Books Read :: January 2016

This concluded my "winter break" reads & dove into the beginning of the semester! These books were a great way to start the year. I feel like I read pretty diversely this past month? What a read spanned over time--most of it in the 20th century, but then some Plato. I read men and women, I read American and non-American writers, I read things in translation as well as things written originally in English. I read plays, novels, poetry, philosophy. I didn't really think, when I was doing this reading, about how wide of a scope I was covering compared to past months, but now that I look at, it's interesting to note.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
This was a book I checked out from the Breaux Bridge Library, but now will, for sure, have to acquire a copy. Ernest J. Gaines is a Louisiana-born writer, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has a center named after him that houses resources about him and his work. He's UL's writer-in-residence Emeritus, and after going to a lecture by a scholar on his work, I knew I needed to catch up and read something by him. I kept thinking, while I was reading this novel, that it was crazy I had never read it before. I also kept thinking that it would be a great teaching tool, that high schools and maybe even Freshman Writer Centers across America would benefit from teaching this book. I read it relatively quickly and would read it again. Kathleen Rooney referred to it, when I told her I was reading it and was surprised I hadn't been made to read it in high school or before, as a "modern classic," and I agree. It's the story of an man who's sentenced by death for a crime he didn't commit and a local schoolteacher who is expected to teach him to be a man before his death. The community they inhabit is a plantation post-emancipation in mid-twentieth century Louisiana, and the book is extremely real, moving, and important--it feels important when you're reading it, and it feels important when you've finished. Read this book.

The Nonconformist's Memorial by Susan Howe
I read a work of lit crit by Susan Howe for my Early American class last semester, and borrowed two books of her poetry to read through over break. This was the one I got around to. Her work seems scattered in a controlled way, and carefully researched, but extremely interested in pushing the boundaries of the limits of poetry. The book was first published the same year as the Gaines novel I read, which is an interesting side note, 1993, and I'm curious what her work is like now that word processing software exists, as she tended to play with the placement of the words on a page that move likely involved not only interesting manipulations of the typewriter, but even perhaps some cutting and pasting. I'll have to catch myself up with a newer edition of her poetry to see the direction in which her poetry headed.

Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates
This book seemed appropriate to read right before the semester began for a few reasons: it was about university students and I was about to head back to university; it was by a largely famous author who I'd never read outside of the assigned story here and there before, though I've heard speak/read from her work; and was relatively short, so I knew I'd finish in time for the semester to start. It read like a novella--the characters were at times pointedly under-developped and there was one, clear major conflict. I liked how it brought me back to a time when women at university were treated much differently than we're treated now.

Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 by Bendis Gaydos
Ian got me this for Christmas, and my only complaint about it is now I have to get/find/read the rest of them! I was hoping they'd have a collected version of them all together at one of the two libraries I have access to here, but no luck! Also, now I know I want to watch the TV show, and the reading I have to do this semester really leaves little time for TV. Geoff and I are watching Boardwalk Empire at night, and when I'm eating lunch, I zone out to Sailor Moon and/or Law & Order SVU because they're shows I can have on and don't need to pay attention to. Anyway, I really ripped through this, and I'm eager to read the rest.

The New Testament by Jericho Brown
Jericho Brown came and read last November in Louisiana at the Festival of Words, and I got the chance to buy this off of him there and have him inscribe it to me. While I was reading this, I felt lucky to have seen him read because I could hear him reading the poems to me in my head as I read them to myself. Knowing a little about his background from what he told us at the reading and from what I've read about him online, following him on twitter and such, also gave me insight into his work, though even without either of these things, I know I still would have enjoyed this collection immensely. I recommend it, for sure, for anyone interested in the best of what's being published of 21st century poetry. 

Phaedrus by Plato
This was something I had to read for school that felt a bit elusive to me out of context, but when we talked about it in class, I got more out of it than I had just reading it alone. 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
This was a reread for me, but Nabokov is a joy to read and reread and reread again and over and over. The intricacies! His sentences! The characters he builds! The places he takes you! The way you seem to have fully entered the mind of someone but knowing at the same time you'll never be able to explore it all! How every little meta-detail is a clue, a detail, something that adds up to something larger that if you only had time you could write and write and write about. Lolita! Goodness, what a great book for all these reasons and more. So glad I got to reread it. I hope I get to reread Bend Sinister soon and maybe read some of his work I haven't read yet.

The Typists & The Tiger by Murray Schisgal
I really enjoyed these two plays, and I am glad we read The Typists first--it's the first in the slim collection I have of them. I would be interested in seeing a staged version of either. They're strange, two-person plays that unfold in ways you wouldn't expect-- almost everything one might want in good, tight theater. I don't read many plays, but I particularly enjoyed these.

No-No Boy by John Okada
We read this for my Modern American class, and I feel like I learned a lot from it, while enjoying the book at the same time. The story surrounding how its author faded into obscurity and passed away just before his novel was rediscovered by writers who then tried to find and meet him is really sad, and the story that the novel tells of a no-no boy on the West Coast is equally as sad, but I liked to think that the novel ended with a sort of hope not previously felt in the drama and contemplations that happen within the action of the book leading to the end. The novel really pulls you into the main character's head and lets you go back in time to a time and place and most likely a person who you aren't and would never be, yet you are able to stand in his shoes. Great book that I hope finds itself read more widely more often.


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