Thought I Had Something to Blog About … Guess I Do!

I was excited when I heard about the Bowie Book Club — David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, started it on Twitter. The idea is to read some of the books Bowie loved. The first book selected is a 1985 postmodernist novel, Hawksmoor, by Peter Ackroyd. It’s out of print and not available as an ebook, but I requested my library system’s lone copy, and last week it arrived.

I tried, people; I really did. But I just can’t make myself read this novel. It’s a fascinating concept, per Wikipedia, “It tells the parallel stories of Nicholas Dyer, who builds seven churches in 18th-century London for which he needs human sacrifices, and Nicholas Hawksmoor, detective in the 1980s, who investigates murders committed in the same churches.” Dyer is written as working with Sir Christopher Wren, whose work I studied a bit in grad school, but apparently the historical character he is based on was Nicholas Hawksmoor, so I guess there’s some connection there. Which I would figure out if I could read the book. But every other chapter is written from Dyer’s point of view, in an early 18th-century style — you know, confusing spelling, random capitalization, long meandering sentences, indifferent punctuation. It’s hard to process, and it feels like work, especially since it’s rather small print. On paper. Which is not my preferred medium anymore. I have not been able to get into it at all, even once we switched to a third-person contemporary POV in the alternating chapters.

At first I felt some guilt over this. Have my reading muscles atrophied? Have I read so much genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, romance, mysteries, children’s literature) that I can’t read “hard” stuff anymore? I mean, this book won AWARDS. I am absolutely sure that this is an amazing book, and the “problem” is me. But I am not ashamed to admit that this book was not to my taste. I read for pleasure, and I’m not going to force myself to read anything that isn’t giving me pleasure. I’ve made that call about a number of books, mostly literary fiction, in the last year.

Instead, I thought, what other books might I read that are outside my usual comfort zone? What have I read and enjoyed recently that wasn’t genre fiction? (Not that I think there’s anything wrong with a reading diet of genre fiction, but I feel like stretching myself in a different direction will help take away the bad taste of this “failure.” Because it still feels like that, despite my determination not to let it.) The answer, I’ve decided, is nonfiction. I really enjoyed the book Hidden Figures, so much different from the film, which I still haven’t seen, but I know it’s fabulous. So I’m going to read some nonfiction, focusing on women because that’s what interests me.

I’m starting with A Life in Code: Pioneer Cryptanalyst Elizabeth Smith Friedman, by G. Stuart Smith. I also plan to read The Woman Who Smashed Codes, by James Fagone — it was NPR’s Book of the Year, and is also about Smith Friedman. The third book on my list is Code Girls: the Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy. (Yes, I trained as a historian, like my father before me, so reading nonfiction quickly turns into research.) Also on my radar is Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore; it came up while I was looking at the others, and it sounds fascinating.

Hopefully I will enjoy this little experiment, and maybe I’ll be more inclined to blog about it than I have been about my other reading lately. Not that I’ve been reading bad books — I have not, and I have tried to make recommendations on Twitter of the terrific books I have enjoyed, both new ones and re-reads. But that reading feels very personal, and I have not felt like analyzing it enough to write about it. These books may be different.

I welcome other suggestions for my list — what nonfiction about women do you recommend? And if anyone feels like joining in/reading along, that would be great!

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Evaine
    Jan 19, 2018 @ 10:26:25

    I had this book recommended to me by a couple of people. I’ve not read it yet, but it might interest you. It’s THE SPY WHO LOVED (The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville) by Clare Mulley. According to the blurb – “The Untold Story of Britain’s First Female Special Agent of World War II”.


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