2.28.2012

Reading life review: January and February

Books read in January and February: 23
Books read in 2012: 23

Defending Jacob (William Landay)
Fiction. Several bits of awkward writing (e.g., "I put away my book, McCullough's biography of Truman, atop a slippery pile of slick magazines on my own night table, and turned off the light.") and the narrator's stubborn (often to the brink of stupid) refusal to see, really see, his son periodically yanked me right out of this otherwise good-enough hybrid (family drama / courtroom thriller).

Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out of the Woods (Jeff Lemire)
Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity (Jeff Lemire)
Sweet Tooth Vol. 3: Animal Armies (Jeff Lemire)
Sweet Tooth Vol. 4: Endangered Species (Jeff Lemire)
Graphic fiction. I saw this recommendation and couldn't agree with her more. Since Volume 5, which will collect Issues 26 through 32, is not due to be published until October, I checked with my local comic shop for Issues 26 through 30 and will now haunt them for each issue as it is published -- much as I do with The Walking Dead.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (Jan-Philipp Sendker)
Fiction. The narrative style reminded me of Life of Pi, although the writer asserts he was not at all influenced by Yann Martel. It was an old-fashioned fairytale of a novel... and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
YA fiction. I saw the conclusion coming but still thought it a competent enough effort. I had been sick with a head cold while reading it, though. Heh, heh, heh.

Our Town (Thornton Wilder)
Play. As with The Crucible (see this "On the nightstand" entry), I read this play in high school and college, then revisited it eight years ago, when my son was fourteen, the age my youngest is now. Over the past week, I returned to it yet again, this time in the company of the Misses. Related entry: "It takes life to love Life."

Stop Acting Rich... And Start Living Like a Real Millionaire (Thomas J. Stanley)
Non-fiction. Read this one on the Kindle and the iPad, whichever was within reach. Although it rehashes much of the data and ideas presented in The Millionaire Next Door, this volume offers excellent "sound bytes" parents can share with their children.
You can act rich or actually become rich. Few of us will ever be able to do both, and we certainly won't get rich by acting the part before we have the financial resources with which to pay for la dolce vita.

We live in a time when it has never been easier to act rich than to actually become rich, even with the devastation of the financial crisis. At the end of the day, not only are we bad actors because it is simply impossible for us to keep up with the glittering rich (if we buy one expensive, prestige car, they buy 20), but we are terribly misguided and ill informed about how millionaires really spend and what they actually buy.
We learn how to manage money (or not) in our families of origin. Let's arm our young people with alternatives to "Buy! Buy! Buy!"

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!"

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)
Wool 3 (Hugh Howey)
Wool 4 (Hugh Howey)
Wool 5 (Hugh Howey)
Fiction. 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 the subsequent books in the series. Wool deserves a much wider audience. Amazon Prime folk, you can read these books free on your Kindles. Non-Prime? We're talking ninety-nine cents for each of the first four volumes (on the Kindle); $2.99 for the final installment.

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.


Adventure Unleashed (______ __. _________)
Fiction. My daughter's self-published novel, the first in a fantasy trilogy.

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. Chapbook entry here.

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.

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).

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.

2.07.2012

On the nightstand

Our Town (Thornton Wilder)
Play. As with The Crucible (see last week's "On the nightstand"), I read this play in high school and college, then revisited it eight years ago, when my son was fourteen, the age my youngest is now. Over the past week, I returned to it yet again, this time in the company of the Misses. Related entry: "It takes life to love Life."

A Mass for the Dead (William Gibson)
Fiction. I pulled this down from the shelves after reading Girl Detective's challenge. She asks for a favorite book but then writes, "Gun to the head, about to depart for a desert island. What book (not the Bible or collected works of Shakespeare, but one work) do you pick?" Well, under those circumstances, I'd pick a book I'd always meant to read but had never gotten around to -- not a favorite (especially since I wouldn't be allowed to grab my Pelican Shakespeare).

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr)
Non-fiction. Nearly done.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Susan Cain)
Non-fiction. Nearly done. Related entry here.

Kill Shakespeare, Volume 1 (Conor McCreery)
Kill Shakespeare, Volume 2 (Conor McCreery)
Graphic fiction. Speaking of Girl Detective, I had thought that she was the one who prompted me to pick up Volume 1 last February, but I can't find a link on her site, and Yahoo! is proving most uncooperative this morning, so I can't search my mail archive. Well, Kill Shakespeare has made its way back onto the TBR pile, courtesy of Magnificent Octopus and, more recently, So Many Books.

Not pictured:
Wool 5 (Hugh Howey)
Fiction. A satisfying conclusion
to an compelling cycle. Wool deserves a much wider audience. Amazon Prime folk, you can read these books free on your Kindles. Non-Prime? We're talking ninety-nine cents for each of the first four volumes (on the Kindle); $2.99 for the final installment.

Stop Acting Rich... And Start Living Like a Real Millionaire (Thomas J. Stanley)
Non-fiction. Read this one on the Kindle and the iPad, whichever was within reach. Although it rehashes much of the data and ideas presented in The Millionaire Next Door, this volume offers excellent "sound bytes" parents can share with their children.
You can act rich or actually become rich. Few of us will ever be able to do both, and we certainly won't get rich by acting the part before we have the financial resources with which to pay for la dolce vita.

We live in a time when it has never been easier to act rich than to actually become rich, even with the devastation of the financial crisis. At the end of the day, not only are we bad actors because it is simply impossible for us to keep up with the glittering rich (if we buy one expensive, prestige car, they buy 20), but we are terribly misguided and ill informed about how millionaires really spend and what they actually buy.
We learn how to manage money (or not) in our families of origin. Let's arm our young people with alternatives to "Buy! Buy! Buy!"