Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, December 23, 2023

“Miss Marple’s Final Cases” by Agatha Christie

Here lies the end of Jane Marple. (Don't worry, she doesn't actually die, you know.) She had a good run! And a book of short stories is a nice place to ease my way out. I'm certainly glad that Nemesis wasn't the last Miss Marple book I read. 

Two of these stories ('The Dressmaker's Doll" and "In a Glass Darkly") don't actually have Miss Marple in them, and are tales of the supernatural rather than straightforward, solvable mysteries. Which is fine--I still enjoyed reading them--though they seemed a bit out of place in a book titled Miss Marple's Final Cases. And two of the stories, surprisingly, don't involve murder! "Strange Jest" is basically about buried treasure and "The Case of the Perfect Maid" is about theft. The other five stories, of course, have all the Marple and murders one can expect. 

It's been a nice, cozy six weeks. Bye, Miss Marple!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

“Sleeping Murder” by Agatha Christie

I hope you're not getting bored of reading about Agatha Christie novels. I certainly am not getting bored of reading them! I'm even a little bit sad that I only have one Miss Marple book of short stories remaining. On the other hand . . . I'm not sad to the point of wanting to binge Christie's other 52 books. I am looking forward to a bit more variety in my reading diet in the near future.

So, Sleeping Murder. I’ve definitely read this one before, and I even remembered (correctly) who the murderer was. So I didn’t  have the fun of guessing this time, but that didn't matter, because I really love this story. I think my favorite part about it is the slow reveal about the house. It’s so deliciously suspenseful and intriguing. Gwenda buys a house and it feels like home and she makes discovery after discovery about it . . . if I hadn't already known the truth, I wonder if I might have guessed it?

While chronologically this was the last Miss Marple book published, I understand now why it was sold in the first of three boxed sets. This book actually takes place before The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side. I have deduced this based on two facts. In that book, Colonel Bantry has already passed away, and Miss Marple has aged enough that her doctor has told her she must stop gardening, whereas in Sleeping Murder, Colonel Bantry makes a brief appearance (because he is still alive, not because he is a ghost!) and Miss Marple spends quite a bit of time pulling weeds (and this is not because she is given to ignoring her doctor's orders). The interesting explanation for this temporal discrepancy is explained by Wikipedia: Agatha Christie wrote this book in the 1940s but it was not published until after her death.

Monday, December 18, 2023

"Nemesis" by Agatha Christie

There's no question that this is my least favorite Miss Marple book. Not like I hated it or anything, but if I were to rank them, this one would be at the bottom. (Yes, I know I have not finished all of them yet, but I'm already halfway through the last novel and my current impression is that it may actually be my most favorite; then there's one more book of short stories, which I can't imagine being either my least favorite or my most.)

The annoying thing about Nemesis is that Miss Marple (and, thus, the reader) is so in the dark throughout the entire thing. Not only is there a mystery, but it is a mystery as to what the mystery is. (Even typing that makes me want to roll my eyes.) I found it quite frustrating. It somehow made it feel boring without actually being boring.

Mr Jason Rafiel (Miss Marple's partner in crime-detection from A Caribbean Mystery) has passed on (no, he wasn't murdered!) and has left Miss Marple a mystery to solve. But he refused to leave her any information as to the nature of that mystery. It's all up to Jane to figure it out. Little bits of information drift her way, and she's got to sort through them  and determine what may be significant. After a few days of wondering, she's told Mr Rafiel had paid for Miss Marple to go on a tour of famous English houses and gardens. Maybe the mystery involves one of the other guests on the tour? Then she is invited to spend a few days at the house of three sisters who knew Mr Rafiel. Maybe the mystery involves one of the sisters? 

I didn't really guess what the mystery was (it's all so vague, right up until the time it's actually explained) but by page 242 (out of 265 . . . so, with no time to spare!) I almost guessed whodunnit. I was off by one degree of separation as to the who, but I knew the what and the where before it was made plain.

Friday, December 15, 2023

“At Bertram’s Hotel” by Agatha Christie

Bertram's Hotel is tucked away in a quiet corner of London. It's so utterly proper and demurely luxurious, beautifully restored, with impeccable service and upstanding elderly clientele. It's like a time capsule, preserved from the memories of youth, and there isn't anywhere else like it. But, really, how could it be so perfect? 

That's what Jane Marple begins to wonder as she observes her fellow guests and the staff serving them. And when Canon Pennyfather disappears, Miss Marple once again has a mystery on her hands (though, surprisingly, not a murder--yet!)

At first, the main question is whether Bertram's Hotel (and its cast of characters) is exactly what it seems. It becomes more serious when death makes an appearance. 

I had a guess as to the truth about Bertram's Hotel on page 120. I was partially right but mostly wrong. I corrected my guess on 142 (out of 265) and was right. I also managed to guess correctly about the identity of the eventual murderer!

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

“A Caribbean Mystery” by Agatha Christie

This one was like a season of White Lotus, with the ritzy tropical resort as a backdrop and murder in the foreground. Miss Marple's thoughtful nephew, Raymond West, gives Aunt Jane an all-expenses-paid trip to the West Indies for some much needed rest and relaxation, never imagining that she would find herself embroiled in mystery yet again. (I mean, does he not know his aunt at all??)

This time, the story starts with murder long past. Fellow resort guest Major Palgrave loves to subject any available listener to his vast arsenal of stories from his past, one of which includes the claim that he possesses a photo of a murderer. When Major Palgrave turns up dead, Miss Marple knows that murderer must be present, and she must act quickly to ensure he (or she!) does not kill again.

I made my first guess on page 17, but by page 44 I had decided that first guess was wrong and I moved on to two other people. By page 139 I decided I was right about one of those two (but not the other one). But I also suspected two others, so I’m not sure it counts. 

I also knew who the woman by the creek was. But this was because of the short story "A Christmas tragedy" in the book The Thirteen Problems, not because of my genius. 

Friday, December 8, 2023

“The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side” by Agatha Christie

A glamorous movie star moves to St Mary Mead (into Colonel and Mrs Bantry's old house, no less!) and the village is starstruck. But on the day of a charity fete hosted at Gossington Hall, a local woman is poisoned--and rumor has it, the poison was meant for Marina Gregg. 

Well, you're never going to believe this. I guessed the truth of the matter on page 98 (out of 280). I wasn’t sure, but I guessed, and I was right. I wrote it down and everything, and I did not waver (well, I may be slightly exaggerating there). 

I Guessed The Solution! What does this mean? There are several possibilities. 1. I’m getting good at this. 2. This was one of Christie’s less clever books. 3. I’ve read this book before and subconsciously remembered the solution. 4. Some combination of the three. 

I guess I will never know which. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

“4.50 From Paddington” by Agatha Christie

“I,” Sam said, “am married to an Agatha Christie addict.”

Why, yes, Sam, I believe you are. 

Unfortunately as I write this it is two weeks after I finished reading, and I'm really struggling to remember this book. It's the one that was also published under the title What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw, and it starts with a friend of Miss Marple's boarding a train. On that train ride, Elspeth's train briefly runs parallel to another, and during those moments, she sees into a compartment on the other train--where she witnesses the strangulation of a stranger. Mrs McGillicuddy is both horrified and perplexed--what can she possibly do?

Well, she does what any friend of Miss Marple's would do: tells Jane all about it and asks for her help. Miss Marple is able to make a few deductions on her own, but she reaches a point where in-person investigation is required, and her rheumatism won't allow her to undertake this personally. She enlists the help of the most efficient Lucy Eyelesbarrow. 

Beyond this I have very little in my notes (all that remains is "Misdirection" and "Poor Emma") and what little else I can remember would be a spoiler to relate. I'm sure I did not guess the solution or I would have written that down. I'm also sure I enjoyed reading just as much as I expected to (I only would have made a note of it if I hadn't enjoyed it). 

Saturday, December 2, 2023

“A Pocket Full of Rye” by Agatha Christie

Are you tired of Miss Marple yet? Unfortunately I gotta say sorry not sorry. At this point, reading these books falls somewhere between compulsion and addiction. I love puzzling over the plots (even though I invariably fail to uncover the solution and I eventually need to have it explained to me).

Here's a series of murders that seems to follow the old familiar nursery rhyme. There are blackbirds baked in a pie, an unscrupulous businessman named Rex (get it--like a king?) and his young wife who dies while eating bread with honey. There's even a maid in the garden hanging out the clothes. But who wanted them all dead, and why? Well, the why is usually pretty easy; it's mostly either love or money. But which one here?

Did I guess whodunnit? No, I did not. I mulled over various possibilities but I mostly settled on one lovely person who actually turned out to be completely innocent. Why do I always suspect the nice normal people? Does that say something about me?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

“They Do It With Mirrors” by Agatha Christie

Funny, I was sure I’d read this one before, and by page 24—it was the line “her head kept its eager birdlike tilt” together with the titular reference to mirrors—I thought I knew at least part of what had happened (or would happen). As it turns out, I must have been remembering a different book! And this self-imposed red herring kept me wrong-footed all the way through.

In this story, Miss Marple is sent to visit an old schoolmate, Carrie Louise, where she lives on the grounds of a reformatory founded by her (third) husband, Lewis Serrocold. Carrie Louise's sister Ruth has a feeling that something bad is about to happen, and she's sure her old friend Jane can suss it out, whatever it is. The cast of characters is a bit convoluted, with various children and stepsiblings and the like. Can Miss Marple root out a potential murderer before it's too late? Or is Carrie Louise not even the one in danger?

Did I guess whodunnit? Well, if I hadn’t been so distracted by what I thought was the solution, I might have guessed right. As it was, I knew the drama in the study was not to be taken at face value. In hindsight, the killer was obvious. But I didn’t believe it until I was forced to. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

“A Murder is Announced” by Agatha Christie

Don’t mind me, I’m just over here bingeing the Dame. 

I don’t think I’d read this one before. It's the one where the local newspaper announced that a murder would occur at 6:30pm at Little Paddocks. Everyone, including the house's owner Letita Blacklock, seemed surprised by this, but a handful of curious neighbors turned up expecting some sort of exciting game. And in fact for a moment it does seem to be a game--the lights theatrically go out just as a masked man throws open the door and shouts "Stick 'em up!"--but then the masked man is shot dead. Then, in the days that follow, there is a poisoning, followed by a strangling . . . Just as one lie is often followed by a second and a third to keep the truth obscured, it seems it's the same with murder.

Did I guess whodunnit? No, not at all. I was too focused on Emma and Pip, and I didn’t even figure out who they really were until Agatha told me. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

“The Moving Finger” by Agatha Christie

On to the fourth of fourteen Miss Marple books. Although, oddly, Miss Marple was hardly in it! She didn't even appear until page 175 (out of 234). But she did, of course, play a pivotal role in the resolution of the mystery. 

This is the one narrated by the young (and apparently rich) invalid who moves to the countryside with his sister for rest and recuperation. His doctor had suggested they do so in order to find a calm and quiet place to convalesce, but instead Jerry and Joanna Burton are thrust into turmoil: there are anonymous letters, then an unexpected death, and then a murder. Hardly the tranquility they were expecting!

Did I guess whodunnit? Not at all. Once again, I suspected the poor narrator. (Was I meant to?) I found Jerry weird and creepy. I was just sure he was an unreliable narrator who was hiding something from me (like the fact that he was a murderous madman). But it turns out that no, Jerry is just charming and rich, if maybe also a bit impulsive and cryptic. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

“The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” by Carl Sagan

To balance out the current glut of Agatha Christie, I'm actually in the middle of reading several other books and have just finished this one. I’d never even heard of this book (though of course I’d heard of Carl Sagan) until my friend BR mentioned that she was reading it. I looked into it, noted the author was one I’d always meant to read but hadn’t yet, and immediately ordered a copy (plus a copy of Cosmos, which at this point is still waiting to be read). 

Carl Sagan was obviously a highly intelligent individual, but happily that did not make this book inaccessible or inscrutable. Well… except for the part where he started discussing the four Maxwell equations for the behavior of electricity and magnetism in matter. At that point he might as well have been writing out what the teachers say in Charlie Brown specials (“wat wap wat waaah wah…”) for all the sense I could make of it. But barring those five or so pages, this book was suitable for the masses. 

That’s not to say I raced through it eagerly. This was definitely not as fun to read as Miss Marple. That’s the problem with reading more than one book at a time—sometimes it can be hard to pick up the ones that are more work than play. I circumvented this issue by bringing Sagan’s book with me on a plane, which made reading progress in leaps and bounds. 

It didn't take long to realize this book must have been a major inspiration for another book that I have read but have not yet blogged about: The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. (The reason I have not blogged about that one yet is because I am re-reading it—studying it, even!—and am not quite ready to move on.) Both books are about science and science communication, delving into logical fallacies, how to recognize pseudoscience, and the necessity and advantages of skepticism. I would venture to say that Skeptics' Guide is a better book: I found it more comprehensive, better organized, and it's certainly more up-to-date (although that comparison is a bit unfair, as Demon was published in 1996 and Skeptics' Guide was published more than two decades later). But I'm glad I've dipped my toe in with Sagan, and I'm looking forward to Cosmos

Saturday, November 18, 2023

“The Body in the Library” by Agatha Christie

Number three in the Miss Marple binge! I think I’ve read this one before. I remembered the nail parings (but I misremembered their significance—I thought there was poison involved. Or maybe I’m conflating this story with another?)

In this story, Colonel and Mrs Bantry awake one morning to find that the dead body of a woman unknown to them is lying on the hearth rug of their library. Who is she? Who strangled her? And why is she in their house? The first question is answered relatively quickly: she's the cousin of a dancer at a the Majestic Hotel in nearby Danemouth. But the other two questions can't be answered without the help of Miss Marple and her endless knowledge of human wickedness.

Here's a funny thing: about 30 years ago I thought I might write a mystery novel. Everyone thinks they want to write a book at some point or another, right? I never got farther than mentally composing a one-sentence premise, but I think my idea must have been heavily influenced by the beginning of this book (though I didn’t realize it at the time, because of course I didn't actually have an active memory of this book or its plot).

Did I guess whodunnit? Sort of. I suspected 5 (or maybe 6?) people, and wasn’t sure which one(s) were really the killer(s). Could have been any combination of them, to my mind. So while I did guess at the truth, I also guessed at several red herrings, and it’s kind of cheating to allow myself so many guesses. I might as well suspect all the characters--if I do that, I'll be right every time!

Sunday, November 12, 2023

“The Thirteen Problems” by Agatha Christie

I should probably slow down and savor these books a bit, but that’s a difficult thing to do. They’re just so, as they say, page-turney!

This one is a book of short stories, which only serves to increase the level of page-turney-ness. (What? That could be a word.) When the solution to a mystery is only a few short pages away, it’s really hard to put the book down. And then, once you’ve reached one satisfying conclusion, it’s so easy to just flip to the next page and start a whole new story. It’s right there

Surprisingly, I actually guessed the solution to several of these, so there goes my conviction that Christie always manages to surprise me. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I already read this book at some point in the past, and the solutions lodged themselves in my subconscious. That would be both a rational conclusion to draw, and one that preserves my amazement at Christie’s genius. (Because she was a genius. Don’t you agree?) But also—whereas in my memory I had guessed “most” of the solutions, in flipping back through the book I see that it was really only four of the thirteen…

Just one observation, neither here nor there; I don’t really understand the order that Harper Collins published these editions in. This book was published second chronologically (which is, of course, why I read it second) but it’s the second to last book in the boxed sets. There is another (Sleeping Murder) which was published second-to-last chronologically, but it appears fourth in the boxed sets. I believe this one and the last one may be the only Marple short stories, which explains their juxtaposition. Maybe I will understand the odd placement of Sleeping Murder later. 

Friday, November 10, 2023

“The Murder at the Vicarage” by Agatha Christie

It’s no secret that I love Agatha Christie mysteries. But it has to have been more than 14 years since I last read one. (The only reason I'm sure of this is because of my trusty blog. Since 2009, I would not have read a book without mentioning it here, and the only Christie book that appears on my blog is a Reading in Retrospect title: books I read before I started my blog, but kept notes on, and at some point I used those notes to create a blog post.)

My Agatha Christie reading was never very systematic. I have no idea how many of her 66 mysteries I've read, I certainly didn't go in any sort of order, and--excluding a small handful, probably comprising the ones I read more than once--with my memory (or lack thereof) it's as if I never read them at all; the only thing that remains is the certainty that I've always found the plots clever and enjoyable and compelling. 

We have recently enjoyed watching all three of Kenneth Branagh's Christie adaptations, and on the heels of that, my lovely husband surprised me with ALL FOURTEEN Miss Marple mysteries for my birthday. So of course I got started right away! Miss Marple makes her debut in the one where the vicar, Leonard Clement, returns home one evening to find Colonel Protheroe in his study as expected, though (quite unexpectedly, to be sure!) the colonel is dead, a bullet wound in the back of his head. But wouldn't you know it? Len's next door neighbor is none other than the intrepid Jane Marple. Who solves the mystery, of course, though it takes her three days and 298 pages. 

Did I guess whodunnit? No. I suspected the poor vicar all the way through, and I feel a bit guilty about that. And even if he didn’t commit the murder, I suspected him of peculation. But it’s his own fault. If you’re not the culprit, you shouldn’t have such a shifty demeanor! There were a few others I briefly suspected in a minor manner, though I won't list them all for fear of spoiling it for you. But I will confirm I had written the murderer off as innocent!

Remember how I was just saying I must be reading all the wrong books? Yeah, this was one of them. And there are thirteen more to come. But they're such fun, and it's still reading. It's not like they'll make my brain get fat. 

Saturday, November 4, 2023

“Beyond the Door of No Return” by David Diop

Here's a book that has the honor of being on the short list for the National Book Award for Translated Fiction this year. And really, seeing the list (five finalists in each category, the other four categories being fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and young adult) makes me realize I must be reading all the wrong books. Not only have I not read any of the other twenty-four books; I hadn't even heard of them before announced them.

So I'll just console myself with the fact that I have read this one! The story starts early in the nineteenth century with the protagonist on his deathbed, attended by his adult daughter from whom he'd been estranged for a large part of her life. Even if they'd always been close, however, he might not have told his daughter the formative story of his youth; anyway, the possibility is made moot by the fact that the formative story of his youth is the major reason Michel Adanson is not close to his daughter (or anyone, really). 

We learn Adanson's story along with his daughter, Aglaé, as she reads the memoir he had hidden for her where she would only find it if she truly cared for him. Adanson, a white French botanist, had traveled to Senegal at the age of twenty-three to collect specimens and make a name for himself as a scientist, but he found more than he bargained for: love and passion, and ultimately, tragedy. Hidden within his story is an attempt at explaining how someone who recognizes the horror and injustice of slavery could end up complicit in the very institution they abhor.

Expertly translated from the French by none other than my favorite traducteur (he's the best!), I would say this book is a shoo-in for the prize, though obviously I'm a poor judge, not having read the other four contenders. Fingers crossed, though! 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

“Dinner in French: My Recipes By Way of France” by Melissa Clark

A cookbook is definitely not my typical reading fare. But when Sam gave me this cookbook for Mother's Day last May--partly because I was too intimidated to dive right in and actually start cooking any of the recipes in this book, but partly because the pictures are so beautiful and I wanted to get an idea of what I'm in for--I got into the habit of reading a recipe or two most evenings just before bed. And now, can you believe it? I've actually read the whole thing!

Sam bought this cookbook for me because I love Clark’s Dinner: Changing the Game so much. (199 recipes down, 26 to go!) I have never before owned a cookbook from which I believe I will cook every single recipe. To me, most cookbooks are like most short story collections: Two or three standouts, the majority are ho-hum, and there are always several clunkers. (This is not a perfect analogy because I do read all the stories in the collection.) But Dinner is amazing, because of the sheer number of recipes that turn out amazingly delicious and make me feel like a chef. Anyway, as I began to approach my goal of cooking all 225 recipes in Dinner, I started to worry about what I would work on next. Sure, I could start repeating the best ones in the book (of which there are legion!), but I really enjoy trying recipes that are new to me. Hence Dinner in French!

But, yeah, I'm a bit scared of this book. Luckily I can ease my way into it while I whittle away at the original Dinner, but after that . . . wow, a lot of these France-inspired recipes seem long, drawn-out and complicated. Not to mention the fact that where the heck am I supposed to get things like fresh currants? Not where I live, that's for sure. At this point I am not planning to challenge myself to make every single recipe in Dinner in French. But I have already made two of them! (Well, yes, they were the two simplest ones, why do you ask?) One was lavender lemonade, the other was marzipan bonbons (half rose-flavored, half lemon), and everything was pronounced delicious by everyone right down to the ten-year-old. Miam! 

Monday, October 2, 2023

“Birnam Wood” by Eleanor Catton

Sam read this book recently and loved it. And a few years back I read Catton's The Luminaries and really enjoyed that (although I never did get into the TV series, for some reason). So, with motivation both internal and external, I figured I needed to read this book too. 

Well, I didn’t love it like Sam did, but I'm not really sure why. It is a pretty compelling story, and basically what I think could be considered a literary thriller. It's about a group of young socialist gardeners in New Zealand (they call their group Birnam Wood) and what happens when they align themselves with someone who is basically an Elon Musk-esque American billionaire. 

My favorite thing about this book was the fact that the characters had some really interesting and intelligent conversations. Specifically, my favorite quote was this: Democracy isn't about everyone voting the exact same way, it's about whether you agree to go along with the outcome of the vote even if it turns out you're in the minority. 

Hmmmm, I wonder who that was directed towards??

Sunday, September 3, 2023

“What Now?” by Ann Patchett

Before I got started reading Ann Patchett's most recent novel, Tom Lake, I glanced at the list of her other publications and noticed I had already read all but three. Just three! Totally do-able. So I ordered copies of them, and the completist in me rejoiced. 

Once my three new books arrived, I chose to read What Now? first. This is partly because it is just a little slip of a book (112 small pages with huge print!) but it is also because I really love Ann Patchett's nonfiction, maybe even more than her novels. Or, definitely more than some of her novels, and at least as much as my favorites. I have never found fault with Patchett's writing, but she is really good at writing about reality.

It's not surprising that this book is teeny tiny, because it basically comprises a commencement address Patchett gave at her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence, in 2006. (I have just realized I have absolutely no memory of any speakers at my college graduation. I feel sure none of them were remotely as interesting, or as famous, as Patchett.)

As someone who has already found a path in life that I am happy with, this book was not something that deeply inspired me, but it was encouraging and uplifting and fun to read. It would make a nice gift for a graduate (along with a lovely check, please). The next time you are tempted to purchase yet another commencement copy of Dr Seuss's Oh The Places You'll Go, you ought to opt for What Now? instead.

I do have one tiny complaint about the book. The text is interspersed with black and white photos, all in the same vein as the one on the cover (people on paths, in mazes, leaving footprints in sand, trying to decide which direction to go), but the placement of these photos was a bit distracting. I wish they had been more like punctuation than interruption.

Friday, September 1, 2023

“Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin

Video games are not my thing. It's not like I've never played any (I really enjoyed The Dig, like, a quarter of a century ago!) but gaming is not something I ever got into, and back when my high school friends tried to convince me to play Super Mario Brothers, I don't think I ever got beyond the initial "doot doot doot" of the music before some kind of evil mushroom jumped on my head and I had to start over. So, a book that is all about video games and game designers? If Sam (also not a gamer!) hadn't read it first and loved it, I might never have been interested in reading it. I care nothing about video games, but this book grabbed me from the very beginning. (And, in case you were worried, it did not creep in a petty pace.)

TaTaT is one of those epic stories that is really about deep and enduring (if intermittent) friendship. Sadie Green and Sam Masur met as children, when Sam was recovering from a grave injury to his left foot. Their connection was instantaneous, and they spent hours (690, in fact!) bonding over video games and the vagaries of life until, in one of those aforementioned vagaries, they experienced their first rift. The real story picks up when they meet again during their college years and decide to design a video game together. Funnily enough, despite my lack of interest in video games, Gabrielle Zevin managed to make their creation intriguing and compelling (helped along by leaving out programming minutae and focusing on storylines). As Sam said, this book opened our eyes to the creative and artistic aspect of video game design. But for me, it was the relationships that made this book. 

I also liked the big words! There were not an annoying number of them, but there were enough to make me feel like I was reading a smart book. I even kept a list! It's been years since my last "Words of the Day" post, and I don't feel especially driven to create one now, but if I did, the words from TaTaT would have been perfect. It's a great mix of ones whose definitions I think I might know (but I'm not certain) and ones I'm not sure I'd ever heard before: cicerone, echt, ersatz, ludic, grok, bromide (not in the chemical sense), Weltschmerz, collogue, trenchant, kenophobia, Torschlusspanik, viridescent, itinerancy, roundelay, Zweisamkeit, deictic, jejune, eidetic. 

After having enjoyed this book so much, we of course are interested in reading more by Zevin. But here is where we diverge: I want to read Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (despite the fact that it is marketed for teenagers; it's that reference to amnesia that grabs me), while Sam has already purchased a copy of The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

Friday, August 25, 2023

“Tom Lake” by Ann Patchett

I just finished reading Ann Patchett's pandemic project, which causes my own (paint-by-number) to pale in comparison. (Actually I'm not sure that Patchett really wrote this book during lockdown, but it was partially set then.) 

First, I just want to ask: How in the world did Ann Patchett publish a new book and I had no idea it was coming? I didn't even hear a peep about it before I saw it on the shelf at Target two weeks ago. I must be reading the wrong news. Although I did feel a bit better when I saw it was only released on August 1st, so it's not as if it's been out there for months. 

I'll tell you a secret, though. I didn't buy it when I saw it at Target. You know why? I don't like the dust jacket. It looks so shiny and cheap! I thought surely it was just the shiny cheap Target version and figured I would find a nicer one to buy online. But nope, this is it. Shiny and cheap. But you know what they say about books and their covers, and that's, like, a thousand percent true here.

Because this book is super awesome. I enjoyed reading it so, so much. It tells the story of Lara (formerly Laura) Kenison, one-time ingenue who starred in a famous movie but ended up finding her happiness and her life on a cherry farm in Michigan. During the summer of 2020, when all three of her twenty-something daughters have come home to weather out the pandemic and help with the harvest, Lara finds herself telling them of that long-ago summer at Tom Lake when she played Emily in a summer stock production of Our Town. And whereas the story of that summer alone could have been a novel, here is where Ann Patchett reveals her genius: what might have been melodramatic or cloying if told on its own becomes so much more when viewed through the hazy lens of time and nostalgia. It's a gripping story, and as I read I almost felt like I was Lara's fourth daughter. I was definitely absorbed by this book, which Sam can attest to after seeing me wander around the house with it glued to my face. 

SO here's something really weird. You know that I tend to read every single word in a book--especially books I really like--from the Advance Praise to the author's bio. So of course I noticed that Patchett's author photo in this book appears to have been taken in her bookstore, as do some of her previous author photos, but in this one I can see several stacks of multiple copies of the same book (not uncommon with new bestsellers in bookstores). One of these looked so familiar to me--cream colored book, dark frame on the spine--so much so that I thought for sure I owned a copy of it. I literally scanned all my bookshelves looking for it, only to discover that no, I do not have a copy of this book, although Wicked and The Mysterious Benedict Society are probably the reasons I found it familiar-seeming. I figured that I needed to make like Elsa and let it go. BUT as I was scanning the interwebs just now to make SURE there isn't a less shiny and more luxurious-looking version of Tom Lake, I FIGURED IT OUT. It's Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (which I don't have a copy of, but probably should). It's weird to me that that book just popped up in relation to Tom Lake. I wonder if there are other weirdos like me who had to know what book that was. And now they're inextricably linked. Or maybe it was just the Pulitzer thing.

The staycation continues! Well, for a few more hours, anyway . . .

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

“Take What You Need” by Idra Novey

I did not expect to finish this book in less than twenty-four hours. (And of course I would not have, except for the fact that I am on staycation, which is basically synonymous with read-a-thon and also synonymous with awesome.)

Take What You Need tells the story of a complicated character named Jean, an older (though not elderly) woman who has lived her whole life in a small town in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Her story is told in alternating chapters, half through her own eyes and half through the eyes of her estranged adult stepdaughter Leah. The important things in Jean's life are her love for Leah that arose from the nine years she spent as her mother figure, Elliott who is her short-term next-door neighbor, and the Manglements she welds in her living room--metal boxes that are her Art and her form of expressing herself. And I feel like it's impossible to say more about this book, because it's so tightly woven and evocative that it seems impossible to express in a sentence or two.

One of my favorite things about this book (though it's a minor aspect, and really just serves as a backdrop to the setting) is the thinly veiled references to hated political figures. It was kind of like reverse name-dropping, as no names were actually named, but it was oh so satisfying. 

Monday, August 21, 2023

“My Dear I Wanted to Tell You” by Louisa Young

What is it with Sam continually giving me books that make me want to cry? (If you can refer to two in succession as "continually.") Is he just testing my resolve? Well, I'll tell you what. I've come up with a new system, even better than disguising tears as sweat. I lean back in my chair and raise my book above me so that I have to tilt my head back while I read. This way the tears disappear back inside me, somewhere behind my eyeballs, rather than coming out in front of them. I'm destroying the evidence. It's quite clever, really.

But yeah this was another moving story. Also encompassing unspeakable tragedy (but this time the Great War rather than Aberfan), and also so terribly British. The main character is Riley Purefoy, a handsome but lower-class young British man who, despite (or maybe because of) his love for upper-class Nadine Waveney, runs off to Flanders to join the army and fight against the Huns. It's all very horrors-of-war which you know I hate, but as it was heavy on the humanity and light on the strategy, I managed. There are also three other characters who are almost as main but not quite: Riley's commanding officer, Peter Locke; Peter's beautiful but vapid wife waiting for him at home (she was so silly and yet I still felt sorry for her); and Peter's homely but so very helpful cousin Rose, who works as a nurse during the war. Three guesses whose nurse she ends up being.

It's funny how much I liked this book in the end, because I was not impressed when I first started reading it. I actually put it down and read two other books before I picked it up again. 

Sunday, August 13, 2023

“Rich and Pretty” by Rumaan Alam

As promised 55 pages ago, here's my break. Total beach read. (Except, unfortunately, I did not read it at the beach--although there is a section of this book where the main characters travel to Turks and Caicos. Which is not quite the same as me being at the beach, but vicarious is better than nothing.) 

This is definitely not my usual type of book. How did I end up with it, you ask? Well, it all started (as this sort of thing often does) at Half Price Books. My habitual method there is to head straight to the Fiction section and peruse spines until I get a crick in my neck. What catches my eye? Interesting titles, Penguin orange, and the names of familiar authors. In this case it was the latter. One year into the pandemic I read Alam's Leave the World Behind and found it interesting enough to give another one of his books a try.

Rich and Pretty tells the story of Lauren (who is pretty) and Sarah (who is rich), thirty-something New Yorkers who have been best friends (at least in name) since the age of eleven. About the time we make it through Sarah's beautiful, forty-page fairytale wedding with no mishaps, I started to realize: there really is no point to this book. Nothing has happened, and nothing is going to happen. My assumption that Dan and Meredith were having an affair? Pfffft. Way off. Dan really is exactly as predictable as he seems. But then there is a point, and it's the best one of all: Relaxation. Escapism. Just the pure enjoyment of reading a story. A bit like vegging out in front of the TV except it feels slightly more intellectually healthy just by virtue of the act of reading. And that is exactly what I needed. 

Saturday, August 12, 2023

“A Terrible Kindness” by Jo Browning Wroe

I still have a deep stack of books to read on my end table, and it still seems impossible to pick which one should be next, but after Flaubert's Parrot, Sam chose this novel for me. He had read it not long ago and found it incredibly moving and wanted me to experience it too. 

I think I finished reading it about a week ago, but I’m just now getting around to writing about it. That's never a good thing. It may indicate laziness, or a lack of things to say about my reading experience, or an inability to put my feelings into words. In this case it was really none of those--it was more of a lack of time to sit down and compose something coherent. For a day or two I stuck to my rule (don't start the next book until you blog about the last one) but, sensing my anguish, Sam told me to give myself a break, so I did. And soon (after about 55 more pages, in fact) you will see just how much of a break I gave myself. But not yet. 

Sam was right about this book being moving, especially Part I. I mean, it's about Aberfan. Only the Queen of England could fail to shed a tear when confronted with that tragedy (and that's only if The Crown is to be believed). You know me, though; I sternly resist crying over stories (but maybe that doesn't necessarily apply to stories so deeply rooted in reality). Luckily it is summertime, possibly the hottest one ever, and I was sitting outside wearing sunglasses while reading. If anyone had asked, I would never have admitted it was more than just sweat running down my cheeks.  

It must be said that this is one of those books where the main character can be annoyingly obtuse or self-flagellating. But it was still beautifully written and a really, really good book. 

Saturday, July 29, 2023

"Flaubert's Parrot" by Julian Barnes

Before reading this book, all I knew of Flaubert was Mme Bovary and all I knew of Julian Barnes was Arthur & George, although I do have a copy of The Sense of an Ending that I fully intend to read someday. Even considering my minimal knowledge, Flaubert's Parrot was kind of a shock to my system. 

This was not a story to sink into. Instead, it was a weirder but somehow deeper and more clever biography than any I’ve ever read. The writing reminded me of Milan Kundera (although all I know of Kundera is The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and I appreciated the dry, wry humor.

In this book, somehow Barnes gathers up everything that can be known about Gustave Flaubert and forms it into a sort of novel-like expression. It's the farthest thing from your typical encyclopedic biography, and yet I feel like I came away with a better sense of who Flaubert was as a real human than I could have otherwise. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2023


How can I possibly choose which one is next?


Sunday, July 16, 2023

“The Marriage Portrait” by Maggie O’Farrell


I have always loved Maggie O'Farrell's books (...always? ohhhhhkay there was one exception), but for some reason I initially put off reading this one. Despite my love for Italy, and despite knowing there is a wealth of intriguing stories to be found in its renaissance era, the synopsis of this book made me drag my feet. It just sounded a bit . . . dull.

I don't know what I was thinking.

This book was so good! Based on actual historical characters, it tells the story of Lucrezia de'Medici and her short-lived marriage to Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara. I think part of my resistance to reading this book stemmed from the fact that you go into it already knowing that Alfonso ends up killing his teenage bride. How can the story be anything but hopeless and depressing? Well, that's where Maggie O'Farrell comes in to work her magic. Whereas Sam said the first half of the book felt too claustrophobic to him, steeped in the foreknowledge of the impending murder as it was, I was gripped from the first page. 

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography and Other Writings

I have been reading this book little bit by little bit over a number of months (YES, okay, if you must know, I kept it in the bathroom. This is one of those books that I felt obliged to read because I knew it would make me a better person, but it is also one of those books I knew I would never actually read unless I was forced to.)

I'm sure this is a case of stating the obvious, but Benjamin Franklin was a pretty impressive man. Maybe I've always known these things but forgot? But it's amazing how many institutions Franklin had a hand in creating. Lending libraries? Check. Fire departments? Check. UPenn? Check! And all of this squeezed in between creating a successful printing business, being a US ambassador to France, running a postal service that I can only imagine must have been more efficient than the current USPS, and flying a key on a kite string into a thunderstorm. 

I don’t think I was left with a super clear overview of Franklin's life (but of course that was not the intent of this book). I feel like it zoomed in on a number of interesting aspects but left the remainder vague and amorphous, and I might have found a biography more balanced. But what I had really wanted to get from the book is a sense of the man himself in his own words, and I think I did. I found Franklin to be pithy, witty, humble and wise.   

“Saturday” by Ian McEwan

I have really liked other Ian McEwan novels I've read (particularly Atonement; I haven't read all of his work, though eventually I would like to). But I found this one slow going. It describes, in great detail, one single day in the life of London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne. It starts early in the morning as he looks out his bedroom window (so nicely reflected by the book cover!), watching an airplane as it crosses his field of view, and ends--you guessed it!--late that night as he looks out his bedroom window. In between, it's not exactly your usual, run-of-the-mill weekend day, what with protests in the street, a mild car wreck, a tense family dinner party, and late-night neurosurgery. You would think that would be enough to maintain my interest, but somehow it was not.

It did, however, make me think of Mrs Dalloway. Not to the extent that I think this story was inspired by Woolf, but how could I help but be reminded of a book that takes place all in one day and follows a main character who is preparing for a dinner party?

Sam says Saturday was controversial when it came out, due to its stance on the invasion of Iraq (the protests were against it while Dr Perowne found himself ambivalent) but why? Because the central character did not soundly denounce the invasion of Iraq? Even if he had been solidly in favor of it, can't we have a nuanced discussion of a complicated topic without the discussion itself being controversial?

“Very Cold People” by Sarah Manguso

I actually read this book between Scent of Flowers and The Fell but then completely forgot to blog about it. I'm not sure I would have found much to say about it at the time, but now that it's three weeks later, I'm going to have a really tough time coming up with anything to write. 

I do remember that my overarching feeling about this book was that it was weird. The characters were weird--a little inscrutable, kind of hard to relate to, not very open or easy to understand . . . in general, I guess, what you would expect Very Cold People to be like. And the story itself was a bit weird, in a plotless and meandering way. It's written like a memoir (although I assume it's not) and strikes me as an attempt to record every retained memory, with no effort to highlight the transformative or gloss over the mundane. But it was also, I think, nicely written and intriguing; otherwise I would have hated it. 

I also remember that this book stirred up a particular sort of nostalgia in me. It describes a very American childhood with many links to my own very American childhood, from Lite Brite to friendship bracelets. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

“The Fell” by Sarah Moss

With The Fell, Sarah Moss has created a novella that is very evocative of the pandemic we are only just now finding our way out of. It's the story of Kate, who is on the tenth day of a two-week quarantine at home after exposure to a coworker who tested positive for COVID. She's been very good about not breaking the self-isolation rules, but she's accustomed to hiking through the heather on a regular basis and she's been nearly driven crazy with restriction. She finally decides she can't live without stretching her legs and getting her lungs full of fresh air, so she heads out into the countryside without telling anyone. 

This book does not have a complicated plot--in fact, not a whole lot happens--but that doesn't mean it's boring to read. Viewpoints switch between Kate, her teenage son Matt, their neighbor Alice, and a rescue team worker named Rob (because of course Kate's simple, solitary walk turns out to be nothing of the sort), and we get a front-row seat to all their thoughts.

Unfortunately, having finished this book, I am now in the unenviable position of having one more week left of vacation with only one more book left to read…

Saturday, June 17, 2023

“The Scent of Flowers at Night” by Leïla Slimani

This slim little volume is beautifully written and impeccably translated, though this is no surprise based on the author and translator. In it, Slimani spends one night alone in the Punta della Dogana museum in Venice and reflects on her life as a writer. It's a little slip of a book, but powerful. 

I read half of this book while waiting for a flight, then slid it hurriedly into the front pocket of my suitcase when they called our boarding group. I ended up having to check my suitcase at the gate (something about it being overstuffed? surely not) and only remembered they’d also taken my book away from me when it was too late. (Luckily I’d packed four other books in the backpack I kept with me, so I survived the flight.)

I think the thing about this book that will always stand out to me is the way that writing takes over Slimani's life when she's in the middle of a book, almost as if she were in a prison. I am glad that writing is not a prison for Sam.

Friday, June 16, 2023

“Writers & Lovers” by Lily King

I loved this book and I hate that I put off reading it for so long. And when I did read it, I started by gulping down more than half of it on a flight, but then I skipped a few days and read the rest of it on a train journey. 

This is the story of Casey, a grieving, anxiety-ridden waitress whose life has seemingly gone nowhere due to her desire to write novels. We hear about her past loves and are introduced to the new ones she is just now meeting. Funnily enough, it struck me on page 91 that I was reading a first-person female narrator--just like the last (terrible) book I read--but THIS was real writing. It's funny to think that this novel and my previous read are both books . . . they can't really be in the same category. 

I must admit that I did become annoyed at the end of Writers & Lovers due to the fairy tale book auction. It's like I was jealous or something, which makes no sense because I haven’t written a book, nor am I planning to. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

“A Stranger in the House” by Shari Lapena

I bought this book by mistake. Well, maybe mistake is not exactly the right word, but here’s what happened. We were browsing in Half Price Books and this title caught my eye. I enjoy a well-written suspense novel, and this one sounded intriguing. I knew I’d heard of the author before, and I even vaguely remembered I’d read a book of hers previously. I figured I must not have hated it or I would have remembered. (Ha.) Did I skip my dip test? I can’t remember that either. 

But now that I’ve read the whole thing, I find it hard to believe that it would have passed my dip test. And of course I have found and re-read my blog post about The Couple Next Door, which I really should have done prior to purchasing this book, because if I had done that I would not be writing this blog post right now and that would be an entirely good thing. 

At my age, I am sure I have already lived half my life (if not more). Lord save me from wasting any more of it on books like this.  

Sunday, May 28, 2023

“Babel” by R F Kaung

I started reading this book back in January and never really got into it. I have no idea why, but it just did not grab me. Then I started reading the Game of Thrones books, and ended up leaving Babel untouched for months. I knew I wasn’t permanently abandoning it, but I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get back to it. 

I finally picked Babel up again last weekend and ended up really enjoying it! It's well-written, with an interesting story that makes you think. 

Babel is an alternate history of 1800s England, specifically Oxford University and its Royal Institute of Translation. In this fictional world, England is a global empire due to its wealth of silver bars and its expertise with the magical power derived from the matched pairs of words inscribed on the surface of each bar—one word in English and one in another language. The words vary according to the power desired: fortifying an old building, keeping a carriage safe from accident, causing an explosion. The words are paired by the scholars in Babel, the Institute’s headquarters. 

The newest students at Babel are Robin (who is Chinese), Ramy (Indian), Letty (English) and Victoire (Haitian), and they become fast friends. But it isn’t long before they begin to see the vast disparity between those living with the benefits of the silver bars and those without. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

“Jane Austen: A Brief Life” by Fiona Stafford

Yep I picked this one because it's brief. It’s right there in the title. 

It makes me feel virtuous to read a biography. This one was little bit dry at times (which I find to be typical) but it was still interesting enough to read (once). Much of Austen's life story here seems to be speculation based on analysis of her writing rather than real knowledge of her life, but I assume that's out of necessity. 

And I know more about Austen now than before I read the book, although some of it I already kind of knew without knowing, like the fact that she had six novels published. Have I read all of them? I think so, but I really can't remember for sure. I mean I am SURE I have read some, if not all, of them; and I am SURE I enjoyed reading them, and I am SURE I find it odd that my husband doesn't like Jane Austen. 

I didn't know exactly when her books were published (I just knew they were old) but it turns out they're all more than 200 years old, as she died in 1817 (two of her books were published posthumously, but very soon after her death). I like the fact that people still know and love her work centuries later, and their humor and human element can still be enjoyed. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

“Big Swiss” by Jen Beagin

Easing out of Westeros is going really well so far. I started a new book on Friday and finished it on Sunday! And not because it was a teeny tiny book, either. I mean it wasn't huge, but it was a good, book-sized book. 

I picked this up during our most recent trip to the great Friends of the Library bookstore in Los Alamos (last month). It was the bees on the spine that first caught my eye, and then when I unshelved it to look at the cover, the art there was unexpected. Nothing to do with bees at all. Which is fine; I'm not sure I'd really be interested in a novel that was actually about bees. And I definitely wanted to know what happened to the upside-down lady. Sam wondered what she was doing too. Falling? Dying? 

Anyway, Big Swiss turned out to be very readable. And very quirky. It's about Greta (or sometimes Rebekah) Work, who works as a transcriptionist for a local sex therapist. The story starts in quite a voyeuristic way, and the transcription thing almost seemed too obvious as a plot device for a little bit (the scene in the coffee shop where she recognized the voices of several of the therapist's clients and mentally reviewed her transcriptions of their sessions) but then she meets a woman at the dog park whose voice she recognizes as the patient Greta had given the nickname of Big Swiss, and from there the book turns into something else entirely. But I was all in.

I will mention (in a vague way, which I hope is not spoiler-y) that as I read, I guessed that the story about Keith was completely made up, and that Luke was actually the assailant. Why else would Big Swiss have bruises on her legs, and why else would Luke be a shiv collector? Well, I guessed wrong. Although looking back I'd say if this book had been written by Liane Moriarty I would have been right.

Oh and I probably owe it to you to tell you my impression is that the cover art is there for the atmosphere it evokes rather than actually being directly linked to the narrative. 

Friday, May 12, 2023

“A Dance With Dragons” by George RR Martin

It is finished.

I know after reading Book 1 I said I would be fine if this series were never completed. I lied. There is too much left unwritten. I want to read the rest of the story! So, actually, I should not have said it is finished. Because it is unfinished. (Although it does still bother me to think that I may have to buy the rest of the series in non-matching books.)

But as much as I enjoyed reading this series, it is also nice to be released from it. Now I am free to choose books to read all willy-nilly! But there is a downside to this . . . I remember back to when I used to choose books all willy-nilly (it feels like ages ago, but really it's only been a few months), and I remember that not all of  my selections are as readable as A Song of Ice and Fire. Some of my choices suck. Some are just OK. I've kissed a lot of frogs in my reading life. But maybe that's part of the appeal? Maybe having to hunt for a gem makes it all the more exciting when you find one? 

Here's hoping my next choice is a gem. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

“A Feast For Crows” by George R R Martin

A Feast for Crows was definitely more enjoyable than I had feared. Maybe, just maybe, the story was slightly more slow-paced than the first three? And looking back on it now, other than Cersei’s attempt to rid herself of Margaery and ending up caught in her own trap, the book as a whole did seem more as if were merely moving people into place in preparation for the real action to come. But I could be wrong. Knowing me, I’m probably just forgetting the real action already. 

Anyway I enjoyed it and I’m on to the fifth and final book of the series. 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

“A Storm of Swords” by George R R Martin

Still really into these books. I couldn’t remember when Joffrey’s wedding feast occurred in the timeline of the TV series, so I’d been eagerly awaiting that scene (while simultaneously dreading Edmure’s) ever since I began reading the series, and book three delivers both. 

On to number four!

Sunday, February 26, 2023

“A Clash of Kings” by George R R Martin

I finished reading A Clash of Kings more than a week ago (specifically, on Friday the 17th) and am almost halfway through the next one already. I don't have much to say about the book itself (other than the fact that I enjoyed reading it just as much as the first one), but of course I want a record that I read it, hence the blog post.

Did I mention that Sam has been reading this series at the same time as me? Luckily we had two copies of each of the first two books. Unluckily we only have one copy of the third one. Partly because of this and partly because it's what we prefer, Sam is  interspersing his GoT reads with other books while I'm just racing straight through the series. But it's been fun to be immersed in the same story. 

Speaking of fun, Sam is super good at creating cocktails and he invented a George R R Martini in honor of our reading sessions. (The Rs stand for raspberry and rose.) I'm a lucky girl!

Monday, January 30, 2023

“A Game of Thrones” by George R R Martin

I know I'm a little behind the times, but I'm finally reading A Song of Ice and Fire, and I am LOVING it. Of course I've seen the entire TV series, which means (at least so far) I already know everything that's going to happen, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable to read. While A Game of Thrones is not necessarily a book to encourage deep thought and contemplation, it is one that I've been racing through, engrossed in the story. I've definitely been sucked in, and have been reading nothing else.

And I have the feeling I will be reading nothing else for months. This first book clocked in at 807 pages (which meant just under two weeks for me), and they only get longer from here. And I must admit I feel a sense of dread when I think of books 4 and 5. Years ago, Sam tore through books 1-3, but he stalled on 4 and never even read 5. This does not bode well. Not to mention the fact that I found this first book more and more depressing as it went along. Or maybe it was just the grim weather outside today? Either way, my plan is to power through, and I think I will enjoy it more often than not. All that to say--not that I blog with great frequency these days anyway--if you don't see much action here, know that it is because I am busy in Westeros.

Here's something odd I noticed as I read AGoT. Usually, if you're already familiar with a movie or TV show and then you read the source material, reading adds depth to the experience. You're rewarded with extra tidbits that weren't made plain in the show (or that just couldn't be fit in). Weirdly, I'm not finding that with these books. As Sam pointed out, that's a testament to what a great job Benioff and Weiss did with the HBO adaptation. 

I wanted to mention the actual physical books I've been reading. I was hoping to find a nice matched set that was good-looking, not a tie-in version to the TV show. I initially hesitated over this set which is smaller than most books; I worried that the type would be too small for my old eyes, but I finally took the leap and I'm so glad I did. It's such a good-looking little set, the size is just perfect to hold in my hands (I can even read them one-handed!) and my eyes are doing just fine. So if you have the opportunity to get your hands on the Special Boxed Bantam Edition pictured below, take it! Although I must admit . . . it makes me hope that Martin never finishes books 6 and 7. (Yep, I said it.) Unless Bantam is going to print matching copies to go with my set!