Books

It’s been a while since I wrote an update to the books I’m reading, and maybe thinking about a few aloud in a post will help…

I’ve read quite a few books this year, which is a remarkable shift from the years since Butterbean was born. While pregnant with him, I joined a group read of Bolano’s 2666. I gave up about 50 pages from the end, when having a newborn and reading skilled but arms-length-remove prose just wore me down. When Butter was two, I participated in the Infinite Zombies group read of Gravity’s Rainbow. But I gave up about 50 pages from the end again, after getting a week behind in that last month. I just ran out of caring. I’ll likely go back to both, some day, from the beginning. But there are too many books calling my name for me to bother with the ends of those novels. They captivated my attention. They’re well written. I’m impressed by the breadth and depth. I simply ran out of you-know-whats to give.

And that’s surprising, since I pushed all the way through Freedom, a book in which the author barely tolerates his characters. I’m surprised I could muster enough interest in their lives, when he couldn’t seem to.

Anyway, I didn’t read much during the first four years of Butter’s life. And this Spring I threw myself into reading, in every form I could: paper, ebook, and audiobook. I posted a bit about books I enjoyed in the first half of the year, when I succumbed to audiobooks and devoured texts weekly.  I listened to, and loved No Ordinary Time and Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? I listened to, and had mixed feelings, about A Prayer for Owen Meany. Over the summer I enjoyed (and genuinely recommend) The Martian The Namesake, The Goldfinch, Neverwhere, and The Bone Clocks. And a string of memoirs amused me slightly–Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Lina Dunham, in order of preference for their books–all kept me company on long runs. But I wouldn’t have read the books on paper. Autobiography narrated by the author, to me, is infinitely more interesting than reading the lives of performers.

I flat out didn’t like The Paying Guests or Go Set a Watchman. I felt that the former just lingered too damned long on every point and couldn’t decide whether it was plot driven or character driven, writhing languorously over both plot and character in such a way that I got tired of paying attention because I was being told that every moment mattered more than the last. The Harper Lee novel was as didactic as one by Franzen, with the added burden of having what felt like 400 pages of lecture posing as dialogue. Ugh. I’m still mad I wasted those hours.

I’m getting to the point in the year when I’m abandoning books left and right because they’re disappointing in comparison with books from the early 2015 months. I quit The Buried Giant last month. I sometimes enjoy Ishiguro and sometimes rankle at the pacing. This time, my impatience won. I quit Bel Canto two months ago. A pox on the unceasing, steady pace that lulled me like the rocking of an ocean liner. And I’m in the middle of, and considering quitting, Middlesex and A Visit from the Goon Squad. The latter is just boring me, in part because I’ve never cared about the music industry. And the Eugenides text is really annoying me. I have several friends who are, or who are close family with, transgendered, and the premise of Middlesex irritates me. It’s positing, I feel, that living in a space between genders, and navigating in a time of transition, can be blamed on a variety of ancestral errors. I feel in reading that the novel suggests that transgendered lives are mutations borne of unsavory history. And that angers me. I don’t know that Eugenides is arguing this point of view, but it’s what I’m inferring. So unless one or both books sways me soon, I’m dropping both.

A friend and mentor just sent me A Naked Singularity, and I’m going to start it soon. But it’s huge, and if I’m going to tackle a huge book this holiday season, it’s going to be Infinite Jest. Again. Because the nostalgia I feel for Wallace’s writing is increasing daily, and I just miss getting lost in the cadence and horror and familiarity and erudition and sadness of that book.

Any recommendations? I have a long list of what to read next, and am right now very happily ensconced in Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. I miss the world of the Rez and Alexie captures the magical and maddening in equal measure.

After I’m done, though, I wouldn’t mind a few books to stave off my Wallace magnet. I do believe there’s still talk of a February group read when the 25th anniversary edition of IJ comes out, so I might wait. We’ll see if I can.

What do you recommend I read to keep myself engaged until February?

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15 thoughts on “Books

    • Did you like Cloud Atlas? I actually preferred The Bone Clocks. I wound up very disappointed with Gilead, but like her enough to pick up Lila soon.
      I believe you told me Half a Yellow Sun should be on my list. I’ll add All the Light We Cannot See.

      • Yep, I liked Cloud Atlas a lot. I thought The Bone Clocks was badly written by and large (not even good as fantasy or whatever) and way too long. There were sections I liked well enough, but on the whole, I was sorely disappointed.

        • I only noted two quotes I really wanted to recall from that book, and looking back now, they’re not scintillating writing, they just hit the right note at the right point in my life. Maybe it’s because I was reading Neverwhere at the same time that I reveled in the dystopian falling-through-the-cracks approach? I recall disliking parts of Cloud Atlas but falling head over heals for Mitchell in several sections, particularly the Big Isle section.

  1. I’m a little worried about reading Go set a Watchman – I know people who really liked it, and I know people who really didn’t. I’m such a huge fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m a little worried about messing with my thoughts about those characters.

    • I understand the hesitation…but I don’t think it’ll affect your feeling about To Kill a Mockingbird. I just know the prose is clunky, the character development is eye-rollingly trite, and the dialogue is the worst I’ve read in a long time. Really, it’s diatribe, not dialogue.

      • I liked the story but I loved the language. Funny thing is, his other books feel like they were written by someone else. Gatsby has always been my favorite book but like some of your friends, this one is right up there for me.

  2. I’ve been making a conscious effort to read genres and authors that I wouldn’t normally pick up and have made a few nice discoveries. I normally read only fiction, but I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately. One of my new favorite authors is Steve Sheinkin who writes YA history, but makes it read like a novel. His book Bomb was great, as is his book I’m reading now–The Notorious Benedict Arnold. Living in China I wanted some insight into my host country. China in Ten Words by Yu Hua is so insightful. As for fiction, my YA pics are The Weight of Water and Counting by 7s. My favorite adult fiction this year was And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

    • Thanks, Lonna. I do enjoy nonfiction, particularly histories, but prefer to listen to them. I’ll look into your recommendations…I enjoy Hosseini’s work, but haven’t read And the Mountains Echoed.

      • And the Mountains Echoed is different from his other books. At times I felt like it was a series of short stories, connected by the first event in the book. I find his style so poetic that I sometimes find myself re-reading his sentences for the sheer enjoyment of the sound of the words. Add in his vivid description and robust characters….I’ll read every novel he writes :-)

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