Devices and Desires by PD James
I picked this book up at a charity shop. It’s an Adam Dalgliesh story, published in 1989, I think, but some aspects of it are quite current. The story involves a nuclear power plant and discussions of the role of nuclear power in a world in climate crisis. It seemed a bit darker somehow than some of the other Dalgliesh novels I’ve read.
My Man, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse (audiobook read by Jonathan Cecil)
One of the things I want to do in 2020 is read more classics. I have the Jeeves and Wooster books on my e-reader, or at least some of them, but in January, I was reading books that I have and did not plan to keep. I discovered that the e-audiobook section of the library website has a lot of these books, so I did a search to find out the order of the books and started at the beginning with this one. At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but then I laughed, so continued on. I don’t think I would like to listen to a bunch of these books back to back, but I’ve got another on reserve and will continue to listen to them in order here and there, at least until I have had enough.
Not all of the stories in this collection involved Jeeves and Wooster. There were a few in the middle that were narrated by Reginald Pepper, but they were very similar to the Jeeves stories.
The Cockroach by Ian McEwan (audiobook read by Bill Nighy)
When I came across this title in the e-audiobook section of the library website and read what it’s about, I immediately reserved it. This novella takes Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and turns it on its head. Instead of a man waking up one morning to discover that he is turning into a beetle, in this book, a cockroach wakes up one morning to discover he is a man—the Prime Minister of Great Britain, to be exact. And he is presiding over a UK that is also turned on its head as people vote for ‘reversalism,’ the author’s fictional equivalent of Brexit.
I loved this book and laughed a lot. I think he captures well the absurdity of the whole idea, although there are serious problems that will lead to suffering which are also a part of the book. Those are not so funny. This book isn’t so much plot-driven—we can see how Brexit has been playing out---and I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say that at the end, reversalism prevails and in their speeches at the end, the cockroaches, now back in their own bodies, who helped usher it in give some speeches in which they talk about how the people will suffer, but this will be good for the cockroaches, because whenever humans live in poverty ad squalor, cockroaches thrive. They proudly declare, ‘Britain stands alone!’
The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses by Chandler Burr
I’ve had this book for a few years, carrying it from place to place and I decided it needed to go to someone else now. It was a great book, telling the story of a misfit scientist named Luca Turin who has a nose—and an obsession—for perfume. He goes in search of rare perfumes and writes perfume reviews. And eventually, he worked out a theory of how smell works. He called it the vibrational theory of olfaction. This did not sit well with scientists who work on smell and he had a hard time getting his work published. The man was an outlier because while he was trained in one particular science (biophysics), he was self-taught in many other disciplines. His sense of curiosity drove him to unearth obscure old theories and work and to read and study widely, allowing him to fit things together in ways that would not have been possible had he been narrowly focused on one field. I do not have the background or knowledge to know whether he was on to something with this theory and I think he has moved on to other interests since the book was written. But I loved the book. What really grabbed me was the story of his deep interest with the subjects that interest him and his curiosity. As someone who knows what it’s like to be an outlier in academia because your interest does not fit within a narrowly defined definition, I found that aspect of his story interesting, too. Interdisciplinary work is more accepted than it used to be, I think, at least in some areas, but when I was trying to do it, even in a field like anthropology, it didn’t go over well. I’m glad I kept the book for these year and even more glad that I finally read it—both because I enjoyed it and because it was one less book to pack, move, and unpack!