What a weird reading month May was. For one, I was totally drained by the end-of-the-school-year stress (as in lots of student papers), so I didn’t do as much reading as I have been anyway, and for two, I started, but did not finish two books, which is highly unusual. I have some specific summer goals for reading, but I’m going to do summer outlook post in a few days, so I’m holding the new book queue until then.
Before I get to the official log, a word on the two books I didn’t finish. The first was Libra by Don DeLillo. I fully mean to explore DeLillo but this wasn’t the right book for it. The writing was great, but I found the story uninteresting and I hated all the characters. I believe I made it about 150 pages before putting it down, which says something about how good the sentences were. I have been assured by a friend that this is an odd book for DeLillo, and I’ll be picking up White Noise sometime before the end of the year. The second book I didn’t finish was Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende. I had heard mixed reviews on her writing, but I wanted to check her out for myself before making a decision. I didn’t make it five pages. I did not enjoy, to the say the least, anything about the language or sentence construction. The only rub here is that I was, of course, reading a translation, so I have no idea how she sounds in her language. Perhaps I will try her again someday.
Now, the log:
1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (5/5) – I kept hearing about this book, so I got on the waitlist at the library and just before I got it, it won the Pulitzer, so I had pretty high expectations. It didn’t disappoint. She does the multiple-intertwining narratives as well as anyone I’ve read except Colum McCann. More impressively, she makes a bunch of characters who are, generally, unlikable into an interesting and sympathetic bunch. I can’t think of a bad thing to say about this book. The best part of the writing might be how she manages to experiment with the incorporation of technology without losing anything from the story she’s trying to tell. Great book.
2. A Gesture Life by Chang Rae-Lee (5/5) – Apparently, the Pulitzer committee and I were on the same wave-length this year as Lee’s newest book The Surrendered was a finalist. This was the second of his books I’d read, and I found it just as impressive as the first. It tackles the immigrant experience less directly than Native Speaker, but no less effectively. The real heart of the book, however, is in the way the main character interacts with women, be they the comfort women he treats as a Japanese medical officer in WWII, his adopted Korean daughter, or the woman he takes up with for many years after coming to America. Each relationship is filled with nuance, but they all encounter the same difficulties as the main character, like so many of us, is virtually incapable of realizing his personality has certain flaws. The whole story is rendered wonderfully, and you won’t find realer characters anywhere.
3. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson (4.5/5) – This was a nice palate cleanser after a run of fairly heavy, literary minded books. Bryson’s writing is as funny and fresh as it always is, and it’s great to see him tackle his idyllic 1950s childhood with such honesty. This book was a great deal of fun.
4. Everything in this Country Must by Colum McCann (4/5) – This book was very good. I did not find it to be as masterful as his last two books, which are the others I’ve read, but there is nothing to complain about in this volume. The stories are sad and enchanting. That they lack the greatness of his later work says more about those books than about this one, which is a very worthy read.
5. Versed by Rae Armantrout (4/5) – This is first of what will probably be quite a few books of poetry I’ll be reading this summer to prepared for an advanced writing class I’ll be teaching next year. I’m not as familiar with modern poetry as I should be, and I’m trying to remedy that. This volume tip-toed along the line of comprehensibility, but stayed just on the right side of it for me. The poems are nicely grounded in current events and that helps to keep them accessible, though I wonder if it will allow them to endure. They do all feel lovely as you read them, though.