Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for January, 2013…
The Olive Farm: A Memoir of Life, Love and Olive Oil in the South of France, by Carol Drinkwater – This one popped up in my Goodreads recommendations because I’ve read three Peter Mayle books, and an account of a couple who buy a ramshackle, falling-down old olive farm in Provence and turn it into a haven (which happens to produce olive oil) sounded great. I love stories of people who escape the rat race and find a way to do something they’re passionate about and while Carol and Michel made this more of a vacation venture, it was still a story along those lines, so that was good. My problem was that I just didn’t really invest, and I didn’t find Carol quite as charming of a narrator as I find Peter Mayle. I still liked the book, but I didn’t love it and I didn’t find myself on Kayak looking at plane tickets the way I do after reading one of Mayle’s books. So, good, but not great.
Blue Shoes and Happiness (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #7), by Alexander McCall Smith – Mma Ramotswe has some personnel issues on her hands in this installment. As she tries to investigate an insidious fear spreading around a game preserve and an allegation that a doctor is falsifying blood pressure readings, she also has to worry about reining in her over-eager new part-time employee, Mr. Polopetsi. And then there’s Mma Makutsi, who may have driven her fiance away by disclosing that she is a feminist. But Mma Ramotswe can surely find solutions to these problems, and impart some life lessons and traditionally built wisdom along the way. Like, for instance, the fact that you can buy blue shoes but you can’t buy happiness.
The Fellowship of the Ring (Lord of the Rings #1), by J.R.R. Tolkein – I’ve been meaning to read this trilogy for ages (even set it as a goal to reach before my 32nd birthday) so it was time to get a move on. I found the tale of the ring and the beginning part of the journey to be captivating, as I knew I would. Still, I think I missed a lot. I had a vague sense of the events of this book, since I’ve wandered through the family room on occasion while hubby has been watching the movie, but it was still complicated! Everything had confusing names, sometimes more than one name, and I found myself constantly looking back at the map trying to figure out where the Shire was relative to everything else (and didn’t quite get it). I’ll probably have to re-read this a few times to really get a hook in it. But for a first read-through, this was wonderful.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce – Amal recommended this to me and I’m so glad that she did. I waited a LONG time on the library queue, but it was worth the wait and then some. Harold Fry is a recently retired, unhappily married man who receives a letter from an old acquaintence, Queenie Hennessey, telling him that she’s dying of cancer in a hospice some 600 miles away. Harold scribbles a quick reply and walks to the box to post it. Then he walks past the box, and keeps right on walking – because he has unfinished business with Queenie and he is convinced that all she needs to make a recovery is someone to believe in her, and that if he keeps walking, Queenie will survive. Along the way he meets a cast of broken characters, each of whom teaches him about himself. Meanwhile, Harold’s wife Maureen, left at home to ponder why Harold went out to post a letter and never came back, begins to wonder if Harold was really such a bad husband after all. Moving and beautifully written. I cried. Full review to come.
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #8), by Alexander McCall Smith – Well, it’s finally happened. Mma Makutsi, who has been growing an attitude in proportion to her shoe collection, has resigned from the detective agency. It’s a sore blow for Mma Ramotswe. And Charlie, one of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s useless apprentices, has quit too (a case of addition by subtraction, if you ask me). Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe has some particularly serious allegations to look into by a pair of whistleblowers, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni has expressed an interest in becoming a detective. But Mma Ramotswe isn’t the top (and only) lady detective in Botswana for nothing. She’s more than capable of handling things. Fun as always.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, by Ernest Hemingway – I’ve been a Hemingway detractor since high school (The Old Man and the Sea did nothing for me, NOTHING) but I decided to give him another shot, since I’d heard The Snows of Kilimanjaro was good. Well, in some ways I’ve revised my opinion about Hemingway, and in other ways, not. I still think he’s a misogynist – there was not a single interesting, multi-dimensional or sympathetic female character in the book, making me wonder if Hemingway respected women at all, or even liked them. I’m sure I’m missing all kinds of points here, but I just didn’t enjoy his portrayal of women. So I’m still not a fan. But I did like his writing style much better than I did in high school. The crisp prose struck me as elegant instead of choppy. And, unlikeable female character or not, the title story was fantastic.
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, by Emma Straub – Meh. I probably put too much pressure on this one, but the golden age of Hollywood is such a rich topic and Emma Straub’s previously published short story collection was so acclaimed that I expected more out of this book. The story of Laura Lamont, a fictional movie star in the studio era, was good but not great. Not enough time was spent on Laura’s rise to fame, and wayyyyyyy too much on her tumble from the heavens. I wanted glitz and glamor and a glimpse into Old Hollywood, and there was some but not enough. The writing was good, but not good enough to make up for the lack of glitter, so. It was okay.
Well, that’s January. Kind of spotty on the enjoyment front – I was cool on a few of the books I picked up this month, although The Fellowship of the Ring and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry made up for the others. But to be honest I’m kind of impressed with myself for reading as much as I did. I spent the first two weeks of the month gazing at my baby and trying to maximize every last moment of maternity leave, and the last two weeks back to the office grind (and finding WAY less time to read). I’ve been squeezing in a few pages here and a few pages there, mostly during commutes, at lunchtime, and after Peanut goes to bed (in between bottom-patting and shushing sessions during our nightly I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY MOM I AIN’T SLEEPING dance). I’ll be happy with any month this year as long as I keep up my reading, consistently, when and where I can.