Although I did not actually feel like I was reading obsessively in January, it seems that I did read a lot of books. Partially this is simply because I have been more diligent about getting books from the library instead of buying them, and I am loathe to return a book unread. There are times when I grow frustrated at the random way books appear, but the simple truth is that as much as I intend to be intentional with my reading, I rarely am. More often than not, what I read happens to be whatever I happen to pick up, which ultimately means the library stack does provide a sort of impetus for reading as opposed to allowing myself to wallow in other mindless pursuits. Of course this doesn't solve the problem that once my nose is in a book, the world could fall away before I would notice.
I also have gone to the salt spa fairly regularly, and this gives me a series of 45 minute increments in which I tend to read. Many of these books are fairly easy reading, 1 1/2 to 3 hours, if you are, like me, a fairly fast reader. The curse of being a fast reader is that it usually takes me longer to come to terms with my thoughts on a book than it takes to actually read it, and one of the reasons I like books more than movies, aside from the whole bit about spurring imagination and all that, is that a great majority of movies are made from books that take more or less 2 to 3 hours to read, and reading is far more entertaining than 2 hours at a movie.
There I've said it. Forgive me.
Anyway, above are the books I read in the second half of January. Notice there are more books than in the first half of January, but as I said above most of them were easy reads. Out of this grouping, I am tickled that my favorite books were the shortest, namely Gratitude by Oliver Sacks, at about 45 pages and 15 to 20 minutes of reading time, and the longest, American Ulysses, at 659 pages, which I dawdled over for two weeks. American Ulysses was not a library book, and although I originally requested Gratitude from the library, I have since purchased a copy at our local second hand bookstore, to be added to my small collection of books on dying and grief.
But, onto the books:
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride was simultaneously easier to read than the author's first novel and more difficult. The text was more coherent, closer to the way we perceive our own random thoughts, and so there was a more immediate connection with the reader, but the cost was too high in that the prose lost that poetic sense of flow that was so evident in McBride's first novel, difficult as the language and the story itself was for the reader. In The Lesser Bohemians, McBride's prose did capture that flush of intensity one feels when falling in love, but ultimately this not sufficient for carrying a novel. Perhaps it is just me, but alas, I fear that an extended preoccupation with the emotional whirlwind of first love is only fascinating to those who a caught up in its nets.
In The Woods by Tana French. I read Tana French's most recent novel las fall, and although I enjoyed it, it was not one of my favorite novels. I wished, and still wish, having now read the first novel in the Dublin Murder Squad series, that I had read these previous novels first. The novel was full of twists and I love the way the author managed he overlapping of the procedural and psychological elements of the story, as well as that sense that the reader was caught up in the unravelling of case and detective simultaneously. Much more difficult than it sounds. I will read more, and will probably eventually reread the most recent novel.
Commonwealth is probably the best book I have read by Anne Patchett since Bel Canto. In fact, this novel is perhaps more clearly realized, but I continue to prefer the former. It is an excellent novel about families, love, betrayal, and the things that both bind us together and wrench us apart. (Often they are the same things.) I liked the way the author focused on specific events or moments, not necessarily told in chronological order, as I do increasingly feel that this is what is important in how we live and are shaped by our lives. It is not the day-to-day, but moments that have repercussions beyond what was imagined, that shape us. One poignant moment in this novel that continues to stick in my memory: the story about how the children would conspire to leave Albie, the youngest behind. They drugged him. I never did anything that drastic, but it reminds me of the way we felt as children toward my youngest brother on occasion, how the older children were held accountable, and the story of the time my parents left my youngest brother behind. It is a story in which I am complicit, but it did not end up the way one might expect. And it strikes me that this is twice in this month that I have thought of that story, and twice I have said I will perhaps tell it at a later date. and yes, perhaps someday I will.
What is Populism by Jan Werner Muller is a short, well-written and intelligent tract. And I believe the author makes very important points that can be related to the current situation in our country and culture. I say this regardless of where one stands on the issues. This is not a political blog, and I have my thoughts and reasons, which I may or may not someday elucidate. Let us just say that we each have our gifts, and our place in the world, but that does not mean we should shut the door.
The Night Bird by Brian Freeman. I must admit that I haven't read "kindle first" books very frequently of late and this is a book that I purchased for free through this program. It was the perfect book for reading on airplane, or for a visit to my mom: gripping enough, fast paced enough, but ultimately forgettable psychological thriller, distracting but not requiring extensive thought.
Selection Day by Aravind Adiga. I had been looking forward to this book, and I was on the waiting list for some time. I suppose this is one of the problems with library books. If I buy a book for my kindle and don't read it right away there is no sense of anticipation involved, but if I request a book, and I have to wait for weeks or months, the build up to reading becomes monumental. As usual with Adiga, the novel was about more than it appears to be about. A novel about cricket in Mumbai is actually about India and Mumbai, about fathers and sons, about class, culture, competition, ambition and obsession. But in the end I felt the author's control unraveled. Although ti shows with great clarity the cost of poverty and ambition, especially selfish ambition without consideration of the costs, it lacked the hard driving anger and punch of some of Adiga's previous novels.
I have already told you that Gratitude by Oliver Sacks was one of my favorite books, and that it is short. It is basically a compilation of essays that appeared in the New York Times after the author knew he was dying. The essays are calm and beautifully written. The book is both very simple book and yet complex, as peace is complex to those of us who don't yet understand it.
American Ulysses by Ronald C. White was my other favorite book of the month. I mentioned it previously here. It is a fabulous biography of a man I have long admired, probably since I first read Grant's Memoirs in my twenties, and which I need to read again. Perhaps I am simply biased, recognizing a fellow introvert, a man of intelligence and thought, who was often misunderstood in early life. There was more than one point in this book where I broke down in tears.
The financial lives of the poets by Jess Walter. More or less reviewed here.
Browsings by Michael Dirda, For the most part I enjoy Dirda's essays, which is odd because I really don't agree with his taste in books. But I suppose that is one of the talents of we humans, that we can recognize and accept joy in others, even others with whom we disagree. Remember this. I read the book over the course of two sessions in the salt spa (1 1/2 hours) and they were entertaining enough and thought provoking enough to cause me to question my own peccadillos. Enough of that.
Peacock and Vine by A.S. Byatt. I truly enjoy Byatt's novels, and yet I was disappointed in this book. I suppose I thought that it seemed like a happy marriage, a writer whose work I admire writing about two artists whom I also admire. And yet it did not live up to its potential. The book was interesting, but it seemed filled with rote rehashing of facts, and was perhaps more Byatt than either Morris or Fortuny. Alas, I felt the Byatt revealed in this tract seemed mired in clay. Perhaps it is just me.