What I’m currently reading: I have me a little mini-project

Bitch in a BonnetBitch in a Bonnet
by Robert Rodi
isbn: 9781499133769
Publication Date: August 10, 2014
Pages: 514
Genre: Books and Reading
Publisher: Createspace

Novelist Rodi continues his broadside against the depiction of Jane Austen as a “a woman’s writer … quaint and darling, doe-eyed and demure, parochial if not pastoral, and dizzily, swooningly romantic — the inventor and mother goddess of ‘chick lit.’” Instead he sees her as “a sly subversive, a clear-eyed social Darwinist, and the most unsparing satirist of her century.”

In this volume, which collects and amplifies three years’ worth of blog entries, he combs through the final three novels in Austen’s canon — Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion — with the aim of charting her growth as both a novelist and a humorist, and of shattering the notion that she’s a romantic of any kind.

I’m currently reading Bitch in a Bonnet by Robert Rodi.  My first, I think, work of Literary Criticism.  It’s been on my shelf for years, and it’s the second volume of a 2 volume set that, I’m surprised to learn, was published through Createspace.  Had I known that way back when, I’d not have put it on the wishlist, because self-published literary criticism instinctively feels like it would be a self-aggrandising disaster.

Luckily, I was unaware, because this is pretty good, egregious copyediting errors aside.  Rodi dives into a detailed discussion about Austen’s work, title by title, arguing why all of history since their publications have done her a disservice by pegging her as a ‘romance’ writer.

I’m thoroughly enjoying it – both Rodi’s point of view that Austen is anything but a romance writer – which I agree with 100% – and his snarky narrative voice.  He’s a little bit outrageous which makes his analysis fun to read.

This volume covers Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and this is where my mini-project comes into play.  I’ve read Emma and Persuasion both enough times to remember everything Rodi is discussing, but Northanger Abbey I only ever read once and quite a while ago.  And I don’t remember it as fondly as the others (even Mansfield Park).

So, I’m going to attempt to re-read Northanger Abbey, in tandem with Rodi’s breakdown of it in Bitch in a Bonnet.  I have no idea if I’m going to be able to do this, or if I’ll lose patience.  I generally don’t like side-by-side reads because it’s constraining and smacks of self-discipline.  Also, I can’t tolerate someone else telling me how or what to think about anything.  But I already know I agree with Rodi about Emma, so I’m hopeful this will work out well if for no other reason than it’s entertaining confirmation bias.  Shrug; nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey
by Jane Austen
Publication Date: January 1, 1975
Pages: 222
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Folio Society

During an eventful season at Bath, young, naove Catherine Morland experiences fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who introduces Catherine to the joys of Gothic romances, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father's house, Northanger Abbey. There, influenced by novels of horror and intrigue, Catherine comes to imagine terrible crimes committed by General Tilney, risking the loss of Henry's affection, and must learn the difference between fiction and reality, false friends and true. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, Northanger Abbey is the most youthful and optimistic of Jane Austen's work.

I’ve read 40 pages of 273; The Botany of Desire

 I’ma havin’ some issues with this first chapter about apples.  I have issues theological, academical, and pedantical (a word I just made up), and if I don’t rant them out they’ll nag at me and I won’t be able to let them go.

Pollan is talking about his first plant, the apple.  Which is an interesting plant in its own right, (each seed in an apple, if planted, will grow an entirely new variety of apple – very likely a crap, inedible one, but totally unique), but Pollan has instead glommed onto the man and the myth that is Johnny Appleseed.  Going in, one can see the relevance:  while John Chapman (a/k/a Appleseed) is ‘helping’ frontier settlers by seeding the apple trees, he’s also working for the apple, allowing it to increase its habitat across a whole new continent.  So far, on topic.

But the author has lost himself in the whole mythology of Appleseed, arguing he wasn’t a saint, the way so many want to believe he was – a hero with no questionable habits.  Fine, I guess, except in his argument against mythologising Appleseed as a heroic saint, he turns around and mythologises him into “very much an American Dionysus”.  So … it’s ok to idealise the historical figure as a Greek god, but not as a Christian saint? Never mind that Chapman/Appleseed himself identified as a Christian (although not a mainstream one to be sure) and would discuss the “good word” with people as he traveled.

How about just letting John Chapman be John Chapman?  How about we don’t argue what special snowflake box he belongs in (which is really the same box with different wrapping paper), and just let him rest in peace, with the record showing he was a complicated man who loved the outdoors and planting apple trees.

And what in the name of a Jonah Gold does any of it have to do with the evolution of plants as it pertains to domestication, and who domesticated whom?

Rant over.

Reading Progress Update: The Stranger Times

The Stranger TimesThe Stranger Times
by C.K. McDonnell
isbn: 9780552177344
Series: Stranger Times #1
Publication Date: January 6, 2022
Pages: 425
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books

There are dark forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular), so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them . . .

A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.

At least that's their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door - and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who's got problems of her own.

When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they'd previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.

I like perusing the publisher catalogs on bnccatalist.com, and I found this yesterday.  It just sounded like something I needed to try. Thanks to next day delivery, even on a Sunday!, I’m 134 pages in and it’s funny.  The pull quotes on the back compare it to Pratchett, which, sorry, but not.  What it reminds me of so far is a paranormal version of Snatch, or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

I’m intrigued, and I’m liking it.  It’s definitely different.

Reading Status: A Table Near the Band

A Table Near the BandA Table Near the Band
by A.A. Milne
Publication Date: January 1, 1950
Pages: 223
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Methuen

I grabbed this book as a counter-balance to Einstein’s War, and while I’m only 30 pages and 2 stories in, it’s charming so far!  A.A. Milne has given me a wry and humorous story and a sweet one that manages to be sweet without being saccharine or overly sentimental.  If the rest of the stories are this good this collection will be a treasure.

Reading Status: Einstein’s War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I

Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War IEinstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I
by Matthew Stanley
isbn: 9781524745417
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Pages: 391
Genre: History, Science
Publisher: Dutton

Few recognize how the Great War, the industrialized slaughter that bled Europe from 1914 to 1918, shaped Einstein&;s life and work. While Einstein never held a rifle, he formulated general relativity blockaded in Berlin, literally starving. He lost fifty pounds in three months, unable to communicate with his most important colleagues. Some of those colleagues fought against rabid nationalism; others were busy inventing chemical warfare&;being a scientist trapped you in the power plays of empire. Meanwhile, Einstein struggled to craft relativity and persuade the world that it was correct. This was, after all, the first complete revision of our conception of the universe since Isaac Newton, and its victory was far from sure.

Scientists seeking to confirm Einstein&;s ideas were arrested as spies. Technical journals were banned as enemy propaganda. Colleagues died in the trenches. Einstein was separated from his most crucial ally by barbed wire and U-boats. This ally was the Quaker astronomer and Cambridge don A. S. Eddington, who would go on to convince the world of the truth of relativity and the greatness of Einstein.

In May of 1919, when Europe was still in chaos from the war, Eddington led a globe-spanning expedition to catch a fleeting solar eclipse for a rare opportunity to confirm Einstein&;s bold prediction that light has weight. It was the result of this expedition&;the proof of relativity, as many saw it&;that put Einstein on front pages around the world. Matthew Stanley&;s epic tale is a celebration of how bigotry and nationalism can be defeated and of what science can offer when they are.

I picked this off the TBR shelves yesterday because Einstein!  I almost put it back because Nationalism! War! and I’m in the mood for neither.  I decided to read the prologue, and got completely sucked in.

I’m only 60 pages in, so Einstein and Eddington are still relative newbies to the science scene and WWI is only a gleam in Kaiser Wilhelm II’s eye, but I’m thoroughly sucked it.  I’m really enjoying the author’s way of leading the reader through all  of Einstein’s papers, so it’s apparent that the general theory of relativity was a process that was built upon, layer by layer, instead of something that sprouted fully formed one day.  I’m also appreciating the graphs and illustrations, even if the mathematical formulas are way over my pay-grade.

I’m really hoping my zeal for the book will withstand WWI.

Reading Status Update: I’ve read 68 out of 208 of Venom

by Eivind Undheim, Ronald Jenner
isbn: 9781486308378
Publication Date: October 1, 2017
Pages: 208
Genre: Natural Science, Science
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing

A fully illustrated guide to venom, its evolution in different animal groups, its effects and its treatments.
When we enter the world of venom, we enter the realm of one of the most diverse, versatile, sophisticated and deadly biological adaptations ever to have evolved on Earth.

Since it first appeared in ancient jellyfish and sea anemones, venom has proved so effective that it has since evolved independently in dozens of different animal groups. The authors reveal the many unique methods by which venomous animals deliver their cocktail of toxins and how these disrupt the physiology of the victims.

Jenner and Undheim also consider how humans have learnt to neutralise venom’s devastating effects, as well as exploit the power of venom in innovative ways to create new drugs to treat a variety of serious conditions. Fully illustrated throughout, this illuminating guide will appeal to all those with an interest in the wondrous world of venom.

When I started this book, I thought it was going to be introductory, aimed at a mainstream audience.  It’s introductory, in its way, but I can’t imagine it’s really meant for a mainstream audience; lots of latin names and terminology that’s not advanced (no molecular structures, so far) but not really reader friendly either.

I’m really enjoying it; I like the informative charts I’ve come across so far, and there is a generous number of full colour photographs that are beautiful.  Some of the information is old-hat for me, but quite a bit of it is new, and I’m only done with 2 chapters.

This is a slow read that will ruin my average reading time stats, but will be well worth it, I think.

Reading Status Update: I’ve read 112/300 pages of The Orchid Thief

The Orchid ThiefThe Orchid Thief
by Susan Orlean
isbn: 9780449003718
Publication Date: January 4, 2000
Pages: 300
Publisher: Ballantine Books

A modern classic of personal journalism, The Orchid Thief is Susan Orlean’s wickedly funny, elegant, and captivating tale of an amazing obsession. Determined to clone an endangered flower—the rare ghost orchid Polyrrhiza lindenii—a deeply eccentric and oddly attractive man named John Laroche leads Orlean on an unforgettable tour of America’s strange flower-selling subculture, through Florida’s swamps and beyond, along with the Seminoles who help him and the forces of justice who fight him. In the end, Orlean—and the reader—will have more respect for underdog determination and a powerful new definition of passion.

In this new edition, coming fifteen years after its initial publication and twenty years after she first met the “orchid thief,” Orlean revisits this unforgettable world, and the route by which it was brought to the screen in the film Adaptation, in a new retrospective essay.


I’m still laid up, obviously, but feeling much more human, and I was ready for something a little meatier in my reading, while also feeling like I needed a taste of home while wallowing in my bitterness over the fickleness of fate.  The Orchid Thief is fitting the bill perfectly.  Susan Orlean, with the exception of referring to Florida’s natural state as jungle (it’s not), has nailed the state in both its feral and more civilised forms.  The world of orchid collecting is also one I grew up on the fringes of, my father, and then my sister, both orchidists.  For my sister it was a fleeting interest, lasting only a decade or so, if memory serves, but for my father it was a lifelong passion and between them they created well over a thousand hybrids that were sent all over the world.  Fortunately he was, at heart, sane with a very unmoving moral compass, so none of the family had center-ring seats to the real insanity of the orchid collecting world Orleans is delving into.  But there are familiar names and references that I’m thoroughly enjoying so far.  Thankfully Larouche isn’t one of them – he’s an odd one.

Reading Progress Update: I’ve read 84 of 337 pages

The Truth About AnimalsThe Truth About Animals
by Lucy Cooke
isbn: 9780465094646
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
Pages: 337
Genre: Natural Science, Non-fiction
Publisher: Basic Books

I can often judge how much I’m enjoying a non-fiction book by how much of it I torture MT with by reading aloud passages. Based on that metric, this is looking to be a 5 star read so far. Each chapter is dedicated to a different misunderstood animal, and the chapter on beavers was read to MT almost in its entirety. Hyenas got a fair amount of coverage too, although it much harder to read aloud for this modestly inclined narrator. Hyenas be freaky.

The writing style is very laid back and the humour is thick on the page, but then it’s hard to keep a serious tone when your discussing the centuries long prevailing myth that beavers being pursued by hunters will gnaw off their own testicles and throw them at the hunters in a bid to escape.

Heroes by Stephen Fry: I’ve listened to 24%

Heroes by Stephen Fry:  I’ve listened to 24%Heroes
by Stephen Fry
ISBN: 9781405940573
Published by Penguin Books on 2019
Format: Audiobook

Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes.Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta - who was raised by bears - outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera.Heroes is the story of what we mortals are truly capable of - at our worst and our very best.

I’m loving this so far. Stephen Fry states right up front that there are many names and lineages and begats and that the listener shouldn’t pay any attention to trying to keep track of it all – just enjoy the stories. He also adds that there are many ways to pronounce the Greek names, and he’s choosing the pronunciations that are most comfortable for his speech patters, most of which would probably make any self-respecting Greek cringe.

What he doesn’t make as clear, but is my favourite part, is that he’s telling these stories of the Greek heroes in very much his own way, his own style, with funny or witty asides. He’s chosen his source materials and sticks to the ‘facts’ of them, but the tales are liberally sprinkled with his own ad-libs, and when he does character voices, he makes no attempt to mimic anything resembling a Greek accent – there are shades of Monty Python in his character voices. I know he was never in Monty Python, but I stand by this assertion. Perhaps it’s his work with Hugh Laurie that’s showing through. I only know there’s one character I kept expecting to break out in “he’s a very naughty boy!” And I’m almost entirely certain none of the Greek heroes had Scottish accents.

This is Fry telling stories and oh, he’s so brilliant at it, I’m thoroughly loving listening to him regale me with these tales.

Reading progress: page 153 out of 356

Reading progress: page 153 out of 356Dead as a Door Knocker
by Diane Kelly
ISBN: 9781250197429
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 29, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Women Sleuths, Cozy, General
Pages: 368
Not loving this so far. Having the MC say “the B word” instead of bitch, and the “h word” instead of saying hell is puritanically childish. I’ve read her other books and know she can do better.