Reading Notes September 2019

Reading Notes September 2019

Finished in September

1. Uptown Local by Diane Duane (Kindle only)

A collection of her short stories. I really liked the first story from the point of view of a slave boy in the Roman Coliseum. There was a Young Wizards short story that was quite fun too. All in all an enjoyable book.

2. The Sparrow Child by Meriol Trevor (sadly, out of print and hard to find)

Meriol Trevor is one of those authors I have fallen in love with… I still have yet to meet a book of hers I do not like. This one is reminiscent of many of her other children’s books. A boy arrives to stay with relatives he’s never met, they are all older and live in an isolated house in Cornwall. There is a girl there, the daughter of the cook/housekeeper, and legends of a lost chalice that might be the Grail itself. There is a very complicated web of relations and an old mystery, hints of perhaps attempted murder. There’s a ruined chapel and a threat and through it all runs those glimpses of the Grail legend. I love how the characters are Catholic, but the book never feels like it’s making their faith the point of the story. It’s just one strand, an important one at times in terms of motivation and theme, but not intrusive.

3. Following the Phoenix by Meriol Trevor

Book Two in the Letzenstein Chronicles, about a fictional small country between France and Germany (like Luxembourg or Lichtenstein) during the Post-Napoleonic Era. This second volume introduces a new protagonist, Paul Cardomel, who has recently been orphaned. His artist father wanted Paul to be raised by a friend of his, Rafael le Marre, also an artist and the son of the former Grand Duke of Letzenstein (disqualified from being the next Grand Duke because his mother was a commoner.) Paul’s rigid uncle wants to take him back to England but Paul wants to go to Letzenstein with Rafael. The book details their various adventures as they navigate Paris during a Revolution, complete with barricades and fighting and make their way back to Letzenstein, where they hope to find the will that will sort out legal custody, pursued by Paul’s uncle.

4. Angel and Dragon by Meriol Trevor

Book Three of the Letzenstein Chronicles returns to the point of view of Catherine Ayre, the protagonist of the first book. She’s traveling to Letzenstein with her English cousin, Giles. While they are staying with Rafael le Marre, her cousin Gabriel, the Grand Duke, is attacked and falls into the river and is presumed missing. Then things get really hot as his position is usurped and Rafael’s life is now in jeopardy. Trevor’s series tells the story of tumultuous political events from the point of view of children, they are tense and dramatic, but not overwhelmingly so.

5. The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser

A very helpful little book. So far the best nuts and bolts, hands-on book I’ve found about writing poetry. Spends less time on teaching meters and forms and talks more about the process and the editing. I was sad to return it to the library and should probably add it to my collection.

6. Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf

A fascinating book about the history and neuroscience of reading. The first section traces the ‘natural history of reading’ and the evolution of the reading brain. It tries to unravel how our brains acquired the ability to encode and decode meanings with markings and what fundamental structures were adapted to make our brains capable of reading. The second section looks more closely at the neurology of reading, tracing the various regions of the brain that the process uses and in what order, a complex almost instantaneous process in those who are fluent. The third section looks at what happens when people are not able to acquire reading skills easily, attempting to pinpoint the neurology of dyslexia, or rather the neurologies. Wolf is a very clear writer, one who weaves literary allusions through her text and who is as conversant with Mark Twain and Proust as she is with Dick and Jane and Frog and Toad.

I expect this is going to be one of my favorite books of the year. Moreover, it’s really changed how I think about dyslexia and reading. The only thing is I wanted more from it. I’m not sure what more, just I wasn’t ready for it to be over and I dunno maybe more about remediating dyslexia. Nonetheless, definitely one of those books that shapes my understanding of the world in a fundamental way.

In Progress

Loss and Gain by John Henry Newman

A semi-autobiographical novel about a young man at Oxford struggling with faith.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp

Bella was reading this and I picked it up and read a few chapters. I’ll probably finish it at some point, but it’s a sort of pick up and put down book, I think. I read up through when Maria marries Georg and then got a little bored after a while of the descriptions of various holiday traditions. I like the plot more than the cultural texture.

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human by Noah Strycker.

A book of short essays about various bird species, reflecting on the unusual and with attempts at connections: what does watching and learning about birds tell us about ourselves. Honestly, sometimes the ‘what they tell us about being human’ hook feels a little tenuous (or hardly existent) and it’s not really the interesting part of the book for me. But I’m very much enjoying all the interesting bird facts and stories. My favorites have been the chapter about birds who find their way home and the one about vultures and how they can eat even the deadliest toxins and bacteria including anthrax and ebola with no ill effects.

With the Kids:

Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

I love this novel so much. A story of Roman Britain, which was a period I knew very little about. Sutcliff’s writing is rich and beautiful, a real joy to read on my own or with children. Even if you don’t have kids, you should hunt this one down and read it.

The Road from Roxbury by Melissa Wiley (sadly out of print and hard to find)

The third in the series of books about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandmother, Charlotte Tucker, who lived south of Boston in Roxbury. Delightful books.

Book of Marvels: Orient by Richard Haliburton

Haliburton is a delightful storyteller, very much a product of his time, the 1930s, with the good and the bad some sensibilities which will sit uncomfortably for the modern reader. He travels the world to see its wonders and makes you feel like you’re really there. The kids are really enjoying the book and we also like to look at updated information and pictures to see how things have changed in the 90 years since Haliburton wrote it.

Black Holes and Uncle Albert by Russell Stannard

Science adventure series that explores physics and the universe. We’ve also read The Time and Space of Uncle Albert and Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest.

Uncle Albert is of course loosely based on Albert Einstein. With his niece Gedanken (Thought Experiment) he explores the laws of the universe. How does gravity work, what is the Big Bang, why don’t stars and galaxies fall into each other?

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