Obviously, as you can see, I’ve had another big month when it comes to reading. With the new semester coming up, I wanted to clear off as much of my Kindle TBR list as possible. Seeing as it is break time, it shouldn’t be surprising, but even I am astounded by how much I was able to cross off. Mainly, I don’t have much for writing work to do. This makes me a little sad, but the break is needed.
First, Americanah has been sitting on my list for over a year. I’ve really wanted to read this author but kept putting off this large book. Finally, I got to it. Although I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped, a lot of it got to me. I really like the way she drew a picture of America, showing how race appears from an outsider’s perspective. In an interview, she said it was supposed to be funny, and I agree. Many parts had me laughing. On top of this, the love story wasn’t bad either. It felt very realistic, especially under the immense changes for the characters and the country.
Then I finished a book I had partly read, When to Rob a Bank. I started this over a year ago, but found the small chapters and stories a bit slow. I pushed myself through it, enjoyed a lot—especially as this is from the guys who did Freakonomics—but still wanted some more in-depth reasoning.
My next venture, The Gateless Gate, was a PDF I downloaded over three years ago. I keep looking at it and passing it up. I’m sorry I did. It was a quick read, but also represented the quintessential aspects of mysticism. I adored it. Every small tale was accompanied by comments by the master and this helped open up these Koans, which at times are quite complex. If you like this stuff, this one’s good.
Only now do I realize how long I’ve put off so many of these. My next one is Phillip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint. I read a short by Roth a long time ago—university to be exact—and enjoyed it. I rather enjoy these strong Jewish characters, and Portnoy’s didn’t disappoint. Many parts had me laughing out loud, even though later on the whiny voice of Portnoy did get a little grating. Overall, I can see why it grabbed so much attention when it was first released. I would never ask another human being to read it without a preface about the excessive talk of sex and masturbation in it.
Then I took up Bird by Bird. This is not that old, but I want to read it because of all the acclaim I saw on the net. Unfortunately, it didn’t really offer much. A lot of the tales were interesting, but too much were snarky remarks or rambling. In a way, what she said made sense, especially that being most writers don’t make enough to support themselves and that publishing shouldn’t be the big take-all goal, but the rest fell, well, kind of flat. Maybe the hype outdid it.
Then I read Ham on Rye because I haven’t read any Bukowski for roughly twenty years now. Right after high school, I went on a big Bukowski / Vonnegut binge, but haven’t touched much of the former since. I really enjoyed again the character of Hank. I’ve forgotten why I was so drawn to not only the writing but the author as well, and this book really explored the early years of the writer so it was even more of an interesting read. Definite request.
This book was odd. How to Get Rich in Rising Asia. Besides being set-up as a How-to book, I didn’t even know I had bought it. Searching my book cloud, I found it. Supposedly I snagged it this past summer. Huh? Regardless, I jumped into it, and it was heavy on all the verbiage, with long jaw-breaker sentences, like a lot of Post Modern Lit, but it fell short. For one, the characters weren’t too attractive. Secondly, the finally feeling seemed to just be saying, Hey! You don’t need to be rich! I got through all that for such a simple message? The only thing I enjoyed is how a lot what happened in this impoverished situation fell in-line with a lot of the modern theories of how poor countries get rich. Besides that, I call it a wash.
I picked up this next book last year when writing my first YA book. Lost Horizon. It was short, to the point, and…intriguing. All the hype about Shangri-La and the characters that inhabit it are well-deserved. The pace was a little bit lagging, but how the world slowly developed and opened up was perfect. It came off believable and enticing. Afterwards, I really felt it would be amazing for some place like this to exist.
Then on to YA—The Thousandth Floor. It was a monster read, but like all YA, took little time to digest. What do you expect from something that is usually just loosely tied plot points with shallow thinking? And, even though it hit a lot of the tropes of bad YA—useless, repetitive thinking and mind-boggling connections to grandiose things—overall, the plot wasn’t half bad. A lot of it linked up and had great tension, even if I wasn’t sure why it was in the future with all of this other crap going on. If not for the weak writing, the story wouldn’t be half bad.
As if to dove-tail this bad writing, I read Aspects of the Novel next. It’s actually based of many lectures Forrester gave to a university. So right away, it had a strange vibe to it. Although a lot of his chapters delved into unbelievably specific examples of books that for the most part aren’t too prevalent nowadays, I did like a lot of his explanations. Supposedly James Patterson was a big fan of this. I’m not sure why. Still, overall, it was just okay.
On my wife’s prodding, I picked up Inquisitor’s Tale. Just at a glance, I already knew it was set up like Canterbury Tales. At first, I enjoyed the tales being told this way with spectator commentary breaking up the flow from time to time. And in fact, the first few tales were scintillating. Sadly, that didn’t last long. By the time our three protagonists finally meet-up, the steam ran out for this tale, and dragged until it hit a mediocre end. If you like middle grade stories that start with a bang and crashes fast, then pick it up.
Moving on—I trounced Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. Clearly a reference to Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Englander delivers the same caliber shorts he’s known for. Though all didn’t hit perfectly, many were outstanding and delivered shocking power. Again, the book was riddled with strong Jewish characters, and heavily detailed Post Modern writing, but Englander hit every note perfectly. Good.
With Egan’s book under my belt from last month, I thought I would try another Pulitzer winner with Tinkers. Yuck! Again, it was riddled with an unnecessary amount of details and descriptions which many reviewed as bringing everything to life, but under it was very little story, especially for the first, roughly half. Then finally story kicks in, things happen, but the heavy-handedness keeps ruining everything, and by the end—yeah!—we find out life is great and worth the living, and dying is like a clock. Pass on his next book.
My wife, having read my book, asked how it sized up to other modern books, so I decided to read The Woman in Cabin 10. I read Girl on the Train last year, and liked it, but—wow!—this thing stank. It was like a resizing of all the current female-murder hits. On top of it, the protagonist is saddled with annoy—what?—claustrophobia / anxiety / a million other phobias, so that every moment is ‘vertiginous.’ Seriously, the word vertigo was thrown around quite a bit, and the repetitive thinking bombed the two-thirds of the story. It only got good at the end, and still the writing was abysmal.
Last, I did a reread for my students—Trevor Noah’s awesome autobiography, Born a Crime. Not even a half a year later and still it blows so many other books away. Why can’t others learn to tie things together like this? On top of this, I was surprised how much I had forgotten. Reviewing over it, I got a lot and the emotional punches still rang strong and vibrant. Read it—please!
Progress on 2018 goals
1) Finish Brief Lives / Query / Synopsis: Done / 2 letters / halfway: Done
2) New project: Something brewing to do with graphic novels. Working on it.
3) Student workbook: More than half written out. Still looking into template.
4) Spring Reading:
J.R.: Not started
Quixote: Not started
5) Read 75 books: 30!—It’s been a crazy two months.
Next Month’s Agenda
Within a day or two, my beta readers should be done with Brief Lives. When they are, I hope to start sending it out to agents. The way they are reacting, and seeing as quite a few were positive to my last one, I hope this one will be the start of something good.