March Book Log

April 4, 2015

After getting so close last year, I’ve unofficially been trying to read 100 books this year, just so I can say I did it. After March, I’m on pace for it, which is nice.  It was a good month that featured the end of all non-plays I’ll be teaching this year, meaning I have a sold five months of reading only what I want and at my own pace, which is always nice.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (3/5) – I was pretty excited to read this book as I’d heard lots of good things, but I ended up underwhelmed. The idea and the story are more than interesting enough, but the prose was very ordinary and I never quite got to know the characters the way I wanted. It wasn’t terrible or anything, but I really don’t understand the heaps of praise being thrown on this one.

2. Animal Farm by George Orwell (4/5) – This was on my to-read shelf. Somehow, I’d gotten through life without reading it. It was entertaining and brisk. A fun read. I think it might get lost a bit on the high schoolers reading it today, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it thoroughly.

3. In the Lake of the Wood by Tim O’Brien (4.5/5) – My other to-read selection for the month. It was very good and quite a change in tone from other O’Brien I’ve read. The creepy factor was very high, but that isn’t a bad thing at all. I’m glad I finally got to this one.

4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (5/5) – I taught this to my AP kids. It’s a great modern novel to teach. This was my third time reading it, which is usually when I find I fully understand the mechanisms in a book. Margaret Atwood is a genius. This is a brilliantly constructed novel. I think it’s probably superior to The Handmaid’s Tale, which is regarded as her most classic work, but that’s just an opinion, and you know how those are.

5. White Sea by Cleopatra Mathis (5/5) – This is a book of poetry Cate grabbed from a used book store. She liked it so much, she told me to read it. I did, and then I immediately taught some of it in one of my writing classes. Her language is beautiful. There are maybe half a dozen poetry collections that I revisit frequently. This is likely to join them.

6. Honeymoon by Patrick Modiano (5/5) – Modiano won the Nobel Prize recently, so we checked him out. I’d already had him on a list of books to read without realizing it. He’s French, so it’s in translation, but I found his writing haunting and touching at the same time. This was a slim volume, and I plan to read more of his work soon.

7. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (5/5) – The other book I taught this month. I’ve found this to be a great book for those high schoolers who are kind of drifting. I’ve read this five or six times now, we we’re old friends. The last chapter is as good as anything I’ve read in the English language.

8. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (5/5) – Very recently (last month!), I gave up on the notion of enjoyable fantasy-ish books. It seemed like an area, unlike science fiction, where really great writers were unwilling to venture. The problem with “genre” lit, however, is never that there isn’t good writing there, it’s that it’s so hard to find because the reviews are looking for the conventions of the genre not the quality of the writing. Well, here comes Ishiguro with a tale about Arthurian England. This book is stunning in every way. It is my favorite book of his that I’ve read, and I will be quite surprised if it isn’t nominated for all the awards it can be nominated for.

In interviews, Ishiguro has rightly bemoaned the focus on the fantasy elements, but he uses them beautifully to provide a rich story and a deep exploration into the nature of memory. I’ve never read a book like this before. It is completely stunning.

9. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (4/5) – And here’s yet another fantasy novel that was very, very good. Apparently, all I had to do was ask. No dragons here, but plenty of magic, and as with Ishiguro, it’s used very effectively. This is a four instead of a five mostly because, it feels like there are some first-novel growing pains here. The prose is decidedly weaker early in the novel and she takes just a touch too long to really get going, so it’s not quite perfect, but it is very good and well worth the read.

10. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen (5/5) – I’ve been meaning to read more ibsen for ages. Finally plucked this off the shelf. I pretty much knew what this was about and I knew I would like it. It’s all about how personal interest can overwhelm public good. What makes Ibsen a great writer though is that he has a mind toward causing social reform, but he never sacrifices character in service to his cause. The characters here are great and fully formed. I’ll have to teach this some day.