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.

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.

September Book Log

October 1, 2016

Well, this month I got more or less back to normal after a few months of very little reading. 7 books and lots of really great stuff. Here we go…

  1. Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh (4.5/5) – This is an excellently written account of the quest to solve a several-hundred-year-old math problem. Singh does a good job of making it compelling. There really is a fair bit of drama in the situation. Anyway, a good book, especially if you’re the nerdy type as I am.
  2. McSweeney’s 31 (2/5) – Ugh. I picked this up in a used bookstore not too long ago. It’s the worst issue of McSweeney’s I’ve read. The concept is to have modern writers revisit old writing forms. Unfortunately, almost all of the entries are delivered with an ironical “I’m above this tone” that wears thin very quickly.
  3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (5/5) – This book was wonderful. One of two genuine masterpieces I read this month. It is very French and very philosophical, but the characters are still fully-formed individuals who function as people as well as ideas. A wonderful exploration of how it is easy to underestimate both others and ourselves.
  4. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (5/5) – I love Ann Patchett, but her last couple of novels haven’t been up to her earlier standards, I thought. This, however, is the best thing she’s ever written. I’m not exaggerating. It goes so far beyond her best work, that I found myself almost dumbstruck. And again, she’s one of my favorite writers. The idea here is to explore the way fractured families interact while also looking at the idea of fictionalization, biography, story-telling, and how stories change. She pulls off every bit of it. It is a perfect novel.
  5. No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre (5/5) – I’d never read any Sartre and I’d been intimidated by what I’d heard others say about him. This is a play about three people in hell, and I didn’t have any issues with this at all. I found it alternatingly funny and heartbreaking.
  6. East of the Sun, West of the Moon (5/5) – Norse fairytales illustrated by Kay Nielsen. The point is largely the gorgeous pictures, but I’ve read enough fairy tales now to be interested in the way different stories get twisted as they move from one culture to the next. There were also some things in here, I hadn’t seen yet.
  7. The Great Enigma by Tomas Tranströmer (5/5) – This is my favorite volume of poetry and I needed a re-read. I find poetry restorative and while Tranströmer’s vision can be bleak, there is a clarity to what he writes that allows the reader to at least understand the placement of everything in the disordered puzzle of the world.