Friday, October 04, 2019

Seven in September

September was a good month for reading. I didn't make any reading plans; I just let my inclinations pull me about. The result was a richness of discovery:

1. Sempre Susan (memoir) - Sigrid Nunez.
In the 1970s, Susan Sontag was recovering from Stage 4 breast cancer (the treatment was as gruesome as the disease), and she hired Nunez to help her with correspondence. Soon, Nunez began dating David Rieff, Sontag's son, and all three lived together for a while. An honest and thoughtful memoir that gives readers a real glimpse of a formidable cultural icon.

2. The Pioneers (nonfiction) - David McCullough.
McCullough's stately and measured tone doesn't quite match up with the hardships and excitement of the settling of the Ohio valley. But McCullough is always good, and I was pleased to see that The Awakening Land trilogy by Conrad Richter influenced him to write this book. It made me want to read Richter again.

3. Dancing Fish and Ammonites (memoir) - Penelope Lively.
This was my first outing with Lively. I liked her reportage from the frontier of old age, and the careful and affectionate cataloging of her favorite objects, from which this memoir gets its title. I am eager to read her fiction now, particularly Moon Tiger.

4. The Government Lake (poetry) - James Tate.
What a strange read. Imagine if Raymond Carver wrote poetry instead of prose, and he just let his train of thought steam merrily into the hinterlands of absurd dream-logic with all its hard left turns. I enjoyed the playfulness of Tate's poetry while managing to understand that something more serious was afoot. I'll probably read this one again.

5. Happy All the Time (novel) - Laurie Colwin.
Colwin seems very mannered to me. Her characters interact in a way that feels almost brittle. But then, my God, there's all these dazzling pops of description, and they are so sensual, so cozy. It's like the reader could fairly snuggle down between the lines of print as if it were the softest of comforters. Clearly, domesticity was Colwin's genius. I think she'll be best remembered for her later work, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking.

6. A Ladder to the Sky (novel) - John Boyne.
This was my favorite read, my most pleasant reading discovery for September. Reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith and The Talented Mr. Ripley, this novel is about Maurice, who wants nothing more than to be a writer. His problem is that he can't seem to generate an idea of his own or escape his own deadly boring prose style. Cold and opportunistic, Maurice doesn't let his shortcomings stand in his way. I could not put this book down.

7. What Is the Story of Frankenstein? (nonfiction) -Sheila Keenan.
I made a little foray into juvenile nonfiction to read about the first creature to observe that "it's not easy being green." I've always loved the story of the genesis of Frankenstein, how teenaged Mary Shelley beat the crap out of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron at their ghost-story writing contest. Although boiled down for younger readers, everything is here: the contest, Mary's background and influences, how the novel went through three drafts, how the monster in the novel is different from his famous screen incarnation. I was surprised to learn that there is a 1910 version available for viewing on YouTube. At the end, I was fired up to finally read Frankenstein for the first time in October.

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