Friday, October 07, 2011

Book talk for a Friday

I'm afraid it's time to discuss books again. The whole reason I started blogging in the first place was to generate conversation about books I was reading. Unfortunately, hardly anyone ever reads the same books I do, but I still like to throw up a book post once in a while.

You can see from my sidebar some of the books I've read lately. If you know any of them, feel free to tell me what you thought. Right now I am struggling with The Four Gated City by Doris Lessing. One feels one ought to read it--she won the nobel prize for literature, and was so marvelously cranky about it when reporters accosted her on her doorstep to tell her the news--I love how onions and an artichoke play a supporting role in that scene, which I command you to watch. There's The Golden Notebook, which I read in college after a friend of mine told me it was her all-time favorite book. The Golden Notebook turned out to be horribly difficult and not at all what I had in mind for a little light reading for the summer vacation. I finished it, but retained little: something about color coded diaries and Africa. This is what you get for taking book recommendations from someone who goes to Yale. So I avoided Doris Lessing for a long time, and then I read The Diaries of Jane Somers, which I loved, and I thought, "Hey, Doris Lessing isn't so bad after all," so I wasn't particularly fearful about starting The Four Gated City until I picked it up from the libaray and saw with dismay that it is over 600 densely packed pages of mental gymnastics. So far, it's all an angst-ridden woman wandering around post WWII London but I am only to page 62. I googled "I can't get through The Four Gated City" and found a lecture about how yes, it's difficult, but the intellectual rewards make it worth the effort. If it were badly written, if there were even the slightest whiff of the cheap literary tricks that I despise, I would stop reading it instantly, but this is masterful writing. It's lucky I checked it out of the university library and don't have to return it until May. Who has read Doris Lessing? Thoughts?
I just finished Coot Club by Arthur Ransome, book five of the Swallows and Amazons series. I love children's literature. The Swallows and Amazons series is about a group of sailing-mad English kids in the 1920's or '30s. They spend summers at a lake and are allowed an astonishing amount of freedom to have adventures. The other books are set in the Lake District of England but Coot Club takes place in Norfolk and it's my favorite book in the series so far, partly because of the setting, which Arthur Ransome describes so charmingly. I have had my fill of mountains. I think I could be happy in a flat, watery land. The story itself is about the children's encounter with a group of rude people with a large cruiser who moor their boat in a way that is harmful to a nest of coot's eggs and refuse to move it. A small crime is committed to save the nest and the children become "outlaws," ever evading the rude people, with a final, satisfying confrontation-- especially satisfying to those who know what it is to deal with rude boaters.

I also started another children's book, Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. I am so impressed with this book. It's about four children, abandoned by their mother in a shopping mall parking lot, far from home. Dicey, the oldest sister, sets out to walk across Connecticut to find the house of an aunt they've never met, who might take them in. Her resourcefullness and intelligence make her a very compelling literary character. Parents, if you have a reluctant reader you're trying to tempt with that One Book that will get him hooked on reading, Homecoming may be the one.

The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes us Smarter by Katherine Ellison--I admit I'm skimming through this one. Not that it's not interesting, but she's preaching to the choir as far as I'm concerned. What I thought more interesting than motherhood's effect on the brain was sleep deprivation's effect on the brain. After working two hellish years as a "day/night rotater" on my nursing unit, it was nice to see that maybe I wasn't crazy during that time, and that maybe much of my depression, tearfulness, weight gain, irritability, lack of coping skills and anti-social behavior could be blamed on sleep deprivation. I used to work 7:00am-7:30pm or 7:00pm-7:30am, often (during my first year) switching back and forth multiple times in the space of two weeks and sometimes having just one day off between working night shift and having to start up with day shift and while at work was literally responsible for people's lives. It was hell. And I mean hell. And now here is The Mommy Brain to tell me that this sort of sleep deprivation is the worst sort of all. Also interesting, the findings about neuroplasticity--that it's a fallacy that your brain stops developing at the end of adolescence, and that our neurons are always making new connections and reworking themselves.


  1. I tried reading The Golden Notebook and failed. I just finished When The Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle and really liked it. His writing style changes from book to book, which I can appreciate. My son narrowly avoided a forced encounter with a Dave Eggers book in English 10 and the less said about that the better. The best book I've read in the past few months is The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill.

  2. I feel such a literary fraud. (Almost) every book I have been told is a "Classic" I have found completely unreadable. All the Bronte's, Dickens, Swift, Bunyan, Trollope...didn't even finish the first chapter..boring to the Max.

    More modern stuff is better, (I agree with Not Behive that Reginald Hill can produce not only great characters and plots, but really well written prose)

    My all time favourite is "The Curse of Chalion" by Lois McMaster Bujold. Characters, plots, cultures and philospohy in one gloriously intertwined package.

    As regards the sleep deprivation I totally agree. My Beloved worked night shifts as a Nursing Supervisor/Tutor for about 3 years, and then came home to look after our baby girl during the day. I used to wonder why her personality changed so much during this time.

  3. I think you have a more interesting book list than most people. I get plenty of sleep and lots of leisure time. I have "a grandmommy brain. I have read all about neuroplasticity but since turning 60 two years ago, I have begun to wonder if my brain has stopped making connections. The wiring has definitely slowed down the transmission of impulses. I seek a word or a name, and decide to sleep on it and it will show up in the middle of the next day. Usually when I no longer need it.

  4. I've read Lessing, but the only novel I really remember is Briefing for a Descent Into Hell. I did enjoy that . . . well, perhaps enjoy isn't the proper word.

    I've never regretted sticking with one of her novels. I just don't have much of a memory at all these days.

  5. I have read Homecoming--I remember it well from a long time ago. But the Coot book intrigues--sounds a bit like Carl Hiassen's books, which I adore, so thanks for the tip!
    Doris Lessing and I have not crossed paths yet.