February 2019 reading round-up

Tiramisu ingredients

It’s been an interesting month. From below-freezing temperatures and snow storms to summer weather in three weeks. We took a long weekend to play countless hours of Civilization and eat a lot of very rich food, but I honestly can’t remember much of the rest of the month. Brain fog, apologies. I didn’t get much reading done either, for which I also accuse brain fog.

Books read

Lance by Vladimir Nabokov
This Penguin Mini contains three short stories by the Russian-American author. “The aurelian” is about an amateur butterfly collector who dreams of going pro. “Signs and symbols” follows a woman through a single afternoon and evening, as she and her husband wait for their son to visit. Both these stories are bittersweet tales of middle-aged people and I loved them. The third story, “Lance”, is strange and meta and I didn’t get on with it.

The Cosmic Mystery Tour: a High-speed Journey Through Space and Time by Nicholas Mee
I am reviewing this popular-science book for Physics World, so I won’t say too much here. The subtitle pretty much sums it up – Mee briefly summarises the physics behind modern astrophysics, with a particular emphasis on historical scientists.

In the Shadow of Death by Rūdolfs Blaumanis
Translated from Latvian by Uldis Balodis
Tim picked up this novelette at Shakespeare & Co last year. It’s the simple story of a group of fishermen who are stranded when the ice they are fishing from breaks off from the mainland. The men ruminate on their fate, fight over food supplies and comfort or annoy one another, as their future looks increasingly bleak. It’s not cheerful, but it is very well written.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
In this saga of reincarnation, Ursula Todd is born during a snowstorm on 11 February 1910 and dies a few seconds later. She is born again and lives a few years before dying. The cycle keeps repeating: 11 February 1910, snowstorm, Ursula’s birth. However many years she lives, it all starts again at that same moment, same place. It’s a well-told story, but not as original as I had initially hoped.

The Survivor by Primo Levi
Another Penguin Mini, this time a tiny collection of Levi’s poetry from the 1950s to the end of his life. It’s interesting to track how his war-time experiences affected him over time – moving from bleak fatalism to muted hope. But I must admit, as poetry only a couple of entries really spoke to me.