Friday, May 16, 2014

52 Books - April update: 46/52

A previous post of mine said that I will be reading 52 books in this year's 52 weeks. I fully intend to achieve that goal. Here is my progress:

As of my most recent post, belatedly recapping March's readings, I had tallied 37 books on my "read" (past tense) list. I'm now recapping April's progress, again belatedly (but somewhat less exaggeratedly so), and I've conservatively counted 46 as my total so far this year. Needless to say, I am well on pace to achieve 52 books this year; indeed, I'm strongly considering reupping my goal to 100. I'll consider that change later; for now, I'll share what I read last month.
Here's what I've managed to ingest since my last update::

38/52: Low Moon, by Jason
Jason is quickly becoming my favorite graphic novelist (Paul Hornschemeier being the main competitor). His panels are stark but utterly engaging, and the stories make me alternately chuckle, ponder, and tear up. You just have to experience his stories. There's no other way to get a sense for how accomplished he is, as an artist/writer/story-teller/engager. Some of his books I have enjoyed much more than others, but I've thoroughly enjoyed them all, so there's almost no point to the exercise. This one is great, plain and simple.

39/52: Spaceland, by Rudy Rucker
I recall reading some of Rucker's writings for an interdisciplinary math/literature course in college. I remember that he was weird. Intelligent. And weird. This novel supports those memories. I took this book out from the Emmanuel library months ago when I was toying with designing a First Year Seminar course about mathematics and fiction; I love Flatland but had never read Sphereland nor Spaceland, so I decided to read this. That course never panned out, so I forgot about this book until ... well, I spotted it on my desk and started reading. I was hooked. It's plot is notably 90s and dot-commy, strangely enough, mixed with a metaphysical and veritably physical consideration of the 4th dimension. While reading, it felt a lot like Douglas Coupland had decided to become a philosopher/mathematician. I thoroughly enjoyed all this, mind you. But this might only appeal to a certain crowd. If you already read and liked Flatland, considering adding this to your queue, at least.

40/52: What I Did, by Jason
I already described Jason's greatness above, so I won't attempt to reiterate here. More powerful stories, beautifully told and artistically-rendered. I will read anything this guy creates, to sum up.

41a/52: Howl & other poems, by Allen Ginsberg
April was National Poetry Month, so I sought out several collections and famous poems that I had been meaning to read / wanted to read / ought to have read / etc. This collection fit all of those desires/needs. I probably read "Howl" back in college, but I decided I really needed to revisit it and make it stick in my head. This is arguably the most famous American poem of (at least the latter half of) the 20th century, so what better way to celebrate Poetry Month? It was (indeed, is) beautiful and powerful. Some phrases struck me and made me want to use them in daily conversation but, now, not even a month or so later, the particular words Ginsberg used are already slipping quickly from my memory. But I do recall the atmosphere, the tone of this whole collection. It just makes me want to reread it again, every month.

41b/52: Scattered Poems, by Jack Kerouac
More poetry to celebrate April! (I actually read a few more collections this month, but these short chapbooks couldn't quite count as a "full read", I thought. Instead, I selected these two to represent my readings of this month. I have a few more that are still being read, so I'll count those in the May post.) I've read a lot of Kerouac, and I've even read a fair amount of his poetry, but these were all new. I think I was more acquainted with his "American haiku", having flipped through a collection of those poems. These poems were, well ... obviously Kerouac. He has a notable and identifiable way with words and phrases and images. I particularly liked the poem about "how to meditate" (that might even be the title). You can read this collection in this here pdf.

42/52: Barrel Fever and Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris
I listened to these two as audiobooks from the Boston Library. I like David Sedaris's stories, but I like him reading his stories even more. It's not that the entertainment disappears on the printed page; rather, Sedaris does well to bring the stories to life through his voice. I liked Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls a lot. Not quite as much as Me Talk Pretty One Day. But I'd say those are my two favorite collections of his. Barrel Fever earned a big fat MEH from me, though. I was excited that Amy Sedaris did some voices on that audiobook, and she did kinda steal the show during those stories, but overall it was just a far weaker collection of tales. Sobeit. I'm still looking forward to hearing more of David in the future.

43/52: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley
This was absolutely awesome! Wonderful drawings, wonderful writing, wonderful stories, wonderful recipes. This book made me fucking hungry. Constantly. I gathered several cooking ideas and inspirations from it and am looking forward to using them. More broadly, this book told Knisley's story of a life built around food. Her parents were both involved in the food industry and she, naturally, has an interesting attachment to food. But she's far from a snob, and mocks her history, at times, telling a story about getting McDonald's fries in Rome despite her dad's admonitions, for instance. This is the kind of book I want to keep around in my kitchen and by my coffee table. It's a delightfully fun read and is chock-full of wisdom and recommendations.

44/52: The Psychopath Inside, by James Fallon
I found this one in the "new non-fiction" section at the library, which I've been exploring recently to learn more about current science. I was intrigued by the idea that a neuroscientist would turn his studies towards his own brain and life and, indeed, a lot of this book did exactly that. I was a little put off by the apparent egotism of the author and, occasionally, the lack of scientific rigor and anecdotal "evidence" to support his theories. But this was admittedly a singular case study and so, of course, I shouldn't expect perfect analysis. Ultimately, this amounts to a uniquely appealing memoir, combining scientific know-how, extensive family history, self-awareness, interviews, and research evidence to develop an understanding of psychopathy and what it truly means and how it hardly ever (if at all) conforms to society's understanding of the term. I'd recommend at least starting to read this, or skimming through it; if you get intrigued, keep going with it, otherwise no big deal.

45/52: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage., by Rob Delaney
I know Rob Delaney from his Twitter account. But I admit that I didn't really know his Twitter account beforehand. I just knew it existed and it was popular and I'd seen some of his tweets and laughed at them. Then I heard him promoting this book on a recent episode of the Comedy Bang Bang podcast so I queued it up on audiobook via, yup, the library. I ended up listening to this over many sessions, while walking to/from campus, riding in the car with my parents, sitting around at home, etc. Many of Delaney's stories were funny. All of them were oddly interesting. And, in sum, I found that Delaney is just a weirdly entertaining guy. He's not really a comedian. He's not really a writer. He's just a guy who's lived through some strange experiences and can tell you about them. Go into this book expecting no less and no more and you will be richly rewarded.

46/52: Junky, by William Burroughs
I was already on a beat generation fix, what with First Thought, Best Thought and then Ginsberg and Kerouac, so I went all out and picked out this newly-restored edition of this novel from the library. This story is stark and spare. It is honest. Brutally so and unapologetically so and it shows no pretense for even needing to apologize for being so. It is perfect, in those regards. The appendices that showed letters/writing by Burroughs and Ginsberg to/about their publishers pushing for this novel's release really added to my understanding of this novel's importance, actually, and I'm glad they were included. Had I just read this book in a metaphorical vacuum, I wouldn't have gained nearly as much. It's absolutely worth remembering, before/while/after reading, that this book's events are set in the 1950s and were meant to be shared then, as well.

Other readings that count:
I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You, by Yumi Sakugawa:
A short graphic story about a little monster with a friend. Light fluff. Pretty enjoyable but ultimately forgettable.

The Three Paradoxes, by Paul Hornschemeier:
Really enjoyed this. Horsnchemeier is wonderful, and his treatment of Zeno's paradoxes here is highly commendable. I have a special attachment to this book.

Lucky, by Gabrielle Bell:
More from another favorite graphic novelist of mine. This one explores her time in NYC. Really enjoyed this, and recommended if you're already into her work or want to know more.

I Killed Adolf Hitler, by Jason:
More Jason. Greatness. This is a short story about time travel and its implications. Highly recommended!

The Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit, by Gregory Corso:
Part of my poetry month celebrations. I'm reading more Corso now, mostly due to how much I enjoyed this collection. His writing is exuberant and engaging.

The Company, by Robert Creeley:
Picked this out from the library's poetry collection while I was already scanning through it. Enjoyed it mostly, but nothing stood out as memorable.

Up next:
Much like my last post, I'll say that I'm already well into way so there's kinda no point in sharing what I'd started reading. Still, I'll mention here some books that I'm working through and hopefully will finish in the next two weeks. (I've already finished several books in the interim of this post's scope and the current day, so these are actually ongoing reads...)

Feynman, by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick:
A graphic novel about the life of Richard Feynman. What's not to love?

The End Of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe:
Recommended by my mom. A book apparently about mothers and sons and reading. Sounds appropriate!

In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall:
I recently read a graphic novel about some female scientists who studied primates (see next post for more) and was inspired to seek more source material. This is part of that goal.

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