Books I Received for Christmas, and What I Plan to Do About Them

We have these bookcases. Five of them, scattered about the house. Four are the tall ones from IKEA. I, my husband, and our daughter all have e-readers as well. Over the years, I have repeatedly declined invitations to join book clubs, because I really, really don’t need additional reading assignments.

Three shelves of one bookcase are designated for books I have acquired but not yet read. Unread books are accumulating in my e-bookshelves as well, although I’ve only half a dozen or so there. When I finish one book, I decide what to read next, and sometimes, it is a difficult decision. In a later post, I’ll dive into the mass of the Waiting-to-be-Read; for now, I’ll consider only the most recent additions to that pile.

My husband gave me Then Again, Diane Keaton’s biography, having read and enjoyed it himself. A family story that his uncle and Keaton’s father had worked together in Orange County, California, way-back-when intrigued him. He hoped for some confirmation of the claim, but there was none. If his uncle and Diane Keaton’s father ever knew each other, it didn’t make it into the bio. Nonetheless, he liked the book a lot. He had read it as an ebook, and but bought the hard copy for me, in order to provide the tactile sensation of opening a new book on Christmas morning.

As to what I plan to do with the book, I’ve already read it. Diane Keaton’s autobiography is very good–near the top of the celebrity autobiography category. She weaves in her mother’s journals, and her mother’s life, with that of her own improbable (as she sees it) rise to fame. The result is a wonderful look at two interesting women of two generations, and just enough gossipy tidbits of Keaton’s movie star life and relationships to add a little spice. She does not go into lurid detail, or rake anybody over the coals here. Classy.

I asked for China Mieville’s Embassytown, and my daughter gave it to me as an ebook. I have not yet read it, as I require a certain mental energy to read a Mieville book. My three favorites of his so far are (in order) The City and The City, Perdido Street Station, and Un Lun Dun. I liked The Scar and Kraken, but simply could never get into The Iron Council. I may very well read Embassytown next, now that I am more or less recovered from the holidays.

I am in the middle of Game of Thrones, also given to me by my daughter, but not specifically requested by me. I was glad to have it; George R. R. Martin’s series has become the new hip pop culture geek reference, and I love to be in the know. Once I was past the first thirty pages or so, I found it easy to keep the various family lines straight, and the book reads quickly. For the first few days of being in the book though, I found my sleep disturbed. Martin has the trappings of high fantasy, but without what we have come to expect, which is that the good guy will defeat the bad guy and the natural order restored. It is full of political intrigue, the kind where the pure of heart are delay with harshly.

A commentator on the Emmys commented on the “interesting historical period” of Thrones. I laugh, but while I deplore her ignorance of the genre, (and of history) she may have had a point. The Seven Kingdoms seems quite close to what it was like to be of the peerage in feudal Europe. It may not be of a historical period, but it certainly is historical, and the political intrigue and moral dilemmas are very much of the present.

Finally, my sister in law gave our whole family the Michael Slater biography, Charles Dickens. I do not know when I will read this. Scholarly biographies–even popular biographies–can be dry, rough, going. There was a time in my life when I would have forced myself to read the book, thinking that if it’s more difficult, it’s better for me than Thrones or Keaton’s book, but I’m past that. Books don’t have to be “easy reading,” but I do expect to be entertained. Real lives, unlike fiction, do not have to be interesting. Usually they are, but not all the way through.

I will definitely try the book at some point, because I could be cheating myself if I don’t. Case in point: A couple years ago, my sister-in-law gave me Beatrice Potter: A Life in Nature, by Linda Lear. I was rather mystified (I had never had any special interest in Potter) and, as I later found out, Anne only got me the book because she couldn’t find the Dickens book. Nonetheless, I found myself picking it up and looking at it.

It was fascinating. Beatrice Potter was a woman of the nineteenth century who wanted to do things women didn’t get to do in those days. Besides being an artist and children’s author, she was an enthusiastic amateur botanist, specializing in fungi that grew where she lived. Now, this was fine, a suitable pursuit for a lady, but when she discovered that lichen were the product of algae and fungi (as I recall, one or more botanists on the Continent had proposed the same thing), she was going against the doctrine of the time. When she wanted to present evidence of her findings to the folks at Kew Gardens, she ran into quite a bit of resistance, and could only get an appointment with the help of a male relative. Fascinating stuff.

I am grateful for what I received, and I am grateful for what I didn’t receive. No coffee table books, no books I’ve already read, no self-help, no political pundits’ books, no junk. A good Christmas book haul.



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