May 8, 2017

2017: Books Thus Far

As I mentioned in my 2016 books wrap up, it's hard to get the reading done while living our Sabbatical life.

Sometimes, instead of reading, I'm staring at art.
(Nike of Samothrace)

So far in 2017, I've read 8 visual books, which is quite dismal vs. my normal reading pace (even worse, I'm counting 2 novella length works). 

Okay, let's be honest. Art is a big awesome time suck. (Picasso)

Fair warning: I am *rough* on books. 
Don't lend to me if you believe they are objects to be kept pristine.

However, 3 of those 8 books have been in French, which is possibly the thing about this sabbatical year that I'm the most surprised and pleased by. 

I really didn't plan to start enjoying literature in French after a 20+ year pause.  And yet, I did.  And I very much enjoyed it. 

Re-realizing my adoration of French and the joy I get from its literature is one of the biggest improvements in my quality of life to come from the Sabbatical. 

Who woulda thunk it? (Oh, perhaps my conflicted enjoyment of book club's Lolita should have been a hint.)

The Wasp Factory
Ian M. Banks
A novella exploring many of the themes more fully fleshed out in the Culture Novels, including gender, the root of violence, humanity and what it means, and horrific destruction of things perceived to be "other".  Very well done and the twist at the end was delivered as a true surprise.
Trigger Warnings
Neil Gaiman
A short story collection by Mr. Gaiman.  If you like his style, you'll find this set of stories extremely entertaining.  The last story in the collection, a continuation of the Shadow tales from American Gods, is particularly enjoyable.  Short stories make for good travel reading when you can't make time to read except in random bursts.
Shave My Spider
Tony James Slater
In keeping with the theme, I'm enjoying the travelogues of more hard core travelers than us in the same region.  Tony Slater is a funny man, and somewhat disaster-prone.  These tales of his travels in Asia are hilarious, and I enjoyed listening to them while not doing anything remotely as dangerous or scary as his travels.  I don't think I'd want to travel with him.
Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan's Next Generation
Karl Taro Greenfield
I picked this up to read something topical while we were in Japan.  I very much enjoy reading things about the places I visit while I'm there and this one did not disappoint.  Originally published in 1995, the book was a bit dated.  Japan has changed quite a bit since then, even just the little bits that my eyes see in our cursory visits.  However, for getting an insight into the nation and its people, this book is fascinating.  Each chapter is an anecdote from a certain character from one of Japan's niche classes such as bookies, yakuza, motorcycle gangs, juvenile delinquent scooter thieves, porn directors, young professional women who are of marrying age, etc.  Many of the tales are laugh out loud funny, and all of them are just weird the way that only Japan can be.
The end of all things (Book 6: Old Man's War)
John Scalzi
Return of many characters from previous events.  Same style, but more complex and clever with nuanced looks at both the Colonial Union and the alien allegiences it faces as enemies.  Possibly my favorite book in the series thus far.
Dix Petit Negres
Agatha Christie
Le Petit Prince
de St-Exupery

A classic short novella-length work.  Sweet.  Poignant. Still thoroughly enjoyable the umpteenth read.  I had to look up a few words despite its supposed focus for children -- turns out things like wells, caterpillars, and pulleys are not part of my immediately retrievable French vocabulary.
L'Elegance du Herisson
Muriel Barbery
I bought this book in Marseille and challenged myself to finish it before we left France.  That put me at an average of 70 pages per day, which was quite an effort.  Interestingly, when I read this book in English, I didn't notice the difference in the sophistication of the voices of Renee (54) and Paloma (12).  But, *wow* is there a huge difference when I read it in French.  I could quickly get through the chapters in Paloma's voice, usually only needing to look up one or two words.  But with Renee, I often had to read each sentence twice to decide whether I had the gist or needed to turn to Google translate yet again.  The struggle was worth it, though, and I confirmed that in English or in French, this lovely story can make me laugh and cry hard.  I re-affirmed for myself that it is one of my favorite books. The truth of beauty in the midst of tragedy and loss is hard to capture, but real, and this book does such a wonderful job of doing so.

For audiobooks, I've been very boring.  For most of the year, I continued with the remainder of the Inspector Gamache series that I fell in love with, and then, when it was fully exhausted, I switched to some titles that are relevant to our travels. 

Fruits de mer platter in Marseille.  The Food!

A Trick Of the Light
Louise Penny
Book 7 in the Inspector Gamache series.  I'm addicted.
The Beautiful Mystery
Louise Penny
Book 8 in the Inspector Gamache series.  The character growth and consistency of scenery is impressive.
How the Light Gets In
Louise Penny
Book 9 in the Inspector Gamache series.  Still addicted.
The Long Way Home
Louise Penny
Book 10 in the Inspector Gamache series.  This is where I started to fear that I would run out of books soon.  Ms. Penny is prolific, but she seems to only put out a book or two each year. 
The Nature of the Beast
Louise Penny
Book 11 in the Inspector Gamache series.  A fascinating tale that weaves in some real world Canadian history regarding a supergun designer.
A Great Reckoning
Louise Penny
Book 12 in the Inspector Gamache series.  A big twist in scenery and plot as the mystery is set at the Surete Academy, where Gamache has taken a job as the commander.  The next book isn't due out until September of 2017 (Sob!).
Pancakes in Paris:  Living the American Dream in France
Craig Carlson
The true story of an American former screenwriter who bumbles along as a newbie in business but eventually bootstraps his way into a successful American diner franchise in France.  Complete with awesome French cultural tales and first person horror stories of the reality of being a business owner in the French labor and legal system.  Fascinating and very enjoyable while in France.
Maisie Dobbs
Jacqueline Winspear
I picked this one up in the hopes that I'd fall in love with Maisie and then be able to fill some time with another mystery series until the next Gamache novel came out (only partially joking).  I liked that it was set in London and France and contained some historical references to the First World War as I would be in Europe while listening to it.  It's very light in terms of character development, but the story moves along in a reasonable fashion and it's not an unpleasant way to spend some time.  The GoodReads reviews are *all* over the place, and I think I can understand why.  It's a bit of a mix of a book, with clean functional writing about a plucky child prodigy who works her way up from poverty, some minor but not chair-clinging mysteries, and some hints of European history.  If you are looking for a serious treatment of any of these topics, you are likely to be disappointed, but if you can enjoy this one for what it's worth, then more than halfway through at this point (see below re: headset issues)  my opinion is that it's not bad.

Lately, I've been struggling with listening to English audiobooks while in places where I'm focused on other languages, so I've slowed on even the much easier than normal travel audiobook consumption. 

This is Charlie Chaplin's view from his house in Switzerland where he moved
after the US revoked his visa.  Seems like it worked out okay for him.
Also, my awesome noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones went caput -- the isotunes were definitely one of the best Christmas presents I received, except they couldn't hold a charge after being unplugged and, recently, completely died on me after less than 5 months of service.  If the Internet is to be believed, the majority of my complaints are not common, so half of me wants to buy another set and hope for a better experience, while the other half just thinks going with cheap disposable wired headsets like I have been for the last decade continues to be the best approach.  Any and all opinions on this issue welcome!

Goodbye Marseille!  Thanks for all the gorgeous miles.
In other news, last week's mileage topped 35 for the first time in 2017 (in a long while, actually).  More than half walking/hiking while we explored Marseille, but still, it feels good to see those big numbers. 

In future running goals, unlike the Paris Park Run 5K, which was for myself only, I am registered for the Peachtree Road Race, so I really do actually need to get my mileage, heat acclimatization (good thing we stayed in Western Europe!), hills and humidity tolerance up in the next 7 weeks.  After that, I'll be joining my long-lost E2 at Wharf to Wharf to welcome us back to California in July. 

And, because we opted out of Central Europe, now all of the prep for these races has to happen while living la dolce vita in the land of all of the amazing food and wine that is Western Europe.  We said goodbye to France today, but we've still got Spain, Portugal, and Italy at a minimum to contend with...wish me Buena Suerte (I'm gonna need it).


Jen said...

So, if you're racing Wharf to Wharf, does that mean you'll be in the Bay Area on 7/22? (just wondering)

bt said...

@Jen -- that's the plan. I'll email you.

Tony James Slater said...

So glad you enjoyed 'Shave My Spider!' - most people I meet refuse to travel with me these days. I've never figured out why...

Biting Tongue said...

@Tony -- eeek!!! If you are ever in the SF bay area of California, dinner is on us!