Reading Round-Up: March 2023

I don’t know why I wait so long to write these round-up posts. No; sometimes that’s a lie, actually. I know exactly why it’s taken me so long this month, and it mostly boils down to “I’m doing other things and these take more brain than I want to expend right now.” What can I say? April’s been busy. But at any rate, here’s what I read last month:

  • A Wizard’s Dilemma (Diane Duane)
  • A Wizard Alone (Diane Duane)
  • Wizard’s Holiday (Diane Duane)
  • Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (Kate Beaton)
  • Wizards at War (Diane Duane)
  • Uncanny Valley (Anna Wiener)
  • A Wizard of Mars (Diane Duane)
  • The Blue Castle (L. M. Montgomery)
  • Games Wizards Play (Diane Duane)
  • Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (Mary Norris)
  • Rattle #79 — Tribute to Irish Poets
  • Millionaire Teacher (2nd ed.) (Andrew Hallam)

These five Diane Duane novels took me to the end of her Young Wizards series (until/unless she writes more of them). I’ve been reading library copies the whole way through, but for some reason my local system doesn’t have Games Wizards Play — which is too old for me to suggest as a recommended title. Since ILL seems to take a thousand years — long enough that, on more than one occasion, I’ve had no memory of having ordered a book when it finally shows up — I just bought my own copy. It was a very satisfying cap on the series; I also particularly enjoyed A Wizard of Mars. I’ll read these again one day, when I’ve forgotten about all of the weird chronology issues.

Also on the fiction end of things, I greatly enjoyed my reread of The Blue Castle, which is probably one of my favourites of all of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novels. I first read it in 2017 as part of my LMM reading project, and I’ll let my post from that time serve to sum it up.

March was another memoir-heavy month. I posted briefly about Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley, which was… moderately interesting, but not a standout to me.

Kate Beaton’s Ducks, a memoir of the years she spent working to pay off her student loans in Canada’s oil fields, on the other hand, was engrossing, beautiful, and agonizing. It’s a monster tome of a graphic… memoir (I wanted to day graphic novel, but of course it’s not fiction; it’s told in comics, however we might label that in terms of genre), beautifully written and illustrated. Beaton doesn’t shy away from the complexities of the oil fields: tensions between homegrown Albertans and the economic migrants who come to work there from both inside and outside of Canada, the frigid beauty of the north, the perils of being a woman in work camps where well over 90% of the population is male, the tensions between economic necessities and environmental impacts, the way we sometimes find family when and where we least expect to. Even before I finished Ducks I found myself paging back to read some sections over again. (NB: Sensitive readers should be aware that her narrative deals with multiple sexual assaults.)

Last of the March memoirs, I devoured Mary Norris’s Between You & Me. Norris is a copyeditor for The New Yorker: she’s a style and grammar wizard as may be expected and also, it turns out, hilarious. This one’s great fun, and not just for language nerds. (Bonus: her wonderful Comma Queen video series.)

This quarter’s issue of Rattle featured Irish poets in its latter half — some really lovely poems in the there.

And last but not least, I read Andrew Hallam’s Millionaire Teacher. This is one I constantly see recommended on personal finance-orientrd social media and I wish I had read it when I was eighteen. (Admittedly this would have been quite a trick given that it wasn’t published until 2017.) While I was already broadly familiar with a lot of the concepts he covered, there were some new ideas in there for me, and I found the book extremely informative and digestible without ever being dry. Also I know how to rebalance a portfolio now, so that’s something. Highly recommended.

Reading Round-Up: October 2018

As it’s November 15th, this post is pretty belated compared to usual — nevertheless, here’s a look at what I read in October:

  1. Small Animals: Parenting in the Age of Fear (Kim Brooks)
  2. Spinning Silver (Naomi Novik)
  3. Mandy (Julie Andrews Edwards)
  4. Step Aside, Pops! (Kate Beaton)
  5. Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices that can Transform Your Life and Relationships (Curt Thompson)
  6. The Fourth Bear (Jasper Fforde)
  7. The Last Light of the Sun (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)

Small Animals was already treated in its own post.

My only other nonfiction read last month was Dr. Curt Thompson’s Anatomy of the Soul, which took me most of the month to get through, reading it piecemeal in between other things. I will be the first to admit that the title makes it sound like total New Age woo-woo, but the opposite, in fact, is true. This book is a fascinating peek into developments in neuroscience related to the brain’s relative plasticity (or ability to change over time, something that was once thought impossible), attachment theory, and their intersection with traditional Christian spiritual disciplines/practices. Thompson talks a lot about how the way that things functioned in our families of origin can follow through our lives — unhealthy relationship patterns, modes of (non)communication, etc. — and how we can actually re-wire our brains with an understanding of how they work and the help of the Holy Spirit. He includes many exercises which one can complete singly in small groups. I think it’s a tremendously useful book for anyone who feels stuck in old patterns; it is helpful and hope-full. Even with that title.

For the rest of October, I glutted myself on fiction. Hey, sometimes a girl just needs to read about some fantasy Vikings, you know? In no particular order:

Mandy is another children’s novel by Julie Andrews Edwards, which I grabbed from the library after re-reading her The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles back in late September. It’s a sweet tale of an orphan girl named Mandy, who discovers a cottage on the estate abutting her orphanage. She determines to fix it up herself as a secret place, but trouble starts when her best friend wants to know where she goes by herself. There is a lot of good reflection on friendship, truth-telling, and similar moral lessons without ever being heavy-handed about it. And of course, the requisite happy ending!

I picked up a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at a thrift store, in part because I already own The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and thought I might as well make it a set, and in part because I hadn’t read it since grade nine or so and wanted to give it another go. This is a controversial novel, not least because of its copious use of the n-word to describe Jim and the other slaves who appear in its page. Does having racist characters¬† make it a racist book? I don’t know. Certainly the reader is brought on a journey with Huck as his eyes are opened to Jim’s fundamental humanity and they embark on what I do think is a real friendship. Twain shows us a lot of racial ugliness, but I don’t think he condones it. It’s a funny book, and a profoundly sad one in many ways as well. I had forgotten, however, that Tom Sawyer is an insufferable twit — I’m glad that he was only present in the last few chapters.

Guy Gavriel Kay is a Canadian fantasy writer whose work I have read and admired for many years; The Last Light of the Sun takes place among the aforementioned fantasy Vikings, as well as the Celts. And the Britons. And fairies. And lots, lots of bloody swordfighting. The Last Light of the Sun is set in the same world as The Lions of al-Rassan (one of Kay’s absolute best, for my money) and the duology of Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors.

Step Aside, Pops! is a collection of Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant comics, which have stopped running but are still accessible on her website. It’s mostly historical and literary silliness; here’s Charlie and the Marvelous Turnip Factory, and some Canadian stereotypes.

Jasper Fforde writes some wonderful books — I first found him through the (incredible) Thursday Next series, which starts with The Eyre Affair and goes on for… another five? or six? I’ve lost count. Anyway, he has also written a spin-off series of Nursery Crime novels, featuring detective Jack Spratt and a zany crew of literary costars, including an incredibly dull alien named Ashley (aliens have come to earth and it turns out that they are boring). The Fourth Bear involves a missing journalist known as Goldilocks, human/bear political machinations, a giant homicidal gingerbread-man, and nuclear cucumbers. It’s a fun ride.

Last, but certainly not least, we come to Spinning Silver, the latest of Naomi Novik’s fairy-tale-esque books. I read her Uprooted a few months ago, and promptly put Spinning Silver onto my library holds list. It’s a broad retelling/resetting of the Rumpelstiltskin story, with ice fairies and fire demons and it was so immersive that I read it in a day, and probably would have read it in one sitting if I hadn’t had to keep stopping to do things like feed my children. As one does. Spinning Silver was perhaps even better than Uprooted — and that, I think, is saying something.