Thursday, December 23, 2021

What I'm Reading Now

Claire Keegan, Small Things Like These

This is another of those novellas-published-as-novels. Just over 100 pages, it's a story about an Irish guy, Bill, who sells coal, set in 1985. He himself is illegitimate, but his mother's employer took her in when her own family kicked her out, so he was brought up in safety and relative luxury. Now married, he has five children with his wife, all of whom are being educated by the local nuns. This same nunnery runs, besides a school for the locals, a reformatory for "bad girls," which is to say girls who have gotten pregnant out of wedlock. Bill comes across one of these girls locked in the coal shed on a freezing night, and slowly comes to realize the abuse she is suffering. His wife and everyone else in the town comes down on him hard to look the other way, and the nuns threaten reprisals against his own children. He has to decide what to do.

Beautiful writing in this one, and the dilemma Bill is caught in is convincing. The novel(la) feels unfinished, though. Another couple hundred pages would have helped.

Annabel Abbs, Miss Eliza's English Kitchen 

Another one about women with illegitimate children. The main focus here is on Eliza Acton, who wrote a famous cookbook in 1845, and the kitchen girl who worked with her on testing and evaluating the recipes. 

The main plot move is Eliza's illegitimate child, raised by her sister, and Eliza having to decide between marriage and continuing her work as a writer (of poems and the cookbook). There's some nice details about the sensual side of life, which was not quite respectable in Eliza's circles. The kitchen girl's mother is suffering from dementia, so that part hit home with me.

This is also nicely written, and gives a good look at what life was like for women, including poor women, in 19th century England. I enjoyed it, but I would have liked more recipes, frankly. 

Richard Feynman, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

An odd but interesting book -- Feynman was one of the physicists who worked on the Manhattan project. He won the Nobel prize for something I don't quite understand. (Lots of the book is physics, which I have a hard time with.) The book is mostly anecdotes about his life, so if you're interested in what life was like for an academic from about 1935 on, it's fun to read. Apparently there's a sequel, but my library doesn't have it. 

CN: Some misogyny, related to picking up women in bars. One of his friends teaches Feynman about "negging," well before that term was invented, I suspect, and he relates several stories about how he made it work, before noting that he didn't enjoy having sex with women via that method. This part of the book is a pretty unpleasant read.

Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, Nine Tailors

Re-reads, because my library is still mostly buying books for children. I'm all for kids getting books, but this book drought is a little lengthy. I've decided against buying a Roomba, though, and now am wavering between buying a Kindle and just buying more books. The downside to buying more books is I will need more bookshelves. The downside to buying a Kindle is that if I read electronic words late at night, my insomnia is worse. (Or anyway I think it is. I need to look into whether that is true or just a scoldy myth.)

Anyway, Sayers holds up. This is like the 10th time I've read these books, and they're still wonderful. My library has them in large print, also, which is much easier for me to read late at night.


Athena Andreadis said...

The three Sayers titles you list are the Harriet Vane ones, which are hands-down my favorites of hers. She also wrote a collection of stories in two or three of which we see Peter and Harriet with their sons.

delagar said...

The ones with Harriet Vane are my favs, too. I own the Lord Peter collection, which has "Tallboys" in it -- that's the one with Harriet and Peter and their three sons.

Right now I'm reading Murder Must Advertise, which is good, but Harriet gets only a glancing mention, so....