Bad Blogger! Bad, Bad Blogger!

Sorry I’ve not been around to give you the dish on what I’m reading.  This may be because what I’m actually finishing is kind of meh.   Also I think this is the Readathon and I’m missing it because of Distractions.  I wanted to join the 1938 Club and so started Nausea, but didn’t get far.  I started Night and Day for Woolfalong, but keep reading other things instead.  I think these are all my sins to date.

Anyhoo, I’ll do what lots of bloggers do to catch up: mini-reviews.


Back when we were reading Hamilton, I picked up from a book exchange Burning Down George Orwell’s House by Andrew Ervin.  I read it a few pages at a time while waiting for other things, so maybe not the fairest reading.  On the other hand, it never really kept me reading.  I was ungripped.  It’s the story of a not-as-young-as-he-used-to-be man who gets fed up with his job in advertising, his marriage ends and he decides to fly to the ends of the earth when he learns the house Orwell wrote 1984 is for rent.  This is true – it exists, it’s extremely isolated on a barely populated Scottish isle, and you could rent it yourself.  I trust the people are nicer than they are in the book.  The hostility Ray encounters is one of the less believable aspects of the book along with the werewolf, his ability to survive that hostility and the tremendous amount of scotch he pours down his throat.  It’s supposed to be darkly comic, but I guess it’s not really my sense of humor.  Still, a great title.


I love this cover even though you can hardly tell what it is.   And I enjoyed this book although the plot got a bit convoluted and the chapters on coding a bit much.   The second book with Harriet Vane — two years have passed and she still hasn’t learned what a great guy Wimsey is.  She starts to catch on though as she discovers the body of a professional dance partner from a seaside hotel on a rock while hiking.   She’s a bit cold-blooded about the publicity, I think, but Wimsey joins her and they investigate together by day and dance by night.  The plot comes to involve wealthy widows, gentlemen farmers, cryptography, and Russian nobility, as I said, a bit too complicated, but still, a very good book.  Probably my favorite Sayers so far.


Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia of the Florentine Carabinieri is the detective listed on the cover and this is the first of the mysteries supposedly starring him, but he’s in bed with the flu most of the time.  It’s Christmas time in Florence and an Englishman has been shot.  Carabiniere Bacci decides not to wake the Marshal, but investigate for himself.  He is subsequently joined by two men from Scotland Yard and the Marshal’s boss.  She uses titles instead of last names so in some conversations I found it hard to know who was speaking.  This is not a great mystery.   It’s closer to a shaggy dog story.  The characters are pretty good, but the plot…   after much investigation by Bacci and the Yard, the Marshal recovers and ends the mystery in an abrupt finale that is basically uninteresting.   It was her first, so maybe they get better.   Just not sure if I want to try.

So, there you have most of it.   Hopefully I won’t wait another month (or longer) to post again.   For those who are readathoning – have fun!   Hopefully I’ll join back in in October!


Adam and Eve and Pinch Me

Ruth Rendell’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me – title comes from an annoying children’s joke – is not a mystery.  I realized this when we finally got to the crime about 166 pages in and followed the murderer the whole way.  I did hold a little corner of hope that there’d be some sort of twist at the end, but that was not to be.  The book follows OCD Minty, idiot Zillah and Fiona and her neighbors and their relationships particularly with a guy named Jerry or Jeff or Jock who’s a good-looking, good-for-nothing who uses his looks to live off women.  If I sound a bit surly it’s because I feel somehow betrayed by the book — which doesn’t make much sense, I’ll admit.  It all seems somewhat contrived.  As though Rendell wanted to write a book to demonstrate that people aren’t always responsible for their actions so she invented this character Minty who grows more peculiar throughout the book.   But don’t we already know of people who’ve had psychotic breakdowns and aren’t responsible for their actions?   This might have been ground-breaking a hundred years before it was written, but now it just seems both contrived and elementary.  There are a number of coincidences as well which stretch credulity too far.   It feels like there aren’t more than a dozen people living in London.


Somewhat to my surprise I learn there are three different books with this title.  It doesn’t seem that good a title to me.  Reading other blogs and reviews, everyone else seems to like it a lot.  “Characters that will capture your heart.”   Um, some of the side characters are likable – Minty’s neighbors and Fiona’s neighbors are both nice couples.  But the main characters?   Zillah, who enters an arranged marriage with her childhood friend who’s a conservative politician trying to stay in the closet, seems to have no idea what a conservative is, what politics are, or what tabloids are.   She seems to like her children no more than Jims, who is a shallow jerk who barely speaks to his new fake family.   Fiona who doesn’t really have a character except a certain tendency toward charity.   Jerry/Jock/Jeff is clearly getting by on his looks because his main characteristics are telling annoying jokes and eating mints.   I also found the timeline hard to follow and it seemed like Fiona’s supposedly hugely overweight neighbor lost it all in a month.  Rendell can write and I found myself drawn back to the book until I finished it, so clearly there’s something in it, but there’s also, for me, disappointment.   Like opening Al Capone’s vault  — all anticipation, no payoff.



Woolfalong Pt. 1 – To the Lighthouse

#Woolfalong is a year-long project hosted by Heavenali to explore works by and about Virginia Woolf.   I’ve long had an interest in her, but have not done much about this interest since college.    I had started To the Lighthouse once before, but started over for this, but it was slow going and for that I’m blaming Alexander Hamilton.   I couldn’t really read the Hamilton bio and To the Lighthouse at the same time, so Woolf went by the wayside for a bit.   Then when the Chernow was done, I focused on Woolf, but it was still slow going because this is a dense book.   It all takes place in two days with a separation of about 10 years illustrated by a passage of the decaying of the house.   It is a vacation place of the Ramsay family and the first half of the book draws a picture of the Ramsays – apparently a picture based pretty heavily on Woolf’s own family.   This one day doesn’t seem particularly significant in any way.   The father is shown as being rather insensitive and boorish as he tells his son they won’t be able to go to the lighthouse the following day.   The mother tries to comfort the son by reading to him and doing cutouts.   It is mostly from her point of view, though it switches and we learn, over and over again that Mrs. Ramsay is beautiful and has a strong effect on other people.   Presumably because of this beauty.   I don’t know.   It’s mentioned a lot.   The day is so thoroughly drawn and yet, I’m not sure what is meant by any of it.

Warning!  Spoiler!   Okay, not really as there’s no plot, hard to spoil anything.  More three panel book reviews if you click the image.   But there are spoilers there, so go cautiously.


Ten years later – another day at the same house – the children have grown and they are actually going to the lighthouse now.   The two youngest kids and their father whom they yearn to rebel against.   Point of view is now mostly Lily the artist, guest of the family, and Cam the youngest daughter as she rides in the boat.   I wish I had something to say about this.   I put off writing hoping something would occur to me.  The only thing I can think of was being glad I live in a time where girls are taught math rather than listening to other people talk about all kinds of things they have no knowledge of.   Mrs. Ramsay seems like a nice mother, the father seems astonishingly childish.   Especially if it’s a portrait of Woolf’s father.   He was a mountaineer.    One expects better behavior of a mountaineer than flinging his dishes out the window.   It is hard to tell if his philosophical work was good for the time, but not great, or if he’s like whatshisname in Middlemarch wasting all his time on a massive project that is no more important than making a giant ball of rubberbands.   

I’m sorry not to be more insightful.  I’m going to keep Woolfing along and maybe develop a bit more sensitivity or something.  Next up is Night and Day –  Woolf’s second novel and apparently based on her sister.  I believe I at least started this in college.  The beginning seems very familiar.


Strong Poison

So a few weeks ago, as a break from Hamilthon, I read Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong Poison.  This is the book which introduces Harriet Vane, a mystery writer, and Harriet’s in a tough spot.  Her ex-lover has died of arsenic poisoning and Harriet gave him coffee just before he got sick.  The dinner he ate earlier was shared with his cousin and he’s not known to have eaten or drunk anything else.  Harriet is unsympathetic to the jury for having lived in sin plus she’s known to have purchased arsenic (for a book, she claims.)  Enter Lord Peter, smitten, which makes things awkward, to save the day.  Fortunately, the jury is hung instead of Harriet, which gives him a short time to find the real killer.


Sadly, this is not my cover.  My cover is the lame Invisible Wimsey suit and monocle.

I definitely enjoyed this.  Sayers seems to be really hitting her stride.  I finished this in a couple days and went on to the next one which for me is Have His Carcase because I read Five Red Herrings a couple years ago for Bingo.  I have paused part way in Have His Carcase because I want to Woolfalong, though it is, for me, tough going.  I’m behind, but close to finishing To the Lighthouse about which more soon.

Hamalong VIII – The End

A day late isn’t bad, all things considered and by all things I mean 724 pages.  But it was great to have Alice leading and my fellow read-a-sloggers to share the joy and the pain with, and they were manifold.   The book is highly readable although occasionally repetitive and Chernow draws some conclusions not a few of us found dubious at best, he does write in such a manner that we could come to our own conclusions.  One of mine is, highly unoriginal, that Hamilton was an amazing man whose ideas on government were and are the continuing basis of this country and he should be a hell of a lot better known, left on the 10 dollar bill and more things should be named after him.   No question he had his flaws, but Jefferson who we seem to idolize had them and a good deal more    I hope after this I can recover some of the respect I used to feel for Jefferson.  I admire the effort Chernow made to paint a picture of Eliza Hamilton.   Not so easy considering she had 50 years to try to expunge herself through overzealous humility.   Eliza, how are people supposed to follow your good example if no one knows what it is?  Very glad to see it wasn’t all pain and suffering the rest of her long life.

This section, of course, has the duel.  We’ve known about the duel probably since our school years, and yet whatever we knew was mostly forgotten since school did a pretty poor job of explaining Hamilton’s importance in the founding of the government.  I was startled that this happened while Burr was vice-president!    He did this even after Hamilton had helped him out with money the previous fall!   The man was a waste of space.   Who wouldn’t have been better off without him in their lives?   I would enjoy his sense of humor if he’d had a scrap of decency, if he’d ever cared for anyone besides his daughter.   And if I didn’t know how he wrote to her about all his amours.   Creeeeeepy.

Thou hast shooted dead great Hamilton

I was glad he lived long enough to see his wife and family.  And I totally understand he could not have shirked that particular duel.   Burr would never have let him live it down, though Lord only knows what Burr thought he could get out of it.   Just another huge mistake in a long line of them.   You can’t keep turning on people and expect them to trust you later.  Of course Jefferson wasn’t going to keep you on after you almost stole the Presidency.  And no Federalist would have been on your side after shooting Hamilton.   In politics you have to pretend to be friends with people.   And unless you are amazingly popular, enough to start your own party, you have to leave at least one half of the population unoffended.

Okay, he had some bad ideas along the way, but it seems like we have him to thank in large part for the different branches of government checking and balancing each other and that is huge.   For a country to go from nothing to excellent credit in what?  10-15 years?   Amazing.  And being an abolitionist — an actual, non-slave owning abolitionist at that time was pretty great, too.  He shouldn’t have spent so much on his house.   And if he couldn’t run away when he saw Maria Reynolds, he should at least for once in his life kept quiet.  But this is a man who should be admired and remembered as a great American, a great human being and thanks to Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda, he has a much better chance of that.  Thanks much to Alice for heading this readalong, who knows if I would have gotten around to this someday or not?    And my fellow readers for your entertaining and insightful posts which kept me reading along with  right behind you.

Hamalong VII

What is this?  Can it be??  A Hamalong post not only on the day it’s due, but in the morning!  Zowie!  I can hear you say.  Is this the end of the world?   Probably not.  But just in case, treat yourself to something nice today.

This section was shorter and sadder.  Hamilton has lost the respect of many, many people.  After his tell-all pamphlet about his affair, he writes a tell-all pamphlet about President Adams.   What he thought he’d accomplish, I’m not sure.  His former ratio of 90% good ideas now seems to be down to 10%.   He is still trying to manipulate elections, but with little effect.  He had fantasies of using the Army to conquer the rest of North America.  Still ahead of his time, he can’t convince anyone this is a good idea.  Adams refuses to promote him when Washington dies and also manages to make peace with France so the Army is disbanded.   Hamilton goes back to lawyering and builds his family a beautiful, but expensive house.



He gets into gardening, which seems like a good idea.  His son dies in a stupid duel, brought on by his behaving like a jackass, but the family is devastated.   Trying to find the quotes I highlighted, I find quotes I did not highlight.  This is extremely annoying.   There was a funny one about Hamilton being as unfit for gardening as Jefferson is for President.   And then there was one — soooo appropriate right now about how the Republicans said Adams shouldn’t appoint justices, but wait for them to be in office.   Adams said to hell with that and appointed away.  200+ years and nothing changes.

Oh, I think it was in this section Burr proves himself a horrible human being by starting a fake water company and supplying a bank.   He also delivered New York for the Republicans.   That was just politics, though his politics seem to be about nothing except getting himself elected.   He’s not intelligent enough to make friends with Jefferson, doesn’t even seem to try.   So the minute they’re elected Jefferson ignores him and all he’s got is a fancy title and zero friends on either side.

As I said, a depressing read.   Horrible to say that Hamilton is passed his useful life politically.   How such a brilliant beginning turns into this font of bad ideas is inexplicable and sad.  If only he’d learned at some point to sometimes listen to other people and that honor is all in how you behave and you can’t worry about what people think about you too much, because they’re going to think whatever they want whether it’s true or not.

Oh, and I’ll just add my favorite quote which I forgot from Ham VI during the brou-ha-ha about the Jay treaty and how horrible it and he were.

Written on a wall: “Damn John Jay.  Damn everyone that won’t damn John Jay.   Damn everyone that won’t put up lights in the windows and sit up all night damning John Jay.”





Hamalong VI

In an unbelievable, Hamiltonian-like feat of reading I got through the next section in a day  and am now only 2 days behind again!  Okay, not really, Hamilton would have finished this whole book weeks ago, but still, I’m very pleased and hoping not to lose momentum completely.

So what happens?   Hamilton is ‘retired’ from public life and lawyering like nobody’s business.   It’s all going quite well, he’s making money and has plenty of time to get into trouble.  He writes pamphlets by the score.   He harangues people on the street who throw rocks at him (and we think it’s bad how he actually died.  Think of the waste if they’d had better aim!)   It is apparently now when he writes his most unfortunate pamphlet How I Cheated on My Wife in Excruciating Detail.   The chronology is a bit confusing in this book — to me anyway.   I thought he’d already done that, but no, it’s now which is 1797.     He has meetings with the three men who interviewed him previously and made them state publicly how they believed him, except Monroe doesn’t want to cooperate so they almost have a duel.   Hamilton never learning that you can’t control what people believe.  If they don’t like you they’ll believe anything.   And no facts will convince them.  As everyone’s been saying on this readalong — it’s dismaying how little has changed.   Human nature doesn’t change.  Publishing then was a lot like the internet is now.   Don’t feed the trolls and don’t read the comments.  We also have people blaming immigrants for their problems, even apparently Hamilton.   Freedom of speech gets kicked to the curb and the President can kick out any immigrants he doesn’t like (although he didn’t.)

Described as handsome, though not by me, fifth president James Monroe, another Hamilton hater.

So, France starts acting like a jerk, capturing our ships and saying our mother was a hamster and our father smelt of elderberries!   Then Talleyrand wouldn’t talk to us unless we forked over a pile of money and this means war!   Quasi-war!  Hamilton suits up after some back and forth (Adams hated him, too, though with reason.  The Ham kept trying to manipulate the elections to make Adams less successful.  Bad Ham!  The whole electoral system was a bad idea from the get go, I learn.   I’ve never liked it, but in the beginning people like AH could encourage everyone in the North to vote for both Adams and Pinckney knowing few people in the South would vote for Adams, thus while pretending to campaign for Adams, he was really trying to get Pinckney, he very nearly got Jefferson.   See, Hamilton wasn’t the only one who could figure this out, so some Northerners didn’t vote for Pinckney, which seems to me, fairly predictable.  Hamilton was a genius many times, but not this time. I also tend to think that Hamilton and Adams were too much alike in certain ways to get along.   Though they both should have manned up and gotten over it, cuz they were on the same side, dammit.)   Poor Washington is dragged out of retirement like an old flag and pseudo-consulted about who should be his underlings and then ignored, or at least Adams attempted to ignore him.   I don’t know what Adams did during the Revolution — need to read more about him, too — but it wasn’t fighting and he seems oblivious to Hamilton’s wide range of experience in the field.  This is where we end this section.

I do find myself agreeing with the Jeffersonians against the Alien and Sedition Acts although I think they would probably have liked them fine if they’d been used against Federalists.   Maybe that’s unfair.   Maybe if the shoe were on the other foot they would still have objected.   Freedom of Speech is a tricky thing, and I do think people should not be allowed to libel or slander each other, but banning all criticism puts you pretty squarely in tyrant-land.

Also, how is it not treason for Jefferson to be secretly talking to the French against the President and telling them it’s okay to put America off etc.   He did not have Adams okay on this.   He was acting off his own bat and to the detriment of the country.   I think the French would have been just the same without that, but we don’t judge whether something is treasonous based on its success, do we?   Jefferson’s actions were highly questionable throughout this section and elsewhere.

I’ve often wondered what would things have been like if we’d just split in two from the get go.   Or instead of having a civil war, when the confederate states seceded we’d just said, Buh-bye!  Don’t let the door hit your ass…   We probably would’ve ended up fighting anyway, over land or escaped slaves or some damn thing.


Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.


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