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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

The unfinished books of vacation

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It’s not uncommon to have multiple books on the go. Different books for different occasions.

  • Essay collection for short bursts of reading
  • Novel for extended reading time
  • eBook or tablet for low-light conditions

On vacation, the effect only gets multiplied.

  • Audiobook for car trips
  • Innocuous book to avoid awkward whatchya reading? conversations when visiting
  • Travel books, because what better time to plan the next vacation than when on vacation?

But all this switching has the downside of no particular tome actually getting finished. Now I have at least three that I feel equally eager to complete, yet am no longer in the circumstances where I can plough through as much material.

Audiobook Prime of Miss Jean BrodieIn fact, other than Globe and Mails, sundry magazines, and a Kindle novella, the only book completed last week was the audio version of Muriel Spark’s 1961 novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I’d picked this up based on a Guardian article that said those “100 books you must read” lists were ridiculous, but here were five you really must read. This was one of the five.

It’s a fairly short book, but a very interestingly constructed story, moving back and forth in time, revealing more details in each pass. It tells of a teacher, in the prime of her life (as we are reminded repeatedly), whose unconventional teaching methods at a British schools for girls often has her at odds with the school administration. Miss Brodie doesn’t to just “teach to the test” (though she does emphasize the importance of passing the tests, so she can keep her job); she wants to inspire her girls to be creative and bold.

In one of her many controversial moves, Miss Brodie selects certain girls as her favorites based on their particular strengths, and primes them in particular to become the crème de la crème. She continues to meet and try to to influence them even when they are no longer in her class.

And one of them betrays her.

Jean complained that Miss Brodie was an irritating character, and she is. She’s charismatic, but not entirely and always sympathetic. There’s much to ponder on in the interplay of the characters. It would be a great book club book.

As for the unfinished…

Will Ferguson 419 book coverI was intrigued by the premise of Will Ferguson’s novel, 419. It’s a suspense story built around the well-known Internet scam of the Nigerian prince who needs your help in getting his considerable fortune out of the country. And it takes off pretty quickly, with the investigation into the tragic end of one victim of the scam, interspersed with the point of view of the scammer in Nigeria.

But then it goes a bit weird, introducing more Nigerian characters who don’t seem to have anything to do with the rest: A young pregnant woman walking across the country, for some reason; a young man whose village is devastated by the oil companies. At first I was impatiently flip-reading through those parts, eager for the original story to return. Then I realized I’d be missing half the novel if I did that.

So I went back and read at a more normal pace, and eventually got caught up in those tales as well. I have about a quarter of the book left now, though, and I still have no idea how the two narratives relate to each.

But I am curious to find out.

American Savage coverOn the essay / nonfiction front, we have American Savage, by Dan Savage, a gay man who writes a sex advice column (that I don’t think I’ve ever read). He’s also behind the It Gets Better campaign to support gay youth, and the redefinition of Rick Santorum’s last name. (Ahem.) This is a collection of essays on a variety of topics including relationships, politics, religion, and education.

I have found most of the pieces quite interesting, presenting facts I didn’t always know, and certainly making me look at some issues in a new way. Why we all probably know far more bisexuals than we think we do. (Psst: Because they’re passing as straight!) Halloween as a gay pride parade for straight people (and why that’s a good thing). The anti-man bias of most advice columns—because said columns are mostly read by women. And why that bias is bad for relationships.

His own life experiences often illuminate the arguments: How his mother reconciled being a devout Catholic with fully accepting her gay son, and why he himself can’t do the same. (Be a devout Catholic, that is. He does accept his sexuality. 🙂 The striking evidence, in his own lifetime, of how much things have gotten better for gay people—and how that happened.

Still up: “Still evil. Less evil. But still evil”, “It’s Happened Again”, and “Bigot Christmas”.

Sounds interesting.

Fangirl audiobook coverAnd Fangirl, a novel by Rowell Rainbow, is what we started to listen to after Brodie was done. I was struck by how much this book grabbed and held my attention, in contrast to the classic novel, which sometimes caused my mind to wander.

Surprise, because I suppose this would be classified a Young Adult fiction? It’s the story of 18-year-old Cath, who goes off to college with twin sister Wren insisting that they not be roommates and try to be more independent of each other. Wren is very outgoing and friendly, while Cath is the opposite—almost pathologically introverted and anti-social. Needless to say, Cath has a bit of trouble adapting.

The Fangirl part comes from Cath’s hobby—really more an obsession—with writing slash fan fiction about two characters from a fictional but Harry Potter-like series of books: Simon and Baz.

That it was so engaging (for Jean as well) despite not exactly reflecting our current stage of life (and no, I don’t write fan fiction, either) is, I think, a testament to Rowel Rainbow’s ability to create really full-fledged, complex, believable characters: Cath’s fearless and intimidating roommate; her charming writing partner Nick; her creative but unstable father, and so on.

And while I’m actually not too worried about polishing off the two paper books fairly soon, we have 2.5 hours of listening left to Fangirl—and no imminent road trips! How are we going to get this one done?

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