Saturday, January 09, 2021

Reading in 2020: Favorite Fiction

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I wrote about Little Women shortly after I read it, so I'll just quote a bit of what I said before:
These are people who are by no means perfect, but are completely dedicated to loving and being kind to each other. They sometimes fail, but their response to that failure is always helpful. That applies to how they respond to their own failings as well as how they confront and ultimately forgive the failings of others.

It's deeply profound and inspirational. [...] There's parenting advice and marriage advice and simple getting-along-with-your-friends advice. But all of it is offered with humility and awareness that the advisor is just as flawed as the advisee. There's not a whiff of self-righteousness in the whole book. [...] And what's also amazing is that every bit of this is as applicable today as it was 150 years ago. Being kind and doing good are timeless exercises and Little Women is here to encourage us.
Halloween and Christmas distracted me from watching all the Little Women adaptations, but I've picked that up again in the new year and will be back to writing about them soon.

The Boatman's Daughter by Andy Davidson
Everything I hoped for: a decaying swamp community run by evil men, a courageous young woman who reaches the limits of her tolerance, an old witch with dark powers and darker secrets, and an honorable, pot-growing dwarf with a family to protect.

Davidson's prose is perfect for his story. He brings the setting to life, creates a ton of sultry atmosphere, and bounces easily between characters to build empathy for the heroes, contempt for the villains, and tension between the two. I just loved it.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne
As lovely as I remembered from childhood. No one writes like Milne and his peaceful, low-stakes Hundred Acre Wood is probably my favorite fantasy world to spend time in.

Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
An amazing, engrossing, fast-paced thriller about a teenager in 1970s Baja California who's hired as an assistant for a writer, but gets pulled into something dangerous. The suspense aspects are great, but even more than that I just enjoyed spending time with the misfit, film-loving heroine and the oppressively sleepy town where she lives.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
My fifth grade teacher read this to us back in the day - a chapter or two at a time - and it's stuck with me ever since. I've always wanted to go back and revisit it on my own to see if it's as compelling and magical as I remembered. It is.

It's a survival story, but it's also a story about isolation and culture and animals and people and hope and it's just a beautiful, beautiful thing. Someone reminded me that O'Dell actually wrote a sequel, so that's gone on my reading list, too.

Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Crossley-Holland takes traditional folktales and retells them in a modern voice. Sometimes that means updating dialects to something more readable, but sometimes it means tweaking plots or even picking a different point of view to tell the story from. Regardless of how much he adjusts, the end results are always brisk, exciting, and immersive. And I love how he divides the collection into sections, so the faerie stories are together, as are the romances, the trickster tales, and the ghosts. Super impressive.

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
A beautiful book. Not just an adventure about a girl in training under Baba Yaga, but a lovely story about growing up. It's heartbreaking at times; it's also profoundly gentle and encouraging. Marinka fights against expectations that she never signed up for, but the novel refuses to portray the struggle in terms of one right answer and one wrong answer. Instead, it has the grace to allow Marinka to figure out her place and her purpose while also considering the needs of others.

Leave It to Psmith by PG Wodehouse
I've never read another of Wodehouse's Psmith books, so it's unusual that I'd let myself start with the fourth book in that series. But this is also a sequel to Something Fresh, which I loved. Something Fresh introduces the inhabitants and shenanigans of Blandings Castle and had a bunch of people competing to obtain a valuable object, while also featuring a lovely romance. Leave It to Psmith repeats the formula with enough difference to keep it from feeling repetitive. And of course the real draw is Wodehouse's prose itself, which is light and hilarious.

My problem now is deciding whether to read the next Blandings book (a collection of short stories called Blandings Castle) or go back and start the beginning of Psmith's adventures with Mike and Psmith.

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