Read Goal: Twenty-Five Categories
I really enjoyed reading books from 25 categories, as Kalyn, Stephanie, and I did last year, because it made me read a wider assortment of material. I've decided to do it again, wish just some slight revisions to the categories on the list.
1. Romance -
I read John Shors's Beneath a Marble Sky as my romance, on Stephanie's recommendation. I enjoyed the first three hundred pages of it, even though the writing was too fluffy at points and the main relationship of the novel consisted exclusively of scenes in which the lovers ecstatically proclaim their love for one another. The last forty pages of the novel, however, just drove me insane, as the protagonist just acted far out of character and just beyond crazy. The author even seemed to be struggling to explain why he was having her do these crazy things. So it goes. It was an ok book. Fluff. But mostly enjoyable. finished 8/5/14
2. Graphic Novel/Comics -
I read Richard Kleist's graphic novel biography of Johnny Cash this last week. I've been meaning to read it for a while, after I saw a student with it checked out, but I especially was inspired to when Dr. Beck started his recent blog series on the theology of Johnny Cash. This was a lyrical, albeit brief, biography that uses both the text and the art of the graphic novel form to capture the chiaroscuro that defined Johnny Cash's life. finished 2/20/14
3. Young Adult Novel -
I read John Green's Looking for Alaska because I've had so many of my students writing about it and recommending it. I'll admit that I wasn't totally blown away by it--it's definitely about teen drama and I maybe see a little too much of that at my job every day--but it was fine. I could see why my students like it. finished 1/17/14
Also Read: Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, finished 9/27/14
4. Poetry -
I'm sure that I'll read a good bit more than one book of poetry during the year. I did read my first, though, for the year--Natasha Tretheway's Thrall. I've read Tretheway before, and I thought that this was a surprisingly interesting collection. The subject of the book is the mulatto in history and in experience. Quite a few of the poems respond to famous paintings that feature mulattoes. The best part of the collection concerns Tretheway's sometimes troubled relationship with her father. The elegy that opens the book, especially, stands out. finished 2/22/14
Some random other poetry books I've read: Collected Poems: 1943-2006 by Richard Wilbur, finished 3/1/14; Cross Ties: Selected Poems by X.J. Kennedy, finished 3/7/14; Back Chamber by Donald Hall, finished 3/8/14; A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997 by Wendell Berry, finished 4/5/14; Evangeline by Henry Wadworth Longfellow, finished 4/21/14; Poems by George Herbert, finished 5/20/14, Haiku by Peter Washington, finished 5/29/14; Selected Poems by William Carlos Williams, finished 9/14/14; A Maze Me by Naomi Shihab Nye, finished 10/4/14; Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser, finished (again) 10/31/14; Blue Horses by Mary Oliver, finished 11/3/14; Love Songs by Sara Teasdale, finished 11/8/14; Falling Up by Shel Silverstein, finished 11/20/14; Splitting an Order by Ted Kooser, finished 12/9/14; The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle, finished 12/28/14; Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You In the Morning by Alice Walker, finished 12/31/14
5. Mystery -
I read The Death of an Outsider by M.C. Beaton for my mystery, though I'll likely read a few more mysteries before the year is over. I read Beaton when I'm wanting something just extremely light, a break from school and other heavier reading. This one wasn't great, but it fit the bill. finished 4/5/14
A few more mysteries that I liked: Fly on the Wall by Tony Hillerman, finished 6/23/14; Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon, finished 7/10/14; Maigret Sets a Trap by Georges Simenon, finished 8/6/14; The Late Monsieur Gallet by Georges Simenon, finished 8/13/14; Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon, finished 8/18/14; The Bar on the Seine by Georges Simenon, finished 12/7/14; Death of a Snob by M.C. Beaton, finished 12/14/14
6. Current Bestseller -
I could count this book in several categories, but I'm going to go with Current Bestseller. The book is How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. It was a pretty wonderful book filled with common sense. The thesis is that success in life comes more from noncognitive skills like grit, curiosity, and conscientiousness than it comes from intelligence. These character traits are typically instilled by good parenting and by education that is authentically challenging--that gives children an opportunity to fail and that teaching them how to deal with failure. A lot of the books struck me as obvious, but it's also the sort of obvious wisdom that our culture needs to hear. finished 3/30/14
7. Spy/Crime Novel -
I read Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man. I had much enjoyed The Maltese Falcon a year or so ago and had enjoyed the movie of The Thin Man, too. So, I've been wanting to try this out for a while. I was surprised with how similar this was to the film (no bad thing). On the whole, it was a fine mystery, with some witty dialogue. finished 6/9/14
8. Biography -
I've been wanting to read a biography of Bach for quite a while now, and Stephanie got me a new biography which I'd requested--John Eliot Gardiner's Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven--for Christmas. I did enjoy it and especially think I am better able to understand the richness of the theology undergirding Bach's choral music. That said, I didn't think that the publisher's description of the book as a biography was terribly accurate--this is an appreciation and interpretation of Bach's cantatas first and a biography of the composer second or third--and for a non-specialist like myself, a lot of the book was difficult to appreciate. finished 1/7/14
9. A Vampire Book –
I read Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends. I'm a long-time fan of Moore's but had sort of saved this trilogy back, since I will be pretty well caught up with Moore's current oeuvre once I'm done with it. Bloodsucking Fiends had all of the ridiculous wit and plot twists that you expect in a Christopher Moore novel and was generally great fun. finished 11/27/14
This one's already done! I read The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, the first book in a mystery series which is the basis for Longmire, a show I'm interested in from A&E. I actually didn't know anything about this show or the series until Stephanie and I were shopping at a kitchen store in Fredericksburg this summer. At the store, an overenthusiastic salesperson kept following us around talking and talking and talking to us. The interesting takeaway from the experience, though, was that she kept going on and on about this show that she's been watching. The Cold Dish was a good book, quite similar to Hillerman's work (which is nice, since I've just about finished everything by Hillerman), and was definitely an interesting opener to the series. finished 1/1/14
11. A Shakespearean Play –
I was getting pretty embarrassed that I'd never actually read Macbeth. We didn't read it in high school, and my college professors didn't assign it because they assumed that we had read it in high school. I've never taught it, generally choosing to be the one teacher who wants to cover Shakespearean comedy in high school. Altogether, I'd never read it. I enjoyed it, though I'm not sure I found it as thematically rich as some of the other tragedies (King Lear, Hamlet, Othello). I can see why it's chosen for high schoolers. finished 11/22/14
12. Comedy –
I read Adrian Plass's novel The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37 3/4. The book is really a one-of-a-kind. It's about a man in Great Britain who is an evangelical Christian. He's not too bright, but he's very good-hearted. So, the book is his spiritual journal, as he catalogs his life in the church and his attempts to be a good Christian. The book is often a little ridiculous (i.e. Adrian trying to make a spoon move across the table by faith), but usually, it's right on the mark about the struggles and little absurdities of living a life of faith. It's a cute, but also truthful and occasionally poignant book. finished 2/10/14
13. British Classic –
I am counting Frances Hodgson Burnett's children's classic A Little Princess as my British classic. I found it to be surprisingly good. Sara Crewe has been the privileged ward at Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Young Ladies, but when her father goes missing in India and his payments to the school goes missing, the cruel Miss Minchin demotes her to the position of lowliest and most ill-treated servant. Sara, whose character is imbued with compassion and imagination, has to find the spiritual resources to keep going. I admired the book as an excellent story that, in the tradition Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, effectively imparts wisdom on the value of character. finished 11/30/14
14. American Classic -
I read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women for my, Stephanie, and Kalyn's book club read. I expected to like it, since as a child I'd enjoyed an abridged version very much. I liked the actual version much more, though, since Alcott's writing just really sparkles at times since she is so observant. I also liked her defense, in the novel, of writing a book with a moral purpose (she basically just thinks it needs to be done well). Little Women embodies Alcott's ideals because, in addition to being a good story full of characters who are worth caring about, it does exemplify characters who portray humility, moral growth, self-discipline, and charity. finished 2/8/14
Some other American classics I've read: Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather, finished 7/31/14; Saphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather, finished 8/16/15; Washington Square by Henry James, finished 8/31/14
15. Presidential Biography -
I read John Seigenthaler's biography of James K. Polk from the American Presidents series. I've always been a little fascinated--and pretty put off--by Polk's successful but imperialistic presidency. I thought that this was a good short biography of Polk, justly arguing that in terms of accomplishments, Polk is one of the maybe great presidents. finished 5/10/14
Some other presidential biographies that I've read: I read Gail Collins's American Presidents biography of William Henry Harrison. I pretty well read it because I would like to read a bio on each of the presidents, and I love Collins's hilarious writing for the New York Times. I thought that she might do a nice job with a biography of this president who served only 31 days in office. She did. finished 5/16/14; Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer. It's also in the American Presidents series. I got really interested in Van Buren while reading the other two presidential biographies from the time period. The man was a giant of the age. Unfortunately, Widmer was the worst writer of the books I've read in the series, making this the least enjoyable presidential biography I've read this year.
I read Anthony Hope's sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda, Rupert of Hentzau. The Prisoner of Zenda was just about my favorite book early in high school, and I still think that it's marvelous. I'd hesitated to read its sequel, though, because I'd heard it was a disappointing follow-up. I'd owned a copy since the 9th grade, though, and so needed to get to it sometime. As it turns out, Rupert of Hentzau is a wonderfully written book. I was riveted all the way through it. And then the ending floored me. In a so-so way. I can see why some people love this book and why some people hate it. I feel both of those emotions at the same time. I'm glad I finally read it. finished 10/8/14
17. SciFi or Fantasy –
I read Alan Garner's Red Shift. I had never heard of this work before last week, although I had always wanted to read something by Garner. I happened upon a NYRB copy of this in Half-Price Books last weekend, though, and was so intrigued that I immediately read it. It's an interested book that links three love stories from three different time periods (Roman Britain, the Commonwealth Interregnum, and 1950s or 1960s Britain). The problem with the book was that its interesting concept wasn't fully carried out, on account of the truly obscure prose of the novel. finished 2/19/14
18. Christmas Book -
Stephanie and I read Patricia MacLachlan The True Gift together. I've admired several books by MacLachlan in the past, and this was a good one. It didn't have quite the poetic spark like Sarah, Plain and Tall or Skylark, but it was still a sweet Christmas novel for children. finished 12/6/14
I also listened to the audiobook of John Grisham's Skipping Christmas, since it was short and since I'd heard good things about it. It was largely enjoyable, with some mildly humorous moments. It also had annoying characters who did utterly illogical things. finished 12/29/14
19. Education Book –
I read Michael Schmoeker's Results Now because it's become very influential in my school district. I agreed pretty strongly with Schmoeker's conclusions--that the key to education is simply having students read, read, read, argue, and discuss. It's more simply than all of the passing fads suggest. That said, I thought that the book was, on the whole, poorly argued and organized. It was a frustrating read that reaches the right conclusions. finished 4/22/14
Some other education books I've read: Deeper Reading by Kelly Gallagher, finished 5/7/14; Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher, finished 8/20/14
20. A reread of an old favorite -
I read James Stephens's The Crock of Gold for a book club that I am in. It was my choice for the club to read and didn't prove, overall, to be terribly popular. That said, I once again loved it. The book is written with always surprising prose, is filled with playful touches of humor, critiques the modern world in humorous and insightful fashion, and toward the end depicts a beautiful vision of humanity bound together in friendship and love.
On rereading the novel, I found that I'd forgotten about the many long and, only on occasion, dull philosophical monologues. But on the whole, I think I found that I enjoyed the novel just as much as I did before. finished 1/13/14
Some more rereads from this year: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, finished 3/8/14; Night by Elie Wiesel, finished 4/24/14; Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, finished 7/16/14; Lord of the Flies, finished 8/10/14; Westmark by Lloyd Alexander, finished 11/8/14
21. A Book by a Nobel Winner Whom I've Never Read -
I read The Great Enigma by the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer. I've wanted to read him for a while because my favorite living poet, Ted Kooser, seems to like him a lot. He's noted for just being especially astute and precise with his images. I found that to be so...especially in his shorter works. I loved the haiku in here. On occasion, the poems were too obscure for my taste, but there was a lot in here that was pretty startling. finished 8/7/14
22. A Carnegie Medal Winner -
I read Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech. I've been interested in reading something by Creech for a long while now, and I was interested in the themes of this novel. This was a brief, sometimes predictable novel that mostly won me over nonetheless. finished 7/13/14
23. A Book from a Series that I Would Like to Start or Continue -
I started the year by starting Craig Johnson's Longmire mysteries, and I guess I decided to continue with the series. Upon travelling to Wyoming this summer, I read a couple more books in the series in order to more fully experience the feel of the place. Death Without Company (finished 7/24/14) and Kindness Goes Unpunished (finished 7/30/14) were both pretty solid mysteries that were a little more tightly written than the first book in the series, which understandably spends a lot of time establishing characters. I hesitate to put the Longmire books among the very best mysteries that I've read, but they are enjoyable from time to time, especially on vacations in Wyoming.
24. Book by an Author I've Always Wanted to Read: Victor Hugo -
I finally read Les Miserables. I've known the story forever, have started the novel multiple times, have seen the musical twice, have seen some different film versions on it, etc. I'd never actually read it, though, and it was as good as expected. finished 10/31/14
25. Contemporary Children's Books -
a) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - I know that this more properly would go in a young adult category, but I'm going to list it here. The characters in the book were more childish than they should have been. This is the second time this year I've been underwhelmed by a John Green novel. This one purports to be "not another cancer novel." By that, I figured that the book was not supposed to be melodramatic and mawkish. It was as melodramatic as a book could possibly be. It was as mawkish as it could be (and I've read A Walk to Remember before--I know what mawkish looks like). I think Green thought that occasional bursts of despairing and a sometimes mean (it really was mean) sense of humor would cover over the book's sentimentality. There were some redeeming factors to the novel, and I liked it better than Looking for Alaska, but it was far from the success I'd originally expected from his books. finished 1/31/14
b) The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes - I was pretty curious about this book that just won a Newbery Honor Award because I've long been a fan of Henkes's picture books. I really enjoyed this small, gentle read. Billy Miller is a little insecure about going into the second grade, but he's a good-hearted kid who's going to try to make it a great year. This is just a quiet novel about how he and his relationships with his mom, dad, sister, and teacher all grow. I honestly preferred this novel, by a pretty wide margin, to this year's winner. finished 3/4/14
c) The Thirteenth Floor: A Ghost Story by Sid Fleischman - I read this novel because I've enjoyed Sid Fleishman books before and because I was wanting to read a children's ghost story. It turns out that this was by far the weakest children's book I've read in recent years. Among it's flaws is that it is a time travel story, not a ghost story at all. finished 4/17/14
26. Newbery Prize Winner –
If I have a special focus this year, it's going to be children's literature, and so I think I may try to make special progress on finishing these off.
a) I was a little underwhelmed by Cynthia Kadohata's Kira-Kira. The work seemed thematically inconsistent, and I didn't think the dreariness of the characters' lives was matched in equal part with hope (which should be the case, I think, with children's literature). It was a fine book but didn't feel Newbery quality to me. finished 1/18/14
b) I was pretty underwhelmed by the new Newbery Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (who is often a favorite). The book had its cute and poetic moments. The action, however, was too herky jerky, and the characters just seemed paper thin. I couldn't understand why the the title character called herself a cynic--when she does or thinks nothing cynically. I couldn't understand why the mom was so crazy or why she changed. Kate DiCamillo is really often a favorite writer of mine, but this was very far from her best book. finished 2/25/14
c) Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me had a lot to commend itself. I enjoyed the evocation of New York City in the 1970s, and I found some of the friendships depicted in the novel to be intriguing. Two big things bothered me about the novel. First, it seemed so much to lack balance between the time-travel storyline and the game show storyline. Magical realism is often a pet peeve of mine, especially if it steps into the characters' world without being quite as earth shattering as it would realistically be. Plus, the characters (as in Flora and Ulysses) struck me as being just too quirky. So, again, a decent book, but When You Reach Me suffers from the frantic plotting and just too eccentric of characterization that I keep seeing in children's books. finished 7/2/14
d) I've wanted to read Elizabeth George Speare's The Bronze Bow for a very long time, ever since loving The Witch of Blackbird Pond as a teenager. As it turns out, The Bronze Bow was every bit as good as I thought it would be. The book follows a young zealot in the time of Christ. He's torn between his ambitions to fight against the Romans and between his responsibilities to his family, especially to his agoraphobic sister. The book centers around his covert work against Rome and the changes to his outlook upon encountering a wandering preacher, Jesus.
e) My final Newbery book for the year was Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs. It was fitting that this is the year I read this biography of Louisa May Alcott since I also read Little Women and Geraldine Brooks's March this year. In fact, I wish that I had read Invincible Louisa before reading March, as I had not realized the full extent to which Brooks infuses Alcott's remarkable life into that novel. Anyway, Invincible Louisa was a really strong young person's biography of Alcott. I thought that it did a nice job of capturing the spirit of the author. It was really well-written, just an informative and compelling read. A nonfiction book like this is the exception for Newbery winners, but this one seemed to me definitely to be worthy of the prize.
27. Theology -
I've neglected this category in recent years past and would like to read a few more this year. So, I'm going to read at least book concerning some matter of spiritual life (not necessarily heavy theology) to fit in to each month.
a) Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount by Randy Harris - Randy Harris is a one-time professor of mine, and I was curious about this little book, seeing as he was brilliant and hilarious and all. This book--which I'd bet originated as a sermon series--sounds like Harris talking, and as a result, it was both insightful, clear, and challenging. finished 1/9/14
b) The Slavery of Death by Richard Beck - I read Beck's blog Experimental Theology every day, and it is a constant source of intellectual stimulation for me. I was especially intrigued with this books because I'd seen enough of it on the blog to know that I was curious about what Beck had to say and because this was originally posted during a rather busy time of my life--and so I'd missed out on the most of it on the blog. I read through the book very quickly, and I found it matching things that I think I'd thought instinctively and changing other things I that thought I knew. Anyway, it was an excellent and challenging read itself. I'm going to post a fuller review, hopefully, in the near future. finished 1/23/14
c) The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie - I'm going to post this here, though I'm not sure that it exactly fits in this category. It's pretty close, though. This book is basically a biography of four people at the same time--the American Catholic writers Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day. I've been wanting to read this for quite a while because I've read all of them at least a little bit, and Walker Percy is, of course, my long-time favorite writer. Elie basically traces their lives, highlighting the common themes of their lives and explicating their voices and perspectives. So far, this is the best book I've read this year. finished 1/29/14
d) Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis - I intended to read this last year, upon the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis's death, but I couldn't find my copy of Letters to Malcolm for a few months. I will admit that it was not my favorite ever book by Lewis. I know that it was left unfinished as his desk, and I wonder if it would not have been more polished by the time it was concluded. My main problem with the book was its lack of organization. It's written as a one-sided epistolary dialogue, with the topic of prayer being the main discussion. That format keeps the various points about prayer from being very fully and very clearly explored. finished 2/10/14
e) Another Turn of the Crank by Wendell Berry - This is not an explicitly theological book, but I still think that it's fair to include it in this category. Another Turn of the Crank is a collection of Berry's essays, largely on issues of ecological, communal, and bodily health. It's a tremendous read--and more accessible than some of Berry's works. Particularly striking to me was the following quotation from "Health is Membership":
"I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world. summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God." finished 3/12/14
f) I read Soul Work: Confessions of a Part-Time Monk, another book by my former professor Randy Harris. This is basically Harris talking about going through periods of spiritual dryness with the help of contemplative prayer. He believes that adding aspects of the contemplative life into the midst of our busy and hectic lives can help people to be more fulfilled spiritually on the way to ultimately becoming more hospitable. So, it's an introduction to the spiritual life. The book is a bit of a hodge-podge of material--most of it taken from sermons and talks that he's done. On occasion it's repetitive, but on the whole, I found a lot, lot of wisdom. finished 5/3/14
g) I finally read Velvet Elvis by Rod Bell. Basically, I bought this book at a time of my life (approximately 20 years old) in which a book by Bell might have been appealing to me and then never read it. While weeding out our shelves before moving, I came across this book which, time and time again, I've not read. I nearly just sold it, but then thought--heck, what'd I make from selling it, 50 cents? I decided to read it and then get rid of it. It took and evening basically. The writing is just so beyond horrible. Stylistically, this is worse than if Nicholas Sparks--ala Anne Rice--decided to start writing theology. At the same time, I agreed with most of Bell's major points...but it's now a few years past the time when I needed to read them. So, it's a difficult book to rate. I think it would be a worthwhile read for believers about a decade younger than I am who are just emerging from some of the parochial theologies taught in American churches. finished 6/30/14
h) Between Heaven and Hell by Peter Kreeft. I discovered this in my wife's books while shelving them, immediately got curious, and read it the next night. It was fantastic. Basically, it's a Socratic dialogue, set after death, between Lewis (playing the role of Socrates--but representing orthodox Christianity), John F. Kennedy (representing liberal humanism), and Aldous Huxley (representing pantheism). Their discussion fixes on the either/or statement that, based upon the things he did and said, Jesus could not have been just a good man. He must either have been a God, as claimed, or a bad man. Despite being Christian, I've always thought that Lewis's position (I'm pretty sure he takes it in Mere Christianity) on that particular argument was pretty weak, but I found him to be convincing in Kreeft's imagining. This was a funny and illuminating little read. finished 7/2/14
i) Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright - My sister, wife, and I are reading this one together to discuss in a week or so, next time we meet. I've read some other books by Wright was was pretty confident that I would enjoy this one. His main point is that a lot of current Christianity's views of heaven and what happens after death do not mesh either with the biblical account or the early church understanding of heaven. In fact, the common view that we go straight to heaven upon death as spiritual, non-bodily entities is, frankly, Gnostic, and therefore heretical. Moreover, this weak and inaccurate view of heaven often causes the devaluation of the things that exist in the world...which can lead to things like destroying nature and failing to love our neighbors. Wright, as is usual, seems to me to be about right on the state of modern Christianity--particularly with our confusion and incoherence regarding what happens after death. I thought that Surprised by Hope was an excellent book for informing and correcting a mistaken and impoverished view of heaven. finished 7/9/14
j) Life Work: Confessions of an Everyday Disciple by Randy Harris - I guess that this is the third book this year that I've read by my old professor. As with the others, I enjoyed this one a lot. This book basically deals with ethics. Harris surveys the dominant modes of ethical thought, and then, he proposes another mode--cruciform ethics--derived from the story of Christ. I thought that, again, Harris has provided a very accessible book for the average lay reader that is nonetheless filled with insight. finished 7/19/14
k) Writings by Anthony De Mello - My preacher at University Christian in Fort Worth was continually telling stories by De Mello--which I always found to be striking and wise. I decided to try reading him for myself, and this anthology of some of his major writings was short and insightful (even if, being the kind of book it is, it is incomplete and full of gaps). De Mello was a spiritual director who writes a lot about trying to become aware of the presence of God, both through the use of spiritual discipline and through encounters with story. This was a worthwhile introduction to De Mello, and I think that I'll likely look up some of the complete books that these selections came from. finished 9/25/14
l) The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux - I've read plenty about St. Therese of Lisieux and have particularly admired her idea of the "little way." So, I decided to finally read the actual book in which she talked about the "little way." I sort of hate saying, but I found the book, on the whole to be a big disappointment. Therese seemed a little self-centered, really, and whiny. The book was difficult to get through--except for the one part about the "little way." It was much, much briefer than I had expected. She only talks about the little way in one small section, with one memorable illustration, but it is, I will say, absolute poetry in that section. So, it was a slog of a book with one moment that has made it justifiably resonant. finished 11/5/14
28. Texas Books –
This is another category in which I want to read more than one.
a) Bowie's Mine by Elmer Kelton - I read Bowie's Mine because it was set around my hometown and was written by a local writer who I've met (and whose books I've enjoyed before). The book wasn't great. It was written as a pulp western, and that's what it is. It was an enjoyable experience, on the whole, though, for a very light read. finished 3/22/14
b) The Train to Estelline by Jane Roberts Wood - I read The Train to Estelline because it has a good reputation as a well written novel by a Texas woman (and to be honest, there aren't that many in that category that I can find a high recommendation for). The novel is epistolary and is written from the point of view of a young woman who takes her first job teaching in the open spaces of West Texas around the turn of the 20th century. There are many merits to the book--quick pacing and vivid descriptions of the country, for instance. Goodness, though, did I find the main character to be immature, and much of the plot was simply too obvious to me. I could predict pretty well everything that was going to happen the hints were so, so clear. The novel was ok, but in reality, a little dull. finished 4/2/14
c) Sam Houston and the American Southwest by Randolph B. Campbell - I read this biography of Sam Houston just because I've never read anything about Houston except the surface level things you read on plaques, in museums, and in 7th grade Texas history. It turns out that he was quite an admirable man, in even more ways than I knew. This biography could have been alternately titled Sam Houston: Texas's One Sane Citizen because that's honestly what he was--the one Texas leader who continually kept his head when faced with the challenges of the Texas Revolution, Texas Independence, and the American Civil War. This was a concise, yet fairly thorough, overview of the man. It certainly piqued my interest in Houston so that I bet I read one of the longer and more complete biographies of the Texas hero. finished 4/4/14
d) Walking on Borrowed Land by William A. Owens - I loved Owens's childhood memoir This Stubborn Soil when I read it last summer, and so I jumped at the chance to buy and read this, his first novel. Owens had an early career collecting folk tales and oral histories from the African American communities of Oklahoma, and he used that experience to write this novel about a man trying to raise a family and be a successful principal of a Negro school in Jim Crow Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Like This Stubborn Soil, I loved Owens's direct style of writing and his straight storytelling. Plus, it was a gut-wrenching story, if it did stray a bit much at times from its main plot. It wasn't as good as the memoir I read last year, but it's a solid novel, and certainly a strong one if you'd like to learn about life under Jim Crow in Oklahoma and Texas. finished 8/3/14
e) Davy Crockett: His Own Story by Davy Crockett - Even though Davy Crockett never sets foot in Texas in his autobiography, I still think it can count for this category. The book was mostly horrible. It's obviously intended to ramp up some interest in Crockett's potential presidential candidacy and so seems pretty unreliable. To modern ears, too, it's pretty disturbing hearing about the countless ways that he hunted and hunted bears into oblivion. finished 10/1/14
29. Modern Library 100 Novel –
I think that I should read at least three of these so that I'm making progress on this list, too.
a) The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner - I've planned to read this for year and have just never gotten around to it. I finally did but struggled mightily through the first two sections (especially Quinton's narrative), but it picked up once it reached the little easier two sections of the novel. It was the sort of book that did not particularly enjoy as I was reading it, but now that it is over, I keep thinking about it and appreciate a lot of what Faulkner did. Overall, I'm never going to be the biggest fan of Faulkner, but I do admire him. finished 6/14/14
b) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess - Man, I was not a fan of this film back when I watched it in high school, and I've resisted reading it ever since. Finally, I've had too many of my students read it and come to talk to me about it to let it go any longer. I read it in like a day, and it was a fantastic, fantastic novel about what it means to be good and to find redemption. I should have read it a long time ago. finished 6/15/14
c) Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin - My favorite short story is Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," and I can't believe I hadn't gotten around to this novel before this. The novel is pretty excellent. It's a somewhat autobiographical account of a 14 year old boy and his family on the day the boy undergoes a spiritual awakening. It's not an easy story, as the stories of all of the people involved are intertwined and are sometimes very dark. These are people with complex lives, shaped by individual and societal sin but also marked by the love of community and grace. The ending of this novel was one of the more beautiful things I've ever read. finished 10/12/14
30. Pulitzer Prize Winners –
Like in the last two years, I plan to read five of these so that I can make some decent progress toward my long-term goal of reading all of them.
a) March by Geraldine Brooks - I'd long looked forward to reading this novel, and I finally got to it this year, after finally reading the original version of Little Women (which inspired this more contemporary novel). Brooks is an excellent author, and I look forward to finishing off all of her novels. That said, I was disappointed by aspects of March, mainly as I found the characters a little inconsistent, and it bothered me the extent to which this novel did not match up with Little Women. finished 3/11/14
b) American Pastoral by Philip Roth - I read this as a choice in my book club--which was good. I had been resisting reading American Pastoral and may not have gotten it done for years. On the whole, I enjoyed it. I did not love reading the novel. Even though it all takes place within American suburbia, it's just about as bleak as reading The Road--but without any potential thread of hope. By the end of the novel, though, I thought that it was a pretty incisive social critique. I found myself thinking about the book long afterwards, even if it had not been my favorite experience of initially reading through the novel. finished 3/16/14
c) Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis - I had fairly high hopes for Arrowsmith, as it is one of those novels that I've been curious about reading seemingly forever (I think I picked up a used copy of it in high school). Also, when do you read a novel about a research scientist portrayed as a type of troubled hero? I was really intrigued. And then I was really disappointed in reading this book. It was just really painful. I'm not bothered particularly when the main characters aren't likeable. A lot of great books, particularly of this era (An American Tragedy comes to mind) do not have likeable characters, but they are nonetheless illuminating works of art. This one had an unlikeable character that I think the reader was supposed to like. It felt very odd. Mainly, though, the writing just seemed clumsy throughout the book. The plot was episodic--full of odd repetitions, improbable motivations and actions, and even more improbable coincidences. Lewis's satirizations (for which he is famous) struck me as overly broad. Finally, it just wasn't that interesting of a book. I struggled through it and was glad to put it behind me.
d) The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - I read the newly christened Pulitzer, which is getting so much attention, pretty quickly. Unfortunately, for all its hype, I was underwhelmed. First of all, the book does have its utterly amazing moments. This 771 page tome is almost split up into multiple novellas. The first one, in which the main character as a teenager survives a terrorist attack that kills his mother, it astounding. Just sentence for sentence, I was impressed that Tartt could imagine and convey a scene with such precision. She scatters such moments throughout the book. At other times, though, this is one of the most overwritten books I've ever encountered. The novel progresses to a final sort of "epiphany" that sums up the character's insights about life and the nature of beauty. I can think of several favorite novels of mine that end in a similar way. Those books, however, had a one to two page epiphany. Not one that lasted the final 7% of the book (I was reading it on kindle), about an estimated 50 pages. It went on and on and on. I couldn't believe that no editor had reigned it in. And the final 50 pages are hardly the only time in the book this happens either. So, it was a big, sometimes beautiful, mess of a novel. Oddly, I would probably compare it, in terms of Pulitzer winners, to the last Pulitzer that I read, Arrowsmith. It was big, too serious, written to a too obvious and heavy thesis, episodic in plot, and containing a few wowing moments.
e) The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - This is the best of the Pulitzer novels that I read this year. Newland Archer is inclined to follow convention and so is engaged to the conventional May Welland. May's cousin Countess Ellen Olenska shows up from Europe, however, fleeing her abusive husband, and Newland falls for her, causing him to question everything that he has previously held to be true. This is a fantastically written novel, with adept psychological portraits, a compelling conflict, and really a heartfelt story. There's a reason that this is one of the true American classics. finished 12/15/14
last updated 12/21/14
# of books left to go: 0