February 2021 in Books

February has been a fabulous month in terms of reading. The books below are listed in the order I read them: two non-fiction, two fiction, one Shakespeare, one poetry and one Christian book. It looks like a healthy diet, doesn’t it? Mostly they were delicious, but you’ll see very soon that a couple of them didn’t go down well at all…

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg**** (Kindle)

Non fiction. ‘Habit’, ‘productivity’ and suchlike have been some of the buzzwords in my online community (by which I mean the social media accounts and YouTube channels I follow and watch regularly). The most prominent one is called Atomic Habit, which I was quite set to read. One day it appeared as a Kindle Daily Deal and I was thrilled and decided to sample it before pressing the ‘buy’ button. It was absorbing enough that 15 minutes passed without me realising. Unfortunately that crucial 15 minutes took me ruthlessly past midnight to a brand new day and naturally, the ‘daily’ deal expired and the book went back to its whopping £6.99. The regret was sharp (but not sharp enough to make me spend nearly seven pounds) but I promised myself never to miss another book this way again!

All of that has next to nothing to do with the book in the title, apart from the fact that The Power of Habit was another Kindle Daily Deal purchase and it was also about habit. I never heard about it but I trusted over 13,000 four-and-a-half-star reviews. Now I can report I also gave it four stars and as a non-fiction mainly about neuroscience studies, organisational cultures and social movements, the writing is exceptional, the stories are fascinating, and the amount of research that gone into it is staggering – the last 30% of the book are endnotes. I can testify to how brilliant it is: some books are for a good night sleep, but I picked this one up every time when I was in the risk of dozing off on a dark winter afternoon and it never failed to wake me up.

I especially enjoyed reading the cases of the man who had lost his memory yet could find his home, the toothpaste that made American people clean their teeth, the London underground fire disaster and the role Rosa Parks played to spark off the civil rights movement.

Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler**

Non fiction. My journey with this book took four months: I started, got confused, fell asleep, put it down, intimidated, procrastinated, exasperated, defeated, finally, finished it. It’s a pocket size with only 165 pages. That was when I was really glad I’m not doing an English degree for real.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro***

Fiction. I heard of this one from a BookTuber and thought it would fit the bill perfectly for a friend’s birthday present. As usual, I don’t like giving people books that I haven’t read lest they turn out rubbish or inappropriate so I got a copy for myself first.

The book title is genius. In music category, ‘nocturne’ means a short composition of a romantic nature. In art, it means a picture of a night scene. I wonder if Ishiguro one day came across the word and had a lightbulb moment: this could be a challenge! Setting limitations with keywords of ‘short story’, ‘music’ and ‘night scene’, let’s see how many fitting stories we can come up with. The result is an interesting collection.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare**

I proudly present my second Shakespeare. The book itself comes with a story. It’s one of the books I bought from World of Books, which is an online secondhand book seller. When I first opened it, I screwed my nose up and was very annoyed at a ‘like new’ book having lots of scribbles on the first page. Then I found a piece of paper folded twice between two pages which turned out to be a letter. It reads: June 2005. Thank you for completing a survey during The Two Gentlemen of Verona on Tour Audience Research Project. I’m delighted to let you know your survey was selected from the prize draw and you have won one of 25 editions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Arden Shakespeare signed by members of the RSC Company…

Oh well.

There are many intriguing details in the footnotes. For example, it seems that ‘thee’ is more formal than ‘you’ at that time, and “Valentine is travelling from Verona to Milan by ship, as Proteus will in 2.2; Verona and Milan are both, however, inland. Shakespearean geography is often inaccurate”, and ‘The Tower of London kept and bred lions’. I could go on. One scene in this play is also the first instance in Shakespeare’s plays of a female character putting on the costume of a man. But the actor for the female character is a boy in the first place. I can’t quite wrap my head around how would the audience have taken it at the time. The amount of puns is jaw-dropping.

The storyline is a bit over-dramatic to read to be honest. One thing stands out above all: the readiness of Valentine’s forgiveness to Proteus is surprising but admirable, but the same readiness of Valentine’s offering his lady to the betraying Proteus who nearly raped her, was shocking.

(Does the person on the book cover remind you of Paddington Bear?)

Collected Poems 1909-1962 by T. S. Eliot

Poetry. I don’t even have stars for this one. Honestly, I can only say I dragged my eyes over most of them and gave up in the middle of Four Quartet. Sorry.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro**** (Kindle)

Fiction. A classic published in 1989, if ever a book published only thirty years ago can be called a classic. In 1956, the main character, an English butler takes a week-long road trip to visit a former colleague, and reminisces about events at Darlington Hall in the 1920s and 1930s. It gave me a very similar feeling to Never Let Me Go by the same author: there was a long and lone car journey to remember and reflect on the ordinary events from years past but only now to realise their significance, it was too late, it was hopeless. There’s also the common theme of what is the essence to be human.

None Like Him by Jen Wilkin***

Christian non-fiction. The Bible speaks about the many aspects of God’s character. In In His Image, Jen Wilkin writes about ten characteristics we humans are designed to build and strive for as we’re created in God’s image. Things like being: holy, loving, good, just, merciful, gracious, faithful, patient, truthful and wise. In None Like Him, the author focuses on another set of ten of God’s unique characteristics, but which human beings wrongly try all they can to imitate and so ‘be like God’.

Very glad to see the days getting longer and the air getting warmer. Marching on!

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