The reading year is winding down now. This month, I blew past my stated goal of reading 60 books this year. I’m going to try and finish seven in December so I can get to 75 because I like numbers that end in fives and zeroes. Overall, I was much happier with what I read this month than with what I read last month. On we go…
1.The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (5/5) – Eventually, I’ll work my way through Edith Wharton’s entire catalog. She hasn’t disappointed me yet. This is a very good meditation on the importance of wealth in general, but especially during the gilded age. The main character doesn’t have the fortune of her friends and so lives continually on the margins. Her only asset is, of course, her beauty, and she is constantly pressured to marry for money. The book is overwhelmingly conscious of the flaws of its characters and society and gives an interesting read on feminist and populous themes, both of which are just as relevant in our current society as they were when Wharton wrote the book 100 years ago.
2. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (4.5/5) – This was a book that had been sitting on my shelf unread for a while. I’m glad I finally picked it up. This uses and outsider’s perspective to speak about the consequences of 9/11. Further, O’Neill deftly uses the relationship at the heart of the book as metaphor for the struggles the US went through after the immediate tragedy. In the end, he paints a fair and sensitive picture of a wounded nation while engaging us with the a story that fully explores the complexities of a nearly-failed marriage.
3. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor (4/5) – Ever year, Cate and I give each other reading lists. This was the second to last book I needed to read on her list. It is something of a miracle that, being a reasonably well read English major and English teacher, I managed to escape reading any O’Connor until now. I found the process enjoyable, but disturbing. There is no doubt that she told a story wonderfully. Her timing in these is just perfect and her characters are (mostly) sadly real. The only issue I’ll take with it is that, after 250 pages, the overwhelming grimness of her stories does wear thin. It would be nice if she could occasionally find something redeeming in her subjects.
4. Dancer by Colum McCann (5/5) – Christ, I love Colum McCann. I’ve read more than half of his catalog now (I’ll finish it next year, I’m sure), and he continues to blow me away. This is a fictional story about a a real person – ballet dance Rudolf Nureyev. And it is fictional, let’s be clear about that. The opening passage resonates like the title chapter from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and it gets better from there. He some how manages to convincingly write Soviet Siberia and 70s New York and plenty of places in between. Most remarkable, is the way he transforms his main character from a charming, dedicated child to an arrogant (though still dedicated) adult. It as enormous journey that reads seamlessly. Beautiful work.
5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (5/5) – The holidays always bring out the childish aspects of me and I often find myself wanting to return to the books I loved when I was younger. Re-reading The Hobbit was a nod to that. Though I’d read it several times before , I couldn’t remember when I’d last picked it up and decided now was a good time. It is always nice when the books of our youths hold up, and this one does. Tolkien’s voice here is playful and conspiratory in just the right way to engage a child. I can’t wait to read this to Simone and James.
6. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (5/5) – At the last minute, I decided to teach Caesar instead of Othello. I like it better and it fits better with the persuasive themes I’m supposed to be teaching right now. I always enjoy it, but Act III is good enough to make anything a masterpiece. If you’ve never read it, at the very least go take a look at the speeches given by Brutus and, especially, Antony in Act III. It’s some of the best writing ever.
7. At Home by Bill Bryson (4/5) – A thoroughly amusing book and an interesting history of how private life changed radically during the nineteenth century. It’s awfully hard to not enjoy a book by Bryson, and this one was very enjoyable. If it had any faults it was in his occasional tendency to digress a little too much and briefly lose the plot. He always finds his way back, though, and it’s absolutely a worthwhile read just for the neat facts, though I will always be disturbed by the chapter on household pests.
Fall/Winter Book Queue Update:
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
- The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett Netherlands by Joseph O’Neill
- Next by James Hynes
Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides