Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky – I procrastinated reading this novel, largely because I knew it was so long and kept fitting in just one more book before starting it. But over Christmas vacation I found myself fresh out of library books and with Anna Karenina waiting on my Kindle. So I began. Though there were passages that became tedious (largely matters of Russian politics), I found the story engrossing and Tolstoy’s writing truly impressive. His description of the physical and emotional experience of birth was particularly visceral and well done. Loved it. I did a lot of research into which translation was the best.
Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams – This was a fascinating read. The author looks at breasts from every angle – the history of implants, breastfeeding, cancer, and contamination of the tissue by environmental toxins. After reading this book I went on a rampage through my kitchen and bathroom, culling any plastic that might contain BPA and replacing my lotions and soaps with paraben free, hypo-allergenic, fragrance-free versions. Recommend.
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub – It concerned the life of a golden age film star, her husbands and children. The story read much like a biography.
The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli – A memoir written by a former vegan turned hunter. This was a Kindle daily deal. As a vegetarian, I found the concept interesting. He paints a complicated picture. Even vegans harm animals, because they are killed and displaced to maintain farms. The author believes that being as close to self-sufficient as possible is the path of least harm.
The End of Men and the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin – Though I don’t entirely agree with the author’s theories or terms (plastic woman and cardboard man), there is a certain logic to the idea that today’s service-based, people-skill economy is advantageous for women. I like the idea of the “seesaw marriage’, in which partners take turns being the primary breadwinner so each will have an opportunity to pursue his/her dreams. One reason that girls may be more successful in school is that verbal skills are introduced earlier now, when boys are not developmentally ready.
The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin – I will never again buy anything other than organic milk – the use of rGHB hormones in cattle is inhumane and disgusting (because of the pus that end up in milk). I also learned that the cows become addicted to the hormones and go through withdrawal if not given their shots. The only advantage of GM foods thus far is a greater resistance to pests or pesticides, and over time that resistance is negated by the evolution of resistant bugs and plants, just like the mutation of a super-virus.
The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter – I enjoyed Beautiful Ruins so much that I decided to download another of Walter’s novels. Though of the two BR was my favorite, I enjoyed this one as well. Matt is a journalist who gives up his newspaper job to start a website about personal finance written in verse. It fails, he crawls back to his newspaper job, and is laid off. He is in imminent danger of losing his house, his wife is cheating on him, and his father is sinking further into dementia. Chaos ensues.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman -This was an enjoyable, complex novel about children and morality. Tom and Isabelle live on Janus, an isolated island off the West coast of Australia, where he is the lighthouse keeper. Isabella has three horrific miscarriages, the last in the seventh month. One day a boat runs aground – inside is a dead man and an infant girl. Isabella convinces Tom to bury the man and to raise the girl as their own. When she is about 2, they discover that the girl’s mother is alive. The consequences are heartbreaking.
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens – This was a slim volume, containing Hitchens’ thoughts on his esophageal cancer diagnosis and treatment. He had a more ambitious book in mind, but died before he could complete it. I am glad to see, though not surprised, that he stuck to his beliefs until the end. Hitchens quotes Saul Bellow: “Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are able to see anything” (89).
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – This was a witty, feminist book of essays. The author is a British music journalist, wife, and mother. Some of the best stories were about motherhood.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – A work of genius. I hadn’t read it in a decade, and thought it was time.
When it Happens to You by Molly Ringwald – When I saw that Pretty-in-Pink-Breakfast-Club Molly Ringwald wrote a book, I had to read it. I was pleasantly surprised. It was well-written and readable. I was interested in the central story of the break-up and reconciliation of a marriage. She titles this “a novel in stories”, though I would classify it as more of a novel told in multiple third person limited POV.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter – Loved it. The story was told through several points of view over decades. An Italian named Pasquale inherits a hotel from his father in an isolated, dying village. A burgeoning movie star, Dee Moray, shows up. Though many twists of the plot, we learn that she became pregnant by Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra. Pasquale falls in love with her, of course. The present day storyline involved a movie producer – Dean – and his assistant, Claire. Now an old man, Pasquale shows up to find Dee Moray after a lifetime apart. The story also follows Dee’s son, Pat, a floundering screenwriter who serves as their interpreter. The ending comes together so expertly, I was blown away. I look forward to more from this author.
Tea Basics by Wendy Rasmussen & Ric Rhinehart – Since my Ireland trip, I’ve been drinking tea just about daily. For a year I drank Lyons Irish tea, but I’ve begun to branch out. The next step will be loose teas, and to pick out a proper tea pot.
Honeybee by Marina Marchese – The other half of my tea obsession is honey. I drink it with this alone, no milk. Last summer I went to the Marshfield Fair and was intrigued by the beekeeping exhibit. I talked to the beekeeper and bought a pound of local honey. It was far better than the store-bought honey I had been using for years. Now I’m spending a fortune on artisanal honey.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – After re-watching the BBC mini-series “Lost in Austen”, I felt the need to reread Pride and Prejudice. I read it quickly over two days. Spending the weekend sick on the couch didn’t hurt. Austen is such a master – her intricate plot is the basis of every other romantic comedy written or produced since. My favorite of hers is Persuasion.
The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston – This non-fiction text explored the history of wives and the connotation of the word. The author relied heavily on pop-culture references (like Lucy and Desi). She believes feminists have been reluctant to call themselves wives because it connotes a subservience and domesticity that they are not willing to accept. In the 1990s there was a return to the stay-at-home mom ideal. Women began to envy those who returned to traditional, dependent roles. In the 80s staying home was looked upon with pity, and in the 90s with envy.