January 2020 Reading

While I’m a pretty fast reader and I do love to read, I also don’t always prioritize reading as I’d like to. It’s so easy to become distracted by other things (especially screens), so I haven’t started off the year with a lot of reading.

Ok, confession time over. I thought that posting the books I’ve read on here, a public (though quiet) corner of the internet might help remind me to keep reading and to think about what I’m reading. Novel thought (pun definitely intended).

Here’s what I read in January

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

I already gave this a mini review on Instagram: I think this novella is best described as sci fi prose poems between two characters on opposing sides of a time war…. Weird, lovely, and best if you let it wash over you.

This is not for you if you’re looking for well-explained world building or you like detail of how a society works. This book gives fascinating details and glimpses of the two sides of this time traveling war, but not a lot of plot–it’s about the relationship unfolding between Red and Blue.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (via Audible)

Another book with lovely prose, threading the needle of understated and romantically overblown. Count Alexander Rostov is tried by a Bolshevik tribunal and sentenced to life at the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. The only reason he wasn’t executed immediately or sent to Siberia was a revolutionary poem written years earlier. The Count is moved from his luxurious suite to an attic room and warned that if he leaves the hotel he will be shot.

Thus, at age 33, Alexander Rostov begins his life of house–er, hotel arrest. The book follows the Count’s adventures as he gets to know the hotel staff and regular guests. The story dips in and out of his life every few years to describe an interesting anecdote or introduce a new character.

Characters are (mostly) rendered in loving sketches as the Count gets to know them, disarming with his charm and eager to make friends in his new life. The style of writing gives time to unfolding friendships and treats difficult events not lightly, but with a light touch. It doesn’t dwell on misery, though there is plenty between the lines in 20th century Moscow, but it is more a meditation on the hopeful spirit of humanity and the impact and consolation we give one another.

While sentenced to a restricted life, the Count did not allow his life to shrivel, and his relationships enriched both himself and others.

Here’s what I didn’t finish reading in January

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

I wanted to like this book about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, but I couldn’t get into the writing style. I abandoned this book after reading 255 pages…I might pick it up again some day, but it didn’t want to make me keep reading.

What didn’t I care for? I didn’t like that some of the dialogue was in normal style (starting a new paragraph and in quotation marks) and some dialogue was just in a paragraph without quotation marks. Is this trying to be more true to history? I have no idea, but it confused me occasionally about who was talking when several characters were referenced in a paragraph and then there was dialogue embedded in the text.

I also thought it moved quickly through parts that were more interesting and slowly through parts that were less interesting to me. Since it’s from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view, the first couple hundred pages he’s not at court often and thus is removed from most of the action. That’s fine, but must we spend so much time on background?

If any of you loved this book I’d be interested to hear why — did I give up too soon? Did I not notice interesting details I should pick up on?

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