Okay, so I am putting this in my “reference” section because I have read this book all wrong. My fault! We procrastinated a while to buy it, and thenOkay, so I am putting this in my “reference” section because I have read this book all wrong. My fault! We procrastinated a while to buy it, and then I procrastinated a while to read it. Then I did read it! But since it’s written chronologically through pregnancy and birth, I figured, “Better just read the parts still ahead of me, right? What if I need to know about these things tomorrow??” because that is how you start to think. So that is what I have done.
(Presently relevant chapter: “I’m Going to Be Pregnant Forever, Right?”)
You might be able to tell from this story that I’ve been going through 8/9ths of a pregnancy so far without actually reading any pregnancy books. Why? Who knows. Mainly I didn’t want to repeatedly read different versions of the same information, with different amounts of judginess and dullness and anxiety. And whose advice to believe, anyway? When I needed to make a decision I read a little about it on a medical website, and otherwise have mostly just been preoccupied with months of dread because I have no idea how to name a child. (Haven’t gotten any of those books, either.)
But if you’re going to read one, literally one, I like this pick. The author is doing the thing I didn’t do when I Googled in order to make a decision: decipher scientific evidence in order to understand it the way a person wants to when it is actually about them. This is a skill that enables you to not become frustrated and throw all the advice out the window as I do, since most articles about science are published with undisclosed bias. Because she researched the book during her own first pregnancy, she clarifies her own bias and reactions and thought processes as she unpacks the important things she learned. It’s a great and readable approach to the information you might otherwise feel you’re reading over and over.
We also happen to fall in line on some of our big preferences, even though she found that for some things she landed in the minority, and that seemed reassuring to me. For instance we both had/have decided to completely panic about labor induction and feel willing to do just about any weird thing to avoid it. And the bigger alliance is starting out with the intention to go without epidural (and its pros and cons), despite her pointing out just how common it is for your doctor to suggest you get one anyway.
It is one interesting thing about my reading — since the author is writing through her personal experience of these issues, the circumstantial details make up a book about American birth. My edition has been re-edited for UK readers (“mums,” “labour,” and £, plus what appears to be an extra focus on UK studies) which is fine, but turns out funny when you read about procedure entirely foreign to the mums giving birth here. This was kind of fascinating for me, an American who’s lived in the UK only a few months longer than I’ve been pregnant, as I certainly don’t know any other way of handling things than the way they’ve handled things for me so far here. But some situations, like the obstetrician who’s happy to pressure you into epidurals, hook you to every monitor, ban food, and ignore you for half a day only to show up to take charge of the second phase, are simply not gonna happen here. I don’t know what my complaints about my experience are going to be, but I like that they won’t be those.
Essentially, I enjoyed what I got from the book although many sections are briefer than I’d like. This, however, is really just the greedy thing that happens to me when I read a good advice book: I want the author to just sit on my sofa and answer all of my questions, for me.
And I might even read the rest of it someday....more
Well, I didn't have as much fun reading this as I thought I would. And it's all right. It wasn't for me right now but it's nice it's here.
The author lWell, I didn't have as much fun reading this as I thought I would. And it's all right. It wasn't for me right now but it's nice it's here.
The author lived a life that basically led me to read the whole book imagining her as Phryne Fisher? In probably less insane clothes. But all of her stories have that same sort of shine in which she is so outside of her time, so good at everything she tries, so untouched by cultural consequences, so fearless and well-liked, it grates after a while. Her stories are true (at least, I imagine, they all are true enough) and truly heroic, and it's great -- here we are reading about British East Africa just before it was known as Kenya, with this girl who grows up getting mauled by lions and making pals with the Nandi tribe and training racehorses and flying planes. It's not unimpressive. I feel so glib, being like "I didn't really enjoy these stories of fabulous experiences and heroic attitudes," but I didn't, today.
Actually, I genuinely think there's good appeal here for younger readers, maybe around the 10-14 range in particular. A lot of the chapters are simplified adventure, which didn't especially excite me -- I outright skimmed over the hunting expeditions, and I really don't do that -- but the author's narrative enthusiasm could definitely pull in younger readers, even if it isn't aimed at them. (However, a few wise words about imperialism would be necessary, in my opinion.)
It also doesn't hurt that she makes a fantastic figure of a female role model without that being the main focus of the book. I liked that -- it's not writing that's about a woman having accomplished these things, it's writing about these accomplishments, and she is a woman. It's glossed over enough, in fact, that I couldn't help but wonder about the underside of her experience. In this book, she has all these admiring, respectful male mentors and colleagues in these masculine professions she excels in. Was it really that easy? She was very privileged, so, perhaps? But I'm thinking it's more likely that when writing in the 1940's she found it easier to highlight the thrill and excitement and fun and glory of it all, and never mind the bollocks.
There is some unfortunate portrayal of her relationship to African people, growing up when and where she did. This isn't particularly surprising but it still isn't great to read, though often it's so gently done that perhaps not all readers will feel it's cruel. But she grew up and became this fabulous, successful woman within the environment of imperial domination. There are many overt comments on the lesser intelligence of the tribal Africans: "I couldn't help wondering what Africa would have been like if such physique as these Kavirondo had were coupled with equal intelligence -- or perhaps I should say with cunning equal to that of their white brethren." Er, no. But mostly this bias is written into the background of her day to day life -- one surrounded by kind, happy natives who are thrilled to include this white girl in their hunting rituals and protect her when she is a child, and once she is older, be employed by her. When she is raising horses, she speaks of the limitations of her dozen-odd "syces," how good and loyal they are but that the most expert tasks "are for me." Her best friend, a Nandi boy who is her childhood playmate, grows up to clean her plane and serve her tea and dispense tribal wisdom.
And once she leaves it behind, flies to England with her white male friends, they drink "a toast to Africa because we knew Africa was gone." Oh yeah? You just closed that book yourself, did you?
Anyway, this privilege problem isn't a dealbreaker, nor is it a shock to hear in the author's voice within its historical context. With perspective, I could have enjoyed the book in spite of it, but in fact I found the book a little too boring. It's odd, because the author's writing style is often noted as the finest thing about the book (and there is the famous Hemingway endorsement), but despite its occasional beauty, at times I found it stilted and barely coherent. Just, really, not for me. But I'm going to keep it around in case it's good for somebody else, someday....more
I don’t know how often I will be moved to review a picture book, but here we are.
What you’re likeliest to notice and hear about this book is how gorgeI don’t know how often I will be moved to review a picture book, but here we are.
What you’re likeliest to notice and hear about this book is how gorgeous its design is, so I almost don’t want to say that much about it, but of course I should. It’s a beautiful object, the page design is out of this world, the illustrations are muted in this lovely way so that the orange of the fox just blazes out. I’m not a connoisseur but I haven’t seen a kids’ book like this in a long while.
Anyway, I’m a story person, so what makes this worth reading? I find it to work perfectly: to the children who will read it, it’s a folk tale. It has a beginning, middle, and end; kids will be happy when the fox is happy and will wonder what will happen when the fox has a problem and will be happy again when the fox feels better. Adults who read it, who have experienced grief and loss and heartbreak and the change that life can hold, will feel a depth that I think is rare to a quick-read picture book. (The first time I read it to myself, I ended up crying when Fox crawls down into his hole and just can’t come out.)
I should be clear that I find this to be moving and sad, but it’s not a book meant to make people sad. Neither is it a humorous or silly book. It’s simply an earnest one, and I think that’s what contributes to its overall old-fashioned feel, and the sense that someone could have been reading this story to kids a hundred years ago, except that we only got to have it this past year.
I originally bought this as a gift for a boy who is almost 7, and I recommend it though it depends on the kid’s feeling for picture books by that age. But I think older kids are able to appreciate the story and the cleverness in the design. It’s not a baby book. (Although it was the first book I bought for the mini-bookshelf when I became pregnant. I can’t help it.) It was the Waterstones Book of the Year in 2015, for goodness sake. Buy it for somebody and I think it’ll make you happy....more
I bought this book to make friends. I never would have, otherwise. I’m the nerd in the movie — or the novel — at home alone studying up on ways to meeI bought this book to make friends. I never would have, otherwise. I’m the nerd in the movie — or the novel — at home alone studying up on ways to meet people. An open book club in my neighborhood, says the internet! In my new city, in my new country. A grand idea. What are they reading this January? Ta-da.
I’m pleased, because I’ve never read Kazuo Ishiguro before, famous as he is. So this was a great choice, although it’s true that I would have been rather unlikely to pick this particular one out myself. “Five Stories of Music and Nightfall.” Sweet, but will it be cloying? Will it be facile and samey?
No and yes. Five is a good number of stories; they feel connected by the theme without making you read something similar too many times. They also went so quickly, I feel like I hardly spent any time at all finishing this book. It was easy and so pleasant to read, I really enjoyed it a lot.
Nos. 2 and 4 did the best for me, and here is why: they are about crazy people. “Come Rain or Come Shine,” in particular, it takes you a little while to notice that everyone is insane, but once you do, suddenly the stilted way they are conversing and handling everything becomes hilarious and suspenseful. I got excitedly on board to slide all the way downhill with these weirdos. It went pretty well, though it was more like a sled ride and less like a cliff tumble. That was okay, but it could have gone off an even deeper end, I’m sure. I’d brought my cliff-tumbling gear, I was all padded up and really wanted to head down to rock bottom with them. (And I wonder why it’s hard for me to meet people?)
“Nocturne,” the 4th and semi-title story, also pushes a bit of these wackadoo buttons, which has a nice way of interplaying with the sentiment and melancholy in the characters. The thing is, though, that most of these stories do play with sentiment quite a lot — what you might expect, wouldn’t you say, from a book about “music and nightfall” with a dancing couple on its cover — and don’t really deliver something in full. They do try: the last story is the only one out of the five, I noticed, that doesn’t involve the death throes of a marriage somewhere in the bones of the story. All the others have, somewhere in their premise, a relationship falling apart, and then something else goes on with music and nightfall and that’s really the thing you’re paying attention to. But it’s there, it’s smart. It smarts.
Particularly, the middle story “Malvern Hills” deserves a mention for this, because it spends most of its time making you feel it’s about one thing — a young singer-songwriter, not yet completely out of his “nobody understands me” teenage years — but the gut punch comes from somewhere else well outside him. Really well done, and easily the saddest of the stories for me.
In general, I used to use books to connect with people, and I’ve fallen out of these habits since a lot of life changes have been going on with me. Can it be a coincidence that I’ve also been having trouble connecting with books? I've missed both, and I’m claiming them back, I am. Here’s my review, now, of a book I never would have read, and thoughts to share with people I haven’t even met yet....more
Well, I keep having to quit the other book I'm trying to read, which I'm going to just take as a sign that instead I should pick up my Daniel Deronda,Well, I keep having to quit the other book I'm trying to read, which I'm going to just take as a sign that instead I should pick up my Daniel Deronda, contemplate its perfection, and see how much of it I can reread before attending a nerdy lecture day about it in a few weeks.
I am cheating and adding a new edition of it because I might want to talk about it all over again, even though I've read it before. ...more
Book, I swear I keep trying to read you, but I get a dozen pages in and then something stupid happens. First a library hold came in and I read that fiBook, I swear I keep trying to read you, but I get a dozen pages in and then something stupid happens. First a library hold came in and I read that first. That's not your fault. Then I brought you with me on a trip, even though there was really no time for reading on the trip, and put you in the suitcase because who's going to carry you around all day long? I get a crick. So now you're stuck in a bag, left behind in left luggage at Edinburgh station (the world's only train station named after a novel -- did you do that on purpose?) where I had to board a night train after the luggage office closed. Because I am an idiot, and you are long. ...more
It's almost funny to me the way each of these books manages a cliffhanger of a sort, even in such a staid style of storytelling. But this time it's aIt's almost funny to me the way each of these books manages a cliffhanger of a sort, even in such a staid style of storytelling. But this time it's a pretty big one. The whole time I read this, I was thinking, "I read this too soon after the other one. I'm bored. I'm definitely going to wait a while before I pick up the last one." And then at the end she gets you!
I do feel the epic, the something, being built up so gradually over these long stories. And I'm still puzzled by why they feel so plain, even when they are digging fingernails into the dirt and clawing up difficult stuff. Psychological insight is one of the things I enjoy most about novels, so I can't figure out why with these books I sort of feel like I'm trapped with a friend who won't stop analyzing every little thing about herself out loud; maybe not everything needs to be remarked upon, okay, friend? (Usually, I am that friend, so I don't even know.)
Partly, Elena and Lila are both so exhausting to our sympathies, I get sort of fatigued by hanging in there with their decisions and enmities and waiting out bad times. And the men. Ladies... these men. Sigh. It's realistic, but again, the experience in real life of hanging in there while people sort themselves out is not always rewarding in the moment. Afterward, sometimes. I think these might feel more rewarding later.
Quite a lot of new things go on in this book, and I liked learning about them. I enjoyed Lila's rise into computer programming (on an IBM System 3 Model 10). I enjoyed Elena's interest in feminist politics, and in the radical academia world of her sister in law. I most enjoyed learning about the student rebellions (there in Italy, but also in France) and the general terrible political chaos of this period in Italy of the late 1960's and 1970's. There is quite a lot more I think will be interesting to learn about this subject.
One of the interesting aspects of these novels to me is its portrait of the postwar generation. Even while I read the first book, which is contained almost 100% within a few blocks of the neighborhood, I felt the need to understand the bigger picture of what was happening to them in their country. You can sense that it matters in the author's arrangement of everything, even if it's not directly on the page. By the time of this third novel, this generation is fighting the wheel that it is being crushed by. That's important, and I want a better understanding of the wheel. (Helpfully, my partner has been reading on this subject lately, and read a history and analysis of Italian unity while I read this -- he recommends it for a picture of modern politics, for those who feel the need. Mostly I just made him explain the political parties to me over dinner.)
I still find it challenging that, because the author is covering so much ground with this series, even over a thousand pages of novels, the readers are tugged along so briskly. I feel like a kid being taken by the hand through a fair or a zoo or somewhere by an adult who needs to get us someplace else and won't let me stop and look. I can't get over things like, Elena gets married and has a baby all inside one shortish chapter. To others, that's the whole novel. Not this novel, I know, but I feel like I could get empathy whiplash. She changes so much so fast, and yet lingers and lingers. It's sort of disorienting and ultimately numbing to me. I wish that these books were tugging at my gut, but they don't quite make it there.
Nevertheless I'm getting on a library list for number four, you know? You know....more