50 book challenge

the 50 book

#7. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.

How did I reach the age of 35 without having read this at least once?

#8. The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry, by Brad Miner.

How did I make myself read this at all?

#9. Passage, by Connie Willis.
Any other author writing a 600-page novel on near-death experiences would stumble into the maudlin, the mystical, or the sloppily romantic. Willis is crisp, credible, hilarious, and sharp. This is one of my favorite novels in recent years.

#10. Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Popular literature from 80 years ago is undeniably stamped with the bigotries of the era, as ours will be if people are still reading Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace in 80 years. However, I can still access the cultural relativism microchip inserted during Anthro 101, so I can get past the assumption that [spoiler alert!] unmarried women who are passionately fond of each other are evil, and enjoy a ripping good story.


50 Book challenge

An update on the 50 book challenge.

#3 Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, by Connie WIllis. An interesting but ultimately tame mix of cheer and darkness from the Author of Lincoln’s Dreamsm and Passage. I enjoyed it, certainly, but it was an insubstantial little frill. I expect more from Willis.

#4 Best New American Voices, 2005, edited by Francine Prose. The collection is very uneven in tone and quality, more a pastiche of new writers than a coherent anthology. Joshua Ferris’s More Abandon was the one story that grabbed me.

#5 Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity, by Gary Paul Nabhan. Nabhan, an ethnobiologist, presents a discussion of nutritional ecology stripped of technical language and simplified for a popular-press audience. Admittedly, I’m a slavering geek, but I feel that a little more techspeak would be appropriate here.

#6. Invisible Monsters, by Chuck Palahniuk. Palahniuk’s uncompromisingly graphic writing has kept me up at night more than once, as I tore through pages of Fight Club, Choke, and Lullaby long past midnight. His plots are intricate and unpredictable, and the writing — oh, the writing. More blunt instrument than surgical tool, his style has me wincing as I read.

Not so in Invisible Monsters, where the plot is transparent almost from the first pages, with the contrived series of denouements becoming one long bore. Worst of all, the writing, loades with brutal physical grotesqueries layered sloppily onto emotional metaphor, reads like a parody of Palahniuk. With no gripping plot or breathtaking writing to obscure his tricks, Invisible Monsters is nothing but tricks. It’s like seeing the magic show from backstage: I might never again believe he can saw the lady in half.

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.

Won’t somebody think of the children?

In a shocking exposé, a Maine couple announces that schools are scheming to teach young people, actually going so far, in some cases, as to use books:

“They see it as, they say, ‘Hey, it’s a book, let’s expose the kids to it, and see what they learn from it,’ ” said Minnon, who with his wife operate [sic] a greenhouse on Route 202 in Lebanon.

The Minnons, parents of a first-year student at Noble High School, object to his class’s study of The Catcher in the Rye. Not satisfied with the school’s provision to allow their son to study another book, the Minnons are attempting to prevent the entire first-year literature class from studying Salinger’s classic.
(link thanks to Bookslut)


So many bloggers keep a pretty sidebar with links to “Books I’m Reading!”, and I love to see that, since my usual broad-spectrum foraging technique for contemporary fiction is woefully unfocused. I typically go into the library and fling myself toward the new fiction shelves, castigating myself for not writing down that author’s name and hoping I can find something promising in the ten minutes before my bus is due.

I’d love to maintain a “current reading” sidebar myself, truly I would, but with the quantities of texts I’m reading for classes and research, it simply isn’t feasible to be entering and linking them here. No, really.

No, really.

Continue reading


Yummm, France. . .

Oh, wait, I meant “Yummm, fondue.” I am ready to celebrate the arrival of fall with a fondue, except that I don’t know anyone who would willingly come over to eat a bowl of cheese, and it seems a lot of fuss for one person. Maybe l will make raclette instead.
Whether you’re talking about fondue or France, it sounds lovely. Send me La Tour Eiffel une carte postale. What region will you be visiting?

As for the chocolate, today I broke down and bought a packet of M&Ms. I blame Candyfreak. My recent eating habits (except for a recent bacon-drenched brunch with my parents) have been shockingly abstemious, but Candyfreak tore through my considered, adult resolve like a hyped up teenager through the flimsy slippery wrapper of a king-sized Snickers. I snatched it up at the library, read the first three pages at the bus stop, and walked away from the approaching bus to buy candy. It’s not that Steve Almond’s writing is appetizing, more that his mad incantations send wafts of cocoa liquor scent streaming off the pages.

I bought a tiny bag of malted milk balls and a packet of tempting-looking but tasteless Piraque chocolate wafers. How can a cookie be both brittle and flaccid? But I am guessing the vitaminated wheatina cookies are Piraque’s real taste sensation, mmm – mmm: vitaminated wheatina!).

My informed decision to walk away from the bus kept me out 45 minutes late and garnered me some truly substandard cookies, but reading Candyfreak without sweets would have been a wriggling, burning torment. I have, however, been plagued by the insistent and inexplicable desire for the rarely encountered, thoroughly repulsive Sky Bar.