Monday, June 12, 2017

What I'm reading this week (6/12/17)


Last week I finished:

I love The Dogist Instagram feed. I visit every morning to get my "pooch fix." The photos are wonderful, and the little accompanying stories are fun, too. And for the most part, unless the owner has a muzzle on their dog, the comments are even positive. The Dogist book is a collection of some of the photos that have appeared on the feed in the past. Most of them included names, ages, and breeds, just like the Instagram entries. I noticed a few things while perusing the book: (1) a whole lot of people name their dogs "Luna", (2) no matter what you name your Bulldog, it's hilarious, and (3) Pit Bulls look freakishly fearsome if you really look at them. I enjoyed this book, but I did have a couple of quibbles. First, I didn't enjoy the way most of the photos were tiled on a page. This made them much too small to enjoy, and with a dozen or two on a two-page spread, you couldn't focus and enjoy any one photo/dog. Second, I found the arrangement of the book odd. Some photos would be put into groups like "Ears" or "Clothes" or "Pit Bulls," but that wasn't the only place you'd find a specific breed or fantastic shot of a strange-eared pooch. I would have preferred a more straight-forward one-dog-per-page layout to let the photos shine. All in all, though, a fun book to sit down with. My rating: 3.5 stars.

I've been trying to read more contemporary fiction, but it's been an exercise in frustration. By this point, it's become a quest to determine why contemporary fiction irritates me so much. I have some theories, but I still don't feel like I've gotten to the heart of it. I always feel like I'm asked to lower my standards for great writing with contemporary fiction. And I feel like I have to constantly suspend disbelief. It makes me edgy and cranky. Be Frank with Me was my latest attempt to find a contemporary novel that I like, and it sort of flopped. I wouldn't say there's anything wrong with the book, per se, and I've been more disinterested in other current novels, but it certainly didn't turn the tide either. The plot: Alice is sent by a literary agent to babysit an author, M. M. (Mimi) Banning, who wrote a very well received book decades ago, and who is under contract to write another. Banning has a ten-year-old son, Frank, who has a social disorder (autism of some sort) but is an otherwise font of silver screen movie information. Throw in an unreliable handyman, a house fire, and Mimi's general animosity toward Alice, and you have the plot. I felt like I was supposed to love Frank, and I enjoyed him, but I was annoyed that they kept referring to him as a genius. To be sure, he knew a lot of facts, but I think the author has confused "smart" with "intelligent." A smart person can throw around a lot of facts that may or may not fit conversation, but an intelligent person can also navigate in society without needing to go prostrate on the sidewalk or repeatedly strike his head against a lamppost. Mimi was a neglectful mom and terrible person. We were supposed to think that responsible Alice was egotistical (other characters kept telling us that), but the author kind of forgot to write that into her characterization.  I felt it was cheap to make so many someones with obvious mental disorders "lovable" without getting any of them help or resolving any of their situations in the end. By the end, I was so ready to be done with all of the characters. My rating: 3 stars.

Before reading Killers of the Flower Moon, I'd never heard of the Osage murders. It's not something that would appear in history books, and it was long enough ago that it wasn't in the national consciousness anymore. It's a fascinating and sad story. After the American Indians had been removed from the land they'd been living on and given what most (the government, anyway) assumed was inferior land for their reservations, oil was discovered under the Osage Indian reservation near Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Almost overnight, the Osage were rich. In the early 1920s, however, something distressing began to happen: the Osage were being killed off one by one for their headrights (their granted land), worth millions of dollars. Many of the Osage had government-appointed guardians (all white men) in charge of their fortunes, making it easy for the white men to manipulate the system and funnel the large inheritances to themselves after killing the Osage (usually by poison). For the most part, the courts were unwilling to prosecute these cases. When the Osage were being murdered (two dozen documented cases, though many Osage now say it was probably 100s of cases), J. Edgar Hoover, the eager head of the newly-established FBI, sent agents to Oklahoma to get to the bottom of the murders once and for all. So, what you have here is part murder mystery, part history lesson, and part present-day investigative journalism. It's a quick, interesting read. I recommend it. My rating: 4 stars.

Last week I began:

I've been so excited to try the first Louise Penny Inspector Gamache novel, Still Life. So far, so good.

And I'm happy to be reading another Calpurnia Tate book, Counting Sheep, even if it is a chapter book.

This week, I continue with:

I'm loving Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome. He really is a very good writing.

Oh, keep posted for the full review of Sharon Olds' Odes. Never have I been more concerned about what I'm going to write in a review!

I began the audio version of:

I've been looking forward to Amor Towles' Rules of Civility ever since I finished (and LOVED) his A Gentleman in Moscow last fall.  


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