Friday, July 01, 2016

June, 2016 Reading



Six books again this month, and only one of them didn't resonate with me. As far as richness in reading goes, I feel amply rewarded for June.

1. Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner. (novel) As far as Stegner's novels go, nothing can equal my wild affection for The Big Rock Candy Mountain or Angle of Repose, but this story of the friendship of two couples over three decades is right up there. There are so many mistakes Stegner could have made with this story, but he didn't, and he drops into the novel through his POV narrator to explain this, and it works, it really works.

2. Brooklyn - Colm Toibin. (novel) Eilis can't find anything but crap jobs in Ireland in the 1950s, so her older sister and a priest living in New York who is a family friend arranges for her to emigrate to Brooklyn and study accounting. Along the way, she falls in love with Tony, an Italian plumber. Everything is going well until she receives unexpected news from Ireland. Eilis seems to react passively to everything happening to her, but Colm Toibin has got her POV down perfectly because she is a bookkeeper, an accountant. She takes everything in and tots it up and figures out which column it goes in. Then she acts or reacts. It is a quiet sort of novel, but very honest. When I first read Brooklyn, I thought, "Oh is that all?" but as the days passed, it really sank in for me, and I find myself almost a month later recalling scenes and thinking about the characters.

3. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - William B. Irvine. (nonfiction) My life has changed a great deal since early 2015, and I'll be truthful and admit that I haven't enjoyed all the changes. My attitude often needs a kick in the pants. This book appeared to me at exactly the right time. Stoic philosophy flies in the face of nearly everything modern, but I can't think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from a dose. Irvine beautifully explains the roots of stoicism, how the ancients put it into practice and how we can apply it to our lives. Most helpful to me has been negative visualization and managing my worry by performing "triage" on the things I can and cannot control.

4. Never Tell A Lie - Hallie Ephron. (novel) This thriller about a pregnant woman whose husband is suspected in the disappearance of an old school friend of theirs was less than thrilling for me. Everything felt farfetched and soap-opera-ish.

5. Encounter with an Angry God - Carobeth Laird. (memoir) THIS O THIS. Back in the nineteen-tens and early 1920s, Carobeth Laird was married to legendary ethnographer John Peabody Harrington for seven years. Although he was doing brilliant work in the field, studying nearly-extinct Native American languages, he was more than somewhat challenged in the social niceties. Jaw-droppingly challenged. Carobeth put up with a load of crap as his wife and as his assistant in the field. Eventually, she fell in love with one of their language informants, and the narrative changes to a beautiful and tender love story. Even better, Encounter with an Angry God was written from the distant vantage point of a half-century, when Carobeth was in her 70s, which gives it an added richness. It was published in 1975, when she was 80. She wrote it all up in the way she might have filed a report from the field. Gorgeous. This book is unbelievably good. Ever since I finished it, I've had book hangover, in which nothing else I read really suits me. I want to read it over again. I'm a little incoherent because I'm so much in love with Encounter with an Angry God. For a more measured but equally enthusiastic response, read this review at Neglected Books.

6. Vinegar Girl - Anne Tyler. (novel) I like to see Anne Tyler getting out and having a bit of fun. Vinegar Girl is her riff on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Since it is Anne Tyler, the story is set in Baltimore and all the characters are endearingly quirky. Her version can be appreciated by both those who have and haven't read the original play. Good stuff.

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