Monday, June 01, 2009

May: An Even Dozen

Another good month for reading. Maybe triple digits isn't a dream. Fiction creamed nonfiction this month. I read what I liked and still made good progress on my challenges and got my book group(s) reading done. Even my Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm is grinning.

1. Jane Eyre's American Daughters - John Seelye. I recently blah blah blahed about this fun critical study.

2. In Dubious Battle - John Steinbeck. This is my new favorite Steinbeck novel. A novel about the anatomy of a strike, it kicks ass more than The Grapes Of Wrath, especially when you factor in that Paradise Lost connection. I borrowed this one from the library, but I want my own copy. Many thanks to my former BOOKLEAVES buddy Matt for bringing this novel to my attention.

3. Go Down, Moses - William Faulkner. I want to like Faulkner's work more than I actually do. I enjoy the idea of being a Faulkner fan. Sadly, I'm not there yet. Go Down, Moses, a series of short stories that are supposed to be a novel was a struggle to read. There's one story called The Bear which features a near-mythical ursine creature called Old Ben. After finishing this book, I felt as if Old Ben had been at me. I'm not going to give up on Faulkner, though. It's not like I can. A Fable and The Reivers are both Pulitzer fiction winners.

4. The Murder Of Abraham Lincoln - Rick Geary. Geary's graphic novel covers almost the same ground as Manhunt. I really appreciated his meticulous cross-section drawing of Ford's Theatre that showed exactly how Booth was able to get access to President Lincoln. (For another example of Geary's artistry, read his graphic novel about Lizzie Borden.)

5. Laughter In The Dark - Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov wrote this novel in Russian when he was living in Berlin in the early 1930s. It's so obvious that he didn't find life there or the people congenial. Laughter In The Dark is a black comedy that contains the seeds of Lolita, written more than 20 years later. It's an easy read, probably the most accessible of Nabokov's novels, and beautifully translated by V.N. himself. None of the characters are very likable, but Nabokov's use of language is superb, although some might say it verges on show-offy.

6. The Red Tent - Anita Diamant. I ragged on this novel a few posts back.

7. The Bridge Of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder. This novella, which is a fable of sorts, takes place in 18th century Peru. The bridge of the title, which is made of rope suddenly breaks one day and the five people who were walking across it plummet to their deaths. A priest named Brother Juniper wants to know: Why these five individuals? Was it the will of God or just one of those things? He spends his life making a full inquiry into their lives. Wilder shows how there were only one or two degrees of separation between these people and those that knew them in life. His formal use of language and the delicacy of his writing are well-suited to his subject. This 1928 Pulitzer winner is a classic for a reason.

8. Salt - Mark Kurlansky. A well-researched history of "the only rock we eat." This book brought back memories of when I toured the salt mine in Austria with my father when I was seven. I still remember the costumes, the big slide and touching the mine walls and then the surprise of tasting salt on my finger. As in Cod, Kurlansky not only provides history, he gives us recipes, so I was hungry throughout this read. I'm still trying to wean myself away from a can of Pringles a night. I got Salt from Ruby Ramblings (who has finally emerged from quarantine!) three or four years ago, and only just now got around to reading it for the Eco Reading Challenge. Strangely, right after I finished it, we had Trivia Night here and a question cropped up about how prosciutto is made. I was able to help my team.

9. Lost Names - Richard E. Kim. This is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Korea under the Japanese occupation. Powerfully written, but Kim completely omits the usual common foreign words that most writers leave in to convey a sense of place. For example, he refers to kimchi without even saying that word. In another instance, the unnamed boy narrator, when speaking to his father uses "sir" constantly to indicate the Confucian manner of showing respect to elders, and it looks awkward on the page, whereas a sprinkling of Korean here and there would have taken care of that. Since I hear these words on an almost-daily basis, this gives the book a bare and bleached-out feel. This is a minor complaint about a very well-written work; other readers might not feel the same way. If you're working on an Asian Challenge or something similar, definitely seek out Lost Names.

10. Larry's Party - Carol Shields. My review is here.

11. Then We Came To The End - Joshua Ferris. This absurd and touching 2007 novel about the workers in a company waiting to see who will be the next victim of downsizing is like Seinfeld with a big heart. I hate it when companies tell their employees "We're family". Sometimes it happens, but not because they say so.

12. Murther & Walking Spirits - Robertson Davies. Do you like family sagas? Davies serves this one up with a strange and darkly humorous supernatural twist. An engrossing read from the man who needed a shave.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Just one reader's perspective, but A Fable is, easily, Faulkner's worst book. I mean, it's a genuinely bad book. The Reivers is merely trivial, Faulkner reworking familiar territory.

Those Pulitzers do not provide useful guidance. Note that they were both awarded after Faulkner had already won the Nobel Prize. The Pulitzer committee was making up for overlooking Faulkner's earlier novels.

joemmama said...

You go girl!

Carrie K said...

At least you've read Faulkner. I merely aspire to, still.

Salt was excellent! I've liked all of Mark Kurlansky's books but 1968 - and it's possible I'll like that too but I cannot! get past the firs few chapters.

Nice range of books you read last month.

Anonymous said...

that is quite a literary list--steinbeck AND faulkner? i was an english major and found WF a slog and a half. :)

as for 'then we came to the end', i read it last year and felt like i was out of the loop or something. i hate when books make me feel clueless... :)

Citizen Reader said...

Any month with a Carol Shields book in it is a winner, in my opinion. Have you read her "Unless" yet?

I'm with you on Faulkner. Every year I try one, every year I fail to finish one. Faulkner and James Joyce are my white whales.

Bybee said...

Amateur Reader,
Oh, dear. I was hoping that wasn't the case.

I noticed that you've been picking up the pace yourself!

Carrie K,
I was wondering about 1968.

What kind of workplace are you in right now? I'm in a cubicle, so this novel resonated with me. It might not have back when I had a different job.

Citizen Reader,
I might try Dubliners, but other than that, I have no desire to read Joyce.

Philip O'Mara said...

Might try it.

Read a great new sporting comedy, entitled Classes Apart.
This is an adult sporting comedy that follows the fortunes of Paul Marriot, the secretary of the Barnstorm Village Sunday soccer team and coach of a school cricket team in Yorkshire, England. The story describes the remarkable camaraderie between the players and supporters of this little club and their desire to achieve success. The team had previously been known more for its antics off the field, rather than their performances on it.

During his time at the club he meets and becomes involved with Emma Potter, who is the sister of James Potter, a major player for their bitter rivals Moortown Inn. Thus, begins an entangled web of romance and conflict. He also begins working at Derry High School, a school with a poor reputation of academic success, where he becomes coach of the school cricket team. Here he develops an amazing relationship with the children and they embark on an epic journey.

myza said...

I will have to pick up that Steinbeck novel. I loved The Grapes of Wrath.

I am sad you didn't like The Red Tent. I remember loving that book - but I read it about 8 years ago.

Great month for you!

J.L. Danger said...

I would read almost anything off of this list! Cheerily. Nice selections!

Sue F. said...

wow, that's a lot of reading! I am envious!

Becca said...

Wonderful reading! I am glad your inner Bookworm is happy! I read 13 this month which is an absolute first time. I can't believe it. It does help that 2 of them were short, though. They probably count as one book comparatively speaking.

Susan said...

What a lovely bunch of reviews, Bybee, and I have a little bit of envy that you encapsulated those plots and characters so well!!!! Yu make them sound interesting too, no mean feat when you have Faulkner and Nabokov in the same review section!!!