Monthly Archives: January 2013



Little Cormac Robert was born on Wednesday, January 23rd, at 7:47 pm. He was 6 pounds, 12 ounces, 19.5 inches. He’s doing great, as am I. Isn’t he a little darling?


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Updates: Recently read and 38 weeks

I’m still here, waiting, sometimes patiently, sometimes not, for the baby to arrive. I’m not due for two more weeks, but I’m far enough along that it could possibly be any day now. I’m excited, but I also spend my time in a little bit of a haze: I read some, I sleep a lot, I take walks now and then, I panic about whether I’m ready and reorganize the baby’s clothes once again. I’m watching Hobgoblin and other teacher friends return to school after winter break, and it feels strange not to be working on my own syllabi.

So here are some very brief thoughts about what I’ve been reading. I’d love to write longer reviews … except that’s a lie, because I’m feeling lazy and wouldn’t really love it. Brief thoughts are all I have ambition and energy for.

  • Barbara Comyns’s Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. I put this on my list of my best books of 2012, but I wanted to mention it again here, as I read it right at the year’s end. What a fabulous book! Comyns has a wonderful style and creates a marvelously strange atmosphere. It reminded me of Shirley Jackson, although Comyns is less gothic. I’m looking forward to reading her other books and now have The Vet’s Daughter on its way here.
  • Megan Abbott’s Dare Me. I listened to this one on audio and liked it. It’s about a group of high school girls on a cheer leading squad and a new coach who comes in and transforms their lives. The book is forthright about the combination of vulnerability and cruelty, especially the cruelty, of young women at this age, which I admired, but I loved the depiction of female athleticism and what it means to the characters to train hard and transform their bodies for competition.
  • Lauren Groff’s Arcadia. This was a very absorbing read and very well-written. It’s about a commune in upstate New York and tells the story of Bit who spends his childhood there. It’s more accurate to say that the book is about Bit himself, because it follows him after he grows up and  leaves Arcadia, but, unsurprisingly, Arcadia haunts his entire life. The novel is well-written, Bit is an appealing character, and the ideas the novel explores about utopian societies are interesting.
  • Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John. I approached this book as a novel, so I was surprised to see Sven Birkerts mention it as a memoir in his book on the subject. Perhaps the book combines elements of both genres. At any rate, it’s a very good book. It’s a coming-of-age story and focuses on Annie’s relationship with her mother, first with their closeness and then their growing estrangement. The outlines of the story are not unique, but it’s particularly well-told and moving.
  • Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. I liked this retelling of Achilles’s story very much. It’s from the point of view of Patroclus and focuses on their relationship. The novel makes the familiar story of the Iliad feel fresh and new.
  • Nicholson Baker’s The Way the World Works. This is a collection of essays, some of which were fabulous, and some of which left me thinking, huh? I should care about this why? These particular essays could have benefited from a little context, more explanation of why they were written and how they fit into the magazine or book collection they were originally written for. Baker is fascinated by the everyday stuff we are surrounded by, and I admire that quality in him, but sometimes he doesn’t convince us that his preoccupations might be our preoccupations as well. But then some of the essays are great, particularly the ones that are longer and more in-depth, where we get a sense of why his subject matters.
  • Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother. I was inspired to check out a couple memoirs about motherhood from the library recently, and this is the first one I read. I also found Anne Enright’s Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood, which Hobgoblin picked up and read immediately. He laughed his way through Enright’s book, while I read Cusk’s account of motherhood with growing anxiety. I admired the honesty of Cusk’s book, but her experience was very difficult. I can only hope mine won’t at all be like hers, although if it is, I’ll look back at her book and find comfort.
  • Lastly, Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitrios. We are discussing this book at my mystery book group meeting this weekend. I enjoyed the novel very much, although I found its structure odd: it’s a thriller, I guess, but surprisingly long chunks of it are made up of people sitting around talking. There isn’t a whole lot of action, or at least not as much as you might expect. But the story itself is a good one, and the novel is very writerly as well: the main character is a crime novelist who decides he wants to investigate a crime himself, and so there is a lot of discussion of novelistic vs. real-life crimes, criminals, and crime narratives. That’s a lot of fun.

Finally, my week 38 picture:

38 weeks


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Best of 2012

I think I’ll do what I did last year, and rather than make a list of the best books I read in 2012, I’ll discuss my reading in terms of categories. Some of my best reading experiences this year included:

  • A bunch of reading by and about Virginia Woolf, including Hermione Lee’s awesome biography of Woolf, Woolf’s diaries Volume 2, and Mrs. Dalloway. It’s been great to think about Woolf from multiple angles including different types of writing. Perhaps I’ll continue this Woolf obsession by reading To the Lighthouse this coming year.
  • Two books by Zadie Smith, both of which were awesome: NW and her essay collection Changing My Mind. I got to see her do a reading as well. I liked Smith before this year based on my reading of White Teeth, but now I’m a real fan.
  • Two books by Barbara Comyns, of which I really loved Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. Our Spoons Came From Woolworths was also good, but not as good as the other. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on more Comyns books soon.

Probably two of my favorite books of the year:

  • Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. This book is beautiful, it has an innovative structure, it’s smart, and it’s also personal, emotional, and compelling. Fabulous.
  • Mark Doty’s Dog Years. Unmissable for anyone who loves dogs, and a really, really good read even if you don’t, because the book is about much more than that.

Some favorite novels not already mentioned:

  • David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green for its distinctive voice and beautiful writing.
  • Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl for unabashedly exploring an unsympathetic character (except she’s not entirely unsympathetic).
  • Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for being thoroughly absorbing and entertaining, an unputdownable book (Tana French’s In the Woods was very good for the same reasons),
  • Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai for its inventiveness and energy.
  • Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver for its mysteriousness, beautiful writing, and perfectly-captured atmosphere.
  • Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station for its ideas about art and its perfect handling of a meandering style and form.

Some favorite nonfiction not already mentioned:

  • Katherine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers — an important story beautifully and movingly told.
  • Tim Parks, Teach Us to Sit Still — the subject matter is important to me (mind/body connections, illness, meditation) and Parks combines ideas with personal story in a way that works very well.
  • John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead — a great collection of essays, as is Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours, although I think Sullivan’s is more consistently good.

Best mysteries: Dorothy Hughes’s In a Lonely Place, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson series (I read the third book this year), and Tana French’s In the Woods.

Some honorable mentions: Christine Schutt’s Prosperous Friends, D.T. Max’s biography of David Foster Wallace, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, Ali Smith’s The Accidental, Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter, and Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn.

All in all, a good year in reading. Happy new year everyone!


Filed under Books