Here are short book reviews of everything I’ve read this quarter, plus a few of my favorite insights. Alright, not “a few,” I got carried away and couldn’t whittle down the list.
Quarterly Reading Report
Take Six Girls: the Lives of the Mitford Sisters – Laura Thompson – Truthfully, I’d never have heard of the Mitfords if not for The Toast, where their names and [mis]adventures came up regularly. This British book begins with the assumption that the reader is already tired of hearing about the Mitford sisters… and thus, a slightly apologetic air. No apology necessary for this American; the book and the sisters’ wildly varied lives more than held my interest. All I want now is another edition with six times as many pictures.
Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story – Steve Kamb – A few posts on Nerd Fitness really spoke to me, so I bought Kamb’s book. The writing won’t knock your socks off, but a lot of his concepts have been VERY useful for me. The Underpants Gnomes analogy is a favorite, and exactly the sermon most of us need.
My complaint: too much up-selling. The book repeatedly directs me to the author’s website/business, and the website wants me to join his group and buy his book. Some of that cross-pollination is necessary/inevitable, but it’s hard not to resent that much advertising in a book for which I’ve already paid.
You Learn by Living – Eleanor Roosevelt – Roosevelt’s personal anecdotes are the star. The advice is standard though generally sound. A better book for Eleanor enthusiasts than self-help seekers.
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë – Merciful heavens. I knew Heathcliff and Cathy were… not models of good behavior or morality, but they’re far more disturbed characters than I expected. A classic for plenty of reasons, and well worth reading, but if you come expecting a tender romance… just know that Heathcliff hangs a dog with his pocket handkerchief to show a woman what a badass he is. Tip of the iceberg, folks.
The Best of the Happiness Blog – Gretchen Rubin – Great wisdom and advice, minus all the overwhelming links and visual elements of her actual blog.
The Door – Magda Szabó – Did I read The Door to broaden my mind or increase my knowledge of Hungarian culture and history? To improve my knowledge of contemporary writers?
No! I read it because the Overdue podcast episode about The Door made the main character sound so impossibly strange and superhuman, and because they didn’t spoil the central mystery; what was behind the locked door? Weeks after hearing that episode, I STILL wanted to know. Scoured the internet, couldn’t find an answer, shelled out for the book.
The Door was certainly good, even if the main characters still seems unfathomable (is this magical realism? Why doesn’t the narrator get any smarter over the years?), but don’t buy it for the mystery. Email me, I’ll tell you what’s the behind the door.
*Daddy Long-Legs – Jean Webster – Odd premise, delicious details. Poor-girl-finally-gets-beautiful-things is one of my favorite tropes.
Dear Enemy – Jean Webster – Ah, remember when eugenics seemed like a reasonable way to improve society? Me neither, but welcome to 1915. This novel is a spinoff; Sallie McBride, a feisty redheaded society girl is recruited to run the orphanage from Daddy Long-Legs.
You know, I’m tempted to ask you to prescribe arsenic for Loretta’s cold. I’ve diagnosed her case; she’s a Kallikak. Is it right to let her grow up and found a line of 378 feeble-minded people for society to care for? Oh dear! I do hate to poison the child, but what can I do?”
Jarring, eh? Sallie is naturally flippant, which creates an odd juxtaposition in the passages about heredity and who deserves to live… That aside, it’s a cheery, light little bedtime story. Not interesting to children, though,
In the Garden of Beasts – Erik Larson (audiobook) – Good. Recommended.
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh – Speaking of Mitfords, here’s Nancy’s buddy Evelyn! This is a tale of rich, unsympathetic people being rich together, richly. Is that unfair? Yes, because there is a story and the characters do have feelings, but it was a real struggle for me to care about any of them. Especially during scenes like this, where the narrator describes having sex with the woman of his dreams for the first time:
It was as though a deed of conveyance of her narrow loins had been drawn and sealed. I was making my first entry as the freeholder of a property I would enjoy and develop at leisure.”
Ugh. Can’t shudder enough.
One thing left me smug: Nancy Mitford and I had the same complaint about the narrator; he was so vague, how could anyone fall in love with him, let alone multiple people?
FUN FACT: Evelyn Waugh was a man who married a woman named Evelyn. What were the odds?
Anyway, the Brideshead Revisited miniseries has a good reputation. May watch that, see if it improves my opinion of these characters. Freeholder of a property, my eye. What a creep.
Everything is Obvious (Once you know the answer) – Duncan J. Watts (audiobook) – Honestly, I don’t remember much about this, aside from a few good examples of circular logic and common sense being dead wrong. Audiobooks are hard for me, I lose focus. May listen again someday. It’s Ian’s book and more in keeping with his interests than mine.
*Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin – This was the second time I’ve read Better Than Before, and it won’t be the last. Much of the world’s advice on forming habits is one-size-fits-all: wake up an hour early to exercise, everything in moderation, blah blah blah. Rubin’s advice is much more tailored to fit readers’ individual needs and idiosyncrasies.
*The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin – Yep, I’m a Gretchen Rubin fangirl. I’ve read two of her books twice, watched dozens of videos and interviews, and listen to her podcast every week. Still trying to internalize her best advice.
The Hundred-and-One Dalmatians – Dodie Smith – Like I Capture the Castle, this book is stuffed with endearing charm and quirky humor. Those who remember the Disney cartoon may be surprised by some changes— for one, Pongo’s not in a relationship with Perdita! Perdita’s an entirely different dog. Mr. Darling isn’t a songwriter, either.
RANDOM INSIGHTS FROM THIS QUARTER’S READING:
What would your monthly credit card bill say about your priorities?” – Level Up Your Life
No relationship in this world ever remains warm and close unless a real effort is made on both sides to keep it so.”
– You Learn by Living
Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.” – You Learn by Living
He was, and is yet most likely, the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours.” – Wuthering Heights
Heathcliff, if I were you, I’d go stretch myself over her grave and die like a faithful dog. The world is surely not worth living in now, is it? You had distinctly impressed on me the idea that Catherine was the whole joy of your life: I can’t imagine how you think of surviving her loss.” – Wuthering Heights
Being taken for granted is an unpleasant but sincere form of praise. Ironically, the more reliable you are, and the less you complain, the more likely you are to be taken for granted.” Best of the Happiness Project Blog
The way people are for ever rolling their eyes to heaven and saying, ‘Perhaps it’s all for the best,’ when they are perfectly dead sure it’s not, makes me enraged. Humility or resignation or whatever you choose to call it, is simply impotent inertia. I’m for a more militant religion!” – Daddy Long-Legs
The world is full of happiness, and plenty to go round, if you are only willing to take the kind that comes your way. The whole secret is in being PLIABLE. – Daddy Long-Legs
There is no joy in life but sleep.” – Dear Enemy
There seems to have been no reason for her divorce from the ordinary point of view; the marriage just simply didn’t work. They weren’t friends. If he had been a woman, she wouldn’t have wasted half an hour talking with him. If she had been a man, he would have said: ‘Glad to see you. How are you?’ and gone on. And yet they MARRIED. Isn’t it dreadful how blind this sex business can make people?” – Dear Enemy
When people hate with all that energy, it is something in themselves they are hating.” – Brideshead Revisited
Over to you. What have you read recently? Which books would you recommend? Did you highlight any insights? Share something in the comments!
* Denotes a book I’ve read before