May Book Log

June 4, 2019

As I write this, it isn’t summer vacation yet, but it very nearly is and I need it. The last several summers have been absurdly busy with life happening and finally, I have a summer with nothing hugely stressful looming aside from a week of training for a new class I’ll be teaching. Correspondingly, I’m really, really, really hoping to read in a relaxed manner over the next couple of months. So I’m bringing back something I did a long time ago: A book queue. It’s just a lit of books I plan to read over the next 2-3 months, but I like having the list.

Anyway, here’s what I read last month:

  1. The Radetzsky March by Joseph Roth (5/5) – I didn’t know what to expect from this, really. I just knew Chekov had praised Roth and that was enough for me. It’s a novel about pre-WWI Europe that’s not like anything else I’d read before. It tracks one family over three generations as they rise to prominence as the result of a mostly accidental association with the monarch. So much goes on in this novel so quickly, it’s hard to explain, but it’s very worth the read.
  2. Ripples in Spacetime by Govert Schilling (3/5) – This is a good book, but I’ve also read a lot of pop-physics books now, and that makes a lot of them also pretty redundant. I’d wager this would get a 4 or 5 if I’d never read anything like it before. As is, it’s a good discussion about the discovery of gravitational waves.
  3. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (4/5) – I hadn’t read any Hemingway in a long time and after a lot of fairly dense/ornate prose the last few months, it felt called for. This is an interesting memoir. Not his best, but fascinating to read because of all the characters who appear in it. Related: Fitzgerald was a mess.
  4. We and Me by Saskia de Coster (4/5) – The last third of the book is easily the strongest. Before that it reads as a fairly standard bourgeois angst novel. Entertaining enough, but nothing to get that excited about. A genuine urgency comes through in the latter part, though, which some pretty convincing epiphanies that make it a worthwhile read, especially if you’re in the mood for something of its kind. The Privileges by Jonathan Dee was similar and highly lauded book several years ago and this is much stronger than that one.

Book Queue (things I shall endeavor to read):

  • At least the first book of the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
  • Herzog by Saul Bellow
  • Relativity by Albert Einstein
  • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
  • Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Heines
  • Little Reunions by Eileen Chang
  • McSweeney’s 55
  • Sing to It by Amy Hempel
  • How to Tame a Fox by Dugatkin and Trut
  • Love and Death by Ivan Turgenev
  • Paris in the Middle Ages by Simone Roux
  • The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
  • Her Mouth as a Souvenir by Heather June Gibbons
  • The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan

Ah, the end of school. It’s coming, but getting there – as always – is taking a hit on my reading. Maybe I’ll pick it up this summer.

  1. McSweeney’s 54 (5/5) – Essential reading as much as anything I’ve come across in quite some time. Subtitled “The End of Trust,” it’s collection of nonfiction about the different ways technology enables surveillance and eliminates privacy.
  2. My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Break Throughs by Kazuo Ishiguro (4/5) – His Noble acceptance speech. A nice little read. I always love Ishiguro.
  3. The White Book by Han Kang (5/5) – Now THIS was interesting. Kind of a narrative. Kind of not. Kind of poetry and kind of prose. Completely fascinating overall. I think I’ve read everything from Kang so far and it’s all been excellent. She’s someone to pay attention to.
  4. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (5/5) – I got a fancy copy of this book and so it was time for a reread. This is one of my top-five ever and I think this was my fifth time reading it. Great as always.
  5. Binstead’s Safari by Rachel Ingalls (2/5) – I LOVED Mrs. Caliban, which I discovered more or less by accident, so this was an easy decision to pick up at the book store. Blech. Not well done. Awfully colonialist and otherwise dull and predictable.
  6. The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot (5/5) – I hadn’t revisited this closely in ages. read through it with a guide to all the allusions in the text. You don’t need the background to enjoy the poem – which is fantastic on its own – but the additional depth is really interesting.
  7. Little Culinary Triumphs by Pascale Pujol (4/5) – This was a fun read. Very French. Intentionally silly in spots. I was rather distracted while I was reading it and I wonder if it doesn’t maybe deserve a five. But sometimes that’s how it goes. Fun and recommended.
  8. The Odyssey by Homer (5/5) – I just finished teaching The Odyssey for he first time ever. I picked up the Fagles translation to read through because it had been a LONG time since I read Homer. Translations can make such a huge difference. This was so good, I’m gonna grab The Iliad to read just for fun.

February Book Log

March 2, 2019

Only finished three books this month, but that happens sometimes. Thanks to a good January, I’m still on pace. While you’re here, I’m going to be writing for charity in about a month and half, and if you’d like to help out, it would be wonderful. Louisville Story Project is a fantastic organization that seeks out unheard and marginalized voices and makes sure they get published. You can donate here.

  1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (3/5) – I was disappointed in this book, and I realize I’m very much in the minority. I don’t have a problem with novels that are more about place/time/culture than character (some of my very favorite books fall into this category – One Hundred Years of Solitude, for instance), but I do need there to be some focus on character. In this novel, it seemed to me that the people never really got to be people rather, they were props who existed waiting for deus ex machina to come along and move the story to its next phase. Again, I know i’m in the minority, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
  2. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (5/5) – A teaching reread, but Act III of Caesar is one of my very favorite things in all of literature. Do yourself a favor and go watch the Brando version from 1953. Marlon Brando was good.
  3. Collection of Sand by Italo Calvino (3.5/5) – Another disappointing one. I’m working my way through Calvino right now, and this is the first work that hasn’t done much for me. Mostly, I’m sure, because it’s a collection of essays and not a unified work and those are always problematic. The first half or so of the book is very pedestrian (2/5), but the second half I quite enjoyed (4.5/5). So take that for whatever it’s worth.

January Book Log

February 3, 2019

I have started off the year well. I finished seven books in January. The last two years have been off years for me. While I’m not looking to read 100 books this year or anything, it would be nice to read more than I have recently. I supposed we’ll see.

  1. Robin Hood by J.C. Holt (3.5/5) – I have a thing for British legend/myth. I always have. It surfaces occasionally, as it did here. This isn’t a retelling of the legend, but an academic exploration of it. It’s an interesting book and I mostly enjoyed it, but Holt was a little to fixate on the idea of their being “right” answers. I would have liked more cultural context and less discussion of the minor outlaws who could have been the loose basis of some of the stories.
  2. Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals (4.5/5) – I hadn’t read this before, but as I’m currently teaching it, I had to make sure I’d read it first. It’s a disturbing and fascinating first-hand account of the Little Rock Nine. And, as with too many things, feels especially timely of late.
  3. Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman (5/5) – This was a fantastic novel set in a vaguely dystopian near-future at a dilapidated primate research institute. It manages to touch on a number of issues without ever becoming heavy-handed. The whole thing is beautifully and delicately written. An early candidate for my end-of-year list.
  4. The Remaining Life by Maria Gabriela Llansol (4/5) – The second of her books I’ve read from this omnibus of three novels I have. Just as strange as a first one. I’m glad her books are short because I think they require small doses as they exist somewhere in the space between novel and poetry. They definitely make me feel and think, though.
  5. Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas (4/5) – This was really interesting. It reminded me of a bunch of things I’ve enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Winesburg, Ohio. A very interesting portrait of a moment in a particular place.
  6. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (5/5) – Teaching this. If you are a member of a culture that has participated in colonialism/oppression of indigenous people and you haven’t read this, you need to.
  7. Jazz by Toni Morrison (5/5) – Also teaching this (does teaching three different books at once sound fun? No. Good, because it isn’t.). Anyway, this is still my favorite Toni Morrison novel (though I haven’t read them all) because of how it plays with truth and perception. The use of language and structure is really masterful.

September Book Log

October 3, 2015

September was better than August. Not normal. Not quite. But an improvement over last month certainly. Some very good books this month, too. Okay, here we are:

  1. Britain after Rome by Robyn Fleming (4/5) – This was read for a bit of research on a novel I’m writing. Fleming does an excellent job telling a story when, frankly, there isn’t a lot of raw material for her to use. Britain after Rome was a strange place and there aren’t a lot of records. Still, she’s an enjoyable writer to read and this was some of the easiest research I’ve done.
  2. Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill (4/5) – Read as part of Cate’s list for me this year. Many of the stories were brilliant, and I highly recommend the collection. You just have to overlook the one or two stories that feel a touch repetitive. Still, a wonderful job looking at the lives of women who don’t fit into the box of what a woman is supposed to be.
  3. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (5/5) – The first AP book of the year. I hadn’t read it in probably five years, and I’d forgotten exactly how good it was. The class reaction was generally positive. Achebe does a wonderful job of making a flawed, unlikable character sympathetic.
  4. The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (5/5) – I thought this was completely brilliant. Like if Nabokov had written about gender identity. The internet (and my friends) is pretty divided. Some like it, some hate it. But really, I can’t imagine someone doing a better job with a book like this. I need to read all her stuff now.
  5. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (5/5) – Ferrante was someone I’d been meaning to explore for a while and I finally got to her. This book is very, very dark. It is like living in someone’s mind during an emotional breakdown. Great. But not an emotionally easy read by any stretch.
  6. Autumn: A Folio Anthology (3/5) – This came with an order of books I placed. It was enjoyable enough. Seasonally appropriate, and relatively throw away.
  7. Poetry, September 2015 (5/5) – Cate told me to read this because I like Irish writers and it featured young Irish poets. It was a good recommendation. This is great. I have a list of 10 or 15 writers I need to explore now (if I can only find there books).

Thankfulness

November 27, 2014

I don’t normally do the “what I’m thankful for” thing (I have a hard time with sentimentality). But this year, so much has gone on, that I feel compelled. You see, a lot of my friends have been on Facebook and Twitter talking about how rough Thanksgiving is going to be because there are bound to be fight about Ferguson. Cate and I started doing Thanksgiving on our own a few years ago because trying to split things between our two families just wasn’t very enjoyable. But even if we were going to see my parents today, I wouldn’t be worried. I’m thankful for that.

You see, both of my parents came from nothing. And I mean nothing. My dad, especially, can really tell you what dirt poor is. His family is big and his parents both worked hard. My Grandpa served in WWII and Korea and my Grandma worked on military airplanes during the war. And yet, still, when all was over, they couldn’t make ends meet.

Both of my parents dealt with that kind of thing when they were kids, and it taught them something. It taught them that not everyone gets a fair shake. And, I think, once you see that in your own life, it’s hard to not to see it in the lives of others. At least, if you’re willing to look.

My parents aren’t perfect. But they’ve both always been willing to listen to reason. They’ve changed their minds for the better about some things over time. But they’ve never had a hard time understanding that they were lucky. We were poor when I was little and then we weren’t. My parents worked hard and caught some bad breaks, but they did eventually pull themselves out of poverty. They’ve also seen plenty of people work hard and not pull themselves out. They’ve also seen how a lack of opportunity hits some groups a lot harder than others. They know, in short, that there are people out there who work just as hard as they did and who still end up with nothing. They know what privilege is and they know what luck is.

And so, here I am. I have a good job because of a college education that happened only because of the rich childhood my parents gave me. In a week or so, I will have a novel coming out, at least in part, because of some of the wonderful teachers I had at that college. I have a wonderful wife and children I love. I have pretty much everything I wanted. Yes, I worked hard, but I got pretty lucky, too.

Other people aren’t that lucky. This year, I talked to the mother of one of my students who mentioned, without prompting, that she was trying hard to make sure he understood that he had to act a certain way because he was a very large, young black man. This was not part of my reality as a child or a teenager. I have a kind of natural glare that some people find intimidating. But it never really mattered. It was a never a concern. That’s part of the luck and privilege I grew up with.

And so, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful that there will be no arguments like many of my friends will be having today. In my family, I don’t have to do the heavy lifting where social progress is concerned. My parents have already done that. I have it easy at the family dinner table. Easier, probably, than I really deserve to have it.

September Book Log

October 2, 2014

September provided me with a chance to recover from War and Peace, which, though really good, was taxing. Given a few more days, this would be a longer list as I finished the month in the middle of several books. Among them, David Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks which is my long book for September and so far quite brilliant.

I’m also still slugging away at Shakespeare. I have, I think, 13 plays left. I’m not sure I’ll finish it this year. It come down to how I handle my free time during winter break. We’ll see.

1. Residence on Earth by Pablo Neruda (5/5) – Cate got this for me for my birthday. Neruda can be very uneven, but this is his best-regarded volume, apparently, and for good reason. It’s glorious all the way through. It’s been a long time since I thought about a volume of poetry after I finished it as much as I think about this one. One of the best collections I’ve ever read.

2. As You Like It by William Shakespeare (5/5) – I’m running out of things to say about Shakespeare, but this was really great. I think it actually displaces A Midsummer Night’s Dream as my favorite.

3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (4/5) – The first text my AP class read this year. Ethan Frome isn’t my favorite Edith Wharton, but it is very good. My students seemed to generally love it, though they were frustrated by the choices the protagonist didn’t make.

4. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (5/5) – The second to last book on Cate’s list for me this year is one of the best books I’ve read all year. Stunning prose all the way through. Wonderful story. Art breathing through every bit of it.

5. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (5/5) – I’ve read this more than once before, of course, but this time I really took notice of the character development. Shakespeare often doesn’t take the time to fully flesh out the secondary characters, but there are loads of wonderfully formed people here.

6. The Island of Knowledge by Marcelo Gleiser (4.5/5) – This might be the best pop-physics book I’ve read. A great intro for someone just starting to explore.

7. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (4/5) – Nice. Silly. Lots of dirty jokes. Not my favorite comedy, but definitely amusing.

I did not mean for the last chapter of my novel to be so topical.

In it, a player is accused of rape. He is guilty, but because he is very good and knows how to handle the media, he gets off with no consequences.

I wrote it because it’s something I’ve seen in every professional sport. And now, sadly, I see it on my favorite team.

Alfredo Simon has been accused of rape. Though the initial news reports are pretty damning, we need to keep the “accused” there for now. But, I want you to do me a favor and not think that “accused” means “probably innocent.” When it comes to rape, “acquitted” doesn’t even mean that.

First, let’s start with this: the best estimates we have say that 54%+ of all rapes go unreported. Of those that are reported, 14-18% actually go to trial. Of those that do go to trial, the chance of conviction is, at best, 20%.

Numerous studies have found that only 2-8% of rape accusations are false. This is in line with other violent crimes

What that all adds up to is that less than 2% of rapes end in conviction and less than 4% of accusations end in conviction. This despite the fact that the victims almost always tell the truth.

I am giving you these numbers because I know that someone out there will want to blame the victim and call her a liar.

Don’t.

I know that someone out there will want to say that she was asking for it. She was drunk, after all.

Don’t.

No one EVER asks to be assaulted. The fault when a crime like this is committed always lies with the criminal.

Whether you are aware of it or not, you know a lot of women who have been raped. The numbers tell us about 20% of women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape.

I, personally, know a lot of women who have been raped. They include my wife. ALL of the women I know who have been victimized have been blamed for it by someone. NONE of them has seen the man who raped them go to jail.

I am not going to tell you what to think or feel about Alfredo Simon. I can tell you what I think and feel.

A player we have cheered for is accused of a terrible thing. I’m not a news organization, so I don’t have to hedge. He probably did it. The reports I’ve read make it sound like a pretty sure thing.

For the moment, I will not watch or otherwise engage with any game in which Alfredo Simon is scheduled to start. Depending on how the Reds as an organization deal with this, I may well swear off of them altogether. For now, I would personally like to see them place him on some kind of leave.

What I would ask of everyone out there in the Nation is that you do not blame this woman. That you do not deride her. That you do not make excuses for her probable rapist. We will let the justice system do the best it can, but we must also know that, in this instance, it is unlikely to do the job very well.

A Letter

January 16, 2014

I have not written in this space in almost a month. That is my longest drought here in quite some time, though it is not without reason. I am working on the baseball novel (which is probably going to be called When the Goldfinch Calls). There are other projects as well, but I haven’t had anything to say that really fits in this space.

And so, I was wondering what to do with this blog when I stumbled over Eowyn Ivey’s website after reading her novel. She blogs sporadically and treats every blog entry as a letter to anyone who cares to read it. This seems like an approach I can handle, so it’s what I’m going to do starting now.

Christmas has come and gone since last I wrote, and it was a wonderful time. As I’ve said before, Simone is the perfect age for that kind of thing and we all pretty much had a ball. In the midst of the season, Cate and I were able to sneak off to a movie. We used to go to the movies all the time, but then kids happened, so now it’s more or a rare treat.

Anyway, we went to The Hobbit. I liked this second installment much better than the first and I felt it sat comfortably alongside the LOTR movies. What I found most interesting, however, was the addition of a female character to the story. At the very moment we saw the movie, Simone was going through a heavy princess phase, and it was a little heartbreaking. She really likes fairy tales and I was doing a lot of searching trying to find a female toy that was something other than a princess.

Try to do this. It’s almost impossible.

I figured it out eventually, and Simone has since mostly come out of that stage, but I found the frustrating search very depressing, and I decided something: when it comes to old stories, I will never be a purist. Old stories tend to be male-centric, and the tend to reduce the female role to that of princess or princess equivalent (at least, in fairy tales) and that sucks if you have a daughter. I found myself quite thrilled with the addition of Tauriel to The Hobbit. I love that story, and I want there to be a place in it for Simone.

 

Speaking of movies, we don’t get to go out to them much, but we have been able to watch them more at home lately. Simone is nearly five and James is about to turn two. This means that the child needs are ramping down enough that we’re starting to emerge from that early-parenthood fog where you have no idea what it going on in popular culture. It’s nice. I like movies. I mean, right now, we’re still catching up on things from 2012, but it’s still progress.

 

2013 was a very hectic year for us, but a lot was accomplished. Around home right now, we’re working getting together the last pieces of the life we want to have. Mostly, this means moving to another neighborhood and, quite possibly, another state. We’ll see, but for the moment, at least, we have high hopes. The first of the down payment fund should go in the bank with my next check, and hopefully, it will be up, up, up from there. As long as children can avoid going to the emergency room for a while, we may be able to get some traction.

That’s all for now, I think. More when I have more to say.

Write to Amazon

February 13, 2009

Look, I don’t do this kind of thing often, but I’m asking a favor of the 4.7 people who read my blog. Go read this:

http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/02/looking-for-rape-products-try-amazon.html

Then write to Amazon and complain to them.