1.30.2012

On the nightstand

The Crucible (Arthur Miller)
Play. Like so many of you, I first encountered this classic of American theater in high school. I then revisited it eight years ago, when my son was the same age as Miss M-mv(ii).

And now the Misses and I have read it.

We began with the 1996 film, for which Miller himself adapted his play, earning him the only Oscar nod of his career. Roger Ebert has little good to say about this adaptation, but I respectfully disagreed with him when I first saw it in 2004, and I continued to disagree with him as I watched last week. It is, quite simply, a powerful work well acted.

In the days that followed, we read and discussed the play itself, and I was reminded afresh what a privilege it is to lead this reading, thinking, learning life beside such thoughtful, articulate, and sensitive students.

A line for my chapbook: "I never said my wife were a witch, Mr. Hale; I only said she were reading books!"

Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners (Michael Erard)
Non-fiction. Just delivered today, this title first came to my attention via The Economist (December 31, 2011): "The gift of tongues." You'll find related articles here and here.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Susan Cain)
Non-fiction. Related entry here. A third of the way in, and I must say, I'm rather fascinated. More to follow.

Drawn In (Julia Rothman)
Non-fiction. Subtitled "A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists," this selection complements Artist's Journal Workshop (Cathy Johnson) from earlier this month.

1.15.2012

On the nightstand

The Social Animal (David Brooks)
Non-fiction. My reading goal in 2012 is a simple one: Read more non-fiction. The only problem with this goal is that I read non-fiction at a considerably slower pace than I read (consume, wolf down) fiction. Still, I've added this title to the pile. Related TED Talk here; review here.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr)
Non-fiction. Ayup. Still working on this one. To repeat, Carr created a stir three and half years ago with the publication of the essay "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" (The Atlantic, July/August 2008; related M-mv entry here). Two links: NPR's "All Things Considered" on "'The Shallows': This Is Your Brain Online" and Carr's blog, Rough Type.

The Project (Brian Falkner)
YA fiction. Another solid effort from New Zealand author Brian Falkner (related entry here), this novel was inspired by his three-month residency at the University of Iowa's International Writing Program. He arrived in the region shortly after the flood of 2008, an event that informs The Project.

Wool (Hugh Howey)
Wool 2 (Hugh Howey)
Fiction. Yes, that's the iPad on the stack. I toted it this week's swim meet and enjoyed the first two slim novels (novellas?) of a reported five-book series. Aunt M-mv casually asked if I had read Wool, and two clicks, a few reviews, and the phrase "post-apocalyptic fiction" later, I had it loaded into my Kindle cloud. A compelling story, capable character development, and competent enough prose led me to Wool 2. I will treat myself to 3 and 4 later today or tomorrow, when I finish grading papers and making some progress toward my non-fiction goals.

Not pictured:
The Lost Art of Reading: Why Reading Matters in a Distracted Time (David L. Ulin)
Non-fiction. Still reading on the Kindle. See Ulin's essay of the same title (Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2009).

1.08.2012

On the nightstand

Feed (M.T. Anderson)
Fiction. Seven years ago, Mr. M-mv and I read this with our son. At the time I wrote:
Another book that has, for better or worse, (re)shaped the geography of our imaginations this week is M.T. Anderson's Feed. The book has been pitched to "young adults." [...] Hence, a number of children will read it. The clever among them, then, missing the [point], will dismiss it as "shallow" or "dumb." The rest simply won't get it. Frankly, many teens won't get it. Far more worrisome? Most adults may miss the point. Or will get it, and, in their great discomfort, reject it. We're not pretending this is great literature. But, "Oh? Wow! Thing!"
Well, in addition to Coriolanus (related entry here), the family book club decided to read Feed this month. Does it hold up on re-reading? Both Mr. M-mv and I agree that it does. He revisited the book via an excellent audiobook edition, read by David Aaron Baker ("Terrific!"), and I split my return nearly equally over the paperback I first read and a Kindle edition. Our recent book club discussion included such issues as the novel's prescience, its spot on riff on the vapidity of "teenspeak," the fact that Violet is (of course!) homeschooled, and the observation that Titus is not an entirely an unsympathetic character, nor is Violet an entirely sympathetic character.

Some passages for the chapbook:

p. 4
The thing I hate about space is that you can feel how old and empty it is. I don't know if the others felt like I felt, about space? But I think they did, because they all got louder. They all pointed more, and squeezed close to Link's window.

You need the noise of your friends in space.
p. 31
I wanted to buy some things but I didn't know what they were. After we walked around for a while, everything seemed kind of sad and boring so we couldn't tell anymore what we wanted.
p. 47
People were really excited when they first came out with feeds. It was all da, da, da, this big educational thing, da da da, your child will have the advantage, encyclopedias at their fingertips, closer than their fingertips, etc. That's one of the greatest things about the feed -- that you can be supersmart without ever working. Everyone is supersmart now. You can look things up automatic, like science and history, like if you want to know which battles of the Civil War George Washington fought in and shit.
p. 135
The place was a mess. Everything had words on it. There were papers with words on them, and books, and even posters on the wall had words. Her father seemed like a crank.
By the way, can I give a little "Squee!" about the synchronicity / serendipity / synthesis at work here? Re-reading Feed while still engaged with Nicholas Carr's The Shallows was, in a hyphenated word, mind-blowing.

Like Shaking Hands with God: A Conversation about Writing (Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer)
Non-fiction. From Daniel Simon's foreword to this slim but wonderful volume:
There is a sentence in a Jewish prayer: A person's thoughts are his or her own, but their expression belongs to God. You feel it in the writings -- and the talk -- of both these men. As one who believes in the redemptive power of literature, I think Kurt and Lee both write to catch His eye. Neither one of them is taking any chances.
That I love Vonnegut, most of you already know; this transcript of his October 1, 1998 conversation with Lee Stringer only increased my affection. And I added Stringer's Grand Central Winter to my Kindle after closing the book.

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Reading Matters in a Distracted Time (David L. Ulin)
Non-fiction. Ah, the irony. Yes, I'm reading this on the Kindle. From Ulin's essay of the same title (Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2009):
Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves. This is what Conroy was hinting at in his account of adolescence, the way books enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise.

Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr)
Non-fiction. Still working on this one. I mentioned it in last week's "On the nightstand" but will repeat here: Carr created a stir three and half years ago with the publication of the essay "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" (The Atlantic, July/August 2008; related M-mv entry here). The book is every bit as compelling as the article led me to believe; a chapbook entry will follow. Until then, two links -- NPR's "All Things Considered" on "'The Shallows': This Is Your Brain Online" and Carr's blog, Rough Type.

Adventure Unleashed (______ __. _________)
Fiction. The comb-bound book on the bottom of this week's pile is my daughter's self-published novel, the first in a fantasy trilogy.

1.02.2012

On the nightstand

Coriolanus (William Shakespeare)
Play, classic. The family book club decided to tackle this one, and, honestly? It's so compelling that I don't know how we missed before. So, thank you, Ralph Fiennes. Thank you very much.

The Autobiography of an Execution (David R. Dow)
Non-fiction. One word: Un-put-down-able. All right. That's not really a word, but it ably describes how I felt about Houston lawyer David R. Dow's memoir / meditation on the death penalty. The casually familiar narrative style might seem at odds with the subject matter, but it coaxes readers through otherwise difficult material. You'll find a NYT review here.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr)
Non-fiction. You may remember the stir Carr created three and half years ago with the publication of the essay "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" (The Atlantic, July/August 2008; related M-mv entry here). The book is every bit as compelling as the article led me to believe. Chapbook entry to follow. Until then, two links -- NPR's "All Things Considered" on "'The Shallows': This Is Your Brain Online" and Carr's blog, Rough Type. (Bookmark that last one; a great site for readers, thinkers, and autodidacts.)

Artist's Journal Workshop (Cathy Johnson)
Art. Subtitled "Creating Your Life in Words in Pictures," this beautifully illustrated introduction to art journaling includes examples in a a range of media from the notebooks of twenty-seven artists. Johnson's text is both practical (Collage over an entire offending page, if you must) and encouraging (Celebrating the everyday is one of the loveliest uses of an artist's journal).

Not pictured:

The English Teacher (Lily King)
Fiction. Apparently, this novel was chosen by both Publisher's Weekly and the Chicago Tribune as one of the best novels of 2005. I missed it then and cannot begin to remember how it ended up on my TBR stack, but I will tell you that I appreciated King's skill from the opening line: That she had not killed him in her sleep was still the great relief of every morning. She narrates a compelling character study in the taut, measured tones of psychological thriller -- and delivers.

Note: I had already closed out "The year in books" for 2011 when I finished The English Teacher on New Year's Eve, so it is now the first book on my 2012 list, with Artist's Journal Workshop second, Coriolanus third, and The Autobiography of an Execution fourth.

1.01.2012

Books read in 2012 (reverse chronology)

Total as of December 13: 133

  Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl (Stacey O'Brien; non-fiction)
  The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller; fiction)
  The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien; fiction)
  The Misanthrope (Molière; play)
  Counterfeit Kids: Why They Can't Think and How to Save Them (Ron Baird; non-fiction)
  The Silver Linings Playbook (Matthew Quick; fiction)
  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie; fiction)
  Dracula (Bram Stoker; fiction)
  Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (Ellen Forney; graphic memoir)
  Bedbugs (Ben H. Winters; fiction)
  Stay Close (Harlan Coben; fiction)
  My Ideal Bookshelf (Thessaly La Force, editor, Jane Mount, illustrator; non-fiction)
  One for the Books (Joe Queenan; non-fiction)
  Watership Down (Richard Adams; fiction)
  The Birding Life: A Passion for Birds at Home and Afield (Larry Sheehan; non-fiction)
  Black Watch (Gregory Burke; play)
  Sweet Tooth Vol. 5: Unnatural Habitat (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
  The Essential Voter's Guide (TIME; non-fiction)
  Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part I (Peggy O'Brien; non-fiction)
  Never Knowing (Chevy Stevens; fiction)
  Henry V (William Shakespeare; play)
  Shelter (Harlan Coben; YA fiction)
  The Hole (Guy Burt; fiction)
  January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her (Michael Schofield; non-fiction)
  The Zen of Steve Jobs (Caleb Melby; graphic non-fiction)
  American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang; graphic novel)
  Nox (Anne Carson; poetry)
  Drawn In (Julia Rothman; non-fiction)
  No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at age 16 (Alexandra Swann; memoir)
  The Fat Flush Plan (Ann Louise Gittleman; health)
  Metamorphoses (Mary Zimmerman; play)
  Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Adrian Mitchell; poetry, prose, myth)
  Kill Shakespeare: Volume 1 (Conor McCreery; graphic fiction)
  The Playdate (Alice Millar; fiction)
  Electra (Sophocles; play)
  Oedipus Rex (Sophocles; play)
  Equivocation (Bill Cain; play)
  No Exit (Jean-Paul Sartre; play)
  Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett; play)
  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard; play)
  Are You Liberal? Conservative? Or Confused? (Richard J. Maybury; non-fiction)
  Hamlet: Poem Unlimited (Harold Bloom; non-fiction)
  Animal Farm (George Orwell; fiction)
  UnWholly (Neal Shusterman; YA fiction)  
  Hamlet (William Shakespeare; play) 
  The Island of Dr. Moreau (H.G. Wells; fiction) 
  The Year of Learning Dangerously (Quinn Cummings; memoir) 
  Three Sisters (Anton Chekhov; play) 
  Tell the Wolves I'm Home (Carla Rifka Brunt; fiction) 
  Fly Away Home (Jennifer Weiner; fiction) 
  Frankenstein (Mary Shelley; fiction)
  What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty; fiction)
  Epic Fail (Claire LaZebnik; YA fiction)
  The Paleo Diet (Loren Cordain; non-fiction)
  The Primal Blueprint (Mark Sisson; non-fiction)
  How to Retire Overseas (Kathleen Peddicord; non-fiction)
  Where to Retire (John Howells; non-fiction)
  The Outsourced Self (Arlie Russell Hochschild; non-fiction)  
  Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? (Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.; non-fiction)
   Pariah (Bob Fingerman; fiction)
  Things We Didn't See Coming (Steven Amsterdam; fiction)
  Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age (Michael J. Gelb and Kelly Howell; non-fiction)
  The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need (Andrew Tobias; non-fiction)
  The Tale of Paradise Lost: Based on the Poem by John Milton (Nancy Willard; fiction)
  A Thousand Cuts (Simon Lelic; fiction)
  Falling for Hamlet (Michelle Ray; YA fiction)
  Happy Endings Are All Alike (Sandra Scoppettone; YA fiction)
  Amped (Daniel H. Wilson; fiction)
  Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (Joshua Foer; non-fiction)
  The Group (Mary McCarthy; fiction)
  The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker; fiction)
  Othello (William Shakespeare; play)
  Are You in the House Alone? (Richard Peck; YA fiction)
  Lament for a Son (Nicholas Wolterstorff; non-fiction)
  The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr; non-fiction)
  Daughters of Eve (Lois Duncan; YA fiction)
  Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson; fiction)
  I Am the Cheese (Robert Cormier; YA fiction)
  Gone, Girl (Gillian Flynn; fiction)
  Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997 (Janis Hendrickson; non-fiction)
  Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas, editor; non-fiction)
  Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury; fiction)
  Tiger Eyes (Judy Blume; YA fiction)
  The Iceman Cometh (Eugene O'Neill; play)
  The Devil All the Time (Donald Ray Pollock; fiction)
  Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (Pamela Druckerman; non-fiction)
  Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading (Lizzie Skurnik; non-fiction) 
  Bossypants (Tina Fey; non-fiction)
  The Fault in Our Stars (John Green; YA fiction)
  The Wave (Todd Strasser; YA fiction)
  When You Were Mine (Rebecca Serle; YA fiction)
  Are You My Mother? (Alison Bechdel; graphic memoir)
  First Love (Ivan Turgenev; fiction)
  The Night Bookmobile (Audrey Niffenegger; graphic novel)
  Retirement without Borders (Barry Golson; non-fiction)
  The World's Top Retirement Havens (ed. Margaret J. Goldstein; non-fiction)
  Let's Go: Peru, Ecuador & Bolivia (ed. Michelle R. Bowman; non-fiction)
  The Lifeboat (Charlotte Rogan; fiction)
  iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us (Larry D. Rosen; non-fiction, psychology/technology)
  The Difference (Jean Chatzky; non-fiction, personal finance)
  The Pen Commandments (Steven Frank; non-fiction, writing)
  Timon of Athens (William Shakespeare; play)
  Going Bovine (Libba Bray; YA fiction)
  The Memory Palace (Mira Bartók; memoir)
  Mr. Monster (Dan Wells; fiction)
  I Don't Want to Kill You (Dan Wells; fiction)
  The Fiddler in the Subway (Gene Weingarten; non-fiction, journalism/essays)  
  The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins; fiction)
  The Taming of the Shrew (William Shakespeare; play)
  The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg; non-fiction)
  Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books (Leah Price; non-fiction)
  Sister (Rosamund Lupton; fiction)  
  The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Emmuska Orczy; fiction)
  Immortal Bird (Doron Weber; memoir)
  Defending Jacob (William Landay; fiction)
  Sweet Tooth Vol. 4: Endangered Species (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
  Sweet Tooth Vol. 3: Animal Armies (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
  Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
  Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out of the Woods (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
  The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (Jan-Philipp Sendker; fiction)
  Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher; YA fiction)
  Stop Acting Rich... And Start Living Like a Real Millionaire (Thomas J. Stanley; non-fiction; personal finance)
  Our Town (Thornton Wilder; play)
  Wool 5 (Hugh Howey; fiction)
  The Crucible (Arthur Miller; play)
  Wool 4 (Hugh Howey; fiction)
  Wool 3 (Hugh Howey; fiction)
  Adventure Unleashed (______ __. _________; unpublished fiction)
  Wool 2 (Hugh Howey; fiction)
  Wool (Hugh Howey; fiction)
  The Project (Brian Falkner; YA fiction)
  Like Shaking Hands with God (Kurt Vonnegut, Lee Stringer; non-fiction)
  The Autobiography of an Execution (David R. Dow; non-fiction)
  Feed (MT Anderson; fiction)
  Coriolanus (William Shakespeare; play)
  Artist's Journal Workshop (Cathy Johnson; non-fiction, art)
  The English Teacher (Lily King; fiction)