November/December Booklog

January 1, 2018

My giant year-in-review post will come along here in a few days, but I want to quickly touch on what I read these last couple of months.

  1. McSweeney’s #50 (5/5) – The did their 50th issue right. I’m not claiming every single element was a home run, but most of the content was. Much better than issue 49.
  2. Spring, A Folio Anthology (3.5/5) – An easy and enjoyable little giveaway from the Folio Society. Nice bits of thematically linked prose and poetry.
  3. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (5/5) – Live up to the hype. Reminded me a bit of Garcia-Marquez, which is a high compliment.
  4. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (4/5) – Good, but not as good as her best work. Another entry in the dystopian genre but, well, she really nails the ending, I think. I won’t spoil it, but it’s exactly right.
  5. Vita Nuova by Louise Gluck (3.5/5) – I’ve been slowly reading my way through Gluck. If this was the first thing of hers I’d read, I think I’d be floored, but as it wasn’t
  6. Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino (3/5) – Some excellent stuff in here, but less unified and somehow more repetitive than her last volume of poetry. I feel like this needed a bit of culling and a little extra material.
  7. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (4/5) – I mostly enjoyed this very much, like all Dickens, it got a bit wordy at times, especially during the last quarter or so. But I’d been meaning to read it for years, and I’m glad I did.

October Book Log

November 1, 2017

After two pretty pathetic reading months while I moved and then moved again, I rebounded with my best month of the year, so far. Pretty sure I can hit my yearly goals if I stay on the ball.

  1. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (5/5) – I’d read some Erdrich before and liked it without being blown away. Apparently, this is what I should have been reading, because It was fantastic. As I was reading it, I constantly found myself thinking of One Hundred Years of Solitude, in that this seemed to be a novel of place as much as people. There are lots of books right now that do inter-connected narratives. Almost none of them do it as well as this book does.
  2. Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (4/5) – I’ve developed something of a fixation on Barbery. I like her voice – or her voice as I experience it in English, at least. This was probably the least good book of hers I’ve read, but it was still enjoyable. The main character is thoroughly objectionable, and the book as a whole uses that to effectively question the idea of what makes a person worthwhile.
  3. The Crucible by Arthur Miller (5/5) – I hadn’t read this since my junior year of high school. On a related note, I have juniors for the the first time this year. It was in the curriculum and it was time for a re-read. I suppose there isn’t much new to say about it, but it is a particularly relevant work right now. The idea that people will believe what it is convenient for them to believe hits home, to say the least.
  4. Glimmer Train 100 (3/5) – I have little to say about this. A perfectly adequate issue.
  5. Melville by Jean Giono (5/5) – This is a novel written by one of the translator’s involved in the French edition of Moby-Dick. This, I believe, was supposed to be an introductory essay, but ended up as a small novel in which Melville is the main character. It’s delightful and fun with an interesting narrative style that manages to hold onto the idea of the essay while still telling the story.
  6. Scott’s Last Expedition by R.F. Scott (5/5) – This took me ages to read (because of the move), but was entirely worthwhile. It recounts Captain R.F. Scott’s  successful, but also fatal, expedition to the South Pole. Recounts is the wrong word, though. These are his journals. Scott is an engaging narrator with a clear fondness for those he works with. As, I suppose, a could captain should. It makes it hard then, when one can see the end coming. I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything quite like it. Maybe I’ll write a bigger post on it later.
  7. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (5/5) – When I was in college, I had a writing teacher that assigned a few excerpts from this. I read them and forgot about them for fifteen years before finally picking this up in order to cross Calvino off my “people I need to read” list. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. Also unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The nearest it comes is Borges or maybe some Nabokov in that it is very aware of itself and what it’s trying to do. And I love it.

September Book Log

October 1, 2017

Moving has caused reading issues for the second month in a row, but things seem to be smoothing out now. I’m in the middle of two big books and hoping October is a banner reading month.

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (4.5/5) – Taught this book for the first time ever. I hadn’t read it since college and it had soured in my mind. Turns out it actually deserves it’s reputation. It’s not perfect, but is very good and incredibly timely right now. Humanity has such a way of repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
  2. Human Acts by Han Kang (3.5/5) – I enjoyed this book, but don’t think it quite rose to the heights of her first novel The Vegetarian. That book presented us with different character perspectives whereas this one had large chunks trying to present a generalist we/you perspective that almost never works for me as a reader.
  3. The Stranger by Albert Camus (5/5) – I thought I was going to teach this, but ended up not teaching it. Anyway, I read it again, obviously, and still love it. I have some unread Camus sitting on my shelf that I need to get to. As is, Mersault is right up there with Humbert Humbert as one of the most interesting insane narrators in literature.

August Book Log

September 4, 2017

I generally spent August packing my entire house whilst also minding/trying to feed two kids, so not a lot of reading happened. Only three books.

  1. News of the World by Paulette Giles 3.5/5 – This was a very enjoyable book and an easy read, which I needed amidst the packing chaos. She does try to hard to wrap everything up at the end and that felt a bit cheap to me. A bit of ambiguity is okay. Still, it was a good book and a good read, compelling with well-drawn, honest characters.
  2. Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien (3/5) – I wanted this to be a a full assemblage of this narrative, which is one of my favorites from Tolkien. It was, instead, more scholarly discussion of how the narrative evolved over the years. Still interesting, but not exactly what I was after.
  3. Ararat by Louise Glück (4/5) – I’m slowly working my way through all of her poetry. This volume dealt largely with familial relationships in a way that occasionally felt repetitive, but which, in general, was as insightful and resonant as most everything she writes.

July Book Log

August 1, 2017

In July, I both sold my house and agreed to buy another house. I predicted back at the beginning of the year that this was going to be a complicated and busy year for me. So far, that’s accurate.

So four books this month and we’ll see about August.

  1. The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery (4/5) -Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog was my favorite book last year, so it’s safe to say I was excited for this one. As was the case with Elegance this one grows on me the more I think about it. I already wonder if 4/5 is too low a rating. Anyway, this book is like… I don’t know exactly. Imagine if David Mitchell was more fantasy and less sci-fi and also French. I’m going to have to read everything of hers now, I can feel it.
  2. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris (3.5/5) – This is a thick tome consisting of excerpts from Sedaris’ diaries over a 25-year period. Sedaris is an excellent writer, but he wasn’t in 1977. It’s interesting for the story it tells and the last 12 years or so contain a lot of really good writing, but it’s uneven overall.
  3. The Vegetarian by Han Kang (5/5) – Rare is the book where you have nothing in common with any of the characters, but end up genuinely empathizing with nearly all of them. I see myself in none of the people in this book, but their struggles are still very real and the emotions they feel hit home. Kang is a fabulous writer and I’ll be seeking out more of her work.
  4. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (4/5) – Finally got around to this. it is, in many ways, supposed to be the Ur of Russian literature. And I see why. It predicts much that comes after it, especially Tolstoy. It was A LOT of metered, rhyming poetry for my taste, but I’m still very glad I read it.

May/June Book Log

July 11, 2017

Okay, quickly. Here’s what I read during the last two months before a third month passes.

  1. Collected Poems by Carol Ann Duffy (3.5/5) – The first book on the list reflects the issues I had semi-constantly over the last two months. Parts of this are great, parts not so much. And when you’re in a “not so much” stretch, it’s easy to put the book down and leave it there for a while. Such is the danger of collected works.
  2. Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo (5/5) – This, on the other hand, was fabulous all the way through. I’d read and loved Szabo’s The Door last year and had this strongly recommended to me. Wonderful book wherein even the unlikable characters are understandable and at least somewhat sympathetic.
  3. Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano (4/5) – Three novella here. Two I REALLY liked and one I thought was okay. This is the second Modiano book I’ve read, I’m going to have to seek him out actively now.
  4. Gilmmer Train #99 (3/5) – Uneven, uneven, uneven.
  5. The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck (5/5) – Wonderful collection of poetry. Gluck’s work is sad and self-aware. I know anonymity is the way with poets, but I feel like she should be more widely known and taught.
  6. Eve, Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi (4/5) – When I finished this book, I had it rated lower, but as happens at times, it’s stayed with me and I’ve found myself considering it with some frequency. Deep Vellum continues to put out excellent works in translation and this book which delves deeply and honestly into the problems with a world seen from the male gaze is no exception.
  7. McSweeney’s #49 (4/5) – First issue in years and I was glad to have it. It’s all cover stories and most of them are great. A few don’t work. Perhaps because what they covered was a little too iconic.
  8. The Complete Shorter Fiction by Herman Melville (2.5/5) – The height of unevenness. Melville can be transcendent. He can also bore to tears. Both are present in more or less equal weight here.
  9. Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann (5/5) – One of the best “on writing” books I’ve read. It dispenses mostly with the This Is What You Have To Do nonsense and focuses on the particular kind of honesty and perseverance that is required of a writer.

Whoops. Hey, kids. Whoops.

Whoops whoops whoops.

I was EXTREMELY distracted during March and read very little and forgot my book log entirely. I was still distracted in April, but at least have it together enough to do this here little post about my reading.

  1. Little Birds by Anaïs Nin (5/5) – This is one of several recommendations I was given over the last couple of months and it was a good one. I hadn’t read any of Nin’s fiction, only her journals. The language was surprisingly spare and there was a wistfulness here that made me think of Sherwood Anderson but with sex.
  2. CivilwarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders (4/5) – Another recommendation and now I’ve finally gotten around to Saunders. I quite liked these stories and I was surprised by how dark they were. Saunders does what the best dystopian writers do. He uses it as a tool to make his point rather than allowing it to be the point on its own.
  3. World Enough and Time by Robert Penn Warren (3/5) – I love Robert Penn Warren and always will, but this book is imperfect. Much too long, especially at the beginning, and with characters who don’t really rise to the level of realness I’m accustomed to. The last 150 pages do really sing and Warren’s gorgeous prose is ever-present.
  4. The City in which I Love You by Li-Young Lee (5/5) – A long delayed re-read. Lee is one of my very favorite poets and it’s been ages since he put anything new out. I wish he’d get on it.
  5. Glimmer Train #98 (3/5) – The most uneven issue of Glimmer Train I’ve read. Some of these stories I’ll end up teaching. Some were so bad I’m confused about how they could possibly have been published. It closes with a novella that is superb, however.
  6. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (5/5) – Speaking of novellas. This was the last book on this list that was a recommendation and my goodness it is wonderful. Johnson takes a fabulously complex story and somehow wedges it into just over 100 pages. Shades of the best Jack London here as well. I’m going to have to go read everything he’s written now.
  7. What Are the Blind Men Dreaming by Noemi Jaffe (4.5/5) – I’ve pretty much fallen in love with Deep Vellum press now. This is a memoir in two parts. First, the journal of a holocaust survivor and second, her daughter’s reflections on it and upon visiting Auschwitz, where her mother was held. It feels like… I don’t know… Nabokov a little, maybe? I’ve never read anything like this before.
  8. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (4/5) – Reread this because I was teaching it. It’s been years. I didn’t like it as much as I once did, but it’s still an excellent novel.
  9. Before by Carmen Boullosa (4/5) – Another Deep Vellum book. This is novella-length and haunting. I still haven’t gotten it out of my head and may find myself rereading it and becoming more impressed with it as time passes. A sort of ghost story but also not a ghost story. Deep Vellum really does pick fabulous texts.

February Book Log

March 1, 2017

Keeping right on pace with where I want to be. Currently in the midst of a very long Robert Penn Warren novel I’d probably have finished if I hadn’t been struck down by the plague for about a week and a half.

  1. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (4.5/5) – I probably qualify as an Ishiguro fan boy at this point, but everything I’ve read by him has been really, really good. As with a lot of his writing, this deals with the difficulty of forming and desire to form meaningful connections. In this instance, it’s through the lens of orphanhood with a vaguely Holmes-ian backdrop. Ishiguro has the most creative settings and circumstances. Anyway, read this. It’s good.
  2. The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson (4/5) – This was a Folio Society book that I won at Christmas time (nice little present) and was a great deal of fun to read. It is exactly what it says it is (more or less). A recounting of ten very beautiful instances in which experimentation was effective in advancing our knowledge. It’s nicely written and recommended if you have even a passing interest in science.
  3. Observations by Marianne Moore (2.5/5) – Meh. This poetry was – for the most part – far to formulaic and dependent on rhyme. Which is, I realize, a product of the era to some extent. There is a section in the middle where she moves into free verse and I very much enjoyed those. But, in general, this volume was not my cup of tea.
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (5/5) – I mean, there’s nothing to say about this. Taught it for the first time in years. Still great.
  5. A Zero-Sum Game by Eduardo Rabasa (4/5) – I have VERY high standards for novel-length satire and this came very near meeting them all. It is a frightening indictment of the way value is placed and distributed in Western society and extremely apt in our current political climate. It takes just a little too long to get where it’s going, but it is very well done overall.

January Book Log

February 1, 2017

Welcome to yet another year of book logs. Here we go.

  1. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (3.5/5) – I read this book because it shows up as important for lots of writers I really admire and respect. My feelings about it are mixed. It is a philosophical and nearly plotless novel. I don’t mind the plotlessness a bit and quite enjoy watching the relationships develop between the characters. However, far, far too much time is spent giving voice to various philosophical viewpoints. I’m glad I read it, but I very much doubt I’ll ever consider reading it again.
  2. Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin (4/5) – This book deals with the narrative of the quest to detect gravitational waves and provide experimental confirmation of an aspect of Einstein’s relativity. It is a VERY well written book and n intriguing read, especially because gravitational waves were, in fact, detected as she was finishing the book, resulting in an additional chapter being added. There are a couple of spots where I could have done with less detail regarding the petty in-fighting that breaks out between some of the scientists, but it’s an interesting read all the same. Excellent book for the right kind of nerd.
  3. Fox by Adrienne Rich (4/5) – A very enjoyable collection of poetry. I’m under-read on Rich and trying to fix that. If one were to cut a few poems where she is perhaps a bit over-fixated on anatomy, this would be a perfect collection.
  4. All my Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (5/5) – This book was great. I’d been meaning to read it for a while and I’m glad I finally got to it. It deals primarily with depression and sadness between siblings, but also paints an evocative and realistic picture of the confusion of adult life with children and how complicated everything can be. Early contender for my end-of-year list.
  5. Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith (4.5/5) – This book uses the octopus and other cephalopods to discuss consciousness and what it means to be sentient. The best nonfiction books, alter or enhance how you see the world and this did both of those for me. I understand some things better now and, as a result, I have more questions.

2016 Reading Year in Review

January 5, 2017

I have now been doing this for eight years. That’s a long time to do something on the internet. Hooray for me. Let’s see how I did…


I read a lot more women writers and spent a lot of time in my local bookstore. So I was good on those. Did not, however, ready much that was long and sprawling. Oh well. I’m in the middle of a giant book right now, at least.

By the Numbers:

Books Read: 72 (goal was 75)
Pages Read: 16,692 (goal was 20,000)
Average per Book: 232 Pages
Pages per Day: 46

Biggest Reading Month: March – 9 books, 1915 pages
Smallest Reading Month: August – 3 books, 872 pages

Five Longest Books:

Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel – 604 pgs.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – 521 pgs.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen – 510 pgs.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell – 478 pgs.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – 464 pgs.

Five Shortest Books:

The Deleted World by Tomas Tranströmer – 37 pgs.
No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre – 46 pgs.
Meadowlands by Louise Glück – 62 pgs.
Lampblack & Ash by Simone Muench – 65 pgs.
Shirt in Heaven by Jean Valentine – 65 pgs.

Books I Read Again:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The Great Enigma by Tomas Tranströmer
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K Rowling
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Transformations by Anne Sexton
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

These were mostly the result of teaching/Simone again. Such is always the case.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year:

Nicely enough, I didn’t have anything that really disappointed me this year. Which is to say the books I didn’t particular care for didn’t come with high expectations.

Best Books of the Year

As my reading has become more diverse, it’s been harder and harder for me to figure out what categories to use and rank. And, so, rather than divide things up, here are my 10 favorite books form last year that I read for the first time.

Honorable Mentions: The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (best book of poetry for children I’ve ever encountered. By far), Winter in the Blood by James Welch, Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, Meadowlands by Louise Glück, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

10. Mischling by Affinity Konar – One of two books on this list that is crushingly sad. What I loved most about this, however, was the way Konar tells a story in which the worst perpetrators of the holocaust are characters without having the story being about them (a sentiment one of the main characters even voices at one point in the novel). It’s a wonderfully told story as well as a denial of validation to horrible people.

9. Incorrect Merciful Impulses by Camille Rankine – One of four volumes of poetry on my list. I like best how it acknowledges imperfection without apologizing for humanity.

8. Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez – I just published the book log with this a few days ago. Still amazed at how she fits to much into so few pages. Like Mischling, this deals with some of the worst in humanity, but shines the light where it needs to be.

7. Fort Red Border by Kiki Peterino – Like all literature, poetry often takes itself to seriously. This volume is light in spirit while also carrying plenty of artistic weight. That’s a tough trick.

6. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey – Having seen two novels from Ivey now, I think it’s safe to call her a genius. Among authors I’ve read, I can’t think of anyone living who’s started their career this strongly. Most take a book or two to really get going. She hasn’t. As an aside, this book, does a great job of incorporating visual elements into the story. Everything is perfectly constructed and thought out.

5. The Door by Magda Szabó – This is a story about isolation and the desire for human connection. Heavily metaphorical and perfectly crafted. I’d love to teach it some day.

4. Parallax by Sinéad Morrisey – My favorite volume of poetry this year. There is something about Irish writers in general that tends to resonate with me, but this, especially is filled with the kind of careful language and inventive imagery that is present in the best poetry.

2(tie). Moonglow by Michael Chabon – I can’t pick a second place book. I finished Moonglow right at the end of the year and was bowled over. I need a little more distance from it before I can correctly place it against the next book listed here. Chabon is one of my very favorite writers and, early on, was one of the people who made me want to write. The only thing he’s written that’s better than this is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

2(tie). Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – This deep exploration of the nature of family may be Ann Patchett’s best work. I need to re-read a couple of things before I can say that for sure. But it is so radically and impressively different from everything else she’s done. I didn’t even know she had this gear and it makes me excited to see what she does next.

1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery – I never know exactly what to say about what makes my favorite book of the year my favorite. This one, I suppose, knocked me over more than anything else. Perfectly formed, human characters. An honest story that manages to affirm existence in the way of Tolstoy. That’s the highest praise I can give, I think.

Goals for 2017:

I’m pretty happy with a lot of where I’ve landed reading wise. I have a suspicion that this will be a busy year, so I’m lowering my counting goals a bit to 60 books and 15,000 pages.

Other goals:

  1. More works in translation. I recently got a subscription to Deep Vellum, which should help with this. There are several works in translation on my top-10 this year, which is a good motivator.
  2. More poetry. This last year is the first time I’ve started writing poetry really seriously. I’ve been reading more as a result and enjoying it very much.
  3. Actually read more long books. Really. For real. I mean it. Nothing like finishing a book that is both wonderful and really long.
  4. Knock out the too-read shelf. Some of these have been sitting here a really long time. Gotta read ’em or get rid of ’em.
  5. A choronological Tolkien reread. A friend mentioned this to me and it sounded like fun, so I’m going to read about Middle Earth starting in the first age. Call me a nerd. I’m cool with it.