Because I am still recuperating from a broken ankle and I have missed Spring and 1/3 of Summer, I’ve been doing a lot of reading…
These are some the new books I’ve recently read:
Words Without Music – Philip Glass – I enjoyed his conversational writing style; instinct for survival; and down to earth POV; Glass has tried his hand at just about everything and studied music with the best. I admit, I speed-read over some of the more technical aspects of scoring.
Mink River – Brian Doyle – I enjoyed Doyle’s quirky voice, characters and imagination in this brief and engaging novel — however, this is yet another book of fiction where the writer felt the need to construct an epilogue. As a result, the ending, to my taste, is too neatly wrapped up.
The Good Nurse – Charles Grabber – Indulging in my guilty pleasure of reading true crime non-fiction, a chilling story of a psychotic nurse who got away with murdering patients for far too long; it is also an indictment of the corrupt network of hospitals that terminated, rather than investigated, this killer’s employment.
Dept. of Speculation – Jenny Offill – Most writers, if not all, like to keep notebooks for jotting down therein extraordinary facts and personal observations. Offill’s short novel reads like a compilation of such notebook entries crafted into a work of fiction. This is all well and good if the device is not obvious. For me it was just that — obvious — which hindered my enjoyment of the story and many times got in the way.
Blue Nights – Joan Didion – I love this author’s writing and found this memoir of her daughter’s untimely and tragic death honest, riveting and profoundly satisfying in its artistry and craft.
The Harder They Come – T.C. Boyle – I am a fan of Boyle’s writing and crackling, dynamic prose. I’ve read several of his novels and short stories. This novel has a bang-up beginning, which was what drew me to it, but soon after it loses its momentum.
10:04 – Ben Lerner – This is post-modernist meta fiction at its best. The book is brilliantly executed and masterfully structured (I was stunned and thrilled at how seamlessly he can weave the elements of fiction and metafiction into the writing, and my appreciation of it enhanced my reading experience even more). This luminous story is set in NYC around the time of Hurricane Sandy and Occupy Wall St. The story’s narrator is diagnosed with a serious medical condition. At the same time, a close friend asks him to help her conceive a child. Lerner’s deft prose, poetry, wit and cleverness enthralled me page after page. This is just a great book. I know I will read again…
Click the link (below) to read a entertaining essay by Tim Parks in the NYRB blog about why we should re-read books:
Devil in the White City – Erik Larson – A thoroughly engrossing, thrilling page turner of historical non-fiction, told in alternating chapters, about the planning and development of the Chicago World’s Fair in the 1890’s (the innovation of the era is mind-blowing). The author pairs the aforementioned story with a parallel, horrific tale of a predatory serial killer at loose in the city.
Where I Was From – Joan Didion – Another masterwork of non-fiction by Didion, which retells the historic path taken by her ancestors as they traveled west to settle in the Sacramento area of California. The author guides the reader on a absorbing path of discovery and its attending idiosyncratic history. Filled with tidbits about California and related personalities: Jerry Brown, Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, to name a few, the reader learns through immensely readable prose just how water in California has been routed and re-routed, and still is, to its final destination points and what brought the state to the crisis of severe drought it now finds itself in.
Of course, I had to re-watch Polanski’s “Chinatown” after reading this book!
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou – After the shooting in the South Carolina church, I realized, with chagrin, that I had never read Angelou’s most well known book. I’m rather glad I came to it later on because I am bringing life experience to the reading. The writing is achingly beautiful; the story heartbreaking and deeply inspiring. I can recall only a few books that have brought tears to my eyes while reading; this is one of them. But make no mistake about Angelou’s courage. She was not and had never been a pushover. I wish everyone would read this book. It is as timely now as it was in 1969, when it was first published. She gets my vote for placing her portrait on the $10.00 bill.
Another Country – James Baldwin – The main character, Rufus, a jazz musician in NYC, is a complex, tightly coiled, black man who dates white women and then slaps them around and hates himself for it. Confused, messed up, charismatic and full of self-loathing, still, you cannot bring yourself to dislike him in spite of his behavior (a sentiment also demonstrated by his close friends, the other characters in the book (n.b., I did not find the other characters as interesting in their own right). His friends always forgive Rufus. You feel his pain. When Rufus talks about music in the jargon of the time (1962), it is electric and captivating. You feel that too. So, why, at about 1/3 of the way into the book, does Rufus throw himself off the George Washington bridge…what? At that point, the reader is left with the uninteresting supporting characters (his friends). I read some more of the book beyond the suicide event, but was disappointed. It was not as fun to continue on without the presence of Rufus. One day, I may go back to the book and try finishing it, if the spirit moves me…
After reading Maya Angelou’s book, race was on my mind. I recalled an incident concerning James Baldwin, which is why I picked up Another Country. Many years ago, I was lucky to have as an English teacher a progressive, liberal man named Mr. Goldfarb. Our class was assigned to read James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain, in which Baldwin dramatizes the story of the black migration from the rural South to urban North.
Published in 1953, Baldwin said of this book, “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.”
An important book.
The incident I referred to above occurred in the 1960s. A group of parents in our town got wind of the book Mr. Goldfarb had assigned. Our suburban town happened to be nick-named, “lily white” back then because not a single, non-white person resided there.
An emergency PTA meeting was called by parents to ban the reading of this book that frightened them so much. An emergency PTA meeting!
That was when I fully comprehended the power of literature.
In the words of Ray Bradbury:
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”