The Dead Feeling of Winter

I’ve always believed I was meant to hibernate, what with my ample reserves of stored body fat, ability to recycle my urine and the overwhelming urge to sleep under a pile of dead leaves. But after a rather awkward conversation with HR during which I determined my company does not do ‘hibernation pay,’ I have temporarily put this impulse to one side.

Winter makes me all sleepy and blah and the energy I would usually put towards reading instead goes towards just keeping warm. Plus, I’ve gone back to school part time and most of my reading is definitely not for pleasure.  So there’s been a lull. And I failed my Goodreads 2014 challenge. The shame.

Here’s what I’ve managed to put away the last couple of months:

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters.  Oh book, I still don’t know how to feel about you. Shortly into this, I found myself thinking, “I bet I know what happens.” Then it happened. By that time, I was about halfway through and figured I might as well finish it, even though it was a dreary slog without one likeable character. Then it got good – real good.  Waters is a great writer of suspense and that’s what saved this book in the end. If I could somehow meld together the outstanding first half of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch with the second half of this book, it’d be amazing. Anyway, I know Waters landed on many 2014 Best Of lists, but not mine.

The Paying Guests didn’t help my reading rut and it took The Murder of the Century: The Guilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars to dig me out. Paul Collins writes a tight, fast-paced account of body parts scattered around late 19th century New York City and the race to find out who they belong to and who did the scattering.

The story of the murder is interesting enough, but the real draw is the race between the police and the New York tabloids (led by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst) to get to the truth (or whatever sells, in the case of the papers). The lengths the tabloids went to (and the depths to which they stooped) to stay one step ahead of the police for exclusive scoops were both appalling and ballsy. And never dull.

In between moping around and counting the days until spring, I did a little digging up of ancestral bones (metaphorically speaking) to find that I am descended from Mayflower passenger William Brewster. I spent many subsequent days loudly proclaiming myself to be American Royalty until I realized that a) no one was going to bow to me and b) so were around 30 million other people.  Nonetheless, it kindled an interest in the people who so bravely conquered the new world and subsequently did horrible, horrible things to Native Americans.

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrook is where I turned to find out more about Brewster and his fellow Pilgrims. As I read, I tried to find some similarities between me and my 12th great-grandfather. But alas, there seems to be little that’s been passed down from the spiritual leader of a group of colony-founding pioneers to me, an atheist afraid to go camping. But the book was great – clear, concise and never dull, it takes the readers from the early days of the Pilgrims, before they set off to Europe, right through the end of King Phillip’s War. And Philbrook never makes excuses for the treatment of the Native Americans by the Pilgrims’ descendants.

This coming year looks to be a great one for readers and I’m particularly looking forward to Erik Larson’s new release Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, which is out in March; Jon Ronson’s newest, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, also out in March; and Matthew Pearl’s, The Last Bookaneer, released in April.

If you’re a classic movie fan, 2015 will see the release of new books about Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and the general decadence and debauchery of that Hollywood age.  More info on those can be found here at our sister site.

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