This was an odd reading month. I read a bunch of mid-length books, all of which were good, but nothing (except for the one short thing I read) really blew me away. Overall, a pretty decent month, I guess. I’ll need to tackle at least one pretty big book this month.
1. Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff (4.5/5) – Consistency is what keeps this from being a five. There was one story that just wasn’t quite great and another that was great, except for the last few pages, which were just a mess. Otherwise, this was an excellent collection of really interesting stories. Having read this and her other book (The Monsters of Templeton) I find myself looking forward to her next book. She an excellent writer.
2. The Chateau by William Maxwell (4/5) – I will start by saying that this is the weakest Maxwell I have read, but it was still really good. It tells the story of a kind of awkward American couple touring France in the aftermath of WWII. The fact that it is rather sprawling and occasionally seems to lack direction is appropriate and wouldn’t drag the book down at all if there weren’t a place somewhere in the middle where the sprawl gets to be just a bit too self-indulgent and bogs the book town. To be great, this needed to be about 40 or 50 pages shorter. It’s still Maxwell, though. I could read his prose all day long.
3. Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout (4/5) – This is the second of Strout’s books I’ve read, and I did like it better that Olive Kitterridge, which won her the Pulitzer. Much like the Maxwell, this book wants to be excellent, but is just a bit uneven. It really takes a while to get going, and there is some heavy foreshadowing that makes it seem like a slog at the beginning because what you know is going to happen is so much more interesting that what is currently happening. Once it gets going, though, this book is very compelling. Excellent ending, too.
4. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (4.5/5) – After much prompting from my friend Josh, I finally picked up some DFW. This book is very good. His vocabulary is absurd and he writes some seriously long sentences. Amazingly, however, he is self-deprecating and self-aware enough that he pretty much never comes off as pretentious. It is this awareness of the audiences needs that, while he is squarely post-modern (I think), keeps him from the pitfalls that so often spoil books of the oeuvre. I will probably pick up one of his ridiculously long novels before too long, though, frankly, the thought frightens me.
5. Proof by David Auburn (5/5) – I’m trying to read more plays so I can get a better sense of the genre for teaching my writing classes. So far, so good. This play was a fantastic exploration of mental illness. What amazed me most was that Auburn manages to imply so much. It would take a conventional fiction writer several hundred pages to get across everything he does in 80 pages. He also conquers the challenge of writing about math without being a mathematician himself, a technical challenge I can certainly relate to.
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