Well, this month I got more or less back to normal after a few months of very little reading. 7 books and lots of really great stuff. Here we go…
- Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh (4.5/5) – This is an excellently written account of the quest to solve a several-hundred-year-old math problem. Singh does a good job of making it compelling. There really is a fair bit of drama in the situation. Anyway, a good book, especially if you’re the nerdy type as I am.
- McSweeney’s 31 (2/5) – Ugh. I picked this up in a used bookstore not too long ago. It’s the worst issue of McSweeney’s I’ve read. The concept is to have modern writers revisit old writing forms. Unfortunately, almost all of the entries are delivered with an ironical “I’m above this tone” that wears thin very quickly.
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (5/5) – This book was wonderful. One of two genuine masterpieces I read this month. It is very French and very philosophical, but the characters are still fully-formed individuals who function as people as well as ideas. A wonderful exploration of how it is easy to underestimate both others and ourselves.
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (5/5) – I love Ann Patchett, but her last couple of novels haven’t been up to her earlier standards, I thought. This, however, is the best thing she’s ever written. I’m not exaggerating. It goes so far beyond her best work, that I found myself almost dumbstruck. And again, she’s one of my favorite writers. The idea here is to explore the way fractured families interact while also looking at the idea of fictionalization, biography, story-telling, and how stories change. She pulls off every bit of it. It is a perfect novel.
- No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre (5/5) – I’d never read any Sartre and I’d been intimidated by what I’d heard others say about him. This is a play about three people in hell, and I didn’t have any issues with this at all. I found it alternatingly funny and heartbreaking.
- East of the Sun, West of the Moon (5/5) – Norse fairytales illustrated by Kay Nielsen. The point is largely the gorgeous pictures, but I’ve read enough fairy tales now to be interested in the way different stories get twisted as they move from one culture to the next. There were also some things in here, I hadn’t seen yet.
- The Great Enigma by Tomas Tranströmer (5/5) – This is my favorite volume of poetry and I needed a re-read. I find poetry restorative and while Tranströmer’s vision can be bleak, there is a clarity to what he writes that allows the reader to at least understand the placement of everything in the disordered puzzle of the world.