The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde, 3/5
It quickly became obvious to me that this book’s bizarre premise–the struggle for coexistence between humanity and anthropomorphic rabbits–was mostly just a vehicle for the author’s commentary on UK politics (particularly his hatred of the UK Independence Party). “Satire,” with its implications of humor, irony and sarcasm, seems too nuanced a word to describe the tone of this book and brief glimpses of Fforde’s literary creativity and skill just made the incessant political preaching all the more disappointing.
Why I read it: I love many of Fforde’s earlier works and when I heard that he was publishing again, I was very excited to catch up on his latest two books. My enthusiasm has cooled somewhat, since, sadly.
Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French, 3/5
In contrast to The Last Wish, this second book in the Witcher Saga felt more like an average, run-of-the-mill adult fantasy than an inspired re-interpretation of classic fairytales and mythical archetypes. The “adult” passages were numerous and, frankly, cringe-worthy. If not for the first book’s merit, I would probably avoid reading more in the series.
The Tale of Despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread by Kate DiCamillo, 4/5
This charming story begs to be read aloud near a cozy fireplace and I think even children too young to read would love hearing it. I appreciate that, in the style of all classic fairy tales, it does not shy away from portraying darkness to balance out the light. By acknowledging the violence and tragedy of existence in a matter-of-fact and age-appropriate way, the author puts a backbone in what might otherwise have been a silly, sappy, story for kids.
Why I read it: a student’s mom, Paige, recommended it in conversation.
Early Riser: A Novel by Jasper Fforde, 3/5
This dystopian novel explores the logistical, social, and political implications of living in a world so close to another ice age that humans must hibernate through the winter months. Fforde’s inimitable style does shine through in a couple places, but overall I found the story to be a bit on the pedestrian side. Not exactly predictable, but familiar, like it was based on a Netflix series I’d already seen or something. Of course, Netflix was still a mail-order DVD service the last time I read anything by Jasper Fforde, so hopefully the perceived lack of depth and magic is not simply a result of brain rot from indulging in more mindless TV than good books in the last few years.
Why I read it: the author came up in conversation with my sister.
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by Danusia Stok, 4/5
I’m a bit of a fantasy snob to say the least, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that Sapkowski is a competent writer, capable of reworking the tired tropes of a well-worn genre instead of merely ripping them off. At times, he purposefully incorporates elements of popular fairy tales and legends into his own in a skillful way, making it almost seem as if his stories predate the originals. I found the book’s layout to be bewildering, but after learning from its Wikipedia article about the concept of a “frame story” interspersed with other short stories, it made a lot more sense. I am looking forward to reading more books in this series as soon as the library, currently closed thanks to the COVID-19 virus, re-opens.
Why I read it: I figured that any book series spawning popular video games and a Netflix show must be worth checking out.
Herding Cats: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection by Sarah Andersen, 5/5
Just as funny and disturbingly relatable as Andersen’s webcomic and other books.
Why I read it: I saw it advertised on the Sarah’s Scribbles website.
The Don Flows Home to the Sea by Mikhail Sholokhov, translated from the Russian by Stephen Garry, 2/5
Like other Russian novels I’ve read, this one contains a dizzying array of characters–41 to be exact, according to its “Key to Principal Characters.” This unwieldy list appears at the beginning of the book and is much less helpful than you might expect since it is organized by last name. Once you’ve scanned from “Astakhov, Stepan” to “Zykov, Prokhor,” you’ve likely either forgotten who you were searching for altogether, or why you were interested in the first place. Add to that a writing style that jerks from unrelatable dialogue, to flowery descriptions of scenery, to endless, dry accounts of military movements associated with the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922, and it makes for a very tedious reading experience indeed.
Fortunately, the drama heightened as the story progressed and I felt more invested in the characters and their experiences during the last 400 pages than the first 400. Judging by this trend, I can only assume that if I’d known beforehand that this novel forms the second half of a four-volume work (preceded by And Quiet Flows the Don) and read these books in order, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It was very interesting to learn about the Russian Civil War from an “inside” point of view, though it is difficult to know to what extent personal bias and political constraints affected the author’s depiction of historical events. I perceived a clear anti-Communist perspective throughout and the author was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in Literature, but the novel is considered a work of socialist realism and won a Stalin Prize, which seems very contradictory. If anyone can explain this to me, I’d appreciate it!
Why I read it: This copy belonged to my grandfather and has been on the shelf for years. Since I’m trying to read through all my old books, it seemed like a satisfying one to accomplish.
When God Laughs by Jack London, 4/5
The short story has never been one of my favorite literary forms, so I was not exactly jazzed to crack open what I thought was a Jack London novel to find a collection of twelve shorter works under one title. They say a brief speech requires much more effort to create than a long one and I can only assume that even the best novelists face a similar challenge when it comes to crafting shorter works. My mild pessimism was wasted in this case, however, because most of these stories were captivating–full of vivid characters and a variety of dramatic plots and settings. It is a testament to the author’s skill that I could become so emotionally invested in stories ranging from just ten to forty-two pages long.
Why I read it: Just trying to read through the old books on my shelf!
Slain by the Doones by R.D. Blackmore, 1/5
I love the old classic Lorna Doone, so I was very excited to spot what appeared to be its sequel on the shelves of a small, local thrift store. Unfortunately, the book turned out to be a collection of terribly-written short stories, only one of which had a connection to Blackmore’s earlier (and much better) novel. I have read a lot of late 19th-century literature with no comprehension issues, but I found some parts of this collection quite difficult to understand, presumably due to the author’s use of then-trendy references and short-lived terminology. While it’s understandable that the passage of time can be less than kind to certain writing styles, there really is no excuse for the lame plots that made these short stories a chore to get through. At least it’s pretty, though!
Summertime by Denis Mackail, 5/5
When I selected this unassuming novel from my stacks of unread vintage books, I didn’t know what to expect. Delightfully, it turned out to be a sweet little romance, full of naive characters, 1920’s charm and dialogue that is occasionally very witty. Author Denis Mackail may be unknown now, but he was popular when it mattered most (during his lifetime) and since he published one novel every year from 1920-1938, I’m optimistic that more of his works will eventually find their way into my collection.
Why I read it: Just one more step towards the goal of having read every book I own!