December Book Log

January 4, 2019

The Year-in-Review reading post will be along in the next few days, but we’ve got a book log to do first.

  1. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (4/5) – A really good book recommended by my pal Chadwick Ulysses Dotson. It is his favorite book ever, but not quite mine. It was a quick read and very enjoyable. Exactly what I needed when I was reading it. I do think it drags a bit in the second half and works too hard to tie everything up with a bow. I have a hard time imagining someone who reads and wouldn’t enjoy this book, though.
  2. The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli (5/5) – This was a wonderful exposition of the complexities of time in reality versus how we perceive it from our limit perspective. I rarely feel moved to quote a passage, but take a gander at this:

    The difference between things and events is that things persist in time; events have a limited duration. A stone is a prototypical “thing”; we can ask where it will be tomorrow. Conversely, a kiss is an “event.” It makes no sense to ask where the kiss will be tomorrow. The world is made up of networks of kisses, not of stones.

  3. Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen (4/5) – Enjoy Ibsen very much and read something of his every so often just because. This was probably my least favorite of what I’ve read so far, but it’s still excellent and still feels more modern in its critique of society than any 150 year old play should be.
  4. McSweeney’s 53 (5/5) – This issue was perfect all the way through. And that’s so hard for a quarterly to do. And excellent issue to start with if you’ve ever been curious about them.
  5.  Phrasis by Wendy Xu (5/5) – Sometimes, I go the book store and pull random volumes of poetry off the shelf. I read a poem or two and when I find something I like, I buy it and take it home. That’s what happened here. These poems are as close to perfect as poetry can be, I think. Xu has a linguistic playfulness that manages to supplement rather than undercut her themes, which are generally more serious (and varied, which is alway nice, plenty of poetry collections are repetitive).

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.

October Book Log

November 2, 2014

This was a pretty big reading month for me, including a couple of big books. Generally, I was quite pleased. Most of this year has been rather down for me where reading is concerned, but things have looked up lately. I do need to really pick it up with Shakespeare if I’m going to get through the plays. Anyway…

1. Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee (5/5) – This was a re-read for me and the second book my AP Lit class read. I’ve discovered, through teaching, that it generally takes me three reads before I feel like I really know a book. This was my third read, and as such, I saw all the layers and how they are built by Lee. He is one of our greatest contemporary writers. I never tire of his prose.

2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (3.5/5) – I read this to Simone. It was a fun little book. She certainly enjoyed it. I found it fun, but a little wanting at times. Preachy in places. I don’t like children’s books to preach, even if I agree with them.

3. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (5/5) – This was one that I picked up at the bookstore, having heard good things, read the first page of, and then bought. His range is unbelievable. He seems to be able to write whatever and whomever he wants and to do it convincingly. I’ve read two of his books now, and will have to read the rest.

4. Troillus and Cressida by William Shakespeare (2/5) – Blech. This was supposedly a commissioned work. It’s pretty awful. Not one I’ll eve likely revisit.

5. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (5/5) – Re-read this for AP as well. I really like Ibsen. I need to read more of him. I do tire of re-reading plays more quickly than I do with novels, though. I can probably stand to read this one or two more times before I really feel the need to teach something else for a while.

6. Winesburg Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (5/5) – I’ve read this probably ten times now. I love it. It’s still the most common answer I give when asked what my favorite book is. I found myself this time really appreciating the unity of passion that runs through all the stories. Still, this year, I started to feel I knew it a little too well. I started to notice little structural ticks and other things that become apparent only after reading something many times. I think it is time to rest on it for a while.

7. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (4/5) – Some of the comedies have started to blur together for me, but I did enjoy this one. Other than the rare misstep, Shakespeare has been consistently good or great since getting over some issues early in his career. I’m intrigued to reach the end.

8. Othello by William Shakespeare (5/5) – I hadn’t read this in ages and found that I liked it more than I’d liked it before. Probably one of my favorites now. Iago really is a thing to behold. That kind of evil is generally unrealistic, but that doesn’t make it less engaging, especially when it’s written as well as this.

9. Middlemarch by George Eliot (5/5) – This book and I have a history. It was the only book in my undergraduate English courses that I found myself completely unable to manage. I think I read about 40 or 50 pages and then gave up. Well, 15 years later, here I am finally having read it. And it really was very, very, very good. I don’t know why I had a problem with it before except that I was young and stupid. I didn’t expect Eliot to be so amusing. It is a very English novel, but done very well. I’d prefer this to anything I’ve read of Jane Austen.