And I think it's clear that what this really means is I need more time to myself.
Anyway, here's what I did manage to read in the last three months:
Everything written by Jane Austen (minus Pride and Prejudice, which I reread earlier this year): A movie version of Mansfield Park piqued my interest in that book, which I don't think I had ever read, and from there, I moved onto Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. I might have stopped there if it hadn't been for a nonfiction look at the lessons of Austen's novels -- I'll get to that in a minute -- which then made reading Sense and Sensibility and Emma a necessity. I love these books. Pride and Prejudice is far and away my favorite, but there's something to love about each of them. I feel like they're old friends with whom time spent is never wasted.
A Jane Austen Education, William Deresiewicz: This is the nonfiction that kept me on the Austen kick. This is part memoir, part dissertation as Deresiewicz dissects each novel for the life lesson it taught him. This was an entertaining, heartwarming and interesting little book.
The Wichita Divide, David Singular: This is about the war over abortion using as a backdrop the shooting of an abortion doctor in Kansas, which is historically a divided, watershed state for this and other political issues. This book was fascinating. The journalism involved was impressive and the writing was clear and suspenseful. This book also got me all riled up. I like it when a book does that.
Evil for Evil and Mortal Peril, James R. Benn: These were the sixth and seventh -- fifth and sixth? -- books in the Billy Boyle detective series. Boyle is a secret investigator for "Uncle Ike" in WWII. I like these books and enjoy the history Benn packs into the action, however, the plot holes -- tiny, but ever-present -- are starting to bother me.
Pedophile Priest, ??: I don't remember the author and am too lazy to look it up. This was a Kindle single and well worth the 99 cents I paid for it. The writing is bad, but the story -- it's nonfiction -- is gripping, as well as vomit-inducing and rage-making. It's amazing to me what the Catholic church has allowed -- what so many institutions (cough*Penn State*cough) have allowed.
Getaway Car, Ann Patchett: Another Kindle single. I had just read State of Wonder and was curious what Patchett might have to say about writing. Here it is: It's hard work.
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: This book was one of my favorites of 2011. It's full of many of the things I like in a book: fine writing, a love story with a good supporting cast, a historical setting and magical realism.
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach: I do not understand the critical praise for this book. I love a good book with baseball as a metaphor for life. (See: the works of W.P. Kinsella) I'm game for quirky characters and love a good struggling author story, so when I read an article about the trials of getting this book published, that and the plot synopsis -- in extremely short: baseball player is perfect then not after a freak accident -- had me all set to love the book. I didn't. I thought it was slow and ham-handed. I enjoyed parts, but really, it seemed like a Nanowrimo novel.
This was the beginning of a series of not-good books that I'm blaming, in part, for my end-of-the-year reading slowdown. Those books were:
- The Ballad of Tom Dooley, Sharyn McCrumb: Good premise (recreating the story behind a real ballad) was killed by repetitive writing and spectacularly nasty characters.
- The Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks: Again, interesting premise (fiction about a young adult exiled as a sex predator) destroyed by unlikeable characters, silly plot twists and opaque writing.
- The Fall of the House of Walworth: Nonfiction that suffered from so-so writing.
- The Zookeeper's Wife, Diane Ackerman: This is nonfiction about a Polish couple who hid Jews during WWII in their zoo. Interesting, but it's not as much about the wife as the title would have you believe and I never felt like I knew the people. It's sort of a series of "then this happened."
- We The Animals, Justin Torres: This is a slim and, I assume, autobiographical first novel about three biracial brothers. It's a coming of age story. Some of it is a little over-written. Mostly, it just wasn't my cup of tea.
But I will recommend the book because it was poignant and honest and thought-provoking. It is nonfiction from a Vietnam veteran -- and Rhodes Scholar -- about what it's like to be a modern soldier and return from war, as well as his thoughts on what it should be like. It made me think about how I ought to be raising my sons. I read Marlantes' novel about Vietnam, Matterhorn, early in the year because he was coming to a book fair in my area, and it was brilliant. I do not like war novels generally, but that book was wonderful. I highly recommend both.
What have you been reading lately?