14. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Austen kick! I'm fascinated by the contrast between this one and Pride and Prejudice. The Dashwoods live out in nature so much; there are strong descriptions of the landscape around their cottage, and the daughters are constantly going walking, which is apparently their main form of entertainment: up into the hills, along the lane, across the fields, down into the valley. It's almost Romatic in its depictions.
Elinor and Marianne are younger than I remembered, or younger than Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet were when they portrayed the sisters, which is probably why I pictured them as older. Elinor is only nineteen, and Marianne a couple years younger. I think some people are annoyed by Marianne, which I can understand; she is extremely dramatic. But that seems like such a typical teenager thing to me. She's not completely without sense; she just thinks that emotions must be violent or they are not worth having. Meanwhile Elinor is almost preternaturally composed all the time, even when her heart is breaking.
13. The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
Ellen Kushner has written three novels set in a fictional, unnamed city with the neighborhoods of Riverside, the Hill, etc. In this city, the nobles settle their differences using employed swordsmen to do their dueling for them. Only the nobles have the privilege of the sword. The first novel, Swordspoint, introduced this city and although I wanted to like it, it was a struggle to finish.
I had purchased The Privilege of the Sword years ago, thinking, "A girl swordfighter? Sign me up!" However, with my disappointment in Swordspoint, I never got around to it until my feminist sci-fi and fantasy book club chose it as their book this month. I enjoyed it immensely, actually. Katherine Talbert is summoned by her eccentric uncle, the Mad Duke, to the capital city from her family's farm, to become a swordfighter. Women are not expressly forbidden from this pursuit, but gender roles are rigid enough in their society that it would be unheard of for a noblewoman to run about in men's clothes waving a sword around. Maybe an actress, but Katherine is a lady.
The story had a lot of feminist elements, including the potrayal of young womanhood and the contrast between Katherine and her friend Artemisia, and other women in the story, all of whom manage to display their own brands of agency. Also, the discussion of honor was interesting, some characters insisting that a woman has no honor but that of her father and brothers. Overall, I am not sure whether I would characterize it as feminist, but it was definitely leaning in that direction.
12. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries inspired me to reread the original source material. Apparently I've seen the Colin Firth adaptation enough times, however, that a lot of the book comes to me in visual/audio format from that miniseries. Mrs. Bennet especially cannot remove her voice from the actress who played her. Although to be honest I think I might like Alex Kingston's portrayal in Lost in Austen to be even better.
As I was reading, I got to thinking about the extreme vulnerability of women in this time. Poor Lydia's tribulations could only be ended by the intervention of a benevolent man. Left to herself, what would have happened? She would have been sent away, presumably, when Wickham tired of her, unable to get married, possibly pregnant. The extreme civility and manners expected of men and women appear to be at least partially predicated on women's fragile reputations.
I'm sure lots of scholarly papers have been written on the subject. I feel myself on an Austen kick now. Perhaps I will read them all. They're easy to get on the Kindle since they're in the public domain.
11. Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
This is the fourth in the Jackson Brodie series. I liked the last one so much that I actually purchased this one for my Kindle since the BPL doesn't have it. Jackson takes in a dog, and another new character finds companionship in an even more unorthodox way.
Atkinson really writes well about lonely people. All her characters are struggling with loneliness, neglect, or both. It's kind of depressing, though the ones who deserve it usually manage to conquer their loneliness in the end.
10. When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
I'm not usually into mysteries, but maybe I should start. This was a page-turner, another Jackson Brodie story involving a girl who might be my favorite character in all these books, Reggie. I really like how Atkinson can write literary mysteries with lots of references that I don't necessarily get. These are really good, so if you're at all into mysteries, I recommend them.
9. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
This was a very different novel from Cloud Atlas, which I adored, although there were some similar elements, mostly Mitchell's ability to write evil characters.
Jacob de Zoet is a Dutch clerk who has joined the Dutch East India Company under a five year contract in hopes of making enough money to be allowed to marry his sweetheart back in Zeeland. It's 1799 and the Dutch have a treaty with Japan for a monopoly on trading rights. Foreigners are not allowed to step foot on the mainland in Japan, except on rare occasions, and for the most part they remain on a constructed island in Nagasaki harbor. De Zoet is charged with auditing the books of the former director of the trading mission, who has been accused of some corruption.
Things go along as you'd expect, with intrigues and politics, a Dutch doctor who is teaching some Japanese students, a benevolent young Japanese interpreter, and a young woman who de Zoet becomes interested in. Then the whole novel comes to a screeching halt and swerves off into disturbing land. Mitchell, you freaked me out, and that's all I'll say.
8. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
An incident of road rage begins this literary mystery/thriller, the second novel starring Jackson Brodie, ex-cop and PI. Atkinson can write well; I remember enjoying her first Jackson Brodie novel and her other novels as well. It's the Edunburgh Festival, and all the action takes place over four days of the Festival. Atkinson introduces a rather large cast of characters: Gloria, the disaffected wife of a rich and corrupt real estate baron; Martin, the hack novelist who believes he could be so much more; Julia, Brodie's colorful actress girlfriend; Richard Mott, a has-been comedian; and of course a mysterious dead body. It is a murder mystery, after all.
I'm looking forward to reading the next one.
7. Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human by Richard W. Wrangham
Paleontology shows us that around 400,000 years ago there was an evolutionary shift in humanity's ancestors, from habilines to Homo Erectus. Some scientists believe that this was caused by moving out of the trees and starting to eat meat. Wrangham thinks it was the use of cooking. Cooking makes food easier to eat and makes its calories much more accessible, and our bodies appear to be adapted to eating cooked food. People who eat only raw food have trouble keeping weight on and tend to have nutritional deficiencies. It was an interesting book, though I was a bit surprised to be reading along in my Kindle and come to the end halfway through the book. There were a LOT of notes, apparently.
Overall, I found this book fascinating. The intersection of social history and ancient history was pretty interesting, and his explanation for cooking leading to male-female pair-bonding made sense, though one never knows how these things really happen. I was interested to learn that in many hunter-gatherer societies women can have sex with whomever they want but can only give food to their husbands and children. It sucks that he assumes that it was always women who did the cooking, but then it sucks that most of the time and in most places it IS women who do the cooking, so I guess it's a fair assumption.
6. The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
In this novel, Guy Gavriel Kay has created a world recreating the Iberian peninsula during the time of the Moors. Jehane is a doctor of the Kindath faith, a religion following the wandering moons (yes, Jewish). Rodrigo is a Jaddite captain from the northern kingdom of Valledo (Christian), and the third main character is a poet and soldier of al-Rassan, an Asharite (Muslim). The three religions are represented by the sun, moons, and stars. It was an interesting conceit, and I guess I can see why Kay would set it elsewhere rather than on the actual Iberian peninsula. I thought there might be magic or a sci-fi component, but there wasn't really except for the existence of two moons which suggested that they are actually on another planet, and one character's second-sight abilities which are not different from the sorts of abilities that might have been ascribed to a person in Europe around this time.
5. To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild
Subtitle: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.
Once again, Hochschild does not disappoint. This book tells the story of British soldiers, generals, war-boosters, and anti-war activists during World War I. I was unaware that there were so many conscientious objectors during this war, nor that some of them were sent to the front anyway and threatened with being shot for desertion if they did not obey orders. Some actually were shot.
This war is considered to be the first modern war. Trench warfare was not what the generals envisioned. They all studied Napoleon and thought that they need only break through the German trench lines and then they could have glorious cavalry charges. It never happened. The few cavalry charges that did occur were less than glorious. The infantry were schooled to march into machine gun fire and it's a testament to ... something, stupidity or the blindness of obedience ... that most of them did so without complaint and were killed for pretty much no reason.
Russia pulled out of the war after the revolution, after Lenin came to power. Lenin, who had been in exile in Switzerland, was actually helped out by the Germans and taken by train through Germany to St. Petersburg. After the Eastern Front collapsed, England and France were pretty much done for but for the Americans. I think I knew that.