Thursday, October 02, 2008

Slumping In September

I read 6 books in September, which brought me up to 76 books for 2008. Things have got to happen this month and the next and the next to get me to where I want to be. October = serious business. I'm giving up -- sacrificing! -- a lovely weekend with friends at the beach on Incheon Island in favor of the Readathon, so that my Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm (who has petitioned for a name change; she now wants to be styled as The Book Goddess Within Me) might have full expression. No, I can't read on the beach. I get mesmerized by the waves, and there would be that unfortunate sand-in-the-keyboard issue.

Here's September's reads:

Persuasion - Jane Austen. Jane, all is forgiven. I love you. It was all my fault anyway -- reading all of your work in a rushed 8-week summer course is not the way to build a full appreciation for your work. You're full of humor and dazzling precision. Your novels are meant to be savored and enjoyed while being discussed in a lively and agreeable fashion. Also, I think you are one of the novelists I had to grow into.

The Pillars Of The Earth - Ken Follett. Reviewed in a previous post, I not only enjoyed this robust look at the beginning of the Middle Ages, but I've also enjoyed seeing the affection and enthusiasm people have for this novel. Not only was it pressed into my hands by an insistent fan, my friend Belinda was carrying her copy everywhere, and now my coworker, Evan, is working on my copy. If books are friends, then books repeatedly shared with friends must be doubly so.

The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan. Coworker Martin loaned me this book, but I simply must have my OWN copy. Pollan discusses how Americans have a strange relationship with food, an eating disorder, if you will. We're constantly being told this food is bad, then in a complete switcheroo, *that* food is next-door to poison. Part of the reason, but not all, is that we really don't have a single cuisine that is native to the United States.

In TOD, Pollan examines four different methods of getting our food and eats four different meals based on his research and experiences. His week-long visit to the "beyond organic" farm is the showstopper and is alone worth the price of the book. His hunting and gathering experiences brought out the playful side of his writing that I remembered so vividly from The Botany Of Desire.

I long to write an intelligent review, but all I really want to do is grab prospective readers by the lapels and yell READ THIS NOW. Although crude, I hope my method will be effective. As well as being on the lookout for my own copy, I'm hoping to find Pollan's offering from earlier this year, In Defense Of Food.

Plainsong - Kent Haruf. This novel follows the lives of several people in a small, rural community near Denver, Colorado. There is not a single false note. All of the characterizations are superb, and Haruf's depiction of Harold and Raymond, the two old bachelor farmers who come to the aid of Victoria, a desperate, pregnant teenager, is luminous. I was reminded of some of the elegantly crafted stories that Raymond Carver wrote towards the end of his life. I have Eventide and I'm looking forward to reading it as well.

A Spectacle Of Corruption - David Liss. Benjamin Weaver, the pugilist-turned-thieftaker-turned-detective hero of A Conspiracy Of Paper, is back again. In 18th century London, during the heat of an election season, Weaver has been framed for murder and sentenced to hang. He escapes from Newgate Prison and sets out to clear his name. In the process, he gets a full stomach of the shady and unsavory vote-getting tactics practiced by both the Whigs and the Tories. If you get a chance, pick it up; it's perfect reading for this time of year. The only difference that spectacle and the current one seems to be that the one in the novel was slightly more blatant.

There was an interview at the back of the book with David Liss, and he assured readers that he'll be bringing Weaver back again for more adventures. Great! One of the things that I appreciate most about Liss' writing is that he is obviously a reader himself. He's managed to avoid the main pitfall of writing historical fiction -- he's done a ton of research, but it doesn't weigh down his story. Instead his sights are set on entertaining his readers.

The Road - Cormac McCarthy. With this novel, I can finally appreciate McCarthy. He still reminds me of a mixture of Ernest Hemingway and Larry McMurtry, though, but that's not bad. It's sad that John Gardner isn't alive to read this stark vision of the end of the world, because the way the novel is executed seems to pay homage to Gardner's The Art Of Fiction.

In The Road, McCarthy doesn't answer several questions, uses obscure-not-quite-archaic vocabulary, and then there's that punctuation thing, but all of this seems to show a strength and confidence in his readers to do some of the heavy lifting themselves. As a parent, my heart went out to the man, who lost everything and is struggling to stay alive and care for the boy. The boy was fascinating because he was born into a violent and ashy world but was irrepressibly tenderhearted and morally alert and questioning. Unlike the man, he had no endless array of heartbreaking comparisons. I'm really eager to see the movie version, due out sometime in November.

A little short in the count for September, but long on quality reading -- I'm a happy bookworm.


Anonymous said...

The most significant thing I remember about Plainsong was that the characterization were amazing to me. The author KNOWS people and has clearly studied them like a sociologist would.

The only Cormac McCarthy I have read is No Country and I was blown away. I think I will read The Road this month.

teabird said...

I had exactly the same reaction to TOD. I can not be coherent when I'm telling people they must read it, I just sputter. It's one of the books that changed how I look at the modern food chain, and how I experience the supermarket -- and I'm a vegetarian!

I loved Botany of Desire, too, especially the chapter on marijuana. It made the plant seem much more intelligent than politicians.
(insert joke here)

Jeane said...

All those Michael Pollan books are great. They all made me really think. And I liked Plainsong a lot, too. I've got The Road on my TBR, and my father was just telling me how good Pillars of the Earth is. Glad to know a little more about them.

joemmama said...

Great reading many good books! Makes me want to re-read some of my faves. (plainsong,the road)..and to read some new ones that have escaped me.

Anonymous said...

Well heck, Bybee, if you're only going to read six books in a month, you picked six pretty amazing books.

I have TOD on my shelves. I promise I'll read it next. Maybe. I want to! lol.

Jane Austen was an acquired taste for me too. I think perhaps Cormac McCarthy is too, although for very different reasons.

Eva said...

It sounds like you still had an amazing reading month! And your paragraph on Persuasion gave me the biggest grin. :D

btw, I featured you in a very belated You Make My Monday post today!

? said...

Hello, I love your intellectual side - the bookworm in you. And, I'm so glad I am now able to explore the world of the bookworm I didn't have access to before. Don't knwo if I mentioned it but I came close to the pillars of the earth but I had planned to get Doestovsky's idiot and other russ lit. Once I step into a bookstore its almost like the really nice books are shouting "take me..take me". I think I will get that book since I share in the affection and enthusiasm, somehow. On completing the six, I guess it feels like you have broken down some major barriers, at least for me thats the feeling I get.

Also, teabird makes Botany of Desire seem as tempting as the adaptation movie starring Nicola Cage and M. Streep and I really hope this blog continues to live as long as there are books to read even if you have to transfer it to a different platform. Amazing!


BTW: Have you read any of rushdies books? I am currently on SV and hope to see you on red eyes as the journey continues. Until we blog again.


Susan said...

I just picked up the Omnivore's Dilemma! Because everyone has been blogging about it, and when I read what it was about I could hardly wait - our relationship with food and how it is prepared. So that you loved it too (I think Eva did as well) - well come NOvember when RIP3 is done, I'll be reading this one. And I LOVE Persuasion, I'm so glad you liked it. None of the movies does it full justice. I love Anne and how everything comes right for her in the end because she stays true to herself, in the end. *sigh* I have that to reread by Christmas if I can...
yes, an amazing 6 books you read!!!

Susan said...

PS Inner Book Goddess, eh? no more attitude from T&CIB? I'll miss her, says my own attitude-filled book worm self. Would IBG condescend to talk to any of us mortals about books??

Gentle Reader said...

Persuasion is one of my favorite books ever! Good movie version, too, done by the BBC with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds...

GFS3 said...

I have fondled "Plainsong" many a time in bookstores...

Might be time to purchase...