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thebostonreader
thebostonreader
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This novel is a fictionalized account of the life of Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. This first-person account tells Alice's memories of her and her sisters' friendship with Charles Dodgson of Oxford University, where her father was the Dean. The broad strokes are true -- Dodgson did photograph her and other girls in what appear to be rather suggestive poses, and the family did break with him when Alice was 11, though no one knows why. The author comes up with a story that could be plausible, but it's just speculation. Later in life Alice may have been in love with one of the younger sons of Queen Victoria, Prince Leopold, though she didn't marry him. She did marry in her late 20s and had three sons, and lost two of them to World War I. She had rather an eventful life, and didn't come into the public eye as the Alice of Alice in Wonderland until she was quite old.

Subtitle: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World.

Eric Weiner spent a year traveling to various countries to meet the people there and see why the countries are rated as being so happy (or in the case of Moldova, not happy). Obviously, these ratings, which come from a database in the Netherlands, don't mean that every person in the country is happy, but on the whole some are better off than others. Iceland, unexpectedly, is one of the happiest countries in the world. The people there are almost all poets or artists, even when they have a day job as well, and they are allowed to suck. In America we have such a fear of failure that a lot of people don't do art even when it could be beneficial to them if not the wider world. In Iceland, no one cares if you're a bad poet.

I started reading this years ago, and for some reason put it down and didn't pick it up again until now. I don't know why; I've always liked Oliver Sacks. He seems like a kindly uncle. This is a book of essays on the neuroscience of vision and our experience of the visual world. There's a patient who mysteriously loses the ability to read, even though she can see just fine. I learned that there are some people who are really good at visualizing and can hold an image in their minds well enough to make an accurate drawing of it, even rotating the image and drawing it from different perspectives. I'm not good at visualizing, and neither is Oliver Sacks, so I don't feel too badly about it.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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