My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!
Week 9: How The Books All Fit Together This past week, I ignored my own guidelines for my Book a Day 2018 project (to read an academic history book, a classic novel and more than one royal themed book each week), and instead chose books that looked interesting without any concern for how the books related in one another, shopping at Book City early in the week and choosing from recent audiobook selections and secondhand bookstore finds as the week progressed.
Even when selecting books at random, however, I noticed connections between this weeks books and books I have read during previous weeks. The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris (no relation), discusses Sherlock Holmes’ “mind palace” as it is introduced in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, which I read a few weeks ago. Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls by Elizabeth Renzetti references Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger, which I also read earlier in the year. There will be more royal books reviewed next week and undoubtedly more connections with my past reading. Here are this week’s reviews:
#57 of 365 The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris
Genre: Philosophy/Community and Culture
Date Read: February 26-27, 2018
Acquired: Purchased from Book City, Toronto
Format: Paperback, 256 pages
Review: I am one of the youngest people who can remember life before the internet and I often think about how society has changed in recent decades with the advent of social media and smartphones. Harris examines how the internet and social media have affected memories, attention spans and relationships and analyzes his own attempts to undertake a one month digital detox and read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace as buzzing devices compete for his attention. A thought provoking read, which reinforces my view that occasional breaks from the online world are a very good thing!
#58 of 365 Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls by Elizabeth Renzetti
Date Read: February 27, 2018
Acquired: Purchased from Book City, Toronto
Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Review: I enjoy Elizabeth Renzetti’s columns in the Globe and Mail and looked forward to reading her essays on women and society. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Highlights include an analysis of work-life balance and how being busy becomes a status symbol in itself, the complicated cultural attitudes regarding women’s ambition, and the literal cost of being female as products marketed toward women often cost substantially more than equivalents for men. Renzetti’s own life experiences and interviews with prominent women are woven into the text. Shrewed ends with inspiring advice for women and girls, which I hope Renzetti eventually gets to deliver as a commencement address.
#59 of 365 The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Science Fiction
Dates Listened: 9 hours and 39 minutes, February 25-March 1, 2018
Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com
Review: Ursula Le Guin passed away recently and her most famous book, The Left Hand of Darkness, was featured as an audiobook on Audible. I don’t normally read science fiction but I decided to give it a try as the audiobook narrator is George Guidall and I enjoyed listening to his readings of Les Miserables, Crime and Punishment and Don Quixote last year.
I found the early chapters of this novel extremely engrossing as Le Guin creates a fully realized alternate universe. The planet of “Winter” is most famous for its uniquely androgynous population but Le Guin also discusses the planet’s political system, royal succession, low protein diet and communal child rearing arrangements and of course, the freezing weather. As the novel progressed, however, the plot unfolded very slowly with multiple chapters devoted to the central characters wandering around in the snow, forming a bond and learning about each other’s cultures. The audiobook is beautifully read by Guidall but since different chapters are from the perspective of different characters (and there are folktales interspersed with the narrative), more than one reader might have made the different perspectives more evident.
#60 of 365 The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
Acquired: Purchased from Amazon.ca
Format: Paperback, 688 pages
Dates Read: March 1-2, 2018
Review: A well written and insightful overview of depression. The book combines the author’s own experiences with a variety of approaches to examining depression itself including symptoms, treatment, history and theories concerning the role of depression in human evolution. Provides both a helpful perspective for those experiencing depression and a scientific and historical overview for those interested in learning about the various facets of mental illness. The history chapter includes a reference to the delusions of King Charles VI of France, nicknamed “the foolish” during the Hundred Years’s War and Charles’s grandson, King Henry VI of England would also fit well into the narrative. Highly recommended.
#61 of 365 Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith
Acquired: Purchased from BMV Books, Toronto
Format: Paperback, 368 pages
Date Read: March 3, 2018
Review: The 3rd book in Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series. I’m enjoying the 44 Scotland Street series but this installment was little slower moving than the two previous novels. I love the story-lines involving Bertie, especially his trip to Paris as the only saxophone playing six year old in a teen orchestra but there were too many digressions involving other, less interesting, characters including Angus, his dog and Dominica’s tenant. Dominica’s adventures in the Malacca Straits were fun but took the narrative out of Scotland too often. I look forward to reading the 4th book in the series, The World According to Bertie.
#62 of 365 The Bridesmaids: Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco and Six Intimate Friends by Judith Balaban Quine
Genre: Royal Biography
Date Read: March 4, 2018
Acquired: Purchased from the Hollywood Canteen Secondhand Bookstore in Toronto
Format: Hardcover, 498 pages
Review: I found this out of print book about Grace Kelly and her bridesmaids at a secondhand bookstore and it seemed like the perfect Oscar night read. The author, Judith Balaban Quine was married to Kelly’s talent agent and was one of her bridesmaids at her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco. The book provided a fun snapshot of the times and I greatly enjoyed the sections about the wedding and how it was covered in the press. Unfortunately, the author devotes a great deal of the book to her own life story, including circumstances that did not relate to her friendship with Grace Kelly and these sections of the book are comparatively dull. Nevertheless, The Bridesmaids is one of the more detailed books about Grace Kelly and her role as Princess of Monaco.
#63 of 365 Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris
Dates Listened: March 1-March 6, 2018
Format: Audiobook, 13 hours and 52 minutes
Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com
Review: I enjoy David Sedaris’s books and his segments on This American Life but I found the early chapters of this book were unrelentingly bleak as Sedaris’s diary details his financial difficulties (there are a lot of entries about unpaid phone bills), drug problems and a series of difficult/disturbed customers at the International House of Pancakes, where he spent much of his time. The book picks up, however, when Sedaris begins to experience success as an author and playwright and moves to Paris. There are fun scenes in French class that read like the deleted scenes from Me Talk Pretty One Day and a lot of entertaining book tour anecdotes as he travels around Europe and North America promoting his writing. There are entries about both Princess Diana’s wedding and death. There are some strange entries toward the end (I could have done without his writings about spiders) but overall, the second half of the book is much funnier than the first. I look forward to reading the next volume of diaries.