December reading

Well, there are a few more hours in the month, but I don’t think I will finish the book I am reading.  So I will go ahead and talk a little about the books I have read this month.

Reflex by Steven Gould was a great book.  I enjoyed Jumper and was prepared to like this book, as well, but I was really pleasantly surprised by how good it was.  The story was much more adult than Jumper had been, but that was because the characters had aged 10 years.  And, even more, I think, because Gould’s writing has grown in the intervening years.  After Jumper, I would ‘t have cared about a sequel, but after this one I find myself wanting to read more about these characters and their rather unusual lives.  I hope he writes another one!

In an effort to catch up on non-fiction books, I read three this month.  People of the Abyss by Jack London was another one like Oil! that could have been written today.  It was depressing to realize that we have accomplished so little in terms of making sure everyone has a decent place to live and enough food to eat.  London tried very hard to experience life as the East Enders knew it — although he always knew he could escape the wretched conditions they were consigned to.

The Edupunks’ Guide to a DIY Credential by Anya Kramenetz was a quick read designed for anyone who is open to the idea of non-traditional learning.  I used to read Bear’s Guide to Non-Traditional College Degrees to figure out how to get a Master’s Degree without going back to full-time, so this was nothing really new for me.  But it was updated and contained a lot of good information.  I have a friend, for instance, who needs a degree and doesn’t want to take two classes a semester for the rest of her life to finish an Associate’s Degree.  I learned some things in this book that could be useful to her.  I hope so, at least.  This was a book that I read primarily just to stay current on the subject, but it ended up being more.

I read First and Last Things by HG Wells largely just to get another non-fiction book read.  But it was interesting.  In this book he talked about his beliefs — why he considered himself a Christian although he didn’t believe a lot of things traditionally considered to be Christian.  He talked about Socialism as he envisioned it, and he also talked about love and marriage and sex.  I knew little about Wells before I started reading his work this year, and this book increased what I knew tremendously.  I don’t think I would have liked the man if I had known him, but I admire his willingness to try to understand his own belief system.

When I see how easy it is to read the classics we were forced to read as young people, I cannot understand why so many of us fought them so much.  I managed to read six classics this month.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome was one I read because of Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog.  Willis dedicates her book to Heinlein, who first introduced her to Jerome’s book.   Her book is set up similarly to Jerome’s, with little hints as to the content of each chapter at the beginning.  Both books involve animals and river travel.  I have to admit I enjoyed Willis’ book much more than Jerome’s, but it was really interesting to read a book that had obviously influenced Willis.

Some of the books I read were short — novellas probably.  One of those was The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I have to admit to not enjoying it as much as his Mars novels, but it was good.   The book was made into a 1975 movie with the same name, but I don’t think I have seen that one.    I was taken back to the old TV show Land of the Lost as I read it.

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte is listed in some places as being a biography, but I believe it is a novel based on her real experiences as a governess.  the book was rather predictable in many ways, but that didn’t take away from its appeal.  I guess you could say that I am a bit Lost in Austen (and Bronte) myself!  As Amanda says in Lost in Austen, the romance of those days — at least as they are presented in the novels — is something that I am drawn to.  It isn’t rip-your-clothes-off romance like most romance novels today, but it is a quiet kind of romance that seems much more long-lasting, where women are loved for their minds, not their bodies.

The Professor by Charlotte Bronte was another such book.  The professor is a man who wants to make it on his own and he is eventually drawn to a woman who has had to make it on her own.  The book was interesting in that it is told from the man’s point of view.  We don’t get all the emotion that is typically attributed to women, but we see that men can be just as easily led by their feelings.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen is the last book by Austen that I had not previously read.  (I am going to go back and read Pride and Prejudice this coming year just to round out my knowledge of Austen and to make the TV show even more fun.)  I had thought that I was reading too inattentively or something because this book seemed to vacillate a bit.  I thought maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention, that the story was as smooth as the others had been.  And then in reading about this book on Wikipedia, I was struck by the mention that:

Austen biographer, Claire Tomalin, argues that Sense and Sensibility has a “wobble in its approach,” which developed because Austen, in the course of writing the novel, gradually became less certain about whether sense or sensibility should triumph.[6] Austen characterizes Marianne as a sweet lady with attractive qualities: intelligence, musical talent, frankness, and the capacity to love deeply. She also acknowledges that Willoughby, with all his faults, continues to love and, in some measure, appreciate Marianne. For these reasons, some readers find Marianne’s ultimate marriage to Colonel Brandon an unsatisfactory ending.

I can’t say for sure that this is what I was feeling, but it makes me feel better!

The Mysterious Key and What It Unlocked by Louisa May Alcott is another novella.  I enjoyed it a lot.  I had not read anything by Alcott except her Little Women books, so this was a treat. This one reminded me in some ways of Sense and Sensibility and others in that there is a lot of deception going on.  People are not who we think they are.  But it all ends up happily, so I was satisfied.

And finally, I read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I had seen the old 1950 movie on TV and a cartoon that my kids had when they were small, but I had never read the book.  I found myself able to remember scenes from the cartoon as I was reading.  It was a quick fun read.  I may try to read more Stevenson next year.  I also would like to see the 2012 TV movie starring Eddie Izzard.

It was a good month for reading.

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