Books I read in September

I’m nearing the end of the PopSugar Reading Challenge for 2018. Not counting two books I’m in the middle of reading, I have one book left to read for the basic challenge, and three for the advanced challenge. Here are the books I read for the challenge this past month, plus others I read just because they were interesting.

I had a lot of trouble coming up with a good choice for “a book with an ugly cover.” There are books whose covers I don’t care for as much as others, but very few that I would consider ugly. And when I occasionally found one I did consider ugly, the cover was tied to content that I had no interest in reading. I finally settled on Some Trick by Helen DeWitt, because I thought the bright pink circles superimposed over an otherwise pleasing painting of a rabbit was quite unappealing. Unfortunately I did not find the stories all that appealing either, despite the descriptions of “witty” and “brilliant” on the cover. It may be true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but if this prompt was supposed to get me to read a wonderful book that I might have avoided because of the ugly cover, it did not succeed with me. (Though I do have to acknowledge that one vivid line particularly struck me, regarding a piano player whose “fingers like cigars grabbed at chords like bunches of bananas.”)

It also took me quite a while to settle on “a book recommended by someone else taking the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge.” There were many books I like that were recommended by others taking the reading challenge, but of course I know I like them because I have already read them, and the idea was to read something I hadn’t read before. Occasionally I would think a book sounded good from one person’s description, but then I’d read more reviews of it and decide against it. I finally picked The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. I like books based on fairy tales and folklore, and it is a pretty good story, but I did not connect with it as much as with other books I have read based on fairy tales/folklore. I don’t know if that’s because I was unfamiliar with Russian folk traditions, because of something about the nature of those traditions, or just the way that Arden constructed her novel. I did not realize while reading it that it is the first book of a trilogy; perhaps my expectations would have been different if I had realized that while reading it.

Another category that took me a lot time to figure out what to read was “a book set in a country that fascinates you.” I took a great deal of interest in Spain when I was a college student, but that was because I was a Spanish major, planning to be a Spanish teacher. Once I gave up on teaching, some of my interest in the country waned, because it was no longer tied to my own future. It’s the one country I have lived in other than the U.S., though, so it might have been a good choice. There are a number of countries that I could find interesting, but none that particularly jumped out at me as the one to pick. I finally settled on Wales because I have long enjoyed reading historical fiction based in Wales (as with the other countries of the British Isles), and my husband has long wanted to learn Welsh because it is such a musical language. We started learning it using, and while he did not like Duolingo because it uses the pronunciation of the south of Wales rather than the north, I continue learning and practicing it (having had no previous experience with the language to form a bias of that sort). Looking through lists of books set in Wales, I decided on A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, because I liked the idea of reading a book by Thomas, and of seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child in Wales. It was interesting enough, though I don’t know whether I would have enjoyed it if it were a lot longer. Or maybe if it were longer it would have gotten more into details of both customs and the child’s own thoughts and feelings, and I would have enjoyed it more.

After being disappointed with the previous book I read by Agatha Christie, I wondered if I would like 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie, my choice for a book with a time of day in the title. I was very pleasantly surprised, however, as I quite enjoyed it. Miss Marple was not present as much as I would have expected in the novel, but the character of Lucy Eyelesbarrow is quite interesting. (I do wonder how realistic it is, the way Lucy makes her living.)

I struggled to find a bestseller from the year you graduated high school that I actually wanted to read (and had not already read). I was relieved to finally find If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits? by Erma Bombeck in the list. I never shared my older sister’s love of reading Bombeck’s column in the newspaper, but then I was several years younger and found lots of things interesting to read that I did not. Some of those I have come to enjoy as an adult, but Bombeck’s style of humor is not one of them. This is the second book of Bombeck’s I have read in the last few years, and I just find her brand of humor too over-the-top to really appreciate. One crazy exaggeration can be funny, but paragraph after paragraph of it falls flat for me. Still, it was fairly quick and easy reading, and not without some good observations about life and family.

I came across two possibilities for “a book set on a different planet,” and in the end I read both The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett and A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I had trouble getting into the story in Pratchett’s book, perhaps because I had not read any of the previous books in the series, but once the story finally got going it was pretty good. I realized once I started reading A Princess of Mars that I could have counted it for a book I read that had been made into a movie I had already seen, but I had already read a book for that category. While I generally prefer books to the movies made from them, it’s hard to say with this one. I understood what was going on better in the book, but with a story that is nearly all about action rather than character or ideas, a movie does work well, and reading the story seemed to go pretty slowly (though fortunately it is not all that long).

God-Breathed by Josh McDowell was not for the reading challenge, but rather for a Bible study I am leading. I had thought it would cover more of how the Bible came to be written, rather than focusing primarily on evidence of its reliability, as well as how it can come alive in our own lives. But it has some very interesting information about the process of how the Hebrew Scriptures were copied, over the centuries, as well as how some of the oldest manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts were found and what they show about the accuracy of the copies. It is mostly material I already had learned in Bible school, but it is mostly new to the other ladies in the Bible study, so it will be interesting to hear their reactions.

I continue to enjoy Louise Penny’s series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. A Trick of the Light focuses on the art world, as well as alcoholism and AA, and with themes of reality versus appearance which feature prominently in both contexts. The Beautiful Mystery is set in a monastery, where monks live under a rule of silence and devote themselves to Gregorian chants and to God, and where distinguishing between good and evil is not nearly so easy and it might first appear (though of course that is true everywhere). In both books, Penny continues to develop the personal lives of Gamache and his second-in-command, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir. I was happy to discover that the next book in the series was available from the library, so I did not have to wait to go on with the story.

The Man Who Never Was, by Ewen Montagu, tells the true story of how British Intelligence deceived the Germans during WWII by use of a corpse made to look like a military officer carrying secret documents, who appeared to have died in a plane crash. I had heard of this back when I was a child, and heard or read about it a few times since, but never knew much more than the general idea of it. It was very interesting to read the details of how the deception was planned and carried out, written by one of the men instrumental in carrying out the operation.

Our book club’s book for October was Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf, who will be at the library later this month. Gudenkauf is hearing-impaired herself, and in this book her protagonist is completely deaf as a result of a hit-and-run accident. (Amelia suspects it was in fact not an accident but deliberate, though it is unclear whether she would have been the intended victim, or the other woman, who was killed.) Generally I don’t care for books described as “thrillers,” but I enjoyed this one, largely because Amelia appealed to me as a character.

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