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Friday, January 31, 2014

Flashback Friday: What I Was Reading in January of 2008

Well, I had grand plans for catching up on reviews today, but the weather beat me yet another time this winter.  Due to a severe storm bearing down on us, our sold-out chocolate program at the BPL tomorrow was cancelled and rescheduled all before 1 pm today.  Thankfully, I was able to at least leave a message for just about everyone who was signed up and those I talked to were very understanding.

I have to say, I have gone out of my way this winter NOT to complain about the cruddy weather we have been having (record cold and almost record snow--if this storm starts a bit earlier in the evening tonight we just might make the snow record too), but the weather still keeps trying my patience.  I still will not complain because that is not going to do a bit of good, but I will protest by not posting the new review I had in the works. That will show the weather.

I was looking back on the first January I had the blog-- January 2008-- and I thought it was funny that I complained about how snowy it was that January.  Boy was I wrong there.  I hadn’t seen anything yet. I thought I would do a Flashback Friday and repost my reading report.

One last note.  Back then I tried to get everything I read in a month all in one post.  Now, I read more, and write more about each book, so I do a post for each book.  I found looking at the reviews interesting.  I hope you do too.

Stay safe and warm out there.



What I'm Reading: January 2008

It has been cold and snowy here in Illinois this January. That and a vacation early in the month means I got through 6 books this month, cover to cover. I have decided to focus on the three shorter works I read. All are very different in scope, tone, and theme; however, due to their little number of pages, each could be easily consumed on one cold, winter night.

Michael Chabon has now completed his second cycle of following a large tome with a short novella. His latest novella, Gentlemen of the Road (or as he has been quoted as wanting to have titled it, Jews With Swords), is historical fiction set in 10th Century Khazaria, a mythical city of red headed Jews on the western shores of the Caspian Sea. The two main characters are both Jewish "gentlemen of the road," men who travel the Silk Road because they have nowhere else to go and no one waiting for them. One is a pale, German doctor and the other a "giant" black man. These two seemingly different men are inseparable. Their adventure involves bringing the heir to the murdered King of Khazaria back home and re-instating him onto the throne.

Although Gentlemen of the Road's plot is dependent upon the intricacies its 1oth Century setting, the novella is a true adventure novel in the style of mid-20th century pulp fiction. It was originally published in the NYT's Sunday magazine in 15 installments. Faithful to its genre, the story moves quickly and each chapter ends with a cliff hanger, and the main characters are almost too good and kind to be true. Therefore, those who enjoyed this novella tone and style may be happier trying a classic adventure tale such as those by Robert Louis Stevenson or Jules Verne rather than trying to find another historical novel set in the 10th Century. This novella has also been compare to Don Quixote, although, Cervantes is a bit harder to get through.

Award-winning British playwright Alan Bennett's new novella An Uncommon Reader is capturing American attention and is quickly becoming an underground hit (see this posting). The premise is simple enough. The Queen (post Diana's death) is chasing after her Corgis and discovers the library bookmobile part on her property. She investigates and slowly becomes obsessed with reading. We see her evolve as a reader and even move into writing. In between these plot details Bennett raises issues of class, the burden of being the Queen, and the British people's mixed feelings the Monarchy. The ending is also very satisfying.

Those who enjoyed last year's Oscar Nominated film The Queen will love this novella. For readalikes, I had trouble finding the right feel in any one book until I remembered P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves' novels . They are old but owned by just about every public library. These funny, British novels, filled with not too thinly veiled social commentary, still hold up over time.

Finally, I also read a short nonfiction work which I highly recommend to all librarians who work with leisure readers, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by French Professor, Pierre Bayard. Here, Bayard gets at the history of non-readers throughout examples in literature and film. It was an intriguing look at how people remember what they have read, and how they discuss what they have only skimmed or heard of. Bayard does seem to have his tongue planted at least a bit in his cheek here though. I mean advocating not reading books and writing a book about it. So to honor him...I listened to it.

Anyone who likes this book should look at Alberto Manguel's excellentA History of Reading.

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