As it’s been a while since I was posting regularly, I’ve gotten a bit out of order with the books I’ve read and for several reasons it’s been a non-fiction heavy month. Other books read in April include:
The Reason of Things by A. C. Grayling. This is a collection of philosophical essays about values (mostly). It is accessible and enjoyable to read. I found it thought-provoking and interesting. Grayling is an atheist, left leaning liberal and I find most of what he says eminently sensible.
Living with a Long Term Illness by Frankie Campling and Michael Sharpe. This was a helpful book that talked about how long term illnesses are different from acute illnesses and how to cope with that. It covered physical, emotional and mental factors, how to become an expert, how to have a more effective relationship with your doctor and a few other points. I found it helpful. I’m not adjusting well to having a long term illness and this helped me shift my thinking.
Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford. I picked this up because I’m going on one of Debbie Ford’s workshops in May. It was good. It helped me move my shadow work on a step. There are lots of exercises I haven’t done yet (who does??) but I actually think I might go back and do some of them.
I was going to leave Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris, the second Sookie Stackhouse novel, until True Blood Season 2 was on but I forgot until I was actually reading it. No matter, from what I’ve read about season 2 I think True Blood is going in a different direction.
Which is good because Living Dead in Dallas starts with the death of Lafayette and it would be terrible if True Blood lost that character.
Anyway, on to the book. It was as readable as the first book and I actually thought the writing showed improvement. On the other hand, I didn’t think the voice of Sookie Stackhouse was as strong as it had been in Dead until Dark. It is still in first person POV and the supporting cast still has a cardboard cut out feel.
Sookie’s relationships with the vampires Bill and Eric are deeply problematic. The trope of male desire being dangerous and uncontrollable is front and centre. Indeed it is male desire that kills Lafayette. Sookie spends a lot of time thinking about how her appearance affects the men around her and what they like to see her in. The feminism that was evident in Dead until Dark has been dropped for this second book.
It was ok. Better than the first one in some respects, not as good in others. I’m looking forward to True Blood in the summer.
Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton is about principled negotiation. It’s about applying fairness and ethics in negotiations, gives advice about how to deal with aggressive negotiation and is full of handy examples. It’s an old book and has been quite influential, so while reading it, I had a sense of having heard it all before. There’s no harm in repetition with these things though and the Q&A section at the back was very useful in illustrating application. Highly recommended.
April’s Book Club book was Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.
It wasn’t my cup of tea. I was bored reading it and it felt like a chore. But that wasn’t because of the skill or talent on display, both of which were impressive. It was more about the subject matter. The novel is about a young Irish girl who emigrates to the US in the ’50s. It’s character driven and I like plot-heavy novels.
There were some enjoyable moments. There is a particularly visceral depiction of the effects of sea sickness which I thought stood out as a single instance of colour and physicality. For me this was the best scene in the book. Throughout the novel the heroine’s relationships are characterised by a complete inability to express emotion. It was deftly portrayed. The heroine’s mother, especially, had a habit of saying the opposite of what she thought. The isolating and distancing effect that this has was captured and I found that moving. Towards the end, the heroine is expected to give up her future to return home and pressured is applied through a brother’s letter and through the weight of expectation on the part of neighbours. Because, of course that’s what a woman should do.
Aside from that, the heroine is largely passive. What happens to her seems to happen without any agency or passion on her part and I found it difficult to identify with her. There was no sense that she wanted to be with either of the men she was given – and I’ve no doubt that’s what the author intended – and I couldn’t see how she would go along with it. I’m sure that many women of the time would have behaved and felt just that way, but I didn’t like her for it.
In terms of the technique of writing, this novel is quite deft. The characterisation is excellent and the author shows you who they are through their actions and words. I always had the sense that what I was reading was what the author intended me to read. The sense of isolation through not knowing what people were thinking or feeling was strongly conveyed through a slight dissonance of words and actions, through body language, and through knowledge gained later in a second hand way. All techniques that can be put to good use.
If you like character-driven fiction this is a well written and subtle book. Not enough dramatics and/or silliness for my tastes.
In non-fiction, I picked up Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem. The theory is that some of the most lethal diseases that humans are prone to must have had an evolutionary benefit in the past or they would have been naturally de-selected. It’s a highly readable book and the theory is certainly plausible. Well worth a look.
Phew, it’s been a while. Partly it’s because I’ve been travelling and partly it’s because I’m sick.
The travel is a short term thing. I went to Athens on holiday. That was lovely. I really liked Athens and the Acropolis was amazing. Then I ended up in Abu Dhabi because of erupting volcanos.
The sick is more of a long term thing. I get very tired and I only have energy for a limited amount of things. Sometimes I prioritise blog writing and sometimes I don’t. Lately I haven’t been. I would really like that to be different, but I don’t know how realistic that hope is.