Reading roundup

Let’s see if I can remember what I read recently. The bookshelves are all full, so recently read books disappear wherever I can cram them into the shelves and I haven’t been keeping proper track.

Invisible Women  – Caroline Criado Perez. Won various prizes last year, including from the FT. The main thesis is that women are comprehensively overlooked in all sorts of significant ways, from designing transport systems to basic health care, because of an historic, current and probably depressingly eternal lack of data. In effect, by stupidly deciding not to be men, women make data gathering too hard! Sooooo complex! It’s nooooot faiiiirrrrr, why are you so different and weird and icky? So the mens go on deciding not to bother, and thus creating data structures that handily reinforce their existing worldview and incidentally, kill women. Nice. Obvs any women who call this out get ignored, threatened, fired, or murdered.

All women should read this, and then let’s smash the patriarchy and menstruate on its shattered bones.

Magpie Lane – Lucy Atkins. No word of a lie, I got this because it’s set in Oxford and I know where Magpie Lane is and it used to be called Grope Cunt Lane. Well, it probably didn’t have a properly capitalised street sign but that’s what it was known as. I do love old place names that tell it how it is. Anyway, this is a mystery with my old fave, the unreliable narrator. She is called Dee, and she goes to be a nanny to the neglected daughter of a media mogul-turned-head-of -Oxford-college and his very un-Oxford Danish wife. The daughter has selective mutism and an interest in animal bones.

Clearly loads to play with there. Whose fault is it when the daughter disappears? That bit is actually no real surprise at all, but it’s interesting parsing the narrative for how unreliable you think Dee really is versus how much she’s reframing to present herself in the best light.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte. The National Theatre is streaming weekly plays at the moment, so I watched Jane Eyre. Didn’t love it, decided to re-read the novel as well. Didn’t love that either. On the one hand, I do think it’s a classic for good reason. On the other hand, I have a problem with Rochester. He’s basically just a right bastard, as arrogant in his belief that because he loves Jane he has the right to throw convention away as St John Rivers is in believing that his love for God allows him to mow down any obstacle in his path. Jane’s annoying but she could still do better.

Big Sky – Kate Atkins. The latest Jackson Brodie novel, kindly sent by Blackwells. I haven’t read any of the other Brodie novels, and I’m not tempted to go back to them. I think I’m missing something, because this was a perfectly pleasant read but nothing special. I think it’s supposed to be darkly comic? And Brodie is supposed to be not hugely effective, except by happenstance? I don’t know. It was fine.

Various Jack Reachers – Lee Child. They’re comforting to dip back into, so I chain read three of them. Bad shit happened, Reacher kicked ass. I’m vaguely wondering if one could put together a thesis positing Reacher as a modern day combination of Ajax and Odysseus. The evolution of the hero to have brains and brawn, with reference to Sophocles’ Ajax. I mean of course, one could, but would it stack up beyond a bit of playful thinking? Bet it’s been done.

Another Man’s Moccasins – Craig Johnson. This is vol 4 in the Walt Longmire series, which I think has been turned into a TV series I won’t watch because TV is hard. And boring. There’s a murdered Vietnamese girl, a homeless, ex-con Indian and a backstory set in Vietnam when Walt was serving. It’s all very deadpan and practical, without over the top violence, and Walt is a good guy.  I might have to make this the next series that I work my way through, and I started looking up Wyoming as a holiday destination.

I have more Reachers on the way, because I listened to some of them and therefore have gaps amongst the paperbacks. So I’ll re-read those when they arrive. And I finally watched an entire movie all the way through on Netflix, but only because it was The Breakfast Club. Then I ordered Pretty in Pink, St Elmo’s Fire and Say Anything.




In which I get to stay in the house

All the time! Without even having to make excuses for it!

Here we go, the second weekend of lockdown, although it’s more like my fourth because I had a week off and was pretty much self-isolating out of choice before Coronavirus really kicked in.  I mean, I’d got the new Hilary Mantel (wonderful conclusion to the trilogy, but I miss Thomas Cromwell now), and I was enjoying sleeping in a bit and having leisurely coffees, and watching trashy movies. I nipped into town a couple of times, and I did get out for a day of walking, Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay, when I saw what was coming.

I didn’t expect to be going back to work in the office, so I’d tidied up my study, added a biscuit jar and hung a couple of pictures. And it’s been great. I love working from home. I love the extra half hour I get to sleep in, and the extra time I get to ease into my day. I’m at my desk by 8am and barring a couple of really busy days, I close the laptop down by 5pm at the latest. Work is busier and more stressful at the moment, and it really helps me that I’m at home, where it’s quiet and there’s a cat on the desk.

I know that some people are having a hard time, and I refuse to feel guilty that I’m not. Given that I’ve spent my entire working life adjusting to environments that aren’t great for me, I’m getting the most out of this short period when my work set up does suit me.  My boss already knows it’s going to be difficult to get me back in the office full time and I’ve already said if I have to do it, I’ll need a phased return to readjust to the fucking noise. That is a way more stressful prospect, so I’m not thinking about it.

It seems entirely possible that this can be a really positive time. I’m trying to build on some of the good habits I started during my week off, and add to them:

  1. Serious reduction in social media – I’m still checking Instagram but mostly staying away from Twitter and FB.
  2. Weaning myself off the news – I really don’t need a death by death coronavirus count and most articles have an inherently negative spin that seems designed to contribute to panic. If an article is titled ‘How to survive self-isolation’ it suggests that the whole thing is an ordeal. What is with that? Where are the pieces on ‘Hey, it’s really not that bad when you get used to it’ and ‘How to make the most of alone time’? I guess they just don’t foster enough hysteria.
  3. Both of these mean less time on my phone. A few times I’ve even forgotten where it is, so I definitely want that trend to continue.
  4. No commuting did mean more time to cook proper meals, until I started running out of proper meal ingredients. I’m getting a grocery delivery today that should cover me for the next two weeks, but I couldn’t get everything so I might have to venture to a store.
  5. I started yoga again, not particularly successfully but I did a few workouts.
  6. My GCSE has been cancelled but I’m still studying Greek. I wasn’t learning to pass the exam, I just like to collect grades so I get the occasional sense of achievement. I don’t think there’s going to be a good solution for private candidates, but if I end up sitting GCSE and A-level at the same time next year, it’s not the end of the world. So I made flash cards to help me really learn the vocabulary and I have all the verbs written out and up on the wall in my study, and my tutor just sent me past papers to do.
  7. It seems like more theatres, and opera houses and galleries and whatever are getting online every day. I haven’t explored any of that yet, but what if I did sit up in bed watching the Met Opera live one Saturday night?
  8. Being more thoughtful about what I cook, so that I’m making the most of the ingredients I have. Plus, they have to cover lunches as well. I don’t think is a bad thing at all.
  9. Calling people. For years, I’ve been texting, like everyone else, but just this last couple of weeks I’ve started getting and making calls again. I may even actually write some letters.
  10. More reading time, of course. Blackwell’s sent me a three for two before they closed, and I ordered some books from a local bookstore.

Does all this channeling my inner Pollyanna mean everything is fine and dandy? No. I’m worried about my parents, one in a locked down care home and one in self-isolation for 12 weeks because of his age. I’m worried about my sister, because she and her husband are self-employed business owners and they’ve had to close. As of now, they can’t seem even to get one of the business loans the government promised, and their insurance company is threatening not to pay out.

I’m worried and a bit scared about being ill when I’m on my own, but that’s just how it is.  Of course my main concern would be the cats, but I have plenty of cat food being delivered so as long as I can crawl downstairs to get them food and water, we’ll be ok. This is out of my control, so I’ll just deal with it if it happens.

But I’m making plans for after all this is over, too. I definitely want a bigger fridge-freezer, even if it has to go into the garage because I can’t reconfigure the kitchen. I’ll be keeping my cupboards just that bit better stocked and going all out on fancy storage jars and boxes because you can’t stack half-used bags sensibly.

If I think bigger, then if I don’t have to commute, I don’t necessarily need a car. And if I don’t need a car, that’s about £500 a month saved. And that, my friends, is part time PhD money right there. With some left to throw into a pension scheme.

So, I guess I’m one of the few people who doesn’t want life to go back to normal. Which is just as well, because I think there’ll be a new normal and it could look very different. You can’t cross the same river twice.


New year, same me

Since this was just Other Christmas and I couldn’t be bothered, it was a straight week off work. I didn’t really speak to anyone and I minimised all that leaving the house nonsense. I read a bunch of books and watched all the Indiana Jones movies and drank pots of coffee and slept. The cats were around a lot. It was great and I was very calm and relaxed by the end of it.

Christmas reading roundup (which was not hugely successful because there wasn’t much that I loved amid all this.)

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens.  Meh. Thought this was going to be more of a detective novel but it was just a romance. I think the setting was supposed to make it really unusual but it didn’t really gel for me.

Lake Success – Gary Shteyngart. Meh. Ramblings of a middle aged fuck up who has just left his wife and severely autistic son in pursuit of a fantasy about his college girlfriend. Mildly amusing but difficult to get over the fact that the main character is such a complete, self-centred dick. Thank goodness his wife doesn’t take him back but does take him for a lot of money. A lot. And then goes on to have a very nice life.

The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco. Because, I watched about 20 minutes of the TV adaptation and then gave up.

The Ingenious Language: Nine Epic Reason to Love Greek – Andrea Marcolongo. You are so right, Andrea! And I do love Greek! This was the best of my Daunt’s haul, and something I’ll get back to when my Greek has advanced further along from basic.

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea. 17th century Iceland, woman marries comparatively wealthy stranger so that her mother gets food and fuel. But what really happened to his previous wife? And why won’t her husband let her in the loft? This was billed as a thriller, but I never had any sense of suspense and I didn’t really care what happened to the characters. The setting and the time period was really interesting, though.

Happiness, As Such – Natalia Ginzburg. A nice, epistolary novel, with everyone worried about the prodigal son who has been allowed to grow up being completely self-centred and aimless. The relationships are beautifully drawn.

Sadly, I was back at work on 30th, although working from home so I didn’t have to get up the full 2 hours earlier than I had been. Shudder. Still, when midway through the morning Charlie came in and ate the robin he’d caught, it was a pretty clear sign that the festive period was over. When I did make it into the office, everyone at work was in much the same state of whatthefuckment and sidled off on New Year’s Eve anywhere from lunchtime onwards.

I partied hard by listening to the Backlisted podcast episode about Venetia, and then going to bed and re-reading Venetia. I was just checking, but yes, Damerel is still my favourite.

My main plan for 2020 is to sit my Greek GCSE in May/June. To which end, I need a proper chat with my tutor about how we spend my one hour of tutorial time a week most effectively. I’m thinking it’s time to start reading the set texts, which are Herodotus (yay!) and Euripides’ Electra (double yay!), while I work through the rest of the grammar in my own time. I had a quick look at Electra and it’s bloody hard, but take a language with no set word order and play around with it for metrical effect and ta da! That’s what you get. Anyway, as it’s only GCSE there are copious notes on every line so you barely have to translate anything yourself really.

For now, I’m re-reading Dracula because I got 14 minutes through the new Gatiss/Moffatt adaptation and gave up. On audio, I’m just finishing up Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, which I’ve found sort of compellingly tedious and occasionally identifiable. Really, I’m just in a holding pattern, waiting for the new Hilary Mantel to land in March and Blue Moon to hit pb in April. Should I read, Ducks, Newburyport?