I read a lot of books, and I have been bulk-reviewing (it used to be at the end of a semester, now it’s just whenever the stack gets high enough) for two years or more now. This isn’t a complete list of things I’ve read– research books, for example, were largely left out. I also occasionally forget to include a title. I have read a lot more, so if you’re curious to know my thoughts on something, ask.
Also, I love recommendations. I take them very seriously. A lot of books that I read come to me as recommendations.
My ratings tend to be somewhat relative. Also, I’m defining “World Lit” as basically works in translation outside of the classical canon.
Art and Art History:
The Colonial Harem by Malek Alloula – Great
A great expose of colonial-era French Orientalizing postcards. I know that sentence sounds weird, but that’s what this book is. It looks at a body of 50 or so images that romanticize Moorish and North African women for a French market. The essay that Alloula has composed to go with it is thoughtful and insightful– I really admire the job he has done looking at colonialism and exploitation through a different but very concrete lens. Can you tell I did a lot of my work around Orientalism and Colonialism this semester?
Islamophobia by Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg – Good
This book focused on the treatment of Islam in political cartoons at several key junctures in history. The argument here that I thought was both different and worthwhile was that Islamophobia is not new and is not an isolated reflection on the events of 9/11– it has a history reaching back to the Crusades, according to the authors. They do a rather nice job outlining this history, identifying the key places where visual Islamophobia and Anti-Islam stereotyping have run rampant, and outlining national and cultural symbols which have been weaponized in the process. It’s a niche read, but it’s very interesting, and very approachable. It probably honestly deserves a better rating than I’ve given it here.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, illustrated by Gustave Dore – Fantastic
Dore’s work is beautiful, and this is one of his last literary illustrations– second to last, if I remember correctly. The two pieces lend themselves to each other. The compositions Dore creates are really daring and beautiful, and the depth and variety of shade is breathtaking. I’m a printmaker, also, so I’m somewhat biased. However, I also have yet to meet a person who is not taken with the power and precision of Dore’s illustration.
Classic (Greco-Roman) Literature:
Aeneid by Virgil – blech
Sucked. Burn your copies. The Odyssey is better. Aeneas is a dumb, pious asshole and a piece of propaganda. Yes, I’m being harsh. Yes, I mean it.
The Epic of Gilgamesh — fantastic
This is how you know I’m a classicist at heart. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s the world’s earliest recorded example of bromance. It’s fragmented, but that’s part of the lure. Even with chunks missing, it’s still an interesting and meaningful story.
The Golden Ass by Apuleius – FANTASTIC
Oh, this is a good book. It is an ancient text, from Rome, and features multiple instances of life-saving explosive diarrhea. Also, it tells the tale of Psyche, at length. I’m not sure I need to say anything other than that. Enjoy.
The Symposium by Plato – Fantastic
So, this was the first thing I read this summer. Nerd, party of one. I missed my Greeks. I missed my Plato. I needed to know all about the rotary octopods (Aristophanes) and I needed my dosage of Alcibiades. Who doesn’t, really? What I like about this dialogue is that it’s whimsical, silly, and thoughful, while still representing a lot of different, totally understandable (or absurd) views on love, its nature, and its meaning. Also, some of the descriptions of Socrates cracked me up.
Theogony by Hesiod – Good
Yes, I’m a total dork. Deal with it as you will. Two entertaining observations came of this work: SHIT, ANOTHER REFERENCE TO DELPHI I MISSED, DAMMIT! and the much more mild-mannered “Why do Greeks eat their problems?” Seriously. Kronos, you have a baby on the way who’s going to be a problem. Kronos: OM NOM NOM! Hey Zeus, you’ve got a problem baby on the way, and your wife’s already preggers. Zeus: That’s okay. I’ll eat her. OM NOM NOM.
Fantasy and Science Fiction:
This book is a novel which uproots the gods and goddesses of Greece and deposits them in London. Sparing a few raised eyebrows about characterization, it is an exceptionally funny read, and I highly reccomend it. If for no other reason, read it to find out where Zeus is.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – FANTASTIC
Go go read it now. Just do yourself the favor. Do it for Dog. Do it for the innumerable number of times that Queen’s Greatest Hits is the punchline of the joke. Do it for the Tibetans. Do it for the descriptions of Aziraphale’s long-ignored cocoa cup contents.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones – STILL AWESOME.
Yeah, this is a re-read. I discovered that it had sequels, which meant that I had to re-read it to read the sequel. I freaking love this book. I always will. If you need to read something creepy and interesting and fantastic, read it. I’ve pawned it off on a handful of people already, and if you wish to have it pawned upon you, let me know. See? I like it so much I’ll share.
Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susan Clarke – FANTASTIC
I plowed through this big book in a week. I’d been putting it off all summer because it was big and black and imposing looking. I figured if I started it, it would eat up the rest of my reading time, especially after reading Wally Lamb’s book, which was also lengthy. It’s like if Harry Potter was suddenly a well written Victorian novel, without any of the stupid plot holes, incorrectly portrayed mythological creatures, or annoying mounds of whiny characters. Clarke creates an alternate version of the past that is both intriguing and convincing. Her plot is complex, and her take on fairies is good– they aren’t wee pixies, they’re full-sized and pretty much clinically insane. I think one of the most interesting things about this book is the interactions between the church and magic. No butting heads at all– indeed, the first act of magic takes place in a church (although the clergy and congregation have no part or presence). It’s a really, really, really good book. That’s three reallys. It’s grammar-defyingly good. I think I’m going to do a drawing of Crazy!Strange and the pillar of darkness. Incidentally, this is also the first book in a long time that I’ve read that has a “maybe, someday…” style ending that didn’t make me all stabby, and didn’t make me go “okay, where’s the sequel?”
The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle – okay
HAD GREAT PICTURES. Love the pictures. Seriously. However, if you’ve seen the movie, you’ve read the book, with the exception of Hagsgate, basically. I was impressed with how similar it was to the movie. I felt like it was word for word in places. I’d have enjoyed it more without the movie running absently through the back of my mind.
Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin – Good
Again, I’m not usually on the side of the sci-fi, but this was a recommendation from a professor. It was good, strange, and took a while for me to get into. LeGuin’s names are long and ridiculous, but she does a good job emulating the sense of frustration you get coming into a culture you don’t understand, and I did get attached to the characters in the end. Worth reading.
Once Upon a Time in the North by Phillip Pullman – okay
Felt like a short story. It made me want to read the His Dark Materials books again, but as a stand alone book, it doesn’t do much. It’s an extended scene from the earlier life of Scoresby, in essence. Read it if you love Pullman’s other books, otherwise, don’t bother.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman – great
Main difference from the movie: the book is written as an abridgment of a book that doesn’t exist. As a narrative device, Goldman milks all he can out of it, and with a lot of success. It’s very, very funny, and for some reason Stephen King is involved. If you liked the movie, definitely read the book.
Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey (Sequel to Skin Hunger) – Good
This is the sequel to Skin Hunger. It suffers a little bit from middle-book-itis, but it’s still a good read. All your friends are back from the first one, Evil Hogwarts is still EVIL, it’s still doing really interesting things with language and understanding, and I want very badly for the last book to be out. Oh! One of the members may or may not be the figure head of a cult by the end of this book. Good times. Good times. I could say more, but I don’t want to ruin anything… butthecharacteryoususpecthewholetimeofbeingahorriblechildrapistisinfactahorriblechildrapistiwasrightohmygodiwin. There. I didn’t ruin anything.
Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey – FANTASTIC
I loved this book. I’ve recommended it a handful of times since reading it already. It’s dirty, and gritty, and it’s a fantasy world you don’t want to live in (YAY!) I like what it does with oral story telling and language, and what it does with time. It’s told in two parts, following two protagonists, and it switches back and forth with each chapter. It’s about magic, and the rediscovery of magic. I described it to one person a while ago as “Hogwarts…if it was in a cave and run by Idi Amin. Dirty, evil Hogwarts.”
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – good
I’m not a science fiction fan, generally, but while tramping around in the used section of Barnes and Noble a friend passed me this book, and I bought it on her reccomendation. My only issue with the book is that you know for the entire book that everyone but one person on the expedition dies. You wait for the entire book for something catastrophic to happen. There’s an incident or two where you’re sure they’re going to die NOW. I would have been pleased if they had died then and there, because that would have made SENSE. Instead, in the last bit of the book a random occurance causes a blood bath! It was like Seredipity’s identical evil twin cousin Murphy snuck up and pounced, then laughed in your face. “HAHA, these tragic deaths are almost COMPLETELY UNRELATED TO THE OVERARCHING PLOT and MASSIVE FORESHADOWING! HAHAHAHA.” However, other than that veritable slap in the face, it was an interesting book, and I like imaginary cultures, so it can have some win.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang – Fantastic
This collection of short stories is a really great primer, in a lot of ways, for the genre of science fiction. If you’re looking to jump in, here’s a good one to do it with. Stories vary in length, and each deals, very cleverly, with what it means to be human. It has everything from ancient Babylon to future evolutionary advances. It deals with homunculi, angels, automatons, and a whole mess of other things. I highly recommend it.
Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce – great
YA novel, with really cool cultural creations, and diverse inspiration: Tudor England and Indonesia. (It’s either Indonesia or Malaysia, and I don’t feel like finding the book to check) I’ve never read any of her other books, which more than one teen girl has told me to do. Seriously, I got a ten minute lecture from the one girl.
Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce – good
Sequel to book above. I wanted to know what happened next. Always a good thing, right? The end was a little too neat for my liking, but there was some interesting spy stuff before the completely twee ending. Basically, they say the whole book that (metaphoically, of course) elephants can’t possibly eat peanuts, and then at the end the elephant gorges himself on peanuts and burps happily.
The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams – Great
This was a book recommended and lent to me by a friend. It’s a whopping 800+ page tome, so it sat on the stack and mocked me with its enormity until I had time to sit down and read it. It was phenomenal. It’s a fantasy book, set in a land of fairies, and it doesn’t suck. I promise. It comes complete with evil fairies, bizarre creepy things straight from the primordial ooze, natural disaster, unnatural disaster, and goblin jazz. What else do you want, dammit?! Go read it.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells — great
I surprised myself with how much I liked this book. The story was incredibly specific, and I love that no understanding was ever reached between Earth and Mars. None. I love that humanity was not what conquered Martians. I love that plants accidentally (?) came with them. You can really sense Wells’ background in science throughout this. It’s not just a little sci-fi book. It’s a reasonable premise, handled well, and treated realistically. Also, my mother: “War of the Worlds… isn’t that a comedy?” Actual quote.
Zone One by Colson Whitehead – Good
It was fine. If you like zombies, you’ll think it’s really neat. I do like them, but honestly, Whitehead’s central metaphor in this one was just kind of like, “Yes. We’re zombies. I get it. We’re drones, okay. Yes.” His writing is lovely, if occasionally over the top. Mediocrity and survivor’s guilt play really interesting roles in this book. In terms of apocalypses, Whitehead does manage to give you a pretty interesting one– the only things that survive are the mediocre…and bureaucracy. Where there’s a pulse, there’s paper work, apparently.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – Great, at times Fantastic
I really enjoyed this book– hated most of the women in it, but Diaz is a talented writer, and he creates fascinating, multi-faceted, rich worlds for his characters. One of its stronger selling points, I think, is the sense of alienation it gives you– jumping back and forth between different frames of reference, settings, and themes, it’s a rare person who can’t learn something from this book. It’s fluid, tragic, raw, and weird– all great things for a book to be. The ending is frustrating, but understandable… even if it participates in my least favorite trend in contemporary American literature (for the sake of spoilers, I won’t tell you what it is, though the title basically gives it away).
Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka – Good
The single most interesting thing about this book is the point of view it is told from. The entire book is told in first person plural– it is always the group of Japanese immigrant brides telling their stories, never an individual. Though names are given, characters are never developed. In this way, it reads more like a testimony than a novel, which itself is rather interesting. Highly recommended for those interested in Japanese immigration and WWII on the home front, as it covers the Japanese relocation and internment that went on during the war.
Cradle Book by Craig Morgan Teicher – good
This is a book of short fiction and fables, organized into three themes. The organization of them is very good, actually, I think. They fit together like pieces of theses. They feel idiosyncratic. They feel true. A few of them came back to me as I’ve been continuing to read and write over the past few days. This is the kind of book whose impact is subtle, but has staying power.
Drown by Junot Diaz – Great
Both this book and Diaz’s other, Oscar Wao, are curious experiments in genre, falling somewhere between vingette, novel, and short story. Yunior narrates both, and it’s interesting to see the overlaps and parallels– the faceless man, youth in New Jersey and the Dominican Republic, and struggles with self image– and it’s also a fascinating set of stories in its own right. Highly recommended.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – Great
One thing about Marilynne Robinson that’s almost unavoidable is her intellectual fascination with religion. She is a devout, practicing Christian, and that comes through in a lot of her works (take, as one example, her essay collection Death of Adam). In Gilead, her narrator/protagonist is an elderly pastor. It’s a beautiful work (same notes on style I made for Housekeeping hold true here, too, of course). While this novel doesn’t have boat stealing, it does come with a rather delightfully morbid horse-in-a-hole story. A lot of my interest in this novel comes from the way it unravels and unpacks family and community secrets, and deals with prejudice. Honestly, if you’ve ever lived in a small town in America, there will be a lot that feels and sounds familiar to you. Very beautiful writing.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – Good
Though occasionally guilty of trying too hard, History of Love is a pretty interesting book. It plays with space and does strange things with timelines and narrators, which means there’s a pretty good chance I’ll like it, or at least find it interesting. It’s probably the most shatalogical novel I’ve ever read– you’re always completely aware of Leo’s bowel movements, and there are parts of the narrative that I just don’t buy. I personally don’t buy into Bruno: not because I didn’t see it coming and I feel hoodwinked (I enjoy clever turns in books), but because it solidly didn’t compute. The signs and space were diverse enough that Bruno’s “reality” causes a lot of other “events” to become questionable to me, and I don’t think that’s what Krauss was going for. I apologize for being cryptic, I’m trying to complain without spoiling. It’s a solidly interesting book. Recommended for people who are interested in meta-books (books about books), Holocaust literature, Jewish literature, American immigrant narratives, and books with multiple narrators.
Homeboy by H. M. Naqvi – Good
This one came to me via my class on terrorism and nationalism last fall– it was a very interesting take on the popular neurosis: what happens when the wrong person gets taken in on terrorism charges? The cast is large, and sometimes difficult to keep track of, but ultimately very interesting, and very relevant. In a lot of ways, it’s a grown up version of Guantanamo Boy (see my earlier review of that title for more details).
The Hours by Michael Cunningham – great
Great book. Should be read only after reading Mrs Dalloway. It’s part metafiction, part recreation of the events in Mrs Dalloway, and part consequential– “what effect does literature have?” is an important thing to consider for Mrs. Brown’s segment of the narrative.
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson – Great
I may have been tempted to give this novel a higher score before writing on it. In a lot of ways I find it spectacular, insightful, and beautiful. Housekeeping follows a family of women living in a small town in Idaho, their family legacy (or curse), and the way anything abnormal causes small town America to collectively lose its lunch (albeit, with some good reason). I love Robinson’s style of writing– poetic without being purple, elegant without being overwrought. I wrote on it, hence my now vaguely listless feeling about it. I’m kind of tapped out on Housekeeping, and Robinson in general. On a critical note, I think the gendered aspects get over-emphasized at the expense of some really striking and interesting themes, such as psychological aspects of mind and memory and identity. It’s hard to talk about this book without trying to make it about any one things– and it’s not. One of the things that makes it great is its complexity. I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in meditative, lyrical examinations of the self and its place in society, or if you’re looking for a novel that deals either with rural or Northwestern America. It also has my favorite boat-stealing scene of all time. Seriously.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – great
I still haven’t seen the movie. I read this book over my December break, I think. I don’t believe I reviewed it in the last review dump. I love any book that has culture in its blood. For that reason, I really loved this book. I read it so long ago that it’s like a ghost in my mind. There’s a lot of good literature coming from a Middle Eastern / Islamic perspective now, and I suspect the success of this book has something to do with it. It is a good read, and it does have some deep resonations.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky — great
Cult classic, for good reason. Honestly, this might be in the top five coming of age stories I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of them. It gave me one of my new favorite feelings to ruminate over: what it is to feel infinite. It really is a beautiful little book.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Great
McCarthy’s language is lovely. Even in a dystopian, pared down universe, he still has a prose style that pulls you along effortlessly. Even when babies are being eaten, and there are sixteen-wheelers and basements full of gore and horror, I was still like, “What a lovely sentence… ew.” A lot of people read this a dystopian future, I think you can also read it as an alternative history– a Cold War gone differently. Nuclear winter, plus cannibals. It doesn’t get much bleaker, but it still managed to be a really compelling, moving read. Not for everyone, but if you’ve got the stomach, I highly recommend it. You’ll be surprised how quickly it reads.
The Shack by Wm. Paul Young – Mixed feelings…we’ll go with meh.
Hi there, surprise religious novel! My advice: if you’re a religious person, you’ll dig it, and it’ll reaffirm your you-ness. If you’re a philosophical person and you can deal with dualism and an in-depth exploration of the Catholic Trinity, objectively, you might find it interesting. If you’re a non-religious person, your brain will do a lot of barfing. If you’re a non-religious, non-philosophical person, your brain will shut down and I doubt you’ll make it through the book.
The fromage factor is also sky high. I complained a lot while reading this book that the main character’s depression after losing his daughter to a random child rapist is referred to as The Great Sadness. Also, resolution is HORRIBLE. HORRIBLE. HORRIBLE. Like, really bad. Why? We get the one-two bad literary device punch of “it was all a dream” followed by “hit by a truck and hospitalized into a coma and then dazed stupor.” Oh, and before the whole God-saved-me-in-person majority of the book he wiped out and probably gave himself a concussion on the driveway. There are also several heavy-handed passages that left my brain with a litany of “barf barf barf barf.” Why am I not totally dismissing this book? I can see how it would be important and meaningful for the right person. I’m really not that person. Also, some of the philosophical observations are very relevant, regardless of religiosity. I also approve of the fact that Jesus hates organized religions. Like a lot.
Terrorist by John Updike – Nope.
Nope. That’s all. Oh? More? Updike can’t talk about a woman– any woman, for any length of time, in any context– without mentioning boobs. I’m not exaggerating. His characters are flat, and the affair between the guidance counselor character and the mother wasn’t just distracting and irritating, it was extraneous. If Lifetime Movies ever drafted a team of writers to construct a movie about terrorist cells in America, this book would be the backbone of their plot. Don’t get me wrong, Updike can write very lovely sentences– he’s a stunningly lovely writer when he wants to be. But read a different Updike book. It’s not one of his best.
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri – Good
While I liked each of Lahiri’s short stories, individually, as a collection they were sort of exhaustingly uniform– rich people from the Indian subcontinent with advanced degrees, struggling with relationships. Her writing was precise and pleasant, but I wasn’t enthralled, really. Living in Boston, I do enjoy her use of specific names, streets, and places, and the general sense of “hey I’ve been there!” (However, I’m pretty sure I’d have to pay someone off to get past the absurd security in Widener library to be able to use the bathroom…) Also: the Tsunami ending is awful and melodramatic– if you read, you’ll know what I mean.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan – good
No words! Pretty pictures! Yay genre-bending! Yay! Wordless novel!
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli – Fantastic
This was a really thoughtfully, beautifully executed graphic novel– full color. And by full color, I mean everything but black. The “key” on most pages is a dark purple. Mazzuchelli does a masterful job delineating difference and compromise and personality and conflict and all sorts of other things through the graphic medium. It’s a nuanced, smart, grown up look at relationships and growth, it’s a beautiful piece of art, and I highly recommend it.
Berlin: City of Stones by Jason Lutes – great
Lutes is coming from a tradition of European comics, and I would liken him to Marjane Satrapi a little bit, as well. One thing that he manages astoundingly well is character differentiation– I never have trouble remembering who is who, and I never have trouble keeping track of the various, deeply and loosely connected storylines. I believe this is the first in a series of three, and I do intend to read the others. There’s a beautiful, unassuming honesty in Lutes’ stories. He’s discussing Germany right before WWII, in the last days of the Weimar Republic, which is something I’ve never really read about before. I was really taken with the political and social complexities, and how human the whole system of stories felt. By the end of the book I really cared about the characters, so where they ended broke my heart a little. There’s this haunting sense of responsibility and making the best of limited circumstances which I think has some real echoes in America today. Recommended.
The Boys Vol. 1 & 2 by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson – Good, at times great
This series was loaned by a friend, who thought the idea would appeal to me. Other than the occasionally repetitive and gratuitous sex scenes and fixation on perversity and homosexuality in super heroes, the series reads smoothly. It moves pretty quickly, and while there are no great reveals, certainly not this early in the series, it manages to be both tragic and funny, which is the kind of line that interests me. It also manages to engage with the idea of super heroes in an interesting and pointed way. Also, I love the Frenchman. The art style leaves me somewhat cold, there’s nothing really special about it, and I’m not a huge fan of the Butcher’s design.
Chicken With Plums by Marjane Satrapi – great
As a sort of loose recollection of her uncle’s last days, this is a strange sort of graphic novel. It’s a beautiful supplement, in a way, to Satrapi’s more famous graphic novels, Persepolis. I wouldn’t read it first, because I think it helps to know who Marjane and her family are before you learn about her uncle. But what really made this work for me was the ending. She has a real gift for powerful, poignant endings. Definitely worth reading.
Cowboy Bebop – good
If you’ve seen the anime, this manga came after, I understand. It’s basically an episodic encore to the series. So, if you liked the show, you’ll like the book.
Death: Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman – Good-ish
I like Sandman, so I’m willing to tolerate the spin-offs. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read. They’re making a movie, I understand, so I’ll have to go see it, on matter of principle. Plot was okay, but nothing ground breaking. Basically, if you liked Sandman, give it shot.
Diogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by J.P.Stassen – Great
So messed up. Just be aware of that. It’s a graphic novel about Rwandan genocide. I recommend it– it’ll take no time to read, and it’s really, really powerful.
Fables 1-10 by Bill Willingham – F*CKING AWESOME
Remember how when I reviewed Sandman I told you to stop reading and go get some Sandman now? Go get some Fables. It’s important to your continued happiness as a human being. Graphic novels, beautifully done, really good story line. The basic idea is that there’s an adversary in the lands that the fables like Red Riding Hood, Snow White, etc. are from, and they flee to our world and hide out. It’s bad ass. Seriously. Go read it. The first one is a bit self-contained, but after that the arc picks up and it is so good. I love me some fables. Let that be clear.
Fables 11: War and Pieces by Bill Willingham – fantastic
So this is the culmination of the Adversary arc, and it is so well-worth the wait. There are a few issues I have with the ending (I think the Adversary needs a different fate), and I’ve just generally got some trust issues with some of the characters. This isn’t the end of the series, but I have a harder time finding the newer volumes in libraries, and they’re too expensive for me to buy. Anyways, I’m basically just reconfirming my earlier adulation.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – Fantastic
I thought this graphic novel was brilliant. Simple, elegant, funny, and really interesting. Bechdel manages to simultaneously tell the story of her own sexuality, her family’s childhood home, and her father’s personal struggles, which is no small feat. It’s a thoughtfully, honestly rendered memoir. I also had a charmed reading experience with a library copy of the book. It came with 5 Euros tucked in it and a post-it on one of the pages that earnestly attested to the impact the book had made on a previous reader’s life. Nothing but love. Highly recommended, especially if you’re keen on David Sedaris (which I am. Any day of the week.)
Ghost World by Will Eisner– good
Of the three Will Eisner graphic novels I read, this was my least favorite. It was certainly poignant, and was certainly honest– he does an excellent job getting into the heads of two rather believable teenage girls, and following their relationship. I would argue it could have done more as a bildungsroman, but part of the charm of Eisner’s work is what he doesn’t show, and what he doesn’t say. It’s a fast read, and like Cat’s Eye, it’s very close to reality. It comes a little too close, sometimes, for comfort.
Habibi by Craig Thompson – Great (with reservations)
Jury’s still out on this one, really. Objectively, the art was beautiful, the treatment of religion was fascinating and respectful, the philosophical discussion of shape and calligraphy at the end was extremely moving, and the narrative was interesting. I have some reservations about the depiction of gender in the book, mostly with the female protagonist, Dodola. She’s obviously intelligent, compassionate, frugal, clever, and fiercely loyal, but the only skill she can capitalize on is her body. Honestly, this is just depressing, more than anything else– I understand why it is that way. It doesn’t stop me from wanting to shake her. The other thing that bugs me is time. It totally falls into the orientalist trap of placing “Arabia” outside of time. I found the realization that we’ve been in modern day the whole time really abrupt and unpalatable, and I wish there had been subtle but consistent indications throughout of time period. I also couldn’t divorce myself from a Freudian reading, which meant that their relationship at the end of the novel was way, way, way too creepy for me to get behind.
Joss Whedon’s Fray– greatish
So, somehow, despite being surrounded by Buffy fanatics and having a pretty involved romance with Firefly, I’ve never been exposed to the Slayer Universe. Fray is in this universe, just way, way in the future. One of the things I liked most about Whedon’s introductory note was the fact that he demanded tiny boobs on his lead. He wanted a strong, legitimate heroine, not cheesecake. Because it is Whedon, it’s funny, twisty, strange, and populated by quirky characters who somehow function excellently together. Also, there’s a merman crimeboss. There, now you HAVE to read, just to know. If you love yourself some Buffy, read. If you’re over vampires, and I’m a little over vampires right now, it’s still a decent read because Whedon’s vampires (1) don’t sparkle, (2) actually do evil things, (3) spend most of their time getting dead in this graphic novel and (4) looking grimy, not sexy.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 by Alan Moore – good
Another Moore book made into a movie. The art style in this one was significantly different from V for Vendetta and Watchmen. It’s well-written (this shouldn’t surprise anyone, really), but ultimately the characters didn’t feel settled at the end of the volume. They didn’t feel like they belonged together, which is the challenge of a book like this, that draws literary figures together in an alternate-universe-type setting. I enjoyed it, but ultimately it felt stilted.
Minor Miracles by Will Eisner – great
I loved one of the stories in Minor Miracles. I want to say it was called the Visitor, but I can’t recall for certain, and I returned the book about a week ago, so I can’t check, unfortunately. The whole book was about these beautiful, tiny things that happen that change the world. Invisible kindnesses, strange coincidences, and more than anything, the kinds of things that construct mood and meaning in a neighborhood. If I was going to teach a class on urban setting in American literature, I would teach this graphic novel, because Eisner’s settings have incredible personality. More than that, though, this collection is just sweet, innocent, and pleasant to read. It has a beautiful sort of magic to it, like the title suggests.
Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson – okay
I grabbed this one on a whim, and didn’t really enjoy it as much. It’s a story about a boy in Hawaii, having misadventures with drugs. That’s a lousy summary, but I don’t really feel like expanding. It was alright, but it didn’t really grab me. That was really my worst problem with this one. I didn’t connect with the characters or their problems, and for me that’s the kiss of death.
Prince of Persia – good
I’ve never played Prince of Persia, or seen the movie. There was a very interesting history of the game in the book, though, which I enjoyed. The timeline of the graphic novel was occasionally confusing, and I occasionally had difficulty connecting the dots in the beginning. Ultimately, however, it feels like very interesting folklore, which is why I liked it. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the quality of the narration, but I did appreciate the effort, and the beautiful circuit the story completed. I recommend it if you’re a fan of Arabian/Middle Eastern folklore and fiction, are particularly interested in how reincarnation manifests (hehe) across cultures, or are a fan of the franchise.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, and Friends – F*CKING GREAT
GO READ SANDMAN. RIGHT NOW. STOP READING. MY WORDS AREN’T THAT IMPORTANT. WHY ARE YOU STILL READING?
I’m going to assume that now you’ve all left, purchased Sandman, devoured it, and come back because you want to tell me how happy you are that I demanded you read it. See, wasn’t that nice? That’s what I thought. Congratulations, Neil Gaiman now owns your soul.
Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano– fantastic
I feel like I should scream DORKS UNITE! before I tell you about this one. It’s Sandman meets Final Fantasy art. Look!
Kind of entertainingly, Amano says he “does not do comic books”, so this is actually like an illustrated reworking of a traditional Japanese myth. There’s literally nothing in this combination that doesn’t make me really, really happy. It’s just a beautiful combination of talent, creativity, and tradition. And it’s absolutely breath-takingly rendered. It’s shiny, friends. It’s a quick, charming read. I highly recommend it.
Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Tarantula– okay
So, most Sandman dorks will be able to tell you that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is a very loose revival of an older comic book character. The Tarantula is kind of going back to that older character. I guess you could think of it as a more direct reincarnation. It’s short, it’s very noir, and I think would actually make an interesting television show. I liked the female lead, was vaguely creeped out by the male lead, and remained unconvinced by the storytelling. There were too many nice, neat fits, and ultimately the Sandman felt like Batman with a gas gun. Also, I had a hard time shaking off the nagging question “Are you my mummy?” every time I looked at the gas mask he wore. Basically, if you’re into the franchise, check it out. If film noir is your bag of potato chips, check it out. Otherwise, move on, soldier.
Sandman Presents the Furies – great
This is one of those twisty-turny what-happens-next kinds of things. Playing some more with tradition, the Furies, and all sorts of what-ifs. Do not read this one until after you have read through all of the original Sandman— it has some inherent spoilers in it.
Spiderman India – good
Was surprisingly entertaining. Brian let me borrow it and I was really entertained– and not just by the Indian-ification of all of the names from the Spiderman series. Follows the storyline, basically, of the first three movies. It’s really entertaining if you like to observe the way cultures overlap. (And I do.
Superman Red Son – Great
This is a Brian comic. He occasionally does this to me. This is how Fables happened. It’s also how Sandman happened. I actually really enjoyed it though. Having never read a Superman comic, I was kind of surprised how much I liked it. Also, Batman’s hat design is hilarious.
To the Heart of the Storm by Will Eisner – fantastic
This was my favorite of the Eisner graphic novels I read. I loved it. Eisner himself admits that it is a thinly-veiled autobiographical sketch. He does very successfully navigate back and forth between “present” and “past” in the story, and the portrait he paints of America is honest, and the examination of prejudice is biting, but not wholly focused on Antisemitism. I actually think he does an admirable job showing the contradictory, blind, equal-opportunity-hatred of racism and ethnic-stereotyping throughout this novel. I highly recommend it, especially if you are interested in Jewish literature, WWII, urban setting in American literature, or Transnationalism.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud – Fantastic
This is one of those books that, given my background and my reading tastes, and my almost blanket-love of theory, I should have picked up a long time ago. I really think McCloud’s book begins to approach the medium of comics from a critical, clever, and insightful view. He manages to illustrate and explain complex concepts in a really interesting, approachable manner. His sections on gutters, time, and transition are fascinating, especially to me, as an artist who works with a lot of multiple register / frame pieces.
The Unwritten vols. 1-4 by Mike Carey – Fantastic
This series is gorgeous. Its art is really interesting, its constant literary allusions keep my inner nerd happy, and I really enjoy the magic door knob and the scraggly flying cat. Honestly, if you love Fables or Sandman, I’d recommend this series in a heart beat. It manages to be both funny and sophisticated, thoughtful and glib, by turns. Another similar title is the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.
V For Vendetta by Alan Moore – great
Another Alan Moore graphic novel. Again, the biggest deviation from the movie is the ending. It’s creepy and dystopian (and we all know I love dystopia) and just feels like an Anthem. Again, I don’t feel much of a need to say much about this one.
Watchmen by Alan Moore– great
So I went through some of Moore’s most legendary graphic novels this month, this being the first of them. I was impressed with how closely the movie and comic book came together. I don’t really have a lot to say about Watchmen, really. You should read it, because it really is a pretty transformative work, and just don’t be surprised when a squid genetically altered space squid shows up. That’s ultimately the difference between the graphic novel and the movie– the ridiculous squid. Which, upon discussing with comic geek friends, is supposed to be ridiculous. The movie ends up being more hopeful then the original because of its lack of squid. In the graphic novel, you basically know that the end plan isn’t going to work.
Wizard’s Tale by Kurt Busiek and David Wenzel – great
This one was a very quick read, and has a sort of whimsical nature. The art in this short graphic novel is astoundingly detailed and beautiful. I actually picked it up for the art. It’s a pretty straightforward hero’s journey, Campbellian almost to a T, and it plays with belonging and the sense of self throughout its length. Gorgeous character design– this one’s just a visual feast.
The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander – Okay
I’m a closet Romanov dork, so I should have dug this book on principle. I was bored, though. It’s a short book and I trudged through it. Trudged. On a topic I actually like– not a good sign. As far as plot goes, there were some interesting twists, but most of them were transparent. I’m pretty stupid when it comes to reading ahead of myself, so if I can figure out where you’re going, you’re in trouble. If you really dig historical fiction, it might be a good fit for you, but I was left with an overall disappointing “Blah.”
Upon the Head of a Goat by Aranka Seigal – Okay
I was disappointed in this book, to be completely honest. I really wanted it to be cool. It’s about Hungary in WWII, and it’s based on a real life. I understood why it broke off where it did (when they leave the ghetto and get carted off to Auschwitz) but I wanted some kind of post script in there somewhere. Some kind of closure. What disappointed me though was the writing– it was very spare, and very reserved. I didn’t really gain much of a window into Hungary through it, which was the primary draw for me as a reader. If you’re really into WWII Lit, Jewish Lit, or Holocaust Lit, you might like it. Otherwise, I’m not sure it’s the book for you.
History and Non-Fiction:
Bring on the Books for Everybody by Jim Collins – Okay
A pretty interesting look at the state of literature and genre fiction in the United States today. Collins has some fascinating points about the types of reading and writing that are being conducted in the United States, and why. It’s not an earth shattering read, and given another few years it’ll be too dated to feel relevant, but it is a nice documentary on the types and styles of reading being encouraged in our country.
Haunted Greece and Rome by D. Felton – fantastic
I have read some interesting ancient magic books, but I think I would have reviewed them before when I reviewed my research materials for Delphi. The one new one worth mentioning is this one– it’s an interesting discussion of the ghost stories that come out of ancient Greece and Rome, and takes pains to connect them to our modern conception of ghost stories. There’s a great note in it about a court case RECENTLY that ruled that a sale/lease was invalid because the house was not empty at the time of sale– there were poltergeists present! It’s a doctoral thesis that was revised for a generalized reading audience.
Jihad Next Door by Dina Temple-Raston – Good
Written like a novel, but it’s not a novel– it’s an account of the Lackawanna Six. It has its good parts and its bad parts. Her characterizations become annoying in places, and I happen to be from about an hour away from Buffalo, so I have my own set of opinions. Overall it was very readable, and does a reasonably good job humanizing a group of men who became villainized very quickly in the wake of 9/11. It’s an interesting read.
Missing by Sunaina Marr Maira – Good
Maira might have broken my heart a little bit. She interviews a group of young Muslim-American immigrants from a variety of countries, and the sense of struggle they have, reconciling their culture with their new country, is staggering and heart breaking. It reminded me of a lot of students that I’ve worked with. I was also particularly taken with her concept of immigrant time. I think she really has something meaningful and important to contribute to the conversations about immigration happening in the United States and other Western countries. She’s dealing, very effectively, with the impact that our politics and our international maneuvering has on the next generation.
The Oracle by William Broad – great
This is a nonfiction text that I read for my independent study on Delphi. While I read upwards of twenty books for that endeavor, this is the only one I’m including on the list. This is for a few reasons– I’m pretty sure no one is interested in what I think of the literary stylings of Hesiod, Strabo, or Plutarch, and I’m pretty sure no one is interested in Delphi enough to want to inter-library loan a dozen books that were only marginally useful to me. The Oracle is an interesting kind of nonfiction book though. It does a decent job collecting evidence from primary sources and secondary sources, and reconciling them with the theory that gaseous vents of hydrocarbons caused the Pythia’s state of enthusiasmos. I know half of what I just typed is going to read like academic gobbledigook, but that’s why you should read this book if you feel like learning some history, mythology, and science wrapped up in a nice little package. It’s written by a journalist, which is to say that it’s written approachably, and I really thought it was book a good read and a useful scholarly text.
A Suitable Enemy by Liz Fekete – Great
Fekete is writing about the immigration detention centers and “deportation machine” in Europe. This is the kind of book that really elucidates and complicates the problems presented in novels like Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Like Missing, Fekete is really interested in delineating actual effects of Islamophobia and its politics. If you’re at all interested in racial profiling, immigration, or international politics, I highly recommend this book.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – indifferent
Tom unravels all that Huck does with Jim. While this may in fact be the point, and while I probably should be annoyed, oy vey. Let’s just be glad that Huck sets out for the territories. It’s a pithy little thing. There’s no doubt about the level of social commentary in this book. I just don’t know whether or not I enjoyed it. The essay I had to write may have poisoned me against it.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – indifferent
It’s rare that a book can leave me with the definite “EH” feeling. I expect that if I read this when I was younger I might have liked it better. However, I don’t know. It’s famously a “boy’s adventure book.” It didn’t speak to me. However, it is astonishing how many American classics don’t have any words for me.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – good
This was the second time I read this book. Still good, still sad. The ending is the worst part, really. Good war book, probably the best ever written, like it’s cover claims. It did its job– I don’t ever want to go to war. Yay, book! If you like historical stuff, or war stuff, this is a good pick. It’s translated, easy to read, fast to get through.
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler – okay
You spend the entire book wanting him to change. I swear. You never give up on the bastard…it was an alright book, not my favorite that I read this semester, but it was enjoyable enough. It’s a quick read, and it’s a nice middle text– not too crazy pithy, but not totally transparent.
Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne – great
I’m always pleased when an author I previously disliked reverses my opinion. I read the Scarlet Letter in high school and was disgruntled by it. Blithedale Romance is great. It’s about a utopian communist society and the people who live there, mostly. Yeah Miles Coverdale is a sneaky bastard, but I like him anyways.
Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole – Okay
I’m struggling to really judge this one because it’s attempting to be medieval instead of 18th century, and because it was freaking hilarious. I will definitely give Walpole props for being creative– of all the ways to begin a book, I would never have thought of DEATH BY SUDDEN AND INEXPLICABLE GIANT HELMET. How big? Big enough that they use it for a prison. I love the ridiculous. I have a well-documented love of the ridiculous. I also loved the giant GHOST!SMASH at the end. Also, there was a portentous nosebleed. Now, outside of all of these beautiful absurdities, it managed to drag through the middle as the scheming prince tried to figure out how to marry his son’s bride, given the sizable obstacles of 1) already being married himself, and 2) her thinking he’s groady. Overall, I’d say read it for the ridiculous, wade patiently through fifty pages of UGH WHERE ARE MY GHOSTIES?! and then be amused by the ridiculous ending.
Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth – Good
I started thinking about this one as a geneology of failure after a while. Edgeworth is a Romantic writer who loves herself a good Protestant work ethic and moral system. Therefore, anticipate that. If you’re into narratology, however, you can have a lot of fun with the narrator and his son. The son is definitely a shyster, and you can (if so inclined) entertain yourself by reading his father, the narrator, as similarly deceitful. It’s a pretty straightforward family tale, but it deals with property, ownership, and inheritance in some interesting ways.
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood – fantastic
Margaret Atwood is a cool lady. This was the second book I’ve read by her, and the second book of hers that I’ve loved. This is a pretty intense book for a lot of people who read it. It’s just swimming in meaning and interconnected symbols and passages. I don’t think you can find all the connections and insinuations– that’s how complex this book is. At the same time, don’t let me put you off– it’s really approachable. It’s interesting, it’s raw, and it has attitude. It also has a lot of power. My friend sold her copy back not because she didn’t like it, but because she felt like it hit too close to home. It focuses on memories and identity. Girls will probably connect more powerfully to it because it’s about girls and our twisted social culture, but that’s not to say it’s not worth reading if you’re a guy. Highly recommended.
Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson – okay
This falls in the same category as The Pilgrim’s Progress. This book also manages to be accidentally funny in some places, though. My favorite example of this is when the titular character is trying to decide whether or not to run away with her wannabe-lover, and the fellow literally just lifts her and deposits her in the carriage, and goes “You’re coming.” It’s great. I realize that it’s supposed to be like “swoon! Poor Charlotte! She’s lost control of her circumstances!” But all I can see is a Monty Python skit waiting to be performed.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pyncheon – great
I have to be very careful as a lit student that I’m not saying I like certain books because I think I should. I monitor myself very carefully for that. I’m pretty sure I actually liked the book, though. The quirkiness of something like this appeals to me in the same way that Still Life With Woodpecker did. Ultimately, I think, it’s important to accept that the pieces of the conspiracy do not add up– this is not a Nancy Drew mystery novel. The other bread crumbs Pyncheon leaves the reader don’t lead all to the same place, either. What is going on in this book? I think Pyncheon is playing with the reader, and playing with the way we construct meaning out of inductive reasoning. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Pyncheon read some of his early reviews around a Cheshire grin.
Daisy Miller by Henry James — great
The weirdest part about this novella is that you can hate Daisy, want to smack her, and still kind of want her to get redeemed. Or at least have her take off her prissy pants for a moment and realize what she’s doing. The power in this one comes from how much you want to beat her into a pulp, I think. Even by today’s standards, you still read and go “Woah, sister, cool your jets. You literally just met this guy. Want to think over what you just said?”
Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy (Russian)– great/good
The other stories in the volume were Family Happiness, The Kreutzer Sonata, and Master and Man. Family Happiness was a pretty standard exercise in gender communication failure, but that being said, you do continue rooting for them to pull their heads out of their asses and have an actual conversation. Death of Ivan Ilych ran along similar themes, plus heavy melodrama. I could of course be saying more. Kreutzer Sonata was probably my favorite out of the four stories. Master and Man was a little heavy-handed, and read like a fable, almost. Definitely the saddest of the four. All of Tolstoy’s stories have really overt social criticism written into them, along with a lot of philosophy.
Early Black British Writing edited by Alan Richardson and Debbie Lee – Great
Not a lot of scholarship is done with early black British writers, which is kind of a shame, because they’re very interesting. I read pretty much everything in this volume, and it covers a lot of really interesting personalities– everything from Ignatius Sancho writing letters to Lawrence Sterne in the style of Tristam Shandy to Robert Wedderburn (whose ultra-radical pseudo-religious crazy is pretty awesome.) Really interesting for post-colonialists, but also interesting for people who like immigrant narratives, African writing, travelogues, and nineteenth century religious oddities. The volume includes Sancho, Gronniosaw, Cugoano, Equiano, Jea, Wedderburn, Mary Prince, Phyllis Wheatley, and Juan Francisco Manzano. Fair warning: Equiano’s narrative is fascinating. His poetry is awful.
Edgar Huntly by Charles Brockden Brown – Fantastic
Such a weird little book. I really dug it. I gobble up bizarre stuff. I thought it was just cool, okay? Sort of frontier/Romantic American lit. combination. You get Indians and bizarre scenery, sleep walking, and general soap operatic craziness that makes me love Romanticism despite myself. (Brian likes to tease me that I’m going to start watching soap operas someday simply because they’re so bad that they’re fabulous.) Bottom line, go read some Charles Brockden Brown books, they’re freaking odd, and fabulous for it. Really. Go read. You’ll be pleased.
Emma by Jane Austen – okay
It’s Jane Austen. Either you love it or you don’t. I love Pride and Prejudice, but I wasn’t so much a fan of Emma. Most likely because it dragged on and on and on and on and on. It was entertaining after the Bitch Queen was introduced. (if you’ve read it you know who I’m talking about) And part of Austen’s intent in this book was to create a heroine that only she liked. It was an alright read, but it will never be my favorite Jane Austen book. If you’d like an approximate spark notes version, watch Clueless. I haven’t seen the movie version of Emma starring Gweneth Paltrow, so I can’t vouch for it.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton – Good
Surprisingly lyrically written. It’s a truly sad story, and it doesn’t take long to read. If you feel like being literary, but don’t want to invest that much time, give this a try. You really do feel bad for Ethan, and it makes you question “duty” and “responsibility” a lot.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer – fantastic
The movie, if possible, is not as sad as the book. Some of the deviations I noticed were to make the movie LESS SAD. Poor “Augustine.” Anyhoo, if you haven’t read/seen this, do so NOW. The book has an unbelievable voice, it’s very post-modern as far as structure is concerned, and it’s very interesting. You’ve got three intertwined stories– Johnathan’s novel, Alexander’s novel, and Alexander’s letters to Johnathan. What I liked about this so much is that it has the feel of real folk tale about it. It has as certain unnerving ring of legitimacy to it that will probably upset you. I had to walk away every so often because of this. I was sad that that book lacked him collecting stuff in little tiny plastic bags. I thought that was hilariously odd in the movie. Anyways, this is a beautifully written book. Read it slowly, read it carefully, this is a great book that really deals with a lot of human emotions and relationships and histories in a very fascinating way. This guy’s a great writer. My friend Mat read his other book for a class and loved it. Therefore, eventually I will go in search of it, as well.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – good
Is nothing like any movie ever. No one tells you that the Creation is an emo bastard. No one tells you that Victor Frankenstein is also an emo bastard. Despite their emo-ness, I did enjoy Frankenstein well enough.
The Giaour by George Gordon, Lord Byron – Fantastic
Alright, so I totally have a love affair with Lord Byron going, but really, it’s a match made in whimsy heaven. The man loved turbans and menageries. I love turbans and menageries. Seriously, who couldn’t love a man who wears hair curling papers at night and travels with badgers and crocodiles? Sartorial and lifestyle love affairs aside, The Giaour is also basically tailor made for me– multiple perspectives, trauma, narrative gaps, jumps in time… and it’s fancy. It’s such a weird, wonderful piece. If I’d had the chutzpah, I’d have written on this one this semester.
Gilgamesh – good
Was interesting. I only read Book 11 for a class, but I want to read what there is of the rest (some is in poor repair and we can only guess at its contents.) If you like epic smashing monster stories and such, give it a shot. Translations come in both forms: easy to read loose translation and close to the original poetic hoo-hah. (I prefer the latter, being a doofy self-styled classical scholar.)
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams — fantastic
I want to do a whole series off of The Glass Menagerie. I’ve never read such a vividly created play. I loved it, I’m going to draw lots of pictures of it when I get the chance someday, and you should read it.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – blech
I really wanted to like this book. I really did. I really failed. I had to drag myself through it. It was a painful experience. I promised to finish it and it was like a marathon event. Had I not dragged ass through that book, this list would be two or three books longer, I’m sure. It just seemed to plod. Yes, I realize that’s part of it.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Fantastic
My favorite thing about Dickens is his villainesses. Madame Defarge is one of the most sinister ladies in literature. Similarly, Miss Havisham is awesomely crazy. She’s just great. She’s sinister, she’s tragic, she’s ridiculous, and she’s just in an alternate dimension about half of the time. Estella, also, is a pretty spectacularly-played bitch. Also, this might tell you a bit about my personality– I liked the original ending better. John Irving wrote a really nice introduction to the edition that I read, and he made a few points that I really agreed with. Particularly, that it was harder to deal with the kindnesses Pip receives from Joe, Biddy, and Magwitch than it is to deal with the horrible cruelties wrought on him by his sister (who never actually gets a first name), Estella, and Miss Havisham. Also, you could have a field day with the names in this book, from an analytical perspective.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – good
I liked Gatsby a little bit better. I like the way Fitzgerald writes.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – Decent
This is one of those canonized books that you’re supposed to read, and being that I hadn’t read it yet, I did. It was written with a sort of surprising beauty. We’re dealing, of course, with the clash of cultures, and worlds, and all the stuff that I’m usually gung-ho about. I think my reluctance about it is stemming from the fact that the novel has changed since Conrad was writing. His prose is still beautiful, but it’s not what sings to me, in particular. I can understand its history, but it’s definitely dated.
Henry V Cycle by William Shakespeare – blech
Is Shakespeare. You love it or hate it, basically. I wasn’t a fan so much.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – good
You guys should know by now I have me a little weak spot for dystopian/utopian novels. The line between then is pretty thin, I would say, and Perkins creates a space that I’d argue is a little bit of both. Her novel is in twelve chapters: originally published in segments over the course of a year. The concept is interesting: three friends are exploring in South America, and hear rumors of a settlement that is just women. Naturally, their reaction is “AWESOME LETS CRASH THAT!” So they do. And the rest of their story is a largely anthropological and psychological discussion of what an all-female society would have, and how it would be superior to our world. It’s a lot of gender analysis, which makes sense considering Perkins is very actively feminist. She’s most well known for her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It’s an interesting premise, very political, but if you’re interested in utopian/dystopian novels, I’d check it out.
History of Nourjahad by Frances Sheridan – Great
Romantic era orientalism at its most entertaining. Like many other orientalist pieces, part of the appeal of this short novel is its exotic local and its take on morality. It dichotomizes eastern and western moral systems through decadence and frugality, and through rational and superstitious understandings of reality. She does it through the introduction of a king and his best friend / adviser (Nourjahad). In a ridiculously entertaining and elaborate version of Punk’d, Nourjahad experiences immortality and immeasurable wealth, and a life on fast forward. It’s really fun. Recommended.
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Great
This has been the year of me being surprised by how much I like Hawthorne. I didn’t see it coming. Yes, I was okay with the Scarlet Letter in high school, but I wasn’t overjoyed. I actually found Seven Gables hilarious sometimes– when it was supposed to be. I also dug the daguerreotypes (a word, which, even after writing a thesis around them, I’ll never be able to spell). It’s not typically lauded as his best, but you know, I really dug it. So there.
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez – good
This book reminded me significantly of Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club for a couple of reasons. Some good, some not so good. Both of them have the sort of stained glass, mosaic feel to them– you’re looking at fragments, putting together the whole to understand the culture of the characters and how they fit together into a larger community. Both switched focuses between character with each chapter, and both left me struggling to remember who was who and who had what problems. My favorite scenes were set in the Dominican Republic, when they were girls, and I think this is part of Alvarez’s formula– things were simpler when they were children, and the characters themselves don’t seem to look back on their lives with satisfaction. All four sisters have crippling problems– either with mental health, relationships, or just identity in a basic sense. It’s a bit of a disturbing portrait to paint of what it’s like to be bilingual and caught between two cultures, but I think that, also, is deliberate. Losing one’s accent is not a painless exercise. Assimilation is killing, demonizing, even, a part of yourself. It is to look at a part of your person and understand that it doesn’t belong, can’t belong, and must be cut out like a cancer. If you’re interested in Latin American lit, this is a must-read.
Identity by Milan Kundera – good
Recommended to me by a friend. While I’m not really in love with Kundera’s spare prose, the ideas he’s playing with are interesting. There’s a very strange separation of self, as you would expect from the title, and the perceived self. Ultimately, I wasn’t really pleased with the psychology of the book. They just felt stilted, and as far as structure goes, I’m not sure anything is attained other than self-awareness. Perhaps, as far as extended metaphors go, that is the ultimate prize, though. The changes don’t feel like they’ll last in this text– which might also be part of the equation– because people, if we’re going to be honest, now, rarely change for good. At best, it’s a temporary state until they change into something else– a link in the chain of identity. Really, if I had to explain this book, I would explain it like that– adding a new link to the chain. My lack of enthusiasm might be stemming from the fact that I think Noa Weber does what this book does, too, and does it more beautifully.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Great
I do have a certain pronounced soft spot for Victorian and Romantic Gothic novels. I do count Jane Eyre in that group. I re-read a fairly long portion of this book for a paper, and I was reminded just how well-crafted and how carefully nuanced this book is. There so many details that become so important. She handles dramatic irony so well that the book is almost better as a re-read– now you know what the cause of Rochester’s incessant brooding is, and you ALMOST feel badly for him. Mostly not, though. Then again, Jean Rhys sold me pretty hard on loving crazy Bertha Rochester.
Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe – mehhhhh
This book bored me to DEATH. Haha, I’m so funny. No, seriously, boring book. Very dry, propagandistic, and a good example of freshmen students not understanding when an author is lying and when he is writing from life. Defoe was like…a toddler during the plague. Yet because it is written like a first person journal account, my class was like, “How could he write this if he was a little kid?” Insert facepalm here.
Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – okay
This is a book where I know what the author was going for, and I appreciate it. However, the stories were hard to keep straight because of the way that they bounced back and forth. This book is a collection of vignettes, more or less, that can stand on their own. Some of them, especially the mothers’, are very interesting. Again, me being a great lover of culture, I want to be kind to this book because it does have a lot to offer, but the narrative voices are not strong enough to make the characters unique. I liked parts well enough to want to re-read them. However, I don’t remember which ones those were. All I remember is that Waverly was kind of a bitch.
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding — fantastic
I was not expecting this book to be poetic. I knew basically what I was getting into reading this book. It’s hard to get through a 4 year program in English literature without having a vague idea of what Lord of the Flies is all about. The thing I really admired about it, however, was the realism and surrealism coming together flawlessly. The poetic imagery Golding has, combined with the incredible tragedy and disintegration of society under duress. So much subtlety and psychology.
Lyrical Ballads (1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth – Great
I wrote on this, this semester, hence its appearance on the list. Yes, I’d read it before. I recommend it. It’s so full of disaster and doom and gloom and other interesting things. Personal favorites: Goody Blake, Female Vagrant, Ancyent Marinere. Plus, basically all of Coleridge’s other contributions (there aren’t that many.) Plus, if you get the Broadview edition, you get MAPS. I love maps.
Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert (French) – good
There’s some great imagery in this book. Like really great. I once described it as “mercilessly detailed” and I stand by that description– Flaubert is painstakingly detailed, and the culmination of the novel is so macabre and sad that you forgive the melodrama. His characters are interesting, and while overall pessimistic, the novel has a sort of charm to it. I liked it.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – Good, at times Great
MfP suffers from the same long and feeling long problem that Waverly does– it isn’t the length that gets me. I’m fine, often thrilled, with long books. However, you have to realize with these novels that it takes a hundred pages or so for something resembling a plot, direction, or point of interest to arrive. However, I did really enjoy MfP, despite the fact that Edmund and his grooming process is creepy. I’ve also added Fanny to list of Austen characters who I’m convinced is secretly autistic. It’s interesting for postcolonialists, as well. Class, geography, and hegemony are all extremely interesting in this work.
The Missionary by Sydney Owenson – Great
What does an Romantic-era Irishwoman writing about colonial Portuguese and Spanish figures in India have to say? A whole lot. Some of the most interesting themes in this book are religious. For instance, what does it mean to be converted, and what lengths should a person go to in order to achieve conversion? Hybridity and syncretism are really interesting issues in this novel, as well. It’s a really interesting, really unusual book, and you’re not expecting it. Especially if you have the Broadview edition, which features the wonderful Father Fabulous (naming credits to a Certain Fellow). Also, I’ll admit it freely: I did not expect the Spanish Inquisition. Highly recommended for people interested in European depictions of India (Owenson’s geography actually makes sense– no small accomplishment in the Romantic era), powerful female heroines, and post-colonialism– particularly if you’re interested in religious contact zones (to borrow from Pratt’s vocab.)
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – good
Stream of consciousness narration. That’s all I’m going to say. That, and that Woolf is the type of author to whom every word is essential. Not a book you can read once and understand completely.
The Natural Daughter by Mary Robinson – great
Okay, so this book takes some slack because the ending is rushed, but as far as novels of manner go, this one is really good. Robinson’s characters are funny, interesting, and fatally flawed. (I mean this in a good way: characters should be flawed. People aren’t perfect, therefore, perfect characters tend to annoy people.) I think I also liked this novel because it essentializes English manners. It makes fun of the English inability to communicate around the need to be polite. Like Herland, this is a political novel. But you forgive it for that.
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens – good
Was long. Very long. But it came with pictures, and my inner child loves pictures, and my inner art geek loves things that look like prints, and my inner lit geek loves things that came with the book originally. Therefore: I really liked the pictures, and frequently flipped forward in search of another one. My edition is really nice, too– it’s hardcover and fancy looking. It’s early Charles Dickens, it’s early novel. It’s got its charms, and admittedly things tie up nicely, but not to the nit-picky every-character/detail-matters degree that we’ve come to expect as modern readers. If you like Dickens and you’re in for a long read, it’s a great book. If you don’t like Dickens because you were subjected to a Tale of Two Cities at a young age, this book might help you reconcile your differences (or make you die of boredom). I never read more than a chapter a night, in most cases. This is a book that I worked my way through very slowly. I did enjoy it, but it is definitely Charles Dickens. So just, be alright with that. It’s good…in that Victorian Christmas Carol kind of way. As long as you can wrap your mind around it, you’ll have fun with the book. There’s just a lot of book to have fun with. Alternately, if you decide it’s boring and endless, you can throw it at my head and I’ll be nice and not duck a lot.
Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian) – Good
I don’t really know what to say about this book. If the Unabomber were to write a book, it might be a little like this. It does a lot of interesting philosophical things with the idea of what a decent man is and how much he must hide (the more decent, the more hidden; the more rotten, the less hidden, thus the only honest thing in the world is monstrous). Definitely not light reading, even though it reads pretty easily. It is short, though, so if you’re looking for an introduction to Russian authors, it might be a good one. It is a satirical work, and it does make fun of a lot of other things going on at the time, so get a good translation. The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation is helpful– that’s the one I read.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – Good
I liked this SO MUCH BETTER than Grapes of Wrath, which I trudged stubbornly through, and hated with every fiber of my being (which, I understand, is kind of the point.) I more or less read it in one sitting, so it’s a quick little book, if you’ve got the endurance for it. Worth your time to read through it.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather — great
This is one of those beautifully written family tragedies. I would totally call this a tragedy, even though the ending is mixed. Nothing ends up where it should be, with one exception. I really admire Willa Cather’s language and sense of space.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – Great
I like dystopian lit, and so does Atwood. It’s why we jive well as author and reader. This is dystopia, with a people who don’t know snow, don’t know love in the sense that we do, and have kind of gone back to nature. Our narrator, Snowman, is left from the old days, and we go through his life with him, seeing slowly how they all got there. This may or may not be my favorite book she’s written. I recommend it.
Paradise Lost by John Milton —
I read Paradise Lost, but had every intention of leaving it off this review list. Not because I don’t have opinions, but because I don’t feel like I have a strong enough grip on Christian mythos to really get everything in it. I will likely end up reading it again a few years from now, after I’ve got a better handle on all of the things Milton is using to inform his structure. Here’s what I will say– the story behind how Paradise Lost was written, and John Milton himself, are fascinating. I read a lot about him and a lot of his early poetry before tackling the beast itself. For now I’m not rating it, because I don’t feel like I actually read it.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood – Good
I’ve read a far amount of Atwood at this point, and I like her and her sense of humor. I actually read this while I was teaching the Odyssey, which I’ve left off this list because nothing I have to say about it will make you want to read it (but you should). It’s the story retold through Penelope’s eyes. You get to like her a lot more when you see the crap she puts up with, and the non-glorious version of Odysseus’s journey. In general, Atwood is a good story teller, and this reads very quickly.
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan – Mehhhh
Okay. So this is one of those archaic texts you get screwed into reading as a lit student because it’s massively influential. We began referring to it in class as Bible Lite. Basically, it’s an allegory for living life in the way of the Bible, and how important it is, blah blah blah. Needless to say, the didacticism grated on me. However, if you’re the uber-Christian, here’s a book to cram under your pillow.
The Plague by Albert Camus (French) – good
I liked Camus well enough. I was barreling through this thing at the end of the semester, so it was kind of like an endurance test more than anything else. It’s a good book, in general, and Camus is very skilled as an author, even in translation I think the translator has managed to preserve some of his more delicate ideas. Best example: the priest dies of a doubtful case after losing his faith.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce – okay
Was dense. Poetically written, but basically your coming of age story with a sort of huffy mask put on it. Our protagonist is too pious for the pious, too intellectual for the intellectual, and in general fits in like a chimichanga at a Chinese Buffet. Joyce is deliberately dense, but he writes beautifully, if you can mire through it.
Princess de Cleves by Madame de Laffeyette (French) – good-ish?
I actually kind of enjoyed this book. Every so often I feel it’s a good idea to read a book that could teach soap operas a few lessons on melodrama. And people literally sneaking about in bushes is always a plus. The author used real historical figures, too, which is always interesting. The dating is very specific. This is one of those books where the technical info is almost as interesting as text itself.
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – Good
This is one of those books that, for no quantifiable reason, read really quickly for me and was really enjoyable. Not a lot happens– actually, the book is more about what doesn’t happen, or what Stevens doesn’t want to admit is happening. Dripping with quiet ironies and crippling English mannerisms, it’s the kind of thing I would definitely recommend to Anglophiles and Austen addicts.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – greatish
Let me tell you a story about how cheap I am– I buy most of my books at library book sales. Sometimes, as with my copy of Milton’s Poetic Works anthology, this means that my books come with fabulous, useful marginalia. Sometimes it means I buy an edition of the book despite misgivings (the exception being translations– I don’t mess around there); sometimes, therefore, you end up with a Jane Austen novel published by Tor. Now, when it comes to Jane Austen, you might be expecting a cover like the one on the left. With Tor, you get the one on the right. I actually bought this copy because of the horrendous cover. (By the way, it also says “Two sister, Two romances, A tragic tale of love and deceit…” on the cover, like it is a Danielle Steel novel that just happens to have scored the sweet 80s-tastic talents of the artist who did the covers) As mentioned when I was talking about The Kneebone Boy, I love to take the covers and figure out where they fit in to the story. I can picture it with the Oxford cover (left). The closest I can come with the the Tor cover is Elinor learning about Edward from Lucy, and, oh, I would have liked Elinor SO MUCH MORE if she had reacted like this. As it was, this was a story of extremes– Elinor on one side (a very, very English heroine), and her sister on the other. I spent the entire time wanting to smack them both. Also, both of the leading men sucked. Col. Brandon was the only character that was likeable on a basic personality level, and even then, I think I only liked him because he reminded me of Mr. Darcy– an aging, lonely, polite Mr. Darcy. Of this and Pride and Prejudice, I prefer the latter, by the way. Austen is very funny, here, as always, and inevitably her prose is charming, satirical, and does an excellent job criticizing the ridiculousness of her world. I have to question, in general, what the point of the third, forgotten sister was at all. Also, as one last jab at Tor’s edition– the person who wrote the introduction/afterword either (1) didn’t ever read the book, (2) read it so long ago that they’ve forgotten the names (I was waiting the entire book for someone named Halloway to show up), or (3) has zero reading retention. In short, not my favorite Austen, but still better than Emma.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare — great
If you decide to read some Shakespeare on your own, The Tempest is an excellent place to begin. Also, from a Colonial/Post Colonial point of view, there are a lot of really interesting things happening with Ariel and Caliban. The mythology that Shakespeare uses and creates here is really interesting, in and of itself. I can dig it.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – good
Is still Okonkwo’s great book of yams. However, I do like Okonkwo’s great book of yams, despite all its yaminess. There’s great perspective, irony, and symbolism throughout. Colonial destruction at its best, right? Oy.
Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer — okay
There’s a part of me (the classicist part of me) that’s very entertained by the fact that Chaucer decided to write an epic poem pretending to be an ancient writer named LOLius (emphasis mine). I do love me some Trojan War, but there was something about this particular storyline that’s just so drippy and emo. I was glad Troilus didn’t just sadly give up and sit around waiting to die in the end, but I was really unsatisfied with Criseyde’s desertion. I know that the main point of the book was to follow the build up of their relationship. Structurally, as the intro to my edition pointed out, it’s perfectly parallel, and beautifully crafted.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James — good
I liked it well enough, but in my head it’s going to be That Ghost Story About That Angry Ginger Fellow. The great thing about this story, however, is the ambiguity of the story. There’s so much that can’t be explained away as Crazy Governess Syndrome. Yet, there is definitely a screw loose in her head. Yeah, yeah, I’m punny. Pretty perfect place to start with James, anyhow.
Waverly by Sir Walter Scott – Good
Scott is long. We need to get that out of the way. Scott feels long. That is also true. However, Scott is also funny, and his characters are interesting. If you’re into English civil wars, Scotland, or historical fiction, I recommend it. On the note of historical fiction, this novel sort of started that frenzy. Also, kilts being cool outside of the high lands? You can thank him for that, too.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – Fantastic
I wrote on WSS this semester, and I really enjoyed it. Rhys’s writing is spot-on. It’s gorgeous, and I have a special respect for it because of the research and time I put into the writing I did. Rhys’s connection to Jane Eyre was so personal, so vibrant, and so fearless, and I really admire that. There’s this incredible sense of urgency in this novel– an urgency to exist, an urgency to be heard, an urgency, on a broad scale to legitimize not just the character of Bertha Rochester, but the whole Caribbean world and its cultures. I highly recommend reading it– it’s a fantastic, literary response to a book that I think really earned one.
The Wild Irish Girl by Sydney Owenson – Good, at times Great
Spoiler: Glorvina is not wild at all. She runs around like a giant little kid, but don’t get too excited– she’s still pretty much the Romantic heroine. This novel totally wins the award for worst courtship ideas (climbing the side of a mouldering old castle to peep in on someone and then falling to your almost-death is NOT the way most successful relationships begin). Great book for looking at early Romantic historical novels, women, Ireland as part of the internal empire, and religion as part of a philosophical/cultural debate.
Zofloya by Charlotte Dacre – great
I spend a lot of time with this novel. I wrote a research paper on it. It’s a legitimately good gothic novel. It’s got everything: killing, poisoning, throwing people off cliffs, random bandits who are inexplicably run by the anti-heroine’s runaway brother, and the devil himself! Word! Yeah it drags for the first book, but it’s so ridiculous.
Memoirs and Personal Narratives:
Black Boy by Richard Wright – fantastic
Is a great autobiography. Richard Wright’s life is by turns crazy and unbelievable. He writes splendidly, and some of the stories he tells are really meaningful. I highly recommend this book.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby (French) – fantastic
If you want to read a short, beautiful memoir, here you go. This was written by a guy with locked in syndrome who was formerly a big wig at a French magazine (Vogue, I believe, but I’m not willing to go check) Really beautifully written and heartfelt. They made a movie out of this one too, but I haven’t seen it.
Dress Your Family in Courderoy and Denim by David Sedaris – fantastic
Read David Sedaris. Just do it. And then listen to him on NPR. These are things to make your life full of happiness. His stories about the Rooster, his brother, are the BEST. Read David Sedaris. He is an obsessive compulsive fruitbasket of fun.
Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris- Good
I fracking love the Santaland Diaries. I listen to it every year on NPR. It’s a personal Christmas tradition. I also have a well-documented writer’s crush on Sedaris. I actually treated myself at the end of the semester by reading this book. I’d read about half of it before, between the Santaland Diaries and Dinah, the Christmas Whore, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.
I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley – good
This was a collection of essays, and while she’s not David Sedaris, she is funny. I read this on the plane to Germany, and laughed out loud a couple of times, officially making myself look like a tool. Go me. As far as the writing goes, it’s your run of the mill humorist essay style. Enjoyable, but didn’t really make a lasting impression.
Lucky by Alice Sebold – fantastic
A pretty raw memoir about rape, reconciliation, and moving on. I thought it was a particularly striking book– Sebold is a good writer, and although I’ve yet to read her other books, don’t let the perceived “scariness” of such a serious topic steer you off. I think this is a book that everyone should read. I really do.
Naked by David Sedaris – FANTASTIC
My previous words on Sedaris stand. That being said: Read David Sedaris. Just do it. And then listen to him on NPR. These are things to make your life full of happiness. His stories about the Rooster, his brother, are the BEST. Read David Sedaris. He is an obsessive compulsive fruitbasket of fun.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi — great
I really loved this book, from a dorky book nerd kind of place deep in my heart. I’ve also never met a Persian/Iranian author I didn’t love. I did have trouble following the many different students for a while (I came pretty close to drawing a chart.) But there’s a lot of the technique in Nafisi’s character development that feels like a teacher getting to know students. At first the class seems incredibly homogenous– one lump of eyes staring at you, waiting for you to do something. Then, sometimes slowly, sometimes immediately, personalities leap out at you. If you’re interested in the Middle East, or even lit criticism (which a fair chunk of this is), or teaching, you should try this one on for size. I would love to be in Dr. Nafisi’s class, as a side note.
Self-Consciousness by John Updike – Alternatingly Good and Mind-numbing
Alright, this one’s partly my fault. It’s kind of stupid to make the first thing you read by an author be their autobiography. It makes all the foot note references to other works really annoying and irrelevant, and there were a lot of them. This book took me forever. Seriously, it’s been haunting my bedside for two months. It’s not a very long book. Updike’s a solid writer, but he rambles. Part of the fun is that you have no idea where you’re going. Part of the aggravation is you have no idea what he’s driving at. His philosophy is interesting, and he can definitely turn a phrase, but at times it felt like the campfire story that would not end.
When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris – Good/Great
You guys probably realize by now that I’m a big Sedaris fan. I’ve read most of his books, I gleefully listen whenever I stumble upon his NPR stuff, and in general I think he’s hilarious and bizarre. That being said, there were things about this book I liked, and things I could have dealt with the sparknotes version of and been perfectly pleased. I loved the stories with Hugh, and I loved him talking about Japan. I find that stuff both charming and interesting. A big part of the book was about him quitting smoking, though, which I found less than enthralling. I’m not a smoker, and I expect if I was I’d care more. Anyways, he’s as good as he generally is, and if you like him, you should read it. If you haven’t read his stuff before, I’d probably still give you Naked or Me Talk Pretty One Day because I think the essays are more engaging there than here.
Philosophy and Theory:
Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag – Fantastic
I have a little bit of a scholarly crush on Sontag after this monograph. Illness as Metaphor came packaged with AIDS and Its Metaphors, which wasn’t relevant to my research, so I haven’t read it yet. Illness deals with some pretty interesting ideas about the characterizations, historically, of both cancer and tuberculosis. Her dichotomy is a little bit forced at times, but very useful if you’re talking about disease and literature. Highly recommended if you’re interested in diseases, contagion, the social characterization of disease, or historical interests in disease.
Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson – Great
This is one of those seminal texts that really holds up. Anderson is examining ideas of nationalism and loyalty, nation-building and identity formation. We accept, almost out of hand, that nations exist and have always existed. He has a lot of very marvelous observations, and my one major critique is one of the things I also admired– his cases studies and examples are extremely broadly based. He jumps around everywhere– Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America– and it shows that the trends are pervasive, but it also remains difficult to follow an isolated nation’s thread.
Madness: Invention of an Idea by Foucault – Fantastic (mostly)
This little text is an interesting, relatively early work of Foucault’s, and some of the chapters are more noteworthy than others. I particularly liked his idea of madness as several levels of civilization being stripped away from a person, reducing him, as the madness increased, to more and more basic, primal instincts. That was cool, and I’m not really doing it justice here. He includes a long chapter that’s essentially Freudian, which is the nadir of the work, but otherwise, it’s a fascinating read.
Taming Wild Thoughts by Wilfred R. Bion – Good
Obscure psychoanalysts for 500, Alex. Bion is really interesting, as a historical figure in psychoanalysis– he deals mostly with trauma, the unknown known (something you know, but cannot express or realize is there, essentially– in Bion’s work, these are called Beta bits). Taming Wild Thoughts is itself a pretty interesting book. It is essentially two things: an explanation of Bion’s grid, which describes different mental capacities, functions, and activities, and transcriptions of two audio recordings he made. The back half of this volume is him spouting interesting thoughts, unedited, as they occurred to him. It’s pretty cool.
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff – okay
Okay, everybody freaking raves about this book. I didn’t really dig it. It was cute, yes, and philosophical, yes, but it didn’t really stir my cup of tea. This is probably because I’m looking to be stirred, which is probably because I’m not a Taoist. The Way just isn’t really my way. I’m sure it’s lovely if you like being lackadaisical and moon-eyed, but I enjoy living in a near-constant caffeine-induced frenzy, therefore these two things don’t really compute. My analysis, it seems, can be narrowed down to, “It’s great, if you like Taoism (and I don’t.) Therefore it’s okay.” Read it if you’re bored. Or if you really like applying Pooh to all aspects of life.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau – Sometimes Dull, Sometimes Freaking Sweet.
Walden is one of those plodding philosophical books. At times he hits on something where as a reader you’re like “YES! I CAN DIG IT!” Other times, you’re like “HOW MANY PAGES MORE DO YOU TALK ABOUT THIS?” It’s just the kind of book it is. Also, Thoreau has a total voyeur-vibe to him. He also has a neck beard, which is patently disgusting. Seriously, if you’ve never seen it– check out Sir Hot Neck Beard here. Please note, you can see his chin, and then you can see his beard. BEHIND HIS CHIN. What does neck-beard have to do with the quality of his philosophy? Nothing really, I just think more people should be aware of poor Thoreau’s crazy-man facial hair decisions. His ruminations are really beautiful, and still relevant even today– or, perhaps, especially today, given the growing go-green, go-local movement.
Various things by Ralph Waldo Emerson – Great
Emerson is better than Thoreau most of the time, I think. No neck beard. Also, he has a really infectious exuberance.
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (French) – Good, at times great
This book is an anthem of sorts. A revolutionary cook book. It’s fascinating to look at as a literature student– I do have some issues and questions with the particular translation I read. The best part, I believe, is the last chapter, where he goes through case studies of people he has worked with as a therapist. I found that chapter both terrifying and heartbreaking. Fanon is really at his strongest, I think, when he’s showing you the effects of imperialism and colonialism, showing you why it’s mutually destructive and should be abandoned.
Awayward by Jennifer Kronovet – great
Kronovet’s book is an interesting combination of bits and pieces. She mixes short prose poetry with traditional stanza-ed verses, and separates things into sections. I would liken it to organized dreaming. It’s mischievous, coy, and introspective in a universal kind of way. If you’re not a big poetry person, I think Awayward might actually be a nice book to start with.
Book of My Nights by Li-Young Lee – great
I generally judge how much I liked a book of poetry by the number of times it makes me think of someone or something else. Poetry is like a springboard, from which the poet and reader jump off, and construct meaning. Sometimes it’s the same meaning, sometimes they’re not even in the same end of the pool. I dogeared about half of this book. Lee’s diction is crisp, neat, and feels so wonderfully careful. I’m hoping to read more of his work soon, because it’s lovely.
You & Yours by Naomi Shihab Nye — great
Sometimes conversational, sometimes direct, sometimes abstract and quietly philosophical, she’s just a very interesting, accessible poet. More or less, if you were looking to get into poetry, or modern American poetry, more specifically, she’s a great, active poet, and my copy has a lot of underlining in it.
Young Adult Fiction:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie — fantastic
There are a couple of really easy, obvious reasons why I like this book. (1) It has pictures. I am a sucker for pictures. (2) Cultural collisions. I am kind of all about those. Beyond those two reasons, though, it’s an honest, insightful book. It’s looking at a minority that a lot of Americans forget about, and should be reminded about. It’s really fabulous, and in its own way, a really important book.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver– fantastic
This book came to me through the recommendation of a librarian in one of the schools I sub in– she had an advance copy laying around, and she gave it to me. I’m so glad. Oliver’s take on what happens after you die is interesting, and conscious of its parallels (the most direct one is Groundhog’s Day, to give you a clue.) It’s a beautifully constructed book, with rich, interesting characters, secrets that have to be teased out slowly, and ultimately a really deep, searching look at morality, fate, and the way that we interact with each other and how it changes if you know you’re going to die. I really loved this.
The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost (French)– okay
I picked up this book as the result of a realization of mine. There’s very little YA Lit in translation, and the stuff that has been translated isn’t advertised as a book in translation. You often have to look at the copyright page to see that there was a translator at all. So, this little book is by a French author. The idea behind it is sort of Star Wars meets Indiana Jones. Traveling through time to save his father, the main character is able to go to various places throughout time and space, and meets a variety of people. There are some nifty gadgets, but overall the book feels episodic, and like a series of “hey isn’t that neat?”s, instead of something incredibly deliberate and crafted. I love me some chaos in the machine, but I love chaos that ends up driving to a point even more.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – good
Really good book. Young adult, set in WWII Germany (if my memory is correct), with the main character being a little girl in foster care. Told from the perspective of Death. I’m not sure if this narrative choice was used as well as it could have been, but it did give the book a little something extra. It was not what I expected when I told it was a book about the Holocaust from the perspective of Death.
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli – Good.
This was a retelling of the Cinderella myth, using a Chinese tradition. I’m a culture junkie, and Napoli generally does her homework, so I lapped that up pretty happily. The foot binding stuff was interesting, and it gave the story an interesting twist or two. The writing was good, but I wasn’t super wowed.
Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe — good
Yeah, yeah, Bunnicula is sharing space with Shakespeare, Milton, and a lot of other literary giants on this page. This is one of those ratings where you have to keep in mind the context I’m reading in. Is it the same kind of “good” that any of these other books are? Probably not. But it is good. I read the better part of it out loud to my ESL class, and they loved it. We had a fantastic time reading it out loud, and laughed so much and had such a good time that I would be committing some form of betrayal to downplay it, and what it meant for our little group. Would I read it on my own? Probably not. But with a bunch of 6th graders learning English who need to unwind? YES.
City of Embers by Jeanne DuPrau – good
People of Sparks – okay
So these two books are the first two in a young adult dystopian series that they appear to be making into a movie now. My copy predates the announcement of this, fortunately, so I don’t have crappy movie cover art on my book! (I’m so vain about books it’s not even reasonable. If you want the truth, I bought City of Embers because it was cheap and shiny.) I do really like dystopian books, though, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve read so damned many of them (although there are a lot of them out there.) If I ever got a doctorate in English I’d probably write it on dystopian cultures in literature. I really enjoyed the first book, and I dutifully went out to buy the second afterward and read it several months later as life would allow. The book is cute. It reads like a book for twelve-year-olds because it IS a book for twelve-year-olds. Regardless, it’s quick, it’s interesting, and I think the world she created is really neat. We get to see some cool stuff in the second book. The only reason I gave it just an okay is because I don’t remember being particularly wowed in anyway. It was just kind of like, “Neat. What’s next?” So, I will read on in the series (eventually, as life will allow). I like it. If you don’t mind reading young adult lit, give it a shot.
Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor – okay
This is one of the books I read for the YA library group I assist in. It’s what one of my professors would have referred to as “a good beach book”– there’s nothing really outstanding in the characters or plot. It’s basically a girly book. I actually thought there was opportunity to do some interesting social commentary in some of the scenes that Kantor constructs, but she stays very firmly in the realm of romantic comedy.
Copper Sun by Sharon Draper – Good
This came highly recommended to me, and it took me a while to get into it. I just didn’t really dig it while we were in Africa– not because it was Utopian and I’m admittedly more interested in the opposite, but because the dialogue early on was just so floofy and stilted. Yes. Both. It’s a young adult book about slavery. It is unflinchingly straightforward about the brutalities inflicted on slaves, which makes it a very powerful read. We’re not shying away from rape, torture, or alligator baiting (!!) in this one. Once you get to America things get really interesting. It focuses on two girls– one an indentured servant, and one a newly-made slave. I would recommend it.
Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter – Good
Alright, this was another book group book. I actually liked it. Was it clever and new and there to blow your mind? No. That shouldn’t really surprise any one though. It was entertaining, and the relationships between characters were complex and interesting. The gadgets were cool. I believe this is the second book in the series, but it stands on its own pretty well.
Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine – Good
I actually taught this book to 8th graders. It was a really interesting little book that exposes kids to a lot of different things all at once– life in Manhattan in the 20s, orphanages, figure drawing, jazz music, race relations at the beginning of the 20th century, and even a smattering of Yiddish. It’s a cute little book, and it’s pretty universally well-liked by students.
Dormia by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski – goodish
There’s actually a video out there of me, somewhere on the interwebs, talking about this book. In said review (whose location will never be disclosed) I liken it to an RPG game. You’ve got your hero, who has “magic” powers or somehow enhanced abilities, who goes on a quest, picking up friends along the way, and eventually going to fight a great big bad guy and save the world. I could actually write a very clear Campbellian hero’s journey for this book. It’s pretty by the book, plot wise. What I did like about it, however, was the number of times you question characters’ loyalties. It does manage to be a good guessing game that way. If you dig the story format I just described, and/or fantasy in general, give it a try. The one thing I will say is that it is long– and it feels long. Though it moves quickly, there are still a lot of pages to move through.
Eighth Grade Bites (Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Book 1) by Heather Brewer – Okay
I wasn’t overly blown away by this book. My ambivalence is probably because I’m all vampired out. This is one of the books I read for the teen reading group I assist at the library. It was solidly okay. Some things were weird, some of it was kind of hokey. One thing that this book did do that I liked was it dealt with Vlad, the titular vampire, and his need to feed in an entertaining way– his guardian fed him specially prepared blood Twinkies and other customized blood-infused junk food.
The Eyeball Collector by F.E. Higgins — FANTASTIC
Let’s talk about how pretty it is, first. It’s pretty. I love the eyeball frontispiece. Like Kneebone Boy, this is an artist who was well-acquainted with the book, which makes me sooooooooooooooooo happy! I love book art. I love good book art even more. I also love the book. It was just good. A little bit steampunk, a little bit dystopian, and over all just very interesting. It moves fast, and best of all, it made me want to read the other things Higgins has written. That doesn’t happen every day.
Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera – Okay
I wanted more from it. There were parts of it that I thought had so much potential. One chapter slides sideways into experimental fiction, reflecting an altered mental state after torture. That chapter was striking and effective, but it was so isolated. I would have loved for her to have played more with form and genre to reinforce emotional resonance. As far as story line goes, it’s okay, if formulaic. Certain things, like uncertainty about his cousin and his father while he is in Guantanamo, and who exactly reported him and got him sent there, were very well handled.
House of Many Ways by Dianna Wynne Jones – Good, but.
This is the aforementioned sequel. Why aren’t Howl and House next to each other? Because while Howl is a genre-bending book, this one really isn’t. It was good, but it pissed me off a little bit. I got upset with it a little because it felt like it was written down to its audience in a way that Howl’s Moving Castle wasn’t. It felt like it was written for a cohort 3-4 years younger than Howl. Standing on its own, I wouldn’t have minded. Dianna Wynne Jones does cool shit, and her concepts are generally interesting and well-planned. I liked everything but the tone, basically. The tone rankled me a wee bit.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Good
I love me some dysfunction and dystopia. That’s no secret. There were things I liked, and things I was suspicious of in theHunger Games. I liked the angle of reality TV, and the weirdness of the hybrid animals. I didn’t so much like some of the more ambiguous bits, like the geography, which was driving me insane (I need maps to be happy). I was also some what frustrated with Katniss (which I think is actually pretty normal). Part of my frustration with her was what feels like a burgeoning love triangle. Why can’t girls just be friends with their guy friends? Why, always, must things lead to a coupling up? I hate that impulse in fiction. Over all, it was a very fun read, and when I get the chance I’ll certainly read the next one in the series.
The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter – fantastic
Okay, so I’m a completely vain artist, keep in mind. I totally judge books by their covers, and I totally bought this book for its amazing, beautiful cover art. Looooook– better than just being really, really pretty to look at (and it is), it’s also extremely accurate. I’m the worst kind of cover-judger, because I’m always looking back at the cover, trying to figure out where things fit in, and what exactly I’m looking at. The only error I found in my obsessive compulsive looking was that the cat is short one toe on its paw. Yes, I counted. Alright, so now why did I love this book, other than its drool-worthy cover design and detail? I loved it because it was well-written, quirky, and I didn’t see the ending coming. The characters are bad ass, the legends constructed in the story are interesting and feel real (and I love legends and folk lore, folks), and Otto. I love everything about Otto, from his scarf to his temper to his cat to his stubborn refusal to speak. Otto is the shit. AND, in the end, it all makes sense– nothing is pointlessly quirky in this book. All of the quirks have purpose. Yes. Now go read.
Lioness Rampant Quartet (The Alanna Series) by Tamora Pierce – fantastic
A friend lent me these four books, with the instructions to read them, and the promise that I would love them. I did. Especially because of George (who in my head is always Geeeooooooooorge for no apparent reason). I could talk about gendering, or world building, or blah blah blah, but really, read it for George. I might have a little bit of a crush on George. Also, I had such strong reactions to some of the things that happened in these four books that I DREW COMICS. Yes. Comics. I shall attach them eventually, once they have been scanned.
Payback Time by Carl Deuker – Pissed me off, didn’t finish
Another book for the reading group, about football. I had a lot of issues with it, and was the first person to outright raise my pitchfork against it in discussion. My issues? The narrator is a fat whiny kid who bitches the whole time that people don’t like him…even though everyone seems to like him just fine. His sense of self is derived entirely from his weight, and he only starts to like himself when he loses weight. My issue? Is that really what growing up is supposed to be about? Cramming yourself into the size pants you think you’re supposed to be wearing instead of pursuing something you love and are good at (the kid’s an extremely talented journalist)? Is that what the moral is supposed to be? Also, I have gendering issues here. I generally don’t get too pissy about gender stuff, but I have a major problem with the conversation that got him put on the sports beat for the newspaper. It basically went like this: Editor (female): “Oh, you’re a guy, so I figured you knew everything about sports.” Protagonist (male): I thought about it for a moment, and then said, “You’re right, I do.” Just…just come over here so I can punch you in the throat, okay? I didn’t finish because I ran out of time. My stubbornness would have forced me to finish, otherwise.
Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – fantastic
Phantom Tollbooth is filed next to The Little Prince in my brain, as one of those kid’s books that isn’t really for kids. It’s secretly philosophy. It’s whimsical, it’s fast, and it’s basically an excellent philosophy for life. If you’re feeling lost, or bored, or unappreciative of the world around you, just visit the tollbooth. Things will be better again afterward.
Sang Spell by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – great
This was a book recommended to me by one of my undergraduate overlords. I love fringe groups, and ethnic subsets that no one’s ever heard of. In this book, we’re dealing with the Melungeons. As a background note on the Melungeons, no one is really a hundred percent sure where they came from– they claim Portuguese heritage, mixed with African and Native American, mostly. They live in Appalacia, and are really a little bit gorgeous– frequently with dark skin and blue eyes. Cool. Anyways, the thing I really enjoyed about this book (other than the utilization of an American subset that I had never heard of before) was the focus on choice versus destiny, and the emphasis on time. Time, in this book, is almost omnipresent, and is at the same time elusive. It goes almost without saying that time and choice end up being intertwined in this book. It’s also a story of personal healing, and in a way it has a bit of a Christmas Carol feel to it. I had a few issues with inclusion and some unresolved thematic points, but over all it’s an interesting, weird little book, and there’s a lot packed in there.
Seven Days at the Hot Corner by Terry Trueman – Meh…
AIDS, homosexuality, and baseball. In approximately that order. Why the meh? This was a good opportunity to say something through literature. The topics are important, and the narrator is going through the transformation required to understand his best friend, in light of the revelation that his friend is gay. The transformation begins, and then the book ends. I feel like the important part, the rebuilding part, is cut off before we actually get there.
Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples — okay
I was busy this July anyway, but this took me the entire month to read. This one book. It was not long. It just…trudged, and I trudged with it. I lapped up the cultural stuff happily, but ultimately, I was really unhappy with the ending, the lead up to the ending, and basically the last 100 pages. I don’t even know how to fix it. I just… didn’t dig it.
Skellig by David Almond- goodish
Another young adult lit book. Also short, also interesting and worth a read if you have time. More work with symbolism and suspense than City of Embers. The previous was more of a fun read, with social undertones, whereas this book is trying to make you think a little bit more, I think. I say goodish because I was informed I’d love this one, and while it was good, I was not head over heels.
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer – great
I was all ready to hate this book. I really was. I had my angsty art kid face on and all, I maintained my superiority complex through the first few pages, and then I was entertained for the remaining 490 odd pages. I read it far too quickly to pretend that it was only okay. It definately has the same appeal as the Harry Potter series, and I can see why the fanship overlaps. There are three reasons I liked this book: (1) it was funny. There were vampires playing baseball. That’s hilarious. If you tell me otherwise, you’re wrong. Same thing with sparkle vampires (I may have decided Twilight was hilarious, in retrospect, as a defense mechanism). (2) it reminded me of Brian. I know, I know, I’ve turned into a mushy girl who leaps at every romantic thing and pastes her boyfriend’s face on it. I suck, yeah, yeah. But all of the little mannerisms reminded me of him, and it made the “I miss you you’re too fucking far away right now” thing much more bearable, in a weird way. (3) It drew me in. I read it, more or less, in two sittings. That’s a lot of book for me to read like that. Don’t expect great literary feats– the reason why this book is popular with younger readers is because it’s approachable. The language is intermediate, and if you can read the three sentences on the back of the book you know that the guy’s a vampire and that they’re going to end up together (duh). Enjoy it, but don’t expect to swim in layers of meaning. It’s just a fast, fun read that’s good at pulling you in.
Censoring and Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour (Farsi) – Good
Prose. If you’re interested in Middle East, culture, censorship, or post-modern literary funk, this might be a good fit for you. I am interested in these things. This was not a big WOW book for me. It was interesting, and I got a lot of insight from it, but the characters were only alright, and in the way of many post-modern novels, there isn’t a lot in the way of plot. Also: get the hardcover, because the softcover has dumb cover art. (I’m an artist, so I am allowed to make vapid comments like that, especially when the difference between editions is so striking.)
The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven (Hebrew) – Good, at times Great
Prose. Alright, here’s the story with Noa. I like her, I like her character, I like her plot line, I like her conflict. I like her douchebag ex. But she is so, so damned whiny. Her book would be perfect if it was 50 pages less of whining. Rick Henry loves this book, and really my only complaint is her incessant whining. Worth reading.
Dark Things by Novica Tadic, translated by Charles Simic (Serbian)–good
Poetry. As the title suggests, Tadic is engaging darkness in this skinny little volume. His verses are brief, dense, and textured with allegory, imagery, and personification in particular. Reading is a bit like staring at a haunting photograph. It’s a darkly beautiful portrait of the world Tadic lives in, and Simic likens it, appropriately, to Hieronymus Bosch.
God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (Indian, in English) – Fantastic
Prose. This is one of the most poetic, beautiful novels I’ve read in a long time. It was delicate, it was nuanced, it was layered, and it was a deeply cultural experience that dealt with both national and imperial ideas, as well as struggles with identity, history, family, and loyalty. I highly recommend it.
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami (Moroccan, in English)– good
Prose. This book follows four stories of Moroccan men and women attempting to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. The thing I liked best about this book was the fact that you don’t know what happens to everyone. Not everyone ends up where you think they will. Lives get better and worse. It feels like real life– no Hollywood endings.
A Love Made of Nothing and Zohara’s Journey by Barbara Honigmann (German) – Fantastic
Prose. I really dug these. Two novellas by a German lady, about displacement, language, travel, and family– in a nutshell. Strong symbolism, really beautiful writing, and succinct. My class didn’t like the first one, but I seriously (this is going to sound really pompous so forgive me, I’m aware) think they didn’t get it. I liked the first one, and I liked the ending. I thought it was appropriate, and that was where their beef was. I think they interpreted the end wrong, basically. I highly recommend them.
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk (Turkish) – Great
Prose. Listen up art dorks, you want to read this. Especially art history dorks. I’m talking to you, Lisa. I can’t remember if you read this or not already, actually. Anyways, I really liked it. It’s insanely detailed, it’s really interesting, lots of cultural things to pick at, and a lot of really intricate art, myth, and literature stuff. Word. It appeals to my inner dorkdom almost perfectly. Others have complained there’s too much art history. I guess that would be the cautioner.
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwean, in English) – Great
Prose. This reminded me somewhat of Ngozi’s novel Purple Hibiscus. I was struck by the sense of space and food in this novel, and the way they reflect relationships and reinforce power dynamics and roles within the family. I really enjoyed this one.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian, in English) — great
Prose. I really loved this book. Nigeria, family drama, sometime in the recent past. It’s really a thoughtfully constructed narrative, and one of the most poignant accounts of domestic violence and how a family deals with it. Adichie handles her subject matter well, and is skilled at dragging you along with her and her characters. At the core of this is the question of what it is to be a good person. How can a person be such a monster to his family, and such a benefactor to the community? Does one negate the other? There is also a link between her and Achebe… the first line of the book invokes his memory, and the culture of Igbo people and missionary Christianity feature prominently. Highly recommended.
The Same Sea by Amos Oz (Israeli, in Hebrew) – Great
Prose. Novel in verse. Post-modern world lit kind of stuff. It’s not all going to make sense. Accept it and move on. Primarily dealing with death and grief, and some Tibet, for basically no apparent reason. Heavy with symbolism. It’s a pretty interesting read.
The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Moroccan, in French) – Great, frequently Fantastic
Prose. I really enjoyed this book, and honestly, I need to revisit it– it got read in awkward chunks, and I feel like it was deep, meaningful, interesting, and stranger than I can give it credit for at the time being. There’s so much in this book, in terms of gender, family responsibility, postcolonialism, storytelling (a narratologist could have sooooooooooo much fun with its ending sequence), etc. Recommended, especially if you have an interest in gender.
The Silk, The Shears and Marina, or About Biography by Irena Vrklijan (Croatian) – Okay
Prose. I wanted to punch The Silk, The Shears in the face. Marina was a little better. These are two parts of Irena V.’s autobiography. Her life is messed up in an interesting sort of way, but there was just something about it that made me aggravated. I don’t remember, honestly, what I found so nauseating about it. I think there was a pomposity problem. Also, up there with the 4 consonants in a row? Yep. That’s spelled correctly.
There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Russian) – Good, at times Great
Prose. This was a collection of short stories, meant to be fairy tales. All very dark, gruesome, and usually featuring dead people as characters. I read this one back in early June 2010 on jury duty. Man, I must have looked like a creeper (they picked me for the jury, too). The things that stuck out were: “Man, I think I don’t get this, I need to read it again” and “All of these count as a form of Nekyia.” If you feel like reading creepy short stories, and have a fascination with Russian stuff, read it. You’ll love it. I have another book of Russian short stories that needs reading… not for a bit, though. Got to keep it mixed up.
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (Swedish)– fantastic
Prose. Every so often I run across a book that kicks my ass. Less often than that, a book kicks my ass clean off, and then hands it to me. That’s what The Unit did. Dystopic, again, and it does not pull its punches. There’s so much in here about morality and ethics and the concept of worth. Really highly recommended, and very accessible, if you’re afraid those literary books. Just be prepared to cry, and despair over the fact that this is not entirely far-fetched.
Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenyan, in English) – Great
Prose. A key text in African postcolonial lit, Weep Not deals with two brothers growing up in colonial Kenya– one a craftsman, one a scholar. Like some of the other African fiction I’ve read, it deals prominently with culture clash, British imperialism, family responsibility and structure, and civil rights. It’s a short, but very meaningful read, and I recommend it, especially to anyone interested in education, colonial schools, or East Africa.