Archive for July, 2010

In defense of the humble audiobook

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

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

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

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.

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

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.

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

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.