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A Worrier’s Guide to Life

worriers-guide-to-life-gemma-correll

Full of comics simply drawn and clever, A Worrier’s Guide to Life is a fun, quick read. It is a little on the negative side, but so much of American humor is sarcastic or snarky, so I’m used to it, though I’ve become less so. Nonetheless Correll is clearly perceptive and funny. Her simple drawings have charm. It’s a book to get at the library for a quick read.

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The Fortunes of the Rougons

What a crazy family! Well, that’s not quite right. They aren’t outright crazy, they’re just greedy, selfish, venial social climbers for the most part.

Emile Zola’s 20 novel series, Rougons-Macquart, begins with The Fortunes of the Rougons, which I’ve relished. I’m on determined to read all 20 books about the two sides of a family descended from Adelaide Fouque whose legitimate son spawns the Rougon side of the family and whose two illegitimate children are the start of the Macquart side.

Set in provincial France, the story opens with two young lovers, Silvère and Miette, marching with hopeful revolutionaries participating in a coup d’état led by republicans trying to wrest power the elites who’ve neglected the needs of the working class.

The story shifts back a generation to Adélaïde Fouque, who marries Rougon, a gardener, and they have a son Pierre. When Rougon dies Adélaïde takes a lover, Macquart, who’s a drunk and something of an odd ball. With Marquart Adélaïde has two illegitimate children, Antoine and Ursule. Antoine and Pierre are particularly at odds with each other especially after Pierre fools his mother into giving him control of her money.

This first book sets the stage for struggles and troubles to come as I’m seeing in the second book, The Kill. Zola’s style moves fast and I find learning about the French history of the Second Empire.

Eight Feet in the Andes

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Dervla Murphy’s travels are always absorbing and often humorous. I’ve read her Eight Feet in the Andes thanking God I’m not on this four month trek with a mule and a 9 year old (who’s amazingly patient, uncomplaining and intelligent). I wouldn’t be able to stand all the bugs, the 25 mile hikes up worn out trails that barely hug the mountains, the eating just ship’s biscuits and canned sardines for days till the next town which could be a week away.

Yet I find the book enthralling. The Murphy’s encounter people with histories and cultures I’d never heard of, some are amazingly hospitable and some are very cold and aloof. I love how Murphy tells it like it is. She doesn’t glorify all the native cultures or demonize all the mestizos. Each encounter is related as objectively as is humanly possible.

I’ve also learned so much about the Spanish and the Incas, how they clashed and how that affected numerous ethnic groups who were in the way. I’ll add a few good quotations later in the week, God willing, as it’s time to return to my end of term grading.

The Moonstone

moonstone

Told by a several different narrators, all with different personalities and motives, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone entertains from start to finish. It begins with a family’s black sheep bequeathing a large, expensive jewel, the moonstone of the title, to his niece Rachel. The moonstone originally was a sacred jewel in India and three former Brahmans have come to England to get it back no matter what.

Rachel receives the moonstone on her 18th birthday when many have gathered for her party. She flaunts the stone all night and then puts it in a cabinet in her bedroom. During the night it’s stolen. Who did it? The Indian jugglers, who came by out of the blue? One of the servants–particularly the maid who had been caught stealing by her previous employer? Or a guest who’s in need of money? It could be anyone and Collins keeps the surprises coming chapter after chapter.

I enjoyed the humor and how the story was as much about the personalities of the characters and their relationships as it was about finding the culprit who took the cursed moonstone. I will soon read another Wilkie Collins’ story, that’s for sure.

North and South

In June my online book club read Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. Since I’v seen the BBC series, I knew I’d like it, but I really liked it more than I expected. North and South has been billed as a Pride and Prejudice with social issues thrown in. That’s not a bad quick summary of the novel.

Briefly, it’s the story of country girl, Margaret Hale getting uprooted from her lovely pastoral Helstone and plucked down in gritty, smoky Milton a factory town in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. There she comes to know both the Higgins family, who work in the mills and whose daughter is sickened due to the horrible conditions in her mill and the Thornton’s whose grown son owns a major mill.

Gaskell’s got a light touch so the story’s not overwhelmed by the social issues, yet in her lifetime, many readers criticized her for siding with the workers to the degree that she did.

I liked the characters Gaskell crafted and the even-handed debates they had on labor relations. As you might guess, Margaret and Mr. Thornton are polar opposites for most of the story, yet develop an attraction. While that’s nothing new, Gaskell handles the relationship well, so you’re pulled in.

The story moves a long and contains several quotations that I’ve marked.

A good read, indeed.

King Coal

By Upton Sinclair, who always takes the side of the underdog and shows people how hard and unfair life was for the lower classes in his time (i.e. early 20th century), King Coal is about a well-to-do college student, who leans to the left politically. His older brother and friends tell him that all the news and complaints of poor treatment of coal minors is hog wash. He decides to spend his summer as a miner.

He takes on the clothing of a working man and goes to North Valley where he gets work in a mine. He has no idea how much worse things were than he imagined. He makes friends with the workers, lives amongst them and sympathizes with them. He gets the same bad treatment. He faces the same problems – high rents in the mining housing, bad food at the canteen, exorbitant prices at the general store. When he helps the men organize and request, not a union, but someone to check that the coal loads are weighed right, he lands in jail. The judge is in bed with the mine owners. Upon release he’s followed and when a reporter prints his story . . . well, on and on it goes, injustice upon injustice.

The story is compelling and Sinclair creates likable characters a few that middle class and progressive wealthy folk would take to. It’s still a relevant story and should be read in history classes. If I taught history, I’d have some students read this, others read The Jungle and others read Oil! and then compare notes.

The Big Short, The Book

The-Big-Short

I really enjoyed Michael Lewis’ book The Big Short about the men who discovered that the bonds with lots of bad mortgages were destined to fail and hence bring on a financial crisis. While the topic is confusing and complex, Lewis does an admirable job of pulling you into the story and making you understand. I appreciated that there weren’t the scantily clad women or bimbos in bathtubs. That wasn’t necessary in the film. (You can see my film review here.)

Lewis did a better job of showing who these men were and what the nature of our financial mess is. I quite enjoyed learning how the two young guys of Cornwall Capital made their fortune and “sitting in” on Lewis’ lunch with his one-time boss whose earlier decision to take a financial firm public rather than a partnership (hence removing responsibility and consequences from a firm) led to the fiasco of 2008.

It’s a book I felt I should read and now want to recommend all my friends read. In fact, I had requests to share it and it’s in the hands of a friend right now.

The Film Snob’s Dictionary

filmsnobdict

Written by David Kamp, The Film Snob’s Dictionary is a fun little reference book with a tongue-in-cheek tone that can help readers learn to b.s. their way through an erudite conversation on film or just help readers learn a little more about filmmakers and terms related to film.

Here are a few entries, chosen randomly, to give you a taste of the book:

Film Threat. Surprisingly buoyant, unsmug Web ‘zine (originally a print magazine) devoted to independent film. Where snobs go to read fulsome appreciations of Sam Raimi and interviews of such Queens of the B’s as Debbie Rochon and Tina Krause. (N.B. The website was bought and taken offline so where will we read these articles about people I never heard of?)

Mankiewicz, Herman. Gruff, whiskey-soaked, cigar chomping, old-school screenwriter par excellence (1807-1953)who bolted from his comfy perch at the Algonquin Round Table to write titles for silent films and screenplays for talkies, famously summoning his friend Ven Hecht west with te line “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition are idiots.” A dab hand at many genres–he wrote or cowrote Dinner at Eight, the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup and The Pride of the Yankees . . . .

Third Row, The. The only appropriate place for a true cinephile to sit, as per the dictum of  the late snob overlord and belle-lettrist Susan Sontag. Though the third row is said to provide the ideal perch from which to comfortably take in the MISE-EN-SCENE while unobstructed by fellow audience members, New York’s Anthology Film Archives, in 1970, catered to the socio-pathology of Film Snobs by opening its Invisible Cinema . . . .

The Horizontal Man

In 1947 Helen Eustis won the Edgar Award for best mystery for The Horizontal Man. Set at a small New England women’s college where a young Irish English professor, Kevin Boyle is murdered; someone took a fireplace poker and bashed him over the head with it. Soon Molly Morrison, an introverted freshman with a huge crush on Prof. Boyle has a breakdown and while in the school infirmary confesses to the murder.

No one buys that and she’s eventually cleared, but the question remains: Who killed Boyle? As the novel progresses Eustis provides an up close look into the psychology of the students and professors. Surprisingly, police and detectives play a small role in the novel, a technique I can’t remember seeing in other mysteries.

I liked her precise style, which transported me to the late 1940s.

From The Forthsyte Saga to Downton Abbey

up downUpstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama Television from “The Forthsyte Saga” to “Downton Abbey”  ($70 hard cover, $69.99 ebook so get it from your library) edited by James Leggott and Julie Anne Taddeo offers readers a means of considering their favorite imported shows with a slice of the scholarly. While the essays can be pedantic, none were hard to read and most made me consider new aspects of my favorite shows. I enjoyed the essays that examined Downton Abbey fanfiction, how shopping was glamorized and career women were portrayed in Mr Selfridge and The Paradise, and how something horrible (spoiler below*) was depicted and received in Poldark I didn’t read every essay, but no one has to. Pick and choose as you wish. The article by Andrea Schmict on Downton Abbey fanfiction has enticed me to explore FanFiction.net to see if there are any gems worth reading.

(I tend to expect fan fiction to be poorly written and not worth my time, but according to Schmidt there is some good writing to be found online. I don’t want to be a snob so I’ll read some. Share any suggestions below)

*Spoiler alert

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