I’ve been a bit negligent in keeping up to date here, mostly because I’ve been very busy with my boyfriend home recovering from surgery and doing a lot of soul searching about what I can be doing better as a citizen in this mind bogglingly imperfect country. This has meant that a great deal of my non-work screen time has been spent looking at social media, studying the work of bloggers I respect, researching charity organizations, etc and not blogging so much. And with the boyfriend, I’ve been catching up on a great deal of excellent television. (In two weeks we finished The Crown, Westworld, much of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and started Victoria and Young Pope. What a time to be alive.) It’s been time well spent, but I do still also want to keep up with this blog so here’s a brief run down of the reading I’ve managed to fit in during the past two weeks or so.
I wasn’t able to make it to a march yesterday, but I did pick up some great reads from Loganberry Books in Cleveland that evening that I felt were in keeping with the spirit of resistance.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly (2016)
Hidden Figures was a much breezier read than I was expecting, and I mean breezier in the sense that it was quick reading with only enough math and science thrown in as was necessary to understanding what the women in the book were actually working on. It’s very character driven, following a handful of women through their lives as first mid-level professionals—sometimes with an interlude of housewifery thrown in somewhere—then as computers for NASA’s precursor, NACA, during World War II. The NASA space race stuff that features as the primary storyline in the movie (which I dragged my still convalescing boyfriend too immediately after having finished the book) doesn’t enter the book’s narrative until about half way through. In this way, and by following many more than the three women focused on in the movie, the book has a much, much wider scope than its adaptation, but the adaptation is perfectly faithful to the optimistic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps tone prevalent throughout most of Shetterly’s telling of the stories of these “hidden” mathematicians. The book had a faint whiff of Horatio Alger about it, which, depending on my moods throughout my reading, I found sometimes charming but sometimes just annoying. Even when I was annoyed, though, I was always interested in the stories being told. I learned a lot about employment opportunities and experiences, particularly for black women, in the forties, fifties, and sixties, and I learned a lot about the space race (for example, I had no idea that Kennedy’s promise that America would put the first man on the moon was pretty much a surprise to NASA), and I learned just a lot of interesting stuff about the world during this three decade span. 4/5.
Macavity enjoying Homesick for Another World.
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh (2017)
I’m not usually one for short story collections but I absolutely adored this book. I became addicted to it, racing through the stories one after another even as I told myself after each one, “no you really must give yourself time to process this; do something else for a while.” I just fucking delighted in these stories. Almost every story in the book tells the story of a despicable anti-hero, someone terrible or close enough to terrible to make you shake your head in frustration, wondering why they won’t just take the plunge into full blown monstrosity. Among the characters are several drug addicts, unrequited but perversely obsessed lovers, liars and manipulators, people driven by shame, lust, an all-encompassing love of self, and variations on such qualities. Despite their distastefulness, there’s something distantly relatable about many of the characters, and the situations in which they’re described are bizarre, almost sublime in their combination of moral impoverishment and near-universal familiarity. And the writing is just so good. Beautiful sentence follows beautiful sentence, and all of this beauty makes the grossness of what is actually being described that much more jarring, that much more interesting. Moshfegh brings humanity to characters and situations that so often are used as archetypes of banal evil, and I loved every word of this collection. I’ve already purchased Eileen, one of her novels, and I can’t wait to dive in. 5/5.
March: Book One and March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell (2013/2015)
Top Shelf Productions
I’ve had the first in the March trilogy sitting on my shelf for a few months now, and John Lewis’s graceful and empowering stand against Trump made last week seem as good a time as any to pull it down and give it a read. I’m so glad I did, and I enjoyed it and benefitted from it so much that I immediately went out and bought the second and third installments. I still haven’t finished the third book, but I’m planning on reading it sometime in the coming week, and I’ll maybe write more about all three when I’ve done that, but for now I’ll just say that these books are so well done and, though I think they’re primarily intended for younger readers, I think they’re just as appropriate and important for adults. I’ve already learned quite a bit about not only John Lewis (of whose biography I had only a sketchy grasp prior to starting these books) but also about the Civil Rights movements in general.
These stories are always deserving of a space at the forefront of our consciousness, so I’m loathe to trot out the “so important in these troubled times” cliché, but what I felt made these books especially suitable for reading now is that they’re instructive and illuminating but also a bit less overwhelming than many of our other options for informing and inspiring ourselves toward active engagement with our government and each other. These are graphic novels, and the images are often harsh and violent, and many of them have been sticking with me through the week as I’ve read these books, but there are also pleasant, life-affirming images throughout, and they help spread hope throughout the dark stories being told, the dark story we all seem to be living right now. 4.5/5.
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (2015)
Three Rivers Press
I picked this one up for some light, mind soothing brainless reading at bedtime, and it largely suited that purpose, so, while I didn’t enjoy most of it, I can’t complain too much. The first section contains a lot of essays about Kaling’s transition from The Office to her new(er) show, The Mindy Project, which I haven’t actually seen so perhaps that’s why I found this section to be pretty dull? I’ve read books about shows I haven’t seen before though (Why do I do this? Why am I like this?), and I’ve enjoyed those, so I don’t think that was entirely it. She writes about what it’s like to do sex scenes on set, her struggle getting The Mindy Project on the air, and other topics that are interesting in theory, but I just didn’t find any of it very compelling as written. The middle section grabbed me much more—one essay is just a series of fake emails and text messages exploring a fantasy life full of romance and snarky exchanges between colleagues that Kaling imagines for herself had she become a high school Latin teacher. I loved that essay; it was charming and funny and just a smidge outrageous. The final section of the book had a lot of essays about body image and confidence and success which I wanted so much to like, but ultimately they were bland, boot-strappy, and pretty uncompromising, and I couldn’t get excited about any of it. 2/5.
The Murder on the Enriqueta by Molly Thynne (1929)
Dean Street Press
This is another book I chose to pick up as a sort of anodyne to current events, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s a Golden Age mystery about a series of murders that take place in close proximity to the recently widowed Lady Dalberry. Lady Dalberry’s inheritance is rather up in the air, and while her finances get settled, she attaches herself to the naïve but charming Carol, a few months shy of her coming of age and inheritance of her own vast fortune. A member of the Scotland Yard and the Dalberry family executor, Jasper Mellish, have a keen interest in both Carol’s welfare and the murders, and spend much of the novel doing their best to restore order to their well-heeled corner of London. Much of the middle part of the book reads more like a drawing room romance (think trashy Edith Wharton, maybe) than a murder mystery, but the murder is never lurking too far out of sight, and I found the manners and romance stuff well enough done that I didn’t mind it. There was, of course, the issues with racism and nativism that clouds many works of this time period, but this example avoids extremism for the most part, and it’s easy to skim over that stuff. The mystery itself I found a bit lazy in its execution, ultimately, and while I found the character of Carol charming, I also found her to be on the blander end of the charm scale. No other characters really gripped me other than Lady Dalberry who I found increasingly unsettling as the book progressed. I’ve read that this one isn’t the best example of a Thynne mystery (but it’s the one that was a free offer from Dean Street Press on Kindle a few weeks ago which is why I chose it), so I may very well give this author one more shot at some future date, but this one was a solid bit of third rate entertainment. 3/5.
So that’s the reading I’ve managed to sneak in over the past two weeks or so. I’ve been reading other things, many much more substantive than what’s described above, but busyness, etc. have kept me so far from completing anything else. Boyfriend returns to work tomorrow, though, and so my evenings will be more book-filled again and less TV/videogames/cheesecake-filled.