My stack of books that I have read and not reviewed is threatening to topple over and crush me, I am so behind. But we have been getting out and about. I love how summery it’s been for so long already now. Even if the sun is really not good for me, I can’t help but enjoy the blue skies, the long light evenings, the urge to get out and do things.
Speaking of which, this month we have been to London (again) to see Hamilton – which we loved enough that I now have a new album to play on rotation with Janelle Monáe (with whom I have been obsessed all this year). We also went to the Forest of Dean to visit my Dad and Grandad on Father’s Day. We visited Tim’s family on their farm – which is bountiful with food at this time of year. We saw art and we hung out in parks.
My favourite read this month – by some way – was The Radium Girls, a disturbing true story recounted expertly by Kate Moore. But I did read a lot this month and a lot of it was great. Roll on July!
Continue reading “Reading round-up June 2018”
The Radium Girls
by Kate Moore
I first heard about this book via work. It’s part of a current trend – one that I fully support – of identifying stories from history that are important but little known and giving them a boost. In this case, it’s the story of thousands of women who worked in the (mostly) early 20th century painting dials onto watch faces with radium-based paint, so that they glowed in the dark.
It sounds like a terrible idea and it was. But even though shortly after Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium in 1898 they and their colleagues realised it could cause harm to humans, it became famous for its ability to destroy or reduce cancerous tumours, and was therefore widely considered to be health-giving. So when Dr Sabin von Sochocky, founder of the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), which mined and processed radium in New Jersey, figured out that it could be used to create a glow-in-the-dark paint, this seemed like a brilliant new commercial avenue for the company.
Continue reading “It made the girls themselves gleam”
The Sound of Waves
by Yukio Mishima
translated from Japanese by Meredith Weatherby
I picked this book up at the secondhand book market underneath Waterloo Bridge in London. I used to go there reasonably often and I swear it has shrunk since a decade ago. It’s really of more use if you’re looking for old maps or illustrations, but we always find something of interest.
This is a romance set on a small Japanese island where the main industry is fishing. The men go out on fishing boats while the women dive for molluscs. When one of the few rich locals brings his daughter Hatsue back to the island after she has lived on the mainland with an aunt and uncle for several years, local boy Shinji is instantly entranced. When he learns who she is he initially tries to keep his distance because he knows he will be judged as too poor and lowly to be a good match. But they keep bumping into each other and a romance quickly blossoms – one with many bumps in the road.
Continue reading “From far away the world came pressing in upon him”
by Lissa Evans
This year marks 100 years since (some) women were able to vote for the first time in the UK, and 90 years since full voter equality was achieved here, and Lissa Tremain’s novel covers both these developments with gentle humour.
It is the start of 1928 and Mattie gives regular lectures about her suffragette past. She is widely admired for her history and her oratory but she can’t seem to get people interested in the ongoing struggle for equality. There is a popular assumption that the partial enfranchisement that women won in 1918 should be enough. It also begins to become clear that, while she is well-intentioned, she is blind to the reality of life for working-class women.
This is in stark contrast to her best friend and housemate The Flea, who works as a health visitor in some of London’s poorest neighbourhoods. The Flea smooths out Mattie’s problems before Mattie notices she has them, which has the unfortunate effect of meaning that Mattie rarely learns that she is getting it wrong.
“’Your memoir?’ The Flea was astonished. ‘I had no idea!’
‘Started long ago and never completed.’
‘But why ever not?’
Mattie hesitated. ‘I found the task…counterproductive.’ She could remember the precise moment that she had stopped writing…She had written about that accident…but now, she realized, now, she could recall it only from the single angle of her prose; in a moment of horrid clarity, she saw that each memory she had pinned to the page had become fixed and lifeless, the colours already fading. She was narrowing her past to a series of sepia vignettes.”
Continue reading “It was the appropriation, and perversion, of her idea that rankled most”
by Nora Ephron
Man, Nora Ephron was funny. Sadly this was her only novel, but as it is the thinnest veneer of fiction over autobiography, I guess it’s not so far from her brilliant essays. This beautiful new edition from Virago Modern Classics was the centrepiece of a Waterstones window display and tempted me into the shop to buy a copy, then also led me to buy three other books because, you know, I was in a bookshop.
It’s the story of Rachel who, seven months pregnant with her second child, discovers that her husband is not only cheating on her, but has fallen in love with the other woman. She must now figure how to move on with her life while protecting her toddler son Sam. And she has to reassess her marriage to Mark, which turns out to have been on rocky ground from the very start.
“When Mark and I married we were rich and two years later we were broke. Not actually broke – we did have equity. We had a stereo system that had eaten thousands of dollars, and a country house in West Virginia that had eaten tens of thousands of dollars, and a city house in Washington that had eaten hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we had things – God, did we have things…now, of course, I understand it all a little better, because the other thing that ate our money was the affair with Thelma Rice. Thelma went to France in the middle of it, and you should see the phone bills.”
Continue reading “That summed up the whole mess: heartburn”
Lately I’ve read quite a few books but I haven’t found time to review them, partly because I’ve been prioritising other things in my evenings and weekends. (Partly because I have been exhausted from working a lot of hours.) And reflecting on that has got me thinking about the choices I make.
I know that the ways that I spend most of my leisure time – watching TV, hanging out in pubs, doing crosswords, playing computer games, reading books – might be considered time-wasting, particularly the TV. But another way to look at is it that most of that time is spent with Tim and he’s my partner, my family, so surely that’s quality time. Yes, even watching TV together. Perhaps especially that – we laugh together, discuss plot points, get annoyed or scared or sad together.
This weekend we had intended to go to on a couple of day trips but I was tired, so instead we have mostly been playing games, or rather one specific game: Civilization VI. Civ has been part of our relationship since the start, in its various iterations. When I was a student we would lose days on end to playing it but it has been several years since we last did this. We are effectively telling a story together, making decisions that are both life-or-death and completely meaningless. It’s really a lot of fun.
Continue reading “Wasting time vs quality time”
by Paul Theroux
I don’t usually review books that I don’t finish, but I find I have a lot to say about this book. I know there will be people who disagree with me because Paul Theroux is much lauded for his travel writing, and at a sentence level I would have to agree that he’s a great writer. But there was something about this book that made me deeply uncomfortable, and it was not the non-revelation that there is serious poverty in the southern United States, or that racial tensions continue to exist there.
Theroux has a high sense of self-importance and takes great pleasure in displaying how well read and well travelled he is. He repeatedly makes sweeping generalisations that are designed to demonstrate his open-mindedness or liberal politics but actually serve to make the opposite point. He keeps presenting the reader with terribly nice southern black men who turn out to have street smarts but little education, and then white men who are hideously racist and gun-crazy. He’s over-simplifying complex issues, and not in a particularly interesting way.
Continue reading “Did not finish because there’s only so much smug old guy I can take”