Friday, May 30, 2014

Books Update

In January, I proclaimed that 2014 would be the Year of the Classics & chose a book for each month of the year. Since we are getting on to the halfway point in the year (!!!???), I figured it was time for an update.

January: A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller. Isaac Asimov's Foundation meets Neal Stephenson's Anathem, at a third the page count. I'd call it more spec fiction than sci fi; it takes place in the distant future where the vast majority of science, technology, & culture has been obliterated by nuclear war & reactionary fundamentalist sects, so parts of it feel more medieval than futuristic. Brilliantly & shrewdly written, confronting questions of history, philosophy, theology, ethics, and the cyclic nature of human civilization, without ever getting preachy or didactic. As relevant now as in 1960. Fans of Asimov & the like should love it.

February: Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I started this book in February, but keep having to take breaks to read something else. It's easier to read than I thought it would be, but somehow still feels like hard work.

March: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. This is what I'm currently trying plow through right now. Like Uncle Tom's Cabin, it's been easier going than I was afraid it would be and has a lot of interesting parts, but it's still looooong and slooooow and there are long stretches in which nothing much happens except protracted discussions of early 20th century Russian property laws & farming methods. I've taken a couple of breaks from it to read other things, but I'm hoping I'll be able to finish it by the end of May June.

April: A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster. This book seemed appropriate for the April since that's when we left for Italy. In general, it was a cute, engaging read, and I spent most of the middle of the book surprised & excited about where it seemed to be going. Then, after the last two chapters, I wanted to hurl it across the room. I mean I know it was 1908 & all & ladies still weren't all that far removed from just being property, but still. Beautifully written, but a disappointing ending.

May: Catch-22. This book was sold to me as "a classic that's actually funny" and "like 'The Daily Show' in terms of tone & political poignancy," so I thought it would make a nice break from srsbzns reading. Ha ha ha ha. Not. Yes, there are some funny parts, and the absurdist-satire-"hell is bureaucracy" theme has its moments, but it definitely ranks among the darkest, most depressing and harrowing books I have ever read, because war & stupid people.

Other Stuff I've Been Reading

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. This is probably the best book I've read so far this year. I'd been kinda-sorta meaning to read this book for a while now & putting it off because I wasn't sure I was up for the all the darkness, but recently a friend was like, "No seriously. Amazeballs," so I took it with me on vacation, and she was absolutely right. On the one hand I kind of think I'd say this is a great read as long as you're not going through dark, nasty stuff at the time, but on the other hand, maybe this is *exactly* the type of book you should read in that case because you might decide that things aren't really all that bad by comparison.

The Long Run, by Matt Long. The next time you start feeling sorry for yourself or like you're going through some hard times and are feeling frustrated & discouraged about how long the road seems, give ol' Matty Long a hundred pages or so. If you still feel the same way after, you are not human. I don't want to spoil the impact of the first few chapters, but the broad strokes are that Long was a Brooklyn firefighter, BQ marathoner, & Iron Man who got run over by a bus (LITERALLY LIKE A BUS DROVE OVER HIM) in December 2005 & suffered a litany of absolutely horrific injuries. The book chronicles is journey from a miserable, barely recognizable, barely functional, physical & mental wreck of a human to, well, the guy on the cover of the book. So yeah. This book basically convinced me I don't get to feel discouraged about anything ever again.

The Sound & The Fury, by William Faulkner. This was a challenging book for me, but I'm glad I read it, and I can totally appreciate why people are still reading & studying it xx years later. BUT, know going in that it is depressing as hell. On the other hand, it's only like 300 pages long. I'd advise getting some background on the story before actually starting it, because some of it can be hard to follow & definitely requires your 100% focus & attention. Don't be ashamed to consult Wikipedia/Cliff's Notes/etc. as you read.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny Lawson (aka, "The Bloggess"). Do yourself a favor & get this one in audio book. Nothing beats The Bloggess herself narrating. I lost count of the number of times I nearly fell off the spin bike I was laughing so hard. The hijinks that girl gets up to!

Dad Is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan. Parents, you'll appreciate this one. Not *quite* up to the quality of his stand-up, but really the book is only maybe half comedy anyway & half about being a parent in general and being the parent of five (7, 5, 3, 1, & newborn) in New York City specifically. Reasonably entertaining overall, with a few absolute laugh-out-loud moments.

The Signal & The Noise, by Nate Silver (of Five Thirty-Eight fame). I loved this book for the same reason that I loved The Predictioneer's Game and Data, A Love Story. All of them lie at the intersection of math/statistics/data/modeling and psychology/sociology. While I still think Nate Silver is brilliant, after reading this book I have a better understanding of just how terrible at modeling and predicting so many other people are (& I'm talking about people who are paid for making predictions) & why it's so easy for him to look that much more brilliant by comparison. What it's really about is the use & abuse of statistics & data--what sorts of things can be predicted (short and/or long term) and which kind of can't, the most common mistakes people make when they try to use data to make predictions, and how living in the age of "big data" actually puts us more at risk for bad predictions.

What's left for me this year....

    June: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz.

    July: To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

    August: Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.

    September: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez.

    October: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

    November: Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne.

    **NOVEMBER BONUS READ**: The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka.

    December: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

    **DECEMBER BONUS READ**: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

This is where I solicit from you other worthwhile reads!! What else is out there that I absolutely must read? Oh also you can be my friend on GoodReads if you want.


  1. In honour of the Italy holidays, what about some Umberto Eco? I enjoyed Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum. There's also Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. :) I'm also fond of Kurt Vonnegut. How do you feel about poetry? What about some Maya Angelou?

    1. I love Umberto Eco! Those are two of my favorites. Haven't read any Thomas Mann, so maybe that's a candidate. I do love me some Vonnegut but have only read maybe 3 of his, so still plenty more out there. I did read "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" in high school, but I've never been much able to get into poetry (at least not in collection form).

    2. Death in Venice made me shudder with it's paedophilia themes. Ugh. Umberto Eco is awesome....and Italo Calvino (If on a winter's night, a traveller....) is brilliant!!!

  2. It seems that a love of running and a love of books seem to go hand in hand. So many runners are readers. Is it because running makes us tired and reading's a nice thing to do when you're tired.

    1. I think you are on to something!

  3. I only sort of understand how Goodreads works, but I just added you as a friend. I'm half-reading about six different books right now, but as a result, I'm not making substantial progress on anything, blergh.

  4. I have spent tooooo long ploughing through The Omnivore's Dilemma, taking a break half-way through for 'Running like a girl' by Alexandra Heminsley, which despite the awful title, is rather lovely and quite funny. I'm about to start 'In the Dutch Mountains' by Cees Nooteboom, which I've wanted to read for 10 years but have only just found an english copy of. Adding 'the long run' and 'the goldfinch' to my summer reading list... i have some long plane rides coming up!

  5. Dude, maybe you need to read some unboring classics. Like The Three Musketeers or Pride and Prejudice.

    The Goldfinch is on my list, but I sort of just go by feel and what I'm into at any given moment, which has been mostly YA novels lately. So, we'll see.

    If you liked Let's Pretend This Never Happened, you should definitely read Hyperbole and a Half. Hilarious.

  6. We're friends on Goodreads, so you can see what I've been/am reading. :) The book I didn't get to review, because Goodreads doesn't allow DNF comments, was for Unbroken. Holy cow. That was the most all-over-the-place storytelling ever. After 100 pages, I asked my bf if it gets any better or more cohesive. He said no, and that was it -- DNF FTW.

  7. Love the list! 100 Years of Solitude is an awesome read, but hopefully you're not doing the digital version because I find the family tree chart in the beginning so important and totally bookmarked it.

  8. The Little Prince is my all-time favorite book -- my go-to whenever I feel sad!