Monday, November 19, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Since I last wrote an entry on the books I read (which was back in February of 2012), I've since racked up pretty solid list of reading accomplishments.  Here's the list, which I'll just mention now and perhaps I'll write up some reviews of the books down the road.  But if you've read any of these books, please feel free to leave a comment on what you thought on any of them and I'd be happy to engage in a comment exchange with you:

William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (a re-read for me): Grade A+. [All I need to say is that Faulkner is a genius.]

James Agee's A Death in the Family: Grade A [One of the best depictions of dealing with grief in reaction to an unexpected and sudden death that I've ever read.  Also a Pulitzer winner.]

Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado: Grade B.  [I picked this to read because the title intrigued me.  And it's a fun read, with some clever writing moments, but nothing that truly stands out as exceptional.]

Dan Baum's Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans: Grade B-. [Most folks find this work interesting and well-written; but I weary of the essentializing of New Orleans in ways this book does.  It's not alone in this practice, but I just get more and more turned off by depictions of my city through the kinds of lenses that books like this one provide.]

Sybille Bedford's A Favourite of the Gods: Grade B. [The writing is good and the storyline is interesting, but it's a kind of genre piece of European aristocratic casualness that doesn't resonate with me.]

Teju Cole's Open City: Grade B. [It tries much too hard to be contemporary literary hip.  It also has a bit of hip pretentiousness about it that doesn't appeal to me; but the idea of writing reflections that come from the meanderings of a Manhattanite through the streets of the city is an intriguing one.]

Paul Harding's Tinkers: Grade C-.  [Another Pulitzer winner, but one that I just never did get.  I couldn't ever find meaning in the story and at times the plot seemed to be very labored and forced.  There were a few redeeming moments, but none that could save the book.  Not sure why it won the Pulitzer.]

L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Grade C+.  [Since it's a timeless children's classic, I thought I'd give it a go.  It's an easy read, but a bit too simplistic.  The story is not as engaging or clever, and lacks the kind of human touch, as is the Judy Garland movie.]

William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: Grade A+.  [Again, all I can say is that Faulkner is a bona-fide genius.]

Michael Chabon's A Model World and Other Stories: Grade B.  [I love Chabon, but this is not his best work.  It starts out very slowly, but the stories pick up and gather momentum in the second half when it really turns into a bit of a novella.  I think Chabon is a much better novel writer than a short story writer.  But, I do admit, as usual with Chabon, the writing itself is superb in style.]

Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray: Grade B.  [Another classic I just had to pick up.  I can see why it would enter the realm of the classics for its kind of radicalness in its day; but the story itself, though quite unique in its premise, does fall into a bit of that late 19th, early 20th century tediousness.]

John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces (another re-read for me): Grade C-.  [Another Pulitzer winner that I don't think deserves the award.  I remember thinking it to be funny and clever when I first read it years ago in college; but having read it again as a more seasoned middle-aged guy, I found it to be just crude and vulgar.  I rarely got a chuckle at all at the gross and absurd shenanigans of Ignatius Reilly and his awful cast of supporting characters.]

Herman Melville's Moby Dick: Grade B+. [I finally got to this American classic and can now click it off my literature bucket list.  I read it in its complete, unabridged form.  It's remarkable for its depiction of whaling and of the anatomy of the sperm whale in such fine detail.  The plot of the Pequod's voyage and Ahab's drama is only about 15% of the novel, and it's o.k., though not as good as one is always led to believe it is.  Nevertheless, I do think Melville is a great American writer and this work is worthy of being read.]

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl:  Grade B+.  [I'm usually not one for crime/mystery novels; but this one is well-written, clever, and fun to read.  But I do have to say that the character personalities are quite disturbing.]

Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge: Grade A-.  [Another Pulitzer winner and a collection of short stories.  Well-written and very well-developed characters.  I think it deserved the Pulitzer.  The themes of the stories can be depressing, but the way the stories are told comes across as gentle and warming, even if they are not necessarily fun stories.]

Heinrich Boll's The Clown: Grade B.  [A Nobel winning author.  This is perhaps his most famous work.  It's heavy going and can be tedious at times, but you can definitely appreciate the talent of the author.  The main character and the plot can be wearying to contend with, but the theme of the oppression of conventional religion is interesting in its portrayal.]

2 comments:

eric-w-n said...

Haven't had as much time to read lately as I'd like, but here are some of my books over the last 6 months or so:

Travels With Charlie by John Steinback - Great road story, a little piece of Americana of yesteryear, even if some of the dialouge and stories are a little too obviously contrived. Steinback's trip across America with his dog in the early 60's catches the country on the verge of a great social change.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury - Quite simply the best book you could ever read around Halloween. I like authors who have the ability to make me nostalgic for times I never lived in, and Bradbury does a great job of that here. Really catches the essence of humanity's existential despair about the fact that we have to grow old.

The Price of Politics by Bob Woodward - I doubt a better book will be written explaining the dynamic between the Obama administration and the GOP. I was fairly surprised that somebody as mainstream as Bob Woodward would be so overtly critical of the Obama administration's leadership, internal organization, and negotiation skills. He levels plenty of criticism at the GOP as well, but overall he just paints a great (and depressing) picture of the dysfunction in our political system.

Swing Your Sword by Mike Leach - Autobiography of my favorite college football coach. When Mike Leach was a kid, a neighborhood dog used to terrorize him. One day he had set his tent up to camp in the back yard, and the dog got in his tent and peed all over his sleeping bag. A 10 year old Mike Leach set up a trap for the dog, caught it, and proceeded to pee all over its face. This is everything you need to know about Mike Leach, and also the reason he is my favorite coach.

Under The Dome by Stephen King - Last year I reread the Dark Tower series in its entirety, which renewed my respect for Steven King's writing. This year I set about reading this book, which ruined my newfound respect for him. Boring, predictable, unsuspensful. Blah.

Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes - A great explanation of the human metabolic system and how carbs effect insulin levels which effects fat regulation in our bodies, and why "calories consumed vs calories burned" is a more complicated calculus than most of us have been taught. I think Taubes gets a little extreme with his dietary recommendations, but this book did change the way I think about the food I eat, and has helped with a substantial body tranformation I have undergone this year.

All The Pretty Horse & The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy - The first two books of McArthy's 'Border Trilogy' are some of the best fiction I've ever read, even if they are so loosely connected as to barely be considered part of the same story (my understanding is the third book, which I haven't read yet, ties the first two together). It's hard to describe the overall theme of these books, but I'd say it is about how real life grinds away at romantic and idealistic notions, even as it reveals to us how those notions are the only thin string keeping us from falling into the Abyss. Heady stuff for a Western series. I look forward to reading the third book but it is really almost something I have to prepare myself for psychically, and I'm just not there right now (especially not after this damn election!).

Huck said...

Eric - For someone with not as much time to read as he would like, you sure put together an impressive list nonetheless! But your Cormac McCarthy mention reminded me that I just also finished his Pulitzer Prize winner, "The Road." I liked it, though I thought it ended with a whimper. I'd say it merited the Pulitzer, but not the best Pulitzer I've read. Sounds like I need to read the MIke Leach autobiography as well as the Woodward book. I'll definitely put them on my list.