BOOKS: What I Read, August
Yeah, Labor Weekend. Meaning I get to work both today and on Monday, hurray! Although to be fair I get to make up for it with time off later. So it goes... Anyway, to break up your holiday weekend, let's do Chapter 8 of "Books I read," my brave attempt to chronicle an entire year's reading in this here blog. To recap, I read 10 books in August - a year-to-date high! - bringing the year's total* to 59. Here's August:
“Dress Your Children in Corduroy and Denim” by David Sedaris. (Re-read) Lots of fun, and great breezy vacation reading by one of my favorite humorists.
"California's Over" by Louis B. Jones. Picked up this novel on a whim while back visiting in California; I liked the title. Turned out to be an excellent read, a sprawling bittersweet tale set in the '70s and '90s about post-hippie youth losing their idealism. Jones has a stylish, lush writing voice that echoes the longing, lost nature of his characters.
“Heroes and Monsters" and "A Blazing World” by Jess Nevins, "The Unofficial Companion To The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" comics by Alan Moore. It's hard to imagine most comics meriting a couple of hundred pages' worth of annotations, but Moore's "League" comics, steeped in Victorian fantasy esoterica, sure do. (Please, put any and all thought of the godawful "League" movie abortion from your mind, it has nothing to do with this.) I've always had an affinity for the Victorian speculative literature and Nevins takes you on a fascinating, digression-filled tour through the world recreated in Moore and Kevin O'Neill's two "League" series to date. The ultimate in comics geekdom, perhaps, but also incredibly rich with literary lore.
“Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare” by Stephen Greenblatt has a tough task — writing a biography of a man dead 500 years, who although legendary little concrete is known about his life. It's immensely speculative about Shakespeare's life, tracing the few clues about who he was and making guesses galore. What makes it work is Greenblatt's extraordinary knowledge of the era, his readable style and the sense he's not just making it up as he goes. As a guide to both Elizabethan-era life and a thoughtful look at how Shakespeare became a legend, it's worth a read, and it definitely increased my appreciation for the Bard. But if your patience is tested by speculation, look elsewhere. If you can accept that the full truth of Shakespeare's life will never be known, it's very satisfying.
“Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain is a book I've been meaning to read, one star chef's gossipy, unrestrained tour of his world. Rawer and more titilating than I expected! I will never order seafood on a Monday again. Bourdain's got attitude to spare, but he's also quite open about his own shortcomings. Kind of like Julia Child crossed with Hunter S. Thompson.
“Living Among Headstones: Life in A Country Cemetery” by Shannon Applegate. This local author lives just 20 miles or so up the road from me, in a flyspeck town named Yoncalla, where she's the cemetery sexton and descended from a prominent pioneer family. In this quite well-written, informative tome, she meditates both on her own experience caring for an aging graveyard and on death and dying in general in our culture. It's quite a good book, one I'd read even if I hadn't been sent a review copy for work, with a nice contemplative tone I enjoyed. It's marred a bit by a few too many really poor proofreading errors that caught my editor's eye, which is a shame because it's put out by a fancy fairly major publisher and all. Otherwise, solid and thought-provoking.
"The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester (re-read). In the ongoing quest to thin out books from the herd, re-read this ode to word lovers before passing it on to the book store; still a fine read, combining mystery and murder with a detailed history of the Oxford English Dictionary and how it came to be.
"Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami is this Japanese writer's latest; and I'll review it soon for a separate post I'm working on about his amazing work.
"The girl in the flammable skirt : stories" by Aimee Bender. Still reading this, but most of the way through. I've heard Bender's name and decided to check her out. She does highly surreal, strange, regret-soaked short stories that are based on the most oddball of premises – a woman gives birth to her own mother, a man pretends to be a hunchback to win love, a mermaid and imp fall in love — but she grounds them in true feeling. Still, I kind of felt like a little bit of whimsy goes a long way, and some of these stories tilted too much toward cutesy or ambiguous for my tastes. Still, a very original voice.
*[The year to date posts: January, February, March, April, May , June and July ]