NaJuReMoNoMo Winner! Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

NaJuReMoNoMo

AKA The Golden Compass the title I assume refering to the Alethiometer which only Lyra can read, which predicts the future in a semi-mystical way. The Northern Lights title of the British edition refers to the Aurora borealis [which I have still yet to see] in which a city from another universe can be seen when photographed using certain emulsions and by Lyra. It is the alethiometer that fascinates me the most. The picture on Wikipedia does not satisfy me. I imagined it as a mixture of a chronometer and a sextant and I wasn’t quite sure how the different needles were set. Being more like a watch makes more sense both in terms of use and size for storage.

Considering how much is already written about this series of books I won’t add to it! Including an extensive discussion on Snopes’ urban legend pages of the anti-chrisitianity theme in the book.

I started this Sunday and finished it the same day. I was going to take my time and spread the reading of it over a few days but it was too gripping and I am unable to stop reading when I am enjoying a book. I am, however, in no hurry to read the rest of the series, savoring this one for a little while. I doubt it will be more than a month before I buy the next two, mind you.

NaJuReMoNoMo Winner! Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

One evening, last week I sat down and I read this book. It probably took me about four hours to finish – so probably about five or six hours in total. I was fascinated by the history of the circus together with the present day adventures of the old man narrating the story. Usually I dislike books that have two stories being told concurrently, but not this time. The sections about the old man helped form an image of the young man and vice versa. I’m not old, but Sara Gruen describes the indignities that I dread with being old, especially the loss of independence and privacy:

She pops a disposable cone on a thermometer and sticks it in my ear. I get poked and prodded like this every morning. I’m like a piece of meat unearthed from the back of the fridge, suspect until proven otherwise.

Young Jacob runs away from Cornell during his final exams and ends up jumping on a train that belongs to the Benzini Brothers’ circus. Fortunately, they do not turn him off before finding out that he was almost a vet and so has skills they need. At the circus, he makes friends with Marlena, the horse shower and her husband, August, who turns out to be manic depressive if not schizophrenic too. Not forgetting the animals. Jacob’s relationship with animals is one of respect and sympathy. He considers them his equals; equal but different. He did not know true animal love until the circus adopted Rosie, the elephant. The relationship between Jacob, Marlena, August, and Rosie forms the crux of the historical story. At one point, having decided that he hated August because of his abuse of the animals especially of Rosie, Jacob finds it hard to maintain his hatred because:

It’s only when I catch Rosie actually purring under August’s loving ministrations that my conviction starts to crumble. and what I’m left looking at in its place is a terrible thing.

Maybe it was me. Maybe I wanted to hate him because I’m in love with his wife, and if that’s the case, what kind of man does that make me?

The historical part of the novel is set in the heart of the 1930s Depression. Initially, the Depression appears and disappears. It only affects circus life on the periphery, for example pay day when everyone is worried about who will get paid. Gradually, it seeps into everyday life and starts taking over. Men disappear, with the fear that they were red-lighted which means they were kicked of the moving train in the middle of the night. This adds to the tension in the book, playing with some of the subplots.

The book, on the whole, is positive and forward looking; probably because the present day Jacob is remembering his past, so you know he survives. That also gives the impression that the book will end bittersweet, but with clever twists in the tale, the novel really ends mostly happily.

A great touch is archival photographs of circus life before each chapter.

B is for Books

I could let B go by without discussing books. I have lots and lots of books. I always thought it would be great to have enough books so that you could always read a book on any topic whenever you wanted. Like having a private bookstore or library. I think I succeeded, here is one bookcase, which contains cookery books:

Cookery Books

Not just cookery books, also books about food – even some of my food science books. I need a bigger bookcase to fit all my food-based books, so the rest of them are in the study with my science and history books:

When I need to relax, I sit in my living room and read my fiction books. I have a bookcase and a half of fiction books, including a whole shelf of books by Dick Francis:

Ignore the booze on the first bookcase – it is a collection from other people who were leaving town. Really. I can also look at my collection of biographies and art books:

Or I can check out my gardening books for advice and ideas about plants:

And last but not least I have a great collection knitting books:

NaJuReMoNoMo Winner! The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

winner!

I finished reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It is bittersweet reading because Plath commited suicide soon after the book was published. The experiences Plath went through at the time she is writing about are very clearly depicted, allowing me to relate and at the same be grateful that I’ve never gone through anything similar. It puts it all into perspective. Part of her recovery was this realization:

“A man to see you!”

The smiling snow-capped nurse poked her head in through the door, and for a confused second I thought I was really back in college and this spruce white furniture, this white view over trees and hills, an improvement on my old room’s nicked chairs and desk and outlook over the bald quad. “A man to see you!” the girl on watch had said, on the dormitory phone.

What was there about us, in Belize [her asylum house], so different from the girls playing bridge and gossiping and studying in college to which I would return? Those girls, too, sat under bell jars of a sort.

The book is out of date, but it was interesting to read partly because of that. Has much changed, other than women being slightly more aware of our sexualities? Fortunately, mental care is a little more sophisticated than what appeared to be the only option, electric shock therapy. Her first psychiatrist was the most scary – the idea of sitting there and letting her talking and expecting her to recover without being given anything to help. No skills, nothing to grasp on. Hopefully, that style of treatment no longer exists.

I am now reading Mark Twain‘s A Tramp Abroad, which is also biographical fiction. Fortunately in a lighter vein than the Bell Jar.