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.