Thursday, April 24, 2014

On not finishing

I always tell my friends that life is too short, and there are too many wonderful books waiting to be written, to slog through a book you're not enjoying.  Of course, reading for work is different, but there you can cast a critical eye, decide what works and what doesn't, and then write an article about it.  Reading for fun is a whole other matter.  If it's not fun, it's not worth spending the time.

It's one thing to say this, and another to really believe it.  Thanks in large part to book bloggers, I almost always read books I enjoy these days, because someone whose judgment I trust has said a particular book is worth reading, so I don't have to abandon books very often.  It's hard to set books aside, to decide you're done even though you haven't finished it.  It feels a little bit like failure, but it's a little freeing too, to get those neglected books off your bedside table where the stack is already so high that you risk toppling it when you reach over for a tissue or your teacup.

Also, I have so many books out from the school library for work that it's a little satisfying to bring some back knowing I won't need to refer to them later.

Also, I'm heading for England in only a few weeks (can't believe it!) and need to finish up and return all of my library books before I go.

So I'm sadly but relievedly (is that even a word?  I'll make it one, because it's such an apt descriptor for this situation) setting aside two books that have waited untouched on my bedside table for over a month now.  Jean Kerr's Please Don't Eat The Daisies came to me as a book blog recommendation, but its brand of humor just isn't working for me.  Its comedy feels labored rather than effortless, which makes it draining rather than invigorating to read.  I'm more unhappy about my second DNF, Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping.  One of my ten reading goals for this year was to finally read one of her novels, thinking that I need to stop worrying that she's too hard for me, but I ended up having to restart the book for a second time because it just didn't grab me and I lost all momentum just a few pages in.  It doesn't help that the book isn't particularly well-suited for reading in short snatches on the cross-campus bus, which is where I got a lot of my reading done this semester.  Now, this second time around, I only made it to page 29, but I'd have to restart it again if I tried to get back into it, and I just don't have it in me.  I think I'll try Robinson again someday - perhaps one of her other novels - but I'm going to set this one aside for now, until circumstances allow me to really give it the time it needs.

On the bright side, I'm 300 pages into South Riding and still fascinated by the minutiae of small-town rural government.  I just have to finish it before heading to London!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Some singing for you to enjoy, plus a few thoughts on recent novels

I've been absent from this blog for quite a while!  It's been a wonderful and busy semester, and I'm about halfway through a nonstop month of singing, in which I have a gig of some kind every week or weekend, with more evenings taken up by rehearsals than free to work on homework.  It's the kind of return to a balanced life of research and singing that I've wanted for a while...but the problem is that leveling out singing and academic work doesn't actually mean that my life is balanced at all; it means that I have less time for my husband and less time for self-care like reading, yoga, and bicycle commuting.  It also means that when I catch a cold, like I did three days ago, it's a significant problem (and in this case meant finding a last-minute substitute to sing a wedding).

So what have I been up to?  If you want a sample of the aforementioned singing, you could take a listen to this recording of the Duke Vespers Ensemble singing Orlando di Lassso's magnificent Tears of St. Peter, found here (the concert starts around 6:30).  I'm the second soprano soloist for a lot of the movements featuring smaller forces (which puts me second from the left).  It's a phenomenal set of 21 madrigals tracing Peter's grief after he denied Christ.  Our rendition adds accompaniment by recorders and sackbutts.

I've read quite a lot of children's and young adult fiction books since my last batch of book reviews, most of which were duds but a few of which were amazing and will likely make it onto my top ten list for the year - I hope to write up a few thoughts on those soon.  In terms of adult fiction, three:

Margery Sharp's Four Gardens - a lovely book that charts a woman's path through her first disappointed love, marriage, motherhood, war, and widowhood via the framing devices of the four gardens she loves during these different periods in her life.  I'm not sure I'll ever read it again, but it was a really sweet little book.

Anne Peile's Repeat It Today With Tears - the terrifyingly captivating perspective of a young woman who seduces her father.  The novel in no way promotes incest, but the narrative does force you to understand her reasons.  I thought the first portion was darkly beautiful, but the last section dropped the ball.  Still, I was left haunted, and I continue to think about this book.

Carol Clewlow's A Woman's Guide to Adultery - apparently I was on a little bit of a dark streak, following up incest with adultery!  This novel follows a group of women who basically all have affairs with each others' significant others or family members.  There's a lot of musing on the reasons for adultery, how its participants try to justify it, and how they end up hurting each other.  For a book supposedly about relationships between men and women, there was a tremendous amount of discussion of how women treat each other and themselves.  Not a book I'll read again; pretty much everybody was an awful person.

I'm currently in the middle of Winfred Holtby's South Riding which is taking absolutely forever - three weeks in, and I'm only about halfway done - but I'm surprisingly not fretting about the length of time it's taking, because I'm loving every minute of it.  It's a superbly plotted novel, executed to perfection, and I really care about most of the characters  - it's amazing how she can make you sympathetic to both sides of political arguments and worldviews.  And poor Lydia Holly; I don't even like the girl and I'm desperate for her to have the opportunity to return to school!