Wednesday, June 13, 2018

turning a page

Halfway through the year it's high time to compile and blitz-review the books I read last year, keeping a tradition of eight years that was only interrupted once.

In 2017, I read a pitiful nine books.

  • The Maples Stories by John Updike – Stories about the same middle-class East coast couple that realize early on they're not doing the best for each other but are unwilling or unable to change, written over two decades. Vintage Updike.
  • Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski – Autobiographically inspired coming-of-age story by the man who between gloom, drink, gambling and women wrote persistently underrated poetry and the truly wild Tales of Ordinary Madness.
  • Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro – Proving that even I am not immune to hype if it shouts in may face, I read this, one of Flucha's contributions to our bookshelf, right after Ishiguro's Nobel Prize was announced.  Five stories about music and loss that I didn't find too impressive.
  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – An exhortation for women to be more present, active, brave and decisive in the workplace that helped me understand some of my behaviors a bit better.  I bought this for Flucha's birthday but was the one to read it – with considerable impact, even though I didn't get the promotion whose desirability I justified partly with the arguments put forth in this book.
  • Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits by Rahul Pandita – A book of suffering across time and space too grim to believe and maybe true for exactly that reason.
  • Soumission by Michel Houellebecq – In a France where Islam takes over, all changes happen by majority vote and without effective resistance.  In the end, the narrators gives in, and the Western world as we know it is lost.  An excellent book and easy to read in French.
  • The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing – Another Nobel Prizewinner on an off day.  This book is truly awful.
  • Cabo de Gata by Eugen Ruge – An escape from a life without purpose in the big city to a village on a harsh coast.  The search for meaning is aided by a cat, and that's about it.
  • Bob Dylan by Willi Winkler – The third Nobel Prizewinner, this time the object of, variously, adoration and incomprehension.  Though written by a fan, the book keeps a healthy distance from its subject.

Looking to the right of this page, it's hard to imagine that there will be an eighth instalment of this column.  I still haven't finished reading a single book this year.  There has been ample opportunity, with already three transoceanic flights for work (and thus without children), but I tend to sleep through the night these days and read magazines or, gasp, work, during the day.  A few books lie on my shelf half read, though when I get to finish them is anyone's guess. 

The O'Henry Stories will probably be first.  It's slim and easy to read because each of the stories, one very different from the next, takes only a few pages.  I'd love to get through Blood Meridian, a tour de force of staggering power, but with the violence and savagery piling up relentlessly, it seems unlikely the ending will provide a turning point or closure of any sort, and certainly not vindication.  I'd also love to finish Thinking, fast and slow and learn from it, but I've started three times already and given up each time upon reaching the point where I couldn't ingest and process any more insights.  I'd need to read this like a scientific paper, with annotations and my own summaries, but who wants to read a 300-page paper?

Keep your eyes on the list on the right to see what progress I'm making.  On Sunday, on my way to Chicago, it's probably going to be an Economist and work.