Friday, October 7, 2005

BOOKS: What I Read, September

I know, I know, but it's been that kind of week, battling a cold, 88-page magazines to put together, stories to write, cats to shave, etc etc. Anyway before October becomes November, we must do Books I Read, Chapter 9, my exhaustive and exhausting attempt to catalogue one man's yearly reading.
Last month, I fell off the wagon and only read 6 books, way down from 10 in August. Blame TV time, my increased exercise regime and trying to spend a little more time with the boy. And crack. Crack was the big culprit, really.

Anyway, the year's total now stands at 65 books as of Oct. 1*, meaning I probably won't reach 100 by year's end but let's pretend I instead said that I was going to read 88 books in one year and that I will indeed reach that goal.

Read in September:
“Something Rotten,” fourth and final in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. I've quite liked this series, which is science-fiction, lit-geek humor and a decent adventure series all wrapped together, filled with trivia for the book nuts. The adventures of "literary detective" Thursday Next come to a close (hopefully just for a temporary break), and Fforde manages to tie together the approximately 542 plot threads running through the last three books into a compelling, surprisingly emotional conclusion. More!

“She’s Come Undone" by Wally Lamb (re-read). One of my favorite books back from 6-7 years ago, decided to read it again. A comic, heartbreaking journey of one woman's journey to self-reliance, it could be all Hallmark Channel but author Lamb really balances pathos and tragedy with wit, like a young John Irving. Yeah, it was in Oprah's Book Club, but don't hold that against it. A great novel worth returning to every so often.

“Comics Creators on the Fantastic Four," interviews by Tom DeFalco. Flame on! Reviewed here.

"The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe. Been meaning to read this history of the early days of space exploration for years, and I finally saw the movie a few months ago and quite enjoyed it. Wolfe's highly caffeinated, sprawling style isn't always my cup of tea (he! writes! like! this!), but once you get into the rhythms of it, it's a zippy, fun read. It's hard to imagine what folks like Chuck Yeager or John Glenn went through in those distant days risking death at every turn, and Wolfe really brings you back into a bygone era.

"Bushworld" by Maureen Dowd. The New York Times columnist puts out a hefty tome of her writings on the Bush family, from the first President Bush on up to the 2004 election. I quite dig Dowd's style, fully of witty metaphors, indignation and insight on the Bush cartel's inexplicable hold on the American imagination these past 20 years. Yeah, it's a liberal lollapalooza, but obviously if you read this you're probably angling toward her views anyway. Still, at around 500 pages, it's a kind of thick collection – column collections work better for me in smaller doses, and after a while, the writing all blends together a bit. It could've been edited tighter into a true "best of" collection and been about half the size. That said, I think Dowd's one of the best Bush critics writing today, and she's almost always worth reading.

"The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest To Become The Smartest Person In The World" by A.J. Jacobs. So one day Esquire magazine editor A.J. Jacobs decided to read the encyclopedia -- all 32 volumes, 44 million words of the 2002 Encyclopedia Britannica, that is. It's part of his semi-serious desire to improve his intelligence, and in the process it becomes a lot more in this terrific, funny and trivia-packed book. A.J. ends up meeting Alex Trebek and appearing on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?", visiting other encyclopedic minds, and also dealing with he and his wife's desperate desire to have a child. Peppered with esoteric facts from his reading, "The Know-It-All" is both memoir and miniature encyclopedia on its own. The format is nice - modeled after the encyclopedia, it follows him alphabetically as he reads like a diary, cutting back and forth between his real life, his reading and pleasurable little digressions. It's a heck of a fun book, I thought.

For some reason, I really identified with Jacobs, and his veritable addiction to knowledge-gaining. I've been feeling a lot like him lately, as if I have to read all the books in the world and have only so much time to do so. Not sure if this is something to do with having a kid – I must give him all the answers! — or just a consequence of age. I feel all twitchy if I'm NOT in the middle of a book lately, like, I'm wasting time! Like A.J., when I was younger I was convinced I was far smarter than the average bear. These days, I feel a little dumber every year, when I realize the vast gap of things I *don't* know about (ask me to do some home improvement sometime, and you'll see what I mean). Anyway, "The Know-It-All" is kind of a gimmicky read, yeah, but it's aware of that -- it's both life-affirming in its weird way and doesn't take itself too seriously, and well worth reading for any book-a-holics like myself. One of my favorite books of the year.

*[Fine print: The year to date posts: January, February, March, April, May , June, July and finally, August!]

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