October/November Book Log

December 8, 2018

The academic year has been completely insane so far correspondingly, my reading has been slow AND it’s been hard to write about reading. Anyway, here’s what’s been knocked out the last couple of months.

  1. McSweeney’s 52 (4.5/5) – I’m so glad McSweeney’s is back to publishing regularly. They aren’t perfect, but they make such an effort to find interesting stories and diverse voices. This was an an excellent issue.
  2. The Book of Communities by Maria Gabriel Llansol (5/5) – This was an incredible little book. I don’t know exactly how to describe what it is any better than the title. It’s rare to find a book that surprises me in the way it approaches narrative, but it’s happened a couple of times lately.
  3. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (4/5) – Reread for teaching. I have nothing new to say here.
  4. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Mosfegh (3/5) – This book has gotten a fair amount of press. I thought it was really interesting. My central issues with it is that I feel like it’s longer than it needs to be. Even so, it’s a quick and interesting read. I just don’t find it to be as resonant as many do.
  5. 1984 by George Orwell (5/5) – I hadn’t read this in ages, but I was teaching it this year, so it was back to it. I liked it better than I remembered liking it before. Perhaps because it was so incredibly relevant. So relevant, in fact, that class discussion of it often had the students visibly uncomfortable.
  6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (5/5) – This was a reread to keep me sane. And the first time I’d read this book at my own pace instead of to a child in a very long time. I love it. I could do Tolkien forever.
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (5/5) – Still one of my very favorite books ever. I hadn’t read it in several years. This time, I found myself more engaged in Levin’s story than I ever had before. He’s certainly infuriating at times, but his uncertainty and constant search for meaning and purpose feel very relevant to me after the last several years of my life.

January Book Log

February 3, 2018

Well, it’s probably not a good thing that I’ve already failed at one of my 2018 reading goals. I didn’t read a book over 400 pages this month, but I’ll finish a 550 page book this weekend and then attempt to make up for my shortcomings as the rest of the month progresses. Anyway…

  1. The Origins of Creativity by E.O. Wilson (4/5) – This is an interesting look at creativity from the perspective of a well-regarded scientist and thinker. It also contains the best Franzen burn I’ve ever seen in print. It is not an entirely focused work, but it is very interesting and provides plenty for food for thought.
  2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bugkov (5/5) – It took me forever to read this novel. I think I started it back in November. But it was fantastic. Not, obviously, a quick read, but it exists in what is – for me – a delightful space somewhere between Tolstoy and Nabokov. I am not at all certain exactly what it means or is trying to say (neither, from what I’ve found on the internet, are most people) other than it is clearly opposed to the intellectual restrictions of Soviet-style communism. But I very much enjoyed the ride.
  3. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (5/5) – Maybe shouldn’t even count this. But I got a fancy copy of it and read it (along with the commentary volume) and it was as moving as it has always been when I’ve read it and ended with me crying and searching for my children to hug. If you haven’t ever read this, dear lord, sit down with it and make that happen. It won’t take long.
  4. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (4/5) – This was The Book from last year. I liked it pretty well and I understand why other people love it. The whole subject matter of the supposed afterlife and what it’s like is one I’m a bit tired of as a reader, but that’s hardly Saunders’ fault. In any case, the story telling is interesting and the book is an easy read.
  5. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (5/5) – Teaching it for the first time in a while. I do always enjoy all of the reminders this gives me of how often we quote Shakespeare without thinking about it.

October Book Log

November 1, 2016

This was a good reading month. I’m nice and on track to read 75 books this year, so that’s fun. Onward.

  1. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (4.5/5) – I was interested to see how this book was. Springsteen, obviously, knows how to use words, but I was prepared for this to be a bit of an over-wrought mess. It wasn’t. It was, in fact, really interesting. There are somethings I’d like to have learned more about and some things I could have with less of, but in general, it is a well-told life story and Springsteen really is a good writer
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (4/5) – I was an adult by the time Harry Potter became a thing, so when I read the books it was mostly out of curiosity. I remember finding the first several books unspectacular. However, this time, I was reading it with the kids and it did radically change my experience. They are hooked and a good time was certainly had by all.
  3. Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist by Agnieszka Kuciak (4/5) – Another in my run of bookstore poetry finds. This is a fun concept and she deftly manages to write from many different voices and personas. Some of those voices enchant me and others don’t, but they all appear distinct.
  4. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (5/5) – Re-read this for teaching. I still think it has the most recognizable quotations of any Shakespearean play with the possible exception of Romeo and Juliet.
  5. Drifting House by Krys Lee (5/5) – This is a really nice collection of stories that address Korea, especially the north/south tension, in a way I don’t know that I’ve ever seen in English-language literature. Not that it hasn’t happened, but I haven’t read it. Add to it that her writing is very, very, very and good and it makes for a en excellent read. There are several teachable stories here for me. I have her other book in my to-read pile right now and I’m excited to get to it.
  6. Glimmer Train #97 (3.5/5) – I feel like this was a slightly off issue for Glimmer Train, but there were still several really great stories.
  7. Mischling by Affinity Konar (5/5) – This was a good reading month and this book was the best thing I read. Completely heartbreaking. I don’t want to write too much about it, but I do want you to go read it.

April Book Log

May 2, 2015

Only seven books this month. I was going for eight. Alas, I finished that one on May first, so you will have to wait, with bated breath to read my little writeup of Bend Sinister.

1. Find Me by Laura van den Berg (4/5) – This book is very interesting the second half is almost completely different from the first half, which is why you find so many scathing reviews from readers out there. The change was abrupt, certainly, but it mostly worked. I prefer this to the other book about a plague making the rounds right now (Station Eleven), but they are so different as to not really be comparable.

2. The Arabian Nights (3/5) – Some of these I liked a lot. Some went on a bit. I don’t have too much to say otherwise.

3. Nora Webster by Colm Toíbín (5/5) – His books always startle me because they seem so simple while you’re reading, but in the end, they leave such a mark. This is a very powerful novel that doesn’t seem powerful at all while one is in it. It’s a story about a woman trying to deal with the death of her husband and raise her children and she manages okay, and that’s kind of it, but at the end, it ends up that you’ve really read something great.

4. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (5/5) – Taught this to my AP class. Probably safe to say this is my favorite Shakespeare at this point. It feels so much more contemporary than most of the rest of his work. Other than teaching, I’ll not be dipping into Bill’s plays too much for a while, though. I’m still recovering from last year.

5. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (5/5) – This has won some big awards, but it is not a simple read. It is a masterpiece, however. Clearly influenced by James Joyce. It’s hard to imagine a more honest emotional portrait. It is like being immersed in how a person feels their own feelings.

6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (5/5) – I held Simone off for a while, but after a year, I was ready to read this too her again. She digs it, and I do to. It’s certainly better than the terrible movies that have been out lately. Simone has the animated version from the 70s and has watched it a lot. It’s pretty faithful, but omits Beorn, so when he entered the book she was thrilled (I was wrong, the book is better than then movie!).

7. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (4.5/5) – This won the Pultizer as I was reading it. It is very, very, very good. It’s a different kind of WWII novel than I’d ever read before and I enjoyed how Doerr chose to present it in countless little chapters of intense moments. Not quite a masterpiece if you ask me, but I have a hard time imagining anyone who is a reader not enjoying this book.

2014 Reading Year in Review

January 2, 2015

I have been doing a yearly recap of my reading for five or six years now. It is my favorite post of the year because I am a giant nerd. But also because books are fun and I like writing about books. So, for your benefit, here is a breakdown of my reading year.


I set myself three goals this year: read all of Shakespeare, read 20,000 pages, and read one really long book per month. I got there on the first two, but not quite on the last one, where I was one book short. War and Peace kind of wore me out. I don’t feel bad about it. Anyway, 39 of the books I read this year were Shakespeare, and if you want to read a short recap of all that, go here. Bill Shakestaff will be largely absent from this post.

And, of course, I published my first book this year, which is pretty awesome.

By the Numbers:

Books Read: 93 (goal was 50)
Total Pages: 23,464 (goal was 20,000)
Average per Book: 252 pages (This is very low for me. All the plays brought the average down.)
Pages per Day: 64
Books Published: 1 (!!!)

Biggest Reading Month: January (11 books, 3,355 pages)
Smallest Reading Month: July (Only read half of War & Peace, did not finish a book, 750ish pages)

Five Longest Books:

1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – 1450 pages
2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – 1031 pages
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – 817 pages
4. Middlemarch by George Eliot – 795 pages
5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – 771 pages

(fun note: those five books accounted for 20% of my page total for the year)

Five Shortest Books:

1. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen – 67 pages
2. The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick – 70 pages
3. The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare – 81 pages
4. First Love by Ivan Turgenev – 88 pages
5. The Tempest by William Shakespeare – 88 pages

Random Stat:

I read 39 plays by Shakespeare and two novels by Tolstoy. However, those two novels by Tolstoy contained more words than all of the Shakespeare put together.

Books I Read Again (non-Shakespeare):

A Doll’s House
The Call of the Wild
A Christmas Carol
The House at Pooh Corner
The Lord of the Rings
The Hobbit
Winesbrug, Ohio
Anna Karenina
Native Speaker
Ethan Frome
The Sun Also Rises

Biggest Disappointment of the Year:

This gets two categories, the first is Shakespeare. In general, I was disappointed by Shakespeare’s comedies. Comedy can be wonderfully written (see Bill Bryson or David Sedaris), but Shakespeare is often very, very broad and repetitive.

In the non-Bill division, I was disappointed by Babel Tower by A.S. Byatt. At the time, I gave it a 4 of 5, but it has fallen in my esteem. I’m used to nothing but brilliance from her, and this – simply – wasn’t brilliant. It was okay.

Most Enjoyable Nonfiction:

In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat by John Gribbin – I finished this book on New Year’s Eve. It was great. I am a science nerd and this is very science nerdy. It does a great job explaining quantum mechanics. My edition was a fancy Folio Society edition with pretty pictures in it. I enjoyed absolutely everything about this book.

Favorite Books of the Year:

These are the literary titles I most enjoyed this year. Last year, this expanded from a top-5 to a top-10. I thought, for a while, that I’d be doing a top-5 again this year, but I closed strong, with lots of great books, so 10 it is.

These books might be classics or they might have just come out. The one thing they have in common is that I read them for the first time in 2014. Re-reads aren’t eligible for all of the obvious reasons. These rankings represent only my personal preferences at this moment.

Honorable Mentions:

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld was the hardest book to leave off this list. It was great. Middlemarch by George Eliot showed me I was wrong to have not read it in college. The Patron Saint of Liars reminded me why I love Ann Patchett. First Love by Ivan Turgenev and The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin were both just beautiful

Now, starting at number 10, here are my favorite books of the year.

10. The Sea by John Banville – Upon learning that this book beat out Never Let Me Go for the Booker Prize, I had to read it. I’m glad I did. It’s a largely plotless book, but the sudden and disturbing ending is all the more powerful for that. Any time I think about this book, I get a chill.

9. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – Speaking of Booker winners, Cate suggested this to me. I’m glad she did. It’s hard to imagine a book more up my alley. This is one that has made it’s way fairly well into popular culture, and deservedly so. We all need to think about the ways in which we delude ourselves.

8. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mushima – The more I look at this list, the more clear it is that I read a lot of great but disturbing books this year. Make of that what you will. This may be the most disturbing book, though. It is told from the perspective of a boy who watches as his mother becomes romantically involved with a sailor. I feel like Murakami must take some influence from Mushima. This book has the same false objectivity that’s been present in the Murakami I’ve read. The narrator wants you to trust him, but you never quite do.

7. The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick – And now, let’s throw in a book about the Holocaust. This is barely a book, really. It’s only 70 pages, but what makes it impressive is that, for all the writing about WWII and the Holocaust, it feels like Ozick has fit everything we need to feel about it into these pages.

6. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – So many of the definitive books about race in America were written long before the end of the last century. That they still ring so true speaks poorly of how we’ve progressed. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to read a contemporary book that did such a great job of addressing the issue. What really sets Americanah off is that it is told from an outsider’s perspective. The narrator is an African immigrant. Her experiences – entering our society as an adult – perfectly highlight the absurdity of what still goes on here. Anyone who didn’t understand what Ferguson was all about ought to read this book.

5. Residence on Earth by Pablo Neruda – I love Neruda, but he can be uneven. Cate got me this as a birthday present because it is supposed to be his best collection. It is transcendent. Not a bad poem in it. Neruda’s poetry – when he chooses that direction – can be as sexy as anything you’ll ever read.

4. Orkney by Amy Sackville – Seven of the ten books on my list are books Cate recommended to me. That’s a good year for her. This book was nearly the best of that lot. I have absolutely no idea what goes on in this book. None at all. I don’t know what happens at the end or how I’m supposed to feel about it. I do know that it perfectly captures what I think it would feel like to live inside a fairy tale.

3. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak – This is probably the toughest book on my list. There are a lot of characters. It is long. It is, in essence, very Russian. But holy cow, it is great. Once you get comfortable with everyone in the story, it flows wonderfully. That Pasternak wrote this while living in the Soviet Union is a remarkable act of bravery and adherence to truth in art.

2. The Street by Ann Petry – Last year, I read Invisible Man, which I really needed to read. But I think this might be the better book on race. It was written by a woman and so it doesn’t get as much attention, but it feels more real than Invisible Man. More possible. It isn’t so ambitious, and so it comes out more true.

1. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – Now, speaking of ambitious books. I don’t know that I’ve ever read something quite like this one. It is very realistic except, you know, for when there’s magic. It is – in many ways – a contemporary, literary fantasy novel that also throws in a bit of sciene fiction. Yes, it’s that complicate. What is most impressive about Mitchell however – what is always most impressive about him – is that he seems able to write anyone. He changes voices so naturally that you never question the genuineness of his characters, who are all unfailingly real.

Looking Ahead:

Last year showed me several things. First, I don’t really want to tackle a prolific author all in one go. 39 plays by Shakespeare was too much. More moderation there. I did really like reading long books, however. It’s something that’s so easy to neglect. I don’t want to push for one a month this year, but I am going to make sure I read at least half a dozen books over 500 pages. I’m also setting my arbitrary books read goal at 75 this year. I did 50 last year because I had no idea what would happen between Shakespeare and the long books. I read 93, so that was probably a tad conservative. I’m open to the possibility of reading 100 books in 2015. It would have happened in 2014 if not for a disastrous July.

I have two other goals for 2015. First, I currently have 33 books on my to-read shelf. That’s too many. Every month this year, I plan to read at least two books from that shelf. I must also be open to getting rid of any books that sit unread at the end of the year. I’ve had some books there for almost a decade. Time to read them or let them go.

Second, I want to spend more time in bookstores. Because of various projects and the reading teaching requires, I didn’t read nearly as much contemporary literature this year as I wanted. I’ve always found the best way to find good, new books, is to poke around my local indie store. So, I’m going to do that again. Cate and I used to do monthly book-night dates. I think I need to push for that again.

Okay, I’m off to read…

December Book Log

January 1, 2015

This was a really nice reading month for me. I finished eleven books, which ties the most books I’ve ever read in a month. A lot of them were short, though, as I was powering through Shakespeare, which I did finish, so there’s another goal met. December’s list is below. My year-in-review post will be up in a day or two.

1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (5/5) – I taught this book for the second time this year and read it for, I don’t know, the bazillionth time. It’s good. You know. Dickens and all that. I won’t pretend I have new stuff to say about it.

2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (5/5) – I also taught this, but reading it for only the second time, I took a great deal from it. As with all books that I reread, I was able to appreciate the way Tolstoy structured this. Of particular note were the complimentary narratives of Levin and Anna, which play off each other brilliantly. Anna Karenina deserves it’s reputation as one of the greatest novels ever, and I continue to be impressed by Tolstoy’s excellent run at providing the meaning of life.

3. The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare (5/5) – Here at the end, Shakespeare has become a bit more uneven. Lots unfinished. Lots of strange choices, but this was great. It does a wonderful job of mixing comedic elements with a serious exploration of redemption. Well done all around. It’s one I’ll revisit.

4. Cymbeline by William Shakespeare (4/5) – It is easy to imagine this as one of Shakespeare’s great plays. The material is all there. The story is compelling. But it is either unfinished or not entirely written by Shakespeare (or, perhaps, just lazily done in places). The poetry isn’t there like it is in his best plays, and so it’s not quite a masterwork.

5. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (5/5) – I remembered this as one of my favorites by Shakespeare, and it still is. Brisk and brilliant, I’ll be teaching it in the new year, and it’s one of few I feel like I can stand to re-read right away. It belongs every bit in the same place as Lear or Macbeth or Hamlet.

6. Henry VIII by William Shakespeare (4/5) – This is a collaboration, and as the collaborations have been generally terrible, I was not looking forward to it. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s fun in a way that none of Shakespeare’s other plays are. And Henry VIII comes with a good story already. This is the only one of Shakespeare’s collaborations that I might someday revisit.

7. Edward III by William Shakespeare (2.5/5) – The last one I had to read. It is such a recent addition to the cannon that it wasn’t included in my complete Shakespeare, and I only found out about it through friend. There are moments of nice poetry, but overall, it is not a good play. No need to ever read it again.

8. McSweeney’s 32 (3.5/5) – A back issue I picked up at a used book store. It was decidedly meh. I’m starting to figure out that whenever McSweeney’s commissions writers to write on a particular topic, they get a couple of great stories, a few okay, and several that just don’t work.

9. Leonard Cohen: Songs and Poems by Leonard Cohen (3/5) – This is part of the Pocket Poets series. There are some very, very good pieces here, but Cohen writes about the same stuff in the same way fairly often and his rhymes are pretty obvious. I like him best when he sticks to unrhymed free verse. In those instances, his creative metaphors and similes really shine.

10. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (5/5) – Cate got me a beautiful illustrated edition of this for Christmas. I really like Jack London, but hadn’t read this since seventh grade. Because he is so often read only by middle school boys, London gets unfairly overlooked. HIs sentences are great and he is able to pack a pretty fierce emotional punch in not that many pages. Having re-read it, this feels like one I’ll revisit with some regularity.

11. In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat by John Gribbin (5/5) – This was a great book. I like to read about physics, and no one ever gives a good in-depth treatment to quantum mechanics. This does AND it makes quantum mechanics really accessible. Gribbin is an excellent writer and now I’m going to see what other stuff he has written and maybe read that, too.

November Book Log

December 5, 2014

Well, let’s call this month the one about Shakespeare. I had been slowly falling off the pace, and if I was going to finish the plays this year, I had to get on it. the result is that I read seven different plays by Bill this month as well as three other books. My long book for the month is Anna Karenina, which, under normal circumstances, I’d have finished ages ago, but I’m teaching it, so I have to move at the same pace as my students, and they still have a little more than 100 pages to go in it. Anyway, here we are.

1. All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare (1/5) – This rivals Titus for the worst Shakespeare I’ve read. I will never return to it, and I suggest you stay away.

2. King Lear by William Shakespeare (5/5) – This, on the other hand, was another masterpiece from Shakespeare. It was the only one of the great tragedies I hadn’t read. Unsurprisingly, it is great. There’s a particular humanity to this one that feels almost unique in Shakespeare. Lear’s descent into madness and eventual remorse feel real in a way that resonates still. There’s nothing about it that is confined to a particular time. One of my favorites. I may actually prefer it to Hamlet.

3. Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare (2/5) – And  now another dud. This was either not entirely written by Shakespeare or never finished. It is quite a bore. There are some nice moments toward the end, but it’s another one to skip.

4. McSweeney’s #47 (4.5/5) – After what I felt was an off issue in #46, I was very pleased with the content here. Nicely diverse. The newly discovered Shirley Jackson stories were definitely highlights. Only one featured author was a bit of a dud. Otherwise, gold all the way through. Also, another awesome design. This issues came slipped case with ten pamphlets for nine different authors (plus letters for the tenth). The pamphlets can be lined up to create one long cover illustration that is a mirror image of itself. So neat.

5. Macbeth by William Shakespeare (5/5) – When I read this in high school, I hated it. I was very, very, very wrong. Completely brilliant. I love how tight it is. Everything in this is completely essential. It is, by some measures, his shortest play, but it deserves it’s reputation as one of his best.

6. Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare (4.5/5) – This play wasn’t perfect in the way of Lear or Macbeth, but it was wonderfully intriguing. I hadn’t read it before, and I love how dynamic the character of Marc Antony is when this is combined with Caesar. The two together make for a fascinating set. I never quite by Shakespearean battle scenes, though, and this has a few to many of them.

7. Pericles, Prince of Tyre by William Shakespeare (3/5) – Another one that isn’t fully written by Shakespeare. Meh. Very meh. One thing I’ve learned about Shakespeare is that, if it’s rumored that he didn’t write all of it, it’s not worth so much of your time.

8. THT Annual 2015 (N/A) – I’m not going to rate this here because I have an article in it and I was one of the primary editors, but it is a good book if you’re into super-nerdy baseball stuff. There’s lots of excellent analysis you won’t find anywhere else. You should buy it.

9. The Street by Ann Petry (5/5) – The last book on Cate’s list for me this year, and it might be the one I like the best. I’ve read a few books this year that have dealt explicitly with race or class and it amazes me how relevant they continue to be. The Street is getting to be an old book, and yet, it doesn’t seem that we’ve really come all that far. It’s something everyone could stand to read.

10. Coriolanus by William Shakespeare (4/5) – The accompanying materials I read with this try to place it in the Othello/Hamlet/Lear/Macbeth echelon. I don’t quite see it. I found it rather dry in spots. Which isn’t to say it’s bad. it’s actually quite good, but I don’t think it sits with Shakespeare’s very best work. Also, I am really running out of stuff to say about William Shakespeare.

Okay, one more book log left for the year. I’ve already hit just about every goal I set for myself (just a few more plays to read), and I’m excited to finish the reading year. See you next month.


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.

September Book Log

October 2, 2014

September provided me with a chance to recover from War and Peace, which, though really good, was taxing. Given a few more days, this would be a longer list as I finished the month in the middle of several books. Among them, David Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks which is my long book for September and so far quite brilliant.

I’m also still slugging away at Shakespeare. I have, I think, 13 plays left. I’m not sure I’ll finish it this year. It come down to how I handle my free time during winter break. We’ll see.

1. Residence on Earth by Pablo Neruda (5/5) – Cate got this for me for my birthday. Neruda can be very uneven, but this is his best-regarded volume, apparently, and for good reason. It’s glorious all the way through. It’s been a long time since I thought about a volume of poetry after I finished it as much as I think about this one. One of the best collections I’ve ever read.

2. As You Like It by William Shakespeare (5/5) – I’m running out of things to say about Shakespeare, but this was really great. I think it actually displaces A Midsummer Night’s Dream as my favorite.

3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (4/5) – The first text my AP class read this year. Ethan Frome isn’t my favorite Edith Wharton, but it is very good. My students seemed to generally love it, though they were frustrated by the choices the protagonist didn’t make.

4. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (5/5) – The second to last book on Cate’s list for me this year is one of the best books I’ve read all year. Stunning prose all the way through. Wonderful story. Art breathing through every bit of it.

5. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (5/5) – I’ve read this more than once before, of course, but this time I really took notice of the character development. Shakespeare often doesn’t take the time to fully flesh out the secondary characters, but there are loads of wonderfully formed people here.

6. The Island of Knowledge by Marcelo Gleiser (4.5/5) – This might be the best pop-physics book I’ve read. A great intro for someone just starting to explore.

7. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (4/5) – Nice. Silly. Lots of dirty jokes. Not my favorite comedy, but definitely amusing.

August Book Log

September 1, 2014

After a disastrous July (I didn’t finish any books), I was very much back on track in August. I’ll also now be starting into the books my AP class will read. That’s always fun from the re-reading angle. Anyhow, here you go. Enjoy.

1. War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy (4/5) – For a variety of reasons, this book took me more than a month to read. One of those is that it is the longest book I have ever read by a lot. It’s not a quick read either. It makes The Lord of the Rings seem breezy at times. But, shit, I am glad I read it. The primary criticism of War & Peace is that Tolstoy spends too much time trying to forward his agenda with long monologues that have nothing to do with the story. This is true. Those same critics also all acknowledge that, once you get past that, the book is amazing. And it is. I will, at some point, probably read it again and skip the parts that don’t really matter. And then I will be reading a true masterpiece.

2. Dear Professor Einstein by Alice Calaprice (ed.) (2/5) – I checked this out of the library because it was such a neat premise. A book of letters that passed between Albert Einstein and children. I mean, that sounds really neat, right? Well, it’s a pretty short book (220 pgs.), and the letters don’t even start until page 111. Once they do start, it seems like about half of them are kids asking for his autograph. I can only suspect that the editor of this book found one of the few good letters, sold the book idea on the strength of it, and then found she had a lot of padding out to do. The biographical stuff included is fairly interesting, but that’s the best I can say for it.

3. The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick (5/5) – One of Cate’s books for me this year. It is very short, unbelievably sad, and entirely wonderful. The care in the language is stunning. There’s not a word out of place anywhere. I often find even the best short books to be missing something essential, but I can’t say that here. It has everything it needs.

4. Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare(4/5) – As I’ve been reading my way through Shakespeare, a lot of the comedies have blurred together for me. This one stood out a bit, which was nice. It was silly and the humor held up pretty well across time.

5. Moneyball by Michael Lewis (4/5) – Yes, it’s true, I’d never read Moneyball. I’ve had it almost since it came out, but I never read it. Then I got an article assigned to me that finally forced my hand. It was a good, but like so many books of its kind, it feels a touch padded out.

6. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (4.5/5) – I’d been waiting for this from the library for ages. I quite enjoyed it, though I didn’t like it as much as her last book. She’s an excellent hand at magical realism. She also manages to pack in discussion of a lot of big issues without making it seem forced.

7. Henry V by William Shakespeare (4/5) – This is effectively that last of Shakespeare’s history plays. It was good, but the weird random comic bits didn’t exactly add anything. I’m glad to be moving past the histories  and comedies now. From here on out, it’s mostly tragedies and romances. Speaking of which…

8. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (5/5) – This is the Shakespeare I’ve taught the most, and I love it. The speeches in act III are beyond compare. “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” “Say not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more…” “Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war…” Yeah, though are pretty good. This is among Shakespeare’s most morally complex plays. Everything about it it s a joy to read.