pandemic year reading (pt.2)

A Pandemic Year in Books, Pt. 2

A year in books. A pandemic year in reading. The goal was to read 100 books this year.

The other objective was to shrink my tsundoku pile by 25 books. Tsundoku is a Japanese word for a universal concept that most book lovers are all too familiar with — the amassing of books for later reading, and ending up with piles of books strewn all over the house: on night tables, desks, bookshelves, et al. That last bit is how tsundoku manifests itself in my house.

I read a fair amount of those 25 tsundoku books that were piled atop my nightstand at the beginning of 2020. So why do I feel like I failed to make any headway? Well, because like many book lovers I continued buying new books, not quite as quickly as I read them, but at a fair pace.  I also checked out dozens of e-books and audiobooks from the Boston Public Library (BPL) — and when they reopened, all the books I had on “hold” went back into circulation. The BPL remains open only for pick-ups and drop-offs, so the books placed on hold keep coming.

I began 2020 with 194 tsundoku books and audio books, and I ended the year with 174 of the old tsundoku books still unread. But I also bought a dozen-and-a half new books! So I’ll start 2021 with 192 tsundoku books — a net gain of 2 books read from the back-up pile! I’ll take those sorts of problems every time, as long as we’re safe and healthy.

This next trimester, April-June, was the busiest in terms of reading for me this year. In that springtime trimester I read 59 books. Obviously, with a lot less time in front of the TV, and everything in lockdown here in Massachusetts, there was copious time for reading — and so we read a lot.

Why read so much? Well, to pass pandemic time — but I think William Faulkner said it best: 

“Read, read, read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”

It’s a better way of passing through life than zombifying in front of Facebook, Instagram, or the television.

My reading resolution for 2021 is to check out less books from BPL, buy fewer new books, and read 50 books from my tsundoku piles en route to another 100 books next year. Hope lives. Parts 3-4 of this retrospective will follow over the next couple of days. Thanks for reading.


Below I share with you what I read this year: by month, title, author, year of original publication, a brief response to the book, the format of the book, and the date I finished the book.

(Note: I often read 3-6 books simultaneously (sometimes more) — high school and college style — and that accounts for sometimes finishing fairly long books in such close temporal succession)

This is what I read this year.  This is Part 2, April – June:


The Plague / Albert Camus (1947)

what an odd (synchronistic) time to be reading this book… as evocative, resonant and metaphorical as it is, it is spot on and eerie / e-book, 04/06/20.

The Bell Jar / Sylvia Plath (1963)

sylvia plath self-critiqued this work as: “a potboiler really…” as far as “potboilers” go… it’s an exceptional one / paperback, 04/11/20.

Progressivism, the Great Depression, and the New Deal: 1901-1941 / Christopher Collier (1997)

succinct… easy to read… engaging history / e-book, 04/12/20.

Viruses, Plagues & History / Michael B.A. Oldstone (2000)

solid survey on historic pandemics and newer epidemics… ranges from preston-like thrilling anecdotes to somewhat recondite and super dry science sometimes… good / e-book, 04/14/20.

Caffeine / Michael Pollan (2020)

enjoyable, breezy and entertaining audiobook from one of the best nonfiction writers around today… sometimes slight, but always chock-full of information about the #1 drug… read by author / audiobook, 04/15/20.

Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS / Samuel K. Cohn Jr. (2018)

an exhaustive — and exhausting — survey of pandemics and epidemics back thru recorded history… all as refracted through the limited lens of either compassionate help or scapegoating… really chock-full of great historical factoids and at its best when elucidating how the more times change, the more they remain the same — especially, re: finding others to blame (oh, so topical there!)… but often, all too often, reads like a dry ph.d. thesis… still worth the near-700 page effort… just once, not re-read material, unless “referencing” / hardcover, 04/16/20.

Neither Here Nor There / Bill Bryson (1991)

just what i needed after a near-700 page book about pandemics and scapegoating since the ancients… this is a slight and funny travelogue where bryson travels the length of europe… often retracing his travels 20 years earlier with the falstaffian katz… very funny on occasion, but not bryson’s best in my estimation… worth the read, though / e-book, 04/17/20.

Marooned: Jamestown, Shipwreck, and a New History of America’s Origin / Joseph Kelly (2018)

fascinating history of the first permanent english settlement in what is now the u.s. … as refracted through the concept of “marooning” predating jamestown and other concurrent ‘maroonings’… entertaining historical read / hardcover, 04/24/20.

Heart of a Dog / Mikhail Bulgakov (1925)

good satire on a number of different levels… by turns laugh out loud funny and devastatingly spot-on acerbic… i read this in the middle of reading m train, because patti smith raved so much about bulgakov, and i was totally unfamiliar with his work… now master & margarita, et al., are on my “to read” list… good stuff / e-book, 04/25/20.

M Train / Patti Smith (2016)

truly enjoyable memoir about loss, artistic creation, writing, dreams, literature — i added 6 books to my “to read” list from reading this… reading the paperback allows for “new material” a postscript which ties up some matters rather nicely… listened to the audiobook while simultaneously reading it because there is nothing like hearing smith read her work (or the phone book, for that matter)… good stuff / paperback, 04/27/20.

Weather / Jenny Offill (2020)

apocalypse obsessions… climate change fears… mindful meditation… gratuitous podcasting… a certain recent election through a glass obliquely… the only way this would have been more topical is if offill had included a pandemic… maybe next time… smart… engaging… slender volume… well written / hardcover, 04/29/20.

Heads or Tails / Lilli Carre (2012)

entertaining graphic short story collection… oblique stories and sharp art work… middle third of the collection is strongest, especially “the thing about madeline” and “the carnival” / e-book, 04/30/20.


My Sister, the Serial Killer / Oyinkan Braithwaite (2017)

a quick read confection… a bit on the over-hyped tip… not a waste of time… but not one worthy of a re-read either / paperback, 05/01/20.

The United States in World War II / Christopher Collier (1997)

very quick read… concise history of wwii, with precursors… interesting illustrations / e-book, 05/02/20.

The Petting Zoo / Jim Carroll (2010)

i wish this were a better book, i wanted it to be… it’s a disappointing last work… thinly veiled autobiography with far too much roman catholicism (for my palate) coursing thru it, odd flatness throughout, and tons of maudlin emotion… frustrating… carroll was still working on it when he died… the fugue states are obvious and the cascading crises pounded this reader into submission… i had given up caring about wolfram about halfway thru, but still plodded on… some very good ideas and passages, but too far and few… oy! / e-book, 04/06/20.

The Decameron / Giovanni Boccaccio (1351/2006)

came for the plague and got only the soft core. huh?! i wasn’t ready for the 1100 page dive into the entire decameron, but in search of “plague” reading, i thought these selections might do for now. no. after the interesting and historic introduction, it seems the editor (was it a 13 year old boy?) was interested in only the bawdy and ribald tales — the couple of dozen here, at least one from each of the 10 days, are absolutely inane. 

i don’t mind sex or erotica — but these read like emmanuel meets the 3 stooges! the naxos production (the readers and period music) is excellent tho — it’s the narratives that are sorely lacking. 

i know these aren’t representative of all 100 tales, but these selections are downright dumb, unfunny, and so terribly wrought and twisty… it would embarrass o. henry. i’ll have to sample some of the others… 

where’s my norton anthology? oy! / e-book & audiobook, 05/07/20.

Exile and the Kingdom / Albert Camus (1957)

even “not my favorite” camus is good reading. all quite different stories — from the experimental “the renegade” (“gra gra gra”) to the darkly humorous “the artist at work” — all steeped in absurdist-moralist-extientialist (heck, even anarcho-syndicalism “the silent men”) atmospherics. the standouts for me were “the adulterous woman” and “the guest.”

it ain’t the plague or the myth of sisyphus, but it’s camus — and that’s enough… one must imagine the reader happy. / e-book, 05/09/20.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present / David Truer (2019)

“If you want to know America — if you want to see it for what it was and what it is — you need to look at Indian history and at the Indian present.”

This book does that so well… staggering! / hardcover, 05/12/20.

Rashomon and Other Stories / Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1915)

ended up reading this collection due to patti smith’s raving about it in m train. good stuff — especially “in the grove,” “rashomon,” and “martyr.” / e-book, 05/13/20.

Altered States / Paddy Chayefsky (1978)

excellent stuff! the ken russell film was seminal for me as a teenager went back to it often, but waited 39 years to read the novel for some unknown reason… the novel fills out the lacunae the film always had, and the film re-contextualizes the few flat spots in the novel / e-book, 05/14/20.

A Journal of the Plague Year / Daniel Defoe (1722)

re-read. second time thru this in 2 years, ‘cept this time it is extremely topical, and instructive — the more times change the more humanity stays the same. still repetitive in sections, but the minutiae actually supports the narrative history here. everything you always wanted to know about the 1665 london plague but were afraid to ask… 1665 or 2020? same shit, different year / e-book, 05/15/20.

The Center of the Cyclone: An Autobiography of Inner Space / John C. Lilly (1972)

First read it as a teenager in 1980. Enjoyed it — did I really?! — along with Catañeda’s Journey… and Huxley’s Doors…, but a bit less than those, as I found the second half of the book difficult and uninteresting — this second time around was… worse. 

I recently (finally!) got around to reading Chayefsky’s Altered States (after indelibly scarring the Ken Russell film into my eyes/brain in the ’80’s-’90’s) and thought I’d give this another go.

Oy! No!

It’s the tale of two books really: I breezed through the first half of this book — an interesting 3-4 star book over the first 112 pages — wherein the author explores the limits of being and awareness via isolation tank studies and varying altered states of consciousness in a generally sober manner using the scientific method. 

And then he bends scientific method to meet his needs in the second half of the book — which is at times unreadable, and often laughable, and reminds me of everything I detest about new-agey / quasi-scientific clap trap. The Oscar Ichazo section is absolutely “TURD-U-LENT” and makes up most of the second half of this book. The “state category” converstion transcript between Lilly and Ichazo; the astrological mumbo jumbo; the Gurdjieffian vibration level / States of Consciuosness / Samadhi “Levels of Consciousness” tables… 

NO! (more power to u for ur enjoyment) NOT FOR ME! 

It still doesn’t detract from a very interesting (“Faustian”) first 112 pages… but what a let down. Even more so the second time around with 39 years under my belt.

Backstory: I have a history with this book. My father gave it to me and offered to drop acid with me (such a skeezy and creepy proposition) — which I naturally declined — but I think it’s safe to say this book is “charged” for me.

Needless to say, for myriad reasons, (namely temporal ones) I won’t be giving this one another “go round” in another 39 years (tho, I would read the first 100 pages again if so inclined)… ugh! / e-book, 05/17/20.

The Friend / Sigrid Nunez (2018)

National Book Award fiction winner, 2018. Intriguing, slim, novel about loss, grief, an enormous dog, and lots about writing — I really found that aspect of this book so engaging (really enjoyed a quasi-David Markson aspect to some of the passages) — and the surprise (for me) that is “Part Eleven” makes it worthy of a reread… and I will… “DEFEAT THE BLANK PAGE!” Yay! / hardcover, 05/19/20.

The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics / Stephen Cross (2016)

Good, solid, history about so much more than the small pox epidemic of 1721 in Massachusetts, especially Boston. There is more than one “fever” afoot — wide ranging: pre- revolutionary “fever,” bad governance “fever,” the “fever” behind colonial publishing, the small pox “fever” of course, the “fever” of open sea piracy, the “fever” between the Anglican Church and Puritanism, and sundry other “fevers.” Spends a great deal of time outside of 1721 and the small pox, and it’s all the stronger for it; but as I’m concurrently reading Tuchman’s lively history, Distant Mirror…, of the 14th century — this book, unfortunately pales (a bit) in comparison — the narrative is a bit flat and straightforward, and that’s fine. Very well researched. / e-book, 05/21/20.

Poetry April 2020 / Don Share (ed.) (2020)

The Gertrude Stein / Bianca Stone reimagining was great, so was Madeline Gins’ “Tranformatory Power” piece, and Sally Wen Mao’s “Nucleation” (easily the strongest piece in this collection), et al… both Joy Landin pieces (the poem and the essay) were the black hole here (oy! what a way to end… a deflating hiss…) / paperback, 05/22/20.

The Devils of Loudon / Aldous Huxley (1952)

Masterly synthesis from a sharp mind and keen writer that actually makes the over-the-top Ken Russell film seem tame at times. Many boundaries tested and extremes crossed in this 17th-century history of “demonic” possession. But there is at times a recondite quality to the narrative, and a slightly haughty pose affected here and there — nonetheless very good! / hardcover, 05/23/20.

Tsim Tsum / Sabrina Oran Mark (2009)

If the ontological imperative crashed into Bjork’s “Human Behavior” video and cracked the pixilated dimension open — and out ran the “felty” moth and bear, and they in turn fractured Gertrude Stein’s toy box — here be Walter B. & Beatrice.

From the “hello kitty twee” of the “Oldest Animal Writes A Letter” (s) oy! (So many letters!) to the great opening lines of “Walter B.’s Extraordinary Cousin Arrives for a Visit” … “...Beatrice and Walter B. were in the bath reciting scenes from their favorite sentences.” 

Not a bad way to spend an hour… if u can stomach the twee.

Talented writer. Will check out Mark’s Wild Milk. / e-book, 05/24/20.

So You Want to Start a Podcast… / Kristen Meinzer (2019)

Simple, straightforward, and delivers what it promises (except the hit show… that’s up to u): a primer… that’s it. / e-book, 05/25/20.

Year of Wonders / Geraldine Brooks (2001)

Another tale of plague, this time it’s 1666. An astounding story with overly wrought bits of “twisty-ness and contrivance” that would have impressed O. Henry. One of the twists was foreshadowed early and so it was expected. But I was quite put off at first — because I’m not entertained, nor do I feel edifed by that particular genre turn (which is ever so popular but repellant to me) — and I kid you not about the umpteen denouements and twists as the narrative winds down. 

But as much as I dislike those elements, nothing can really detract from what Brooks does here through the first 80% of the book. What a sublimely researched — and then imagined story! 

I wish the Hallmark Channel “crapulousness” could have been avoided, but Brooks does such an amazing writerly job up to that point that while (for me) the story becomes ludicrously frangible, rushed, and way too twisty the preceding 80% was so GENIUS (and topical) that it’s nonetheless a very worthwhile read. / e-book, 05/27/20.

A Man Without A Country / Kurt Vonnegut (2005)

Mostly funny book of short essays, memoir-ish, about humanity, writing, war, culture, growing old, politics… just about everything. Sometime KV pulls up his pants to his chest and waves his fist at the kids in the yard, but it’s mostly sepia-toned wistfulness and frustration at human absurdity. Nicely done short read. His last (before the posthumous releases). / e-book, 05/28/20.

Hidden Valley Road / Robert Kolker (2020)

Bound to be one of the best books of 2020. How schizophrenia destroyed a family: harrowing, tiring, frustrating, life-affirming and so well put together. Will go and check out Kolker’s Lost Girls next. What a journey! / audiobook, 05/29/2020.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus / Charles C. Mann (2005)

A good, strong, tonic against our national miseducation. / e-book, 05/30/20.

Little Eyes / Samanta Schweblin (2020)

Wow! Read it in one sitting. Disquieting. So well done. Tiniest bit of flatness around the 75% mark. I loved the truncated narratives we never reclaim. Great stuff. Moving on to Fever Dream immediately. What talent and imagination! / e-book, 05/31/20.


Introducing Postmodernism / Richard Appignanesi, et al. (1995)

A fresh presentation of sometimes dense material in appropriately pastiche fashion… the certainty of reason is a tyranny. / e-book, 06/01/20.

Fever Dream / Samanta Schweblin (2017)

On the heels of having read Little Eyes, which I loved, I immediately dove into this… oy! Reminds me of my frustration reading Henry James’s Turn of the Screw. I hated this, almost DNF’d it three times. Don’t want to hear about rescue distances, worms, horses, green houses, gold bikinis, iced teas, the 28 graves… stop! This book belonged in the 29th grave. Everybody die already and go to hell! Frustrating for me. I LOVED Little Eyes and liked Mouthful of Birds — this conceit wasn’t for me. I still love Schweblin’s writing, ideas & themes. / hardcover, 06/02/20.

Experimental Fiction: An Introduction for Readers and Writers / Julie Armstrong (2014)

Neat survey of experimental fiction from modernist era to new era (post-post modern). I enjoy reading a book that expands my “to read” list by 5%. The writing prompts / exercises are mostly useless. / paperback, 06/03/20.

On Imagination / Mary Ruefle (2017)

I really enjoy Ruefle’s poetry, and so I imagine that this chapbook on imagination is better than it is — and I am thankful to have been introduced to Emily Dickinson’s white goat in the attic. / e-book, 06/04/20.

Zap Comix #16 / Robert Crumb, et al. (2015)

graphic anthology… ah… no! maybe if i were a 14-year old boy… the saving graces are the many ailene & r. crumb collabs… smells as bad as an s. clay panel looks. / e-book, 06/07/20.

The United States Enters the World Stage: 1867-1919 / James Lincoln Collier (1997)

Slim, and solid, primer about US’s imperialist beginnings thru WWI. / e-book, 06/08/20.

Guest Book: Ghost Stories / Leanne Shapton (2019)

Oblique artifact, in book form, of haunted (haunting) narratives: some absolutely “Marienbad-esque” (“The Couple” & “Middle Distance”) some inscrutable (“Gymnopiedes”) some darkly funny (“Billy Byron” & “Etre Chez Soi”) and everything in between. Love the marriage of found (and set) photography, original art, and narrative. Will check out more Shapton. / e-book, 06/09/20.

Master Harold and the boys / Athol Fugard (1982)

So poignant and powerful in its simplicity. An act of betrayal so simple — yet disgusting — it reminds us why we are like hamsters running endlessly on the wheel… 
“…Open a newspaper and what do you read? America has bumped into Russia, England is bumping into India, rich man bumps into poor man. Those are big collisions, Hally. They make for a lot of bruises. People get hurt in all that bumping, and we’re sick and tired of it now. It’s been going on for too long. Are we ever going to get it right?

apparently not… / e-book, 06/10/20.

We / Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921)

Re-read. Second time around and I still think it’s the least (though still good!) of the big 3 modernist dystopias — even though it was the first. Each successive author: Huxley, then Orwell, improved upon the themes and made it a stronger, more horrifying dystopia. Orwell, in my estimation, wrote the best, most horryfing (and by extension most engaging) story… then again he had two decades and 20 million deaths (wars, concentration camps, gulags) to improve upon the subject.

Looking Backward / Edward Bellamy (1888)

Dull and pedantic attempt at the Utopia narrative. Discursive, unimaginative and overly didactic and so far away from being remotely engaging. Like reading distribution reports or an OBM report. Mesmeric time tripping tripe. The fact that it sold so many books, and was the source of so many Bellamy clubs, begs us to remember that Dianetics and Fifty Shades of Grey were best sellers and had cult followings… ‘nuff said. I wanted to give it one star, but that I reserve for DNF’s — which I almost did with this half a dozen times. Bellamy ain’t no Swift. / e-book, 06/11/20.

Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century / Barbara Tuchman (1978)

More plague! An astounding history and master narrative of 14th century Europe (mostly France) seen through the lens of the noble Coucy family: plague, papal schisms, wars, debauchery, knaive-ishness, vainglory, crusades… it has it all in spades, as it recounts one of the darkest centuries in western history. Great, long read! / hardcover, 06/12/20.

Postmodernism for Beginners / James N. Powell (2007)

Enjoyed the fist 3/4’s of this book and then it seemed to fizzle and read as something quite dated — at this point it is, obviously (25-years later). But I really enjoyed the marriage of graphics and Q&A to “deconstruct” a dense field of thought. / e-book, 06/13/20.

A Shameful Life / Osamu Dazai (1948)

“There is a word: ‘pariah.’ In human society this word is used to indicate those who have failed, the pathetic, the immoral. Ever since I was born, I felt I was a pariah…” and then it’s all downhill from there! Bleak house-o-rama. Good stuff. / e-book, 06/15/20.

The Salt Path / Raynor Winn (2019)

As a long distance hiker I gravitate to walking journey/backpacking stories, and this one delivered the truth about a long walk: the tedium, the bad breaks, the awful food, bad weather, the Sisyphean repetition of all day walking tens of miles and sleeping outdoors (rinse, repeat… endlessly… or at least as many weeks or months as you’re walking) — but it also delivers on the transcendent moments of beauty and exhilaration, of pushing one’s body to and beyond its limits, and the exultant feeling of finishing a long distance hike. 

It’s also a rumination on the issues around homelessness — it operates as an amazing concurrent motif. Well done there!

Sure, Winn could have benefited from some better editing, but given how the book resolved — and the obvious follow up (The Wild Silence) coming in a few months — it, ostensibly, was a strategy to leave something out, and maybe overlook some extraneous or repetitive passages. 

An editing oversight? Or crass tactic to fill out the book instead of cutting back on the repetition?

If the publishers / editors would have chosen one well told, tight, book at 250 pages, instead of two books at 288 pages — it might have been more satisfying — with fewer cavils from some.

But every time I got frustrated with the narrative I had to re-engage with my empathy and remember why they were doing what they were doing in the fashion they were doing it.

Still a great narrative, with a lack of tightness and denouement (especially at end) but well worth the read… and even a re-read in the future. 

Amazing bits of bad luck, balanced out with some great luck, and hard earned triumph (despite the foreboding) at end of this first book. Winn’s talented with natural description. / paperback, 06/16/20.

Medallion Staus: True Stories from Secret Rooms / John Hodgman (2020)

Another set of solid and funny nonfictions, with a couple of near-shrill moments (midway thru) that broke the spell, but finished strong with stories about Petey, Scientology/Trump, and tying it up with Maine again. Hard to follow up the brilliance of Vacationland, but still very good. / hardcover, 06/19/20.

On The Beach / Nevil Shute (1957)

If this is bleak now it must have seemed especially apocalyptic, five years after publication in October of 1962, during the Missile Crisis. 

Now we’re merely inured to inhumanity, and this is still a searing book, suffused with sadness. We’re so good at killing each other, and the planet — without the Cobalt bombs! (today)…

But Shute spends his time showing us what the dignity of humanity might be like when staring at the very final hours. Very much a product of its mid-20th century time, but also potentially timeless. An engaging speculation.

The film is an abomination in comparison to this book — utter melodramatic tripe. I’m glad I read the book first. Had I seen the film, I might have skipped the novel.

I think I’ll read some more Shute. / e-book & audiobook, 06/20/20.

Hiroshima / John Hersey (1946/1985)

Re-read this after finishing Nevil Shute’s On The Beach — seems Shute did some very good research about the effects of radiation. I was struck by the power of this book (especially the first four chapters) again. I’d originally read it without the 1985 update (chapter five), and it certainly answered many unanswered questions that had accrued during the 40 years after its publication. Should be required reading everywhere. / paperback, 06/21/20.

Literary Theory / David Carter (2006)

Short survey of literary theory of the 20th century, not exactly leisure reading, but a decent reference for a refresh. / e-book, 06/22/20.

People of Paper / Salvador Plascencia (2005)

DNF’d (did not finish) abandoned reading at Chapter Sixteen, about 65% of the way in — first (and hopefully only) DNF this year.

In theory it has everything I like: a postmodern approach, a great structural conceit, a Latinx subject (I’m Latinx) and an obviously talented writer. 

But the narrative doesn’t hold together for me — nor do I find it interesting — and after 5 weeks of slowly plodding through it, and putting it down — I’ve had enough. 

I can’t imagine going another 80 pages with this. Maybe I’ll come back and try it again in the future. There’s so much else to read (and enjoy) right now. / e-book, 06/24/20.

Feed / M.T. Anderson (2002)

Recommended by a professor of Utopian/Dystopian Lit. — I maybe read one YA (young adult literature) book every few years, and didn’t expect much, especially as the previous recommendation was Looking Backward (not YA lit) and it was a bomb (not thee bomb: a bomb!). 

Surprisingly good stuff here! I like where MT Anderson defies our expectations — and especially his skewering of our culture and his futuristic speculations. Doesn’t downplay to young adults, and quite engaging for the oldsters. Will check out more Anderson. / e-book, 06/24/20.

Poetry May 2020 / Don Share (ed.) (2020)

I really disliked the “Comment” section again. 

Loved all the Mary Ruefle, especially “Red” (heh!); also standouts from Kyle Carrego Lopez’s “(slang)uage”, Inua Ellams (both “Fuck/…”(‘s), Safia Elhilo, Dean Browne, TC Tolbert’s “T”, and Helen Mort, et al. 

Maybe next time I’ll read “Comment” first and then the poetry… so I walk away with a better impression? / paperback, 06/25/20.

The Motion of the Body Through Space / Lionel Shriver (2020)

Disappointing. Shrill. One dimensional — even after the “Afterword” which tries to humanize these curmudgeons. 

Chapter 6 is a contrived travesty of ham fisted situations, and stark cartoonish characterizations. Almost DNF’d there, but held on…

See, I really liked her last novel, The Mandibles, despite a problematic characterization there as well — that was a near genius “dystopic” take on American culture. And I also liked Property: Stories… These were the only two Shriver books I’d read so far, but this?!

Cover to cover acrimony and unengaging. I had to stop reading and check out some blurbs on LitHub — a couple of outlets found it OK, and one said hold out until the last chapter for a payoff — so I read on…

Then I imagined an author working away, cracking a smile, and so full of herself, hovering over her keys, thinking she’s meting out some “Trumpian come-uppance” but it’s merely shrill and meretricious posturing. 

You’re a lot more talented than that, Lionel. Caricatures! There isn’t a single truly complex character here — certainly not Serenata or Remington “Alabaster”… really? How infantile! So glad I checked this out of the library, and didn’t spend a penny.

I’m pissed because now it seems like she hoodwinked me with The Mandibles. This is a waste of time and talent. Shriver is talented. But this book is tripe. 

Best to let this book speak for me via Serenata: 

“This whole venture, it’s so joyless, what’s the point?”

And later (this book is):

“… a torture of the sort they would have contrived at Guantanamo or Bergen Belsen…”

This was a (literary?!) sucker punch… and I didn’t even get to read “… Talk About Kevin” before Shriver lost me. 

¡Hasta Luego, sistah! / e-book, 06/25/20.

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis / Jared Diamond (2019)

One of those solid, engrossing, and enlightening histories. Deals with the critical moments of six nations in the last two centuries. Crises points for Finland, Chile, Japan, Germany, Australia, and the U.S. 

Chapter 10 should be required reading for all U.S. citizens. 

Masterfully researched with great personal anecdotes. Will read the first two in the trilogy soon. Very well done. / e-book, 06/26/20.

Treasure Island / Robert Louis Stevenson (1879)

Shiver me timbers, that’s a rippin’ yarn! About time I got around to it. / e-book & audiobook, 06/28/20.

The United States in the Cold War: 1945-1989 / Christopher Collier (1997)

A tad jingoistic to close. Ok. Brief history of US 1945-1990, as seen through prism of the Cold War. e-book, 06/29/20.

The Book of Eels / Patrik Svensson (2020)

A remarkable book that I didn’t know I needed to read. An engaging, braided, nonfiction narrative I couldn’t imagine would be so engrossing, about a subject which I’d never deeply considered: eels!

But Svensson weaves in history/philosophy (Aristotle, Freud, Bering, et al.) with deep philosophical isssues (existential and ontological questions) and adds literary intersections (Grass, Carson) over the backdrop of his relationship with his father over the course of years spent eel fishing and all things eel related (and so much more). 

Amazing little book! One of the best books this year. / hardcover, 06/30/20.

“I have studied what we have done to the planet and I object. I object to the exploitation of, and the lack of respect for, human laborers. I object to the frantic commercialization of the many realms of daily life, I object to the desecration of what is beautiful, to the celebration of what is venal, and to the ethical obtuseness of the king’s adoring enablers. I object to society’s complacency.”

— Barry Lopez / American Geography, Introduction

About istsfor manity

i'm a truncated word-person looking for an assemblage of extracted teeth in a tent full of mosquitoes (and currently writing a novel without writing a novel word) and pulling nothing but the difficult out of the top hat while the bunny munches grass in the hallway. you might say: i’m thee asynchronous voice over in search of a film....
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