Reading life review: April

Books read in April: 13
Books read in 2012: 43

The Fiddler in the Subway (Gene Weingarten)
Essays; journalism. I begin and set aside many worthwhile books -- books I thoroughly enjoy and/or appreciate as I am reading them but inexplicably "forget" to finish. These abandoned friends end up at the bottom of a towering book stack of reproach or, as is the case with Fiddler, shelved. A couple of weeks prior to seeing Joshua Bell at Symphony Center (related entry here), I wanted to share Weingarten's Pulitzer Prize-winning feature "Pearls before Breakfast" with the Misses. "I have that book," I thought. But, as it turned out, I had never finished it; I had shelved it. I have finished it now, though. Contents include the heartbreaking and difficult story "Fatal Distraction," which earned him his second Pulitzer; "Fear Itself"; and "The Peekaboo Paradox" (retitled "The Great Zucchini" in the collection).

Mr. Monster (Dan Wells)
I Don't Want to Kill You (Dan Wells)
Fiction. After reading I Am Not a Serial Killer two years ago, I wrote, in part, "Wow! I haven't met a sociopath this interesting since Joyce Carol Oates' Zombie." The two follow-up novels are nearly as compelling as Wells' mixed-genre (psychological thriller / mystery / horror) introduction to John Wayne Cleaver.

The Memory Palace (Mira Bartók)
Memoir. In her NYT review of The Memory Palace, Melanie Thernstrom writes:
Bartok’s tone shifts frustratingly from intimate and confessional to distant and elusive. Boyfriends appear and disappear with little or no explanation. In one section she has met a man; the next section opens a year into their crumbling marriage. Then, suddenly, she is engaged to a different man, about whom we learn almost nothing.
Since she so incisively describes Bartók's narrative device -- the fable-based metaphor of the memory palace -- it seems frustratingly obtuse of Thernstrom to accuse Bartók of shifts in tone. To me, the "broken," disjointed, and even opaque nature of parts of this beautifully, magically wrought narrative is precisely what one would expect from a writer who had not only endured sustained horror during childhood but had also suffered traumatic brain injury in adulthood. In other words, Bartók's memory palace must, by unintended design, possess unfurnished, incomplete, and dark rooms. Highly recommended, particularly to fans of Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle.

Going Bovine (Libba Bray)
Fiction. Granted, it's an utterly unrelated context, but I couldn't help but hear Charlie bellowing, "I'll show you the life of the mind! I'll show you the life of the mind!" (Barton Fink, 1991) as I read Bray's teacup-ride of a novel. After all, what are we shown if not the emotionally rich life of a dying teenager's mind (and a wry, observant, and imaginative teenager, at that)? Come for the clever chapter titles ("In Which a Brief Sanctuary Is Found, I Fail to Comprehend Jazz, and I Am Forced to Have a Conversation with My [expletive] Father"), and stay for the physics, the references to don Quixote, and all of the truth good fiction tells.

Timon of Athens (William Shakespeare)
Play. With the Misses, in anticipation of this (which was absolutely terrific, by the way; related entry here).

The Pen Commandments (Steven Frank)
Non-fiction. With the Misses, who, although they are far from reluctant writers, both responded to Frank's playful, youth-oriented humor. They agreed that students would appreciate his clear approach to what, for some, is a painful exercise. Recommended.

The Difference (Jean Chatzky)
Non-fiction. Chatzky was a guest on one or another WGN program a few months back, and her pragmatic financial sense was appealing. When asked to give the audience a plug, she referred listeners to her website and The Difference. The book seems to be pitched to those who have made or are making a number of financial errors (e.g., failing to save), but it could be used as an introduction to the subject of personal finance.

iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us (Larry D. Rosen)
Non-fiction. I think an ad for this appeared in the same issue of The Atlantic that carried the feature "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" Appreciative of the synchronicity, serendipity, and synthesis at work, I read Rosen's survey of the mental health concerns amplified and exacerbated by the overuse of technology -- on the Kindle. Heh, heh, heh. The chapters on narcissism and OCD are particularly eye-opening.

The Lifeboat (Charlotte Rogan)
Fiction. One of the books Aunt M-mv gave me for my birthday, this is a competently written first novel with a neat hook: A young widow narrates (unreliably, of course) her tale of survival following the sinking of the luxury ship on which she and her new husband had been passengers. Related article here.

Retirement without Borders (Barry Golson)
The World's Top Retirement Havens (ed. Margaret J. Goldstein)
Let's Go: Peru, Ecuador & Bolivia (ed. Michelle R. Bowman)
Non-fiction. Yes, there is a theme here, and, yes, more titles like this will likely appear on my reading lists in the coming years as this is a topic that greatly interests us. Some related links here, here, and (less sunny) here. This article may also interest some of you, by the way: "What's a Gap Year and Why Might You Need One?" (Entrepreneur, April 7) Cool, right?