2017 in Review

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What a wreck of a year that was. While the world slowly crumbled down around us, I personally had quite a good time. We travelled a bit, spending a week in London and three weeks in Australia, and just generally enjoyed ourselves. I feel like I lost my drive for a bit there in the beginning, but the second half went much better.

The year went in the opposite direction reading-wise, with a strong start and a lackluster end. My interest in both reading books and writing about them took a hit at the end of the summer and didn’t really come back until recently. For the next time this happens, and it will happen again, I really just need to immediately drop what I’m trying to read and pick up whatever quick book interests me the most. It sounds obvious, but I get set in my habits, I guess.

I’m planning to change how I review here as well this year. Writing sizable posts on every book and comic worked for a long while, and I absolutely love having this little historical record of my reading, but I’ve fallen about ten books behind now and it’s starting to feel a bit like a chore. I’m going to start writing small reviews when I’m behind, or when I don’t have much of a response to a book, and group them in a single posts. Maybe that will free me up to have a bit more fun with what I write here, getting more into cookbooks and other topics. Once this begins to feel like work, that’s the time to stop, so I’m going to try to keep it fun.

The Stats

Overall books read: 48

Format
Graphic novels and comics: 7
Audio books: 22
E-Books: 0
Poetry compilations: 0
Short story or essay compilations: 5
Plays: 0
Non-fiction: 9

Country (of author)
America: 20
England: 10
Canada: 6
Scotland: 3
Australia: 2
France: 2
Netherlands: 1
Sweden: 1
India: 1
Ireland: 1
Russia: 1

Genre
Literary/Contemporary Fiction: 20
Science Fiction: 12
Memoir: 4
Gothic/Horror: 3
Comedy: 3
Thriller: 3
Mystery/Crime: 2
Historical fiction: 2
Non-fiction-food: 2
Non-fiction-literature: 2
Non-fiction-travel: 1

Other
Most novels by same author: 2 (Robin Hobb, Muriel Spark, Sylvain Neuvel, Shirley Jackson)
New authors (to me): 29
Female authors: 14.5 (The 0.5 is a co-author, not a mermaid)
Re-reads: 0

Reading Resolutions

  • Read more plays – It’s been years since I read a play, so this really needs to change. I’d like to read multiple this year, with at least one of those by Shakespeare.
  • Read more books by women – Books written by women made up 30% of my reading this year, up from 18%, and I found some great authors in the process. I’d like to raise this up even higher this year.
  • Read more poetry – I feel like I read some poetry this year, but unless we’re facing a clerical error, it appears I have not. I’d like to read at least a book or two in 2018.
  • Read more from authors I know – I tried to do this last year and NOPE. This went up from 17 books to a whopping 29. I’m not as worried about this, as I think it’s healthy to let your curiosity drive you, but I would like to dive deeper into the bibliographies of authors I love.
  • Read more authors who aren’t American or English – I did somewhat better this year. 39 of the books and comics I read in 2016 were by American or English authors, and this year that number was down to 30. I’d love to get that down closer to 50% of what I read. I love authors from these countries, but I think it’s worth broadening my tastes a bit.
  • Read more Canadian and Scottish authors – I’m a first-generation Canadian with Scottish parents, so I have been trying to expand my reading in these two countries. This year I read six Canadian novels, better than last year’s three, and three Scottish novels, which is one less than last year. I’m happy that these two countries are the third and fourth in my list, but I’d like to raise the numbers for this year.

The Challenges

The Classics Club: I finished the Classics Club in March! The goal was to read fifty classics in five years, and I finished half a year early. I ended with fifty-six book, as I kept reading until the time period was up. I’ve started a second list and am currently six books in.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017: Eight of the twelve books read.

Foodies Read 2017: Seven books read.

The Top Fives

These are all lists of media that were new to me this year, not necessarily released this year.

Fiction

  1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  2. Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
  3. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  4. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
  5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Non-Fiction

  1. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
  2. Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
  3. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
  4. Believe Me by Eddie Izzard
  5. Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Comics

  1. Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan
  2. Kaijumax, Season 1 by Zander Cannon
  3. Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain) by Robert Wells
  4. Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi by Anthony Bourdain
  5. I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin

Audiobook Narrations

  1. Eddie Izzard narrating Believe Me
  2. Simon Vance narrating The Three Musketeers
  3. Clive Mantle narrating The Dinner
  4. Bernadette Dunne narrating The Haunting of Hill House
  5. Peter Hosking narrating Cloudstreet

Video Games

  1. Oxenfree (2016) (PC)
  2. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (2017) (PC)
  3. Super Mario Odyssey (2017) (Switch)
  4. Little Nightmares (2017) (PC)
  5. The Sexy Brutale (2017) (PC)

Movies

  1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
  2. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
  3. Rogue One (2016)
  4. Hidden Figures (2016)
  5. The Big Sick (2017)

Television series – Fiction

  1. Master of None: Season 2 (2017)
  2. BoJack Horseman: Season 4 (2017) (technically watched the last two episodes this month)
  3. Stranger Things: Season 2 (2017)
  4. Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later: Season 1 (2017)
  5. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season 4 (2016)

Television series – Non-Fiction

  1. The Mind of a Chef: Season 4 (2015)
  2. Departures: Season 3 (2010)
  3. Chef’s Table: Season 3 (2017)
  4. Last Chance to See (2009)
  5. The Mind of a Chef: Season 5 (2016)

It was a bookish year. #2017bestnine

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Here’s to a great 2018! Let’s hope we aren’t looking back fondly to 2017 in a few months’ time.

December in Review

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Books Acquired:
Akira boxset (Vol. 1 – 5) by Katsuhiro Otomo
Artemis by Andy Weir
Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Books Read:
Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Ayoade on Ayoade by Richard Ayoade
Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi by Anthony Bourdain
Law School by Benjamin Law, Jenny Phang
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Happy New Year! If you had time off during the holidays, I hope you’re coming back well rested. I was feeling relaxed and re-energized, and then I came down with a cold on New Year’s Eve – 2017’s last kick in the ass as I stepped out the door.

We had a great month here. There was talk of spending Christmas in Hawaii, which would have been fantastic, but I was incredibly excited to spend Christmas in town for the first time in a decade. I didn’t enter a single airport this December, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. Also my entire family was in town here, and Lee-Ann was home for Christmas for the first time since we began dating, so it was really nice.

We’ve had a BBQ in our living room for the last two months, as our building is undergoing some balcony maintenance, and we live in a small condo with nowhere else to put it. The work was scheduled to finish in two weeks, so we were a little bummed that it carried on through December. We thought instead of letting it hamper our holiday spirit we’d stick a small tree on it and cover it with decorations, and it worked quite well actually. Nearly forgot we had a giant appliance next to the couch. It was our little ‘when life gives you lemons’ moment, like a bad sitcom holiday special.

I had planned to do some Christmas-related reading, but that didn’t happen. I have a collection of classic Christmas travelogues from the Folio Society, but Christmas crept up so quickly. It just doesn’t seem right to read those after the 25th. I had also planned to listen to Dickens’ The Chimes, but my Audible account is in a weird state and wouldn’t allow me to buy anything new. There’s always next year, I suppose.

Movies watched:
Chappie (2015) – I loved District 9, and was hoping to love this just as much, but it fell a little short. I still enjoyed it, but it could have been so much better. Hugh Jackman’s character was so over-the-top corny and so many of the characters’ actions seemed completely illogical. It really had potential, though.

No, I haven’t seen Star Wars yet.

TV watched:
Outlander: Season 3 (2017) – I enjoyed parts of this season, but some episodes had me scratching my head. I can believe that jewellery and pagan rocks can send you back in time, fine, but continually losing consciousness at sea only to find yourself waking up on or near land? The number of wild coincidences that occurred this season drove me crazy. The writing in general didn’t seem quite as strong, actually. Lee-Ann still loves it, though, and for whatever reason, I keep sitting down to watch it with her.

Games played:
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (2017) (PC) – I was avoiding this for the last couple of months, finding the length of the game a bit too daunting, but I decided to just give it a try. I’m still in the first act, but I played it quite a bit during my time off and am loving it so far. Great writing, deep character customization, and fun combat.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

Back to the Classics 2018

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Another year, another Back to the Classics challenge. Last year I only read eight of the twelve categories, so I’d like to do a bit better in 2018. The rules are pretty simple – any book that fits the category and is at least fifty years old qualifies. At the end of the year, participants are entered into a draw for a Book Depository gift certificate.

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

Here are the categories and my tentative choices:

  1. A 19th century classic: The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. A 20th century classic: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
  3. A classic by a woman author: The Girls Of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
  4. A classic in translation: Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  5. A children’s classic: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  6. A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction: The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler
  7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction: Jesting Pilate by Aldous Huxley
  8. A classic with a single-word title: Emma by Jane Austen
  9. A classic with a color in the title: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. A classic by an author that’s new to you: The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
  11. A classic that scares you: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  12. Re-read a favorite classic: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Foodies Read 2018

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This year I read seven books for the Foodies Read linkup – a couple memoirs, a few pieces of food-related fiction, and Anthony Bourdain’s two graphic novels. A good mix, although I keep trying to incorporate cookbooks here somehow and failing to do so. Maybe this will be the year.

I enjoy the nudge to read more food writing and the chance to see what everyone else is reading, so I’ll be joining in again this year. Last year I read these titles:

  1. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
  2. The Dinner by Herman Koch
  3. The Amateur Gourmet by Adam D. Roberts
  4. Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
  5. Get Jiro! by Anthony Bourdain
  6. Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi by Anthony Bourdain
  7. The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle

I will be aiming for about eight books again, with these as my tentative choices:

  1. How To Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food by Nigella Lawson
  2. A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
  3. The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
  4. Encore Provence by Peter Mayle
  5. A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories by April Bloomfield
  6. Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
  7. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
  8. 32 Yolks by Eric Ripert

These will change wildly throughout the year, but it’s a start.

Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi

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Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi (Get Jiro #2)Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi by Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose
Illustrated by: Alé Garza
Series: Get Jiro #2
Publisher: Vertigo
Published: 2015
Length: 160 pages

This is the prequel to Get Jiro!, Anthony Bourdain’s debut comic. Here we get a small glimpse of Jiro’s origins, how he lived in Japan and how he came to live in America.

Interestingly, Get Jiro! depicted L.A. as a sort of foodie dystopia, a wasteland essentially ruled by Food Network chefs turned mob bosses, where all forms of traditional entertainment disappeared, but this comic has a very different tone. There’s no attempt at a creative setting in this. What we see of Japanese society seems to be fairly normal, with some Yakuza violence thrown in. The plot is less silly and outlandish than the first book, but it’s also a lot more predictable. If you asked me what Jiro did in Japan after I’d read the first comic, my guess probably would have come quite close.

Food is a theme throughout this comic, occasionally coming to the forefront. Jiro is secretly apprenticing under a master sushi chef when he’s not on Yakuza business. We get to see him struggling with still only being allowed to work on rice after two years, and there’s a scene with him discussing the similarities between Italian and Japanese food with his girlfriend over a meal, but mainly it’s just in the background – chapter headings being named after Japanese dishes or people eating yakitori, that sort of thing. I guess I was hoping for something closer to the Oishinbo manga series, essentially a story about someone learning how to cook, but that would be a major departure from the first book. This comic does well with the unique balance of gruesome violence and food culture that Bourdain and Rose have created.

Even though this felt a bit by the numbers, it was still a fun read. I preferred the illustrations in this one as well. From what I’ve seen, most people enjoyed the first comic more, and even though I liked that he took more chances with that story, I think I enjoyed this one more in the end.

Back to the Classics 2017 Wrap-Up

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This year I read eight books for the Back to the Classics 2017 challenge. I was aiming for at least nine, but that mid-year reading slump hit me pretty hard.

This challenge continues to be a favourite of mine, and not just because I won the prize last year! This is my fifth time participating, and I still really enjoy the little push to read more and the chance to see what others choose for the same category. Mainly I like checking things off on a list, though.

These are the categories I hit this year:

  1. A 19th Century Classic: The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
  2. A 20th Century Classic: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  3. A classic by a woman author: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  4. A classic in translation: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  5. A Gothic or horror classic: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  6. A classic with a number in the title: Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome
  7. A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title: Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
  8. A Russian Classic: The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

If I had to choose a favourite of the bunch, which is difficult as I read a few great books as part of this, it would probably have to be The Haunting of Hill House. That book was just so much better than I was expecting. I’ve gone on to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle (review pending), and it wasn’t quite on the same level, but I still really enjoyed it. I plan to read more from her.

My least favourite was The Prisoner of Zenda. Anthony Hope somehow managed to write a adventure novel I couldn’t enjoy on any level, a first for me. It has sword fighting, political intrigue, sneaking about in the night, travel to unknown lands, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care.

I’ll be joining in this year too, I think. I’ll post my list in the next couple of days.

The Amateur Gourmet

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The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop and Table Hop Like a Pro (Almost)The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop and Table Hop Like a Pro by Adam D. Roberts
Published: 2007
Length: 208 pages

I’ve read Adam Roberts’ weblog for nearly a decade now, starting just after this book was first published, and until I found it in a bookshop last month I completed forgot it existed. I’d always meant to pick it up, but it somehow didn’t happen for ten years. This isn’t like me. I’m amazing at buying books. You could make a very strong argument that I’m better at buying them than reading them.

If you’ve ever read Roberts’ weblog, you’ll know that it’s his combination of enthusiasm and humour that really pulls the reader in. His writing is relaxing and enjoyable to read, and he captures those little moments of a new cook so well, like the sense of pride that comes from throwing together a new meal from whatever’s in the fridge and pantry.

His food writing also stands out because it’s from the point of view of an amateur. He didn’t start cooking at all until university, so you aren’t reading a Michelin star chef’s memories of how it felt to learn to cook. You’re reading from the point of view of someone who is actively in the process of learning how to cook, so every new technique he’s excited about, every new ingredient he discovers, and every new milestone he reaches all feel genuine. It’s not remembered enthusiasm; it’s his excitement as it happens.

This book loses some of that energy, and I think the hint to the problem is in the subtitle – How to Shop, Chop and Table Hop Like a Pro. He tries to spin each chapter into a learning experience, and it just doesn’t really work. The worst chapter was on how to fine dine like a professional, in which he invites Ruth Reichl, food writer and former food critic for The New York Times, out to lunch to discuss how one should eat in a restaurant, and it was almost painful to read. He just bombarded her the most inane questions for the entire meal. I really thought (and, to be honest, hoped) it was going to end with Reichl physically attacking him.

There are some great bits. I loved his chapter on the anxiety of eating alone at an high-end restaurant in Paris. It was funny and interesting and the ‘how-to moral’ didn’t feel forced. I also enjoyed the chapter in which he introduces his Korean American friend to Jewish food and she introduces him to Korean dishes. In “Cook for a Date”, he walks a friend through cooking a meal for a new girlfriend, and that was quite funny while also capturing how to prepare a meal ahead of time without the stress. I also really enjoyed the last chapter, which flashes between him cooking a large feast for a group of friends and his time in university as he realizes the law career he’s pursuing won’t make him happy.

Roberts recently got back to blogging after a two year hiatus, and I’ve really been enjoying his latest posts. I hope he’ll go on to publish another collection of food writing at some point in the future. He did publish a recipe book, which I own but haven’t fully read yet, but I’d love to see something narrative-driven without the self-help angle. A book where each chapter is just him describing a food-related scenario, like visiting a renown restaurant or travelling to a country to try a specific dish – really just anything in a more natural format. Something heavier on the amateur and lighter on the pro.

Travels with Charley

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Travels with Charley: In Search of AmericaTravels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
Published: 1962
Narrated by: Gary Sinise
Length: 07:58 (214 pages)

I love Steinbeck and I love travelogues, so I had high hopes going into this one, and thankfully it did not disappoint. It’s the first of his non-fiction work that I’ve tried, and I’m excited to read more. His fiction is often quite dark, and while there certainly is humour, he has to hold it back a bit to maintain the tone. He’s free to let loose in this book, and the result is a continuously amusing account of his trip around America in 1960.

Charley, full name Charles le Chien, is an elderly black French poodle, and Steinbeck decides to take him on the trip for a little companionship. They have a sweet relationship, and I really love how he wrote about Charley, getting in his head and finding motivation for each action. It really brought him forward as a character, rather than just another generic dog companion.

The two of them hop in his camper truck, named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse, and leaves his home in Long Island. He drives up New England with a brief stop at the Canadian border and then back down and westwards across the country. His trip takes him right over to the west coast, down to California, through Texas and into the deep south, and then back up home, essentially completing a loop of the entire country. Steinbeck said he’d spent his life writing about America, but he had lost touch with the country and needed to reconnect.

I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation – a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every states I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.

At one point, Steinbeck stops in Texas for a ‘Thanksgiving orgy’. In Canada, orgies are more of an Easter tradition, so I was briefly taken aback. I’m still unsure if this was a common usage of the term in the 60s or if Steinbeck just decided to employ it to give the Thanksgiving party a sense of vulgar gluttony. It was a meal of Chili con Carne, and I feel like the two images don’t mix well. I read quite a lot of older literature, so I’m used to outdated vernacular. I don’t give a second thought when Watson ejaculates mid-conversation or Batman pulls a boner, but this was my first encounter with an innocuous holiday orgy.

There were scenes in this that did feel embellished, conversations and scenarios that seemed to fit a little too perfectly. After finishing, I read a bit more on the book and there is some confusion over what is and isn’t fictionalized. He was 58 with some health issues when he left on this trip, apparently against the recommendation of his doctor, so many people believe he only slept under the stars a few times and mostly stayed in expensive hotels.

Regardless of how much of this is true, it’s still a fantastic read. I love how he writes, his insights into human nature, and how he manages to find comedy in the mundane. The chapters near the end detailing the racist attitudes he found down south, and his witnessing the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in which a group of middle-class housewives calling themselves The Cheerleaders would scream vitriol at the black children trying to attend school, was heartbreaking to read. I obviously knew these things happened, but I often forget just how recent it was. The young girl, Ruby Bridges, is only 63 today. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that traces of that hate, so strong that grown adults would scream like animals at those poor children, can still be found in America today.

Beyond my failings as a racist, I knew I was not wanted in the South. When people are engaged in something they are not proud of, they do not want witnesses. In fact, they come to believe the witness causes the trouble.

I love Steinbeck even more after reading this. It also left me wanting to jump in a truck and travel the country with my dog. Although, if I were to do such a thing, I would also be secretly staying in comfortable hotels the entire trip, if only to be well-rested for the Thanksgiving orgy.

November in Review

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Books Acquired:
Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi by Anthony Bourdain
The Amateur Gourmet by Adam D. Roberts
A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield
Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands by Don Genova

Books Read:
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb
The Amateur Gourmet by Adam D. Roberts
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

After a busy October, it was nice to spend November unwinding a bit. Normally I might need that, with stressful holidays coming up, but Christmas should be smooth sailing this year. I’m staying in town for the first time in over a decade! I’m actually ridiculously excited about not entering an airport for the entire month.

I wasn’t planning to buy any books this month, but Lee-Ann and her mom left me in a bookstore while they ran some errands, and THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS. I’m still reading through A Girl and Her Pig and haven’t made any recipes from the book yet, but I’m excited to try some. Bloomfield was on season 4 of Mind of a Chef, which I love, and even though her episodes weren’t my favourite, it’s pretty clear that she holds a lot of respect with her fellow chefs. So far, the main entrées look a bit intimidating, but there are quite a few sides and breakfast items that I’ll be trying. I may have to work my way up to her recipe for whole lamb’s head, brain-in and tongue-in.

I read some great books this month and feel like I’m getting over the reading slump that’s been plaguing me. The Amateur Gourmet helped with that. Even though I was lukewarm on parts of it, it’s quick and funny and relaxing to read, just like his weblog. I need to seek out more books like this – food writing by enthusiastic home cooks. I’ll gladly take any recommendations!

Movies watched:
The Double (2013) – This is the second film Richard Ayoade has directed, and it was great. A retelling of Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same title, it stars Jesse Eisenberg and is dark, funny, and strange. He took chances with the cinematography and the score, and the result was a really unique experience. It will leave you as befuddled as the book did.

In Search of Israeli Cuisine (2016) – Great food documentary on the history and struggles in Israel, told through their food culture and focusing on how their diet has been influenced by the country’s mixed heritage.

TV watched:
The Mind of a Chef: Season 5 (2016) – I just love this show. The first half of the season follows Chef Ludo Lefebvre in LA. I was disappointed that the second half of the season, which would normally follow a new chef, was just highlight compilations from the whole series. Enjoyable, but obviously not as good as new content.

Stranger Things: Season 2 (2017) – I’d heard this second season wasn’t as good as the first, but I think I liked it even more. It’s at least on par, in my opinion. Good fun.

Games played:
Battlerite (2017) (PC) – The only thing I really played this month was the free-to-play game Battlerite. It’s a fun arena battle game with a lot of depth. I’m not sure if I’ll put any more time into it, but it was fun to check out.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

Three Men on the Bummel

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Three Men on the Bummel (Three Men, #2)Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome
Published: 1900
Narrated by: David Case
Series: Three Men #2
Length: 06:59 (208 pages)

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) was my favourite novel last year. It was completely new to me and a great surprise. I was excited to discover a sequel existed, although I approached it with some trepidation knowing it almost certainly wouldn’t live up to the first book.

“A ‘Bummel’,” I explained, “I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started. Sometimes it is through busy streets, and sometimes through the fields and lanes; sometimes we can be spared for a few hours, and sometimes for a few days. But long or short, but here or there, our thoughts are ever on the running of the sand. We nod and smile to many as we pass; with some we stop and talk awhile; and with a few we walk a little way. We have been much interested, and often a little tired. But on the whole we have had a pleasant time, and are sorry when it’s over.”

The three men, sans dog, decide to take a cycling trip through the German Black Forest. Like the first book, the trip is really just there to provide an opportunity for Jerome to deliver his witty observations. It was interesting how relatable most aspects of the trip still were today, 117 years later – from trying to communicate through phrases in a guide book to struggling to understand your train ticket. A big difference in Three Men on the Bummel is that each scene feels more structured, with more focus put on the set piece itself rather than the anecdotes and rambling thoughts that come with it, but in a way the confinement of a slightly more refined narrative is what holds this book back from the level the first reached.

A barrage of rambling thoughts and anecdotes with no plot to hold it together would not normally be a positive for me, but every page of Three Men in a Boat was hilarious and insightful. There might literally be a quotable line on every page. This book has some hilarious moments, and I very much enjoyed reading it, but I don’t think it will stick with me in the same way. In fact, I know it won’t, because I read this a couple of months ago (I’m behind, don’t judge) and managed to lose my notes when switching phones, and I am having a bit of trouble recalling more than a few specific scenes. Not sure if that’s an indication of this being less memorable, though, or just the normal for my awful goldfish memory.

I hate when people come back from a trip and suddenly decide they have insights into the psyche of that country’s citizens, from speaking to a couple of people on a train, a bartender, and a taxi driver, but that said, this observation at the end of the novel did jump out at me as somewhat chilling, considering the wars that were still to come:

The German can rule others, and be ruled by others, but he cannot rule himself. […] Their everlasting teaching is duty. It is a fine ideal for any people; but before buckling to it, one would wish to have a clear understanding as to what this “duty” is. The German idea of it would appear to be: “blind obedience to everything in buttons. […] When his troubles will begin will be when by any chance something goes wrong with the governing machine.

Despite my lack of gushing, I did thoroughly enjoy this. Jerome K. Jerome was a comic genius, and I plan to read everything he’s written.