Here is the list of books I’ve read this spring, along with mini-reviews of approximately 2 sentences each.
- Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I’d read North and South and last year tackled Wives and Daughters but hadn’t been able to really get into Cranford, which is a series of vignettes of small-town life, originally published as a serial. But when I found a lovely 1912 edition at the thrift store I decided to give it another go and was really glad I did: the stories are lively and engaging and the characters fascinating. You could almost imagine that you, as the reader, were sojourning in Cranford just like the narrator. And for the record, the miniseries with Judi Dench is the best BBC costume drama I’ve ever seen.
- Slaughterhouse Five. I picked this book up at one of my favourite places in the whole world: The Strand bookstore in Manhattan. I read it on the train to Washington, DC, and it was a quick read, but one of those books that really stays with you and demands that you contemplate it.
- Five Major Plays by Oscar Wilde. This collection included two plays I’d already read: Earnest and An Ideal Husband, as well as 3 I hadn’t: A Woman of No Importance, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and Salome. The first 4 plays are funny, quick reads, but Salome is much darker and has some really interesting gender dynamics that I think will require more reflection on my part.
I’m practically an expert on Swedish mystery novels now that I’ve made it through all of Håkan Nesser’s books, most of Henning Mankell’s, and now all but one of Åke Edwardson’s Inspector Winter novels.
- During my New York trip I devoured 2 of Edwardson’s novels: Death Angels and Never End. While Inspector Winter came across as slightly less of a feminist hero than in Frozen Tracks, which I read last year, they had the same balance between thoughtfulness and suspense that drew me to Edwardson’s work in the first place.
- He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. This book by Feministing founder Jessica Valenti isn’t for those looking for an in-depth discussion of feminist theory, but it’s a fun and accessible volume designed to be used as a tool for young feminists to recognize and help others recognize the sexist double standards that exist in our society. Each mini-chapter also has an action item, which is hugely useful. For example on the “He’s a politician, she’s a fashion-plate” double-standard that sees women politicians judged more on their looks than men, Valenti suggests writing letters to the editor, encouraging friends to run for office, and looking into organizations that promote women’s leadership.
- This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians can Save us all by Marilyn Johnson. If you want a low-stress read and you happen to be a library nerd, check out this book. Full of stories of librarians of all kinds, including some really neat tales about librarian bloggers, Johnson’s book is a heart-warming testament to the continuing importance of libraries and public access to information, even in tough economic times and during an age of increasing computerization.
Random Other Reads
- Solar by Ian McEwan. I went to McEwan’s reading of this book in Vancouver, hosted by the Vancouver International Writers Festival, and found McEwan highly entertaining, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Unfortunately, despite my love for some of his other books (notably Saturday and Amsterdam) I actually almost didn’t finish Solar. While the premise – a gluttonous and libidinous Nobel-prize-winning Physicist personifying man’s worst traits working on climate change issues – was smart and funny, the novel’s pace really slowed almost to a stand-still later on and really made reading it feel like a chore.
- Swann by Carol Shields. I’m a huge Carol Shields fan and was lucky enough to get a postcard from her in response to a letter I wrote her in grade 12, only months before she died. But I hadn’t gotten around to reading Swann, the tale of a mysterious rural Ontario woman poet and how her story becomes re-defined by the people whose lives her poetry influenced. I’d definitely put this on my favourite books list – it has a similar combination of satire and sentiment to The Stone Diaries with the added element of mystery that makes it a genuine page-turner.
- Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon. I mentioned this book while I was reading it, so I won’t go too much in-depth. Suffice it to say this was a fascinating biography about Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange’s life, art, and politics and it was hugely engaging from a feminist and progressive political perspective.
- The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. I really enjoyed this alternative-timeline novel about a hard-boiled detective solving a murder in a Jewish community in Alaska on the eve of its dissolution. Chabon’s turn of phrase is highly unique, almost quirky, and it makes you feel like you’ve actually met Meyer Landsman and stayed the night in his dingy hotel room.
Now I’m digging into The Family by Jeff Sharlet and In Spite of Myself, memoirs by Christopher Plummer, but I’m having back surgery in June and will be off work for 1-2 weeks, so if anyone has any recommendations for that time, post them in the comments below!
P.S. If you’ve read this far you’ll probably like Bookshelf Porn (don’t worry; it’s definitely safe for work).