Reading Journal : Bildungsromans and female characters

Although our challenge for this year isn’t based on quantity, we’d like to suggest to you that the benefits of keeping a reading journal are many. Reading other people’s journals is also really interesting, so please keep journaling!

#1  13 Little Blue Envelopes

I’m well outside the target audience for this book, which details the adventures of an American girl given a quest by her eccentric aunt. This requires her to backpack through Europe, This is apparently more extraordinary than I thought it was. I didn’t have a gap year myself, but an awful lot of people seem to have them now, and going off to the UK to wait tables seems a popular choice. I found the main character interesting, and able to carry the story. I read the book in preference to some of the others in this list, for example.

I thought that some of the choices the author made showed a shyness regarding sex that’s pretty common in American authors, but were quite clunkily incorporated in places. Also, there was a weird bit of anti-Roma racism in the middle.

Suggested for teenage readers, not necessary girls although that’s how the publisher has pitched it.

#2 Labyrinths by Jorge Louis Borges

Complex short stories about the relationship between the text and the reader, and the author and his characters. The book repeatedly uses motifs of symmetry, mirrors, mazes, and libraries. I enjoyed this book a great deal, although I’d suggest that unless you fervently enjoy magical realism, it might be best to space the short stories out, reading other texts between them. Too much Borges is literally exhausting.

The Library Service doesn’t have any Borges fiction in English, so I’m putting in an order for his more famous collection, Ficciones. If you’re reading this post a little while after publication, there should be some holdings. Ficciones and Labyrinths share some fiction pieces, although Labyrinths has a few essays added.

#3 Eat Like You Give a F*ck by Thug KitchenThug kitchen

A cookbook from the hit website, that uses African-American Vernacular English, and curse words, to suggest you eat more vegetarian food.

I strongly advocate this book to new vegetarians on the following bases:

  • It doesn’t teach you how to make vegetarian versions of the awful, awful food that’s killing people on Western diets, which is a popular way of writing new veg*n books.
  • It has simple recipes: you will never be asked to find something ridiculously obscure.  Well, nutritional yeast, maybe…but Australians can just use Vegemite instead.
  • It doesn’t require a lot of technique, or weird pans.
  • It’s fun to read, and far more colourful than cookbooks of the low-fi eco-aware school of veg*n writing.
  • it embraces meat-free days for carnivores.
  • it fights the tendency to put cheese in everything so common in vegetarian writing.

So, widely recommended, with the caveat that if you don’t want your cookbook suggesting that you may have copulated with inappropriate people with whom you share a close familial relationship, you should avoid this book. I’m delighted to say that the Library Service has copies of this, given its relatively limited distribution.

#4 The Natural History of Dragons : A Memoir of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

A book in which a young lady, suitable for a Georgian romance, or parody, becomes a scientist and travels to study dragons. As an imitation of the travel journals of Amelia Edwards or Freya Stark it’s excellent. It shares the stately pace of those works, which made me, as a reader, impatient. It’s a book that’s executed with tremendous style, and provided the reader is wanting atmosphere, rather than for a livelier story, it’s easy to recommend broadly.

#5 The Secret History of the Mongol Queens : How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford

In this exceptional work of historical reconstruction, Weatherford uses the histories of the peoples surrounding the Mongol Empire to find traces of the queens excised from its official history. He begins with the four daughters of Genghis Khan, who ruled the lands surrounding the core of their father’s empire. Weatherford then follows the history of the House of Borjigin until the death of Mandukhai the Wise, who raised and married Dayan Khan.

For people interested in medieval history, this is an excellent book, easy to recommend. I listened to this book through the library’s Overdrive service. The reader is clear.

Through the woods cover#6 Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

This is an interesting collection of short stories, told in graphic novel form. The art is drawn in what seems like an imprecise, flat style, but that’s apparently for deliberate effect: making the pictures more child-like. The stories are atmospheric rather than gory. I enjoyed the collection and would recommend it to those who enjoy horror or graphic novels. please note, thowever that the author deliberately leaves all of the stories unfinished. This works well, I feel, but it’s a divisive choice.

#7 Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster-Bujold

A deeply satisfying fantasy novel, that does not depend for its interest on cheap trickery. Ista, the dowager queen of a kingdom saved in a previous book, is being driven mad by her confinement in the capital. She decides to go on pilgrimage for her sanity, which disturbs her courtiers. She has had periods of mental illness due to the touch of the Mother, a goddess, and her carers think Ista’s desire to head for the hills is her affliction returning.

Ista’s visions are return. The gods, who blighted her life but cannot so much as lift a leaf without the aid of a mortal, want more and worse from her. Her new isions are not, however, coming from the Divine Mother, but from her son, the Bastard. He is the the source of death magic, the prince of demons and lord of things out of season, but also, as she discovers, granter of tiny mercies in desperate need.

If you enjoy fantasy novels, seriously consider this book. It is the sequel to The Curse of Chalion, but can be read alone.

#8 Yes Please! by Amy Poehler

I am not familiar with this comedian’s work. Her book was, nonetheless, interesting, until toward the end it dived into a section about parks and Recreation which I was too obscure for a non-viewer. Witty, engaging, and recommended for her fans, or those interested in improvised comedy.

#9 The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer is very generous in this book, about how she practices her art. I enjoyed it a great deal, and would like to refer you to the book club discussion questions I prepared. These link to the library catalogue, and to the TED Talk which begins her story.

#10 & #11 The Fuller Memorandum and The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

These are wonderful little books, which I’d describe as the Cthulhu Mythos as written by John Le Carrre. Bob is a mid-level employee of the section of the British Secret Service tasked with containing supernatural threats. As he notes repeatedly, he used to be an atheist. Now Bob knows God is coming back, and is planning to meet him holding a shotgun. The series has a bleak tone, but with moments of humor and satire that prevent it being interminable. Recommended for fans of Lovecraft and spy thrillers.

For our reading challenge, I’ve ticked off number in the title, collection of short stories, is an audiobook, is non-fiction and have judged by its cover. One month and 5 out of the 15 done…can I finish in February?