Taking Stock: February 2021

I’ve experimented with monthly wrap-ups, but a mid-month update is better for me . . .

Looking Back

Eight reviews and a Sunday Short have gone up since my last update:

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Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

As influential as Lovecraft’s work is, I’m not a fan. Lovecraft uses old-fashioned (and often xenophobic) language and paces his stories in such a way that there’s little tension. That said, he has a few creepy stories and I like how he writes the Old Ones as inconceivably ancient and alien entities that are indifferent to humanity. So when I heard about The Ballad of Black Tom—a Lovecraftian story without the Lovecraft—I had to read it. It’s a retelling of “The Horror at Red Hook,” which Lovecraft wrote with an extra shot of xenophobia after his Brooklyn apartment was burglarized. In an interview with the Lovecraft ezine, Victor LaValle says he intended The Ballad Black Tom as a corrective:

. . . I’m in Harlem on a pretty regular basis. What I wanted to get across most about uptown as a whole was the sense of life and community, exactly the things Lovecraft missed, or simply couldn’t see. His depictions of the immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn were so baffling to me because I simply couldn’t recognize the kinds of places he feared as exactly the kind of places I’m so happy I grew up in, and where I still live now. So my depictions of Harlem had to work as a kind of corrective. If Lovecraft seemed to be suffering blurred vision about these neighborhoods then I wanted my story to be like the contact lenses.

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Review: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk is another book I read on account of it being shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. Tokarczuk won for Flights in 2018, and her House of Day, House of Night is on my Reading World Tour, though this book will take its place for the time being.

While Drive Your Plow is a mystery, the narrator and her many quirks steal the show. Janina looks after rich folks’ summer homes in rural Poland while translating William Blake and reading horoscopes. She’s pulled into the police investigation of her neighbor’s murder, but she’s not taken seriously because her primary contributions are star charts and the theory that her neighbor was killed by an animal as punishment for his poaching. read more

Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

When I compiled my list for the Classics Club, I included a couple re-reads. I wanted it to be all new—the idea being to cross things off my TBR list—but there were a few books I wanted to read again. I first read Animal Farm in high school, immediately after 1984. My initial impression was that it was an off-brand 1984 with fewer layers, more obvious themes, and a gimmick with talking animals. I forgot it soon after reading, but every time someone said they preferred it to 1984, I wondered if I was missing something. So I decided to read it again. Oh, and it’s short. I needed to balance The Lord of the Rings, Vanity Fair, and two giant books by Dostoevsky. read more