Friday, May 2, 2014

52 Books - March update (belated, obvi): 37/52

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 last post, I had 21 books down and felt like (a) I was ahead of pace yet (b) I wouldn't be able to keep it up. Here we are, well into April and I am even further ahead of schedule and show no signs of slowing. The first and second derivatives of Reading(x) appear to be positive!

In March, I did the following:
  • I read some collections of short stories, one by an author I know and love and others by totally new (to me) authors.
  • I explored the bibliographies of several graphic novelists I've come to admire, including Paul Hornschemeier, Gabrielle Bell, and Jason.
  • I read (and am reading) a few non-fiction books, especially about areas outside of mathematics.
  • I watched a film and then went back to read the novel on which it was based.
  • I wrote an essay for a forthcoming zine about Pittsburgh, and this reawakened a desire for writing in my own life. To wit …
  • I brainstormed some ideas for math books that I want to write, if I ever have the time.
  • I thought a lot about education and have some ideas for essays I want to write but no idea where to share them.
  • Most of all, I filled any spare moments I had between teaching, planning classes, grading, and walking/sleeping/eating/cooking by just sitting in my recliner with a soothing record on the player and propping open a book. If the rain was pattering, I'd keep the door open for a soundtrack. And I'd read.
Perhaps I've let my reading time start to bleed through and stain other activities in my life. But I feel like it's coloring them not with dirty, regrettable, red splotches; rather, it's filling my days with throbbing, exuberant, pulsating moments that can't help but spill over into every thought I have, every moment of my existence. I know this sounds crazy. That's why I love it and can't stop myself from typing this sentence. Okay, there. I stopped.
Here's what I've managed to ingest since my last update::

22/52: Don't Kiss Me: Stories, by Lindsay Hunter
Here's the review of this book I wrote on Goodreads:
I have to be in a certain mood to read Lindsay Hunter's stories, and I have to know ahead of time that they'll leave me in a certain mood afterwards. I still don't know what these stories "mean", but that's decidedly not the point with her prose. The process of reading, of twisting her words through my mouth and my brain, is the entire joy.
Yup, that's right. Try reading one of Lindsay's stories. You'll experience one of the following emotion/reaction combinations: "This is incredibly weird! I want to read more!"; "This is incredibly weird! What the fuck is this? I'll come back to this later."; "This is incredibly weird! I can't read any more of this."; "Qu'est-ce que c'est ici? C'est si bizarre!" Personally, I read each one and then put the book down on my lap and say, "What the fuck was that?" And then I chuckle out loud, and then I pick the book up again and read another story. That's just how our relationship is, and it's how I want it to be.

23/52: The Squirrel Mother: Stories, by Megan Kelso
This was mediocre, at best. Looking back, a few weeks removed, I recall a great story about Benjamin Franklin (I think?) and a terribly-told story about being left home alone by an aunt suffering from depression. There might have been another story about democracy and voting … maybe not. But this one just doesn't stick out. I was intrigued by the visuals of this book: seeing the cover and skimming through it at least made me check it out from the library, but after that … I checked out. Not boring, not offensive, not poor writing. Just all-around plain.

24/52: Wait Until Spring, Bandini, by John Fante
The final part of the Bandini series that I read over the last few months. This was the part I don't own a copy of, and I only found it in the library (and subsequently decided to read it) because I was already nearby in the fiction section. Strangely, I'm both upset and happy that this is one of the last Bandini saga entries I've ever read. This lends many insights into the Arturo Bandini character, of course, since this is the story of his upbringing. But I also kinda loved knowing Bandini as he was, not knowing where he came from, trying to reconstruct a past that would lead to his life; I thought of his parents and siblings and hometown through his own eyes and mind and narration. And now, well, I kinda still think that way, but I have his own personal narration to add to that. And it's great but also redundant. Yes, I'm talking as if I know this guy. Bye.

25/52: Beg The Question, by Bob Fingerman
I picked this one up from the library based on the cover and skimming through some pages. It looked like it would be funny and enjoyable and not a "flimsy read", so to speak. I wasn't wrong. Mostly, I enjoyed the characters in this story. They were well-developed, both personality-wise and artistically (in the graphics sense), and their interactions led to many funny and poignant situations. I couldn't really relate to them historically or situationally, so this novel only succeeded partially, in terms of those goals. But that wasn't the point, right? I enjoyed the read well enough.

26/52: An Invisible Thread, by Laura Schroff
I borrowed this book from my mom because she recommended I read it. So I did. Who am I to disobey? It was, indeed, a heart-warming tale of unlikely friendship, charity, perseverance, personality, and urban history. But it felt un-representative of the true story. It was half of the story, really. It entirely lacked the viewpoint of the male protagonist, whose name I've even forgotten by now, eve though he's the whole point of the story and the book, and even though I still somehow know that the writer's name is Laurie Schroff and she worked in advertising at USA Today when it was a big deal to get businesses to advertise in that paper and … ugh, I'm actually liking this book less and less the more I think about it. Too much of a mass-market fiction style to appeal to me, but, what's even worse, it tried so hard to be in that style.

27/52: Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor
I watched the film adaptation of this book a few years ago and enjoyed it. It was a well-made film and stands on its own. But I'm quite glad I read the novel, too. I don't intend this to contribute to the "Oh man, the book is always way better"-style debate. Rather, I'm pointing out that I'm glad I experienced both. They each have their merits. The cinematography of the film was so stark and gritty and sharp that, as I read the novel, still scenes from the film shot into my head. Facial expressions of the main characters stuck in my mind as I read about them. Meanwhile, a whole universe of interaction opened up as I read the narration and explored the characters in more depth than the visuals and dialogue could possibly convey. Between these two, I feel more experienced about this world that O'Connor established. I have no desire to live in that world. At all. But it was fascinating to enter for a few days.

28/52: The Mathematical Magpie, editor: Clifton Fadiman
More mathematical stories, essays, excerpts, poems, and short writings. Also collected and edited by Clifton Fadiman, in addition to Fantasia Mathematica, which I read a few months ago. This book is chock full of fun math stuff, and I have sticky notes fanning out from many of its pages. I'd love to see this kind of series continued for a more contemporary audience.

29/52: Cecil & Jordan in New York, by Gabrielle Bell
I've read a few of Bell's works recently. This one is a sequence of short stories about New York life and adventures. I think I prefer her more autobiographical works, and I guess I couldn't tell with many of the stories in this book whether or not they're personal stories. The drawings are great, and the story-telling is pretty good, but it didn't add up to a captivating reading experience, for me.

30/52: All & Sundry: Uncollected Work (2004-2009), by Paul Hornschemeier
More exploration of Hornschemeier's works. This one truly is all and sundry and collected and uncollected. I laughed out loud at many of these stories and drawings. I shed some tears at others. I scratched my head and beard with others. And some I just skimmed right through and couldn't cohesively consider. Certainly, highly recommended for the aspiring conoisseur of modern graphic novelism, but not at all for anyone else.

31/52: Mother Come Home, by Paul Hornschemeier
Oy, more Hornschemeier and more crying. How does he do it? This one was depressingly heart-wrenching but I couldn't put it down. I seriously remember sitting around reading some pages in this, slamming the book closed, tossing it on the ground, and saying out loud, "God damnit, man." And sighing loudly. And taking another sip of wine. And then another. And then picking up the book enthusiastically again. Because I just couldn't avoid reading more.

32/52: Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture, by Erez Aiden & Jean-Baptiste Michel
Really well-written. It's great to see some modern science/math/tech people who can appeal to broad audiences, tell good stories, and write in an engaging and intelligent way without sacrificing truth and rigor, ultimately. In particular, this book left me wondering about a lot of interesting questions and made me feel inspired to explore them and do some science. If you haven't explored it before, you need to play around with Google's NGram viewer. The authors of this book are its creators and they describe its genesis and uses extensively in this book. Highly recommended, to anyone.

33/52: The Voyeurs, by Gabrielle Bell
More Gabrielle Bell and, looking back, most likely my favorite collection of hers. These stories are more interesting and better told than those in her other books, I think. I particularly liked the diary-style aspect of this one, at least for part of it. If you're looking to explore her work, I'd start here.

34/52: Best American Comics: 2009, editors: Charles Burns, Jessica Abel, Matt Madden
Lots of good comics in here. Lots of weird shit, too. A smattering of so-so stuffing. I will happily explore more entries in this series, with the understanding that I'll likely get more of the same: a few things I'll love, a glut of things I'll find okay, and some stuff I'll flip through quickly. You should expect the same.

35/52: The Point: Stories, by Charles D'Ambrosio
I totally forget how D'Ambrosio entered my cultural consciousness, but here he is, fully formed. And I'm glad. These stories are … well, not outright depressing, but they make no pretense of being otherwise. I read through these one by one and required hours- to days-long reading breaks in between them. Dense and rich with emotional intensity, these are. I'll recommend if you're looking for something potentially engaging but also potentially overpowering. You've been goaded, and warned.

36/52: First Thought, Best Thought: The Art of Spontaneous & Inspired Writing Taught by Four Legendary Mentors of the Craft, by Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, William S. Burroughs, Diane Di Prima
I've starting exploring audiobook titles through the OverDrive app. (Through your local library, you can log in and download various ebooks and audiobooks! It's very convenient.) This one is a recording of four lectures by some Beat-generation writers about their methods and history, for an audience at a writing school, over the years. Allen Ginsberg's lecture was about rhythm and meter in poetry and, despite my boring description, was actually quite fascinating. He's a dynamic speaker. William Burroughs spoke about his "cutting" technique of splicing together words from literal newspaper clippings and the like. It was inspiring, but I've yet to do anything about it. Diane DiPrima spoke about printing presses and properly distributing one's work. It was fine, but she came across as a bit of an unrelenting Luddite, although I think that was part of her point. I don't even remember who the fourth speaker was, alas, which says something about how interesting her lecture was. (Yes, I looked the name up to title this one, but otherwise couldn't remember.) Anyhow, consider checking this out if you fancy yourself a writer, or if you are a fan of Ginsberg/Burroughs/DiPrime/what's-her-name. Otherwise, don't bother.

37/52: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
I picked this movie up from the public library a few weeks back, for whatever reason. The name jumped out at me from the DVD's spine as I scanned across the P section, and I remembered the hype around it being filmed in Pittsburgh a few years ago when I was there. So I watched it, having no real idea of what it was about, except for some sort of "coming of age" story. There's more to it than that. I ended up enjoying the film, for what it was, and decided I should read the novel, too. So I did. It was a quick read, only a day or two, including reading the entire second half in one sitting over dinner and a couple of drinks one evening. I still don't know think I know what to make of it, but I found it an enjoyable read. It's tough to entirely relate to any of the characters, but I'm not sure what that means. Maybe that's not the goal.

Other readings that kinda count:
The Lagoon, by Lili Carré:
A haunting graphic novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. This was a quick read, so I paired it with one of the above Hornschemeier books to "count" as a read.

Mr Wonderful, by Daniel Clowes:
A graphic short story I found and read entirely inside the library. The shape of the book and imagery on the cover caught my eye, so I took it to a table and ended up reading it in about half an hour. Enjoyable, and will look for more of Clowes' work in the future.

The Ideal Teacher, by George Hebert Palmer:
Recommended read from my mother. She has a physical copy of this book which she received as a gift from a former student of hers. It's a veritable relic, yet very little of the author's message is without meaning today. I found this to be a great essay from an educator about education, and it behooves modern educators to read it and reflect on just how much of the author's message still applies.

Kids Are Weird, by Jeffrey Brown:
A fun read that shows how … well, the minds of children will spew forth weird, seemingly random thoughts that make us smile, chuckle, and shake our heads. I can't wait to have kids so I can (a) mess with them, (b) teach them things, and mostly, as this book points out, (c) serve as a vessel/recorder for the truly crazy shit they will inevitably say/do.

The Wrong Place, by Brecht Evans:
Loved the watercolor aspects of this work. Every other graphic novel I've read stresses the ink lining, the comic-strip-style depiction of persons, the sharp contrast between image and text. This one blurs all of those lines and curves, and I loved it for that. The story, itself? Meh. But the format was superb.

Up next:
I will not fill in this section because, well, it's already May and telling you about books I was going to start reading in early April is pointless since I have, by now, already finished most of those anyway.
That said, I will be posting the April update of this series later tonight or tomorrow, so there's no need to worry. Not that you were, anyway. kthxbye

No comments:

Post a Comment