54. All’s Well That Ends Well, by William Shakespeare.
After reading Twelfth Night, I realized I have perhaps been giving the comedies short shrift, so I am revisiting them. All’s Well That Ends Well is not, to my mind, as charming, balanced, and rich as Twelfth Night, and [spoiler!] Helena’s determination to have and hold that schlumph of a man is puzzling. She’s charming, intelligent, loyal, and sweet-tempered; he is an ass. What a waste.
55. How To Keep Kosher, by Lisë Stern.
As the subtitle says, this is a comprehensive guide to kashering the home kitchen. Stern’s clear, step-by-step instructions make this potentially overwhelming task seem manageable. She does include surprisingly little discussion of kitniyot, which is a fascinating issue, and hotly contested.
For #56, I’m counting two as one, thinking that properly represents the proportion of each that made any damn sense to me. Faith and I agree: linguistics is hard.
56a. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, by George Lakoff.
I’ve been meaning to read this for years, enticed by its title, as who would not be? Despite the juicy title, this is one of the driest damn things I’ve ever read — and I’m an archaeology student, for cryin’ out loud. Lakoff (not unreasonably) expects the reader to have some very basic knowledge of both linguistics and cognitive science, and further expects his often quite abstract models and assertions to be transparent without the benefit of examples. Examples do bulk up a text, but often they are necessary. DO YOU HEAR ME, Lakoff?
56b. A Mouthful of Air: Language and Languages, Especially English, by Anthony Burgess.
This is both highly approachable and largely unreadable; Burgess fills the text with thrills, buzzes, and shudders. So contagious is his enthusiasm that the reader almost fails to notice how slippery and unsound his logic seems to be. Um, as far as I can tell. There are those better positioned to judge, of course.
57. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.
Gripping and lyrical, but its effect was evanescent. I spent a week fervently recommending this to family, then completely forgot its existence.
59. Tales of the Night, by Peter Høeg.
Feh, I give up.
60. Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene, by Niles Eldredge.
The entire work is based on a series of fallacies: that altruism presents a “Darwinian conundrum” (pg. 176), which Dawkins, Blaffer Hrdy, and others have repeatedly shown it does not; that an adaptive trait is an innately good or desirable trait; that evolutionarily devised impulses dictate (rather than influence) behavior. Sloppy thinking is infuriating, particularly from a scientist, and Eldredge compounds his sins by writing abominably.
61. Life Before Man, by Margaret Atwood.
A 1970s Margaret Atwood novel about open marriage? I deserve everything I got.
62. Women and Ghosts, by Alison Lurie.
Great fun to read; Lurie seems to have had great fun writing it as well.
63. Love and Friendship, by Alison Lurie.
This, on the other hand, not so much. Atwood’s and Lurie’s wry views of marriage and love only serve to remind me of Edith Wharton’s quiet genius. It might be time to revisit Middlemarch, as well.