2016: 113.-119.  Excellent Re-reads

     Since every single one of you that ever reads this blog knows me in real life, you are well aware that I had a major surgery that put me out of commission for a few months.  And while you (I) always think I’m going to spend recovery writing, in fact I usually spend it on the couch doing nothing at all.  And thus the blog has suffered.  However, I am basically better (and the operation was a huge success, yay!), and my husband has pointed out that my desk looks like that of a crazy book hoarder, so I figured it was time to get back on the horse, so to speak.  And, in the hopes of saving my marriage to a neater person than I, I’m going to bash out some multiple book posts and restore order to the corner of our bedroom.  Today it’s a whole bunch of books I’ve recently re-read.

113. 

“This is the bright candlit room where the life-timers are stored - shelf upon shelf of them, squat hourglasses, one for every living person, pouring their fine sand from the future into the past.  The accumulated hiss of the falling grains makes the room roar like the sea."

Mort, Terry Pratchett

A Discworld novel by the late, great Terry Pratchett, this one deals with what happens when DEATH (always in all caps) takes first an apprentice, and then a holiday.  Needless to say, mayhem ensues.  Mort is hired to be DEATH’S apprentice and is doing ok at it, until he falls in love with someone who is supposed to die… Whoops.  Like all Pratchett it’s funny, and has heart, and meaning behind the humor. I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about it before, but there you go.  If you haven’t read Pratchett, this is a pretty good entry point, and if you have and have somehow missed the DEATH books, pick this one up.

114.  

“The Morris dance is common to all inhabited worlds in the multiverse.”

Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett

A bit of a theme.  One DEATH book led me to re-reading another.  In this one DEATH starts to ponder the existential and finds himself put out of a job.  Sending him off with best wishes and a well-earned gold watch seems like a decent plan, but with DEATH off his game, the living start to pile up.  DEATH is enjoying the rest of his life, but the Discworld can’t live without him.  Chaos and mayhem of course follow, with the humor we’ve come to expect from Pratchett.  I think I liked Mort a little bit more, but this one has more poignancy at the end, so depends if you prefer puns or heart.  Both are great.

113.

“I do not know exactly how Edith Lavery came first to be taken up by Isabel Easton.”

115. Snobs, Julian Fellows

If you loved Downton Abbey you have to go get this novel.  Written by Julian Fellows, the creater of Abbey, this book is set in modern-day England (or modern to whenever it was written), and viciously takes on the current day class system in England - even more sharpley and nastily than Downton ever dared.  Which is to say, this book is sooooo fun.  It’s the story of Edith Lavery, a regular middle class girl who manages to snag an Earl, and then finds out that maybe that the position alone isn’t worth it.  But really it’s about the British upper class, and what it’s like to try to join it - what it’s like to be in and to be out.  Fellows is delightful at explaining it all and making us see the good and bad of the system.  A hilariously snobbish novel about hilariously snobby people.

116. 

“Shadow had done three years in prison”

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

This is re-read, but it’s an update and expanded version of the text, so at least some of it was new to me.  American Gods is an amazing book - if you somehow have missed it, give it a shot.  It’s the story fo Shadow, who is released from prison the day after his wife and best friend have been killed in an accident.  At absolute loose ends (to put it mildly), he becomes the bodyguard, driver and errand boy for an enigmatic character known as Mr. Wednesday.  And somehow, without meaning to, he becomes involved in epic battle for the soul of the country itself… Hate to give too much more away, but this book really is a delight to read. I’ve read it at least twice before* and still found it to be un-put-downable.

*Spoiler alert - I gave away much more of the plot in that other entry, so click through at your peril!

117. 

“They do it with mirrors.  It’s a cliche, of course, but it’s also true.”

Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman

American Gods led to Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of Gaiman’s poetry and short fiction.  One of the quoted reviews refers to it as a “box of bonbons for dark fantasy fans”, and I’d have to agree that that is the perfect description.  The stories are fantastic, and funny and strange, and the poetry is good enough to keep you reading on.  If you read the last story, “Snow, Glass, Apples” you will never think of Snow White in the same way, every again.  Actually, this collection is a reasonably good introduction to the whole Gaiman thing, if you aren’t sure if he’s for you - though I think anyone would like American Gods, even if not a fantasy fan.  Here is a link to my previous review - as you can see, my opinion hasn’t changed much, nine years later.

118. 

A Very Great Profession was conceived of ten years ago when I first saw the film of Brief Encounter on television”

A Very Great Profession, Nicola Beauman

Well, this one I haven’t read since my junior year in college, when I was studying in London, and writing a paper on the “problem” of the “extra women” in Britain after World War One. It’s a non-fiction work about the woman’s novel, 1914-1939.  Beauman takes a bunch of forgotten novelists and uses their fiction as primary sources to talk about British life during that period.  It was originally published in 1983, and was, I believe one of the first books to use fiction as social history.  I read it, originally, to find fiction talking about the “unwanted woman” (basically the notion that after the war there were too many women who would never marry, because the men they would have married had died), and found some helpful stuff, and then forgot about it.  But I’ve been reading so much British woman’s fiction from that time period lately (helloooo, Thirkell) , I thought I’d give it another go. 

It’s a great idea, using popular fiction to learn what life was like, and Beauman does a decent job pulling various themese out (war, sex, marriage, domesticity).  It’s not fair for me to be pouty because she didn’t write about the authors I was most interested in, but overall it’s an interesting look at women’s life between the wars as captured by middlebrow fiction.

and finally…

119. 

“I have dreamed a terrible dream.”

Shot in the Heart, Mikal Gilmore

I cannot believe I haven’t blogged about this before (feel free to correct me if I have, as this blog has no search function and google has let me down), but Shot in the Heart is one of my favorite books.  It’s a dark and sad tale, but it’s ultimately gripping, and filled with humanity.  I know I keep saying this, but really, really you should read this.

It’s the story of Mikal Gilmore, who was the brother to the famous Gary Gilmore - the first person to be put to death after the death penalty was reinstated in the United States.  But really it’s the story of the dark family history that shaped him and his three brothers - one who was murdered, one who was a murderer, one a loner, and the last, Mikal a journalist for Rolling Stone.  How they turned out as they did - the mysteries and secrets in the family, the violence and loss.  The things that, even after writing this book Mikal will never know.  It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and amazing.  A truly great read.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017