I had a perfectly fine day today, especially since on Mondays I don’t have class and get to work from home. But even when working from home, colleagues can get aggravating (thanks to email!), so I spent the second part of the day irritated, annoyed, and feeling mentally scattered. It’s more often my colleagues who cause me problems than my students, who, for the most part, are great, or at least fine, or at least … gone at the end of the semester. All is well, but I’m still feeling mentally scattered, which means you get bullet point notes on my reading.
- I finished Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates this past weekend, and I’m not sure what I think of it. Vowell has a light, humorous style, which is entertaining, but her sense of humor isn’t exactly mine. It’s fine, but I don’t love it. The book is about the pilgrims, and Hobgoblin, who is teaching a class on early American literature right now, says that she’s a little shaky on her facts. I think it’s hard to write popular history well, especially in a book as short and fast-moving as this one, so a certain amount of oversimplification is probably inevitable. But I wonder just how much of it is there.
- I’m in the middle of Balzac’s Cousin Bette right now, and I’m unsure of that one too. Basically everyone in that book is either really and truly awful, or so good they are thoroughly unbelievable. The book is much more about social criticism than about character development and realistic action. Everyone is desperate for money or sex or social advancement, or probably all three, and the world it depicts is a truly frightful place. All that is fine for subject matter as a novel, but for me it gets dull without a stronger sense of character than what I’m getting here.
- I’m going to pick up Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley next for my mystery book group. It’s not a mystery, really, but we decided it’s fine to branch out a bit into crime fiction. Hobgoblin really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to it.
- And now on to some newly acquired books. Book Mooch has been working really well for me lately, and I’ve managed to snag a copy of Mary McCarthy’s The Company She Keeps, which is a collection of linked stories. After my success with Olive Kitteridge, I’m looking forward to reading another example, especially from a writer I love. I also received a copy of Laurie King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second in her Mary Russell series. I’d like to see if I will like the second book better than the first; many have told me it’s better, and they are probably right. Then just today I received a copy of Cane by Jean Toomer. It looks fascinating; a quick flip through the book shows that it mixes fiction with poetry, and there are also sections of dialogue written as though it were a play. I’m curious how it will all fit together.
- I have a couple new nonfiction books as well. First is John Hollander’s Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse. Ever since reading Nicholson Baker’s book The Anthologist, which is largely about poetry, I’ve been in a mood to read more books about it — as well as to read more poetry. I also received Adam Thirlwell’s book The Delighted States, which is subtitled “A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes.” Now, to be honest, in spite of such a lengthy subtitle, I still don’t have much of an idea what the book is about, but I’m looking forward to finding out.