February 2020 Books

I finished three books in February, one of which was The Picture of Dorian Gray for the Classics Club. I’ll give that its own post. Here are the other two:

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), by Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers

This is a book by two podcast hosts who want to encourage people to come at politics from less of an entrenched/ partisan perspective. On the one hand, I think this is an important message and if we all approached political conversations with more grace, we might do less screaming on the internet (though, maybe not). On the other hand, I’m not sure how well it holds up as a book apart from their podcast.

I think these two are better podcasters than writers, as I found some of the book a bit repetitive (my common non-fiction complaint).

The bottom line is they recommend thinking through what is important to you and why it is important and trying to discuss in a calmer way, not assuming someone who has reached a different conclusion is an uncaring monster. They also suggest looking at the history of a current policy might help shed light on a way forward.

★ ★ ★

Parker Pyne Investigates, by Agatha Christie

Ah, Agatha Christie, how I love you. Usually Poirot or Miss Marple come to mind when thinking of Christie, but this short story collection follows Parker Pyne, who has an advertisement that reads: “Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne.”

In these twelve stories Pyne helps people who are unhappy for various reasons: the spark has gone out of their marriage; they’re young and single but wish to be married; they are mixed up in a jewel caper; they get into trouble while on holiday, etc. Mr. Pyne seeks to help his clients using “statistical knowledge” of the human heart (which works most of the time…).

While I prefer her mysteries featuring her more famous detectives, these were entertaining short stories read by Hugh Fraser, maybe my favorite Christie narrator.

Favorite story from this collection: The Case of the Distressed Lady.

★ ★ ★

The Picture of Dorian Gray

I’m counting this both for my 50 Classics project and for the Back to the Classics challenge it’s an “Abandoned Classic” because I started it about 10 years ago, put it down, and never returned (until now).

Dorian Gray is a very attractive young man who is rather vain and selfish, but his money and good looks gain him entry into London society. He’s easily influenced by a friend, Sir Henry Wotton, who espouses complete hedonism (and only partially follows through as he prefers listening to himself speak than taking action).

Basil Hallward, an artist, paints a stunning portrait of his muse, Dorian, and Dorian is sad that he will age while his portrait remains ageless…. He wishes he could exchange places and the portrait age while he remains youthful and *boom* wish granted.

This book is billed as a classic, and I have never seen it on the sci fi/ fantasy shelf, but it could be shelved there. While it’s rooted in the daily life of a handsome rich man, it’s about a man who doesn’t age because his portrait does instead! While his friends do comment on his “maintaining his looks” you’d think they would notice that he still looks 20 when he’s really 38? But perhaps in an age before selfies it wasn’t as obvious. And maybe they just assumed he spent a lot of his money on beauty treatments.

Dorian uses his agelessness as license to do whatever he wants. He can be dramatic and occasionally he thinks about making good choices, but ultimately he doesn’t have the grit to follow through on anything that doesn’t yield immediate gratification. “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it,” says Sir Henry, and Dorian takes that to heart.

The book explores how people judge based on money and beauty, and the fruits of selfishness. This was particularly interesting to read right after A Gentleman in Moscow, which is about connection and the way we can influence each other for good. Dorian Gray shows how the opposite approach leads to isolation and destruction.

★ ★ ★ ★