March Book Log

April 1, 2018

I continue to truck along with the only real difficulty being making sure I finish a long book every month. As was the case with January, I’m nearing the end of my long book (The Worst Journey in the World) but not quite there. Otherwise, it was an incredibly pleasing month of reading with one exception.

  1. The Golden Cockerel and Other Writing by Juan Rulfo (5/5) – There is a blurb on the back of my copy of this book where Gabriel Garcia-Marquez essentially gives Rulfo credit for his own writing. I don’t know that there could be a stronger endorsement. And the connection is clear. This is very much proto-Garcia-Marquez and it is uniformly brilliant all the way through.
  2. Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison (5/5) – Morrison mentioned this volume in an interview I watched while prepping to teach Jazz earlier this year, and I was intrigued. It’s a scholarly look at the way white American writers have dealt with blackness in the their novels. Really interesting and convincing work by a brilliant writer and thinker.
  3. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (5/5) – McBride’s first novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was a work of genius that was also nearly impenetrable. This novel is no less brilliant, but much more accessible as it gives a stream-of-consciousness account of romance between well drawn and complex characters. I definitely expect it to be on my end of year list. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  4. The Nagano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami (2.5/5) – Meh. There is nothing wrong with this book. Is well-written and I have no issues with any particular bits or passages, but I didn’t register a single feelings the entire time I was reading it. The characters aren’t much more than a collection of nervous ticks that try to stand in for human traits.
  5. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (5/5) – I hadn’t read this in ages, but I’m teaching it, so a re-read was called for. This book is heavily chronicled at this point and if you haven’t read it, you should. O’Brien does the most honest job of writing about war of anyone I’ve read.
  6. Rumors of Light by Leslie Shane (5/5) – I was recently lucky enough to be given several editions from an Larkspur Press, which is an artisan book producer here in Kentucky. The books are gorgeous and this one, which is the first I’ve read, is excellent pastoral poetry. This kind of poetry often feels stale or empty but Shane finds new wrinkles and manages to play with the language without losing the mood or feel of a pastoral piece. Very well done.

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.

January Book Log

February 2, 2015

It doesn’t seem right that it’s already February, but so it is. January was a fast month, but a great start to the reading year. I find myself very free in my reading since I have no Shakespeare to think about. Seven books this month…

1. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (5/5) – File this under books I’d somehow never read before (though I’d read and loved other Faulkner). It is as fantastically great as I expected it to be. The first book I read this year, and I will be surprised if it isn’t near the top of my list at the end of the year. Apparently, the initial print run on this was 2,000 copies and they lasted for a long, long time. There is no sense in the world.

2. The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham (5/5) – After lots of classics last year, I have a serious itch for contemporary stuff. This was great. Lots of different characters who are both irritating and redeeming. Cunningham does a splendid job of measuring the passage of time by event rather than year, which feels more natural. Cate also devoured this one.

3. Longitude by Dava Sobel (4.5/5) – This was a cool book about, basically, an inspired clock maker who made a mechanical clock that kept perfect time (thus making it possible for ships to track their longitude) and the people who were grumpy about him existing. Sobel did a great job constructing the narrative. So many nonfiction books like this have no sense of narrative arc, but this was an engaging read.

4. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (5/5) – This book has been on my to-read shelf for ages. I’m not sure exactly what I expected it to be, but it was better than that. The murder mystery aspect was most welcome and provided a lovely compelling plot – which Guterson kept expertly going right up to the end – to go with his brilliant language and exploration of themes centered around otherness.

5. Jazz by Toni Morrison (5/5) – First AP book of the new year. I hadn’t read it in a while and it was nice to return to. Our final class discussion was really interesting. My students were bothered by how Morrison frames the morality of what happened. Good. They were supposed to be bothered.

6. Sweet Jaguar of Laughter by Diane Ackerman (4/5) – There was an epigraph in Longitude that excerpted and Ackerman poem. It was great, and I’d never heard of her before, so to the library I went. There is a lot of wonderful lyric poetry in this collection and, as is almost inevitable in poetry collections, some serious duds here and there. All in all, I’ll be reading more Ackerman and getting some of her books to keep for myself. Her skillful blending of poetry and science is as appealing to me as can be.

7. A Year in Lapland by Hugh Beach (3.5/5) – I read this book as research for a novel I’m working on. On that level, it was fairly useful. The problem is that Beach is a bit too idealistic and he often completely forgets about the women and children around him. Still, he’s an able writer and I have a pretty solid grasp of what reindeer herding looks like, which is at least part of what I needed.