Well, our May reads are in the history books. Or at least in our Goodreads “read” file. I can hardly believe how quickly this year is flying by!
All of the books I read this month related either to the Gilmore Girls reading challenge we’re doing at Books, Ink or my personal project to read classical literature and books inspired by it. Only two of the six books I read this month were part of my existing library. But I’m making allowances for the Gilmore Girls challenge.
The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan (bought)
Book two in Riordan’s newest series finds Apollo still trapped in the body of a scrawny mortal teenager called Lester Papadopolous. He and his team of hero demigods go on a quest to recover the dark prophecy (hence the book’s title). It’s the usual satisfying mix of adventure and laughs. And I only have 11 months to wait for the next one…
I bought these two books for the Gilmore Girls reading challenge. They’re companion novels about two best friends called Stephanie (from whose point of view Just as Long as We’re Together is told) and Rachel (whose story is told in Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson). The girls have been best friends since second grade despite being very different personalities. Stephanie flies by the seat of her pants while Rachel is a driven Type A. As they enter middle school, their differences lead to tension and conflict, which intensify when a third “best friend” enters the picture.
Blume’s books weren’t typically my favorites growing up, but reading these novels reminded me why she’s so loved. Her books aren’t about grand adventures or magical happenings but the mundane tribulations of everyday life—the very ones her young readers may be struggling to muddle through. Seeing their lives reflected back at them can help kids see, without being lectured, productive ways to handle the crises of their lives and feel less alone in their struggles.
The Witch Tree Symbol (Nancy Drew #33) by Carolyn Keene (bought)
I went through a Nancy Drew phase as a kid. But this my first adult experience reading these mysteries, also for the Gilmore Girls challenge. In this story, Nancy, along with her sidekicks Bess and George (who is a girl), travel to Pennsylvania Dutch country to investigate the theft of antique furniture. The social perspective is fascinating, given this was written in 1955 on the cusp of 2nd wave feminism.
Nancy is competent and no-nonsense. She has a cool head, excellent logic, and works well with others, both male and female. The writing is heavy on exposition and light on sensory details that make the story world and characters feel alive and real. In response to an Amish man saying Nancy should be cooking and cleaning instead of sleuthing, Bess defends her friend: “ She’s restored lots of people to their families and brought others peace of mind.” It’s a lovely sentiment, but the writing feels a bit stilted.
The Odyssey by Homer translated by George Herbert Palmer
The diction of this prose translation is somewhat arcane as compared to the Fagles translation I read last year. Not having read the epic in its original Greek, I can’t say whether this is due to the time period it was translated (1920s, if I’m not mistaken), the nature of the poetry, or some combination of both. At any rate, reading a prose version familiarizes the experience somehow. It’s like a novel version of Odysseus’ long, winding journey, his son Telemachus’ comparatively shorter one, and the dark events that unfold when Odysseus returns to Ithaca.
A few random thoughts that struck me reading this translation:
The frequent use of foreshadowing. Narratively, it builds suspense and a sense of unease, the latter because so much of the foreshadowing is of tragic events to come. Besides the plot impact, it’s a bit existentially unsettling, as if the story’s foreshadowing speaks to our inevitable and common fate as well. There’s a moment when a group of sailors, all of whom will eventually die, are enjoying an evening of food and revelry, unaware of what awaits them. It felt like life, really. In a weird way, it made me think about how important it is to find moments of joy, no matter what comes next.
Those meddlesome gods. They treat humans as if they’re the cast of a soap opera written and directed by Zeus and company. I want to think more about the impact of living this way, believing humans have so little agency, so little ability to direct the course of their lives.
Empathy for all. Early in his travels, Odysseus and his crew get trapped in the cyclops Polyphemus’ cave. Polyphemus is ogreish. I mean, he makes meals of six of Odysseys’ men. Yet in (the translation of) the poet’s description, Polyphemus is rendered as a dude doing what he does. He’s going about his tasks, tending to his sheep and his cheese. My heart contracted a little bit reading it. I feel a twinge of sadness for him. These kind of moments, where we glimpse characters upside down, so to speak, happens repeatedly in the story. I love how they make me feel not only for the “heroes” but also for their victims. And speaking of heroes…
Tragic folly. Odysseus makes some dumb choices, and so do his men. All have their tragic flaws—vanity and jealousy being major ones. All pay for those choices and flaws, some more than others. As heroes go, Odysseus is quite majestic. But he’s not perfect. I like that.
Pathos. Odysseus’ journey includes a visit to Tartarus, where he consults with the blind seer Tiresias and has a chat with Agamemnon, among many others. I felt for Agamemnon this read. His and Odysseus’ homecomings are opposite. Agamemnon returns home to a wife who has betrayed him and is plotting against him. Meantime, Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is endlessly loyal. And yet, both their homecomings end with a major bloodbath. I hadn’t thought of that similarity in my previous read.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
I bought this a while back when it was on sale in the Nook bookstore, and I was at the height of my impulse-buying phrase. I’ve written before about being a terrible reader of self-help books. Luckily, it was referenced in the Gilmore Girls revival. Otherwise, I might not have gotten to it.
Overall, I found it an endearing read. For some reason, I just wanted to give Marie Kondo a hug when the book was over. The gist of her tidying method is to put everything you own (in stages and by category) on the floor. Pick each item up and hold it. If it “sparks joy,” you may keep it. If it does not, you must throw it away.
To be honest, I don’t see myself doing her method for every item in my house. I probably will for clothes, shoes, and books since I’ve known for a long time that I want to reduce those. But I love artifacts. I love history and museums that show us objects from the past. So I’m a bit horrified at the thought of people trashing everything. That applies to me personally as well. I’m not a minimalist by nature. I love having around me objects that belonged to my parents and grandparents and things collected from my travels. Though I do want to have less crap and more meaningful objects. Ones that tell a story about the life I want to live and the person I want to be.
The greatest value, for me, of reading her book was having a chance to think about what I value, how I want to live, and why I want to live that way.
The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan
I read the first chapter and was so awed by how well-written and thought-provoking it was that I’m almost scared to keep going. Oh, but I will. I’m reading this for the Gilmore Girls challenge.
Jason and the Argonauts by Apollodorus of Rhodes, translated by Aaron Poochigian
I finished this last night and will have more to say about it in my June wrap-up. For now, let me just say I *might* like this even better than The Odyssey. It’s at times profoundly moving, desperately sad, and extremely funny.
Because May is my birthday month, I thought this list was going to be much more out of hand than it has turned out to be. It seems I’ve become skilled at avoiding impulse buys and downloading samples to test instead of rushing to purchase. I must admit, though, I may have downloaded a metric ton of samples.
As for this month’s six purchases, four were for the Gilmore Girls challenge and were read upon purchase. Didion’s book is one of my all-time favorite essay collections, AND I’ll be rereading it for the Gilmore Girls challenge. Even Colgan’s book was on my existing TBR. All this represents tremendous progress … for me, anyway.
Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Didion’s 1968 essay collection is possibly my favorite essay collection ever. I have a paperback copy that I watch over like a mommy bird does her little hatchlings. I’ve been wishing and hoping it would be released as a Nook book, and this month, I hit the jackpot: Not only did I find a Nook book. It was only $1.99.
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
I’m not really reading contemporary at the moment, but it’s hard for me to resist novels about bookstores. Especially when they’re Nook books for $1.99. Anyone read it?
The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan
I love Riordan’s books (see last month’s wrap-up), and I read this as soon as it appeared in my Nook on May 2 (I pre-ordered it the day before its release).
Just as Long as We’re Together and Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume
I bought these for the Gilmore Girls challenge and have read them both.
The Witch Tree Symbol (Nancy Drew #33) by Carolyn Keene
Another Gilmore Girls purchase that I’ve read.
So there are my May reads and purchases summarized. How was your reading month? Any standouts?