Skip to content

Month: September 2019

READING THE TBR, DAY 272: What Katy Did (1872) by Susan Coolidge

In Bookworm by Lucy Mangan, she mentioned What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, a nineteenth century book I remember reading at much the same time in primary school at which I met the March sisters, Pollyanna and that one girl’s friend Flicka. It was one of those improving kids’ books that aren’t really what we’d consider eminently suitable reading for primary school kids these days, but that everyone then thought of as both age appropriate and of literary worth for a bookworm like me.

When Mangan described the book, though, I realized that I hadn’t actually read it all. I had definitely read the first part, the “few chapters of delightful adventures and mischief-making,” but I did not remember the part where Katy became bedridden and saintly at all. Meanwhile, I knew I had two sequels to the book, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next, in my possession, and I certainly had not read either of those.

It was time to find out exactly what Katy did, indeed, do.

And what she did was she fell off a swing, became temporarily paralyzed, learned to be forbearing, and learned to walk again. (Not, as Mangan reports her sister — not a big reader — said when she finished the book as a child: “Katy did nothing!” ) It’s kind of dull, and also weirdly full of death for a book given to me by my godparents for my seventh birthday, but I have to admit that I am intrigued enough about Katy’s reambulatory life post-what she did that I am definitely keen to find out what she did at school.

Not to mention which of her family members are destined to die next.  


TBR DAY 272: What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
TIME ON THE TBR: 8 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift when I was seven. 
KEEP: Yes, because it was a gift when I was seven!

READING THE TBR, DAY 271: A Modest Proposal (1729) by Jonathan Swift

The only Swift I have previously read was an abridged and — I think — sanitized version of Gulliver’s Travels, produced for younger readers and that spends a lot of time in Lilliput and not very much in Brobdignag and… the other lands. I don’t remember their names, exactly. In fairness, I was eight.

I never thought of it as an especially funny book, but I have seen it referenced so frequently as a compelling satire that I have long been determined to read it in its original form. (Plus, I loved that movie version with Jack Black in it.) But before embarking on such a course, I figured I might as well tackle a shorter and far less imposing example of Swift’s celebrated humour: thus, A Modest Proposal, short and much-acclaimed.

And… dark. So, so dark.

Basically, Swift contends in this faux parliamentary-style report that the best way to tackle the overabundance of parentless children in 18th-c Ireland is to turn them into a source of sustenance for the rest of society. Basically, Soylent Green way way before Soylent Green. I can only — and want to — assume that this is a commentary on the placing of such children into workhouses. And oh, it is funny, sure. Definitely funny, in a shocked-gasp, breathless, can’t-believe-what-you’re-reading kind of way. But also… yeah. DARK.

Maybe I don’t want to read the full-length Gulliver’s Travels, after all.


TBR DAY 271: A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
GENRE: Humour, Satire, Classics
TIME ON THE TBR: ~3 years.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 270: Planetside (2018) by Michael Mammay

I love it when genres merge, and here Military Science Fiction meets Mystery as Colonel Carl Butler, no nonsense, competent and honourable (if kind of an alcoholic, in the tradition of many detective types), is sent to investigate the disappearance of a well-connected lieutenant during a battle on a war ravaged occupied planet.

The war that ravages is conducted between the human invaders and the indigenous species, and it is very interesting to see us portrayed as the aggressors, and moreover ones that are generally accounted as justified, due to the mineral deposits on the planet and the fact that some of the locals appear to welcome human colonization. 

Butler finds himself stymied in his investigation for much of the novel, but his investigative work never gets dull, and neither do the secondary characters, many of whom are very well fleshed out, who populate both the space station on which he is mostly based and the planet around which they orbit.

A stunning debut, I was close to blown away by this book — that ending! Woah! — and am now very excited for the sequel.


TBR DAY 270: Planetside by Michael Mammy
GENRE: Science Fiction, Military Science Fiction, Mystery
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 269: When You Are Engulfed by Flames (2008) by David Sedaris

A couple of years ago, champion raconteur David Sedaris put on an Evening with… himself at a prestige theatre in my home town. My friend Austen scored some free tickets, and knowing how bookish I am, he was kind enough to take me along.

I had read a couple of Sedaris books beforehand, but afterwards I rushed out to buy the other ones, because he was fantastic on stage, and reminded me just how much I enjoyed his slightly off-kilter observations on life, the universe and, well, himself.

This is another terrific collection of Sedaris’s thoughts, scattershot and unrelated, but impeccably told. Some of them defy belief, some you hope aren’t true — because unpleasant people abound — but all carry a grain of human truth that cannot be either denied or ignored. And they are, for the most part, funny as hell.

I could have done without the story about parasitic worms escaping from people’s legs that kicks us off, though. I will have nightmares for weeks.


TBR DAY 275: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
GENRE: Humour, Memoir
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 268: Shoes: Chocolate for the Feet (2000) by Cathy Guisewite

I can’t remember where I first heard of long-running comic strip Cathy, featuring a single woman with an obsession with clothes, her weight and romance, but I am pretty sure it was referenced pretty savagely on some American sitcom or other. (I know. Pot, kettle, right?)  

So, of course, I wanted to check it out for myself.

If this collection is any indication, then that forgotten quip was right on the money. Cathy is indeed obsessed with clothes, her weight and romance, and while she is occasionally relatable, and even occasionally raises a slight smile, the fact that this strip was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers from 1976 right up until 2010, and that Cathy was still lovelorn and bewildered as late as the 1990s (which is when these strips were published, which means there is a lot of discussion of this newfangled Internet thing)  is absolutely astonishing. 

So, now I know. And next time this comic strip comes up as a punchline in some sitcom rerun, I will totally get it.

Not sure it was worth it, though.


TBR DAY 268: Shoes: Chocolate for the Feet (A Cathy Collection) by Cathy Guisewite
GENRE: Comic Book
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
KEEP: No way.

READING THE TBR, DAY 267: Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (2007) by Elizabeth Kolbert

The reason that this book is so infuriating is the same reason it is so important. The fact that it was written over a decade ago, that all this research and definitive data has been out there and written about in such an accessible style for so long and yet nothing has changed, just drives me crazy.

It’s upsetting, of course. No one wants to read about the inevitable extinction of their species (except in apocalyptic fiction, I guess). True, Kolbert, an accomplished journalist, does supply a few rays of hope — of communities and nations who are taking the imminent end of the world seriously, despite the persistent lobbying of nefarious special interest groups — but for the most part, this book does nothing so much as demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that while the climate might change, people won’t.

Everyone should read this book. But those who most need to probably won’t do that, either.  


TBR DAY 267: Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert
GENRE: Popular Science
TIME ON THE TBR: 7 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.
KEEP: No, because I will be giving it to those who need to read it very, very badly.

READING THE TBR, DAY 266: To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998) by Connie Willis

This is so different to Doomsday Book, the first novel in the Oxford Time Travel series. For a start, this book is funny. It is all literary references and sly humour and irony and I did not expect that, given the pervasive, plague-based trauma of the previous novel. Not that there was no irony to be had in the last one, but this one takes it to extremes, and it is delightful.

The story centres around Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed in the Blitz during World War II. While a new one was built right next to it during the ensuing peacetime, the ruins remain, and in the time travelly future of this novel, the masterful Lady Schrapnell is determined to restore the original edifice. She demands the assistance of time traveller Ned Henry, who was recently in the 1940s, but Ned is suffering from time lag, and so is sent to the idyllic near-pastoral surrounds of the late-nineteenth century Coventry to both retrieve a significant object and get some rest.

But when there he — and his junior colleague Verity — discover that they may have accidentally Butterfly Effected the future, and so they spend the next several hundred pages alternately trying to break up non-historical relationships, getting out of attending jumble sales, restoring order to the space time continuum and falling in love.

It is the best.

And I now have to go and read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men and a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), to which this book appears to be something of an homage — Jerome himself, and his boat, make a cameo — and which has been on my shelves lo, these many years. (Of course.)

I really, really, really loved this book. Admittedly, it took me a while to get into its surreal and kind of nonsensey vibe, but once I was there, I never wanted to leave.


TBR DAY 266: To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel #2) by Connie Willis
GENRE: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years.  
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 265: Ark Royal (2014) by Christopher G. Nuttall

Christopher G. Nuttall is the real name of Jack Campbell, an author who wrote modern day pulpy space opera series The Lost Fleet, which I loved. Well, I loved the first five books. That series has seen multiple spinoffs and continuations, and I am a long way behind on those, because I kind of lost the thread of what was happening and have never managed to get back on track.

So I was pretty excited when Campbell/Nuttall brought out a new science fiction series and I could start all over again with another of his fast-paced and battle-heavy excursions into space.

In this one, spacefaring humanity has made contact with some hostile aliens who seem determined to wipe us all out for no discernible reason. The aliens’ tech is way ahead of ours, and wipes out all modern spacecraft, but it can’t seem to penetrate the hull of a mothballed, outdated carrier, the Ark Royal, helmed by a washed up, drunkard captain who becomes an unlikely hero.    

Okay, so it’s not exactly the most original of plots. But do we always need original? Sometimes all I want is a rollicking adventure through the stars featuring some carefully flawed characters, some definitely evil villains, an ongoing mystery and the aforementioned unlikely hero. And this book delivers all of that, and more! I had a blast pretty much the whole way through, and even the just-now discovery that there are already — gulp — no fewer than thirteen other books in this series is not enough to dampen my enthusiasm for it.

And now it is time for me to go and buy some more books, dammit.


TBR DAY 265: Ark Royal (Ark Royal #1) by Christopher G. Nuttall
GENRE: Science Fiction, Space Opera
TIME ON THE TBR: ~4 years.  
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 264: Milk and Honey (2014) by Rupi Kaur

This book of poetry is everywhere, isn’t it? I had seen it on bedside tables, coffee tables and bookshelves all over the world for years, and so of course I had to buy it when I came across a second-hand copy — for, according to the price label still stuck on it, a mere 50c.

Some of the poems contained in its pages only span a couple of lines. Others are longer, and more detailed. But almost all of them pack a punch, as Kaur — kaur? She’s clearly decided to do the e. e. cummings thing and go all lowercase all the time, for both her name and her work — explores sexuality, abuse, self-image and toxic relationships in often stark, often beautiful, but always intense sentences, or fragments of sentences, that just hurt.

I didn’t love it, exactly, but I am very impressed with kaur’s candour, and her courage. It feels like she ripped open her heart and threw it on the page, and while it is not a comfortable read, at all, it is impactful.

I am glad I read it. But I will never read it again.


TBR DAY 264: milk and honey by rupi kaur
GENRE: Poetry
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
KEEP: Probably not?

READING THE TBR, DAY 263: From Scratch (2019) by Tembi Locke

When I saw this book on the New Releases stand, I spent a whole lot of time staring at the cover, trying to remember why I knew the name Tembi Locke. I looked hard at her picture, trying to place her. I knew her, for sure. I just couldn’t remember from where.

Now, sure, I could have Googled it. I had my phone with me, after all. But it’s much more satisfying to remember stuff for yourself, if you can, isn’t it? There’s a dopamine rush of accomplishment. Google just feels like cheating, much of the time.

To me, anyway.

So, I puzzled over it for ages. I wandered around the bookshop for at least half an hour, letting my mind wander, hoping the information would drift to the surface if I stopped obsessing over it. I mean, forget Google, I could probably have just picked up the book and read the blurb. Surely that would have told me how I knew her! But no. I would not give in. My mind would give up its secrets, dammit! My memory has always been pretty good, and has mostly obeyed my whims — I refused to let it win.

Then… aha! Tembi Locke was Grace in Eureka, a sci-fi TV show I used to love! That’s who she was! And she had written a book? And one, not about acting, or even Eureka, but about… cooking, I guessed, given the title From Scratch?  

Obviously, I was intrigued. Obviously, I bought it.

I should have known it would make me cry.

Why? Because of course her husband died. OF COURSE HE DID.

And the memoir is really about his long illness as much as it is about how they met, and how his family disowned him for marrying an African American, and about how he was a genius chef, and also about their daughter, and food, and, as the title suggests, Sicily.

It’s a well-written story, and very sad, but there is hope there, too. Locke’s gentle prose is frank but also lyrical at times, and the alternating nature of the narrative, which flashes back to how she met the love of her life and then fast forwards decades later to his steady decline, takes the reader on a real roller coaster of emotion.

And I’m not gonna lie — for all its precipitous downs, I really enjoyed the ride.


TBR DAY 263: From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke
GENRE: Memoir, Travel
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 months.  
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.
KEEP: Sure.