READING DOWN THE HOUSE Report # 10

Snoopy is by Charles Schultz

Snoopy is by Charles Schultz

I had a stack of 17 books I bought, but never got around to reading. This year I set myself the challenge of reading them all. They had enough appeal for me to buy them, so I thought they deserved my attention. If I couldn’t make myself read them, it might teach me to stop buying books, knowing my attention would always be captured by newer and better ones.

Book_Just Kids Audio

I read a few things that weren’t my own first. When it came out, I read Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids. Many of you know she is my idol! I was completely engrossed in the tale of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti making it as BFFs and artists in New York City in the 70s. At the library, I stumbled across an audiobook version – read by Patti herself! I was over the moon. I spent the past month listening to it, about half an hour a day (the audiobook was 10 hours). Now if you know Patti Smith and her work, you know she has a very unmusical American accent. It might take some listeners a while to get past it. But if you are a fan, or have an interest in the art or music scene of the era, it was brilliant. I will note, though, that a print copy of the book is essential for the photographs!

Book_Today Is the Last Day

My lovely library ordered a book for me when I requested it: Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, a graphic novel by Ulli Lust. The term “graphic” is apt because it was the no-holds-barred memoir of a teenage runaway punk. Although I didn’t have the experiences the author had, I knew young women who did –trading drives and food for sex, couch surfing and sleeping outdoors, waking up being raped, and being dependent on the very same men who abused you, for survival. The book may have made me hate men for a little while. But it was a thrilling read and a real stretch of the comics medium.

Book_Roost

I read the book Roost by Ali Bryan. I really wanted to like it. It was the story of a rather clueless single parent who is just holding on. And is meant to be funny. Maybe I am too exacting by nature, but I found the mom’s disorganization, parenting skills and sibling rivalry to be quite irritating. I have also never met two children who are as impossibly scattered as hers. By the end I had warmed up to her, but I’m glad I don’t know her in real life! (Other reviewers will probably find my assessment of the book humourless).

Book_Snow Flower

A friend from my book club loaned me Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I found it upsetting. It told of a young woman in China in the mid-1800s and her lifelong friendship with a girl from another social class. (Spoiler Alert) The narrator of the book faces neglect and injustice, only to perpetrate it on others. It is so sad that women uphold cultural norms that repressed them. I had never seen a picture of bound feet before, and when I finally had the courage to look, it made me cry. I will not be watching the film version.

Book_Forest for Calum

For Reading Down the House, I read A Forest for Calum by Frank Macdonald. The author is local and it was his first, celebrated novel. It’s told by Roddie, a boy who grows up with his taciturn grandfather on rural, western Cape Breton Island in the 1950s. The mines have closed down in Shean and almost everyone is out of work. A few go away to work and send money home; most stay. The author draws the time and place with great care, making it come alive through the characters’ everyday adventures.

I was impatient for the first 120 pages. It was one childhood escapade after another. I thought the demographic for the book was probably 45-to-75 year old men who would like reminiscing about those years. Roddie grows up and makes decisions about staying or going, the old ways and the new. As a reader I was very aware that his coming of age was at the end of an era.

I suppose there were two reasons I didn’t love this book. One was that it was very male-centric. The female characters were somewhat marginalized. Is it a man’s novel, in the same way some books are women’s novels? The other was that the genre and style are outside my usual interests. I almost wish it had turned into a fantasy about the Gaelic alphabet, which plays a part in the story!

I didn’t realize until now that all of my reading this month helped me to think more deeply about feminism and its continuing importance in my life.

It is a good thing that Rom is such a kind, quirky and caring human being 🙂

I currently have three books on the go, all very unlike this month’s batch! And I have four more books to read for Reading Down the House by the end of the year. It will happen!

Are you reading anything from the depths of your own book shelves?

25 comments

  1. Very interesting indeed! I can’t believe I didn’t organise myself to read more books whilst away! I read one biography of a mother of an Olympian swimmer – I only read it cause I stole the cover for my router. Anyhow, the story is of someone I know of, and grew up in and around Brisbane, so that made it more relatable, but it also, surprisingly, touched on the neighbourhood I used to live in, in Sydney!

    As to reading at home – well last night I practically finished a book called ‘why people fail’ by an Aussie author. It’s basically a self help book, and has made me think a lot more about being productive but also getting the best/most out of every day. Also, in book news, I loaned my mother a library copy of ‘Call the Midwives’. In her haste to return it to me, I let her leave it with some other items (swimsuit, towel) at a friend’s balcony. The bag was stolen 😦 I ‘fessed up to the library yesterday, and I’m up for $35 which is a ok. If it’s found, they’ll reimburse me $20. Sounds fair. Must drop by the library this afternoon to settle my debts and my conscience.

    I do wonder if the thief enjoyed the spoils?!

    • I would imagine your thief was looking for “higher-value” goods! You sound like an ideal library customer. It amazes me how many people argue that they shouldn’t have to pay for a book, even when they dropped it in the bath tub or their dog chewed half the cover off! I know it is a big hit to the budget, and we can make exceptions for dire circumstances, but still!

      • Nope I was a ok to explain the situation and pay. I never thought of fighting it! I suppose I feel good I made their life less painful by complaining (and wish one of today’s customers would have shared the same maturity – but the other two did!)

  2. Dar, you do come up with the most off-beat books. I would probably like Patti Smith’s book, but the rest don’t sound much my taste. I’ve been reading through the few books I have left that I stocked up on for winter. I have two left that I am having trouble getting into, but that could be because I just don’t have the time to read for long stretches to get hooked.

    • Hello, Lois! I am making an extra effort to slog through the books that don’t grab me for Reading Down the House; otherwise I think life is too short and there are too many remarkable books to spend time on mediocre ones.

      • Couldn’t agree more. If a book doesn’t grab me or is poorly written and edited I will stop rather than frustrate myself.

  3. I forgot to mention, I’ve seen the pictures of bound feet and it’s horrible. I can’t believe anyone ever did that to a human being.

  4. Your books this month sound interesting- I’m looking forward to finishing my non-fiction books and reading some fiction!
    Having said that, I am currently really enjoying the book I am reading about the English Civil War- it’s non fiction, but the author really brings alive the stories of the people who lived through the war.

    • I would not have ever picked up a nonfiction book about a war, but recently I read Doomed to Repeat – not a good book over all, but it had some sections explaining the cultural history of the middle east and how it impacts the way wars play out. Made me want to read more.

      • I studied the Civil War at Uni- and it is probably the period of history I find most interesting. I think I would find a book about modern conflicts more difficult/upsetting (I’m not sure why, as people in the 17th century were just as human as modern people!) I do like books which enhance my understanding of ‘current affairs’, though. I have a biography of Putin waiting on my Kindle that I am looking forward to reading.

      • I haven’t read anything in depth on current affairs lately. For the most part, I don’t delve too deeply into modern conflicts, either.

  5. Gam Kau

    I’m currently working my way through The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Enjoying it and happy to have stumbled upon a long novel to fall into for a while.
    I often think the very high Loboutin-like stilletos currently in fashion are the modern day equivalent of bound feet. We don’t have to look very far back in time, or even far in distance, to find examples of how miserable women have been/are treated.

    • That is unfortunately true.

      When I saw the bound feet photos, Barbie feet came to mind.

      Interested to hear what you think of The Luminaries! Maybe it should go on my winter reading list.

  6. Fiona

    The Patti Smith book sounds really interesting. I also really like the sound of ‘A Forest for Calum.’ I sort of like the ‘clash of eras’ type books. And sometimes male-centric books make a bit more sense of my male-centric household (I’m outnumbered!)

    I tried to be really diligent with my reading while we were away, following suggestions from your earlier post about how to ‘find time’ for reading. I read in customs lines, on places / trains / cars / buses, in queues etc. I finished 3 books while were travelling. But in the two weeks since we’ve been home I’ve read nothing. Time to start on another ‘RDTH’ Challenge book.

    • A Forest for Calum was a gentle read (except for a shocking episode of animal abuse at the beginning which was clearly intended to establish a secondary character as a villain). Imagine a book like Angela’s Ashes or Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha without the grinding poverty.

      Good for you for getting that much reading in during vacation!

  7. I applaud your reducing your stack. I have similar stacks, but am slow to get them down. I usually find a new book to read and forego one I have in the pipeline. Best wishes on the last three. BTG

  8. Once again I am amazed at the wide range of books you enjoy! I’m sure you are a most excellent librarian!

  9. I haven’t heard of any of these! Your review of A Forest for Calum made me think of The Name of the Wind, a book I read earlier this month – written by a man, with a male lead. Sometimes I wondered if that was part of why I didn’t relate very easily to the main character?

    • I tend to like male leads if it is a pop culture novel or a memoir. But of course I’ve read lots of good literary fiction with male leads, like Rohinton Mistry’s books.There are certain macho types of guys I don’t like reading about – haven’t read any Cormac McCarthy, for example!

  10. Haven’t read anything for a couple of weeks. Too tired from work. And strong winds are making my eyes water and giving me a headache. Think I might borrow some audio books.

    Don’t know Patti Smith’s stuff but you’ve piqued my interest. My local library has her memoir, but not the audio version. Do you have a few favourite songs of hers?

    • Patti Smith’s work comes from spoken word poetry, and her voice is not for everyone. A couple of her more accessible songs are People Have the Power and Because the Night. Her best known song (arguably) is her re-working of Van Morrison’s Gloria, with its memorable opening line. I would go for the book version of Just Kids. You need the photos!

  11. Pingback: What I Liked About September | An Exacting Life

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