This was a good reading month. I started the year off with a bunch of good books (and one dud). I always seem to start the year off strong and tail off at the end. I’ll have to try and avoid that this year. We’ll see, I guess. Anyway, on we go…
1. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson (5/5) – Bryson’s writing is always so charming. This is even more the case when he is talking about something for which he has genuine affection. His affection for the UK is apparent throughout the book in both his loving descriptions of his favorite bits and his acerbic criticism of the parts he finds lacking. It is a wonderful portrait of the nation. Everything is captured just right.
2. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (5/5) – Hardy is another from the long list of people I needed to get to eventually. I was bowled over by this book. I could imagine something like this causing controversy today (though it would have to be a movie or something), much less 120 years ago when it was first published. I have to think that the feminism in this book is enormously ahead of its time, especially given that it was written by man. Of course, it’s a wonderful story without the various political implications (unlike a book I’ll get to in a minute), which is why I gave it a 5 in the first place.
3. The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (4/5) – Good, but not great. The authors incorrectly believe this book disproves the existence of god. It doesn’t do that so much as it shows that god is unnecessary for our universe to exist. Still, there is some good reasoning in here, and it’s always good to see science writers unafraid to venture into hostile waters.
4. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (5/5) – Probably my favorite book of the month. The most impressive thing about it is that Patchett thought to write it at all. It seems like such a hackneyed premise (a bunch of well-to-do people taken hostage in a poorly run South American country), but she doesn’t take any of the obvious paths and, correspondingly, this book rises above expectations in the most remarkable way. The humanity she draws out of her characters (even the terrorists) is remarkable and reminds me of William Maxwell.
5. Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire (5/5) – This was a play Cate had been suggesting to me forever. I finally read it because I was looking for something to show my writing classes. It is fantastic. What’s best about it is that it doesn’t try to resolve anything. Literature often misses the lack of resolution in life.
6. Snow by Orhan Pamuk (3/5) – I wanted to love this book. I didn’t. it gets a 3 because I get that he was really trying to say something. I don’t think he said it very well, though. The characters were utterly unbelievable (they weren’t characters so much as philosophies) and the way women were presented was awful. Their only value is looks/virginity and they aren’t shown to have much will of their own. Rather, they are beholden by their feelings toward the men around them. It’s ridiculous.
7. Why Does E=mc2 and Why Should We Care? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw (4.5/5) – Very well done. There are other books that cover the same material, but this is the best and most careful explanation of relativity that I (a certifiable layman) have read. It did change how I think about certain things, which is always wonderful.
Winter/Spring Book Queue Update:
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
The Chateau by William Maxwell
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
A Gesture Life by Chang Rae Lee
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Zoli by Colum McCann
Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien
Daugther of Fortune by Isabelle Allende
Libra by Don DeLillo