what I read in 2010

January 14th, 2011 by lainer

Instead of pretending I have a great excuse for why I have been MIA (I don’t) I will just give you this, my list of 2010 reads.  Also instead of pretending I will return to blogging in 2011 with a fucking vengeance, I will say nothing.  I might return, or I might not.  I have been spending a lot of time being social (me!  social!) and not enough time reading and not enough time sitting quietly.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is to have more fun, and another is to be more grounded, and somewhere in-between those there is the perfect place for me (I bet there are unicorns there, and potato chip buffets), and I think I will resolve to spend a little more time finding that balance.

Anyway, I came here for a reason, and it is this:

  1. Octavia Butler-Parable of the talents
  2. Ann Packer-Dive from Klausen’s Pier
  3. Ursula LeGuin-Always coming home
  4. Maile Meloy-Half in love
  5. Eduardo Galeano-Book of embraces
  6. Matt Ruff-Set this house in order
  7. Rebecca Skloot-Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
  8. Rigoberta Menchu-I, Rigoberta Menchu
  9. Mario Vargas Llosa-The feast of the goat
  10. Lydia Davis-The end of the story
  11. Samuel Logan-This is for the Mara Salvatrucha
  12. John D’Agata-About a mountain
  13. Julie Klausner-I don’t care about your band
  14. Mark Danner-Massacre at El Mozote
  15. Joan Didion-Salvador
  16. Louise Erdrich-Shadow tag
  17. Larry McMurtry-Lonesome Dove
  18. Allegra Goodman-Other side of the island
  19. Laura Esquivel-Like water for chocolate
  20. Dagoberto Gilb-Magic of blood
  21. Stieg Larson-Girl with the dragon tattoo
  22. Stieg Larson-Girl who played with fire
  23. Dagoberto Gilb-Woodcuts of women
  24. John Edgar Wideman-Brothers & keepers
  25. Gloria Anzaldua-Borderlands/La Frontera-the new Mestiza
  26. Vincent Lam-Bloodletting & miraculous cures
  27. Bitchfest
  28. Lee Martin-The bright forever
  29. Jose Saramago-Blindness
  30. Michael Ondaatje-In the skin of a lion
  31. Robert Olen Butler-Good scent from a strange mountain
  32. Maile Chapman-Your presence is requested at Suvanto
  33. John Steinbeck-East of Eden
  34. Nathan Englander-Ministry of special cases
  35. Jane Smiley-Thousand acres
  36. H.G. Bissinger-Friday night lights
  37. Stieg Larson-Girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
  38. Toni Morrison-Song of Solomon
  39. Alice Fulton-Nightingales of Troy
  40. John Edgar Wideman-Fatheralong
  41. Daniel Alarcón-Lost city radio
  42. Suzanne Collins-Mockingjay
  43. Alma Guillermoprieto-The heart that bleeds
  44. Roberto Bolano-2666
  45. Daniel Alarcón-War by candlelight
  46. Edward Jones-The known world
  47. Laura Eldridge-In our control; the complete guide to contraceptive choices for women
  48. Nicole Krauss-Great house
  49. David Rakoff-Half empty
  50. Ian Frazier-Travels in Siberia
  51. Alain de Botton-A week at the airport
  52. Theodore Dreiser-Sister Carrie
  53. Michael Ondaatje-Divisadero
  54. Octavio Paz-Labyrinth of Solitude
  55. Nick Reding-Methland
  56. Jamaica Kincaid-My brother
  57. Amy Goodman-Standing up to the madness: ordinary heroes in extraordinary times
  58. Tom Rachman-the Imperfectionists

in which I confess to hate magical realism.

September 25th, 2010 by lainer

September seems to have passed me by.  I haven’t had much to say about bookthings lately, because none of the things I’ve been reading are particularly new or exciting to most people.  The only thing anyone wants to talk about is Freedom and Jonathan Franzen, and yes I like Jonathan Franzen, but no I haven’t read Freedom yet, and no, I don’t know why, and no, I don’t know if or when I will.  I am overwhelmed by new fiction & new things that I desperately do want to read (my future reading queue has bypassed my 2010 reading completed by about 15 titles–how I think this is even remotely feasible to do by the end of the year I’m not sure).

So what do I want to talk about lately?  I want to talk about Mexico, and I want to talk about women (much, much less about men), and sometimes I want to talk about science fiction, and occasionally I might want to talk about labor relations, but mostly, yea, I just want to talk about Latin America.  I want to talk about why I am so lukewarm on magical realism, and why I won’t ever be able to finish something like Love in the Time of Cholera (and why I am not sure that I even feel disappointed by this).  I want to talk about food rations in Cuba and I want to talk about babies dying in Brazil and I probably want to talk a little about Julieta Venegas.  I finished Alma Guillermoprieta’s Heart that bleeds and thought, “well this is it.”  And then I started 2666 / Roberto Bolaño and it is taking me a lifetime to read this but I can’t stop thinking about it.  This is good.  I probably need something consuming and wacky to think about.

It is almost October.  That means it is almost time for the new Ian Frazier, which I am immeasurably excited about.  Jonathan who?  October will be the time for Siberia, I think.  I think I can push my brains away from hours thinking about las fronteras y los narcotraficantes y los coyotes and so much heartbreak for a little time with Frazier in the gulag.  Yea, this I can do.

in between sneezes

September 6th, 2010 by lainer

Laboring away on Labor Day at the reference desk (#1 question: “What time do you close?”) is as good a time as any to make this note to self:

  • read Daniel Alarcón’s Lost City Radio this week.  Wow. Excited to read more by him–I expect to read his book of short stories sometime this month.  Although I am breaking my Pulitzer promise to myself.

Other activities this week:

  • baked molasses cookies
  • made world’s best fritatta (out of How to Eat Supper, I’m beyond obsessed with Lynne Rossetto Kasper)
  • Alison Bechdel’s Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (this is super great!  I loved watching Bechdel grow as an artist & writer.  Fun x 1000.)
  • started Mockingjay, can’t stop reading Mockingjay, etc
  • wanted to destroy all plants because of allergies
  • was overwhelmed by Spanish class, and then excited, and then overwhelmed again, and then excited again
  • etc

Summer is ending.

August 25th, 2010 by lainer

I’ve been reading some poetry by Alice Fulton recently, and simultaneously her lone novel, the Nightingales of Troy.  I love when poets write fiction, because it is truly the most beautiful fiction.  Aspects of Fulton’s fiction remind me slightly of Lorrie Moore, but this is more a comparison of subject matter (not to say that all writers writing wittily about women and their relationships with other women are reminiscent of Lorrie Moore, although in some ways that would be nice) than prose.

This book takes place sparsely over a century, but this passage is from 1999:

Your father’s hotel isn’t what it used to be,” she said when she returned.  “It’s like Père Lachaise up there.  Dark.  Really dark.  With bottles, syringes, and graffiti everywhere.  There was nobody at the desk, and somebody yelled down, Who youse looking for?  Then a big burly guy appeared.  He opened a drawer full of guns and knives.  I was thinking, if we get to choose our weapons, I’ll choose grammar.

Fulton makes for excellent nighttime reading, when summer is ending and the nights are so noisy.  I have been falling asleep reading How to Eat Supper (this hasn’t changed my dreams like I’d hoped it would–they’re not about food or anything).  I am learning so much from this book–this book is meant to be read and absorbed, not just glanced at, like other cookbooks, I think–and feel like all of my dietary habits are lackluster (popcorn for dinner, anyone?) and need to change.  The new semester is about to start, and all the new freshman are arriving with their little refrigerators and their excited parents with their “I’m a Pitt mom!” hoodies and I don’t wish I were moving into a dorm but I do wish I were going back to school (in a more substantial way).   The best thing about a new semester starting is it gives even non-degree seeking students (me!  hi!) a change to reevaluate and set new goals and work towards something different.  I wish I could buy a new Trapper-Keeper or planner or something exciting.  That would feel substantial.

Starting my weekend off with a little rage

August 13th, 2010 by lainer

From Garret Keizer’s very excellent Notebook piece in September’s Harper’s (titled “Why dogs go after mail carriers”):

I don’t want to be a seraph or a sunbeam but a citizen, that is, to live in a physical body and a geographical community, bounded by time and space and served in full equality by incarnate fellow citizens like Shirley B.  I’ll keep my email, thank you, but let my “primary communications carrier” be a unionized worker with his feet on the sidewalk and no wings on his feet.  If I have to wait an extra day or two for a parcel, I can bear it.  I’ve already waited half a century for national health care, and I am likely to be as dead as an undeliverable letter by the time all its provisions go into effect.  It you want to talk about things that move at a snail’s pace, might I suggest aiming your metaphor in that direction.

I am taking my life back from Sweden

August 12th, 2010 by lainer

I spent a few days in Toronto visiting my brother and hiding The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest from anyone who might see me reading it.  I think I can reclaim my life again now that I’ve finished it.  These books are stupidly absorbing.  They also make Sweden seem stupidly enticing.  I don’t even like winter, but now I want to get a cabin & several thick sweaters & fritter away my remaining days on some fjord.  Since that actually sounds terrible, I am just going to take some tips from Maureen Corrigan’s list for future reading.

Pre-Salander finishing, I trudged through Friday Night Lights (H.G. Bissinger).  I read this for a book club, and it made me much sadder than I thought it might.  I am afraid to admit this, but I don’t actually know very much about football (I know, a Pittsburgh girl who doesn’t understand football), and I was surprised to actually learn things about football from this book.  I had incorrectly thought that this was some fluff book about Texas and weirdos who like high school a little too much, but damn, this is actually a book about LIFE and the EIGHTIES and the OIL CRISIS and so much more.  I very much like the show (marry me, Tim Riggins?), but mostly for how out-there the plotline gets.  I don’t know what I expected from the book, but I was quite pleasantly surprised.  It even appears that Bissinger actually researched it quite thoroughly, and this always pleases the reference librarian inside me.

I am on the cusp of finishing Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, which is untouchably gorgeous.  I promised myself I would go back and read things that I read in high school that I pass off as having read but really I don’t remember a word of them.  I am not, however, going to read a Separate Peace EVER. AGAIN.

Other things:

I listened to the Shawshank Redemption last week & this week.  Mistakenly, I spent 25 years thinking this was about Vietnam.  Wow, wrong.  This is another one that I wouldn’t want to read, but it was fun to listen to.  I found out yesterday that I am actually incapable of both reading and listening to Talking to Girls About Duran Duran (Rob Sheffield).  This book perpetuated about 600 gender stereotypes within the first 15 minutes and infuriated me instantly.  I get a little sad when I think that something like this?  THIS?! is selling well.  I think I am just going to listen to Last of the Mohicans next, because there is no way that won’t please me.  My only wish is that I could somehow incorporate the soundtrack of the movie into the audiobook, because that would be insanely perfect.

I want to finish this off with approximately 200 quotes from Song of Solomon, but that would be robbing you of the pleasure of reading it yourself.

In defense of the humble audiobook

July 28th, 2010 by lainer

I was incapable of actually reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and yet I really very much wanted to.  I just could not get into this book.  I tried.  I gave up.  I tried again.  I gave up again.  I know that this is criminal to admit, because the whole world loved reading this book.  But then, I did something that I thought might be the next-best thing:

I listened to an audiobook version of The Road.

And, unsurprisingly, I loved it.  That is because this book is great, and while it is probably much better to actually read, I wouldn’t know, and I don’t think I care.  And I am okay with this, because the version I listened to was  a whole new experience for me.  I am something of a noob when it comes to audiobooks.  Audiobooks remind me of the Cracker Barrel, and thus they remind me of childhood, and of being kind of miserable.  But The Road might have changed that.  I found this listening experience to be absurdly pleasurable.  It felt a little like cheating, sure, and it felt a little sneaky to listen to it while at work (I figure the catch is that my place of employment actually supplies us with audiobooks now, so this must be allowed?!), but at the end of an otherwise miserable and boring week at work, I could sit back and think “aha!  I experienced a literary classic this week, and I didn’t have to read a word!”

I know this doesn’t count as reading, but you know what?  It was as much fun as reading.  Twice the fun, even, because I could do other things while the audio streamed.  I am, without a doubt, hooked.  I don’t necessarily believe that academic libraries providing students with audiobooks falls within an academic library’s mission, and I could talk about this for hours, blah blah, but I do think audiobooks are a format that could help auditory learners get more involved in fiction/non-fiction. Because otherwise, I never would have read this book.  And with that, the possibilities are endless.  Now I am thinking of all the things I just plain didn’t actually feel like reading but that I truly wanted to read, and I am searching for them, and queuing them, and hoping we buy them, and work already seems so much better.

And if this doesn’t actually count as reading a book (I don’t think it does), my only dilemma is do I actually have to go back and READ it to check it off my Pulitzer list?  Probably, yes.

But at least I know the ending.

A Thousand Acres: not trashy enough for me

July 27th, 2010 by lainer

East of Eden was terrific, the kind of epic tale that took me longer to read than I would like, but the kind that I don’t think I will soon forget.  This book also, and notably, featured the most despicable fictional character I can remember having read.  I am semi-interested now in reading more Steinbeck, as I inexplicably escaped high school without having read more than Mice & Men and the Pearl (which maybe doesn’t count because it is approximately 45 pages long).  However, that sounds too formulaic/summer reading list for me, and I certainly do not like a formula (or fun), and furthermore, it’s summer, and all I want to do is sit in the sun and sweat enthusiastically.

This weekend, I basked, cat-like, and also read Nathan Englander’s Ministry of Special Cases.  This book was pretty much written with me in mind.  Englander has been compared to a lot of my favorites (including Philip Roth, but I think this is because both are Jewish and write Jewish characters really well), but BEYOND THAT, this is a book about Argentina, and BEYOND THAT INDEED, it is about the Dirty War.  This book was horrifying and yet so enjoyable.  Word on the street is that Englander has more writing in the works about las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, and you better believe I will be keeping an eye out for that.

In keeping with my great Pulitzer-readathon-of-2o1o, I am currently reading Jane Smiley’s Thousand Acres.  I thought I would like this book more than I do.  The descriptions all led me to believe it would be directly up my occasionally trashy-lit alley, but it isn’t really so (aka it is much better than that, so why do I not like it?  I don’t know!).  When I am reading it I am also mortified by the cover of my version, which isn’t helping matters much.  I was tempted to get one of those old-school book covers that I had in middle school, but at this point it is too late and I am resigned to be the girl on the bus reading the book with Michelle Pfeiffer hugging Jessica Lange.  OH WELL.

In which I announce my (tentative) almighty reading plan, which might be stupid, or might be great.

July 13th, 2010 by lainer

I am tentatively considering reading every finalist or winning Pulitzer novel.  Looking over the list I realized I’ve already read approximately 20%, and there is little that I like more than an ambitious reading goal.  Butler’s book of short stories (see below) won in 1993.  I really loved this book (it is simultaneously so serious and funny!), and I love the majority of the ones that I’ve already read, but do I want to be so tied down, so restricted in my reading choice?  I’m not sure yet, although there is nothing wrong with being ambitious.  Note to self.

Last week’s readings:

  • Michael Ondaatje-In the Skin of a Lion (recommend x 1000)
  • Robert Olen Butler-Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (also recommend x 1000)
  • Maile Chapman-Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto (will elaborate on)

On to a not yet heralded book: Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto is so gorgeously written.  It is perhaps a nod to Chapman’s ease with words & scenes that although I largely read this book in a bathing suit on my couch, desperate for the AC to kick on, I was easily transported to Finland in the winter.  I hate saying that I was transported somewhere by a book, because that is totally cheesy, but alas, it wasn’t hard to become entirely absorbed in Chapman’s prose.  I love how Chapman writes, and the momentum of the first 150 pages was incredible, considering it is such a lush, slow-moving book.  Chapman handily writes quite well about nothing at all, and that is why it was so shocking that I hated later plot developments so much.  I would have gladly read a book about a “home” for troubled women in 1920s Finland in which nothing so much happened (because that is a unique and great topic/scene), and it was when something did in fact happen that I stopped caring.  This is either because the something that happened (I won’t say what) wasn’t developed enough initially, or because I just plain didn’t care.  Either way, a considerable problem.  I look forward to future works by Chapman, because I think in a way this could be a maturity thing (I sure as shit couldn’t carry out a plot for 260 pages) or just a hurried thing, and perhaps something that will resolve itself with practice.  Time will tell.

I am currently reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden, which I can file under “things I should have read a long, long time ago.”  I probably won’t have much to say about this that hasn’t already been said, and much better than I could say it. Next up is either Wideman’s Fatheralong (I am obsessed) or perhaps Ford’s Independence Day (1996 winner, and sequel to the Sportswriter, which I labored over and was so delighted by).  That or I will fervently defend the audiobook, which just might be my new passion.

In which I return.

July 1st, 2010 by lainer

I am a little heart-broken to be back from Panama.  It was lovely & hot.  I got a lot of work done.  I worked a lot.  It feels good to get up very early (when the roosters qui-qui-ri-qui) and walk in the dark to the place where I work, giving buenas to the folks that I pass (and “hi buddies!” to every street dog).  The problem with Panama is that napping feels so good, so every time I tried to read in the hammock I fell asleep, which means my reading only amounted to this:

John Edgar Wideman-Brothers & Keepers
Gloria Anzaldua-Borderlands/La Frontera-the new Mestiza
Vincent Lam-Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

I say this a lot, but I found Brothers & Keepers to literally be life-changing.  There are many passages I read over & over & over (many about Pittsburgh).  I want to return to this book indefinitely.  I will read this again, and I would  suggest it to anybody who is interested in prison (and injustice), families and, frankly, human beings.

Since home, I’ve read:

Lee Martin-The Bright Forever
Jose Saramago-Blindness

I finished Blindness yesterday on the bus (ugh).  I feel stunned & relatively emotional about it.  The lucidity of Saramago’s writing kind of fucked with me, and I feel like I’ve been drifting since I started it.  I have my own dog of tears, and for that I guess I will just say I am happy.

It’s good to be home.