the community over one long, turbulent weekend in which there are assassinations, coups, and police brutality. There are several storylines, all interwoven tightly: the community debate over headscarves, Ka's courtship of Ipek, Ka's suddenly rediscovered inspiration to write poetry, Ipek's relationship with her sister Kadife, both of their ties to a wanted terrorist, the poverty and desperation of the men in Kars, the hope and idealism of the boys at the Muslim high school. The theme of the tension between the West/secularism and the East/religion is pervasive, coloring all of the events of the novel.

Which turns out to be a story within a story, as we find out that the tale of Ka's time in Kars is being told by his friend "Orhan", based on Ka's own written recollections. It's a little bothersome that although the conceit is that the story is being told by a third party, the narrator seems omniscient more often than not, but it's not a dealbreaker. What is more bothersome is that there is none of the characters is particularly well-developed, or to me, identifiable. Ipek is the embodiment of the virgin/whore dichitomy, either idealized or compared to a porn star. The terrorist, Blue, is constantly described as compelling without much in the story to make the reader understand why. Even Ka, though he is the center of the narrative, remains at a frustrating remove. Like Turkey itself, he's neither completely Eastern nor completely Western and vacillates between the two. He doesn't know his own mind, and it makes him hard to get a hold of as a character.

But the writing and structure is lovely. It's a little snowglobe of a story, and effectively creates the air of emotional claustrophobia that anyone who's been stranded (by snow or flooding or ice) for a few days can understand. I'm not sure that the third-party narrator is as effective a device as it could be, but I got a wry, frustrated smile out of plot machinations that mean that we never actually get to read one of Ka's inspired lets us just imagine how great the poems must have been without putting Pamuk under pressure to write something magnificent. This was a book club selection, and proved divisive for the most part: there were several people who loved it and just as many who completely hated it, with only very few (like me) falling in between. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it based on my own experience of it, but maybe you'll completely love it like some of my book club friends?

Tell me, blog you read literature in translation often?

One year ago, I was reading: Housekeeping

Two years ago, I was reading: American Gods

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're highlighting our favorite quotes from books. I love highlighting/dog-earing my books to remind me of pieces of writing I found particularly meaningful, so I enjoyed going back through some of my favorites and pulling out words I especially loved to share with y'all!

"Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul." (Lolita)

This book is FULL of gorgeous writing. Hands-down the most beautifully written book I've ever read. But this part of the intro has always stuck with me.

"Something sick at the heart of the country had infected the girls. Our parents thought it had to do with our music, our godlessness, or the loosening of morals regarding sex we hadn't even had. Mr. Hedlie mentioned that fin-de-sicle Vienna witnessed a similar outbreak of suicides on the part of the young, and put the whole thing down to the misfortune of living in a dying empire. It had to do with the way the mail wasn't delivered on time, and how potholes never got fixed, or the thievery at City Hall, or the race riots, or the 801 fires set around the city on Devil's night." (The Virgin Suicides)

I re-read this book, one of my all-time favorites, recently for my book club, and this passage has always struck me as both representative of the quality of writing in this book as a whole as well as capturing something real about the downswing Detroit experienced.

"Midway through the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood, for the true way was lost." (Inferno)

This line has been translated many different ways, but I've always loved the way the copy I studied in college did it.

"All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." (Anna Karenina)

Obviously this one is a classic. It's not exactly true, but has the ring and spirit of truth, which counts for as much anyways.

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." (1984)

This book was so prescient in so many ways and this is one of the truest things in it.

"'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo. 'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'" (The Fellowship of the Ring)

Basically my personal motto when I start feeling like life's unfair. In many ways, our circumstances are beyond our control and all you can do about it is figure out how to make the best of it.

"Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring." (Breakfast at Tiffany's)

I'm one of those people who's never quite been able to let go of that sense of the new school year starting as the real beginning of the year, though my last school year started in 2009.

"And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (The Great Gatsby)

This is my literal favorite line in all of literature. The only thing that rivals its perfection as an ending is the end of Six Feet Under (don't @ me).

"Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win." (The Shining)

If you've only ever seen the movie (which I love), I'd recommend reading the book as well. The latter tells a story not about a haunted hotel, but a haunted man and how his internal demons are played upon until he loses the battle to keep them at bay and it's really really good.

"The unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because that means he has to stop dwelling on himself and start paying attention to the universe. Unhappiness is the ultimate form of self-indulgence. When you're unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. You get to take yourself oh so very seriously." (Jitterbug Perfume)

This is one of my favorite books, and while Tom Robbins isn't always an author that it's easy to pull a quote from (it's more about the writing as a whole), I love this one and it's something I think about when I start feeling down.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Book 118: The Wars of the Roses

"From 1399 to 1499 the crown became the object of feuds, wars, and conspiracies, not because of a dearth of heirs, but because there were too many powerful magnates with a claim to the throne. During this period a new and disturbing element became involved in determining the royal succession: the prevalence of might over right. This brought a new awareness of the lack of statute law governing the succession and a debate as to whether the rights of a senior heir general, with a claim transmitted through a female, could take precedence over the rights of a junior heir male. But in the final analysis strength and success were what counted: an effective ruler was more likely to remain on the throne, however dubious his title. Weak or tyrannical rulers met with disaster."

Dates read: January 14-18, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Historical fiction is a genre I tend to enjoy, and one of the reasons why is that it introduces you to worlds you might have only known about through brief mentions in the classroom. I'm coming to enjoy non-fiction history a lot more as I get older, but I still really like my Phillipa Gregory (sorry not sorry). When getting introduced to a historical figure and period, I've usually just turned to old reliable Wikipedia. But even the most in-depth Wikipedia article can only tell you so much.

Ever since I first read her, Alison Weir has become one of my go-to historians. And as much as I enjoy the soap opera-esque The Cousin's War series (which I've read the first three of so far), Gregory is a fiction writer, and I know better than to trust her to teach me history. While I'd always been aware of the so-called Wars of the Roses in British history (I knew it was the Yorks and the Lancasters and it finally ended for good when the two houses intermarried and formed the House of Tudor), it doesn't tend to be taught in American schools. Which is why it's perfect that Weir has a whole book just about that period in English history: The Wars of the Roses.

It's a confusing story, to be sure: it seems like virtually every man in it is named Edward, Richard, or Henry, and they're all related to each other, besides. But Weir does her best to distinguish each of them, and she traces the conflicts not just from the point that they formally began, but from the point where they are rooted. The fighting doesn't get started until about halfway through, but it would be well nigh impossible to understand without all the preamble. She sets her stage carefully, and, much to my relief, when the fighting begins, it doesn't turn into a straight blow-by-blow battle narrative. I find descriptions of war maneuvers to be boring beyond measure, but Weir tells us enough to give us a sense of the battles but not make us feel like we're sitting through a military history lecture.

As always in Weir's work, it's well-sourced (she uses sources contemporary to the events being described, and traces language use back to ensure that she's giving the proper context to what was being reported) and well-written, with a definite sense of narrative and not just fact-dumping. One minor quibble, though, with this book is that it doesn't quite see the Wars through to what I thought to be their end: the ascension of Henry VII and his marriage to Princess Elizabeth of York. While I was hoping to get a bit more information about the end stages of the Wars, I definitely enjoyed getting Weir's take on the period she covered, and would recommend the book to others curious about this period of English history.

One year ago, I was reading: A Leg To Stand On

Two years ago, I was reading: Without You, There Is No Us