2006: Books 130 - 138

130. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins

I think I read this book a long time ago – I’m not exactly sure, because I was able to predict the plot pretty well, but this is the first famous suspense novel, so that might have been due to the fact that I have read other books like this (and that because to a modern reader the plot points were pretty well telegraphed – I mean, what else are you going to do with identical strangers* but switch them out at some point??). Furthermore, some aspects of the story were pretty hard to swallow from a modern perspective. For example, if the heroine, Laura, is 1) in love with someone else and 2) her betrothed is wicked, wicked creepy why would she still marry him? I get the whole honor thing and “its what her dead father wanted” but it is really, really alien to me. Secondly, Laura is a drip. Her sister Marion is awesome though, unfortunately, because she is not pretty, and is “smart like a man”, such that she is doomed to spinsterhood. Seriously, forget stupid Laura and marry Marion, gentlemen!! Grrr.

Yet, despite the anachronisms and the slightly hackneyed plot devices this is a pretty great read. It is a page turner, pure and simple – I couldn’t put it down. And while the main villain, Laura’s husband, is sort of lame, his accomplice, Count Fosco is fabulous. He is a good, old fashioned EVIL villain. He would not be out of place in a James Bond movie. LOVED him.

*Speaking of which, my husband and I have recently come up with some secret code questions for when we are mistaken for our evil doppelgangers someday. Better safe than sorry, is all I am saying.

Date/Place Completed: 12/14/06, Washington, D.C.

131. Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis


Babbitt is a satire of 1920’s middle America, and as a satire, its pretty heavy handed. It seems like one of those books that the intellectuals of the time would love for its biting jabs at the way of life, but that now seems pretty obvious. It’s hard to know if that is because the book was a classic that changed writing (like The Woman in White ), or whether it’s just not that well written. I sort of think the latter. I enjoyed parts of of Babbitt and found some parts to be surprising (I didn’t expect the shooting, for example) but mostly I saw where it was going. The thing that redeemed it for me was the fact that the ending was sort of hopeful – I thought we’d be left with Babbitt’s life of conformity and end with the hopelessness of his existence, but Lewis manages to inject some hope, while still being true to the smallness of Babbitt’s existence, which was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn’t recommend this book, per se, but I’m not sorry that a read it, in a “its good to read the classics sort of way.”

Date/Place Completed: 12/16/06, Washington, D.C.

132. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719 and is sometimes regarded as the first novel in English, and in that context it is a pretty good read. Plus, it is the story of a man who not only survived being shipwrecked on a deserted island but also was a slave to a Moorish tyrant, beat down cannibal savages, and ended up rich and happy, all without going insane (which I think is probably just about impossible – imagine being alone for twenty-eight years), so that is pretty awesome, even if it requires a willing suspension of disbelief. I read this book solely because it was my new commuting book, but I enjoyed it a lot more that I thought I would, particularly the parts where we learn how Crusoe is able to survive in this new place, learning how to make pottery, baskets, breed goats, grow grain, etc. Not the greatest book I read this year, but definitely a pleasant surprise.

Date/Place Completed: 12/18/06, Washington, D.C.

133. Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett

This is the newest Tiffany Aching book, and in this book Tiffany must deal with the scariest thing she’s faced yet – boys. Ok, its in the form of the human personification of Winter, but the problems she faces are the same that girls the world over do as they grow up – how to deal with growing up and the opposite sex. Oh, and in her case, the possibility of eternal winter (you know, as you do). And, the book is just filled with Nac Mac Feegles fighting and being brutish and protecting Tiffany as best they can. How can you not love little stupid blue men with Scottish accents and a penchant for hooch?? I enjoy these books so much that they make me want to have kids to read it out loud to! Might have to force them on my husband in the interim, or on you all. Read The Wee Free Men and the rest of Tiffany’s adventures – you won’t be sorry!

Date/Place Completed: 12/20/06, Washington, D.C.

134. Dr. No, Ian Fleming

I had never read a James Bond book before. Turns out that they (at least Dr. No) are super awesome. Oh, they are clichéd and sexist and goofy, but they are awesome. If the movies were as tough and awesome as the book, I would go see the movies.* This is a book about a tough guy who defeats a meglomaniac, punches out a squid and beds a beautiful childlike blond. In James Bond land, men are men, evil is evil and women are goddesses. What more could you want??

*Actually I guess the new Casino Royale is supposed to be like that, so count me in.

Date/Place Completed: 12/23/06, Washington, D.C.

135. The Wouldbegoods, E. Nesbit

I know I am so, so late with getting these done and so far behind! I am going to be brief on the next few so that I can catch up, do my year in review and move on to 2007!

The Wouldbegoods is another charming novel by E. Nesbit, this one the sequel to The Story of the Treasure Seekers . It continues the story of the Bastable children, but instead of seeking for treasure to bring their family out of (relative) poverty, they are trying to become better people, after a disastrous prank gets them banished to Alfred’s Uncle’s for the remainder of vacation. Even though the banishment isn’t that bad (Alfred’s Uncle is a brick, through and through) they feel that the owe their father more. Luckily for the reader , they are as trouble prone as ever, and despite their best efforts they can’t help but get into trouble no matter what they do. Charming, funny, and definitely poking fun at preachy children’s books. Loved it.

Date/Place Completed: 12/24/06, Washington, D.C.

136. Spook, Mary Roach

This is by the author of Stiff, the story of the amazing things that happen to human bodies after we die*. Even though that book made me feel ill – much too much information for delicate me – I decided to read this book, because it deals with her examination of scientific (or really quasi-scientific) research into the paranormal. How fascinating to learn about people who actually claim to be studying reincarnation, ESP and ghosts! Spook, however, was a disappointment. Roach’s prose was so discursive and self-indulgent (paragraphs and paragraphs about whether she believes in the paranormal) that she missed the opportunity tell the really interesting story of people who believe in the paranormal, and what work they did and what work is done today, and what has been debunked and what hasn’t. The book was too lightweight – it left me wanting to read a serious treatment of this subject matter.

*Made famous on Six Feet Under as the book Nate's creepy niece was reading.

Date/Place Completed: 12/26/06, Flying from Boston to Atlanta

137. The Archivist, Martha Cooley

The Archivist tells the story of Matthais, an archivist at a University library who is responsible for guarding a set of T.S. Eliot papers until they are to be opened to the public. Roberta is a young poet who is determined to get access to the papers before that date. She worms her way into Matthias’ life, which has been basically empty since suicide of his poet wife, Judith years before. As the two become friends they each learn from each other and learn (or relearn) how art can save.

I enjoyed The Archivist because its characters are in love with words and books and poetry, and because literature and poems actually make a difference in their lives. Cooley’s characters care about Eliot and the Beat poets as if they were people they knew, and it makes you (at least temporarily) care about them in the same way. This aspect of the characters is so appealing to a bookworm that it justifies some of the books other flaws – like an ending that is both appalling to anyone who has ever been a scholar of any sort, and also unearned by the character that carries it out. The pieces are almost there – I could believe that Roberta touched Matthias as no one else had since his wife’s suicide – and I could even believe that he would have given her access to the Eliot papers – but what he actually does is so antithetical to his character that it’s hard to believe. Especially because it seemed like he got some answers from Judith’s papers, even if he didn’t like what he learned. Maybe I’m just too cynical and dry myself to believe in such an act.

Date/Place Completed: 12/26/06, Flying from Atlanta to St. Thomas

138. Ursula, Under - Ingrid Hill

Blog? What blog?? The combination of being without internet and being busy has been almost fatal to my poor little blog. Its almost February, and I still haven’t finished my 2006 blogging, my best and worst of ’06 list, let alone the 10-15 books I’ve read in 2007. Yikes! I’ll keep this brief so that I can get caught up!!

So this is it, Ursula, Under, the last book I read in 2006. Number 138. A pitiful total compared to 2005, but I’ve already addressed the Shroedinger’s cat aspect of blogging and book-reading, so I don’t feel too bad about it. This was a lovely book, but I read it so long ago that some of the details have started to blur…

This tells the story of Ursula Wong, a two year old girl who falls down an unmarked mineshaft. As the rescue effort gets going the book diverges into the history of all the people who had to exist in time to lead to this marvelous little girl – her ancestors ranging back to ancient China and pre-historic Finland to her parents, Annie and Justin, only a few years before. The stories are absolutely fascinating, as Hill is able to make the people seem real while still seeming authentic to their time periods. Woven through the novel is the story of Jinx Muehlenberg who has cast a malevolent glow over Ursula’s life, even though no one in Ursula’s family knows that Jinx exists. It’s a story of how people influence each other, and how many things had to happen both good and bad for every single one of us to exist – how marvelous and mystical and complicated every human life is. A charming story and a nice way to end the year.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017