As a break from the allotment posts (there might be another one of those tomorrow if the weather’s not too bad!) I realised I haven’t posted about what I’ve read since getting back from holiday (which was nearly 3 months ago, how on earth did that happen?!). At the start of January I decided to treat myself to an eReader, I decided in the end on a Sony Reader (I didn’t want a kindle as amazon don’t pay their tax, and also I don’t like that you can only buy kindle books on amazon). I’ve still got plenty of paper books to read, and also the local library, so I won’t be abandoning ‘proper’ books any time soon, but I must admit that the Reader is really handy for the train and I probably have read quite a bit more than I would have done otherwise. I’m also putting pdf journal articles on it so if I’m in a work-related reading mood there’s things there I can read. Anyway – stuff what I’ve read (all of these are free ebooks – from either Feedreads or Project Gutenberg, or from the University of Chicago Press, as I am on their mailing list and they provide a free ebook each month. Usually I don’t bother but have got a few really good ones that way):
“The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government” by David K. Johnson is one of the free ebooks I got from the UoC Press. It details US Government paranoia and the systemic and systematic persecution and rooting out of gays and lesbians from government jobs from the 1940s onwards, and the links to the much better known McCarthy-led persecution of alleged Communists (although arguably the ‘Lavender Scare’ was much more pervasive and had a much more devastating effect) starting with the State Department but moving on to every other department also. It features both government sources, media reports and also accounts from many people who lost their jobs but also those who then mobilised to lobby for change and for their rights. It was a great read, although very depressing – I’d highly recommend it.
The next UoC Press free ebook I read was “Pilgrimage to the End of the World: the Road to Santiago de Compostela” by Conrad Rudolph. This was a strange book – part travelogue, part history, part “what to take if you do the pilgrimage”, part “these are the deep thoughts I had while I did the pilgrimage”, I think I found myself wishing it was one or the other but not all. It was interesting, and not a bad read, but there are better books on the pilgrimage. Mind you, it was a million times better than Paolo Coelho’s book on the pilgrimage, which is just awful! If you have to only choose between those two, definitely get Rudolph’s!
When I got the eReader I thought that I would download lots of free ‘classics’ – Project Gutenberg and Feedreads are both great sites for that, and I have several sitting waiting for me to read them. So far, apart from one Romanian book which I needed for some writing I’ve just done, and a book for bookgroup which was on offer for 20p in the Reader store, everything I’ve downloaded has been free, so that’s definitely a plus! I thought at my advanced age I really ought to try some Russian classics, as despite my fascination with and experience of that part of the world (well not Russia, but near enough) it was a bit embarrassing that I’ve not read any. So I’ve downloaded War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov and several others, but I’m finding it a bit daunting to start with them, so I’ve read a couple of short stories instead. First up was “Queen of Spades” by Pushkin, 20-something pages so it was ideal for a single train journey to work. It was OK, I suppose, but I didn’t like any of the characters so I can’t say I was particularly taken with it. After that I tried a slightly longer one (took a couple of journeys), “First Love” by Turgenev. Again, it was interesting but I didn’t like any of the characters. Do all Russian classics feature princesses, officers, countesses and assorted aristos down on their luck and looking for ways to enrich themselves at others’ expense? I can’t say they were the greatest introduction to Russian classic writing, but I will give some of the novels a go and see where I end up.
As a bit of light relief I read another short story, this time by Kurt Vonnegut, “2BR02B” (“to be or not to be”). I read “Cat’s Cradle” a year or so ago and really enjoyed it, which surprised me as near-future dystopian novels aren’t really my thing, but I just really liked his writing. This was more of the same really – a short story about a future in which population is controlled through when a child is born someone volunteering to die. So it wasn’t very cheerful, but I did enjoy it much more.
I must admit getting an eReader has helped me read much more than I otherwise would have. I won’t stop getting paper books, but it has been great and is such a nice way to chill out.