I’m running late on this month’s round up. I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m getting ready to teach my first class, and between that and shredding and baking bread, I don’t have much mental (or physical, for that matter) energy left. Today I’m as tired as I’ve ever been, but I have a tomato keeping me on task, so no more excuses!
I’m starting to wonder if a certain amount of disappointment is inherent in the nature of To Read lists. If you’ve been meaning to read something forever, there’s obviously something preventing you from getting to it, right? Take, for example, Amber, who vowed to take on Infinite Jest. 1104 pages are a serious commitment, which is why I’ve been putting it off for the better part of a decade. While Amber enjoyed that the book “manages to say a lot of interesting things about the human experience – particularly with regard to entertainment and addiction”, she closes by acknowledging a fear I have about the book: ”I have to be honest: I think some of the applause for this book is really in part self-congratulatory applause, for those who managed to get through it.” I’ll be interested to see the feedback this review receives, especially amongst the DFW aficionados participating in the 12 Books challenge.
Meghan was also underwhelmed by both of her reads this month: The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories and The Book of Lost Things [review]. She enjoyed the “sultry and innocent” “winding and fun to unravel” writing in the former, but found herself boring easily and struggling to finish the stories [review]. The high point of the latter was the epilogue, which she describes as “a really great short essay” attached to “not such a great full novel.”
So if it takes a challenge like 12 Books to get us to read books from our lists, are they really worth reading? Anj read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle hoping to learn a few new things about food and farming, but came away with the impression – from both the book and the audiobook – of good content being toned down [review]. Jenny was hoping for some interesting pop science from Flotsametrics and the Floating World, but wound up with autobiography and hard science, neither of which left her with “a good grasp or ability to guess why a certain type of object goes to which beach” [review]. Heidi read Midwives because a coworker gave it to her and because she’s interested in “the alternative birth community,” but found it a little too carefully written and in need of a good edit. [review]
Now that we’re a few months in, a few of us have realized that we don’t actually own (or perhaps want to read) books on our original lists. I happily scrapped one of my books in favor of At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which I loved from start to finish. It’s packed with fun and interesting facts, as are most of his books, except with the added bonus of many of these facts relating to your everyday life. Seriously, I highly recommend it [review]. Grace read two books: Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman, which was on her list, and Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave, which replaced a volume she couldn’t find. Dangerous Woman was surprisingly effective in the graphic format, while also being “informative, entertaining, and nearly impossible to put down” [review]. While a few of the personal essays in Bad Girls fell flat, a few were “the kind of bad [she could] sink [her] teeth into–not really salacious, and not hurting anybody, but just…naughty”[review].
On the other hand, Mary experienced no such disappointment with The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution, which depicted the events of the Boston Tea Party in a whole new light. The book does an excellent job of exploring “where history comes from, who writes history, and what things are included, and what are left out”, which seems like a thought-provoking in these turbulent times [review]. Angel read Nuestra historia aun se esta escribiendo, La historia de tres generales cubano-chinos en la Revolucion Cubana, which tells the story of three Cuban generals of Chinese descent. I know very little about Cuban history – an artifact of our continued embargo of both trade and culture – so I was interested to learn about Castro’s implementation of anti-racism legislation, which in part resulted in these generals seeing “themselves as Cubans first who just so happen to have Chinese descent” [review].
Jill picked up The Ginger Tree because the cover seemed to promise a certain “saga-ness”, a “Calgon take me away type experience” in the form of a sweeping novel set in turn of the century Japan. Aspects of the novel – particularly the main character’s persistent sense (or perhaps state) of being simultaneously foreign and at home – resonated with Jill,while others – including the narrative devices of diaries and letters – were frustrating, as it made it seem like the main character was constantly reacting to events, rather than acting [review]. Rebekah read Room, which was more constrained in geography but not in the imagination of the narrator, a young boy named Jack who has lived his entire life in captivity with his mother. Room has gotten a lot of press, which Rebekah notes in her review, but her reflections on Ma’s parenting and on the way Jack’s narration conveys his sense of un/reality made me even more curious to read the book.
Mark was an overachiever and read three books this month – he’s more than half done with his list! First, he felt that Reading and Writing the Electronic Book could serve as a “gateway to the assorted literature(s) of studies on ebooks,” but it has fallen out of date since being published in 2010 and is fraught with serious omissions and typos [review]. Second, Seven Nights , a “slim volume of essays based on seven lectures Borges gave in Buenos Aires between June and August 1977,” was interesting and provided contextual and historical information on a variety of topics [review]. Finally, he read Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening , which “rejects the religion of Buddhism…in favor of the actions of Buddhism. It also remains agnostic on the more metaphysical aspects, such as karma and rebirth.” He liked that the “four ennobling truths – anguish, its origins, its cessation, and the path” - are interpreted as challenges to act, rather than tenets of belief, which I found intriguing [review].
Another great month, you guys! In four months, we’ve collectively read 71 works from our lists – as well as a fair number of other things. Based on the reviews that have been posted since I started working on this last week, I’m already looking forward to next month’s round up.