Sunday, June 03, 2012

May 2012 Reading

May was a slow month, but I was pleased with what I read:

1. East of Eden - John Steinbeck.  This was my third or fourth rereading, and the novel absorbs me even more than it did when I first read it at sixteen. I see something new every time I read it.  Maybe this and not Middlemarch is the book of my life -- but wait! Who says I can't have two books?

2. The Mysterious Stranger - Mark Twain. For the last 10 years of his life, Mark Twain wrote and rewrote this manuscript about an attractive Satan visiting a small town in Austria in the 1500s.  It was unfinished at his death.  The person who ended up with all of his papers, Albert Bigelow Paine, found an ending in his notes and stuck it on.  The result was published in 1916, and not very satisfactory.  There is a shorter version with Tom and Huck meeting Satan that I think I would have rather read.

3. Under The Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer. A disturbing book about fundamentalist Mormonism and the history of the Latter-Day Saints, beginning with Joseph Smith, their charismatic founder and leader.  Krakauer cuts back and forth between the two stories he's telling, which gives it a cinematic feel.

4. Forrest Gump - Wilson Groom. I much preferred the Gump in this novel to the Gump in the movie version. This one was much saltier and funnier.  You wouldn't have caught him on a park bench, looking out at the world with that wounded expression.

5. The Edge of Sadness - Edwin O'Connor.  This 1962 Pulitzer fiction winner takes place before the enormous changes in the Catholic church.  Father Hugh Kennedy, a recovering alcoholic, renews his acquaintance with the Carmody family, people from the parish he grew up in.  While he tries to puzzle out what the patriarch, Charlie Carmody wants with him after so many years, he meditates about his life as a priest and his faith.  The Edge of   Sadness is slow-moving and the feel of it is like those old Victorian parlors with drawn drapes and overstuffed furniture, but it's ultimately a rich and rewarding read.  Edwin O'Connor deserves to be brought back into the literary spotlight for this book as well as his novel The Last Hurrah.

6. The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid - Bill Bryson.  Bryson talks about his growing up years, and paints an appreciative portrait of his hometown, Des Moines.  Equal amounts of laughs and nostalgia.  I read a UK edition, and it was amusing to see what Bryson had to add to explain this delectable slice of Americana to the Brits.

7. Still Alice - Lisa Genova.  Alice, a 50-year-old professor at Harvard, finds that her memory is not what it used to be.  She consults a doctor and finds out that she is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. The reader experiences her gradual memory loss through the character, which heightens the confusing and terrifying funhouse mirror effect.  The author could have gone overboard with this concept, but she's got a delicate touch which allows for surprising  touches of dark humor.  I'd like to read Genova's follow-up, Left Neglected, which deals with a brain injury.

8. Tales of the South Pacific - James A. Michener.  I liked parts of this Pulitzer-winning collection of stories more than the whole.  I've never been able to warm up to Michener's writing style. He's a little too long-winded for me.  I couldn't help wondering if the author of M*A*S*H was influenced by this book.

9. The Town - Conrad Richter.  The last book in The Awakening Land trilogy and winner of the 1951 Pulitzer for fiction.  Now that the land in Ohio is cleared, pioneer Sayward Luckett is having second thoughts about cutting down all those trees.  Now well into middle age and prosperous, she's quite uncomfortable with civilization.  She's also perplexed by her youngest son, Chancey, a delicate and somewhat douchey young man who seems to have to lie down at even the thought of physical labor.  He spends a lot of time sneering at the early settlers.  Because of his irritating presence in the novel,  The Town doesn't have the raw power of The Trees and The Fields, but since the reader still gets a large portion of Sayward's thoughts and feelings, it's a satisfying enough end to the trilogy.


Anonymous said...

Yes indeedy, Under the Banner of Heaven was disturbing. I listened to it, so am hazy on the details, but there were quite a few Holy Shit moments (and not good Holy Shits).

annieb said...

Under the Banner of Heaven was the first Krakauer book I read and since I have read almost all of his. You are right, it was very disturbing. Thanks for reminding me about The Awakening Land trilogy. I read it about 40 or 45 years ago and loved it. I think I will see if I can't find it and add to my TBR pile.

Care said...

Still Alice was great. Left Neglected not quite as good, but still an author to follow.

fantsmacle said...

Quite the list of books, especially number 1. I was interested in the Twain book until I read your quick review on it.

Ryan said...

I couldn't agree more with you about Forrest Gump in the novel vs. Forrest Gump in the movie. Also, I'll third the notion that Under the Banner of Heaven was disturbing. Very disturbing.

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