50 Book Challenge

Because I love a sure thing, I’m jumping on the 50 book challenge. Since I’m just starting a new semester, it’s worth mentioning that I won’t count course textbooks or research reading in the tally, although I might post some thumbnail descriptions of them, just to provide a clearer idea of my bedside shelf (i.e, the perilous stacks of books surrounding my bed).

After excruciating sessions of soul-searching versus practicality, I only allowed myself luggage space for two books on my recent trip, but I did surprisingly little reading. This is partly because one book was too bad to read, and one book was too good to read.

#1.Gun, with Occasional Music, by Jonathan Lethem

I read Fortress of Solitude several months ago, I remember being stuck once in a while by a handsome turn of phrase, but it failed to grip me. I picked up another Lethem only because I needed a second book for my trip and it was on the shelf, used and cheap.

By the third or fourth page, Gun had utterly captivated me — the writing, the plot, the bold economy of character development. A few chapters in, I started rationing pages to avoid finishing too quickly. After several more chapters, I closed it and started again from the beginning to draw out the pleasure of reading as long as possible.

Reviewers have said that Gun crosses the style of Raymond Chandler with the vision of Philip K. Dick. Although this sounds glib, it is a flawless description of the simplicity, the complexity, and the brilliance of Gun.

attempted #2, mission aborted. Sarum: The Novel of England, by Edward Rutherfurd.

Man, is this book stupid. An novel of this length risks becoming clumsy and unwieldy, but Sarum exceeds all expectations. Its language is graceless, peopled with caricatures, not characters, and it displays a pervasive if not startling lack of understanding both of archaeology and human evolutionary psychology. I am nearly 800 pages into it, and will never finish it. No, not even for the 50 book challenge. No.

actual #2. The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Keeping, and Making Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore, by Marla Paul.

Paul’s writing could be described as chatty or as sloppy, depending on the charity of the reviewer. I picked it up from the new shelf at the library because I’ve moved twice in the past 4 years, and am largely without the intense network of local friends that I’m used to.

However, while reading, I realized how lucky I am that these friendships are mostly intact, although quite different. When I come to town, old friends go out of their way to meet me for coffee or a drink, offer guestrooms, and we dissolve into laughter just as we did years ago. I just received a card from an old friend, with whom I had coffee or drinks twice a week when we were both single girls. The card included a picture of her second daughter, born just before Christmas. As busy as she is, and as long as it’s been since we had time for a coffee, we are there, on the edges of each other’s lives.

Most of all, I’m grateful for the friendships that have changed for the better over the years. Instead of winding down like an old clock, they evolve and develop new facets. My friendship with Elli is an exemplar of this phenomenon: we knew each other as little girls, as intolerable adolescents, as wild young women, and now, as our lives take meaningful shape and despite the Atlantic between us, our friendship is richer and more rewarding than ever.

As you can see, the book was not remarkable, but the experience of reading it was moving.

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