The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec
Let me quickly dispense with the plot premise so I can talk about what I liked about this book. In 1980 research librarian Anna is asked by her boss at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study to befriend Adele Gödel, the widow of math genius Kurt Gödel, so the Institute can get their hands on his papers for their collection. What follows is the alternating tale of Anna and Adele’s relationship in 1980 and the story of Adele and Kurt. Through the pages walk Einstein, Oppenheimer and a few other Nobel winners or two. At its base, the story is about Adele’s feelings that she wasted her life babysitting a genius and Anna’s potential to waste her own life. I enjoyed the roughly true, but fictionalized, story of the Gödel’s, but more than that, I found some of the end of life musings and issues facing Adele to be rather sad and profound. If you stripped out all of the specifics and about 200 pages you could have an Anita Brookner novel. Hmm. No wonder I liked it.
Time Stops Today by John Wyndham
A 51-minute audiobook of what must have been a short story. John Wyndham does not disappoint, but I do wish he had turned this into a novel, or at least a novella. Too many interesting points were elided and foreshortened. Four people find themselves caught in a sort of time interruption and are visited by a group of men from the future.
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
Although this was a pity purchase at a newly opened used bookstore that I was trying to support, I found myself really liking it after about 14 pages. I tweeted as much and heard quickly from two bookish friends on Twitter that my appreciation of it wouldn’t last and that it was a poor sort of book. Well, I think my lack of literary background may make me just middle of the road enough to have really enjoyed reading The Casual Vacancy from cover to cover. Was it high art? No. Were there things that I wanted to tweak? Yes. But I tells you, I enjoyed reading it and I think if it had been written by someone other than JK Rowling, it would probably have been shortlisted for something.
The Colombian Mule by Massimo Carlotto
My second Massimo Carlotto “Alligator” hardboiled detective novel. Crime fiction is usually not my thing, but for some reason I love these books. So much so, that I have been buying used Europa Editions World Noir books just because. The main character is a reformed convict who still breaks the law plenty but seems to only do it for the right reasons. In this case a Columbian drug mule is arrested and the police use the opportunity to use extralegal means to right all sorts of wrongs until our hero gets the case.
Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford
I really liked Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. I liked Love in a Cold Climate less. I found Don’t Tell Alfred tedious and Wigs on the Green falls into that category. Based on my early experience with Mitford and the milieu from which she issues, I always assumed I would love her to pieces. But after buying lots of pretty editions of her novels, I am now at a place where I just don’t care about her anymore. With some validation from Desperate Reader for feeling this way, I gave some Capuchin editions to Nonsuch Book and the rest went to the Friends of the Library. No more Mitford fiction for me. The letters and bios on the other hand still fascinate me.
The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud
The Stranger by Camus
This was my second time reading The Stranger. I don’t remember what I thought of it the first time I read it. It’s very French and very, well I’m not sure what it is. A Frenchman, Meursault kills an Algerian on the beach. Just because he can, apparently. The only reason I picked it up again was because I wanted to read The Meursault Investigation, which picks the story some years later told from the point of view of the dead Algerian’s brother. I really liked the righteous anger in Daoud’s story.
Hollow Heart by Viola di Grado
I was really excited to see what this book was all about. The premise is that it’s the story of a woman who commits suicide, told from her point of view, after she is already dead. It was such an inventive idea, I was a little disappointed that one of the early (perhaps the main) things we learn is that she is upset over a break-up. What follows is a rather odd tale of what the dead do after they die, rather ghost-like behavior in this case. Di Grado also describes what happens to her physical body as it rots underground. I actually found that part the most interesting thing about the book. But if that is what you are interested in, better to read Stiff by Mary Roach.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Wow. I’ve tried to read this doorstop about three or four times in the past. I had totally written it off as something I would never read. Then a bookish bloke on Twitter tweeted that 2016 was going to be the year he finally killed that white whale. Suddenly inspired to join him, I thought that an audio version might help me get into the book. And it worked. At least to a degree. I liked the opening couple of hundred pages, but once the ship goat underway I started to lose interest. I was also fascinated by the bits later on where Melville describes the many different kinds of whales. But overall I found the book more tedious than anything. I’m glad it’s over. Every time Melville erroneously referred to whales as fish (many, many, many times) all I could think of was the Seinfeld episode called Marine Biologist where George keeps calling a whale a fish. And every time he does so, Jerry or someone else says “mammal”. I kept saying mammal back to the recording.