At first I was going to post the rest of the reading challenge one book at a time, like I did for all the rest of the books, but then I decided that would take weeks to get them all out there, and meanwhile I wouldn’t be able to start posting this year’s books. So I decided to do one great big post with all of the last 8 books.
Next week, I’ll do a retrospective post on my year reading women.
#68: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
This book of short stories was really great: clever, tongue-in-cheek, and a bit dark. Her writing is immensely controlled and each word feels deliberate. The title story was one of my favorites, where Margaret Thatcher’s would-be assassin breaks into a house so he can take aim from a good vantage point and has a very telling conversation with the house’s owner. Her stories are really well done and I recommend them for anyone who:
- likes to read writers who are just.so.talented.
- likes English authors and English settings
- is intrigued by the title (that’s why I picked up the book in the first place)
#69: From Whitechapel by Melanie Clegg
This particular book was on my currently-reading list for ages, not because the book was terribly long, but because it was an e-book, and I’m awful at finishing those. I just don’t like to read on screens all that much. Unless it’s a blog or an article. Anyway, Melanie Clegg is a terrific blogger and her blog Madame Guillotine has me constantly drooling over potential trips to the UK. The story here is about Jack the Ripper, and in particular the effect that his serial killing has on some of the women who know the victims. The story (despite its subject matter) is very sweet and fun, and the women are interesting and feisty. I wish that Clegg had a better copy-editor–the book could use a closer look–but it’s pretty good for being self-published historical fiction, and is a great way to while away some time.
For people who:
- like historical fiction of the seedy side of London variety
- want to support indie authors
- need a book to put on their e-reader for their next vacation
#70: We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill
Victoria and the Victorian era are endlessly fascinating to me. I love strong women, and Victoria is caught up in a rare and crazy time–she is one of the most powerful women in the world and yet she’s constantly being told that her place is behind a man’s. She reinforced these traditional values in her own life, and so by its very nature her life is full of dualities and strange connections to power. Her relationship with Albert is the stuff of legend, and yet it was not a simple relationship by any means. Gill takes a deep look into the backgrounds of the young girl who was never supposed to be queen and the young man who shouldn’t have been important enough to be an English monarch’s consort. She talks through their courtship and subsequent marriage in a way that is engaging, highly interesting, and obviously well-researched. This was one of the most engaging biographies I’ve read in a long time, and I love the tension that having two subjects produces and the ultimate balance that Gill achieves.
For anyone who:
- Loves those crazy Victorians despite all their flaws
- Needs a good biography to read, stat
- Is interested in the European monarchy, politics before the first World War, women’s rights, or great love affairs
#71: The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath
I don’t think there’s that much that needs to be said about Sylvia Plath’s poems–she’s one of those poets that’s famous enough to be known by the general public, even those that don’t read poetry. Some of her poems are magnificent, many of them are very powerful, and the majority of them are very dark. Her early poems in particular seem to be in love with words (to the point of being sometimes a little difficult to read aloud), and I find that most of the time I’m not in the correct frame of mind to totally appreciate them (too happy). However, I respect her talent a lot, and I’m sad that died so young. I think her work could have only improved with time.
For anyone who:
- Likes their poems like they like their coffee/tea–very dark with no sweetener
- Anyone who’s intrigued by Plath’s legend and wants to know more
- Is in a dark place and needs someone to understand how they feel (Public Service Announcement: we all get in those moods sometimes, but–please reach out to loved ones if you need help… Plath had so much to offer the world, and so do you)
#72: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
Even though this book is decently long, I thought it went by pretty quickly. It’s not exactly a book I’d call action-packed, but its characters are interesting and complex and the writing is good. It has to do with a man who attacks a painting at a National Gallery, only to be caught and taken to a psychiatric facility. The psychiatrist tries to help his patient, who has decided to remain mute for almost a year, so he reaches out to the patient’s loved ones to start reconstructing his life. Along the way, he discovers a dark secret in fine art’s history.
For people who:
- like books that say a lot about human nature, even if the plot moves slowly
- are interested in (fictional) art history, contemporary art, Impressionists, and painting
- are interested in psychology
#73: Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
Can I just say I want to be Kelly Link when I grow up? I think this woman is single-handedly responsible for making me fall in love with short stories. Well, Link and Angela Carter. I’m in love with her particular brand of magical realism, and I can’t get enough of her writing.
For people who:
- like all the trappings of magical realism, including witches, zombies, and things that are hard to describe, that you’ve never seen, and that you really, really want to be real (or are afraid just might be)
- want to see a great writer at work
- who want to give short stories a try (she’s one to start with, especially if you like magic)
#74: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
I’ve long since run out of Austen books, but I like reading novels from a roughly contemporary time period. This is Gaskell’s last book, and it’s actually unfinished (though she only stopped about a chapter from the end, so it’s easy to tell what happens). Not all of the characters are very likable, especially from a modern perspective, but Gaskell really draws on this, embraces it, and her characters end up being very well drawn and never shirk from displaying their foibles. Her drawing room scenes are done with such delicateness; they are exquisite. She is a master of the nineteenth century polite burn. This book is long, but is well worth the time investment.
For people who:
- like classics and have run out of Austen or Bronte novels
- need to retreat back in time
- like Masterpiece and/or BBC mini-series
#75: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
This book won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, which is quite unusual, but it definitely deserves the acclaim. It’s written in a style that I could describe as newspaper or headline-esque. The sentences are short and clipped (though not lacking in detail or description), with an emphasis on verbs and a reduction of some of the more traditional sentence structures. It’s a very interesting style, though it can take a while to get into. The story follows Quoyle, a third-rate newspaperman as he loses his cheating wife in a car accident and decides to move back to his ancestral (though never before seen by him) home in Newfoundland.
For people who:
- are looking for something different with great writing
- are interested in journalism, ships, Canada, or the way we rebuild ourselves after loss
- who like stories that take place in unforgiving landscapes
And there you have it. My last 8 read of 2015. I hope some of these books make it onto your 2016 reading list. Have you read any of these books or writers? Which would you be most interested in? Let me know in the comments.