Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October, 2012: So Very Reading!

Eyeballs on fire!  October has my best reading month of the year.  I'm into triple digits now, and there's still two months left in the year.  My goal is in sight.  I'd like to thank the long Korean Thanksgiving holiday, the 24-hour Readathon, my favorite park bench on campus coupled with beautiful fall weather, a two-hour wait for a haircut in an Angels-In-Us coffee shop, and my old standby, the Seoul Metro.

Reading trends:  The Depression era cropped up in 4 out of the 15 books.  13 out of the 15 were by male authors.  I also got a little bit more international, reading authors who were born in Russia, England, Scotland, India, Ireland and South Africa.

I won't have time to finish another book before November 1, so I'll go ahead and post my reads a little bit early:

1. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  I've finally found a Russian author that I really enjoy.  (I like Chekhov, but his stories and plays are kind of hit-or-miss with me.)  I mentioned the book and movie here.  My partner in literary crime, Paul also read One Day... during October.  He said that one part he "really liked was when he [Ivan Denisovich] was building the wall of a new power plant.  His heart was really in it as he was trying to fix up the mess the last guy had left it in, and looking at how straight he was building it and admiring his own speed and skill.  He almost got into trouble because he stayed on it late to finish a line and because he didn't like to waste mortar.  He could still be proud and take pleasure in things -- he got lots of small pleasures during his day, things that would mean nothing to us."

2. Inspired: A Novel - William Sartore.  An entertaining and original first novel with all the elements for success -- friendship, inner and outer journeys and an exotic location (Vietnam).  I've never seen a premise like the one in this book.  It feels really fresh.  Sartore has seasoned  the whole thing with a fine, dry wit.

3. More Baths, Less Talking - Nick Hornby.  I simply can't stay away from Nick Hornby when he's talking about books he's bought and read.  I'm delighted to the point of squee! at the mutual admiration society that he's got going with Sarah Vowell; I've got lit-crushes on both of them. Meanwhile, Hornby helped me add volumes to my wishlist.  Isn't he thoughtful?

4. Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote.  When I'm on optical cruise control, my inner bookworm is in bliss.  Was Truman Capote even capable of writing a bad sentence?  He wrote so beautifully that I can't help thinking that one thing about To Kill a Mockingbird...you know what I mean.  The novella Breakfast at Tiffany's is a million times better than the movie (although I love Audrey Hepburn) and the copy I read also included Capote's short story masterpiece "A Christmas Memory".

5. Flanagan's Run - Tom McNab.  In 1930, when America was first in the iron grip of the Depression, a promoter named Charles C. Flanagan comes up with the idea of a footrace from Los Angeles to New York City.  Word gets out, and men and women from all over the world show up.  McNab put all of his know-how about running (he was the technical advisor for Chariots of Fire) into this exhilarating, enjoyable and wrongfully overlooked novel.  It's wonderfully cinematic, too.  I hope the movie rights aren't languishing somewhere in Development Hell.  If you find a copy at the library or in a rummage store, don't hesitate to pick it up.  It's also available on Kindle.  Thanks to my friend Teri for bringing Flanagan's Run to my attention!

6. Dead End in Norvelt - Jack Gantos.  I liked the part about how Norvelt was founded by then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt during the depths of the Depression, and how the town's roots were firmly in Socialism and how it worked well for them. I also liked the tension added by Jack's father, who embodied the restless wrongheaded side of capitalism.  What felt awkward to me were the obituaries that Miss Volker dictated to Jack which became lengthy history lessons that the newspaper editor actually published.  The mystery aspect of the novel didn't thrill me either.  I'm sure I would have loved this book when I was slavishly devoted to Northern Exposure in the early 1990s -- Norvelt and its inhabitants reminded me so much of Cicely, Alaska.  In the end, I have mixed feelings of irritation and affection for Dead End in Norvelt.

7. Sounder - William H. Armstrong.  Beautiful but so grim.  The prose in Sounder has the haunting and commanding cadence of a Bible story from the Old Testament.

8. Chocolat - Joanne Harris.  My friends Becka and Teri had been encouraging me to read Chocolat for a couple of years, but I'd been shying away from it.  I'm sorry I waited so long.  Chocolat is as delicious as its name, and the juxtaposition between warm and vivacious chocolate artist Vianne and the bitter, fearful and emotionally disturbed priest Reynaud as they square off during Lent gives the book a good balance.  Too much of one or the other would have made it much less.  I suggested this as a perfect Readathon read, and I'm sticking with that recommendation.  Add your favorite chocolate confection, of course.

9. The Lazy Paleo Enthusiast's Cookbook - Sean Robertson.  I'm fond of cookbooks with "lazy" in the title because that means the recipes will be short and punchy.  Some of Robertson's concoctions look pretty tasty, although he seems to have a mania for mayonnaise that my heart just can't follow.  He swears a lot too, which pleases me, and it never gets in the way of his instructions.  On the minus side, he declared in the introduction that he was going to tell the reader a few things about himself, but someone must have hit him on the head with a frozen piece of meat and taken over his computer, because his direct style suddenly went all blathery for about 25 pages until he woke up, wrested the computer back and started serving up the recipes.    Everything was paleOK after that; his prose was as well-greased as his no-bun bacon cheeseburger.

10. Burr - Gore Vidal.  I enjoy American history, and I was engrossed in Burr's take on the Founding Fathers, but there was a little too much detail that rendered Vidal's prose a trifle dry and dusty at times.  (Sarah Vowell would probably have been all over those parts.)  The characterizations were brilliant and sharp as diamonds and I laughed myself silly over his bitchy and witty asides.  Curiously, as Aaron Burr's presence in the book recedes towards the end and the focus is on his young protegee (and the main narrator of Burr) Charles Schuyler, the story resumes the brisk pace of its beginning.  I'm looking forward to reading more of Gore Vidal's work, particularly Lincoln.

11. Circles In A Forest - Dalene Matthee.  Move over, Mr. Darcy.  Saul Barnard is even more crushworthy than yourself.  I attempted to convey my love for him and this novel here.

12. A Long Way From Chicago - Richard Peck.  During the 1930s, Joey and his sister, Mary Alice visit their grandmother who lives on a farm somewhere between Chicago (their hometown) and St. Louis.  The visits only last a week, but during their short stay, Grandma Dowdel always seems to be part of some colorful action involving the townspeople.  Although I'm not there yet, I'm looking for grandmother figures in literature that I can model myself on, and Grandma's the beatinest granny I ever did see.  She's always three steps ahead of everyone else.  I imagine her as a grown-up Addie Pray.

13. Paula Spencer - Roddy Doyle.  After the harrowing experience of reading The Woman Who Walked into Doors, it was great to catch up with Paula a decade later.  She has put her life in order and is now in the process of quitting the bottle.  What I love best about Roddy Doyle's writing is the way he expresses how people constantly revise their thoughts from one minute to the next.  Can't resist the Irish lilt either; his characters sound like they're singing even when they're slagging each other.

14. Haroun and the Sea of Stories - Salman Rushdie.  Haroun's father, Rashid, is a legendary storyteller who one day loses his ability to tell stories.  Haroun holds himself responsible, and wants to be the one to restore his father's gift.  The two end up on an adventure in the land where the Sea of Stories exists, and evil forces are out to poison the source.  Rushdie's imagination is fantastic and his vocabulary, as always is lush and playful.  Because of the richness of its tapestry, I found it a little hard going at first until I adjusted, but it was worth it.

15. Post Office - Charles Bukowski.  I first became aware of Bukowski because of Mickey Rourke, my crush for several years in the 1980s.  When Barfly came out, I was there merely for Mickey.  A few years later, Bukowski himself caught my interest through a handful of poems I'd read and a documentary about him that I watched on YouTube.  I've tried to study out why I find him appealing.  Irreverence and earthiness, I suppose.  Anyway, when I saw that Brenna had read and liked Post Office, suddenly nothing else would do but that I had to read Bukowski right then and there.  Anyway again, I loved the way Henry Chinaski rails against the system, challenging, bending and breaking their rules repeatedly and they will not fire him, no matter how outrageously he acts. There's an extra layer to my amusement -- both of my maternal grandparents worked for the US Postal Service for 30 years and they considered it sacrosanct.  They would be horrified at Hank and horrified at me for laughing so hard.  Next up:  Ham on Rye.


Sam said...

Quite a productive reading month...congrats. I see some interesting stuff that I would love to read - but you know what they say about good intentions.

Anonymous said...

I thought of you when the author of Canada spoke at Boston's Book Fest. I didn't actually go to see Mr. Ford but I thought of you! :)

Whitney said...

I love that you have a reading trends feature on this post -- it is such a cool idea. As for those 15 books, I can only be pea-green with envy!

bibliophiliac said...

That is an impressive list! I love Bukowski's poems, and have read a few of his stories.