Saturday, February 2, 2008

Reading List: January 2008

I've always enjoyed when my friend Steve Mollmann does this, so I've decided to follow his example. He and I have different tastes, I suppose, so I rarely comment on his entries, but it is my wish that some of you might comment here and that this forum might be a place where some interesting discussions take place.

1. Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis: Though not exactly the book I wanted it to be, Michaelis does a very good job presenting Schulz's life as a narrative and highlighting how he wrote personal matters into the Peanuts strip. Read more about my thoughts here.

2. 100 Bullets: Samurai by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso: The seventh collection in this comic series was interesting enough, but whether it is the protracted periods between my reading of the collections or a failure of Azzarello's, I just can't ever seem to keep track of who is who.

3. The Studio by John Gregory Dunne: An interesting look at the operation of a movie studio in the sixties, though it is a bit of a shame that Dr. Doolitte with Rex Harrison takes up most of the narrative. I really only read this to learn a little more about Dunne, since I was so captivated by his wife Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking.

4. Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens: Though I wasn't aware that Orwell needed such a strident defense, the ever opinionated Hitchens does a nice job putting the actual Orwell (or should I say Eric Blair?) into context with much of the criticism about him. Orwell was about so much more than 1984 and Animal Farm, but I'd read a collection of his essays before I tackled this.

5. The Zoo Story by Edward Albee: Though I struggled with reconciling some of the Christian symbolism with other aspects of the play, I was incredibly struck by the naturalism. The symbolism isn't outside of the play at all, so his message doesn't feel forced, something that unfortunately happens in a lot of contemporary drama. I also learned that he wrote a first act to be presented along with this play, but unfortunately it isn't available in print yet. Curses.

6. Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet: Though I think Mamet writes dialogue better than almost anyone, I not a huge fan of his work. I was glad to read this though, because seeing these salesmen like wounded animals willing to lash out at anything is what I needed to steer me away from sales as I look for another career.

7 . Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: I'm not in love with Foer's characters or his melodrama, but what I am wowed by is the design in his book. He employs changing fonts, pictures, drawings, color, and more to create a narrative that very intriguing to me. I'm beginning to become consumed with books written and conceived as physical objects, with that physical object's properties being integral to the narrative itself. An easier, though more radical, example might be Mark Z. Danielewski's work.

8. The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov: I'd never read this before and was struck at how funny I found it at times. In the end, I found it to be a truly great play, for it offered so much material without ever forcing me into any one interpretation. Highly recommended.

9. Night by Elie Wiesel: There was a recent article in the NY Times Book Review about the history of this novel, so I decided to finally read it to see what I was missing. While I felt that Wiesel truly captured the horrors of the concentration camps, I was a bit underwhelmed by the prose and some of his transparent narrative tricks.

10. Miss Julie by August Strindberg: This was my second time through the play, and while I still find it worthy of study, I found it a bit too melodramatic. I also noticed some nuance that I'd missed, making me ultimately dislike a character I'd liked the first time. There's a lot going on with gender v. sex, men v. women, and aristocracy v. servant class, but not enough to truly make it stand out from a hundred other works.

11. All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones: In his second collection of short stories, Jones has solidified himself as one of my favorite contemporary writers. I was floored by his Pulitzer winning novel The Known World, so as soon as this was released in paperback I picked it up. The prose is incredibly crafted and rich with detail. This may very well be the best current American writer.

Please, let me know your thoughts.


BrendanMoody said...

If you haven't you might also want to read John Gregory Dunne's Monster, a much more personal book about his life in the movie business. It complements The Year of Magical Thinking in some interesting ways.

Anonymous said...

You're right... not much overlap at all, is there?

I've read Night, but then I'm pretty sure I've read every Holocaust novel out there except Maus. (And all this happened in grade school. Why my teachers were obsessed with these is beyond me.) Anyway, Night I have only vague memories of, but they are vague memories of dislike. There are better novels/memoirs on this subject out there. The best Holocaust story remains, of course, the first half of Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.