Okay, so I know the blog has been very book/reading-heavy lately. That will probably change at least a little bit soon. James will be born before long and that will certainly occasion some non-reading posts. There is also a teaching post brewing in my noggin. Anyway, it’s still the end of the month and that means it’s book log time. I am dialing it back a bit this year to make sure I actually get some writing out there in the world, so these will be shorter for a bit. Anyhow, onward…
1. After Dark by Haruki Murakami (4/5) – This book was read as part of my attempt to address important authors I’ve missed or haven’t liked in the past. I had a viscerally negative reaction to The Wind-up Bird Chronicles when I read it several years ago. Many people, including several good friends consider that book a masterpiece, so I thought I needed to try again. I went with a short book because, frankly, I was scared. I didn’t need to be. I was very happy with this book. Murakami does a great job with the concept – following various characters through one night – and keeps it nice and surreal in spots. I was also pleased to find that he seemed to have something to say about human connection and how valuable it is. A very interesting story. The only issue I had with this was the translation. The language is awfully clunky in spots, but I can’t blame Murakami for that too much. This was good enough that I’ll be diving back into him. Perhaps I’ll try Kafka on the Shore soon.
2. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (5/5) – I am slowly working my way through Atwood’s rather absurd catalog (seriously, she needs a Nobel Prize, I’m just going to keep saying that until it happens). This was a pretty long book (better than 500 pages) that had been sitting on my shelf for a long time. In it, Atwood re-imagines the Grimm’s tale The Robber Bridegroom. She does it well. I enjoyed watching her work with the fairy tale tropes that largely require a good versus evil set up and don’t always leave room for nuance. She handles it masterfully as the three main characters come across as plenty human and keep the story from feeling ridiculous.
3. Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta (4.5/5) – This was an “it” book from last year. I almost bought it once and checked it out of the library once only to not get to it. I’m glad I finally did. Spiotta is a writer with amazing chops. She weaves multiple voices and an alternate-reality narrative into a pretty sad story about a never-was musician. Or is it sad? That might be the best part of the book. The details scream “sad story,” but she presents it in such a way that it can be read as triumphal as easily as defeatist. I’m always telling my students to let the reader decide how they feel about a story. Spiotta does that here, and I appreciate it.
4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (5/5) – I’m teaching this for the first time in several years, and I’m glad. It’s a wonderful book to teach to high school students if you can get them in the right mindset. Rereading the book for the first time in several years has only increased my esteem for it. There is a depth here that I think I largely missed before. The way Holden’s grief for his younger brother shapes the narrative is something I that had not fully hit me before. There is so much desperation in this book, but it’s a relatable kind of desperation. Anyway, I can’t imagine there’s anything new to say about this book, so I’ll stop with this: I heartily disagree with everyone who is impugning this book right now. I think they might need to read it again.
5. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (4/5) – A lot of people really liked this book, and I get why. There is a stark beauty that she gets out of the first-person plural portrait that is rare among the books I’ve read. That said, I didn’t find it as perfect as others have. I found that she relied a little too much on list making. The lists sometimes made it read as a really beautifully written history text. In fact, it’s probably history as much as novel. Very good, but I don’t see it as the masterpiece others do. In fairness, it may have suffered from being read in short snatches during a very harried week.
Winter/Spring Book Queue Update:
This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann*
The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee*
Run by Ann Patchett*
The Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt*
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood*
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers
The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen