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Early in the year, I vowed (or heavily implied) that I would read only books that, at the end of the year, I'd be glad to have read. Then I got sick, and I guess inasmuch as I'm now glad I've read anything at all that vow is still in force.

Plans of the best-laid varietals.

Here are the top 11 book recommendations I received, or rather the top 11 "books we're glad to have read" (by number of recs):

East of Eden John Steinbeck 5
The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien 4
The Giving Tree Shel Silverstein 3
A Wrinkle in Time Madeline L'Engle 2
Life of Pi Yann Martel 2
Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie 2
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen 2
The English Patient M. Ondaatje 2
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald 2
The Tin Drum Günter Grass 2
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee 2

I notice that previous people's choices seem to be very influential on those who follow them, or else The Giving Tree is a great book of our time. East of Eden turns out to be a sacred text among several of my acquaintance.

I have already read 8 of the 11, but probably the easiest 8.

Audiobooks

I’ve been listening to the recent Shirley Jackson biography, A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, using my local library’s Hoopla subscription. It's grand to have effortless access to such a recent audiobook. This doesn't quite count as reading the book since I use it to fall asleep and so have dreamed through many months of Jackson's life. I know the skeleton of her story well enough to be able to pick up wherever I start in again, at least so far. I'm having a little trouble with the voice of the reader; she seems skilled, but a bit mechanical. That could be my brain fog, though.

Books of the paper variety

After Loving, I finished another of the three Henry Green novels in the collection, Party Going. (They are very short novels.) The Howards End re-read is finished in time for book group, but I may not actually go, depending on my health by Sunday. Last time my most insightful contribution was a sporadic hacking cough.

Next, I went on a bit of an Alan Garner bender, reading Red Shift, The Owl Service, and Thursbitch, all of which I liked – probably Red Shift most. It was the most difficult, and had I not already listened to the Backlisted conversation about the book, I would have had quite a lot more work to untangle the threads.

The three books are all roughly the same kind of spell of deep time and sentient landscape (a term I've just learnt by reading reviews), but each through a different myth.


However, it was Jo Walton's article at Tor.com that lit this book up for me by pointing out that Red Shift is a retelling of the Tam Lin legend where Janet lets go. (Or, Walton adds, where Tam does, depending on your take.)

Catherine Butler refines this, saying that Jan(et) does hold on but that “the action is ultimately ineffectual,” because Tom can’t recognize her intention, and “finally Jan has no choice but to let go” (80).

For me, this resonated with Gwyn's failure, out of pride, to rescue Alison in The Owl Service. I very much like this concept of failed myths.

I did have a go at puzzling out the message at the end of Red Shift, and by rights should have got it, since I could see what the first sentence had to be and I had the cipher block, but somehow I became hopelessly muddled. I love puzzles, and books that are puzzles, but I am not that perfect reader who actually works the whole business out. I do, though, enjoy a Mystery as much as a Puzzle, so that’s all right.

{rf}

Notes

I don't think I get to use "equivalenced" as a transitive verb, but I wish I could.

Here's a link to some discussions of / with Garner. I have not listened to them yet.


Unlinked References

Butler, Catherine (as Charles). “Alan Garner's Red Shift and the Shifting Ballad of ‘Tam Lin’”. Children's Literature Association Quarterly. Volume 26, Number 2, Summer 2001. Web.

(I am delighted to discover Catherine Butler whilst down this rabbit hole.)

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/5099.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
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