May Book Log

June 8, 2018

This is a little tardy because the end of school was exhausting. Also, I put a new floor down in the kid area which is huge and it was exhausting.

As a side note, I’m going to be updating my top-100 list sometime this month. I missed last year amidst house buying. Prepare yourselves.

  1. Pops by Michael Chabon (3.5/5) – This was solid. My primary issue was that I’d read all of it before as it was entirely a collection of previously published material. But the observations are good and interesting. A worthwhile read if you haven’t come across the material before.
  2. Bride & Groom by Alisa Genieva (4/5) – A contemporary Russian novel that doesn’t feel like all the other Russian novels you’ve ever read. A good reminder that what usually makes it into translation from other cultures is not a complete representation of all different segments of that society. Russia is an enormous country and the people who populate this book aren’t characters from Tolstoy or even Nabokov
  3. The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino (4/5) – I keep reading Calvino and keep not being disappointed. I didn’t like this as much as the first couple of things I’d read, but I think that’s mostly because it was several volumes packed together and thus not necessarily cohesive. Everything I read of his – and this book is no exception – takes fiction somewhere I haven’t seen it go before.
  4. Best to Keep Moving by Jeff Worley (4/5) – Wherein I periodically dip into the Larkspur Press books I got hold of a while ago. Nice poetry with a few that really turned things on their head.
  5. Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse (5/5) – This book was fantastic. Hesse was a “should have but haven’t” read of mine and I’m glad I finally got to him at the strong urging of a friend. My favorite thing about this book was how it played with multiple voices in such a way that they all invalidate each other leaving, by the end, a core idea that hangs out in your head for what seems like it will be a long time.

February Book Log

March 2, 2018

Read pretty much exactly what I wanted to read in February. On track with all goals and so forth. Hooray for me.

  1. Freya by Anthony Quinn (2/5) – Holy crap. I was enjoying this book immensely. For the first 400 or so pages. Unfortunately, it’s about 550 pages long. I’ve never seen a book crash and burn like this before. It was amazing. To construct a character so thoughtfully 400 pages and to then quickly contradict and destroy everything you’ve created. It was every possible bad decision about how to end a book. It’s almost an accomplishment how thoroughly he ruins it all.
  2. Jazz by Toni Morrison (5/5) – Taught this book for a the first time in a few years. I really enjoy teaching it because the structure is so different from what kids are used to seeing. It challenges them interesting ways. And I continue to enjoy it, having read it 4 or 5 times now, which says something as that’s usually the point for me when even books I love often become a bit stale.
  3. Magnetic Point by Ryszard Kynicki (4/5) – Over the last few years, I’ve kind of developed a thing for Eastern European writing. Especially poetry. And with poetry, what you get are mostly these selected poem collections of someone’s enormous and important career. It’s interesting the trace the phases and I inevitably prefer some to others, but this volume was mostly up my alley. Tranströmer with a bit more naturalism is, I suppose, how I’d describe it.
  4. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (5/5) – This book was an absolute delight. I am just going to read all the Calvino. When I finished this one, I laughed loudly and delightedly. I can’t remember ever having that response to a book before. I think anyone who hasn’t read this and really enjoys reading will appreciate it and take quite a bit of joy from it. It is a book for readers.
  5. The Violins of Saint-Jacques by Patrick-Leigh Fermor (3/5) – The introduction to this little volume acknowledges that Fermor is an interloper to the culture he is trying to capture, and it’s disappointingly true. The story is brief and compelling, but it is very much the kind of book colonizers have always written.
  6. The Great Unknown by Marcus Du Sautoy (4/5) – I had a lot of fun reading this book, which explores questions about science and how far it can reach in a compelling and self-aware manner. Sautoy doesn’t ignore any of the elephants in the room and I learned quite a bit. Most of the physics stuff I’d read previously, but this was a very enjoyable book if you’re of the kind of science-nerdy persuasion that I am. I sped through it, as well, thanks to an easy-to-embrace narrative voice that never overcomplicates or talks down to the reader.

2017 Reading Year in Review

January 6, 2018

Ah, reading friends, here we are again. This year was weird. I didn’t read nearly as much as has been normal. But I did move and buy a house and there was plenty of life interrupting along the way. Still, here’s how it all went down, book-wise, in 2017.

Books Read: 52 (goal was 60)
Pages Read: 12,948 (goal was 15,000)
Average per Book: 249 pages
Pages per Day: 35.5

Very meh right there. I need to read more on a daily basis. There were some full weeks when I barely read at all.

Biggest Reading Month: October (when all moving nonsense was complete) – 7 books, 1604 pages
Smallest Reading Month: August (maximum moving nonsense) – 3 books, 501 pages

Five Longest Books:

1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – 923 pages
2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann – 712 pages
3. Collected Poems by Carol Ann Duffy – 558 pages
4. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris – 514 pages
5. The Complete Short Fiction by Herman Melville – 504 pages

I find it somewhat amusing that the two longest books I read were the first and last books I finished in 2017.

Five Shortest Books:

1. Ararat by Louise Glück – 40 pages
2. Fox by Adrienne Rich – 61 pages
3. Vita Nuova by Louise Glück – 64 pages
4. The Wild Iris by Louise Glück – 67 pages
5. Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino – 72 pages

Books I Read Again:

The City in which I Love you by Li-Young Lee
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

All the teaching books.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year:

Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien – This wasn’t bad, but I wanted it to be much less scholarly and much more a coherent and unified narrative a la Children of Hurin. 

The 2017 Top 10:

Reminder – this only counts books I read for the first time in 2017.

Okaywere, here we go, starting from the bottom:

10. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich I very much have a thing for books that live in a place more than they live with their characters. It’s something that started for me with 100 Years of Solitude. Love Medicine belongs in that category and it is probably for that reason that I find this to be much better than the other Erdrich books I’ve read (which were still very good). It’s a different feeling to finish a book and feel as though you know a place instead of a few people.

9. Little Birds by Anaïs Nin There is, of course, the sex in this book, but there is also the feeling of post-WWI rule breaking that was such an important part of literature when this was being written. I’ve read some of her journals and generally found them a bit dry. The language here is much more lively and makes me think at least a little bit of the best Hemingway.

8. Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabó – I read this because her novel The Door was so brilliant. This was similarly brilliant with a central character who – as we all are at times – manages to be both completely understandable and unlikable at the same time. A good illustration of how messy it is to be human.

7. Scott’s Last Expedition by Captain R.F. Scott – If you ever wonder what endurance is like, this will show you, I think. It is nonfiction and so, of course, real in the literal sense, but it also feels as real as good fiction often does. And the foreknowledge of the ending becomes more and more intense as your attachment to the narrator and his men grows.

6. A Zero Sum Game by Eduardo Rabasa – I feel like most years, there’s a book on my list that I didn’t initially give a 5 out of 5, and  this is it. This book is hard. And I don’t mean that it’s hard to read. The prose is excellent. It’s hard to face because it is both dark and uncomfortably honest. Like Black Mirror, it’s theoretically satirical but manages to hit much too close to home.

5. The Wild Iris by Louise Glück – This is her best known work for a reason, I think. Like Shakespeare, I feel like she had a run of absurd brilliance that made her lesser, but still excellent volumes seem less good somehow. Anyway, this is the high point int he fabulous run. Her Hamlet or whatever.

4. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews – Spent forever meaning to read this book and then not reading it. It is one of the few really excellent representations I’ve read of middle age and depressing monotony that can accompany it amidst the raising of children and aging parents and all that.

3. Melville by Jean Giono – One of the oddest books I read this year and why NYRB is a good source of literature. It’s a slim novel that was supposed to be an essay but turned into a story about a fictional Herman Melville and it manages to be a lot of fun while also working on several more complex levels.  I feel like it would appeal to just about everyone who reads, which isn’t something I say, well, ever.

2. The Vegetarian by Han Kang – This book is incredible. It is one of the best uses of multiple-perspective storytelling I have ever read. It’s dark as hell, but you should read it anyway. Dark books for dark times and all that.

1. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino – Upon a strong recommendation, I finally knocked Calvino off my “need to read, but haven’t yet” list. And I can tell you right now this is going to be included whenever I next update my 100 favorite books list. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read except for maybe aspects of Borges. Like Melville, I also thing it’s a book a lot of people could enjoy, however. Anyway, it changed what I thought of as possible with fiction and that hasn’t happened in a long time.

Goals for 2018

I plan to get back to myself next year in terms of reading. I want to really read a lot and read some long books and also focus on works in translation more because I feel like I’ve gotten the most out of those in recent years (5 of the books on this year’s list are works in translation). My goals are as follows:

Read 70 books
Read one book longer than 400 pages every month (greater than 500 is ideal) because I like long books and there are many long things I tend to procrastinate on
Read two works in translation per month
Read 20,000 pages (this was my norm for a long time, but I drastically undershot it this year).
Tolkien re-read. This was a goal from last year that never got remotely off the ground. It’s just for fun and to be a nerd. Hopefully I manage it this time.

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.