The first month of my summer reading plan was very successful. The white whale has been conquered, and I was pleased with how substantial the rest of the reading I managed during the month was.
1. Behind My Eyes by Li-Young Lee (5/5) - This collection left me feeling overwhelmed. Thematically, there’s a lot of talk about different kinds of identity and what purpose, exactly, god serves. I will, at some point, use some of these to show my students what it looks like to write interestingly about religion. But, in the end, what always gets me are the details he uses and the sound of his language. Lee is such a beautiful writer.
2. The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace (4/5) - I really don’t know what to think about this book. It was brilliant, but also very strange. There were plenty of times when I couldn’t help feeling that what he needed was someone to tell him “no,” but then I wondered if I might be missing something. In any case, it’s good and often funny, but I do find it lacking self-control. It could have been much tighter.
3. The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy (4.5/5) - I liked pretty much everything about this book. The prose is just gorgeous. And the two central characters get full and honest portrayals. Her willingness to be totally honest with her characters allows her the wonderful, jarring, and totally realistic ending that finishes the book. If there is a negative, it’s in the way the ancillary characters are treated. We’re never allowed to really see them. We aren’t supposed to, I guess, but it would have been interesting to get more of them. Still, a very good book.
5. The Paris Review #201 (3.5/5) - This was my first subscription issue of The Paris Review. Thrilled as I am to have such a great literary magazine heading my way every three months, I found this issue a bit underwhelming. The only thing that genuinely blew me away was a short story by Lorrie Moore. It didn’t help that the two interviews were with writers I don’t care for (Terry Southern and Bret Easton Ellis). Anyway, this is going to be an oddity, I’m sure. I’m not always going to agree with their taste. Nor should I.
6. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (5/5) - For a long time, Moby-Dick has had special significance for me. Going back to high school, it was the book I always felt like you had to read to consider yourself well read. I’d read Billy Budd in college and hated it. And then there’s the reputation Moby-Dick has for being excessively difficult and rambling. But last year I read The Art of Fielding, which sites Moby-Dick approximately 5,000 times and I thought, “Well, I guess it’s time to tackle that.” I was intimidated and I was prepared to hate it. I didn’t need to be. Moby-Dick is fantastic. It’s also charming, funny (yes, it is), and tragic.
I finished the book thinking that I doubt anyone has ever done better than that. It is an absolute masterpiece. I also think I read it at exactly the right time. It is a very adult book. If I’d read it in high school or college, I wouldn’t have understood it at all. So many of the complaints are about all the non-fictional digressing Melville does, but reading the book, I found these digressions absolutely essential. Moby-Dick is not a novel about people. In fact, there aren’t really characters so much as archetypes with names. Rather, it is a novel about a way of life. Reading the book, I couldn’t help feeling that Melville’s intent was not to make me empathize with anyone character so much as to make me empathize with the way whalers (and even the whales they hunted) lived. On that ground, he is eminently successful.
Summer Book Queue:
- 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy