Monthly Archives: January 2019

* Every Third Thought

In Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons, the narrator is an aging English professor at a middling college who is struggling with a new novel, and increasing age. Over the course of the story he writes a dismal remembrance of his youthful days, full of sex and adventure–which his wife, wisely, advises him to shelf. Between the blue prose of the aborted story and the very annoying references to news items to date event, there’s little to enjoy. But what’s left is quite brilliant, with a great description of the life of the aging academic. Too bad there’s so little of it.

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Filed under New fiction

** The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The author of The Library Book centers it on a devastating fire at the Los Angeles main library back in 1986, an arson fire that was never completely solved, but the story is not about the fire– or, at least, the best part of the story is definitely not that of the fire, or its main suspect. Rather, she tells the history of the Los Angeles library system, which turns out to have been ahead of its time, despite its location in the Wild West, and including various machinations against (you guessed it!) female librarians.

As she proceeds, she uncovers many interesting developments, historical or contemporary, that make libraries much more than either repositories of books, or even places to obtain information. As the internet takes the place of the reference desk in many ways, libraries have become community spaces for children, immigrants, homeless people, and would-be coworkers alike (see that other book, Library, reviewed a while back) and librarians continue to imagine new ways they can reinvent their libraries.

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Filed under Non fiction

** Ninety Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

I feel guilty to have spent a couple of hours with Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret because, well, is a minor Royal worth that kind of attention? Not to mention one that is arrogant, self-centered, and plain rude, including to those who consider themselves her friends. That said, the biography is entertainingly written in 99 loosely connected chapters, some quite short, others more developed. It all feels like reading a gossip magazine, if they came in 400-page versions, and it makes a wonderful argument for getting rid of monarchy as a system.

Putting aside Margaret’s flaws, she might have had an interesting career as a social media influencer. Instead, she seems to have wasted her life swanning around town, drinking too much, and choosing the wrong guys.

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Filed under True story

*** Fall of Angels by Barbara Cleverly

Fall of Angels opens dramatically, with a young female trumpet player falling spectacularly (and suspiciously) to a bruised but happily non-dead state. Inspector Redfyre is on the premises, lured by a free ticket his aunt gave him. So he starts investigating, and in due course more young women turn up dead in 1920s Cambridge (England), prompting panic and a renewed urgency to the investigation, which seems to yield many secrets but not many tangible clues.

The plot is satisfyingly twisted but what made the book for me were the many comments about the effects of WWI, rules of etiquette, the misogynistic practices of the university (no degrees for women!), and early feminist efforts. The story brings to mind Gaudy Night, but in a more modern and utterly enjoyable form.

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Filed under Mystery

*** Nine Pints by Rose George

I love Rose George’s books, whether about shipping or toiletsNine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood did not disappoint. In it, she pays homage to a plucky , elderly British aristocrat who drove blood to English hospitals during WWII, and Janet Vaughan, who set up the UK’s blood donation system that needed such aristocrat to drive. She also visits a leech-breeding plants and explains how leeches take a year (!) to digest a meal, expounds against the evils of paying for blood, visits an Indian entrepreneur who is reinventing the sanitary pad for low-income countries, and explains how Facebook-found “blessers” infect young women with HIV in South Africa.

That’s a lot. And it’s a lot of fun, leeches and all.

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Filed under Non fiction

* The Trials of Nina McCall by Scott Stern

Starting during WWI, the US government, under the Orwellian name of “The American Plan” started to stalk and forcibly detain women to subject them to often brutal medical exams and equally brutal and ineffective medical treatment for STI.  The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women takes as its starting point one of these women and follows the lawsuit she brought against the government (she lost!), and meanders its way, slowly and methodically, thought WWII. While that treatment of women is shocking and well worth publicizing, I would have preferred a Cliff version of the events. (Yes, trial transcripts are incredibly boring.)

 

P.S. There’s hope. Tomorrow’s book is one I liked very much. Bad series this week!

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Filed under Non fiction

* Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

The heroine of Everything Under grew up on a houseboat with an unstable and likely mentally ill mother who eventually abandoned her. Decades later, her mother reappears and she revisits her surprisingly hazy memories, including what I found to be a very tiresome retelling of the Oedipus story, drowning in fog and rain.

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Filed under New fiction