Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven


An Underground Education by Richard Zacks. Enjoyed it immensely, I love those trivial facts about history that are left out of the books, if they had left them in perhaps I would have enjoyed history class more.

The Underminer by Mike Albo. The casual acquaintance who casually destroys your life. Albo perfectly captures the passive-aggressive behaviour that can push a normally tolerant person to the brink of insanity. Hysterical in a ‘oh my god, I know someone JUST like that’, cringe-inducing way. What would have really been useful would have been if he’d given the rest of us tactics for coping with such people.

The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch. A collection of essays from poet and undertaker Lynch concerning life and death and the ways people handle the latter. Lynch has a gift with language—it’s obvious he’s a poet—and though I disagree with some of his later thoughts on abortion and the death penalty (I’m logical in his book since I believe in both) I cannot fault his logic. His descriptions of life in a small town, as well as life in a village in Ireland, are delicately done. The last book that rendered so well human relationships was Kathleen Finneran’s The Tender Land.

The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch. My first Murdoch, and it won’t be my last—atmospheric verging on suffocating. The story is of a woman who is in self-imposed exile after an accident where she may or mat not have tried to kill her husband, who then fled to New York. In a nameless, solitary environment the relationships between the characters are incestuous and complicated. I felt Murdoch was exploring psychological territory that I wasn’t quite getting, though the novel did get under my skin.

Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns by Cheryl Reed. The cloistered lives of nuns have interested me since I was small—I think it was because I thought they got to sit around and read all day (and I liked the habits). I’ve known for a while now that there’s a bit more involved than reading, but this book was quite an education not only in the different types of orders but also the different types of nuns. Reed’s book covers everything from the strictest closed orders where the sisters beat their bare bottoms as penance for souls in purgatory to the non-denominational pregnancy clinic that leaves little time for prayer; from gun-toting, pro-life nuns to four biological sister sisters who protest war, racism and homophobia.


The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. Interesting. A little frightening, but I am uptight. Glad I did not see it live, but did enjoy it.

Vano & Niko by Erlom Akhvlediani (translated by Mikheil Kakabadze). Review .

Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. I read this because the author’s name is from where the word ‘masochist’ is derived, but it was not as erotically charged as I was expecting. Very interesting, though, it is important to take note that ‘masochist’ was originally intended to designate a man who wished to be dominated and abused (physically or emotionally) by a woman. There was no counterpart for women because it was believed that woman naturally wished to be dominated by men.

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho. Reminiscent of The Bell Jar. Very good. Paints a realistic portrait of a suicidal girl. The ending is quite a surprise.

Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins. Typical Tom Robbins, but his penchant for making inanimate objects speak is toned down enough not to be a detraction. This book explores the idea of POWs from Vietnam who didn’t want to return to their homeland. A fun, light read that makes you think.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. The story of five sisters as told by the boys in the neighbourhood in which they lived. Slightly off-centre and hard to put down.

Voyage to the End of the Room by Tibor Fischer. An agoraphobe who pays to have the world brought to her receives a letter from a person she knew in her younger, wilder days when she wasn’t afraid of leaving the house. The only catch is that the person has been dead ten years. As she sets out to find the man—without ever leaving the house, of course—we get glimpses of her life. Great fun and insightful, Fischer has a keen eye for human eccentricities and psychology. I loved it!


Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales by Christian Baloga. Review

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. This time out Bryson decides it’d be a brilliant idea to walk the Appalachian trail. All 1,200 miles of it. Yes, that was a bright one. He reads up on everything he’ll need to know…and then decides to go anyway.

Walking on Glass by Iain Banks. Fantastic! As usual. Banks is particularly adept at blending the normal with the abnormal. One of my ‘love this author’ writers.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. Bizarre, but really good. The ending was mostly surprising & satisfying. Will definitely read more.

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox. As social anthropologies go this one must be the most amusing. I’d heard that the cultures between the two countries were quite different, but I truly had no idea just how different. I want to get a smaller paperback version so I can mark in it for reference for my novel, for which it’s been immensely helpful. As it was, I wound up taking copious notes.

‘Wedding Preparations in the Country’ by Kafka. Review .

The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde. The third book in the Thursday Next series and they only keep improving. Miss Havisham is back and as feisty as ever. Fforde continues to impress me and make me laugh out loud. This book concerns itself more with the construction of books from the inside, as Thursday is holed up in The Well, where all books are built. Clever and entertaining, I can’t wait for the Next book.

What I Found Out About Her: Stories of Dreaming Americans by Peter LaSalle: Review .

Whiteout by Greg Rucka. Review .

The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman. Review .

With a Woman’s Voice by Lucy Daniels. Mediocre account of depression and anorexia nervosa not to mention emotional abuse and repression. It was interesting to see how an eating disorder can be triggered by depression. The author is now a psychologist so she had many interesting insights into her behaviour as a child, and of course it is always educational to see how the mentally ill were treated in the past few decades as opposed to the way they are treated/viewed now. Reminiscent of The Bell Jar in that respect.

With Charity Toward None by Florence King. This is a collection of essays meditating on misanthropes by a self-proclaimed misanthrope. Her favourite misanthrope is Ambrose Bierce. Hysterical and spot on.

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. FANTASTIC! I loved this book so much, it is up there with The Secret History as the kind of book I want to move in to.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. This is one of the first books that got me really excited about reading and the power of words. The descriptions of the parallel world were so amazing I found myself wanting to go there.



Yellow by Janni Visman.
Plot: Stella Lewis is an agoraphobic Londoner who never goes further than the landing outside her flat and has everything in her life just where she wants it. She sees clients in her flat (she’s a massage and aromatherapist) and has everything delivered in. She’s paranoid about gas and has it turned off and all the fittings removed. She winds up in an obsessive relationship with Ivan, the handyman who removes the copper pipes the gas used to come in through. Other than Ivan her closest relationship is with her cat, George, who has taken to spending all his time with the new neighbour who says she’s married but whose husband never seems to be home.

At the start of this short novel, Stella begins to suspect Ivan might be cheating on her and with the assistance of her sister, she sets out investigating his daily whereabouts and the woman he loved many years ago. Stella believes he’s trying to rekindle that relationship, though that woman (whose initials are also S.L.) moved to Canada two decades ago. Ms Lewis, as she prefers to be called, begins to distrust everyone in her life–there’s something clearly off about the neighbour woman, for one, and Ivan has hundreds of thousands of pounds in the bank even though he’s a handyman…

Review: An interesting portrait of a paranoid person, I gave this book three stars (out of five) because though it kept my reading and it definitely wasn’t a waste of time, I felt no sympathy for the characters. The story pulled me along, but when it was over I had more questions that either I didn’t pick up on the answers or weren’t deemed important enough by the author to answer. I’d recommend it to people who enjoyed Astonishing Splashes of Colour .

‘Young Goodman Brown’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Review .


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