Updates: Recent reading, new books, and 32 weeks

It’s time for another update post, I think, since I’d like to record at least brief thoughts about the books I’ve finished over the last month or so. Here they are:

  • First, there was Kenzaburo Oe’s novel A Personal Matter, which is a strange choice of book to read during pregnancy, since it’s about a man who discovers that his son was born mentally handicapped. He spends the rest of the novel reacting badly to this news. But I wasn’t bothered by the subject matter, and I liked the novel a lot. There’s an unsparing directness to it, a sense of strangeness and a willingness to dig deep into the main character’s disturbing, although in moments unexpectedly sympathetic, mind that I admired.
  • Then I read Tim Parks’s illness memoir Teach Us to Sit Still, which I also liked very much. He tells the story of mysterious pelvic pain that he suffered from for many years before feeling desperate enough to seek solutions in unexpected places. He turns to various forms of meditation and finds that this helps him recover and transforms him in deeper ways as well. The book is a really interesting exploration of the limits of western medicine and the surprising (to him and to many other people I’m sure) connections between the mind and the body.
  • I listened to The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker on audio, and I’m not sure why, but I didn’t respond to this with as much enthusiasm as I thought I would. Parts of the story were great, the depiction of how people responded to the totally mysterious slowing down of the earth’s rotation in particular. I liked how simply and naturally Walker describes what this was like. The integration of the sci-fi elements with a coming-of-age story was well-done as well. But the coming of age story itself seemed a little cliché. I didn’t really like the teenage romance element.
  • Then there was Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, which I thought was fabulous. I suppose this is a fairly cliché coming-of-age story as well, but the writing was very, very good, which made up for it. Mitchell has a marvelous way with a sentence. It’s a novel-in-stories, each chapter forming its own vignette in the life of the main character, a thirteen year-old boy who struggles with bullies and a stammer. Mitchell captures this character and the setting in which he lives very well.
  • For my mystery book group, I read Dorothy Hughes’s In a Lonely Place, a book I chose after having heard good things about Hughes. It turned out to be a good choice, as the group liked her, and the discussion was lively. It’s told in the first person from the perspective of the murderer, and the mood is unsettling and claustrophobic. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the extent to which the narrator is unreliable and what exactly the other characters figured out and when. I like that sort of puzzle.
  • From the library, I got a copy of Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins, a book I thought was very well done, a good, entertaining piece of literary fiction that made me feel a little dissatisfied with the state of literary fiction generally. I can’t pinpoint anything wrong with the book, but I guess I’m in the mood for books that are more innovative or do something more exciting on the sentence level. It’s a book about a family in Chicago and their struggles with a wife/mother who is seriously ill because of her weight. The descriptions of the family dynamics are good and if you’re in the mood for a family drama, you might very well like it more than I did.
  • Then Kate Zambreno’s book Heroines, which I liked with some reservations. It’s partly literary criticism, history, and biography, and partly memoir. I enjoyed the combination of these things. Zambreno focuses on the “wives of modernism,” writers such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivien Eliot, and others who were kept from writing or whose writing was dismissed and ignored because of their gender. Zambreno analyzes the language used to belittle these writers and the ideas about women and creativity that still influence us today. All this I liked. I just wished the book had a clearer organizational structure, as it felt repetitious and too long.
  • Finally, I just finished Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir about her mother’s death, The Long Goodbye. This is a book that grew on me as I read; at first it seemed to be a fairly unremarkable story about illness that I wished had more reflection rather than straightforward narrative. The reflective elements of the book became more important as it went on, however, and the second half or so has a lot of interesting insights into grief and mourning.

I thought I’d give you the list of books I bought during a spur-of-the-moment book buying spree in Manhattan last weekend; I decided that I wanted to get out and walk around the city a bit while I still easily can. I visited 192 Books for the first time, a very small but great bookstore, and also old favorites Three Lives and McNally-Jackson. Here’s what I got:

  • Jean Strouse’s Alice James A Biography
  • Andre Aciman’s Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere
  • Jo Ann Beard’s Boys of My Youth
  • Barbara Comyn’s Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead
  • Maggie Nelson’s  Jane: A Murder
  • William Gass’s On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry
  • Roland Barthes A Mourning Diary

And now for a pregnancy update: I’m a little under eight weeks away from my due date. All is going well, although I’m eagerly awaiting the end of the semester, which will get here in about two weeks, so I can stop having to lumber around campus feeling ridiculously large. My teaching is going fine, but it’s getting increasingly uncomfortable to stand in front of a class. I’m both looking forward to some time in which to linger on the couch and do nothing, and worried that I will be too uncomfortable to enjoy it and/or bored out of my mind. We shall see. Here I am at 32 weeks:

32 weeks

19 Comments

Filed under Books

19 responses to “Updates: Recent reading, new books, and 32 weeks

  1. Wow – you look great!
    Sounds like you have got a lot of reading done – I will definitely have a closer look at the Oe novel.
    All the best,
    Sigrun

  2. Ooh fabulous reading, a lot in my ballpark. Tim Park’s memoir has been tempting me, and Heroines sounds really interesting, just my sort of thing. Mr Litlove read Black Swan Green and thought like you that it was excellent. I can see I will have to read that one too! You look so great at this late stage! And believe me, lying on the couch is great – you’ll love it. Do remember to make the most of it, you don’t get a lot of rest for a little while afterwards.

    • How nice to know that Mr. Litlove and I agree! You are absolutely right about enjoying rest while I can; I’ll remember that every time I feel a little bit bored or restless. Boredom is something to be treasured while I still have the luxury of it!

  3. Wow, you’re even worse than me when you enter a bookshop (I never seem to leave empty-handed)! So glad you liked Oe Kenzaburo (especially this particular one in your particular stage of pregnancy), he is one of my favourite Japanese authors. Will you be reading more by him (or have you already)? The Silent Cry is quite good, as I remember. I haven’t read The Changeling, but mean to at some point.

    • Oh, yes, I’m very bad (good?) about buying books, especially since my book-buying trips will be more limited after the baby. I do want to read more Oe, perhaps A Quiet Life next. A friend introduced me to him, and that’s the one she recommended next. I’ll keep an eye out for The Silent Cry as well. Thanks!

  4. I read the Oe because I was thinking about teaching it. While that quickly became out of the question, I still finished it and liked it a great deal. I od’d on David Mitchell when I first found him, but I have Black Swan Green from those days and will get back into him with that one.

  5. First off, you look great at 32 weeks. Soon! Maybe a Christmas birth? I’m really impressed by your reading. And of course, I admire spur of the moment purchases… thanks for sharing. As for Oe, I’ve read his Rise Up O Young Men of the New Age! and found it quite sad. After that I wanted to go to A Personal Matter… but didn’t have the determination to go through another autobiographical account again. Oh, btw, I was commenting on another blog and found your comment about your interest in book Life of Pi. I’d posted a movie review of it. Maybe you’d be interested.

  6. You look great! I imagine in two weeks when the semester is done, laying on the couch and being bored will feel so very good. But really, who can be truly bored with all those good new books you got? Glad to know Heroines is good in spite of the flaws. I have had my eye on it. I liked Age of Miracles too, except, you are right, coming of age story was a bit meh.

  7. I started reading The Age of Miracles on the subway this morning and am loving it so far, though I’m only twenty pages in – we’ll see how much I do or don’t keep liking it as I keep reading. (I think a big part of my love for it at the moment is that it’s the first novel I’ve read in, literally, a month – I spent much of November through yesterday slogging through a non-fiction book and am belatedly realizing that, um, maybe I wasn’t actually in the mood for non-fiction.)

    Meanwhile, ooh, thanks for the reminder that Black Swan Green exists/is good – I read and liked it back in 2007 but am now thinking that it might be worth re-reading, particularly if I find out that my boyfriend hasn’t read it – I suspect he’d like it, and we’ve been idly talking about being interested in reading something together.

    And yay, glad you made it to 192 Books – and mm, Three Lives and McNally Jackson are favorites of mine too! I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Alibis – I liked it lots.

    • I hope you enjoyed The Age of Miracles, Heather; I do think it’s an enjoyable, if not perfect novel. Black Swan Green is definitely worth rereading, I think — it’s that rich in its writing. And thanks SO much for the recommendation of 192 Books; I may never have found it otherwise!

  8. Must be getting close to that ‘get it out!’ stage? I agree with Sigrun, you look great, carry pregnancy very well. Have a lovely Christmas before the kiddie arrives :D

  9. Just stop by to wish you a Merry Christmas, and maybe some more… Enjoy your holidays and have a wonderful 2013, a new page! :)

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