lisapeet reads some more in 2019
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Hilma af Klint, Group X, Nos. 1–3, Altarpiece, 1915
Hello, and here's my new 2019 thread. I've really enjoyed having this space as my own little sandbox to talk about reading and such, and hope to be a little more sociable this year. My introductory post is here if you want some more intel on me.
The image at the top is three paintings by Hilda af Klint, an early 20th-century abstract/mystical painter whose wonderful (and very popular and much talked-about) exhibit I just saw at the Guggenheim Museum at the end of December. I like art that uses color and color fields as a major component, and thought the show was a lot of fun. Among other things, the way she riffs on natural world imagery (she was a biological illustrator before setting off on this path) made me think about two books I love that do something similar but along different tracks: The Voynich Manuscript and the Codex Seraphinianus; also the chapter in Kevin Young's Bunk on the theosophists. So it was not only a very visually appealing show, but sparked a lot of ideas and conversation from my odd reading tastes.
My 2018 thread is here. I don't know how many books I read last year. I'm actually kind of opposed to the idea that reading more is better, and book count challenges/read harder challenges in general. For myself, that is, and in theory—it's certainly no business of mine what other people do, and if it works for you then that's a good thing. I will say that I'm not a fast reader and I don't have unlimited reading time, and blogging/reviewing have really influenced the way I read (slowly, and I'm a note taker). So all those are factors as well. I do like the idea of reading thematically but probably don't have the attention span necessary for that. So we'll see what 2019 holds.
My 2019 list:
Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent
The Devoted by Blair Hurley
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Fox 8: A Story by George Saunders
The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves by Eric R. Kandel
Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Díaz
A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley
Your Duck Is My Duck by Deborah Eisenberg
Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy, and Comfortable by the Faculty Of The Cummings School Of Veterinary Medicine At Tufts University
During the Reign of the Queen of Persia by Joan Chase
My first book of the year was Ways to Hide in Winter, not sure on whose recommendation... maybe someone here? Interesting book, though. It was a humane and—in spite of some intense violence—gentle novel that explores the growing friendship between a young widow and a refugee from Uzbekistan, each side of the relationship framed by the the punishing load of secrets they both carry, all set against the winter landscape of rural Pennsylvania. But aside from its very deliberate thriller-like pacing as those secrets slowly unfurl, the book is more substantially concerned with exploring themes of guilt, forgiveness, loneliness, concealment, and the large and small ways people harm each other. This is one of those books that prove the point that reading fiction can make you a more compassionate person—it grapples with some hard issues of personal culpability and doesn't return pat answers (or any answers, really).
The writing here is low-key, appropriately atmospheric, and for the most part well done, though foreshadowing is some dicey business and needs to be done with a lighter touch. But overall the novel was moral in an un-preachy fashion that I appreciate in fiction, and St. Vincent kept it honest enough to keep me engaged.
Now I'm reading The Devoted because a friend sucked me in with a Goodreads recommendation. It's an odd one, but I'm still game for it.
The Devoted is a book on books? On Puritan authors? I'm really curious. ... sorry, I mean to say something more along lines of a welcome, but I clicked the link and well, it the book sounds great. Interesting about Ways to Hide in Winter. It's a first novel? Also, love the af Klint pieces. And, of course, nice to see your thread here again. Happy 2019!
>3 dchaikin: The Devoted is a novel with Buddhism at its center, but also Catholicism (the protagonist is the latter lapsed and the former converted). Not exactly sure where it's going to go, and I'm finding the writing a bit cool to the touch, but I also suspect that that might be on purpose to suit the subject matter. Ridding oneself of attachment may include densely descriptive writing? We'll see. And yes, Ways to Hide in Winter is her first.
Happy to be here! This is a very affable group.
>6 auntmarge64: Whoops, forgot to check the touchstone. This is the correct one: The Devoted.
Heh, definitely book-oriented, c'est moi. I grew up in a very bookish family—my dad was an anthropology professor, my mom a constant reader, and both of them had that coming-of-age-in-the-50s belief that books were the key to a good life. I never had a chance.
>7 lisapeet: It's always good to be encouraged to read. I was lucky that, even being raised in a fairly fundamentalist environment, I was encouraged to make frequent trips to the library and the books I borrowed were never monitored. It was a wonderful gift.
>8 auntmarge64: Agreed. I did the same for my son, and it's stuck with him. It's a wonderfully easy formula, and woefully easy to do the opposite as well, unfortunately—I have no idea how I would navigate raising a child with so many ubiquitous screens around. We didn't have a TV until my son was 11 or so, much to his chagrin at the time, but that was easy. I have no idea how parents manage to keep a digital/analog balance these days.
Finished The Devoted. This debut novel is an interesting exploration of faith, fidelity, and searching, and also the ways that religion wields power over both the faithful and the questioning. The protagonist, Nicole, has left the Catholic church in which she was raised for Buddhism—she's a convert, and has been studying under the same teacher for more than ten years. But the fact that she and her teacher also have a sexual relationship leads her to interrogate her own practices of faith and submission, particularly when held up to the reasons she broke from Catholicism. I liked the exploration of the issues here, and how Hurley framed the beauty and comfort to be found in both religions, although at times the controlling nature of both Nicole's family and her Buddhist master felt a little too cut-and-dried for the sake of easy comparison. Still, this was definitely worth reading—a thoughtful novel that isn't afraid to interrogate itself a bit.
Now on to Ghost Wall because my hold came in—I hit that sweet spot of putting a hold on an ebook that just came out before the ravening hordes clicked.
>13 lisapeet: The Devoted sound right up my alley. Shame I missed the special offer on Amazon...
>14 Dilara86: Actually I think the offer's still good. They usually leave them up for a few days at least, unless it's one of those ONE DAY ONLY things.
>13 lisapeet: an anticipated review. : ) I had the wrong book in mind when I posted earlier. This sounds really good. Noting.
I love the artwork in your opening post. There's something very joyful and inspirational about the three pictures.
Happy reading ahead for 2019!
>17 AlisonY: Thanks, AlisonY! I agree about the pictures, and seeing them in person was a great way to go out of a very up-and-down year.
Just read Ghost Wall, a dark little tale: an Iron Age reenactment being carried out one summer in North England with two sets of players: an "experimental archeology" professor and three 20-something grad students in it for the class credit and a lark, and a family there to satisfy the father's obsession with the time period and a "pure" England. More than a tale of old ways vs. new, it's a class conflict story above all, town and gown in particular. The professor and his students are breezy and often sloppy, with the implication that they can afford to be, but for the bus driver father, and the wife and daughter he drags along in his wake, this is grimly serious business. That combination of class and cultural nostalgia as the driving force for dysfunction made me think of a less wan (and damp) Elmet, with a little Lord of the Flies thrown in. The abusive, obsessive father was drawn in too-broad strokes, I thought, but the 17-year-old narrator, Silvie, is complex and interesting, a terrific voice. The writing is nice throughout, and the story is uncomfortable and at the same time engaging.
And now, because a friend sent me her hard copy, Michelle Obama's Becoming. It has one of the most agreeable forewords to a memoir I've ever read, so I hope the rest is that pleasant.
Ghost Wall sounds terrific. Happy to see Becoming popping up. The opening got my attention right away.
I finished Michelle Obama's Becoming, which was—beyond any expectations—just lovely. Her voice comes through so clearly throughout, which is both good writing and, I suspect, great cowriting and/or editing, but whatever. It's good to hear from her again. There was a lot that was fun about it, from descriptions of what it's like inside the White House (she describes it as a bubble, which sounds about right—she couldn't open a window or go out on the balcony without clearance from the Secret Service) to talk about raising kids and her marriage—which, of course, she went into only as much as it suited her, but still. I'm always fascinated by portraits of other people's marriages and how they negotiate the rough stuff. And it was good to read an account of her husband's administration if only to affirm that no, it wasn't a dream. And a decent president could happen again. Sigh. Anyway, recommended for anyone, really. It was a buoying read.
Then I read George Saunders's Fox 8, which is a tiny little fable about wildlife in the big world. You have to be in the mood for dialect—it's written in fox-speak—and you have to be in the mood for Saunders' slightly dark whimsy. Otherwise it ain't gonna work. But I was open for it, plus the whole thing is about 50 pages, so I liked it.
I spent an entire flight from NYC to Seattle (headed to the American Library Association Midwinter conference) reading Eric Kandel's The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves, which is dry as dirt yet totally fascinating, and it kept me reading (glossing over the medical terms a little, but I think I still think I have a better picture of the brain's workings). It's a strange phenomenon: by all rights I should have abandoned it within the first 25 pages because he's not a very interesting writer. But I'm still reading, and eager to get back to it when I have a few minutes in between conference-going. Go figure.
Alternated that with Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy, and Comfortable. Because that's my life's work these days.
So... a lot of not-very-uplifting nonfiction, yet I'm very into both books. Go figure.
I have an Iris Murdoch from the library cued up next (Under the Net), maybe for the flight back, as well as Marlon James's Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which looks totally fascinating. So that'll depend on whether I want a break from my nonfiction and what I'm in the mood for.
Also already picked up
>21 lisapeet: on The Disordered Mind, funny how sometimes something just drives us through some difficult stuff. (Thinking for a moment, I wish I could bottle it and use as wanted). The topic sounds good, as does the conference. Enjoy.
Planning to acquire zero books at a library conference strikes me as ... ambitious :-). Were you intending to wear a blindfold the whole time?
>22 dchaikin: It's true. I have an abiding interest in brain stuff—my mother is deep in the throes of dementia, and my father had a lot of diabetes-related mini-strokes that led to dementia in his last years, and I'm in my mid-50s, so I think a lot about my own cognitive functions and how much longer I can expect to hang on to them. My health is very good overall, so I'm guessing there's a good chance that's what's going to get me eventually... not a super comfortable thought as I start to hit the normal middle-aged inability to fish for a word or name occasionally, and rely on the thesaurus more and more in my writing. Also my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer in mid-2017, and while he's currently healthy there will be hardship down the line and it will most likely originate there. So, I don't know... forewarned is forearmed? You can't actually be forearmed about this stuff, but I get comfort from Knowing Things. It's what I do.
>23 rhian_of_oz: Yeah, yeah, I know. I was thinking that I have a lot of new books in e-galley format, but the truth is those are often not the greatest when it comes to formatting and ease of reading. Not always, but I do love a hard copy—not least because I can pass it along to a friend. A few of the books I picked up I actually have in e, but I'd just as soon have the paperback. I can ship them home (or rather, to the office) from here—don't have to carry them in my suitcase. But still, I'm such a sucker for the hand-sell. The publishers here know me and will literally press books into my arms saying, "Lisa, you'll love this." And I just nod helplessly. They're usually right.
I have my concerns, Lisa, with future dementia. My mother also has a progressive dementia, and now that I know I can see the symptoms going back several years, maybe decades and so I constantly reevaluate my cognition in arbitrary and non-diagnostic ways and am never really happy with how I come out. It's strange not having any control of these things - not that it justifies the my unfounded anxiety.
Curious what books you will come home with.
The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves was indeed dry as dust throughout—very small proportion of narrative to medical terms and descriptions of brain workings, and I think he made one joke about 20 pages from the end—but at the same time I found it fascinating and it held my attention all the way through. I will say Kandel's writing was very accessible, and none of it was hard to parse. I hope I retain at least a little of it, because there's a LOT of information there about brains, brain functions, genes, synapses, genetics, all that good stuff.
Now I'm reading Iris Murdoch's Under the Net, because a review somewhere (LA Review of Books I think) said it was both her best and her most philosophical book. It's quite entertaining and Iris Murdoch–y so far, at any rate.
I'll list the books I brought home from Seattle when they arrive at my office... because yes, I picked up so many that I had to ship them. Ah well, better than throwing my back out, I guess.
I’ve added The Disordered Mind to my wishlist; sounds like the kind of NF I like, but I hope it’s not too, too dry.
I’m really sorry to have missed you at the ALA conference. I have no professional connections to the ALA and was only able to go because I live in Seattle and LT was offering free tickets. I do, however, have 3 kids in NYC, so we got there pretty frequently ( or did when my husband’s health was better) and hope to again soon), so perhaps we can have a coffee and talk books in person at some point.
>28 arubabookwoman: That'd be fun! Let me know when you're in town next—I'm always up for a cup of coffee and some book conversation.
Finished Under the Net. I've heard this called Murdoch's best book, but this is only my second of hers and I liked The Sea, The Sea a bit better. I've also heard it described as her most philosophical book, and again I don't have enough to go on—nor do I have much of a grounding in philosophy—but I can at least see where that idea comes from. The book struck me as a kind of self-consciously intellectual overlay to a comedy of manners that has an overlying conceit of being not intellectual and not quite a comedy either, but of course it's very much both. Not to mention a huge nonsexual same-sex love story (the actual love interests were much more flimsy). And while I don't think there's such a thing as free indirect first-person speech, where the narrator is at the same time floating a little above his own head, if there were this would be it. There's always the feeling that Murdoch knows a lot more than she's letting on to the reader… which of course authors are supposed to, but the sense of it isn't usually quite so pervasive. Anyway, it was entertaining and oddly-paced enough to keep my attention. And there's a great dognapping scene that was worth the price of admission (not to mention a great dog).
Now I'm reading a super compelling poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, by Natalie Díaz. Good stuff, a lot of it knockout worthy so far.
When My Brother Was an Aztec was terrific. I don't read poetry with the same kind of critical filter that I do prose, but I really appreciate when a poem or collection knocks me sideways, and this one did. Compelling work about the Native American experience, addiction, love, and loss, with wonderful use of language and imagery. This was a library book but I'm tempted to buy a copy so I can go back to the well, because a lot of this was just brilliant.
My haul from ALA Midwinter. I need to take a vacation just to read...
Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race - Lara Prior-Palmer
The Light Years: A Memoir - Chris Rush
Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative - Jane Alison
The Parisian - Isabella Hammad
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna - Juliet Grames
Oval - Elvia Wilk
Dark Constellations - Pola Oloixarac
Floyd Harbor: Stories - Jel Mowdy
The Hotel Neversink - Adam O'Fallon Price
Costalegre - Courtney Maum
Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal - Yuval Taylor
Family of Origin - CJ Hauser
>32 lisapeet: fun pile. Zora and Langston catches my attention and scares me a bit. Hurston, it seems, was an odd one. Langston Hughes came up in the James Baldwin biography and Baldwin tears into him...but only privately. Publicly he praised him. Never read his poetry.
Interesting about Murdoch, who I've been curious about (but haven't read), and about the Diaz, with the entertaining cover.
Whatever you have heard about Iris Murdoch seems to be very tendential. Under the Net was Murdoch's first novel, so it would unlikely be her best. I didn't care much for it, but perhaps should reread it some time. Personally, I find the big (bulky) later novels of much more interest, books such as The Sea, The Sea which you have already read, and The message to the planet.
>34 edwinbcn: Yeah, I think I need to read more Murdoch to get a better feel for her. The "best book" designation was from the LA Review of Books, I think... one of those moments that I just clicked on a library hold because of something I read and forgot about it until the book came in. I'll have to check out The Message to the Planet... interesting mixed bag of reviews here, which always piques my interest.
I finished Jamel Brinkley's A Lucky Man, one of the collections I was reading last fall for LJ's Best Books 2018 award, and one of the books I was hottest to read all the way through. It's a super strong debut. Brinkley digs into the inner lives of urban men and boys of color in wonderfully nuanced, intelligent stories that deal with some big themes—masculinity, racism, class, anger, disappointment, fathers and sons, aging, the male gaze—without ever getting heavy handed. His characters are complex, often thorny, and always striving toward honesty with themselves—if not always with one another. These deep dives into hearts and minds are warm and emotionally astute, the city settings vivid, and the writing beautiful. Each one of the nine is a standout, but damn I loved “J’ouvert, 1996."
Now finishing up Deborah Eisenberg's Your Duck Is My Duck.
>36 lisapeet: sounds good. I just finished There There, which is similar, except native focused and it all ties together. That makes this appeal, in some way.
(Noticing your articles on the Library Joural news tab.)
>37 dchaikin: Glad somebody's reading 'em, Dan.
Finished up Your Duck is My Duck, another collection from my Best Books reading, also a Story Prize finalist (as is A Lucky Man, which is why they're at the top of the pile, since I'll be covering that award ceremony in March). Deborah Eisenberg is a favorite short story writer of mine, and while this wasn't my top favorite collection of hers there was plenty here to like. Her wonderfully knotty plots and un-pin-downable relationships, and the language is, as ever, really unexpected and full of delights. Language and what it does/can do/can't do is a theme that runs through many of the stories here (and many of her stories in general, but it was thrown into particularly sharp focus in this collection). My favorites, “Cross Off and Move On" and "Recalculating," I had read in the NY Review of Books, and they felt to me to be the most fully realized of the bunch—the others had varying ratios of offbeat, marvelous writing to too much punctuation, a quirk of Eisenberg's that sometimes drives me nuts. But it's a neat collection, never boring, and definitely worth a read for anyone who likes a lot to chew on in their short fiction.
Now reading an older novel, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, which is the fault of a couple of my prime book enablers.
As a fan of short stories, Eisenberg is continually mentioned to me as a writer I should be reading. What is your favorite collection of hers? I do have a copy of All Around Atlantis. Maybe I'll go move it to where I can see it and be reminded to pick it up next.
>39 RidgewayGirl: I usually don't love greatest hits collections, but I think you can't go too wrong with The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg. It's a doorstopper but a really rich and worthwhile one, IMO. I lent/gave my copy to a friend and kind of miss having it around, especially because I wonder if she even read it. But hey, that's not what giving is about...
You make me want to read Eisenberg. Not sure I want to read this latest or that I want to dive into a brick (her collected stories) but maybe something.
>41 dchaikin: Yeah, that's the problem with being "Best Of" dependent. I first encountered her stories in periodicals and journals, mostly the NYer and NYRB, so I never really had a handle on which was collected where. I did read Twilight of the Superheroes when it came out, and thought it was terrific. And I'm going to guess that for an intro to her work you can't go wrong with Transactions in a Foreign Currency, which was her first. I know a lot of my favorites are in that one.
In other news, our kitten was spayed a week ago and kept shucking her cone of shame off, so the vet sent her home in pajamas. (Insert obligatory cat's pajamas joke here.) Of course she hated those too and wiggled out of them right away, but at least she was very cute in them. No damage done—she had her stitches out today and got a clean bill of health—but now we have about a million pictures of our little cat wearing yellow overalls.
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