The summer is officially over now as far as my previous book queue is concerned. I read everything except Summerland, which I just wasn’t in the mood to re-read and The Abstinence Teacher, which I read about two pages of before deciding I didn’t like it and moving on to something else.
I am very excited for reading this fall. There are new books coming out by Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Barbara Kingsolver, Joe Posnanski, Margaret Atwood, and Audrey Niffenegger among others, so it figures to be a good time. In addition to reading these new books, I have two other goals: 1. I’ve been on a slight classics kick lately, I want to keep up with that. 2. I want to read at least five writers I haven’t read before. This is where my vast, blog reading audience comes in. I know I’m going to read Anna Quindlen, but other than that, I’m undecided and open to suggestions. So show me what you’ve got. I’m looking for contemporary (read: Not Dead) writers and mostly novelists (though I’ll certainly take nonfiction suggestions). Now, on to the traditional book log.
1. Gun with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem (3.5/5): I have officially determined that Lethem’s writing gets better as it gets more recent. This was his first published novel (though, apparently, he had two others already written that were later published), and it’s fine. Most of it is good, but the last 60 pages or so are rushed and lazy (it probably should have been 100 pages longer). Also, he gets a little carried away with drug cliches. Still, the world he creates is interesting and unique and, if you’re a Lethem fan, I wouldn’t shy away from this.
2. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (4.0/5): One of two books I read this summer because I was going to be expected to teach them. It was better than I expected (I’m not normally a fan of moralizing memoirs). Pausch has a good sense of humor and because the stories are usually good, the steady writing, while not gorgeous, is enough to carry the book.
3. The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel (4.5/5): An excellent collection of short(ish) stories that fell just short of a 5. I was particularly impressed with Martel’s control of structure as three of the four do not follow any kind of conventional story telling pattern. The stories themselves are always very interesting with honest characters. When ever he manages to release another book, I’ll be waiting.
4. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (4.0/5): The other book I read for work. This is carried almost entirely by the story which stops just short of breaking the rule: “If it isn’t believable, it doesn’t matter if it really happened.” As a writer, she’s a bit sensationalist (as you might expect from a former gossip columnist), but her decision to the story from the perspective of her child self keeps it from going over the top. It’s not great literature, but I can’t imagine someone not finding it entertaining.
5. Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem (3.5/5): I didn’t even mean to read this book. I opened it up searching for a good science fiction story to use in my creative writing class. After I’d read four or five of the stories (all of which were just a bit too adult to teach in a public school), I figured I might as well read the whole thing. The The best stories are great, most of them are very good, but in a few, he writes about sex and drugs like a twelve year old boy.
6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (5.0/5): I love this book, and I hadn’t had the shit scared out of me by a novel for a while, so I thought I’d re-read it. I’m not really going to review it so much as tell you that if you haven’t read any Atwood you should, and that this book would be as good a place to start as any. After you finish you can be thankful that our society hasn’t devolved to that point, yet.
7. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (4.0/5): The Old Man and the Sea got me curious about Hemingway, and this made me realize I should starting reading everything he’s done. I spent most of the book unable to decide if it was very good or terrible (the book it mostly dialogue, and much of it seems frivolous). Fortunately, the end (literally the last four or five pages) brought everything together for me and I understood the point of all that talking.
8. Barrel Fever by David Sedaris (3.5/5): I re-read this book to see if I liked it any better the second time around (I first read it long before I read any of his other books). I didn’t. The essays are great, but the short stories that make up 3/4 of the book vary alarmingly in quality from excellent to I’m-glad-it’s-only-seven-pages. I’d recommend this for the essays and one or two of the stories, but otherwise, leave it be. Easily his weakest.
9. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (5.0/5): I’d been meaning to read this for quite some time and now that I have, I don’t know what to say about it. It’s so different from all the other Shakespeare I’ve read. It was straightforward without being at all predictable. And, I don’t know, it was just really good. It’s Shakespeare doing something akin to science fiction and doing ti really well, and that’s just so interesting to read.
Fall Book Queue (to be completed by the end of December):
Robert Frost’s Poems by (ahem) Robert Frost
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Anton Chekov’s Short Stories by (double ahem) Anton Chekov
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Reivers by William Faulkner
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
The Machine by Joe Posnanski
Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
One True Thing by Anna Quindlan
Mystery Author 1
Mystery Author 2
Mystery Author 3
Mystery Author 4