July/August Book Log

September 4, 2018

I missed last month in the rush of getting ready for school, so here’s the last two-months of reading. August has been a bad reading month for several years running. Something about the start of the academic year must make it hard for me to focus. Only three of these are from August. Here we go.

  1. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2.5/5) – This is a good candidate for disappointment of the year. I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve read from Egan before. Largely because she’s such an inventive storyteller. But this was so pedestrian.
  2. The Big 50 by Chad Dotson and Chris Garber (5/5) – Yes, I do know these guys. I’ve written about baseball with them for a long time. This is ONLY a book for Reds fans, but if you like the Reds, you’ll be interested.
  3. Summer: A Folio Anthology (4/5) – The last of the little freebie series the Folio Society has been putting out lately. And the best, I think. A very enjoyable afternoon read.
  4. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (4/5) – It has been a long time since I had to teach a book I hadn’t read before. This was my summer homework. I doubt I have anything to say about it that hasn’t been said elsewhere. I did enjoy it though, and it’s an interesting book to teach, so far.
  5. Andy Catlett: Early Education by Wendell Berry (4/5) – The last of my little collection of books form Larkspur Press. It was fun and tiny. I hadn’t read any Berry in a really long time. Maybe I need to again.
  6. The Goblin Market and Selected Poems by Christina Rosetti (5/5) – Now this book I have something to say about it. I had never read any Rosetti before and I can hardly believe Goblin Market was written in the 19th century. It’s so out of step with the time with its obvious sexuality. All of her poetry is highly structured and generally rhymed, but I didn’t feel it like I usually do. Her meter and rhyme were deft and natural seeming in a way that rarely occurs. Not many poets can make me want to read a list of fruits over and over again.
  7. Circe by Madeline Miller (4/5) – Good but not great, which I suppose I should have expected. I feel like it’s a bad sign usually, when writers categorize themselves. The Song of Achilles was a remarkable book but Circe is never as good a character as Achilles was. Her rages are glossed over. She is too rational. In some ways it feels that she’s not much more than a foil for the less rational mortals and gods who pop in and out of her story. I want more from a title character.
  8. Other People’s Love Affairs by D. Wystan Owen (5/5) – The best book of short stories I’ve read since Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy. Despite being ostensibly set in the English town of Glass, these stories feel mostly divorced from place and time. The setting is only there to the extent that it’s a necessary back drop for the characters who all come to life trying to figure out their own particular version of love. I want to teach all of these.
  9. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (5/5) – This is the best birthday present I’ve gotten in a long time. I’d never read any Waugh. He was one of my unfortunate blindspots. This wasn’t what I expected. I’d been made to understand that he wrote a fair bit of biting satire, but Brideshead was something else entirely. It wasn’t until the very end that I knew exactly what kind of story I’d been reading. It wasn’t exactly about love or friendship or family, but it was also about all of those things. All against the backdrop of war. An entirely worthy read.


June Book Log

July 2, 2015

I am half way to 100 books now, which is pretty cool. I’m certainly reading more than I’ve ever read before. This month, I read nine books. Here they are:

1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (4/5) – This was my latest read with Simone. It was fun. We’ve generally read classic books together and it’s been nice. I wasn’t read to a ton when I was little, so I missed out on a lot of these. Like other good kids books, this manages to say something without preaching.

2. Dead Man’s Cellphone by Sarah Ruhl (4.5/5) – Though she is almost certainly an acquired taste, I think Sarah Ruhl might be my favorite contemporary playwright. Her plays are unapologetically odd and this was no exception, but she does a great job with her characters, and though I can read one of her plays in an hour or two, I always think about it for weeks after I read it. The entire premise of this play is that a woman is with a man when he dies and keeps his cellphone and keeps answering his calls for him, trying to comfort people. It’s often quite moving.

3. The Once and Future King by T.H. White (5/5) – My childhood love of Arthurian legend rekindled itself recently, and I found myself reading this wonderful volume. It is a four “book” book, the first of which was the basis for the Disney movie The Sword and the Stone. It is not a children’s book though. At least not after the first part. Much of it is very, very dark. And, having read it, I can’t imagine why anyone else would ever attempt a modern re-telling of the story. It’s never going to be as sad and charming as this book.

4. Dreaming Frankenstein by Liz Lochhead (3.5/5) – I loved half of this volume and thought the other half was merely adequate. It’s a collection of all her poems up until 1984, and generally, I favored the poems she wrote earliest. The later poems in this volume needed a firmer editorial hand and often lacked the crispness of the wonderful early work.

5. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (3/5) – This was an adequate novel, which is best I can say for it. It gets better as it goes, but there’s a good deal of cliche and the writing feels very much like generic MFA-style. I nearly put it down several times, but it was easy enough, so I kept on with it. Not something I’d recommend.

6. The Keep by Jennifer Egan (4.5/5) – Boy, Jennifer Egan is a fantastic writer. This was the perfect antidote to the ordinariness of Everything I Never Told You. Egan doesn’t sound like anyone but herself. There are three  storylines in this and they fit inside each other like perfect matryoshka dolls. The ending chapter contains a twist that I had to think about for a while, but I think it really works. Anyhow, great book.

7. Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy (5/5) – Somehow, I’d missed Carol Ann Duffy entirely until recently. Having encountered a few of her poems in a professional development thing, I requested a bunch of her books from the library. This was the first one that arrived and it’s wonderful. Her poetry, as I’ve experienced it so far, is pure honesty.

8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (3.5/5) – Until this book, I’d never read anything by a Bronte. Meh. It was okay. Definitely not the worst book I’d ever read, but at this point, I’d rather George Eliot or Charles Dickens if I’m going with old Brits. Too many coincidences that come out of nowhere. A bit too heavy with the symbolism. I did care about the characters by the end and generally enjoyed the read, but I didn’t find this to be a great book.

9. Shackleton’s Boat Journey by Frank Worsley (5/5) – I’ve always had a thing for arctic and antarctic exploration. This is a first hand account of one such endeavor gone wrong. It was written by Ernest Shackleton’s second in command, and he could have been a writer if he’d wanted to. It’s a wonderfully paced, fascinating adventure story. There are shades of Moby-Dick here in the man vs. nature conflict. It’s not as deep as that of course (it’s only 140 pages), but there is real substance here.