Thursday, October 20, 2016

Walking a mile/life in Aurora Greenway's (many) shoes

I finally read Terms of Endearment,  which means that I finally have come to know the character of Aurora Greenway.  I have never related so much to anyone who is so different from me.

It was my first Larry McMurtry in quite some time. It has been more than a decade since I read and adored Lonesome Dove, which I am still forever telling people to read, and another Gus and Call book, Dead Man's Walk (which wasn''t as good as Lonesome Dove- few things are - not that I had much hope as I am always super wary of prequels, even more than of sequels.) During that time I have always meant to get around to reading more McMurtry, but you know how I am with my books and projects and piles and lists of things to read...

Terms of Endearment, however, was always steadily up there on the urgency scale, if nothing else because of another looooooongtime but almost finished project of mine, that of watching all the Oscar winning Best Pictures. The movie Terms of Endearment is one of the few Best Picture winners I haven't seen, largely because I wanted to read the book first. Well, I've at long last attended to the reading portion of that goal.

Frankly, I don't know that the book was all that great. Kind of like Ordinary People, which I also finally read recently, for reasons of see above. I mean -- these books are okay, but to spawn super famous Best Picture winners? Hmmmph. It remains to be seen whether Out of Africa, my last lingering '80s-Best-Picture-winner-source-material-so-I-can-finally-watch-the-movie, underwhelms similarly.

But Aurora. Holy cow. We are the same. I wasn't even born when Larry McMurtry wrote this, but it's as if he channeled my spirit, the entity that would soon be me. It's weird, because, as I said, she's not actually like me. She is into, just to name a few things, cooking, shoes, and having lots of suitors hang around her. I'm not like that. AND YET, we are so very, very similar in our sort of essential (as in essence) approach to being in this world. I will here and now share a few quotes to show you what I mean. Let's start with Aurora speaking to her daughter Emma, early on, page 94:

"When I'm mellow and the air has a nice weight I do so love to speak elliptically, you know...As for your question, which happily you phrased grammatically, if rather dully, I can tell you quite distinctly that I don't care if I never hear the phrase 'really felt' again....No, I've not finished...I may have new heights to rise to. For all I know, my dear, good grammar provides a more lasting basis for sound character than quote real feeling unquote."

There's more. On page 225, for example there's another exchange with her daughter:

"Everybody's afraid of you. Why don't you try being gentle for a change?"
"I do try--it's just that I seem to be prone to exasperation," Aurora said .

How about her early days with Vernon?

"Yes, you're much too polite, I know that," she said. "It's a pity I'm not..."

"I don't want you to be scared!" she yelled. "I"m just a human being! I just wanted you to sit and drink some tea...with me...and be my companion for a few minutes.  ... I'm not scary! Don't tell me I'm scary! There's nothing frightening about me. You're all just cowards!"

I mean, clearly we could stop there. But what the heck, let's continue.

"...she was as she had been that afternoon--spiritless, convinced of nothing except that there was not much point in trying to make things right. Things would never be right."

"For all I know the whole point of civilization is to provide one with someone to drink tea with at the end of an evening."

As she sat at the window, looking out, her sense of the wrongness of it was deep as bone. It was not just wrong to go on so, it was killing. Her energies, it seemed to her, had always flowed from a capacity for expectation, a kind of hopefulness that had persisted year after year in defiance of all difficulties. It was hopefulness, the expectation that something nice was bound to happen to her, that got her going in the morning and brought her contentedly to bed at night." 

"Oh well, you know me," Aurora said. "I'm not one to hold grudges. I acquire so many of them that some have to be discarded."

How will we top that one?  Let's try.

"Why, after all these years, do people still think I mean anything?" she asked.

Once, Emma tells her: "I hope I never become arrogant, like you...You dismiss whole classes of people with a wave of your hand."

Later on, the General has some words: "You just talk to hear yourself talk." In her reply: "I've gone to quite unusual lengths to be accommodating to you, and we still seem to fight all the time. What's life going to be like if I suddenly decide to be troublesome?" "You can't be any goddamn worse than you are," the General said. "Ha ha, little you know," she said. "I've made almost no demands on you. Suppose I decided to make a few."  

Moving on. "Of course, being away from home has always made me feel quite gay," she added. "I believe I'm a born gadabout. One of my problems is that I frequently need a change."

Don't overlook this conversation with Rosie.

"Don't like to impose," Rosie said.
"No, I'm the only one who seems to. I'm only sorry there aren't more people willing to be imposed upon."

Those are just the choice lines whose pages I noted along the way. Reading these bits of Aurora was almost unnerving, like, is someone inside my mind? And if so, why is that person Larry McMurtry? Apparently there was a lot of praise heaped on him for writing women so well in this and a few other books. Well, I don't know about all that -- and much of what happens in Terms of Endearment is bizarre, implausible, or straight up farcical. But McMurtry is certainly onto something. Or someone. (Me.)

Once more, with feeling:  "There's nothing frightening about me. You're all just cowards!"


Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Reivers

Well, if one is going to return to one's literary supplement blog after far too long away, The Reivers is certainly a good choice with which to do it.

Y'all, Faulkner is one of those writers that we've all heard of and many have even dabbled in (by literature teacher force) or come to have ideas about. But how many among ye have actually read a bunch of his stuff? Lots of people get turned off early, like in high school. I did, but not by slogging through As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury -- no, I was horrified by the experience I had reading a mere (as if anything is "mere" with Faulkner) short story, "Barn Burning." I hated it. I hated it in an intense, passionate, irrational way. I can't really remember now, decades later, why I hated it so, so, so very much, but I loathed it. I'm pretty sure I hated the characters and I know I hated the outcome. So I did what any self-respecting, literature-loving 16-year-old would do: I took a stapler, sat down with my AP English textbook, and stapled shut the pages containing that story, starting with the page before and ending with the page after, a series of staples advancing like a row of ants around the edges of the pages, so as to prevent myself from ever  accidentally letting the book fall open to that horrid story and making me see it ever again.

I then spent my next several years -- in which I was, mind you, an English major with an emphasis in American literature-- complaining about Faulkner and telling anyone who would listen how much I hated his writing (and occasionally throwing in the "Barn Burning" stapling story for good measure). Of course, I had also read "A Rose For Emily" in high school and didn't hate it nearly as much, but I conveniently overlooked that.

Fast forward a decade or so from high school, and by my mid-to-late 20s I had become obsessed with the Pulitzer prizes and decided to embark on my project of reading all the Pulitzer-winning fiction. This came with a realization that I would be reading not one but two novels by Faulkner, although I didn't do those right away, of course. (In fact, I'm still in the midst of that project, because I mix projects together and read other stuff in between, instead of just blazing through one project at a time, which is very not-Charles-Emerson-Winchester-the-III-like of me.)  Not to mention Faulkner's appearances on other lists of greats with which I concern myself, such as the Modern Library's Top 100 and the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die. But before I got to any of that, during the summer of 2014, a summer in which Brian and I had many a day at his family's Lake Michigan vacation home (that I am Southwesternly unable to refer to as a "c*ttage" as they all do), I spent some time reading The Best American Short Stories of the Century. Yes, all of them. One of them was by Faulkner.  "That Evening Sun Go Down" (published in slightly different form sometimes as "That Evening Sun") was a good story. A really good, well-written story. And there I was, a thirtysomething, forced to sit on a porch one summer, in the midst of being back from Asia and kind of sort of settling down in the U.S. again, in a day-of-Americana-reckoning, realizing that my high school self really might have not had that good of a reason to hate "Barn Burning," ya know? Not that I can particularly remember that much about it...

Well, now here we are, with me having finally rectified this major gap in my literary life, having finally got around to reading a full Faulkner novel, and it is The Reivers. Yes, this is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by our boy William Faulkner. His other Pulitzer winner? A Fable. What't that you say? You've never heard of these novels of his? You figured he must have won the Pulitzer for As I Lay Dying, or The Sound and the Fury? Or at least Absalom, Absalom!  Fun fact: No novels with exclamation points in the title have won the Pulitzer, although Swamplandia!  was a finalist for the year 2012, when no award was given. Well, Faulkner may have won the Nobel Prize after writing those famous novels (those of you who've been with me a while will undoubtedly recall that you don't win the Nobel for a book; you win it for a body of work), but his Pulitzers came later, for A Fable and then for his last book, The Reivers.

And yes, I had to look up what on Earth a "reiver" is. Turns out it's an old word for "robber" used in the Scottish borderlands -- at least that's what I read -- and brought to the U.S. by people from there. An interesting choice of Faulkner's definitely, for the title.

I hate describing/spoilering plots, but the "robbery" in this book is more of a free-wheeling escapist weekend journey that ends up being a coming of age experience. It's definitely not about, like, career burglars or street thugs, but rather people who get swept up in an opportunity and plunge themselves into a feverish few days of learning and growing, from mistakes and other things that come along.

What this book does incredibly well is take you into long, winding sentences without letting you get so lost that you can't find your way out of the paragraph; it also gives the reader a vivid sense of place and the characters inhabiting the places rendered.

What it did for me, more importantly, is get me fired up to read more Faulkner novels. He has a beautiful command of sentence structure (long and involved though that structure may be), life journeys, introspection disguised as regular-ol'-folks-livin'-life, and the striking interpersonal turmoil of life. He makes you want to crawl inside the book and hang out with these people, even though no part of you would rationally want to, say, have Everbe's job, or Boon's...or necessarily live in rural early twentieth century Mississippi...

What I also loved about The Reivers: his social commentary, particularly about the way cars and the automobile society we've embraced have erased some very real things. Nature, for one thing, in the form of wild, untouched spaces; those are basically gone. Also, some part of our human selves has been forever altered. The car/train/horse/walking layers of symbolism that pile upon themselves in this story could take years of literary analysis to fully sort out.

One thing I must point out, though: I've seen multiple reviews/commentaries where people describe the book as "funny" or "one of his funniest novels" or "a comic masterpiece," Um, hello? Do these people also work for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association slating Golden Globe nominees into categories? To me, The Reivers was anything but a comedy. It was a coming-of-age tale and a slice of life. Sure, there was wit -- there were clever and sly bits slipped in all sorts of places in this book. It was real and endearing. A "comic masterpiece" though? Did we get what Faulkner was showing here at all?

If you've read The Reivers, what do you think -- comic masterpiece or no?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Two thousand sixteen
or, The Triumphant Return of My Literary Supplement Blogging

Yes, it has been a while. I had blogging issues in 2015 (laptop issues, really), but it's a new year, fresh start, etc. I won't bother doing too much detail in a '15 recap; let's just quickly mention that the year basically included continuing to trudge through my many simultaneous reading projects.

The best books I read in 2015 were Room by Emma Donoghue, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, A Room With a View by my boy E.M. Forsterand Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z by David SacksSome other interesting finds, well worth checking out, were Les chercheurs d'os by Tahar Djaout, The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (which essentially restored my faith in contemporary literature and made me believe there are actually good writers writing out there), Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (thanks, book group!), and Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum. Overrated, or maybe just overfussed about: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt (apparently some people think she's dismissing or defending the perpetrators of the Holocaust? Hello? Did they actually read the book?), One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (which I really need to read in Spanish, which is why I was reading/suffering through it in English, to prepare for this necessary Spanish reading that I'm going to get aroudn to any minute now), and Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler, which I was really prepared to enjoy more than I did, it being her Pulitzer-winner and all, and me having really loved the other book of hers I'd read. I didn't really hate hate hate any book I read in 2015, unless you count Wild, which I mostly came to hate after I read it, when I actually thought about it. The process of reading the book was enjoyable enough, but the author, Cheryl Strayed, is more than a little full of shite and not that great of a writer, and one starts to realize this when one applies a little thing called critical thinking to Wild, but if that sounds too hard, and you prefer to be entertained laugh-out-loud style, go read the entirety of this anti-Wild blog.

So anyway. Now we're in 2016. Wheeeeee!  Here we go.

Yes, my projects continue, but I can definitely see the light at the end of their tunnels! In my Prez Bios project (wherein, you'll recall, I set out to read a bio of every president in order to see where we went wrong, a goal clearly conceived during the Dubya administration), I've recently finished --and reconsidered--Nixon and am now at Ford. Totally in the home stretch of this project: I've reached my lifetime! In my A-to-Z championship, I have one more finalist to read and then will select my final winner (which I wasn't even planning on doing when I first read the 26 novels, one author's last name for each letter of the alphabet, but that project evolved after I finished what became the first round). When that wraps up, I'm going to embark on a reverse-gender A to Z, because I realized that I read far more men than women in my A to Z selections, so I've decided to remedy that.  As for prize-winning Pulitzer and Newbery novels, I've read a few each year and continue to plug away.

Speaking of that, I've just finished William Faulkner's The Reivers.  The Faulkernization of my adult life continues, as well it should. More on that in my next post.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Not THAT A to Z ...
A Blog Book Survey

Stolen from another blog, I give you my answers to the A to Z Book Survey! I'm pretty sure all the Kidz 2-day doing the survey include images for each'll be lucky to get a handful of pictures from me! I always say, a thousand words are worth a picture...

A - Author You've Read the Most

Oh gosh, I'm not sure! Look at me already failing on the first question. But I mean, should this be the most individual books? Because that would be Dr. Seuss, I think. Number of pages? That might be Tolstoy, after only a couple of books. If we're not counting Seuss and Tolstoy, then it's gonna be either Sandra Scoppettone, Nelson DeMille, or Virginia Woolf - I've read about a dozen books from each of those three. If I weren't lazy about images (see above), I'd post a lesbian/mystery Venn Diagram to illustrate this answer.

Men Against the Sea (The Bounty Trilogy, #2)B - Best Sequel
Ooooh, good question. Oh, man, The Two Towers doesn't really count as a sequel, right, book-wise, because The Lord of the Rings is actually all one book, even though it's not. Hmmm. Well, if not that, then let's go with Men Against the Sea, the second book in the (Mutiny on the) Bounty trilogy. I adored Men Against the Sea.  I felt so impressed by and fond of the men and their boat that saved them. What a great yarn. Worth a look!

C - Currently Reading
I'm in the middle of the very good Truman by David McCullough, the current selection in my prez bios reading project, but also fiction-wise quickly blazing through Inherent Vice on the side (my second Thomas Pynchon) so then I can go see the movie.

D - Drink of Choice While Reading
So, coffee. Obviously.

E - E-reader or Physical Books?
I do not enjoy e-reading books. I have done a few, and found it convenient to be able to purchase and borrow books that way, especially when living abroad, but I do not really enjoy it. Here's to page-turning!

F - Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Dated in High School
Um. I had no idea who I was or who the people I wanted to date were in high school. With that caveat, and knowing that it would probably not have been a good idea, I probably would have dated someone truly messed up like Laurent in Therese Raquin, or at least someone very confused, like Rob in High Fidelity -- confused but who likes music. Definitely, there would have been music involved.

G - Glad You Gave This Book a Chance
Let's go with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Before it became cool for adults everywhere to shamelessly read Young Adult because staring at screens has altered their brains and attention spans so much that they can't read lengthy amounts of words on pages anymore, I worked at Borders and there was an intriguing little green paperback bestseller that I became inspired to pick up and Oh.My.Goodness do I just love the hell out of that book. Read the sequels, saw the movie, and did a bit of spreading the gospel, but just in general, if you think The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is for some reason not worth your time, think again!

H - Hidden Gem Book 
This has got to be either Night and Day by Virginia Woolf , which seems to get exactly no attention, even from academic/feminist/Anglophile/literary devotees but which I maintain is one of Woolf's best, or Tepper Isn't Going Out  by Calvin Trillin, which gets no attention from anyone except me and Brian.

I - Important Moment in Your Reading Life
The obvious answer would probably be something about War and Peace, no?  But I think it might actually be when the Modern Library published their list of the Top 100 books (two lists, actually, one for novels and one for non-fiction) and I printed them out and highlighted and set out on a quest, and have since continued finding quests and projects and lists of books to read and I absolutely love doing this!! (Making lists of books to read next is a hobby of mine.)

J - Just Finished
Um, speaking of lists, Smoky the Cowhorse. Among other checklists I'm working my way through: the Newbery Medal Winners. Good ol' Smoky hails from the early days of that award, the 1920s.

K - Kinds of Books You Won't Read

 L - Longest Book You've Ever ReadOh my goodness, so many candidates. Now I have to go check which is longest out of  Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Infinite Jest, or Dream of Red Mansions/Chamber aka The Story of the Stone....ahhh, forget it, you can go look up how many pages yourself. I like long books. Proust, I'm coming for you.

M - Major Book Hangover Because Of...P
robably Into Thin Air. I couldn't shake that for months. And all I did was talk about it, with other people under the influence from it.

N - Number of Bookcases You Own 
There are three here in this living room, with Brian's and my books. Before my Great Book Sell-Off of 2006, I had about five tall ones and then some filled in Boston...there are books in houses in Phoenix...I don't really know/care how to answer this question other than literally. I guess I co-own three.

O - One Book You Have Read Multiple Times Again, besides Dr. Seuss? That would be Candide. Voltaire forever!

P - Preferred Place to Read 
Anywhere quiet.
A steady hum of sounds is OK. Jabbering, cell phone conversations, sitcoms, etc.? Not.

Q - Quote That Inspires You or Gives You All of the Feels From a Book You Have ReadObviously, Candide: "That is very well said, but we must cultivate our garden."

R - Reading RegretOther than maybe Cynthia Ozick, nothing I've actually read, but more all the time I've wasted not reading in this life.

S - Series You Started But Need to FinishSome people would say Harry Potter (I've read the first half of the first book...twice...)  Definitely not Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone ABCs, as I am So done with  all that. Let's see, what could it be? I haven't started Game of Thrones, really, though I did read the first few pages of the first, and that's my next-up series, I believe...I can't really think of any. Wait, Alafair Burke's Samantha Kincaid and Ellie Hatcher books are series, right? But she's still writing, and this is supposed to be a complete series. Ugh. Can I use Proust here, too?  Well, wait, actually, I think Alafair Burke is done writing Samantha Kincaid, she said, now that she's in New York. And I've read two of the Portland-set Kincaid series and need to read the third. So, that.

T - Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books(You see where I've already mentioned Candide and War and Peace multiple times, right?)
How about:
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

U - Unapologetic Fangirl For...
Fangirl? Me? Ummm...
Anna Quindlen?

V - Very Excited for This Release More Than Any Other
Would it just be wrong to say my own book?
I'm so not the release-anticipating type with books. I've fallen behind on all my still-writing living authors (Atwood, Berg, DeMille, et. al.) I've got one word for you, kid: classics.

W - Worst Book Habit
Sitting here with a laptop on my lap instead of picking up a book?
Judging people who read trash?  (I mean real trash, like Twilight; I'm not disparaging the genres here.)
Disparaging genre fiction?
Forgetting what I've read?

You tell me; which is the worst?

X - X Marks the Spot: Pick the 27th Book on Your Bookshelf (from the upper left)
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Y - Your Latest Book Purchase
Pretty sure it was at Schuler over Christmas when I picked up Night Train by Martin Amis and Game of Thrones by the inimitable conscientious objector George R.R. Martin. Have I bought anything since then? I don't think so. I tried to get Vanity Fair at our neighborhood bookstore in Lincoln Square, The Book Cellar, but couldn't find it, and at Women & Children First, I tried to get our next book group book, Eichmann in Jerusalem,  and they were sold out of that! So, back to the library...

Z - ZZZ Snatcher: Book That Kept You Up Way Too LateThis has not happened in SO long. I am a champion of falling asleep these days. I love getting sleep. I can't remember staying up reading, sucked in, since I was in Andong (Korea, in 2011)...either Freedom by Jonathan Franzen or Long Gone by Alafair Burke; I remember being up late reading both of those that year.

What a fun survey!

How about you?

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Check-in time
A look at what 15-year-old me declared she would read...

In case anyone thought this whole making-lists-of-books-I-want-to-read habit was a new thing or started in adulthood or (god forbid) a Goodreads-inspired internet solution (in that last case, you should probably go read To Save Everything, Click Here and stop thinking about the internet as the only and ultimate solution for everything), we have actual evidence to the contrary. I have here an old notebook from my junior year of high school in which I wrote some goals for the New Year, including the aspiration to "read 100 books (as in, good ones)."  I'm terribly curious as to what kind of unworthy books I thought I would  be tempted to read that needed to be excluded from the list...young adult, maybe? *smirk*.. but in any case I then gave some examples
of what I should read. Here's the list, from my 15-year-old self to you:

  • The Scriptures
  • Les Miserables
  • Jesus the Christ
  • A Marvelous Work and a Wonder
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • [The] Catcher in the Rye
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Wuthering Heights
  • War and Peace 
  • etc.
Gotta love the "etc."  Couldn't be bothered to actually list 100? Or is it because I reached the end of the page? The top of the next page of the notebook begins with a new topic, "WAR." Oh, yes, I was me. Gotta also entirely love that War and Peace made the list. I feel satisfied knowing that even at such a tender age, I was fully aware of my destiny. Great stuff, teenage Linda. (Who was at that time, as evidenced by some of the more Christ-y entries on the list, most assuredly still a Linda With Borders, eh?) 

So, then?? Status report? Well, here we are two decades later and I have completed more than half of that list, but not quite all. I did apparently start at the beginning, because I remember that school year I indeed delved into scripture (and yes, I did read The Whole Thing, though it took a few years) and Les Miserables. I am terribly sad to report I read only about 250 pages of that long novel (obviously, unabridged; what do you take me for?!) that year. Well, guess what, it is totes on the 2015 list anyway, for me and Brian. How about that! What else? I read The Catcher in the Rye later, during the summer after my senior year, then finally got around to  Wuthering Heights and To Kill a Mockingbird a few years after that, in adult life. In Boston, I read a good chunk of Uncle Tom's Cabin, maybe 100 pages or so, but didn't finish, and of course we all know that in 2005 I had the good sense to tackle War and Peace. I wonder if I ever read much of Jesus the Christ and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder...hmmm. I know I've touched those (and they're still on my mom's bookshelves to this day) but nothing sticks with me, and I can't say I have any interest in reading them now. The Mormon General Authorities and higher-ups are kind of like tenured professors, I think, in their writing. They might be technically competent and even have interesting things to say, but they're not really inspired to write a book so much as they are compelled by their life situation to write about their topics of expertise. And we all know how I feel about reading academic journal articles that are more concerned with citation than narrative.

Now, about that "etc."...

Saturday, January 03, 2015

On to the Finals! (finally!)

Unless you've just discovered this blog in the last few months -- unlikely, since I've been an utter slacker about posting during those few months -- you're likely aware of my "A-to-Z Literary Blog Project," a long simmering notion that I put into action beginning over the 2006-2007 New Year's holiday (I miss that era of life) (except for the Dubya & Company of Usurpers' occupation of D.C.)  The project involved me reading one book by each of 26 new-to-me authors that I had long meant to read, one for each letter of the alphabet, from Martin Amis to Emile Zola. There were hits (Styron, Vidal, Forster, I swooned!) and misses (die, Ozick, die) and a few shrugged shoulders (Jong, Palahniuk) and raised eyebrows (Ishmael....what? a gorilla? but there weren't a lot of 'Q' choices).

Well, the project was so much fun, and I lived with it for so long (it went from the anticipated year -- yeah, sure 2-3 novels for fun each month of law school, super likely -- to more like two-and-a-half years, which may still be impressive seeing as on top of the law school reading I also threw Infinite Jest in there, which by the way is oddly appropriate for a law student, I maintain) that I hated to see it go. So it didn't! Upon completion, I selected my A-to-Z Top Half and read another book by each of those thirteen. (This was not exclusive...I just mixed them in along with other reading over the next few years.) After the thirteen? Sure enough, I chose six "semi-finalists" and read a third book of each of theirs. That brings us to today. Three, count 'em, three finalists have been chosen, a tough call indeed, and I will now read one more book from each of those authors before choosing the winner of my A-to-Z Literary Blog Project (which, when I began it eight years ago, I had no intention of anyone 'winning').

With no further ado, then, the three finalists are: Martin Amis, E.M. Forster, and Salman Rushdie. Congratulations, boys! (And by the way, I am aware that my finalists are all men...more on that in the weeks to come, by the way.)

I do have to say that Umberto Eco was such an honorable mention. I really had a hard time deciding between him and Forster. I know I want to read  more Eco, in the future, too, but for now I had to go with my judgment on their semi-final round novels, and I guess I found that Forster crafted a more perfect Howards End than Eco's slightly more inscrutable Foucault's Pendulum. I've long been looking forward to reading Foucault's Pendulum,  after thoroughly enjoying his writing and his intellect and his ideas and his breadth (and rooting for him to win the Nobel for a a few years now!) but Foucault's Pendulum... I don't know. It was a little bit of a slog at times. It never lost its fun/interesting-ness, but it could have been shorter. I know that's a lame cop-out as a criticism (and hey, I like long things!) but in this case I say it because it just started seeming repetitive. I started to not really keep straight all the subculture/cult/gatherings/secrets/girlfriends-in-a-trance etc. and I reached a point where I just wanted to figure out how this was all going to go down. I must say, without spoilering, that it all goes down pretty intensely -- I definitely recommend the book, but I had to choose one and I'm sorry Umberto.

So now, I get to read another Amis (I picked up a used bookstore copy of Night Train last week), another Forster (it's gotta be A Room With a View because no, I still haven't read that, and it's on lists and stuff, which totally matters), and another Rushdie. This last one is the hard choice. I've now read three of his: first, The Satanic Verses (so wacky! I still can't fathom why something so outlandish and bizarre inspired people to murder), Shalimar the Clown (so astute. so brilliant. so packs a punch you don't see coming), and Midnight's Children (which I did also enjoy greatly while learning a bunch about India). But what's next?  Should it be Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor's Last Sigh, The Enchantress of Florence, or The Ground Beneath Her Feet?  Any advice? What do you recommend? What should my next Rushdie be?  For some reason I'm drawn to The Moor's Last Sigh but is there something I should consider about the others?

Books, books, books, books, books!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Best and Worst I Read in 2014

I read 72 books in 2014! Well, OK, I read sixty-something books and I listened to a handful as audio books on my mp3 player while out walking or running. But for the purposes of this blog entry, same thing. Let's take a look at my 2014 year of reading in review!

I read more truly great non-fiction than truly great fiction this year. While I enjoy reading non-fiction and obviously love when it's great, I would also really like to be able to read more great novels, too, and by that I mean, I would like to stop being so disappointed in more than half of the novels I pick up. But we'll get to that in a second. First...

Easily the two best novels I read this year were Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko and Time's Arrow by Martin Amis. Both deal with the utter horror show that is humanity but in completely and totally different ways. The former is a gargantuan tome of Native American-Mexican-Arizonan-bring-on-the-revolution wisdom that will shock, horrify, and awe you if you have any ethical bones in your body. It will also teach you some history, make you homesick for Arizona if you're from there, cause you to seriously ponder your role in society and humans' role on the American continent and the globe, and possibly inspire a little tiny eensy bit of hope for the world. (But not too much.) There's also a fair amount of sex and drugs mixed in. It's hard to explain. The latter is Amis' famous novel told in reverse about a Holocaust "doctor" -- in order to grapple with the how-could-this-happen and how-did-he/they/we-become-evil questions, he tells the story backwards and it's basically genius.  I cannot recommend these two books highly enough.

The other good novel I read this year was Men Against the Sea by Charles Bernard Nordhoff, the second in the Bounty Trilogy. Actually, the first, Mutiny on the Bounty, was all right, too, but the struggle of the men in the boat in the second book is just so hardcore, and you end with so much respect for them and an understanding of their deep love for the boat that helped them and brought them to safety.

The great non-fiction I read this year includes:
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown -- This history of what happened to Indians in the American West should be required reading for everyone. The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times by Francis Russell -- Yes, you actually do need to read a biography of Warren G. Harding, if for nothing else than for the shenanigans of the smoke-filled rooms at the 1920 Republican convention and for his kindness to puppies.
The Walrus and the Elephants: John Lennon's Years of Revolution by James A Mitchell -- I was born too late (to live in the early '70s) but John Lennon wasn't and he was incredible and I previously had no idea how hard the U.S. government tried to get rid of them. (And succeeded?)To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov --  If you hate when people say "X changed my life" or when people are hailed as brilliant because they gave a TED Talk even though they are physically incapable of critical thinking, you'll dig Evgeny's thesis. If you are bristling at these notions, you are in need of Evgeny's thesis.Zola and His Time: The History of his Martial Career in Letters by Matthew Josephson -- When I finally got around to reading a Zola book (Therese Raquin) the other year, I was less than impressed. But! This bio re-fascinated me about him. And poor, poor Dreyfus (he of the Affair) -- such a fascinating bit of history and a groovy group of literary pals, who are definitely not without their flaws. 
Get out of my face, Gone Girl, The Interestings, Sue Grafton, Sharon Olds (Stag's Leap and her undeserved Pulitzer in particular) and, frankly, Sophie's Choice, too. So much disappointment!
The Fault in Our Stars, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Little Women (re-visited as an adult), No Ordinary Time, and some of Truman Capote's short stories included in the volume along with Breakfast at Tiffany's.  SOME FUN SURPRISES: The Wicked Pavilion  by Dawn Powell. Who knew?
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Check it out if you want a classic novel that's also basically a pioneering mystery novel and not on everyone's radar.
Missing Justice by Alafair Burke. Even though I've read a few of her novels previously and I am well acquainted with her and her life commentary, I was still delighted by the sharp feminism in this page-turner.
Also, 10 A ños con Mafalda, a collection of the Argentine comic strip Mafalda, opened my eyes to a bit of social history I never would have otherwise known. 
And you? How was your 2014 reading?