dchaikin part 3 - within uncertainty

Questo è il seguito della conversazione dchaikin part 2 - getting a little lost out here.

ConversazioniClub Read 2021

Iscriviti a LibraryThing per pubblicare un messaggio.

dchaikin part 3 - within uncertainty

Modificato: Set 2, 11:32pm

In the moment, life is changing rapidly in good ways, but also there is tangible uncertainty. Looking for an appropriate wheel of fortune image I stumbled across the one above. Later I found it pictures Theophilus (died c538) who was maybe the first person to make a pact with the devil. The illuminated image is from an English psalter by William de Brailes, c1240. Not sure what this means for my reading other than I'll continue to try to approximate the plan.

Modificato: Set 21, 9:26pm

Currently Reading   

Currently Listening to

Cup of Gold : A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History by John Steinbeck (started reading Sep 21)
Ada or Ardor : A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov (started reading Sep 19)
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, read by William DeMeritt (started listening Sep 10)

Modificato: Set 21, 9:26pm

Books read this year - just covers

Modificato: Set 10, 7:33pm

This year in audiobooks

Modificato: Set 21, 9:28pm

PART 1: Links go to my review post in my part 1 thread


1. **** Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer by Christopher S. Celenza, (read Jan 1-6)
2. **** Real Life by Brandon Taylor, read by Kevin R. Free (listened Dec 22 - Jan 6)
3. **½ How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang, read by Catherine Ho & Joel de la Fuente (listened Jan 7-23)
4. ***** Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (read Jan 1-23)
5. ****½ The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov (read Jan 24-30)


6. **** Henry VI Part One by William Shakespeare (read Jan 6 - Feb 8)
7. ****½ History of London by Stephen Inwood (read half Dec 11-31, 2019, the rest Dec 25, 2020 - Feb 14, 2021)
8. ****½ Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (read Feb 14-28)


9. **** A Promised Land by Barack Obama, read by the author (listened Jan 23 - Mar 13)

PART 2: Links go to my review post in my part 2 thread

MARCH (continued)

10. **** Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov (read Feb 28 - Mar 20)
11. **** Henry VI Part Two by William Shakespeare (read Feb 28 - Mar 28)


12. **** Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi, read by Sneha Mathan (listened Mar 22 - Apr 2)
13. ****½ Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (read Mar 21 - Apr 11)
14. ***** Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (read Apr 11-24)
15. **** Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, read by Robin Miles (listened Apr 5-25)
16. ***** Collected Stories by Willa Cather (read Jan 25 - Apr 29)


17. **** Summer by Ali Smith (read Apr 26 - May 3)
18. **** Henry VI Part Three by William Shakespeare (read Apr 7 - May 9)
19. **** Petrarch: Selected Sonnets, Odes and Letters edited by Thomas Goddin Bergin (read Feb 19 - May 23)
20. **** Petrarch: The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarium fragmenta by Mark Musa (read Feb 18 - May 23)
21. **** The Poetry of Petrarch by David Young (read Feb 1 - May 23)


22. **** Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather (read Jun 5)
23. ****½ The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel (read May 4 - Jun 11)
24. ****½ Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch, read by David Rintoul (listened Apr 28 - Jun 11)
25. ****½ Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (read Jun 12-14)
26. ***** Richard III by William Shakespeare (read May 22 - Jun 22)
27. **** The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga (read Jun 15-24)
28. **** Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude jr., read by the author. (listened Jun 14-28)
29. **** Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (read Jun 25-29)

PART 3: Links go to my review post below, on this page.


30. **** The Touchstone by Edith Wharton (read Jul 5-8)
31. **** Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (read Jun 30 - Jul 12)
32. **** Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze, read by the author (listened Jun 29 - Jul 14)
33. **** This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (read Jul 12-19)
34. ***½ Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler (read Jul 19-20)
35. *** Pyramids by Terry Pratchett (read Jul 21-25)
36. ***** Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, read by Ruth Urquhart (listened Jul 15-29)


37. *** Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson, illustrated by Marilyn Kahalewai (read Jul 31 - Aug 1)
38. **** Speak, Memory : An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov (read Jul 24 - Aug 2)
39. **** All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare (read Jul 5 - Aug 7)


40. ***½ The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton (read Aug 2 - Sep 5)
41. **** The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili (read Aug 6 - Sep 7)
42. **** Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, read by Cassandra Campbell & Alex McKenna (listened Jul 30 - Sep 10)
43. **** Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (read Aug 16 - Sep 19)
44. **** Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop (read Sep 4-21)

Modificato: Set 21, 9:27pm

The list above sorted by year published

1370 The Canzoniere by Petrarch
1590 Henry VI Part Two by William Shakespeare
1591 Henry VI Part Three by William Shakespeare
Henry VI Part One by William Shakespeare
Richard III by William Shakespeare
All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare (true date unkown)
Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
1900 The Touchstone by Edith Wharton
1902 The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton
1912 Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather
1939 The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov
1947 Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov
1955 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
1957 Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
1962 Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
1964 Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop
Petrarch: Selected Sonnets, Odes and Letters edited by Thomas Goddin Bergin
Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson
Speak, Memory : An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov
1987 Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
1988 Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
1989 Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
1992 Collected Stories by Willa Cather (1905, 1920, 1932, 1948, 1956)
1996 Petrarch: The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarium fragmenta by Mark Musa
1998 A History of London by Stephen Inwood
2004 The Poetry of Petrarch by David Young
2006 The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga
2009 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
2012 Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
2014 The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili
2016 Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
2017 Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer by Christopher S. Celenza
Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch
This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
2019 Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Summer by Ali Smith
The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel
Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude jr.
Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
2021 Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Modificato: Set 21, 9:45pm

Some stats:

Books read: 44
Pages: 11,138 (time reading: 480 hours)
Audio time: 147 hours
"regular books”**: 34
Formats: Paperback 25; Audio 10; ebook 5; Hardcover 4;
Subjects in brief: Novel 25; Classic 13; History 8; Non-fiction 7; Drama 6; Biography 4; Poetry 3; On Literature and Books 3; Memoir 2; Journalism 1; Short Stories 1; Religion/Mythology/Philosophy 1;
Nationalities: United States 17; England 15; Russia 6; Zimbabwe 3; China 1; Scotland 1; Italy 1; Georgia 1;
Books in translation: 4
Genders, m/f: 25/20
Owner: Books I own: 44;
Re-reads: 1
Year Published: 2020’s 10; 2010's 7; 2000’s 3; 1990’s 3; 1980’s 3; 1960’s 5, 1950’s 2; 1940’s 1; 1930’s 1; 1910’s 1; 1900’s 2; 1600’s 2; 1500’s 4; 1300’s 1
TBR numbers: 41 acquired, 42 read = net -1

Books read: 1160
Pages: 298,429; Audio time: 1893 hours (78 days)
"regular books"**: 751
Formats: Paperback 619; Hardcover 245; Audio 176; ebooks 81; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 470; Novels 343; Biographies/Memoirs 202; History 181; Classics 164; Religion/Mythology/Philosophy 134; Journalism 94; Poetry 92; Science 81; Ancient 76; Speculative Fiction 66; On Literature and Books 59; Nature 60; Anthology 45; Essay Collections 44; Graphic 43; Short Story Collections 42; Drama 42; Juvenile/YA 34; Visual Arts 26; Interviews 15; Mystery/Thriller 13
Nationalities: US 664; Non-American, English speaking 237; Other: 266
Books in translation: 199
Genders, m/f: 737/327
Owner: Books I owned 802; Library books 282; Books I borrowed 66; Online 10
Re-reads: 2
Year Published: 2020’s 15; 2010's 261; 2000's 278; 1990's 171; 1980's 116; 1970's 56; 1960's 49; 1950's 28; 1900-1949 59; 19th century 16; 16th-18th centuries 30; 13th-15th centuries 7; 0-1199 20; BCE 55
TBR: 699

*well, everything since I have kept track, beginning in Dec 1990

**"Regular Books" excludes audio, lit magazines, small poetry books, juvenile, graphic novels, podcasts, etc. It is just meant to count regular old books that I picked up and read.

Modificato: Lug 19, 2:52pm

Themes by year

2012 - old testament
2013 - old testament and Toni Morrison
2014 - old testament
2015 - old testament, Toni Morrison & Cormac McCarthy
2016 - Homer, Greek mythology, Greek drama, & Thomas Pynchon
2017 - Virgil, Ovid & Thomas Pynchon
2018 - Apocrypha, New Testament & Gabriel García Márquez
2019 - Rome to Renaissance, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Shakespeare, the 2019 Booker list
2020 - Dante, Vladimir Nabokov, Willa Cather and Shakespeare, the Booker longlists 2019 & 2020
2021 - Petrarch, Vladimir Nabokov, Willa Cather, Shakespeare, the Booker longlists, 2020 & 2021, and, new, Edith Wharton

links to all my old threads:

2009 Part 1, 2009 Part 2, 2010 Part 1, 2010 Part 2, 2011 Part 1, 2011 Part 2, 2012 Part 1, 2012 Part 2, 2013 Part 1, 2013 Part 2, 2013 Part 3, 2014 Part 1, 2014 Part 2, 2014 Part 3, 2015 Part 1, 2015 Part 2, 2015 Part 3, 2016 Part 1, 2016 Part 2, 2016 Part 3, 2017 Part 1, 2017 Part 2, 2018 part 1, 2018 part 2, 2019 part 1, 2019 part 2, 2019 part 3, 2020 part 1, 2020 part 2, 2020 part 3, 2021 part 1, 2021 part 2

Lug 19, 2:54pm

The above intro is set. Thread is open.

Lug 19, 3:33pm

Ooohh.... I get to be first. Hi, Dan!

Modificato: Lug 19, 3:44pm

30. The Touchstone by Edith Wharton
published: 1900
format: 63-page Kindle ebook
acquired: June
read: Jul 5-8
time reading: 3:00, 2.9 mpp
rating: 4
locations: New York City
about the author: 1862-1937. Born Edith Newbold Jones on West 23rd Street, New York City. Spent most of her writing life in France.

Having read all of Willa Cather's novels, our Litsy group searched for a new subject, and (influenced by our own arubabookwoman) came up with Edith Wharton. Our plan is to begin reading her published novels and novellas in the order they appear. The Touchstone was her first novella, published in 1900 when the eventually very prolific Wharton was approaching 40.

The title refers to the Philosopher's Stone, the mythological creation by late medieval French scribe Nicholas Flamel, that could turn base metals into gold. The theme echoes in a lot of ways here. Stephen Glennard, struggling financially in New York and in need of a fortune to marry, makes his fortune by publishing a collection of letters he received from a famous and very private author, Margaret Aubyn. But he tries to keep himself anonymous, even from his wife and publisher, as the letters written to him are about his spurning of Aubyn's affection. They are an especially insightful and revealing a character attack on him. When the collection immediately becomes a huge seller, talked about through upper culture New York City, Stephen goes through a personal crisis, spurning his wife and others. The touchstone could be Aubyn, her letters, the curious character who helps Stephen get these letters published, or even his wife, Alexa Trent, who, unlike Aubyn, conceals her intelligence.

This was an interesting intro. Wharton wrote this with a not quite restrained sense of anger, especially within her own frustrated version of feminism and the intolerance with which it was received. And she makes an obvious effort to express her own intelligence, including here some hidden complex philosophy that I was unable to work out. (I did learn that this is a pretty neglected part of Wharton's criticism. A typical source, like Wikipedia, will make a point of highlighting the immense amount of reading she did on religion and philosophy, and then focus entirely on her cultural criticism.) This is not, in my opinion, an amazing novella. But there is a lot here - in style, subject, complexity and in the nature of the author's presence. I'm happy to have this in mind going forward.

Lug 19, 3:37pm

>10 sallypursell: hi. welcome. Working on adding some amusement for you. : )

Lug 19, 4:13pm

Hope the summer goes well for you. Looking forward to reading about your reading.

Lug 19, 4:31pm

>11 dchaikin: Have you read any Edith Wharton before this? I have read four of her novels and enjoyed them all. I hope you will too. I think she's great.

Modificato: Lug 19, 4:47pm

31. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1962
format: 303-page Paperback
acquired: May
read: Jun 30 – Jul 12
time reading: 13:43, 2.7 mpp
rating: 4
locations: an eastern American college and Zembla (“a distant northern land)
about the author: 1899 – 1977. Russia born, educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, 1922. Lived in Berlin (1922-1937), Paris, the US (1941-1961) and Montreux, Switzerland (1961-1977).

Had I known what I was getting into, and done a little mental prep, I would have enjoyed this novel a lot more than I did. Instead, in the midst nice reading flow, I found myself unexpectedly in hundreds of pages of commentary of a 1000-poem. To follow along the reader has to constantly cross-check the poem and the commentary, and, as the commentary has little to do with the actual subject of the poem, keep cross checking to try to read between the lines...and that's just to make surficial sense.

Charles Kinbote acquired exclusive rights to his colleague John Shade's 1000-line poem, nearly finished before Shade's untimely death. This book is the poem and Kinbote's commentary, kept free of any editorial oversight of any kind. Kinbote is in full control. He provides an introduction, oozing with unnamed classical references, telling a little of context of Shade's poem. Shade, who's name is a reference to the word used to describe souls in Dante's Divine Comedy, is presented to us as an overshadowed Petrarch, who, when first met in frozen winter, could not get his car tire "out of a concave inferno of ice". Shade, like Petrarch, provided notes on the dates he started sections of his poem, but not on the the endless editing done until his death. A farce first exposed when we quickly realize Shade only worked on his poem a month. This makes Kinbote an equivalent of an early Petrach commentator... but who? Anyway, this Virgil/Dante/Petrarch nonsense gets dropped out of our introduction, which closes with Kinbote advising us not read Shades poem next, but to read his own commentary on its own first, then read Shades poem, and then read the commentary again. Amused at Kinbote's need to overshadow his subject, I considered this a moment. There are 226 pages of commentary. I read the poem first.

The poem, of course (?), has it's own farcical aspects, but is also a touching and curious autobiographical exploration of Shade's life, marriage, his daughter's suicide and his own hard atheism confronting her ghost. It's all in rhyming couplets. It opens with a couplet now often referenced, "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/ By the false azure of the windowpane;". When I finished reading the poem I was looking forward to some explanative commentary, but should have known better. It takes Kinbote two sentences to switch from Shade to himself. Kinbote is consumed with thoughts on his home country, his fictional Zembla, "a distant northern land", with its own language. Kinbote had talked to Shade extensively about Zembla, none of which Shade put in his poem. So, Kinbote inserts it all in his commentary, and adds Shades death, contriving dark prophetical aspects on this out of Shade's poem - like in that first line.

This is all, in theory, good fun. Critics at the time either praised its elaborate complexity, and criticized its more fundamental simplicity. But whatever it may be, I have left it mostly unresolved in my own head, my extensive cross checking actually kept to a minimum. So I found it a mildly amusing but very frustrating read. I guess it's a classic case of YMMV, or maybe of the idea that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it, and therefore the less...etc.

Lug 19, 4:44pm

>13 rocketjk: thanks

>14 labfs39: not really. I know I read Ethan Frome in high school and vaguely remember something boring and then something bad with a sled. So...this was essentially my first Wharton.

Modificato: Lug 19, 6:10pm

32. Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze
reader: the author
published: 2020
format: 9:29 audible audiobook (336 pages in hardcover)
acquired: June 28
listened : Jun 29 – Jul 14
rating: 4
locations: London
about the author: 34-yr-old London native of Polish parents.

This came out on the Booker longlist over a year ago, but there aren't any reviews on LT yet. I found it, for some reason, the most clouded in mystery of all the books on that list, and had no idea what to expect until I listened to the audible sample and started looking this up. Krauze (he pronounces the last 'e' something like 'eh') is a child of Polish immigrants to England who grew up in London's impoverished South Kilburn, got involved in a very violent criminal life as a teenager and kept at it while attending a university. The novel is heavily autobiographical.

I was immediately taken in by the narrative, read by Krauze himself in his north London accent, influenced by Jamaican English. "Wagwan" is a curiously used greeting. It's a Jamaican version of "what's going on?", but in London has a gang-life implication. In this accent Krauze takes us straight into his criminal life, at a point where he worked with a small team of scouters, a getaway car and partner as ruthless as he his. He basically jumps carefully selected victims, violently takes anything of value from them, and runs off leaving a battered, bruised and possibly partially broken victim whom he doesn't give one thought to. He's not interested in that, because there is too much going on in his quasi-gang life where compromise is a kind of suicide. Any and every perceived challenge is met with violence, knives bloodied, and his main concern afterwards is whether he hurt the other guys enough. In between he goes to classes on literary theory.

This stuff is constant and some readers find it repulsively repetitive and dull. I never did. I was fascinated by him. And a bit shocked when I began to pick up the nature of his own involvement. He was not really like the other people he was doing crimes with because he didn't come from a broken home, with an abusive or absent father, but from a loving, if financially strapped, family, including a twin brother who excelled at playing violin. That is, he was doing all this criminal stuff not because he was desperate but by choice, for some cash and because he loved it. And mostly he got away with it. He does cover spending time in a couple lock-ups, but notes that he was never caught for his worst crimes. And, he doesn't expressively say it, but he really dodged the gangs. This was bad when he would find himself isolated, his partners locked up or on the run, but eventually a blessing because he was free of the warfare and could walk away without anyone looking for him. He's clearly not a typical story.

It leaves me in an ethical conundrum. I really enjoyed this book. It's fascinating, seems authentic and is well written. It‘s also by a guy who really hurt people for no legitimate reason, and is now, later, out of that life, mining those experiences to put into his book. Mind you, I read plenty of authors with terrible personal ethics. And this book certainly has value as a look into this mindset. The reader realizes no corrective policy could have stopped him from doing what he did, and that's maybe instructive in some way. Not sure. Not sure how I judge this one overall.

Lug 19, 6:48pm

>17 dchaikin: I remember that hitting the Booker longlist and then, you're right, it disappeared from the discussion, maybe because of the same conundrum you felt?

Modificato: Lug 19, 11:48pm

>18 RidgewayGirl: I wonder if it's a publisher issue - maybe a smaller publisher (??), or a publisher hesitant to promote this kind of book. If there is an ethical debate over this book...I would love to know where it's taking place and what the thinking is, and how my thinking relates. I haven't found any kind of discomfort expressed.

Modificato: Lug 19, 11:42pm

33. This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
published: 2018
format: 280-page paperback
acquired: June
read: Jul 12-19
time reading: 10:01, 2.1 mpp
rating: 4
locations: Zimbabwe
about the author: born 1959 in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)

My Litsy review says a lot in small amount of space:
"This an uncomfortable book. After building up our hero, Tambu, in two terrific novels, Dangarembga essentially tosses that away. Zimbabwe is not such an easily wrapped place and her previous construct is here, maybe intentionally, undermined. This is not a Tambu you‘re going to like, nor will you like seeing her struggles from inside your own head in a 2nd person narrative. I‘m partially horrified and partially impressed. A difficult read."

This novel follows Tambu again, continuing from the previous novels but into a very different Zimbabwe. The first two books took place in the 1960's and 1970's, during the "War". ( The Rhodesian Bush War—also called the Second Chimurenga as well as the Zimbabwe War of Liberation, 1965-1979). I don't think we are ever given a date for the time period covered here, but at one point a 2002 movie is mentioned, and we have email but not smart phones. This Zimbabwe is peaceful, somewhat prosperous, and has a flourishing tourist industry. It also has its tensions: an accepted but corrupt government, a kind of tense cooperation between the mostly wealthy whites and the rest of the population, and, notably, a significant set of psychologically scarred veteran freedom fighters who tend to be discouraged with the results of their victory. Thematically this builds on the last chapters of The Book of Not where Dangarembga began to explore the dangers of the post-war urban capitalisms and its underlying emptiness. There it almost felt like an add on. But here Tambu's struggles within this environment are the main plot.

I'm really glad I read the first two books before this (Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not). They aren't essential plot-wise, but they provide a context, and a background for Tambu, adding a kind of resonating shock value here. Also the first two books are really rewarding, and, unlike this one, are easy on the reader.

Lug 19, 11:48pm

Caught up for the moment.

Lug 20, 3:57pm

I should read more by Edith Wharton. I’ve loved the ones I have read.

Lug 23, 3:04pm

Happy third thread!

>16 dchaikin: I like your summary of Ethan Frome. It's the only book by Edith Wharton that I have read (and it was not part of a curriculum). I enjoyed it better than you did (maybe high school was not the right time to read it though)!
I have followed your Willa Cather trip with interest. I'll do the same with your Edith Wharton journey.

Lug 25, 11:28pm

>22 NanaCC: You're welcome to join. We begin The Valley of Decision next week, reading about 70 pages a week.

>23 raton-liseur: Thanks and thanks for stopping by. I'm sure I read Ethan Frome entirely against my will, fighting against every page. Hopefully I'll like it more when I revisit.

Lug 26, 4:30pm

>24 dchaikin: I'm sure I read Ethan Frome entirely against my will, fighting against every page

I quite liked Ethan Frome and thought Wharton captured some New England-ishness in it. It is not at all like the other books by her that I have read, which are about upper crust New Yorkers, but it is short and perhaps that is why high school teachers assign it. Certainly the plot is not geared toward teens, being about an unhappy marriage, temptation, self-sacrifice, and despair.

Lug 26, 6:28pm

>25 labfs39: It’s tough for teens. I was particularly ornery though, since at the time any reading was a unpleasant. And this reading was necessary for my grade. In my iffy memory it was the nature of the prose of turned me off. I remember it was difficult. But temptation and despair … surely these were draws.

Modificato: Lug 27, 10:32am

The 2021 Booker longlist was released today

2021 Booker Prize longlist - (order is longest to shortest)
Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead (USA: California, born 1983) 25:16, 608 pp
The Fortune Men, Nadifa Mohamed (UK: born in 1981 in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Moved to London 1986, age 4.), no audio, 384 pp
The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris (debut novel, USA: a Michener fellow at the University of Texas, Austin, Tx) 12:08, 368 pp
Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford (UK: born 1964. teaches writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London and lives near Cambridge.) 12:37, 336 pp
Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro (Japan/UK: Faber, born in Nagasaki, Japan, moved to Britain 1960, age 5.)10:16, 304 pp
A Passage North, Anuk Arudpragasam (Sri Lanka, Tamil novelist born 1988. Degrees from Stanford and Columbia) 9:15, 304 pp
The Promise, Damon Galgut, (South Africa, born 1963) no audio, 304 pp
A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson (Canada, born 1946) 7:32, 302 pp
Bewilderment, Richard Powers (USA, born 1946 in Evanston, IL.), 7:00 (release Sep 21), 272 pp
An Island, Karen Jennings (South Africa, born 1982), no audio, 192 pp
Second Place, Rachel Cusk, (UK/Canada: born in Saskatoon to British parents in 1967, spent early childhood in Los Angeles. Moved to the UK in 1974) 6:18, 186 pp
China Room, Sunjeev Sahota (UK: born 1981 in Derby), 5:57, 256 pp
No One is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood (USA: born in a trailer in Fort Wayne, Indiana,1982), 4:43, 210 pp


My first thoughts is that these are much shorter than last year and there is only one debut novel, whereas last year there were several. Also, odd that at least six authors were born in the 1980's. It seems, on a first look, a good list. I've only read Rachel Cusk and enjoyed what I read. I've wanted to read Kazuo Ishiguro & Richard Powers for a while. I should start the very long Great Circle on audio soon, maybe next week.

Lug 27, 10:49am

I loved Klara and the Sun and have had the Mary Lawson book on my TBR and buy list.

Lug 27, 11:10am

>16 dchaikin: I know I read Ethan Frome in high school and vaguely remember something boring and then something bad with a sled.
You're sure you weren't watching Citizen Kane, right?

I like your wheel of fortune at the top of the thread, Dan. Always good to remember that the wheel turns, both for better and for worse, but in constant motion, anyway.

>27 dchaikin: There are a few of those I'm interested in—and I think my first will probably be Great Circle, because I really like the premise. That's a long one, though—600 pages or so.

Oh, and I DO have a copy of Pnin (shown here with part of floofy cat). That's on the list too, then.

Lug 27, 12:13pm

>29 lisapeet: That's such a cool edition... floofy cat definitely adds some appeal. And, no, re Ethan Frome and Citizen Kane, based on my memory this sled would not fondly recalled... I'm going to be thinking about this until I finally re-read Ethan Frome!!

Great Circle will take me 4-6 weeks on Audio. : )

Modificato: Lug 27, 1:55pm

>28 torontoc: I've noticed lots of positive and intriguing posts on Klara and the Sun. I haven't heard of Mary Lawson, but seems she gets a lot of praise.

Lug 27, 1:23pm

Booker lengths

2021 list = 4,026 pages
2020 list = 4,816 pages (plus, for early parts of trilogies, 1730 pages = total 6,546)

So, last year was only 20% longer, or this year is 17.5 % shorter. The length difference is significant, but also might have been exaggerated in my perception. Also, two from 2020 were the 3rd book of a trilogy. So, if those four are added, 2020 was a whole lot longer. But that's maybe not fair.)

Modificato: Lug 27, 1:48pm

While I'm at it, my personal ranking of the 2020 Booker longlist entries.

The ones I enjoyed the most:

The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel (UK), used print, 757 pp - very long
Real Life by Brandon Taylor (USA), used audio, 9:25 (329 pp)
Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze (UK), used audio, 9:29 (336 pp) - but see my ethical quandary above

The ones I thought were good but didn’t enjoy as much:

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (USA), used audio, 7:29 (240 pp)
This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), used print, 280 pp - I'm really glad I read this.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Scotland/USA), used audio, 17:30 (448 pp) - very long

The ones that were harmless and enjoyable but also really simple:

Redhead by The Side of The Road by Anne Tyler (USA), used ebook, 194 pp
Such a Fun Age Kiley Reid (USA), used audio, 9:58 (310 pp) - about as sophisticated as a decent sitcom.

The one I can’t decide if I liked or not (this is not a recommendation):

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (USA), used audio, 12:46 (416 pp) - felt long

The one I found really dull, although the topic was interesting:

Apeirogon by Colum McCann (Ireland/USA), used audio, 15:20 (463 pp) - very long

The ones I really didn't enjoy:

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang (USA), used audio, 9:08 (288 pp)
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/USA), used audio, 16:09 (448 pp) - very long

The one I haven’t read because it has no official US release yet:

Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward, 7:30/256 pp (UK)


Overall I found the list interesting but I don't really look back at it all that fondly. I didn't really like most of these books. And, yes, that makes me question if I should have pursued it. However, I was really grateful to read the trilogies. Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not were all terrific, and I think I liked each better than any of the books on this list. So maybe reading the 2020 list was worth those four books.

Lug 27, 4:55pm

>30 dchaikin: "And, no, re Ethan Frome and Citizen Kane, based on my memory this sled would not fondly recalled... I'm going to be thinking about this until I finally re-read Ethan Frome!!"

Re: Ethan Frome, you are right about the sled. Not a happy element. I read the book in a grad school course called "Highbrows and Lowbrows" in the the "highbrows" were Edith Wharton and Henry James (don't get me started) and the "lowbrows" were Mark Twain and Theodore Dreiser. We read a novel a week. It was my first semester of grad school after seven years away from school entirely. Yikes! I don't have clear memories of Ethan Frome, though I remember having to push through it. Lots of luck!

Lug 28, 8:44am

>34 rocketjk: entertained by the title of your course. Sounds like a whole lot of reading and a great experience. I’m hoping to actually enjoy EF this time.

Lug 28, 11:17am

>35 dchaikin: Yes, it was a great course and the professor was terrific. I, too, hope you enjoy EF, and I'm looking forward to reading about how you eventually get on with the book.

Lug 28, 10:06pm

>36 rocketjk: I'll have to be patient. EF is her seventh novel. I think we will read the first four this year.

Modificato: Lug 28, 10:48pm

34. Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
published: 2020
format: Apple Books ebook (194 pages in paperback)
acquired: July 19
read: Jul 19-20
time reading: 4:02, 1.2 mpp
rating: 3½
locations: Baltimore
about the author: Baltimore-based author. Born in Minneapolis, 1941. Grew up Quaker communities in North Carolina.

This was fine. Short, harmless, pretty thin. Micah Mortimer makes a small living as the Tech Hermit - I think "mort" and "time" and "hermit" give a pretty heavy handed perspective on what's not going on, actually living. Micah is really nice and likeable but has trouble seeing what he‘s missing or how he's limiting his own life. There is one chapter where we meet Micah's family that is chaotic in a really terrific way and I really enjoyed it. But it's just a cameo. The rest was ok. I didn‘t mind it.

This was my first by Tyler, and my 12th of the 13 books on the 2020 Booker list.

Lug 28, 10:27pm

Modificato: Lug 28, 10:45pm

35. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
published: 1989
format: 323-page paperback
acquired: 2007
read: Jul 21-25
time reading: 9:35, 1.8 mpp
rating: 3
locations: Discworld (in a version of ancient Egypt with magical forces)
about the author: 1948-2015, from Buckinghamshire, England

I love discworld, still, but this one was tough. Terrific ideas, terrific world, great characters and ideas. Pratchett has so much fun playing on ancient Egypt, classical Greek philosophy, death (and mummies), religion and, just discworld,. But the plot drive isn‘t there, and when it is, the pacing is terrible. It makes for a sluggish read.

(my cover is so boring, I had to post some Josh Kirby art above)

Lug 29, 6:53am

>17 dchaikin: Late in catching up, but interesting thoughts on Who They Was. I definitely get the ethical dilemma you felt - I think that bothers me more the older I get. Hmm - I think it swings me into the 'don't read it' camp, although your review makes it sound very tempting. I find it hard to get past someone profiting from a violent past, especially when it's not tied to a 'so here's what I did with my life to atone for the misery I caused' message.

Lug 29, 7:49am

>40 dchaikin: I think I rated Pyramids a bit higher, because I read it after just finishing Small Gods. The latter being one of Pratchett's best in my opinion. I do remember feeling it was a bit more disjointed and slow.

And totally agree, I have a whole stack of those boring covers. They in no way reflect the contents of the novel. Josh Kirby's artwork is so much better in every way. I don't quite understand the trend of generic, boring covers' genre fiction has undergone for the last decade. Generic cover design doesn't make a book more literary.

Lug 29, 8:58am

>41 AlisonY: on Who They Was: right. Krauze’s book is a kind of atonement but also not exactly. He never expresses any sense of internal guilt. It should be annoying, but when he is reading, he is captivating and his voice is hard to pause. So I was only insecure about it when I wasn’t listening.

>42 stretch: ah, Small Gods. So just terrific. (And, of course, turtles and the religion make a couple distinct appearances in Pyramids). As for the covers, I find those post-Kirby covers deadening, as if they are trying to avoid acknowledging the electricity inside. I really don’t like them.

Lug 29, 9:13am

>43 dchaikin: I do get that (and I'm still tempted). It's that fly on the wall amazement of an inside track on a life led in a totally different way to how you lead your own.

Lug 29, 6:21pm

Just catching up here, and I'm a little bit amused by the discussion of Ethan Frome. I also had to read it in high school, but while I deeply resented almost everything I was forced to read for school, I was the only single person in my class who actually really liked Ethan Frome. I think I was emotionally repressed enough as a teen that I could really relate to the main character.

I re-read it again a couple of years ago and liked it all over again, too. Maybe I'm still emotionally repressed. :)

Lug 29, 8:27pm

>44 AlisonY: yes. Totally different life and despite the awful stuff, fascinating.

>45 bragan: I think I have about six months to build up some emotional repression - you know, as prep. Seriously, hope you don’t have any serious issues of the sort. And also glad to have some encouragement. Thanks.

Lug 31, 4:49pm

Great reviews of Who They Was and This Mournable Body, Dan. I hope to get to both books later this year.

Nice summary of the 2020 Booker Prize longlist! I'll start on the 2021 longlist next week, as I only have to work Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, versus all seven days this week.

Lug 31, 5:47pm

>47 kidzdoc: I need to catch up on your thread and see your thoughts on this year's list. I think last year's list was not so highly regarded (??).

Ago 1, 9:31am

Happy August

My July plan

10 hours - Pale Fire by Vladimr Nabokov (Nabokov theme)
7 hours - All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare (Litsy group read)
3 hours - The Touchstone by Edith Wharton (Litsy group read)
15 hours - Pyramids by Terry Pratchett (TBR)
9.5 hours - This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Booker theme)
11 hours - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (Nabokov theme)
55.5 hours

How it played out:

13:05 - Pale Fire by Vladimr Nabokov - finished
5:01 - All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare (acts I-III)
2:59 - The Touchstone by Edith Wharton - finished
9:35 - Pyramids by Terry Pratchett - finished
10:01 - This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga - finished
4:10 - Redhead by the side of the Road by Anne Tyler - finished
1:12 - Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson - in progress
10:41 - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov - in progress

Beat my time! And I finished a lot of shorter books this month. So a good month in that way. I'm interested in how far off my estimates were. I underestimated these later difficult Nabokov books, and over-estimated Terry Pratchett.

My August plan

5 hours - All's Well That Ends Well, acts iv-v & afterward stuff (Litsy group read)
4 hours - Measure for Measure, acts 1&2 (Litsy, and I lead)
3 hours - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, last 61 pages (Nabokov theme)
17 hours - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, books I-III (Litsy Wharton theme)
1/2 hour - Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson, last 20 pages
23 hours - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratichvili - 1st half (TBR)
52.5 hours

My original August plan included Cup of Gold, the first novel by John Steinbeck.

Ago 3, 9:20am

>48 dchaikin: I think that's a fair statement, Dan. I wasn't enamored of the 2020 Booker Dozen, and I don't know of anyone personally who was fond of it. I haven't started this year's longlist yet, but it looks promising on paper.

Ago 3, 1:36pm

>50 kidzdoc: as i try to make sense of these Booker decisions I’m getting more interested in the group selecting. Interesting that of the five judges, only one is a novelist this year. (Horatia Harrod is an editor at the Financial Times Weekend. She has written widely on arts and books… Natascha McElhone is a actor…Dr Rowan Williams is a theological writer… and Maya Jasanoff is a historian. Only Chigozie Obioma is a novelist.) That’s curious to me. It seems it could give a pushy author too much weight, if they harp on their writing experience with no one to counter. Or it could really tamp down on the writers perspective, since he’s outnumbered. Or maybe it’s all a lot more normal than that.

Anyway, Chigozie Obioma’s presence encourages me a lot. I really enjoyed his Orchestra of Minorities, which I thought was a lesson in storytelling. So I’m guessing he values that aspect. The press releases all seem to harp on the emphasis of storytelling in this year’s list.

Modificato: Ago 4, 9:14pm

36. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
reader: Ruth Urquhart
published: 1987
format: 7:51 audible audiobook (224 pages in paperback)
acquired: July 14
listened: Jul 15-29
rating: 5
locations: Cairo 1942, England and Massachusetts
about the author: English author born Cairo in 1933, who moved to England in 1945.

I really enjoyed this. It's smart, fun, moving, thoughtful, with sweeping history and terrific language, and I stumbled across it by accident, making it all the more of all of that.

I found it looking, indecisively, for audiobooks, trying samples. This sample begins with a the narrator telling me, roughly, "my John Aubrey is not your John Aubrey." And actually that was enough for me the pick the book. I stopped the sample there. The narrator is Claudia, lying in a hospital bed, dying, and writing a history of the world. Claudia is everything that proper, intellectual England English can do to raise one above the rest of humanity. Arrogant, narcissistic, brilliant, elegant, separate, and full of information. And she tells of her life, a lost father a World War I, working as a war reporter during World War II, a defier of all gender conventions and limitations. Early in the book she is dragged across the pond by her brother, a Harvard professor, and visits a recreation of the original Plymouth settlement, with character actors playing the time period and answering visitor questions. Claudia begins to warn these confused actors all their consequences, of all the American future flaws, begging them not to be so greedy as to import slaves. It's a scene worth the book.

But actually the heart of this book takes place over a brief period in Cairo, in 1942, on the brink of El Alamein, where the book turns romantic and builds in many details of Penelope Lively's own life. Lively was born to an expat British family in Cairo, and lived there until Rommel threatened in 1942, when she was about twelve. Her childhood experience seems to have struck a nerve.

This book breathes history. The way Lively/Claudia undermines it, plays with it, toys with the philosophy of it - all with extreme arrogance, adds another wonderful color to already terrific novel. One of my best audiobook experiences.

Ago 4, 9:21pm

37. Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson
Illustrations: Marilyn Kahalewai
published: 1966, with illustrations from 1988
format: 84-page paperback
acquired: July 31
read: Jul 31 – Aug 1
time reading: 1:42, 1.2 mpp
rating: 3
locations: Hawaii
about the author: couldn’t find anything….

A 1966 collection that‘s been reprinted several times, including this new printing with 1988 illustrations. Didn‘t do much for me, but it was short and it was nice to get a small sense of the mythology.

Ago 4, 9:43pm

38. Speak, Memory : An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1966
format: 302-page paperback
acquired: August 2020, from a Goodwill
read: Jul 24 – Aug 2
time reading: 13:15, 2.6 mpp
rating: 4
about the author: 1899 – 1977. Russia born, educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, 1922. Lived in Berlin (1922-1937), Paris, the US (1941-1961) and Montreux, Switzerland (1961-1977).

This one I was happy to finish. Because it was difficult and slow to work through, and really evasive, although rewarding in its own odd way.

I saw reviewers comment on how self-indulgent this is, and also how evocative it is. It was mainly, for me, impenetrable. I learned a lot about the natural magic of well-maintained wealthy Russia summer estates, of hunting butterflies, of the awkwardness of English and French governesses and the eccentric personal tutors of various backgrounds. Nabokov's family was crazy wealthy, even as his father was politically liberal (and influential). But this left him prominently caught between or outside the Russian red and white forces in the Revolution, and forced the family to flee into a ruined exile. His father was later assassinated, or actually shot while shielding a colleague from an assassin (an assassin who apparently did well later in Nazi Germany). Vladimir Nabokov was left a permanent exile, and caught into a life of before and after. This is mainly about that lost Russian childhood, and his lost summers in the family's country estate.

Nabokov tells us he doesn't regret the loss of that fanciful life and, as he tells us so little about how he feels, I'm tempted to believe him. This is a very frustrated book for anyone looking to learn about the formation of this author. I was looking for that, and found my desperately looking to pin down anything solid. I was grasping at fog. Within this curious atmospheric construction, he reveals nothing.

Ago 4, 10:57pm

>52 dchaikin: I read Moon Tiger a few years back and also liked it quite a lot. I didn't realize how much of it reflected Lively's own life. Terrific review.

Ago 5, 12:38pm

>55 rocketjk: Thanks. Seems a lot of people have read, and really liked, this Booker winner (Moon Tiger won in 1987). I had never heard of it before.

Modificato: Ago 5, 1:01pm

>52 dchaikin: Moon Tiger has popped on and off my radar for years. I'll have to library it up—it sounds neat.

Ago 5, 1:02pm

>52 dchaikin: Hm - sounds like I need to pick this one up. It had been on my radar since forever but every time I was looking at it, something else came up. Your review makes me want to read it :)

Ago 5, 3:40pm

>57 lisapeet: >58 AnnieMod: Happy to encourage. It’s a fun book, maybe unusually so.

Ago 5, 7:20pm

>52 dchaikin: That was the only Golden Booker nominee that I didn't read. Sounds like I missed a good one. I may have to rectify that soon. Thanks for the review!

Modificato: Ago 5, 9:39pm

>60 Yells: I had to look up what the Golden Booker Prize was. Interesting! I’ve read three of the 5 in the shortlist. Might have to read those other two. I think own The English Patient (great movie).

The shortlisted works were:

In a Free State (1971) — V.S. Naipaul
Moon Tiger (1987) — Penelope Lively
The English Patient (1992) — Michael Ondaatje ==> eventual winner
Wolf Hall (2009) — Hilary Mantel
Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) — George Saunders

Modificato: Ago 18, 8:52am

My mother has been trying to get me to read Penelope Lively for ages, including I'm pretty sure Moon Tiger. Maybe I should listen to her now... ;-p

I have heard it said that if you read The English Patient before seeing the film you love the novel and dislike the film, and vice versa. They are certainly very different beasts. (I'm in the first category btw - absolutely blown away by the novel and so the film was a bit disappointing in contrast).

Set 1, 6:33am

>62 wandering_star: hi. Sorry for the slow response. Thanks for the note on The English Patient. Hope I enjoy it when I get there. And I second your mother on Lively. :)

Modificato: Set 1, 6:58am

Monthly summary

My August plan

5 hours - All's Well That Ends Well, acts iv-v & afterward stuff (Litsy group read)
4 hours - Measure for Measure, acts 1&2 (Litsy, and I lead)
3 hours - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, last 61 pages (Nabokov theme)
17 hours - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, books I-III (Litsy Wharton theme)
1/2 hour - Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson, last 20 pages
23 hours - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili - 1st half (TBR)
52.5 hours

How it played out

4:39 - All's Well That Ends Well, acts iv-v & afterward stuff (finished)
5:27 - Measure for Measure. Acts 1-3 (I will re-read Act 3)
2:34 - Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. last 61 pages (finished)
17:39 - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, books I-III, plus half of IV
0:30 - Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Vivian L. Thompson, last 20 pages (finished)
23:15 - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili - 2/3 read
54:04 hours

A success, but with forty hours dedicated to two long books the I didn't finish (or plan to finish), plus another 18 hours on a long audio book I also haven't finished, I felt a little lost

My September plan

18 hours - Petrarch and His World by Morris Bishop
9 hours - Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare, acts 3-5 plus afterward stuff
4 hours - The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton, last 86 pages
12 hours - The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili - last 300 pages
12 hours - Ada by Vladimir Nabokov - first half, or around 300 pages
55 hours

In my original sketched plan September included Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler and Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov

Set 12, 8:36pm

39. All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare
written: 1st known copy is First Folio in 1623, but usually dated 1603-1606
format: 280-page Signet Classic paperback
acquired: June
read: Jul 5 – Aug 7
time reading: 9:40, 2.7 mpp
rating: 4
locations: France and Florence
about the author: April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

Sylvan Barnet – series (c1963, 1965, 1988, 2005)
William Painterfrom The Palace of Pleasure (3rd edition, 1575)
Samuel Johnsonfrom The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765)
M. C. Bradbrookfrom Shakespeare and Elizabethan Poetry (1951)
Joseph Westlund – Longing, Idealization and Sadness In All’s Well that Ends Well (1984)
Bruce Smith – What Doing it In the Dark, Without Words, Tells Us About Early Modern Sexuality (2005)
Sylvan Barnet – All’s Well that Ends Well on stage and screen

short version: Shakespeare‘s heroin scores an unwilling, promiscuous, maybe syphilic, but upperclass husband and tricks him into impregnating her.

Possibly titled Love's Labour Won at some point, this a problem play in that it's a comedy, but not exactly. It involves a flipping of gender roles, and bed trick. Here the heroin, Helena, choses the husband, and he, Bertram, rejects her sexually. Hence the bed trick. Helena takes the place of Bertram's desired mistress in bed, in the dark, without him ever knowing. (Which says?) Anyway, Helena plays the tricks, marries her unreachable man, and then gets pregnant by him, then finally gets him to commit. Happiness seems very unlikely.

Set 12, 8:57pm

40. The Valley of Decision by Edith Wharton
published: 1902
format: 461-page Kindle ebook, public domain
acquired: July
read: Aug 2 – Sep 5
time reading: 19:57, 2.6 mpp
rating: 3½
locations: Mainly fictional late 18th-century Pianura in Northern Italy somewhere between Turin (in Savoy) and Milan. Also Turin, Naples, Venice, and other Italian places.
about the author: 1862-1937. Born Edith Newbold Jones on West 23rd Street, New York City. Spent most of her writing life in France.

Wharton‘s first full length novel from 1902 looks at 18th century northern Italy and reform movements in the Age of Enlightenment. Through unanticipated accidents of succession Odo rises from a neglected spiritual boy to educated idealistic wannabe reformer, to a Duke able to implement his reforms (partially driven a by lover). But do his subjects want them? It‘s a curious complicated setup; a long, interesting, if somewhat forced novel of ideas, or maybe of failed ones.

It's in a way a kind of an oddball first major novel. It's not bad, but readable and interesting. A maybe awkward opening where a reader has no idea where she is going leads to long chunks feeling as if they were written in one breathe, full of ideas and observations and energy. And it asks some hard questions. I would only recommend to completists, but I don't think they will mind it.

Set 12, 9:27pm

41. The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili
published: 2014
translation: 2019, from German by Charlotte Collins & Ruth Martin
format: 934-page paperback
acquired: April 2020
read: Aug 6 – Sep 7
time reading: 34:05, 2.2 mpp
rating: 4
locations: Mainly 20th-century Tbilisi, Georgia. But also St. Petersburg, Moscow and elsewhere.
about the author: A German citizen born (1983) and raised in Tbilisi, Georgia.

I had one of those LT Club Read moments. Someone raved about a book (rachbxl), this one, and I got sucked in and now had to read it. Except...this time I actually followed up on that response. It's a great book, but I was never quite as taken as the Rachel.

This is a 934-page sweeping historical romance on Georgia - the country. It basically covers the 20th century, opening around 1900 and closing around 2003, a pivotal and hopeful year for this place. That means we open with a Russian controlled Georgia, watch the Bolshevik revolution, and then spend 70 years under Soviet rule, many with Georgian-born Stalin ruling (with his Georgian-born lecherous henchman, Lavrentiy Beria.). We see Glasnost and the Soviet collapse and Georgian independence and the wars and massacres that went with that, but were largely hidden in the back pages of the western press.

The story is told by Nika, an unmarried Georgia-born women in her 30's living Berlin with the wonderfully named Aman Baron (not sure if it's as entertaining in the original German). Brilka, her 12-yr-old niece, travelling with a dance group in Holland, has run off and, after a few days, been found in Vienna. And Nika's mother asks her to deal with it. So, Nika goes to Vienna and picks up rebellious Brilka, and then she feels the need to tell Brilka her family history, and all these broken stories, in a largely romantic moving tone. The nature of writing a history through a romantic family means we can't just have every day characters. Some need to interact closely with major historical figures, or become powerful or famous in improbable ways. Through the first 2/3 of this book, this bothered me a lot. But the last third is Nika's own life, and she switches to first person and focuses on the 1980's (when the author was born in Georgia) and suddenly there is all this life detail. The book opened up for me (and Georgia as a place opened up for me) and I didn't mind the flaws so much. So, cumulatively, I liked it a lot.

Haratischvili started by writing Nika's story, or something like that, but she felt she had to bring a lot history before anything worked. So she went back to 1900. That maybe explains the somewhat dual feel of the book...well, that and the change from 3rd person to 1st person.

I‘m not going to rave about this, as I was never carried away, but it‘s nicely written and I enjoyed it all.

Modificato: Set 12, 10:24pm

42. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
readers: Cassandra Campbell & Alex McKenna
published: 2021
format: 25:16, 608 pages in hardcover
acquired: July 30
listened: Jul 30 – Sep 10
rating: 4
locations: Hollywood, Missoula, Montana, Seattle, Vancouver, Alaska, England, Antarctica, and other places.
about the author:from Mission Viejo, California. Born 1983

Another long book I liked but didn't love. Great Circle is the story Marian Graves, a (fictional) pilot who tried to be the first to fly around the world by crossing both poles in 1949-50, but disappeared somewhere off the New Zealand side of Antarctica. Now the overlooked pioneering pilot is a the subject of a movie under production.

No simple story, Marian and her twin brother must survive a shipwreck, lose their parents, and grow up somewhat wild, and be raised by an uncle in Montana. When Marian first sees a airplane she becomes obsessed, drops out of school to make some money and makes a number of other sacrifices to pursue her goal of flying.

In Hollywood an off-kilter brazen actress suffering bad press, who lost her parents to a plane that disappeared, and who was raised by her uncle, feels a connection to Marian, and is selected to play her in a movie.

The stories are told in contrasting tone (and two different narrators on audio), but interact through the mystery that was Marian.

It was not a wow for me. And I thought it lacked a hook. I never really understood why Marian was so special to spend time with. I mean I liked her. Just, she didn't draw me in. On a different note, I didn't like that she was such a passive character. It seems a little wrong that a pioneering pilot was so passive, but mainly it's just an overdone thing. So many contemporary novels live off outrageously passive characters. Maybe this was just a little too conventional for me. But it‘s still a good novel, and Shipstead creates some wonderful moments, with some striking prose.

Set 15, 6:51am

>38 dchaikin: Loved your Tyler review! It made me laugh. i read Tyler regularly up to and including the 1990s but then stopped (...long before LT. It would have been nice to see what I might have written in reviews for those books).

Set 15, 8:29am

>69 avaland: thanks! I have another Tyler in the TBR stacks - Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. I had actually planned to read it this month. I’m still following that plan, but behind it.

Modificato: Set 15, 10:27am

>70 dchaikin: I'll be interested how it reads generally ...what...thirty years after first publication? Meanwhile, I've started a book by a geologist who worked with a team in Greenland (I thought I could alternate with the Icelandic history/cultural book I've been picking at.

Set 15, 12:46pm

Lois - i saw you were reading that title and I’m really curious. (I’m really far behind on your thread and was hesitant to comment before I caught up.)

Set 15, 6:43pm

Nice review of Great Circle, Dan. (I have absolutely no idea why the touchstone for the book goes to Great Ground-Beef Recipes.) Since it was selected for the Booker Prize shortlist I'll read it next month.

Modificato: Set 15, 9:23pm

Ground beef = burger - which is circular? The touchstones are weird. I’ll look forward to your response to Great Circle. It mostly gets rave reviews - but also see Deborah’s (Cariola) review.

Set 15, 9:50pm

Yes, I remember Deborah's review of Great Circle from last month; that's why I'm saving it as my last shortlisted book to read. Based on her comments and yours I suspect that I would enjoy reading Great Ground-Beef Recipes considerably more. Hmm...could it be that the touchstones are trying to steer me toward that book?

Set 16, 2:29am

>70 dchaikin: I'm curious that Anne Tyler is on your reading list at all - she's a very different author to the type of books you normally read. What led to her inclusion in your plan?

Modificato: Set 16, 4:10pm

>75 kidzdoc: I’m fasting today. I probably should be thinking about something other than burgers, or meatloaf, or…

>76 AlisonY: I guess I branch out a little. 🙂Anne Tyler comes up here a lot, and usually positive. So i was curious enough that I picked up a random novel I found at a bookstore. That’s how i got Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Whereas Redhead by the Side of the Road is on the 2019 Booker longlist, and i’ve read all but one book on that list.

Set 16, 7:16pm

>77 dchaikin: Ah, right. G'mar Chatima Tovah.

Set 16, 8:34pm

>78 kidzdoc: thanks Darryl. It’s funny I only recognize that because I once googled it. I’ve never actually said it to anyone myself. ☺️ Also, fast is over! Phew…

Modificato: Set 17, 3:32am

>77 dchaikin: Fair enough - I was just curious given the types of reading themes you normally do.

I've not read any Anne Tyler yet - I picked up one in a free library in a hotel some years back but the first few pages didn't grab me so I put it back. Not that that's saying anything - I've ready many, many books where it takes 50 - 100 pages before I'm hooked, but then I really do get into them, so I should give her another try.

Set 18, 1:02pm

>80 AlisonY: my first experience with Tyler was that she was a harmless easy read, but it wasn't anything like a super amazing reading experience. I do think about Redhead by the Side of the Road here and there, so there's that, but it's probably not a persuasive recommendation. I think if she doesn't grab you, there are plenty other authors to try. (Like Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, just, you know, for example....)