Andrew

What we're reading

731 posts in this topic

I'm about halfway through Ian McEwan's SATURDAY. It was on so many top 10 lists for 2005, I feel like I should like it more than I am. It's good - it's just that the whole book is one day, so the pace is...different. There was a squash game that lasted 18 pages. I haven't read about squash in such excruciating detail since John Irving's A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR.

...

FWIW, I liked this book quite a bit when I read it last year. By the time the end of the year rolled around, I realized it had grown on me quite a bit in the ensuing months. I nominated it for our Book Club, but it didn't generate much interest.

...

I stayed on the couch today for several hours and finished the book. In the end, I liked it. I may have loved it. Maybe it was the fact that I was intentionally reading it in large chunks rather than 3 pages at a time before going to bed at night, or maybe the second half of the book just had more to offer. My interest really picked up when the conflict between the grandfather and granddaughter came into the picture. Anyway, I was very moved by the denouement, and the choices made by the narrator. In the end the book had a lot of soul, and even though the narrator expresses his disinterest in faith or religion, it turns out to be a very moral story. Thumbs up!

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Just finished Gilead, Six Days of War (about the 1967 Arab-Israeli War), and Ender's Game. All very good. Ender's Game's climax was not as exciting as I'd expected, but perhaps because it seemed very familiar--probably because it was original at the time then got borrowed a lot. I'm curious to learn how Card's LDS faith influenced the work--surely something about the world creating that went on in the games and in the epilogue.

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I frequently find that I can't read anything very serious during the school year. Shocking, eh? But I can sometimes keep two lightweight books going at once in different venues.

Just finished listening to the latest (I think) installment of Alexander McCall Smith's "Precious Ramotswe" mysteries, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, which had a running theme of compassion and forgiveness. And I just started reading Bollywood Confidential, by Sonia Singh. Amusing, so far.

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Just finished "The Lost Language of Plants" by Stephen Harrod Buhner. It changed the way I look at the world. Highly recommended.

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For fun, I'm taking a class called Reviewing Contemporary American Fiction (or, Book Review) at the school I work at. We're reading only novels published in 2005, and the class is set up as a tournament of books that will have the class picking the best American novel of 2005.

So, I just read and reviewed three books:

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Until I Find You by John Irving (see separate post on this)

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

Then my group read the reviews of another group, and chose the book we wanted to read next, which advances in the bracket. We're reading Doctorow's The March next.

Edited by Jeff Rioux

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I've recently finished reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It's an interrelated set of six distinct shorter narratives, each in a distinct genre: historical fiction, sci-fi, mystery, dark comedy. Each of the narratives is very good in its own, and I was impressed with the author's ability to tie (albeit loosely) these disparate parts into a whole, a mythology that crosses time periods and cultures.

Edited by Crow

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BethR, what did you think of On Beauty?

After I finished it, I read a review (surely not the only one out there) that pointed out the book is a "riff on Howard's End by E.M. Forster" which I must confess I had completely missed. In my defense, I have never actually read Howard's End (not my field) and it's been years since I saw the film. Nevertheless, I don't think you really need to know this to enjoy the book--the sharp observations of a certain type of university culture (not mine, but I've seen it), the intertwining characters and plotting. In the end, I think I did enjoy it more than White Teeth.

What am I reading now? The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler.

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I have mixed feelings about the book - she's really good at capturing some things about America, but not all.

That terrible "Southern" accent

, for example. (I guess she should come back for a while.)

There were a couple of things that struck me as a little odd:

1.

Why on earth did a self-proclaimed (devout) evangelical Christian have a collection full of voudou-themed art?!

...

At the risk of sounding judgmental, I'll say that perhaps people shouldn't write about things they don't really have any personal experience and/or understanding of. Note that I'm including "Southern"-ness and evangelical Christianity. On the other hand, my parents, former missionaries with impeccable "evangelical" creds, owned some African items that might have questionable spiritual origins; we don't believe in animism, though, so they're just "art" to us, I guess.

(BTW, I'm a big fan of A. McCall Smith's Botswana books. Not sure I'll stick with his Sunday Philosophy Club series, though.)

Yes, I tried the first one and got so bored about halfway through that I actually gave up and turned it back to the library without finishing it. I probably could have learned a lot about David Hume and Immanuel Kant if I'd stuck with it.

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Well, I'm currently bogged down in reading stuff for grad school courses, but at the beginning of the semester I was enjoying Ali and Nino by Kurban Said. (It's sitting half-finished on my bedside table for spring break...) The narrator has such a unique voice and the insight into the culture(s) of the characters makes me homesick for the time when I knew a culture other than my own pretty intimately.

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Just finished The Remains of the Day by Ishiguro. What a restrained, sad, touching, delicate book. I was so entranced with the writing I blew threw it in just a couple of days. It felt like every time I picked it up to read, my heart would grow heavy by the time I had to put it down. However, that isn't to say there aren't also delightful passages that brought smiles to my face. I think especially of Stevens' thoughts on witticisms, as he worries he might have offended the local landlord and his wife. Funny and tragic at the same time.

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Has anyone read Haruki Murakami's South of the Border, West of the Sun? Honestly, I picked it up because I wanted to try out a Murakami novel but wanted to start with something short. I'm enjoying the story, but the writing is really unimpressive, which is surprising considering the quality of his stories that I've read. Does Philip Gabriel translate all of his English publications, or could my disappointment be with Gabriel's work?

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I don't know if Gabriel translates all of Murakami's works, but he's the translator also of Kafka on the Shore, which I'm reading presently and enjoying greatly. The quality of the writing seems tip-top to me - an engrossing tale of entwined lives, with more humor than I recall from Murakami's other book that I've read, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

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My latest Amazon order:

Doruntine by Ismail Kadare. Kadare picks up what happens next after a classic Albanian tale ends. Doruntine, the only daughter of the Vranaj family is escorted back home from a far county to comfort her grieving mother by her brother Constantine. When she arrives, she finds that Constantine had already died in the tragedy that had killed all her siblings. A local official tries to make sense of the whole thing.

Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N. T. Wright. Feeding my Wright addiction.

Edited by Buckeye Jones

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Just started Gomes's The Good Life. I expect nothing less that 4.5/5, probably more.

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Currently and recently:

Narcissus and Goldmund - Hermann Hesse

The Castle - Franz Kafka

Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino

Selected Poems - Paul Celan

The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief - James Wood

Poor Things - Alasdair Gray

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I just finished a really good collection of Daredevil issues. The plot involves a low-rent, Quentin Tarantino-ish gangster who gives the FBI Daredevil's real identity. The ensuing publicity storm and media coverage, and Matt/Daredevil's struggle to deal with it, provide a very interesting look into the superhero psyche. And Spider-Man makes a cheesy, distracting, but fun appearance, as well.

"Underboss", the first BMB arc, was really really good--as was most of the stuff following. To bad his last two arcs weren't as exicting as those first. Sometimes, I think Mark Millar has the right idea, do a couple of arcs and get out, as anyone who has read JMS Spider-man these days can tell you.

BTW, I'm rereading CEO of the Sofa by P.J. O'Rourke, V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (to give me things to rant about when I leave the movie), and a few pamplets on how Starbucks helps the community. I'm not much for heavy reading.

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Just finished the latest Dave Robicheaux mystery, Crusader's Cross, by James Lee Burke, who never puts a word wrong (unlike a historical novel I had begun reading previously, by an author who shall remain nameless because the bad writing kept distracting me from the plot), goes fearlessly into the darkest places, yet never loses sight of the Light. Burke's Southern Louisiana detective Robicheaux, a struggling AA Catholic, is one of the few avowed believers in contemporary detective fiction.

Burke talks about "Seeking a Vision of Truth, Guided by a Higher Power," and says

I believe creativity is a votive gift, presented arbitrarily by the hand of God, and those who possess it are simply its vessel. Those who become grandiose and vain about its presence in their lives usually see it taken from them and given to someone else. At least that has been my experience.

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Following my return-to-jr-high stint of rereading Mansfield Park and Persuasion by Jane Austen to make up for the laborious time I took on Wild Swans by Jung Chang, I've tried to moderate my literary rollercoaster with several books that are both serious and enjoyable simultaneously. Don't get me wrong, Wild Swans was quite a good read, and I was very interested in reading about Chinese Communism (particularly in comparison with Russian Communism) but it sometimes just made me so tired.

So, I read Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray. This book is the memoire of the author's childhood in Georgia through the ecology that surrounded her and, as is so often the case in these stories, has now been virtually destroyed. (Surprisingly enough, she's currently an ecologist :huh: ) I enjoyed it. As my dad came from a sharecropping family in Alabama and I grew up in the South, this read was like a little reminising return home while living in the foreign environment of the Bay Area of California.

Then, upon my sister's recommendation, I picked up a book I could never finish in high school and found it a fount of joy! Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck was a pleasant surprise for me. It was neither as dumb as I remembered it being in my younger years (in fact, I find the storytelling to be quite the opposite now) nor was it as difficult as Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden; however, his story-telling in this autobiographical account of his cross-country trip with his French blue poodle who says "Fft" is still as honest and life-full as his longer novels.

I'm in the midst of On the Golden Porch and Pushkin's Children by Tatyana Tolstaya. She is the great grand-neice of dear old Leo of War and Peace repute (Tolstoy), and I am finding her quite charming. Porch is a book of her short stories which includes "Okkervil River" from whence the band gets their name, and Pushkin's Children is a series of essays on Russia and Russians. You must take her essays with a grain of salt, but she makes a fiesty Russian lady, and I appreciate her humorous arguments for why Russia is really a matriarchy and many of the other unusual stances she has taken.

Finally, I am also currently reading Ultimate Prizes, a novel by Susan Howatch. Please don't take this statement too offensively, but the main character is so male that I keep having a very hard time remembering that the author is actually female.

I am greatly looking forward to opening Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez because it is staring at me from the shelf. I have heard that this book is quite different from his 100 Years of Solitude which has piqued my interest because that mysterious novel was a memorable experience for me. I have seen people discussing 100 Years here a little bit. Has anyone read both and does anyone have any ideas on this?

Anyhow...there is my recent life in book-form...I've lucked out with a few good reads.

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I'm currently in the middle of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. I'm in the fourth book now. It's a mix of history, fantasy, and romance. Pretty good series, I think.

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Just finished:

Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem

History of Love, Nicole Krauss

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery (re-read for an online book club!)

Currently reading:

Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson (young adult fic to feed my aspirations of being a YA librarian)

Next up:

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary Schmidt (yet another YA read)

(Hi ruthie! This is your sister's old roomie, Kate. :) Lovely to see you here!)

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Finally, I am also currently reading Ultimate Prizes, a novel by Susan Howatch. Please don't take this statement too offensively, but the main character is so male that I keep having a very hard time remembering that the author is actually female.

Yay! Someone besides me is reading Susan Howatch! Off and on I've thought about recommending her "Starbridge" novels, of which Ultimate Prizes is #3 of six. They are linked to the "St. Benet's" novels, three so far, The Wonder Worker (A Question of Integrity), The High Flyer, The Heartbreaker. Each book deals with some theological or spiritual issue current in the church through its characters, but do not seem preachy in the Left Behind style.

David Virtue interviews Susan Howatch For some reason, Mr. Virtue seems to think John Grisham is a Southern Baptist, when everyone knows he's a Presbyterian. Hmph!

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I read Fortress Of Solitude recently and thought it was the perfect book about growing up, the detail, the characterisation and the sheer chutzpah of the prose were astonishing. Also read and liked Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland (the first of his that I've read) and Rip It Up And Start Again by Simon Reynolds, a brilliant account of post-punk music 1978-1984 which is one of the best music books I've read. Has anyone read the Anne Rice Jesus book. I got it as a present and haven't looked at anything by Anne Rice since I was thirteen and read Interview With The Vampire and thought it was perhaps the greatest book ever written (Thirteen, I stress, thirteen.) Also read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon, such flair from a twenty two year old, I was consumed by jealousy. And Democracy by Joan Didion, I've always liked her journalism and this was good though her books of collected essays are probably better.

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I just finished a terrific biography of William Saroyan by Lawrence Lee and Barry Gifford. Even if you've never read much or any of Saroyan, the biography itself is still a completely absorbing story of a man who was his own worst enemy.

Yesterday I cozied up with Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe and am about halfway through that. I always go back to Tyler when I want to read something I know I'm going to like.

Oh, and I read parts of my own book, because the bound galleys came in the mail on Friday!

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Finally, I am also currently reading Ultimate Prizes, a novel by Susan Howatch. Please don't take this statement too offensively, but the main character is so male that I keep having a very hard time remembering that the author is actually female.

Yay! Someone besides me is reading Susan Howatch! Off and on I've thought about recommending her "Starbridge" novels, of which Ultimate Prizes is #3 of six. They are linked to the "St. Benet's" novels, three so far, The Wonder Worker (A Question of Integrity), The High Flyer, The Heartbreaker. Each book deals with some theological or spiritual issue current in the church through its characters, but do not seem preachy in the Left Behind style.

David Virtue interviews Susan Howatch For some reason, Mr. Virtue seems to think John Grisham is a Southern Baptist, when everyone knows he's a Presbyterian. Hmph!

I found some parts of your comment and my experience with this book ironic. I finished it a couple of weekends ago, and when I first started reading it, I had assumed that it was written by a non-Christian. I had been thinking, "This will be an interesting look at the Church government from another perspective," when about half-way through the book, I realized that the author was IN FACT a Christian and was going to take the book somewhere I hadn't expected with my previous assumption. I found myself worrying throughout the 2nd half that Howatch would start preaching or get Christian-ese on me so that I would have to battle away some of my over-exposed cynicism which is always such a frustrating obstacle. I finished the book with a deep sigh of relief that she did in the end, as you mentioned, avoid it; I was so thankful!

Edited by ruthie

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Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, though honestly - I'm gonna give it a rest. (I think I lost it when he referred to the street beng like an unanswered telephone, or some such.) Might move on to someone else who writes about Brooklyn, or else try to find a copy of Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn.

Did. Not. Like. This. Book. Either.

Try Letham's The Disappointment Artist.

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