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.

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.

October Book Log

November 1, 2016

This was a good reading month. I’m nice and on track to read 75 books this year, so that’s fun. Onward.

  1. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (4.5/5) – I was interested to see how this book was. Springsteen, obviously, knows how to use words, but I was prepared for this to be a bit of an over-wrought mess. It wasn’t. It was, in fact, really interesting. There are somethings I’d like to have learned more about and some things I could have with less of, but in general, it is a well-told life story and Springsteen really is a good writer
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (4/5) – I was an adult by the time Harry Potter became a thing, so when I read the books it was mostly out of curiosity. I remember finding the first several books unspectacular. However, this time, I was reading it with the kids and it did radically change my experience. They are hooked and a good time was certainly had by all.
  3. Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist by Agnieszka Kuciak (4/5) – Another in my run of bookstore poetry finds. This is a fun concept and she deftly manages to write from many different voices and personas. Some of those voices enchant me and others don’t, but they all appear distinct.
  4. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (5/5) – Re-read this for teaching. I still think it has the most recognizable quotations of any Shakespearean play with the possible exception of Romeo and Juliet.
  5. Drifting House by Krys Lee (5/5) – This is a really nice collection of stories that address Korea, especially the north/south tension, in a way I don’t know that I’ve ever seen in English-language literature. Not that it hasn’t happened, but I haven’t read it. Add to it that her writing is very, very, very and good and it makes for a en excellent read. There are several teachable stories here for me. I have her other book in my to-read pile right now and I’m excited to get to it.
  6. Glimmer Train #97 (3.5/5) – I feel like this was a slightly off issue for Glimmer Train, but there were still several really great stories.
  7. Mischling by Affinity Konar (5/5) – This was a good reading month and this book was the best thing I read. Completely heartbreaking. I don’t want to write too much about it, but I do want you to go read it.

April/May Book Log

June 11, 2016

Here’s the thing, life keeps not being chill for me. I don’t know how else to put it. But it makes it hard to keep up with these book logs. The end of school flurry of activity didn’t help either. I’m going to try and post something more thorough next month and one of my summer goals is to read a ton, but for now, I’m just slapping this together quick and dirty. So here’s what I read in April and May:

  1. Poems by Anna Ahkmatova (4/5) – A famous Russian poet I only just found out about. I found this volume to be really good, though I strongly preferred her earlier writings.

2. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (5/5) – I’ve read and taught this book at least half a dozen times now and it doesn’t lose anything the way most books do if you read them over and over. I could teach it forever, I think.

3. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (5/5) – Reread this because it is one of my favorites and because of what I wrote about in this essay. I’ve read this book three times now (it’s a long book) and it’s gotten better every time. This time, I was engaged the most by what it has to say about the consequences of our actions and that having only bad choices doesn’t mean you get to stop making choices.

4. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (5/5) – I’m in love with Patchett’s writing. I hadn’t read this one because it was “only” a collection of essays. I’m glad I finally got around to it. Lots of moving writing in here.

5. Letters to Emma Bowlcut by Bill Callahan (4/5) – This is a strange little book. It’s an epistolary novel with one side of the correspondence taken out. Not perfect, but very good.

6. Why They Run the Way They Do by Susan Perabo (3/5) – An uneven collection of stories. There were some here I really like, but I’ve already forgotten more than a few of the lesser ones.

7. Lampblack and Ash by Simone Muench (4/5) – I picked this up at the book store because I don’t see my daughter’s first name that often. The best of these poems are transcendently good. At times she is held back by what can seem like an obsession with sound devices. A worthy read, though.

8. Waterland by Graham Swift (5/5) – This book was suggested to me as something I’d really like and I did. Swift does a great job playing with timelines and the interactions of different generations. Great use of dramatic irony as well. Wonderful book and a candidate for my best of the year list when that comes.

9. House of Light by Mary Oliver (2.5/5) – I often find Oliver to be an uneven poet, and this collection isn’t particularly strong. Lots of natural imagery, but she mostly just lays it on the page instead of working to take it somewhere interesting.

10. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (5/5) – Another candidate for my year-end list. I loved this book. There was some controversy about the unlikable narrator when it came out because those taking issue with it were really taking issue with the fact that the narrator is an unlikable woman. Anyway, likable or not, the narrator is extremely relatable to anyone who’s ever had things not go according to plan (so, everyone) and a masterpiece of characterization.

11. Glimmer Train 96 (4.5/5) – I’m starting to really love this literary journal the stories in this issue were almost uniformly excellent, and that’s a hard thing for a journal to do.

January Book Log

February 3, 2016

The first month of the year is in the books and my reading is off to a completely acceptable start. Nothing this month that I didn’t enjoy in some capacity. Also, I’m making good on my goal to read 60% women this year. Four of the five single-author books I read this month were by women.

  1. The Deleted World by Tomas Tranströmer (4/5) – This was a very slim volume of poetry, but I’ll read any Tranströmer I can get my hands on. The translations are a little uneven here, especially in the poem that deal with more complex topics and structures. But overall, still a nice read.
  2. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (4/5) – This was our welcome back form break book in AP literature. Awfully grim, of course, but I had a god time teaching it to this set of kids who seemed to quite like it.
  3. Emma and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper (5/5) – This was a really, really great book. Probably an early contender for the end-of-year list. It is sort of a fairy tale and sort of a love story and sort of a WWII story. See, that’s that thing about really good books, it can be hard to explain what exactly they’re about. Anyway, the characters are fantastically three-dimensional – even the ones who aren’t human, and Hooper’s prose is as graceful as it gets.
  4. Shirt in Heaven by Jean Valentine (5/5) – And this is the first really great book of poetry I read for the year. The images here are perfectly chosen. Valentine gets at the heart of longing and desire.
  5. National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (5/5) – I wrote a review of this on Goodreads, which I’m just going to quote here:
    This is, possibly, the best poetry book for children I have ever encountered. It does an wonderful job of presenting poems that are accessible to children without talking down to them. In fact, it contains numerous poems that you’ll find in AP literature textbooks (I know, I’m an AP lit teacher) and a number of surprising and delightful selections that can be understood on multiple levels. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  6. Glimmer Train #95 (3.5/5) – After wanting a subscription to this journal for ages, I finally have one. There were some great stories in this issue, but also a few of the 23-year-old MFA student variety where everyone is clever and well-read. Still, worth it for the great ones (and some of them really were excellent).
  7. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood (4/5) – One of the few Atwood novels I hadn’t read. I place this one comfortably in her second-tier. Which is to say very, very good, but not transcendent. I think she was going for a level of depth that I didn’t quite pull out of the story. It may also be that this book reminded me a lot of Blazing World, which was an absolute masterpiece. If I’d gotten to this book first, I might have had a different impression of it. Anyway, Margaret Atwood Forever and all that.