Book Thirtyfour: In The Woods

In The Woods, Tana French

I've had a lot of weird neuroses in my life. I've been able to overcome some of them (fear of flying, fear of open water) and some still linger (what if gravity suddenly gives out one day and we all float out into space?), but I just recently added a new one to my menagerie. And that is a horrible, gnawing worry that I will die before I finish the book I am currently reading. Yes, totally stupid, and something I shouldn't spend time worrying about, because, to be perfectly honest with myself, this will probably happen to me at some point since I am always reading something, right? And I have to die at some point, right? (We can't all be as lucky as Bella and Edward.)

Well, the other day, as I was well into this book and totally hooked on the plot and characters, I mentioned this fear to Chris and we had an illuminating conversation about it. He wondered if I shouldn't start rating books based on this criteria. Meaning, as I'm reading any given book, how worried am I that I will die before finishing it? Chris decided it should be called it the Anxiety of Mortality Index and it can be applied to anything you have read. The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, for example? That would get a two (out of ten)--great book but no cliff hangers there. In The Woods? Two days ago I would have given this a big, fat ten.

Well, now that I have finished In The Woods, I'm going to change that score to a big fat zero. Seriously, I could have actually died before finishing this and not missed much of anything. Which is too bad because what a promising start! We're given two juicy mysteries, and the better and more intriguing of the two isn't ever solved by the end! I can't even bring myself to go into it here, since I'm still riding this wave of disappointment, but go ahead and read any of the one-star reviews at amazon and you will know exactly how I feel.

Book Thirtythree: The Summer Book

The Summer Book, Tove Jansson

Occasionally I wander through the fiction section at Barnes & Noble looking for new editions from New York Review Books (which, yes, I know I go on about ad naseum here). I know I could just look at their website or search amazon or something, but I like the challenge of spotting the covers or the distinctive spines on the shelves. The other day, as Chris and I were searching the stacks, we spotted this book, and my first thought was, "Ooh, an NYRB I haven't seen!" and my second thought was, "What a pretty cover!" and my third thought was, "Holy Jesus F*$@, a book by Tove Jansson???!!!" And then my brain nearly exploded with excitement.

This book is near perfection. A collection of simple stories about a grandmother and her granddaughter on an island in the Gulf of Finland where they live in the summer with the Father who I can't remember saying a word through the book, since it's the grandmother and granddaughter's world we care about. They write stories about bugs and travel in their dory to neighboring islands and camp outside and watch storms coming and trespass on a new neighbor's island and argue and quibble and swear and ultimately seem to be meant for each other. I am now going to add an island in the Gulf of Finland to my list of places I would like to live, along with a quiet cozy spot on the River Thames.

Book Thirtytwo: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, George Johnson

After all the trash I've been reading lately--or, as I prefer to call it, "summer reading"--I felt the need for something smart. Though not very long, this little book contains short essays discussing what science writer, George Johnson, feels are the most beautiful experiments ever performed (obviously a highly subjective list). This book has two things I love: self-contained pieces that you can read in a short amount of time and then put the book down and mull over what you just read, then pick up again with a new story later; plus a lot of great illustrations! I have to admit, a lot of this was over my head, especially the experiments having more to do with physics, heat, and energy. But ultimately I got the gist of what made each experiment special and beautiful, so, you know, mission accomplished.

But for me the best part of the book was reading about all the things people believed before they arrived at what we now hold as common scientific truths. There's some great stuff in here! Like phlogiston, the stuff found in substances that allows it to burn--when it's used up things stop burning. Or caloric, kind of a step up from phlogiston, but considered more of an invisible liquid that expands and spreads heat. There was aether wind, a substance that occupied the space between everything, including atoms, that was thought to be responsible for slowing the movement of light. I also really liked primordial mind-dust, what was thought to be "atoms of consciousness" that surrounded each atom of matter. Imagine! I don't know about you, but I'm going to start working these terms into everyday conversation and see if they catch on. Wouldn't it be a great world if we all started talking about phlogiston again?

While I enjoyed the book, I wished for just a little more explanation to help my little mind understand all this cool science. At only 160 pages there was probably room for some more fleshing out of each experiment. I imagine that if I had a slightly stronger background in science, especially physics, I wouldn't have had to reread parts of this book so many times before it got through my thick skull. The chapters on experiments by Galileo, William Harvey, Newton, Galvani, and Pavlov were definitely more up my alley. But whatever, I now consider myself smarter for having read this.

Book Thirtyone: Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer

Yeah, so it's not the best book ever, and probably not even the best resolution to this series or the best message to send to all those teen girls out there, but seriously, did you expect more from this series? Really? Did you? Honestly?

Book Thirty: Eclipse

Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer

Blargh! I just had this thought, I just know that someone is going to ruin the end of this series for me before I had a chance to read the last two books, so I just said, "Screw it. I'm going to have a binge-fest on the final two books so I can put this whole series to bed." And now I've heard that fans are hating the final book, so of course I have to know why. I stayed up late last night finishing Eclipse even though I had to be up super early, and this morning at 5:45 I was already reading the first few pages of Breaking Dawn. I can't be stopped! I'm a monster!

Book Twentynine: English, August

English, August: An Indian Story, Upamanyu Chatterjee

Funny and bleak. I put this book down and felt both empty and full inside, you know? I laughed out loud frequently while reading this, but every time I went to pick it up, I had to think, "Do I really want to feel this depressed right now?" Agastya (known to his friends as August due to his anglophilic ways) joins the Indian Administrative Service and is sent to hot, rural and stagnant Madna for a year. He spends his time in his room at the Rest House smoking a lot of pot, exercising late at night, masturbating, and reading Marcus Aurelius and the Bhagavad Gita, meanwhile lying to anyone he can just because he can get away with it, and hating his post. He wishes he could return to his life in Calcutta, but then realizes that's probably no better than where he is. Such lovely, lovely writing; so sarcastic and funny with vivid portraits of characters and places. Thank you, NYRB Classics, for another great read.

Book Twentyeight: New Moon

New Moon, Stephenie Meyer

I thought I could wait longer to pick up the next Twilight Saga book, but apparently I could not. Yeah, yeah, you can say what you want, but at least I didn't go to the Breaking Dawn release party the other night dressed as a vampire, right? Not as satisfying as the first book, since honestly, who thinks werewolves are anywhere near as cool as vampires, but I'll take whatever I can get here.

Book Twentyseven: Black Sheep

Black Sheep, Georgette Heyer

Against all my natural instincts, but because of the recommendation from Nancy Pearl heard on NPR, I found this book in the [gulp] romance section of the bookstore and made it one of my two vacation books. And you know what? I actually kind of liked it! I know that's not the most glowing recommendation, but for a book found in the romance section, that's really above and beyond what I was expecting. It was, as promised, very Austen-esque, but still, there was something missing. Maybe the wit and subtlety of Austen? Simply, it's the story of unmarried, past-her-prime, 28-year-old Abigail Wendover, who is trying to prevent the marriage between her niece and the young cad Stacy Calverleigh, but meanwhile can't help but fall in love with the cad's uncle, Miles Calverleigh, who is the black sheep of the family. Yes, I'm sure you can get where this is going, but there were some nice little twists, some witty dialogue, and appealing characters, despite the ridiculous names--oh, those ridiculous names!