Sunday, November 6, 2022

First lines: October 2022 edition


One of many non-hot-air-balloon flights we were on in the last few
days of October.  I think this is Dallas, TX.

Below are the first lines of the eight (!) books I finished reading in October. This is a stupendous number of books for me, caused by the confluence of needing to switch to children’s lit, and having two cross-country travel days.

Book 1
September 1953
Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant

Thomas Wazhashk removed his thermos from his armpit and set it on the steel desk alongside his scuffed briefcase.

Book 2
Hi, I’m Sadiq! My family and I live in Minnesota, but my parents are from Somalia.

Book 3
Chapter 1: The Ridiculous Hat

“Force…equals…mass…times…acceleration,” muttered Ada as she wrote in her notebook. Ada pondered that if you drop a hammer on your foot, it hurts more than dropping, say, a sock on your foot. The acceleration, or speeding up, is the same, but the mass, the solid oomph of a thing, is different. Oomph times zoom equals kaboom!

Book 4
Chapter 01: An Unexpected Sofa

The sofa wasn’t there on Monday but it was there on Tuesday. It sat in the shade just down the road from the bus stop.

Book 5
On Nov 4, 2008, when many world leaders waited to hear the results of the American presidential election, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was in his Roman residence preparing to have sex.

Book 6
Chapter 1: Disarming

“Did!” Ada growled through gritted teeth. She shirred the black iron coal shovel down through the air at her sister.

Book 7
Part One: Meet New People and Try New Things

Well’ let’s start with Elizabeth, shall we? And see where that gets us?

Book 8
Chapter One: The Lady in the Drawing Room

“Grrh, I’m a bear! Grrh, grrh, I’m a bear, Dorkie!”

“Oh, dear, so you are! Wotever shalladoo!”

Did not finish
Just as Lucien Bernard rounded the corner at the rue la Boetie, a man running from the opposite direction almost collided with him. He came so close that Lucien could smell his cologne as he raced by.

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. 464 pages. Published 2020. (Pulitzer prize winner)

This second reading was for book club. I found the book even better the second time around – I love the characters and the magical realism of this book. It also taught me about a piece of US history that every American should know. Highly recommend.

Book 2
Sadiq and the Big Election, by Siman Nuurali, Art by Christos Skaltsas. Published 2022. 50 pages. Children’s picture book. Has a glossary, discussion questions, and activities for kids.

I desperately needed something short and light. I find that at bedtime I cannot read about French collaborators during the Nazi occupation (see “Did not finish” category). But it also seems that I cannot escape elections as a topic, because this book popped up near the top of the list as available from the library on kindle.

Book 3
The Case of the Missing Moonstone: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency Series, Book 1, by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Published 2015. 216 pages.

This was a fun children’s detective story, which puts together two girls from history who did not actually know each other in real life. Ada Byron (who became Ada Lovelace, known as the world’s first computer algorithm designer) and Mary Godwin (who became Mary Shelley, known as the world’s first science-fiction author). Other historical characters also appear, and there is a splendid hot-air balloon adventure.

Book 4
What We Found In The Sofa and How It Saved The World, by Henry Clark, Illustrated by Jeremy Holmes. 368 pages. Published 2013. This middle-reader book also features a wild hot-air balloon ride. This book is more sci-fi fantasy than the other kid’s book. Includes an A.I. couch, cloning, an evil alien, and shenanigans.

I don't have a photo of a hot-air-balloon.
But I do have this photo of wet balloons
during a marching band parade.

Book 5
Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, by Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Published: November 10, 2020. Text 262 pages. With notes, index, etc, 358 pages.

Terrifying, but instructive. I had to gloss over some sections which were just too awful. Warning: this book contains graphic descriptions of violence, including sexual violence.

The book is a case study of some of the more well-known autocratic rulers of the 20th and 21st (so far) centuries, but is limited to those who came to power through elections or coups. There is nothing in this book about Stalin, Mao, Xi, or the Kims of North Korea, because they came to power in already-closed systems. It turns out Trump’s personality flaws are not a quirk but a feature of the “personalist”/ autocratic type ruler. Ben-Ghiat published this before the Jan 6, 2021 insurrection but does note that in general the strongman ruler will do just about anything to stay in power or return to power.

Book 6
The Case of the Girl in Grey: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency Series, Book 2. By Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Published 2016. 226 pages.

The Strongmen book was very difficult subject matter so I was happy to turn to the second in this children’s lit series (Grades 4-6). Starring Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley as children. Contains harmless ghosts, graves, and doppelgangers.

Book 7
The Thursday Murder Club By Richard Osman. Published 2020. 355 pages.

I did not like the narration style at the start of the book, but the narration/viewpoint changed frequently. Oddly, those changes did not bother me. I was eventually drawn in by the setting, and then the characters and the humor. The Old Folks’ Home portrayed in the book closely resembles the place where my parents spent their last days. Except the one in the book had a cemetery, with extra bodies in it. I am not a good judge of whether the mystery and solution thereof are satisfactory to die-hard (!) murder mystery fans; all I can say is that I enjoyed the story a great deal. It was good book to read while experiencing jet lag that just makes one want to loll around in the hotel and read.

Book 8
The Two Mrs. Abbotts (Miss Buncle Book 3) By D.E. Stevenson. Published 1943. 276 pages.

This book takes place and was written during World War II. I did not enjoy it quite as much as the 2nd book in the series. It includes a character who believes in judging a person’s character by the size and shape of the head – eugenics? – and that irked me. But it ends with a traditional couple falling in traditional love, so that’s okay to read while cooped up in an airplane for 4 hours.

Side note: If you get on an airplane departing from Texas, keep your face mask on. It was our last flight home after a wedding, and I was thinking I could take off my mask, but as soon as we took off, people starting coughing and kept it up for the entire 2.5 hour flight. My mask stayed on, and now, 6 days later, I am not sick.

Did not finish
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. Published 2013. 400 pages.

For book club. A fictional exploration of the Nazi occupation of Paris, with particular attention given to French collaborators with the Nazis. I got about half-way through (after the scene with the fireplace), but this book was too fraught with peril for me to finish. And that’s too bad, because I think it is important to understand what it means to be a collaborator.


Anonymous said...

The head-shape thing was phrenology, and yes, quack quack quack. (is *is* closely allied with eugenics, because if you can "Scientifically Determine" that a certain race or set of people based on head shape are less intelligent and/or less moral, then it's easier to say they should be suppressed with charts instead of just with "eh, we all know [they] aren't as good as [we] are")

(thank you for these mini reviews - it's fascinating! and also yes, I need light reading while also needing to know how to help stop Bad Things [in addition to voting] and this is a tension.)

Bibliomama said...

Is the head thing not phrenology? Oop, yes, someone else got there first, and of course it seems like it would slot neatly into eugenics.
The first Wollstonecraft Mystery book was a Silver Birch book in one of my libraries one year - or possibly Blue Spruce, something to do with Canada's Forest of Reading program which always yields some really good reads.
The Thursday Murder club was recommended to me by my BFF who I spent this very last weekend with, so a pleasing fortuitousness there.
I have been reading a book called How Fascism Works, similarly sad and depressing.

Melissa said...

I LOVED The Night Watchman and The Thursday Murder Club and I think it's neat how you're switching out the difficult reads with lighter fare and some kid lit, too. As a Mary Shelley fan, that series intrigues me and it sounds fun.
Well played, keeping your mask on in the plane. I cannot imagine flying without a mask now because it always seemed like I got a cold or something after flying in a plane.
As always, I enjoyed your list of reads and it gives me pleasure to recognize the first lines I've read--it makes me anticipate your review even more.