5.30.2011

Reading life review: May

Books read this month: 18
Books read in 2011: 44

Daughters-in-Law (Joanna Trollope)
Fiction. Has it really been a year since I settled into a Trollope novel? Really? How does that happen? Well, in any event, Daughters-in-Law was a companion earlier this month, and I was reminded all over again that what in another writer's hands might read like banal chick lit becomes in Trollope's able hands something considerably more substantial. In this recent novel, she explores familiar emotional territory (i.e., couples, families, and the web of relationships between them), examining the marriages of three brothers and the effect their relationship with their parents has on those marriages.

Sempre Susan (Sigrid Nunez)
Memoir. After reading an excerpt in the NYT, I put Nunez's memoir on my list, and, in search of "a little something" to read while waiting for the Misses one afternoon, I stuffed it in my bag. While I admired the intimacy of Nunez's observations, the clarity of her recollections, and the sureness of her writing, I was unable to overlook the fact that scene followed remembrance followed anecdote with an alarming lack of transition.

Still, there were moments:

p. 49
She was a feminist who found most women wanting. There was a certain friend she saw regularly, a brilliant man she loved to hear talk and whom, though he was married, she usually saw alone. Those times when his wife did come along, though, were inevitably disappointing. With his wife there, Susan complained, the conversation of this brilliant and intellectually stimulating man somehow became boring.

She was exasperated to find that the company of even very intelligent women was usually not as interesting as that of intelligent men.
p. 138
"But that's what happens," she said. "You have to be prepared for that." It had happened to her a lot, she said. Once she started meeting writers and artists, it happened over and over. "I'd be so thrilled about meeting these people -- my heroes! my idols!"

And over and over she would feel let down, or even betrayed. And she was so disillusioned that she'd end up regretting having met them, because now she couldn't worship them or their work anymore, at least not in the same pure way.
Having read this earlier in the month, I've had the benefit of a few weeks' reflection, and it wasn't simply the perceived herky-jerkiness of the text that troubled me: It was the lack of epiphany. In his review for The Washington Times (April 29), Martin Rubin writes:
Even after all she recounts in these pages and with the benefit of more than three decades of hindsight, Ms. Nunez still doesn’t realize that the drama of which she was both bystander and participant was yet another of those demonstrations that the emperor in fact has no new clothes. This is of course in some ways a strength of her narrative, yet one cannot help regretting that, for her own sake, she could bring herself to realize it.
Yes! From Nunez's memoir, one gets the sense that Sontag was, for all the drama and hype to the contrary, a disappointment of sorts, but Nunez does not allow that she may have felt -- as Sontag did on meeting her own idols -- let down, betrayed, and unable to worship the writer or the work any longer.

(By the way, Sontag would have dubbed Trollope's Daughters-in-Law "passé suburban realism," I'm sure. Heh, heh, heh.)

Gardening Step by Step (Phil Clayton, et al.)
John Brookes' Natural Landscapes (John Brookes)
Month-by-Month Gardening in Illinois (James A. Fizzell)
The New Gardener (Pippa Greenwood)
Glorious Gardens (Jacqueline Heriteau)
Midwest Top 10 Garden Guide (Bonnie Monte, ed.)
Midwest Gardens (Pamela Wolfe)
Low Maintenance Garden (Jenny Hendy)
Non-fiction. Maybe you detect a pattern -- perhaps even a project -- here. Well, two weeks spent poring over these tomes, taking copious notes, sketching, erasing, and sketching again convinced me of one thing: I am most decidedly not a gardener. I am an appreciator of gardens and a lover of nature, but a gardener? No. Emphatically, no. As it turns out, the yard makeover will be confined to the installation of a split rail fence, some serious hedge and bush trimming, and the planting of some arborvitae, hosta, and lavender. And all but the last (which I actually purchased) of these lovely books have been returned to the library (with a huge sigh of relief).

The Complete Beginner's Guide to Archery (Bernhard A. Roth)
Know the Sport: Archery (John Adams)
Non-fiction. Related entry here.

Sherlock Holmes: More Short Stories (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Fiction. With the Misses. I still intend to post a chapbook entry. Until then, the stories this month included "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," (from Adventures of Sherlock Holmes); "The Crooked Man," "The Resident Patient," "The Greek Interpreter," and "The Naval Treaty" (from Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes); "The Adventure of the Empty House," "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder," "The Adventure of the Dancing Men," and "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" (from Return of Sherlock Holmes); and "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" (from His Last Bow).

The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
Fiction. With the Misses. I contributed "Nothing Gold Can Stay" to a Poetry Friday gathering earlier this month, which led to a conversation about the first time I had read it, which led, of course, to The Outsiders. This is not a terribly sophisticated piece of writing, but it's an enduring one, isn't it? The Misses both loved it, though they lost no time pointing out how convenient it was that the church (!) burned following so many foreshadows about the boys' smoking and that the fire led to Johnny's public redemption. "Perrine would not be impressed!" Heh, heh, heh. And, yes, we have every intention of devoting an upcoming movie night to the 1983 film.

The Raising (Laura Kasischke)
Fiction. I picked this up after reading Julia Keller's review in The Chicago Tribune (March 26), and it's the best sort of summer reading -- exceptionally well written, compelling, and honestly? Just not too hard.

The Life before Her Eyes (Laura Kasischke)
Fiction. So pleased was I with The Raising that I picked up a few other Kaischke titles. Life was both thought-provoking and well written.

No Time for Goodbye (Linwood Barclay)
Too Close to Home (Linwood Barclay)
Fiction. And I picked these up after reading Stephen King's summer reading list in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly (June 3). They are the second-best sort of summer reading: capably written, entertaining, and not too easy to piece together halfway through.

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