books read: December
Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov
I picked this book up because during lunch before I went to work, I finished the book I had been reading. I searched and searched in Book Trader for something. Book Trader is one of those can't-go-there-to-find-something-specific bookstores. I grabbed this book because the copy I found was a limited edition with an interesting textured cover that had a modern painting on both the front and back. The book was excellent. I immediately recommended it to at least two or three readers I know. Nabokov has a way of weaving stories you'd never think to create yourself with human emotions, tendencies and specifics that make you think "I do that!" or "I know someone who would think like that!" His writing is also eloquent. I think what I admire most about good writing is when it seems to easily be Human. This book does just that. It waxes prosaic at some points, but mainly it is a story of a philosopher's love for his son, hate for the government, and stubbornness in the face of an old schoolyard rivalry. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading fiction. Vague, yes. But the book will fill in its own specifics.
The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell
I've read a more recent work, a book called The Wordy Shipmates, by Vowell in January 2009, before I started writing about the books I read. Vowell's writing has congealed more in her more recent work. Where The Partly Cloudy Patriot does its job as an excellent, funny, moving-at-times, historically accurate and smart liberal-minded book, The Wordy Shipmates takes all of that and makes it into one coherent narrative. The two perhaps should not be compared because one is a non-fiction book focused on the first settlers in America and their religious disputes while the other is a collection of Vowell's historical adventures, thoughts, emotions, researches. Perhaps what I found more appealing in the more recent book is its timelessness. Much of The Partly Cloudy Patriot revolves around Bush's second term election, which to me seems like old dead news. Though the essays on this topic are well-written, I do not think they will withstand the test of time like The Wordy Shipmates can and will. I cannot help but admire how one smart woman can write an excellent book of essays and mature enough to write an even better book focused on one topic. In The Partly Cloudy Patriot, I particularly enjoyed an essay called "The First Thanksgiving."
The Selected Poems of Alice Notley by Alice Notley
Notley's work is something to get your head around. She writes from the gut and the heart as though the two were intertwined. This book is a fantastic introduction to a variety of her capabilities. My favorite poem in it is called "The Prophet." I don't normally enjoy lengthy, confusing poems, but the repetition and slight moderations in its repetitiveness of this poem resound both verbally and emotionally. I also particularly liked "Dear Dark Continent" and "It Would," two shorter poems that strike hard and fast and force rereads.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
I believe I read this in high school, and it was the only book by John Steinbeck I thought, at the time, worth of publication. My opinions on this great American writing have changed a lot since then, and I did enjoy rereading this and enjoying it over again. Steinbeck writes the early twentieth century from a prosaic blue collar perspective in this novel. You open this book, and all of the frogs come bouncing out towards you.
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
This book is intensely moving, set up almost like a Guy Davenport collection where fiction and non-fiction seem blended together centered around a central theme. In this Kundera book, the theme is its title, and the book is excellent, if not memorable. While I remember reading and enjoying every story in this book, my memory of its characters' names and the plots of the story do not compare to how it felt, to the emotion that the process of reading this novel evoked. This is not to say I did not enjoy the book or would not recommend it. I enjoyed it immensely, and I do recommend it.
Her Husband: Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath by Diane Middlebrook
I believe that the first and last books I read in December were my favorite. This was one of my last purchases from the Strand during my tenure there, after I had "stopped" buying books, and I am glad for it. Middlebrook analyzes the two writers' relationship through their many biographers perspectives, their journals, the interviews conducted with each and both of them, and, most impressively, through their poetry. This is not a book of tabloid gossip, but a touching account of how intelligent human beings touch each other in life and in death. This book reinvigorated my interest in both Plath, Hughes, journaling and poetry in general. Reading this book made me want to read and write more poetry.