May 17th, 2015

Book 2: Die Wahlverwandtschaften/Elective Affinities/Kindred by Choice by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I ended up enjoying this so much more than I thought I would! The premise is a married couple, Charlotte & Edward, decide to invite two of their friends, a military captain and a schoolgirl, to their castle to live. This introduction of new parties breaks the ties that bind the marriage together and causes their affective bonds to reform in new ways. All of this is overlaid with their communal efforts to shape the castle grounds into a landscape garden/nature park.

It's a short book, and most of the entertainment (for me, at least) comes from the overly-exeuberant sentimentality of Edward, the typical Strum & Drang protagonist. It's also raises a lot of questions about the concept of "attraction" - if we take even somewhat literally the magnetic metaphor, what are the consequences for the concept of free will? Particularly since, even if we can control our own actions, we cannot control the actions of the people around us and cannot always predict how we will react to a change in circumstance. It's easy to compare the time & money the characters spend on improving and mastering the landscape around them to the increasing chaos in their personal lives. However, the novel also raises the question of whether complete self-mastery is necessarily the most worthy goal.

As I said, this was a pretty enjoyable read for me - the interpersonal drama, the scientific metaphors, and the constantly shifting circumstances made it fun read. One caution is that I've heard some translations of the work are not as good as others, so that might be worth looking into for folks who aren't reading it in German.

See all my reviews here.
cats on bookshelf

Book 46: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Book 46: A Spool of Blue Thread .
Author: Anne Tyler, 2015.
Genre: Contemporary. Family Drama.
Other Details: Hardback. 368 pages.

'It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon’ This is the way Tabby Whit shank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different. Tabby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself.

From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whit shanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we also see played out our own hopes and fears, rivalries and tensions – the essential nature of family life.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Prior to taking part in this year's reading group to shadow the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction I had not been aware of Anne Tyler though quite a few members of the group were familiar with her work and praised her highly. Still I admit up front that this kind of drama focused on family is not really a genre that I read seek out.

Still, I found the novel well written and a number of the anecdotal tales about members of the family and the house itself were quite engaging though others left me rather unmoved. My overall impression was that the novel was quite uneven and just ended as if she did not know where else to go at that point.

I did not really feel this was a real contender for the Prize and those in the group familiar with Tyler's writing said it was not one of her best. I know there is a wide readership for this kind of novel but really was not my cup of tea.
Briana and Aunty Tara

Books 33 & 34 - 2014

Book 33: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Ninth: The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket – 286 pages

Description from
Everybody loves a carnival! Who can fail to delight in the colourful people, the unworldly spectacle, the fabulous freaks? A carnival is a place for good family fun - as long as one has a family, that is. For the Baudelaire orphans, their time at the carnival turns out to be yet another episode in a now unbearable series of unfortunate events. In fact, in this appalling ninth instalment in Lemony Snicket′s serial, the siblings must confront a terrible lie, a caravan, and Chabo the wolf baby. With millions of readers worldwide, and the Baudelaire′s fate turning from unpleasant to unseemly, it is clear that Lemony Snicket has taken nearly all the fun out of children′s books.

The ninth Series of Unfortunate Events book forces the Baudelaire children to start to question whether they are as bad as the terrible Count Olaf as they take drastic measures to try to hide from their enemy, as well as gain information about their potentially still alive parents. The children are forced to dress up in disguise and work in a carnival right under Olaf’s nose. But there is someone in the Carnival who might just be able to help them. Bad guys are good guys and good guys are bad guys and anyone can turn seems to be the enduring story of the Baudelaire’s children tragic childhood. The ending of this one is quite sad and a little scary – I feel these books are getting less and less kid-level. Either way, I’m increasingly finding myself getting into them now.

33 / 50 books. 66% done!

11759 / 15000 pages. 78% done!

Book 34: Sex Drive: In pursuit of female desire by Dr Bella Ellwood-Clayton – 312 pages

Description from
For many women an active sex life is on the bottom of their 'to do' list. Is women's sexual desire in the Western world at an all time low? Australia's most popular sexual anthropologist investigates.

Despite this book’s title, it is far from titillating (despite the many comments I got when it came up on my facebook while I was reading it). My interpretation was that this book was supposed to look at why women apparently don’t want sex. It did do that, but perhaps not quite in the sociological/anthropological mindset I was expecting. It’s less about gender studies and more about what drugs to not take if one is feeling a little less than spicy. I found it really dull, and personally wouldn’t recommend it unless you were specifically looking at the issue from the prescribing of drugs perspective.

34 / 50 books. 68% done!

12071 / 15000 pages. 80% done!

Currently reading:
-        Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton – 596 pages
-        Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs – 331 pages
-        The Queen of Zombie Hearts by Gena Showalter – 442 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages