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Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I Read While Teaching Grammar (and other things) This Semester

If there is one thing I've learned being a professor at a University, it is to never make promises. Never promise you will have anything graded by a certain date. Never promise that something will or will not be on an exam. Never promise that something will be easier or more difficult than something else. Seeming objectivity becomes soft, marshmallow-like when entering the brains of students.

So when I promised myself that I would read more this semester than last semester, I should have known better.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy a few fabulous books this semester.


Books Read Fall 2010

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

I read this on recommendation from a friend of mine from the Philadelphia Folk Festival. It took me a couple of months to get through. Kesey's descriptions of Oregon are often long winded, but clear as blustery winter day. The events of the book don't span a long period of time, and a good reader can trace where they are going from early on in the plot, but the climax and conclusion of this novel are thrilling. Because the novel was arduous for me to read, I expected by the time I had finished it to dislike the book; however, the opposite happened. I felt as though all of the time it took me to read was part of the reading experience, and the novel was, in the end, worth every page and recommendable. Forgive Kesey the flowery, descriptive first twenty pages and acquaint yourself to his jumping from one character's brain to the next. He set out to write the Great American Novel, and he succeeded.

Richard Yates by Tao Lin

Tao Lin is a dichotomy waiting to happen. His work is completely polarizing amongst his readers. And among those who will call themselves fans, I would say that Lin manages to baffle me at times. Richard Yates is a semi-autobiographical 21st century novel of emotion and lack of emotion; it is set in New York and New Jersey. I read it quickly, and I enjoyed it, though I would have trouble explaining why. Lin's tone is addictive to read, and one quickly becomes immersed in his characters and cares about them while also hating them; then, the book is finished. And you wonder if you've been played. Nope, you just made it through your first (or second, or third, or...) book authored by Tao Lin.

Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett

This book came with a strong recommendation from Kathy Rooney. She said that it was funny and well written. This book was both of those things. Its clever title turns out to be highly relevant to the plot of the novel. Its characters, if you met them, would be people whom you would call "characters". Twin sisters front the cast list and they are as close and opposite as novelistic twins can get. I enjoyed this novel up until the end, when I felt vaguely let down by Willett. The whole novel seemed leading to a certain climax, and I found myself reading something not as thrilling as what I expected.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom was a gift from my friend, Jesse Coleman, that I requested and received in the mail. I heard an interview on NPR with Franzen and, via that, decided I wanted to read his newest novel. No, I have yet to read The Corrections, though I decided that Freedom would help me decide if I would ever crack the used paperback copy I have of that previous Franzen novel. Freedom was a fantastic literary journey. The author invested me in the characters, their personalities, woes, weaknesses, small joys and large sadnesses. My problems with this mostly stellar novel were not from a reader's standpoint. As a reader, Freedom was an enjoyable and entertaining character-driven 21st century and (mostly) post-9/11 novel. As an editor, though, I had some problems with how the story ended, neatly tied together with brown string, wrapped in a recyclable paper bag, and mailed off into the world to be read, and enjoyed, dammit, by all. I won't get specific, as to not give away any key plot points, but I wished it hadn't ended so... perfectly.


Endnote: Gigantic Sequins 2.1 is here! Get your copy today! Make it your winter vacation reading.

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