Despite being the shortest of all months, February was not too shabby! And I always consider it a personal victory when I manage to read more books than I buy. Here are the books I read and bought in February.
Books Read: 11
- The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K. Le Guin
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin (same link as A Wizard of Earthsea – my review is of the trilogy)
- The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
Reading Yes Please and Not That Kind of Girl last year made me want to re-read memoirs from two more of my favorite actresses: Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling. Memoir is one of my favorite genres to listen to on audiobook – I find it very easy and enjoyable to listen along to the conversational style of most memoirs. I greatly enjoyed re-reading Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling this month via the audiobook edition, which she reads herself. It’s a lot of fun to listen to her read it. It left me hoping she’ll write another book sometime soon – she’s gone from a hilarious writer/actress to a complete Feminist & Women of Color heroine since she wrote Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, and I’m sure she has so much more to share.
At Large and At Small by Anne Fadiman is one of my very favorite essay collections. In her introduction to the collection, she describes familiar essays as such: “The familiar essayist didn’t speak to the millions; he spoke to one reader, as if the two of them were sitting side by side in front of a crackling fire with their cravats loosened, their favorite stimulants at hand, and a long evening of conversation stretching before them. His viewpoint was subjective, his frame of reference concrete, his style digressive, his eccentricities conspicuous, and his laughter usually at his own expense. And though he wrote about himself, he also wrote about a subject, something with which he was so familiar, and about which he was often so enthusiastic, that his words were suffused with a lover’s intimacy.” I hadn’t read this lovely collection since 2007, and I particularly want to revisit her essay on the literature of Arctic Exploration, now that I’ve read more of that genre myself and traveled to the arctic. If you enjoy essay collections, you won’t encounter many better than Anne Fadiman, in my opinion.
I checked out Displacement by Lucy Knisley from the library – the next in her series of graphic novel travelogues. Her last travelogue, An Age of License, is the equivalent of a glass of wine and a lovely cheese course – she explores Europe and falls in love. Displacement could not be further from that story. Lucy accompanies her elderly grandparents on a cruise as their caretaker, and the trip is distinctly less glamorous than her European adventure. But the story is warm and moving – she conveys her feelings and emotions honestly, and we see how difficult it is for her to watch her grandparents in such a state of decline, and how hard it is to care for them. She also quotes from a WWII memoir that her Grandfather wrote, and shares the experience of getting to know him better. It’s an honest look into caring for elderly loved ones, and I think it’s an important and moving contribution to the expanding world of graphic novels / memoirs. (Do you call a non-fiction book a graphic novel still? I never know what to call it. Graphic memoir? That sounds like a memoir that contains graphic content…)
I listened to the audiobook of Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer this month. For some reason, I expected it to contain a bit more practical information about how we can improve our memories for day to day use, but it mainly concerns the types of training and strategies used for professional memory competitions. Most people don’t have a real world use for memorizing decks of cards or random number sequences. But what makes the book extremely interesting is the information it contains about how memory works, and the history of society’s use and value of memory. And it does contain a bit of practical information about making things easier to remember or memorize – we learn the importance of attaching vivid and unique visual imagery to things we want to remember, for example. It makes a good subject to listen to on audiobook – I’m glad I chose to listen to it instead of reading my print copy that has been sitting around for a few years.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams was the first book I read in preparation for my South America trip. I knew very little about the Incas or Machu Picchu before booking this trip, and this was a good crash course. It covers both the history of the Incas in Peru as well as the exploration and “discovery” of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham in 1911. As Hiram admitted in a letter, he discovered Machu Picchu in the same way that Columbus “discovered” America. But Hiram Bingham is responsible for bringing into the world’s attention, and the story of his exploration of the region is fascinating. Mark Adams follows the full route the Bingham expedition took in 1911, and covers a lot more ground and history than just Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. I’d recommend it to anyone who is planning to visit Machu Picchu, as well as anyone who likes a good adventurous armchair travel adventure.
I also read a review copy of Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better than Before. I though it was great – like her other books on habits and happiness, it provides good information and strategies for getting to know yourself better and using that knowledge to shape your life and your happiness. I will be posting a full review on the publication date, March 17.
I started Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami while I was traveling abroad last year. I don’t read very well while I’m traveling, and I tend to lose interest in books through no fault of their own and crave something different to read. I stopped in the middle of this novel during my trip, and when I returned it sat around unfinished. I love Haruki Murakami and wanted to finally finish this book, so I picked it up again in February and finished it. I don’t think I’ve ever paused a novel mid-way through and waited 8 months to finish it before, and I can’t say I recommend it. I remembered a good deal of the plot, but it was still a bit jarring to be thrown into the middle of it. Still, I enjoyed it, and I’m glad I finally finished it. It’s not my favorite of his books – I like his magical realism more – but it’s beautifully written. It’s also much darker than I expected.
Several of the books I bought in February were for my upcoming South America trip: Turn Right at Machu Picchu and State of Wonder were bought to read before I leave, and I decided to buy Fresh Air Fiend by Paul Theroux (a large collection of his travel essays) to bring along with me on the trip. It’s hard to predict what I’ll want to read while traveling, but I think I’ll enjoy reading from this collection while I’m away.
As you can tell from above, my Ursula K. Le Guin reading kick is in full force – I bought The Lathe of Heaven to read next.
I bought Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery because I cannot seem to stop buying adventure travel stories. Nature Anatomy, by one of my favorite illustrators, Julia Rothman, came home with me after I read this detailed feature in Brain Pickings.
And I found Journey Into Summer by Edwin Way Teale at Strand this month. I’m collecting the four books in his delightful American nature roadtrip series – he has one for each of the four seasons. Now I just need the Spring volume.
That’s February, folks! How was your reading month?
If you missed January’s Polysyllabic Spree, you can catch up here.