2006: Books 119-110

110. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

It turns out I had never read Treasure Island before, or even seen a movie version (or, at least, any movie version that was even reasonably faithful to the plot). And yet, I had managed to absorb enough of the story that the main plot twist came as no surprise,* which took some of the fun away from reading it. I can absolutely see how this would be the sort of ripping yarn that young, Edwardian boys would eat up with a spoon, and that even young, twenty-first century boys and girls could really enjoy, if they have patience for sailing books and detailed descriptions of daring exploits done by narrator/cabin boys. Myself, my eyes tend to glaze over when reading descriptions of sea battles and the like, so I found it a little dry, especially given the plot twist issue, above, but I did really like the way that the power dynamics shifted between the two sides, keeping you on the seat of your pants as each side gained and then lost the upper hand. So, the descriptions are a little dull, but the action is pretty good. Ripping, even. And, if you like pirates, this is the ur-pirate book. “Yo ho ho, a pirate’s life for me,” and “sixteen men on a dead man’s chest” and parrots and everything. Pretty cool.

*Not to give it away, but we all know that Long John Silver is a pirate, right?

Date/Place Completed: 10/26/06, Washington, D.C.

111. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett

I bought a brand new, unread by me Pratchett at the airport, as is my wont, read it on the plane, finished it as I waited for my ride, and enjoyed it immensely. I won’t go on at length about it – if you read Pratchett you get it, and if you don’t, I have proselytized enough on that point. This particular book is the first in the Nightwatch series, and it’s here that we first meet Sam Vimes, Carrot, Nobby, Sgt. Colon and the rest. Who knew that the watch had fallen so far, or that Vimes had sunk so low? Thank goodness for the dragons!

All in all, a funny and charming read. In that sense, it’s typical Pratchett.

Date/Place Completed: 10/27/06, Boston

112. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This is another book where my overarching knowledge of popular culture ruined a plot twist, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It is incredibly atmospheric (think of that great big hound of death leaping over the desolate moors), and has murder, escaped convicts, treacherous women, treacherous men, stolen boots and Sherlock Holmes. How much fun is that? Even my one complaint with the plot (wouldn’t the whole thing have been solved faster if Sherlock had gone himself, and not just sent Watson?) was resolved halfway through. So, you know, good show S.A.C.D! I can’t honestly say that I prefer Doyle to Christie and Sayers, but I did enjoy the book and I will definitely read more Holmes – especially since I own the beautiful complete set.

Date/Place Completed: 10/28/06, Boxford, Ma.

113.  The Enthusiasms of Robertston Davies, Robertson Davies

This book is a collection of short newspaper pieces written by Davies on a number of topics, largely literary. Davies writes, in an essay about a book by Hector Berlioz, “I like such books, full of unexpected plums and odd scraps of wisdom, and I do not find it formless; the form is the personality of Berlioz himself.” This book is just like that, full of unexpected scraps of wisdom from one of my current favorite writers, and even though it was not collected by Davies himself, exposes the reader to Davies’ writing, his sources, and yes, his personality, both good and bad. The writing itself varies quite a bit from a fabulous essay about what makes a good marriage, to an absolutely wrong reading of Lolita (Note to Robertson – Lolita is not a sexed up tramp who deserved what she got. Humpbert is the ultimate unreliable narrator), and meanders through a number of topics fascinating and dull. He isn’t as cute as he thinks he is (compare his writer’s diary type/cutesy clever essays with the similar essays of Dorothy Parker, for example – she could carry off this type of writing, where he just looks coy), but he is smart, and occasionally insightful. I prefer the novels – other than the aforementioned marriage essay, this is just for the Davies completist – but I enjoyed reading the book.

Date/Place Completed: 10/30/06, Washington, D.C.

114. The Years, Virginia Woolf

Here is, in a nutshell, the problem with flaking out on my book blog. I read this book, and enjoyed it, and had great insightful things to say about how good it was, and how, while modern in tone, still accessible to me, the lover of plot, and I have basically forgotten it all. I know I found it a little difficult to give up my love of plot and was constantly trying to figure out what happened and why Eleanor never married, and was Sara really mentally ill or just eccentric, and I know that on the other hand, I really enjoyed the language and the evocative detail that made me feel as if I was living the lives that were being described. The book gives a sense of what it would be like to be a person living in Victorian England – an upper class person, perhaps – but a real living and breathing person. It left me thinking that, after all, real life doesn’t always give clear answers and that I should let go of my insistence on why, and while I doubt I will give up my love of narrative, I really enjoyed The Years. I will read more Woolf – maybe not right away – but I look forward to sinking into another world again some day soon.

Date/Place Completed: 11/3/06, Washington, D.C.

115.  Myra Breckinridge, Gore Vidal

I had never read a novel by Gore Vidal before, though I had read and enjoyed a collection of his recent essays that dealt with Imperial America and the downfall of our civilization as a result. Myra Breckinridge is not even one tiny little bit like that book. It is a book about sex, Hollywood, pornography and gender. It has an interesting twist (which I knew coming in – another case of my own pop culture savvy letting me down), and a ridiculous ending – perhaps even a cop-out ending, though I’ll need to ruminate more before I figure out exactly what I think about it. I can understand why the book made a big splash when it came out – it has a certain late 1960’s cutting edge zeitgeist – but I would like to know what scholars now think of it. I would suspect that Vidal’s historical novels have more approval (they must have more gravitas). And yet, you can’t help but like Myra. She is such a nutty, pushy, ballsy (literally!) broad. She’s a Becky Sharp for our times and a real addition to the literary cannon. Enough that I’m going to read Myron and hope to get a glimpse of her (of course, the fact that Myron is in the same edition as my copy of Myra doesn’t hurt. I hate to leave a book half-finished, as my upcoming reading of The Sound and The Fury/ As I Lay Dying will attest).

Date/Place Completed: 11/12/06, Washington, D.C.

Categories: Fiction

116.  The Prestige, Christopher Priest

I bought this book because of the movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but I heard the book was good, and I was in the market for something a little light to read at the gym, having make the mistake of only having The Sound and the Fury in my bag and realizing that that was just not going to cut it on the elliptical machine. I really enjoyed the book – it’s not perfect, but it’s a clever science fiction tale without being all dystopian and UFO-y – but I should have waited until after I’d seen the movie, because now I have know the twist and what will be the point?*

Anyway, I don’t want to give too much away for either film goers or book readers, but let me just say that The Prestige is the story of two rival magicians, Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier, and how their rivalry affected their lives and that of their offspring. The novel tells Borden’s story and then Angier’s, and by the end you have just about figured out what happened with a nice little horrific coda, to boot. My complaint is that Angier does all the heavy lifting – he figures out Borden’s secret, but Borden never knows Angier's, although Borden ends up causing Angier much more misery in their feud than Angier ever caused Borden, even if it was inadvertent. I enjoyed the book, for sure, but I think it would have been better if one player in the rivalry didn’t end up holding all the cards in the end. Still a nice, twisty mystery/suspense story, with a wee bit of sci-fi thrown in.

*Hmm. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman? Point taken. I will see the movie, after all.

Date/Place Completed: 11/15/06, Washington, D.C.

117. A Gathering of Ghost Stories, Robertson Davies

So, this is a little teeny collection of ghost stories written by Davies, all relating to Massey College in Toronto, where he taught for years. They are slight, but reasonably charming – I liked the one where King George IV fought with Bishop Strachen over who was the biggest donor to the college.* However, they brought something to my attention which I have been trying to ignore, because I love his books so. Here’s the thing – I think he might be hugely sexist. I mean, it crossed my mind reading the Enthusiasms, but I told myself no, and you know, there are very few women of substance in his novels, as much as I like them, but then I read this stupid story which was a play on the co-education of the college, and I have to conclude that he is a huge sexist. In the “oh bless their little hearts” sort of way. Boo and also hiss. What a disappointment. I’ll continue to read the books, but I am saddened. Does it mean I won’t enjoy them? Nope, but I wish I didn’t know what I did.

*Although my understanding, based on Princesses is that George IV was actually kind of a prick, but whatever.

Date/Place Completed: 11/18/06, Washington, D.C.

118. See You Around, Sam!, Lois Lowry

Here is the thing. Last year I read 171 books and this year I have only read 118 so far, and it is November 19, 2006. I don’t think I am going to read 53 books between now and December 30. Wish I could, but I have this little thing called a job. Which is part of the reason for the book chasm, for sure (can you say two week trial??), but the real reason is you all.* Last year I read a ton of Young Adult works. Tons and tons and tons. And then I started blogging, and I got a little embarrassed about all the YA, and so I cut back and have read all these serious books. Which I have enjoyed and my brain is growing and all that jazz, but my reading list will be shorter this year, no question.

Which is all a long winded way of saying that I just read a kid’s book, but a great one. Lois Lowry is one of the greatest children’s authors around, and this book is part of her extremely awesome Anastasia Krupnik series, though it focuses on her brother Sam. It’s a typical running away story (kid says he is going to run away, realizes he will miss home too much) but told in such a warm charming way. A total keeper.

*Well, no one reads this, but the alleged reader. Work with me.

Date/Place Completed: 11/19/06, Washington, D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Young Adult

119. Feet of Clay, Terry Pratchett

Another day, another Discworld. This book is yet another Nightwatch story – I keep being afraid I have read them all and then find another (though this is actually probably the last old one, and I will have to write for a new one to be written. Oh well, on to the witches books!) This book is about a series of murders that are taking place in the Discworld, and about the poisoning of the Patrician, but it’s really about nobility and and independent thought and freedom. And, it still manages to be entertaining, funny and exciting. Pretty cool, right? In other words, I still love Pratchett.

Date/Place Completed: 11/21/06, Washington, D.C.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017