The Day I Read A Book.

A continuation of the books I read in 2011.  Read about April.

May

  • By the time I got around to reading it, I’d forgotten all of the reviews of Elizabeth Strout‘s Olive Kitteridge.  I’d forgotten that Ms. Strout’s work was more anthology of related stories than novel, that the setting was a small New England town in coastal Maine, that the titular character wasn’t in fact the main character after all.  Worth the read, but it’s up to the reader to decide if it’s worth the hype.
  • The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber is an absolutely terrible novel that everybody in the world should read.  I mean, it’s about a pack of way-more-intense-than-werewolves wolves living, hunting and killing in 1970s New York City and the two police detectives that are tracking them down.  Oh, and I should mention that parts of the story are told from the point of view of the wolves.  So awesomely bad.  One of my goals for 2012 is to get my hands on a copy of the film adaptation.
  • Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table, a Collection of Essays from The New York Times edited by Amanda Hesser is pretty self-explanatory.
  • So is, in a way, Elizabeth Graver‘s The Honey Thief, as it is about a thief of honey, but imagine how boring a story it would be if that were it as far as plot were concerned.  The novel is about mothers and daughters, religion, inheritances and friendships, as well as honey.
  • I purchased a copy of Room at Fully Booked in Manila; at that point in our trip, I had read all of the books I’d packed and The Wolfen off of Keith’s iPad, and was desperate for something to read, as I had three days in Hong Kong and a twenty-something-hour flight back to the States to get through.  I hadn’t followed the previous year’s hoopla surrounding Emma Donoghue‘s novel but it just so happened that Room‘s plot fit in perfectly with my kidnapping/crime obsession.  Though told from five-year-old Jack’s point of view, the reader quickly realizes that Jack and his mother live a grim and terrible sort of life: abducted at nineteen, Jack’s mother had gotten pregnant and gave birth in captivity, and all Jack knows of the world is the 11 x 11 room he was born in.  Though I sometimes find the use of children’s first-person narration in adult novels to be gimmicky, Jack’s perspective was unique and interesting enough to keep me reading.
  • After years of trying, Keith and I secured reservations at elBulli in November of 2010, and for that reason I was particularly interested in The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli by Lisa Abend, which chronicles not a year of elBulli so much as a year in the life of a stagiaire at elBulli.  It’s fascinating to learn of all their backgrounds, interests, successes and failings, regardless of whether or not you’d eaten at the restaurant or not.
  • I should’ve kicked my kidnapping kick before reading Still Missing, as I found the abducted narrator of Chevy Stevens‘s novel to be both irritating and without redeeming factors.  Skip it.
  • Laura Lippman‘s I’d Know You Anywhere is also about kidnapping, is leagues better, and ultimately forgettable.

June

  • I hadn’t read any Nick Hornby in years; it was only Juliet, Naked‘s availability at my local library that made Mr. Hornby’s most recent novel my first of his to read since About a Boy.  Funny stuff, this, and a must-read for those who have music nerds in their lives or who are self-aware music nerds.
  • My book club needed something to read, so I recommended In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff, simple because I already had it out of the library and had just started the book the same day.  The mystery takes place in turn of the century New York — a genre, historical period and location that the ladies in book club all love, so for that reason it was it good fit.  The main character, a detective with a tragic past, transfers out of a gritty and corrupt New York City precinct to sleepy, quiet Westchester County.  Instead of finding tranquility, he’s face-to-face with the most brutal murder he’s ever seen.
  • I’m not going to lie, I read Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family and Finding the Perfect Lipstick by Molly Ringwald only because I was on a Breakfast Club kick.
  • Sue Miller’s The Lake Shore Limited is told from the perspective of four characters, a writing technique that I as a reader and a writer really enjoy.  Sometimes it can be done beautifully (In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, for example) but more often than not, this is done in a mediocre fashion.  Ms. Miller is a fine writer, and she tackles this well, but I didn’t find any of the four characters to be unforgettable.
The Day I Read A Book” by Jimmy Durante.

I’m a Fast Reader, but This is Ridiculous.

Somehow, I borrowed twenty-four books from the library last night.

Ever since we decided we needed to purge our house of non-favorite literature, I’ve been putting the Boston Public Library system to work, asking it to reach its long arms into all of its stacks and pull title after titled out and send them to my local branch.  I’ve got my account set up so that I receive emails whenever my books arrive, but the automated process still has some kinks in it — which I why I showed up only expecting five titles and walking out with twenty-four.  I mean, what was I supposed to do, leave some behind and risk hurting their feelings?  I’m not that cruel.

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

The thing is, I only get to keep these guys until the twentieth, so I’ve got to get reading.

My Reading List, and Some Reasons Why.

Here’s a photo of the books I’ve currently got waiting in the wings, in no particular order. They are all for pleasure, except for The Poet and the Murderer, which is for book club. That’s not say, of course, that the books my friends and I pick to read together aren’t pleasurable — the difference is that I chose the six others for myself, and for no reason other than just plain wanting to read them.

  1. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  2. The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
  3. Messenger by Lois Lowry
  4. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  5. Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh
  6. The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall
  7. Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal

Excluding The Omnivore’s Dilemma and, again, The Poet and the Murderer, I purchased these books this past weekend at the Muse and the Marketplace. I attended a lectures by both Jennifer Haigh and Lois Lowry (big surprise, that), chatted with Michael Lowenthal at lunch on Saturday and attended the keynote brunch the following day with Jonathan Franzen. There were several books to be purchased at conference, but I went with these not only because these were the writers who impressed me the most, but also because I had a very limited amount of room in my bag.

  • Do I really need to say anything more about my great affection for Lois Lowry?
  • Jonathan Franzen read excerpts from his most recent book, The Discomfort Zone, and answered many questions on what I can’t help but think of as The Oprah Incident. He also discussed the German language, his unsuccessful pursuit of girls and the contemporary North American writers whose work he enjoys reading. I should also mention that Mr. Franzen’s voice is absolutely lovely to listen to. Immediately afterwards, I went to a seminar with John Sedgwick, who wondered how a voice like that could be attained. Nicotine, he concluded.
  • Jennifer Haigh’s workshop on how to get a novel started was undoubtedly one of the most helpful, and not to mention exciting. In clear, concise words, Ms. Haigh spoke about some of her writing tricks; I know that I’m going to use them myself from here on in, with the hopes of being even a quarter as successful.
  • Michael Lowenthal was a funny and friendly lunch companion — though our eating together was pure happenstance. I nervously sat down at a table, and found myself with published, acclaimed writers and a charming, witty agent. I’ve never felt like such a fraud before in my life. Mr. Lowenthal was easy to talk to, and had so many fascinating things to say about his recent time at the Instituto Sacatar, an artists’ colony in Brazil.

Miscellaneous Thoughts from the Morning Commute.

It was very crowded on the subway this morning, but still I noticed the man seated in front of me reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. He was more than halfway through, and because he had stomped on my feet several times not more than a moment before, practically crushing them to the bone, I wanted to lean over and ask him, “Have you gotten to the part where she gets leukemia yet?” or some terrible-sounding lie to make it appear as though I was wrecking the end. Of course, I didn’t say anything at all, spiteful or otherwise. I kept my horrible little thoughts to myself.

The woman standing next to me was amazingly engrossed in her book; when I glanced over, my eyes latched onto the words “throbbing,” “swelled” and “kiss,” so naturally my thoughts started wandering in a certain direction. It made me extremely curious as to the title or at least the author, so much so that I tried using our reflections in the glass in front of us to get a better look at the cover. Instead I got distracted by how very tired I looked. In my defense, those dim tunnels combined with the subway’s overhead lighting and smudged windows do not paint the most flattering portrait.

Later, on another line, I noticed that no one else seemed to be reading, with the exception of a blonde woman flipping through a J.Crew catalog. I don’t think that quite counts. When I observe things like this on the subway, I always wonder, “What are these people thinking?” and “Where are these people going?” Ultimately, I ask myself, “Why aren’t they reading?”

Clearly, I realize that not all people are devourers of books, or even nibblers of books. Still — I get most, if not practically all, of my reading done on public transit. On some days, such as today, I even carry two books in my bag, just in case I finish one earlier than anticipated. (For the record, they are D.V. by Diana Vreeland, loaned to me by my friend Alyssa, and Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, snatched off my bookshelves this morning at the very last minute. And I did finish D.V.) In my case, reading makes what could be a long, noisy and tedious ride home interesting, exciting and even too short. Sometimes, I recklessly walk and read, which might be why I trip so frequently; on more than one occasion, I’ve been tempted to stay on the train a few stops longer than needed. No catalog could even come close to claiming to be such a pageturner.