As I gear up for the next round of the Oscar Blitz, it seems a good time to report on my January reading and the TBR/Double Dog Dare challenge. So far, I have mostly stuck to my pledge to only read books in the TBR pile. The only exception came from not being able to resist rereading the first Harry Potter along with La Javanaise, who is reading the whole series for the first time—lucky woman! I’ve been able to rationalize this since it is something from my own shelves and quickly finished. Of course, I can generally rationalize anything.
Other than that small detour, I managed to finish 1 challenge book remaining from last year (The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield), read 1 book salon book (The Observations by Jane Harris), and start 3 TBR books (Passionate Minds, The Shadow of the Wind, and The Swerve). I also finished up a few languishing library books (Christmas Pudding and Lucky Bunny). You can see my reviews of non-challenge books at Goodreads.
The month started with The Thirteenth Tale, which was a library book that I had checked out for last year’s challenge but hadn’t yet gotten around to reading. This novel reminded me a great deal of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, although perhaps less academically oriented. I liked the story and writing overall, but had a few problems with the narrator’s role and her constant comparison of her own childhood trauma (which I felt was ridiculously overblown) to the central mystery. Yet, unsurprisingly, I totally coveted the bookstore caretaker/dabbling biographer life she had carved out for herself.
The Thirteenth Tale paired up nicely with the first challenge book I happened to pick up from the pile, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind, which I brought along for extra plane reading over the holidays. Like The Thirteenth Tale, this story is also a mystery about an author; however, while it starts off in a fairly dramatic fashion, it moves at a much more languid pace and at times I found it very, very slow. But the writing was beautiful, and I was charmed by the portrait of Barcelona and various characters Daniel encounters, so I would certainly recommend it. And, again, why can’t I have an antiquarian bookstore? Fictional characters get all the nice things.
Speaking of antiquities, I also read The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, which I nabbed from my brother-in-law over Christmas. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book takes as its point of departure the discovery in the 1400s of the last surviving manuscript of On the Nature of Things, the classic Roman epic by Lucretius. Although non-fiction, The Swerve reminded me of The Name of the Rose, and that is what I kept imagining whenever it went back to Poggio on his monastery treasure hunt. This book is extremely interesting, and an easy read, but it tries to cover too much. In the end, I just don’t think Greenblatt makes his case and I wish he had focused solely on the story of Poggio and On the Nature of Things itself, rather than everything else he seems to be trying to prove.
As a side note, maybe it’s all the mysteries I’ve been reading, but the oddest thing happened when I started reading The Swerve: I started to encounter On the Nature of Things (which I had never heard of before) everywhere, including my third challenge book, Passionate Minds, and even The West Wing, which I recently began rewatching. It’s so strange how that happens.
Finally, I figured since I was already steeped in stories about books and the bookish, I would go through my TBR pile and see what else was in that vein. I came up with Passionate Minds by David Bodanis and Au Bon Roman (A Novel Bookstore) by Laurence Cossé. I’ve just begun the former and it seems quite interesting and well written. The ridiculously long subtitle tells you pretty much all you need to know about the subject matter: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, Featuring the Scientist Emilie du Châtelet, the Poet Voltaire, Sword Fights, Book Burnings, Assorted Kings, Seditious Verse, and the Birth of the Modern World. Not too shabby, and probably a good follow-up to The Swerve (as previously mentioned, I’ve already come across On the Nature of Things in its pages).
While I still have a few lingering library books to get through this coming month, I feel I am making at least some progress on the pile I was too embarrassed to photograph for this week’s guest spot at Savidge Reads: Other People’s Bookshelves. Forgive me, Simon!