Reading Round-Up, 2/4/2014

First of all, let me say that posting around here will be light for the foreseeable future. And I apologize for dropping out of the blogging world as far as commenting goes. But the usual busyness — job, baby, life stuff — has been made more complicated by the fact that we are now trying to sell our house. This has required ungodly amounts of cleaning and also putting many of my books into storage, in the name of making our house look less cluttered. We have emptied the house of five large bookcases. It’s painful not to have those books around, although having gotten those books temporarily out of the way will make moving day decidedly less painful. But I have no idea when moving day will be — our house could be on the market another week, another month, another year, no idea — and I don’t like not having my books right here. Um, okay, I have lots of books left, it’s not like I’m living in a bookless house, but just the other day I wanted to reread the opening pages of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and I couldn’t! Frustrating.

So, here is some recent reading:

  • James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, which is part of the Tournament of Books. Actually, most of the books I’ve read in the last few weeks have been part of the tournament. I liked this book, although I didn’t fall in love. The opening sections were enthralling as I read about life in Kansas in the 1850s. McBride captures the wildness and danger of it so well. He also creates a wonderful character in John Brown. I thought the book needed some more editing, though, and it felt too long. But his language is amazing, and he deals with some interesting gender and race issues with his main character.
  • Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. This was a strange reading experience. The book is very long and very plotty, and neither of these attributes is something I really enjoy. But I liked this book. The way the plot unfurls is mesmerizing. Catton has such perfect control over her material that following the plot twists and turns was satisfying. And over time, she creates memorable characters whose lives and fates I came to care about. She also does a brilliant job of capturing the world of the gold rush in 1860s New Zealand. I’m not sure I would ever want to reread this book, though. It’s beautiful, brilliant, moving — but is it a truly great book? I’m not sure.
  • Margaret Millar’s Beast In View. This was my choice for the most recent meeting of my mystery book group. I liked it, although I felt a little disappointed that I didn’t like it more. But it really was good — tightly constructed, chillingly atmospheric and creepy. The psychologizing felt a little too easy to me, which I think was my main problem with it. But Millar was great at keeping the plot going at a good pace and making you feel uneasy and unsettled in the way good thrillers do.
  • Scott McClanahan’s Hill William. This book could easily be a novella. But the large margins and abundant white space that make this book 220 pages serve a good function: the writing has a spare quality to it that invites you to slow down and reread and linger over the language. It’s about a boy growing up in the mountains of West Virginia, dealing with sexual abuse by an older neighborhood boy and also becoming more and more aware of the depredations done to the landscape around him by miners. The book is dark, but also beautifully written and moving. Very good.
  • Lastly, I just finished Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. It was good, not at all surprising in terms of the plot, but with two good main characters. I liked Eleanor very much. This was entertaining, fun, difficult to put down.

I’m in the middle of reading Maggie Nelson’s book Jane: A Murder. It’s part poetry, part bits of journals, books and newspapers. It tells the story of the murder of Nelson’s aunt who died when she was 23, before Nelson was born. The book is Nelson’s attempts to understand and respond to what happened to her aunt and how it affected her own life.

I also plan on picking up Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel The Signature of All Things and maybe also Kiese Laymon’s novel Long Division. So, lots of good reading going on around here, in spite of the busyness.

17 Comments

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17 responses to “Reading Round-Up, 2/4/2014

  1. Love to hear your thoughts on Jane …
    Good luck moving!

  2. It always seems crazy to me that a house with fewer books could sell better than one crammed full of them, but I know that’s how it works. Hopefully you will be reunited with them all soon. The Good Lord Bird and Hill William have me interested – the Tournament of Books always throws up a couple of US published books that haven’t made it across the Atlantic yet.

    • Yes, I like the Tournament for the way it brings some new books to people’s attention. They did a particularly good job of that this year. And yeah, doesn’t a book-filled house sound like exactly the thing you’d want to buy??

  3. Good luck with moving – I remember all the house-cleaning involved!! My son was similar in age to yours when we last moved, and he could unpack as quickly as I could pack.. I’m currently reading The Luminaries and enjoying it very much. The prose is just amazing. I’m only 200 pages in, though and wondering if I’ll be reading it for the rest of my life. I do struggle with chunksters!

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying The Luminaries! It is SO long, but I found that the pace sped up as I went along, and it gets positively speedy toward the end. And yes, packing and unpacking … I’m hoping we can find some good babysitters during this time!

  4. The Nelson book sounds really interesting. I look forward to your final assessment. Good luck with the move. I hope your house sells quickly and you don’t have to suffer too many strangers tramping through to look at it. Do you have where you are moving to settled on yet?

    • I finished the Nelson book last night, and it was really great! I have a feeling I’m going to love everything she’s written. We plan on staying in our area — we just want a bigger house. We have been visiting houses for sale and have found some that will work. We just need to sell our house first!

  5. Ugh. Keeping the house clean to sell is such a tremendous pain. I’m committed to not selling my current home unless I am able to move out entirely while it’s on the market. I can’t imagine trying to keep a home ready for potential buyers while having a little one Cormac’s age.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed Eleanor and Park. I read it last year and liked it quite a lot.

    • Yeah, it’s not a lot of fun. There’s a possibility we might be able to buy without selling first, but that’s financially risky for us (but tempting!). So in the meantime, we just vacuum frequently and ask for 24-hours notice before people come visit.

  6. I loved Eleanor & Park so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it too! Our last move I had 22 (I think) boxes of books and my husband probably had 17 or so. It is a pain but just think of when you’re in your new home and organizing your library again. What fun. Best of luck with the move!

  7. I think it is some sort of law of the universe that the moment you put a book out of reach, for whatever reason, you immediately need it. I remember when a friend made the decision one September that as she was going to retire the following July she would start there and then to get rid of the academic books that she didn’t think she would want during the course of the year to make clearing out her office that next summer easier. The very day after she had taken the first lot to a charity shop a student came in and said, “I want to do my dissertation on X.” X, of course, being the exact topic that Maggie had decided could go 24 hours earlier!

    • Yes, that’s so true! That story sounds exactly right. I accidentally packed away one of the books I use in my courses, and so have had to get it from the library. I also packed the next Julia Spencer-Fleming and so have to wait until we move to read it :(

  8. Just checking in to make sure you’re all OK. As always The Bears are worried about their baby. Please don’t say you’ve packed him up ready to be moved.

    • Hi Alex. Thanks for checking in! We’re all doing fine, just super busy. Alas, no house sale yet, so no move in sight. I would like to get it all underway, to be honest. The baby is doing great and is walking better and better every day. I hope you are well!

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