Library Chicken Update: 4.25.18

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Pour out a glass of lemonade (you’ll see why in a minute) and pull up a chair for this weeks’ stories of scandalous forbidden love, Lovecraftian Old Ones, and SNOW MONSTERS...


Now that I’m teaching grammar in the homeschool-hybrid school I’ve been running through my list of “interesting grammar books to check out one day” (which, yes, is a list that I actually have) to see if there’s anything I would like to add to the curriculum. These two are definitely cuter and more entertaining than your run-of-the-mill grammar handbooks, but I wonder if the complexity and playfulness of the text and the examples would make them difficult to use with beginners in the classroom. I do think they’d be fun additions to any homeschool reference shelf.

(LC Score: +2)

Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter by Diana Souhami

Girl Who Reads Woolf (and Woolf-Adjacent Nonfiction): Okay, so Virginia Woolf had an affair (possibly platonic?) with Vita Sackville-West, who was famous for running away with an earlier lover, Violet Trefusis, who in turn was the daughter of King Edward VII’s mistress, Alice Keppel (though probably not the daughter of Edward himself). Are we all clear? The Vita-and-Violet narrative is a hugely dramatic tale, where the abandoned husbands end up jumping into a two-seater plane (in 1920!) to fly to France to retrieve their wives, and forever after, Vita and her husband (and all their relations and descendants) treated Violet like she was some kind of evil disease that Vita had temporarily caught and had to be kept isolated from for the rest of her life. This biography attempts to give us Violet’s side of the story. (I don’t quite understand the title, as Mrs. Keppel doesn’t figure much into the story except as Violet’s overbearing mother, but whatever.) Violet is certainly not the villain that Vita and co. made her out to be, and it’s hard to condemn her given that she was born into a culture that punished her twice over (for being a woman and for her sexual orientation), but honestly there’s not a lot to admire in her behavior. (I was surprised to learn that—like Vita and Virginia—Violet was a successful published writer in later life. I don’t know what to say about that except what was going on at the time with all these fascinating women writers named ‘V-something’?)

(LC Score: +1)

American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny From the 1940s to Now edited by Peter Straub

This is the second of two anthologies of “fantastic tales” put out by the Library of America (the first is From Poe to the Pulps). Like all Library of America editions, it’s a lovely book, and Straub put together a great mix of genre and non-genre authors.

(LC Score: +1)

Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

In this novella, a hardboiled film-noir P.I. (who is more than he seems) goes up against Lovecraftian monsters in modern-day London. Good stuff—my only complaint is that I wanted more!

(LC Score: +1)

The Terror by Dan Simmons

I LOVE THIS BOOK. Simmons takes the historical story of Sir John Franklin’s lost 1847 expedition to find the Northwest Passage—which already involves polar bears, scurvy, and cannibalism—and adds SNOW MONSTERS. It is completely and utterly awesome. I first read it about 10 years ago, and immediately went around grabbing both friends and strangers on the street to tell them YOU MUST READ THIS. I quickly learned that 750-plus pages of British sailors stuck in the ice (with occasional guest appearances by the above-mentioned SNOW MONSTER) is not everyone’s idea of a great time which is MYSTIFYING TO ME. Apparently though, AMC sees things my way, as they recently debuted their new 10-part series based on the book, starring Ciaran Hinds as Sir John Franklin. (I’ve had a soft spot for Ciaran Hinds ever since he played another British sea captain—Captain Frederick Wentworth—in the wonderful 1995 adaptation of Persuasion.) We don’t get AMC at my house, but the first two episodes were available for streaming and I’ve watched them about three times now and of course I had to run to the library to get the book again and AHHH IT’S SO GOOD. The SNOW MONSTER only makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance in the early episodes, but frankly I’m more worried about the scurvy. (I’m sure you’ve heard of scurvy, but have you ever read about the symptoms? It’s basically the ebola of the sea. DRINK YOUR LEMON JUICE, PEOPLE.) Anyway, I love this book and the show looks great and we’ll have to see if I can hold off buying the remaining episodes until it shows up on Netflix or something. (SPOILER: probably not. I can’t be expected to resist SNOW MONSTERS and scurvy AND Captain Frederick Wentworth. Although—HISTORICAL SPOILER—he probably doesn’t make it past the fourth episode.)

(LC Score: +1)

The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage by Anthony Brandt

My initial read of The Terror set me off on an all-things-polar-exploration-related binge, but fortunately since then there’s been another stack of books published. This is a solid overview of the 19th-century British obsession with the Northwest Passage, including noteworthy explorers like John and James Clarke Ross, Edward Parry, and of course the boots-eating man himself, John Franklin. (He became famous for eating his boots on an earlier expedition to the Arctic.) Brandt also details the confusing series of search-and-rescue expeditions that followed Franklin’s final mysterious voyage. There’s more cannibalism, the occasional polar bear, and as always, an abundance of scurvy, but sadly a complete lack of SNOW MONSTERS.

(LC Score: +1)

Returned Unread: LC Score: -15 (Yeah, so there was another stack of neglected books that had to go back. I’d blame all 750-plus pages of The Terror but it really isn’t the SNOW MONSTER’s fault.)

  • Library Chicken Score for 4/25/18: -8
  • Running Score: +10 ½


On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week: