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May & June Reading List

I was bad about doing a list in June because I couldn’t remember all I’d read in May. Now that I’m even farther from either, I’m sure I’m forgetting things in both months. I did actually start my July list today, so there’s a chance it will be better. This definitely convinces me that the idea of marking down what I’d read so I don’t forget it is a good one. I’m also reading more than I would otherwise because I don’t want people to look at the list and think I’m totally slacking off, although forgetting books does sort of detract from the impressiveness of the list I do have. But here it is!

Women in the Shadows, Ann Bannon
The last of the 50s lesbian pulp in the house, this one was really a downer. Laura has settled in Greenwich Village with her girlfriend Beebo, but the relationship is getting abusive and both are unhappy. Laura’s attracted to a dance teacher who turns out to be black and married, which was one of the most interesting subplots, and Beebo is jealous to the point of scariness. Laura decides to leave that life and marry her gay friend Jack, whose boyfriend has also become a bad dude. But Jack maybe wants a baby and Laura maybe wants to be more open about her lesbianism and it’s all a huge pit of despair. It was fascinating to read and I’m sure very realistic, but deeply discomforting.

Amsterdam, Ian McEwan
Basically, is it morally acceptable to out a closeted cross-dressing politician in the newspapers if he’s a creepy conservative and this would destroy his power? Do you have to intervene if you’re very busy but see a couple arguing in a way that makes you think rape or murder might be next on the agenda? And assisted suicide, what’s up with that? There’s a lot more to this book than those semi-glib questions, most essentially the woman who was at various times a lover to all the men involved in these dilemmas, but somehow it felt semi-glib to me nonetheless. It’s the first McEwan I’ve read and I didn’t dislike the writing, just didn’t catch on to the content much. I’m open to more.

Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy, edited by Al Sarrantonio
I bought this for Neil Gaiman’s story involving White Witch/Aslan oral sex, but I read it all. Two months later, that story is the one I remember most vividly, finding most of them vaguely unsatisfying. I think it’s probably hard to write a fantasy short story where you’re creating a world and having character development and plot all in a very small space. I know there were other highlights, but much of the time while I was reading I wanted to have a pen to mark things up and make suggested changes.

How Would a Patriot Act?, Glenn Greenwald
I had to read this to make sure it was an appropriate present for my grandmother’s 80th birthday, which it was. For someone who follows political blogs including Greenwald’s it wasn’t terribly new information and no more shocking than it always is, but the current US administration seems so corrupt and awful that anything that gets the story out succinctly and clearly is a good tool to have on hand. This is a short book, easily digested, and it gets right to the point. Apparently it’s quite a hit among anti-Bush octogenarians, judging from the fact that my grandmother recognized it immediately and said her friends had been recommending it.

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell (cd version)
I definitely recommend this for the drive from Cincinnati to Buffalo because it lets you get to the right points in the text as you’re passing the relevant exits. So you can say, “Last chance for Garfield’s house! Does anyone need the bathroom or a drink?” and it’s all terribly topical. I still have trouble listening to recorded books because they’re so fucking slow compared to actual reading, but it definitely makes the miles pass and this was a very good choice. There’s plenty of commentary on the current administration, plus tons of historical tidbits and a strong authorial voice. And with the cd, you could even make a road trip of it, though we didn’t.

Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, Alexandra Robbins
If I’d actually rushed as a freshman, I totally could have been mentioned in this book! Well, if I’d gone Kappa and then been chosen for a secret society within the organization and then, like some classmates I never knew personally, gone public about the ritual initiation with its simulated oral sex, skulls, and cigarette brandings. But yeah, I went to what was at the time the Greekest school in the nation and while I basically avoided that world, I have a more positive view of sororities than I did when I started out. I’m even more skeptical of fraternities than I was at first, but a good 1/3 of my Feminist Theory class consisted of sorority leaders. This was an interesting look at three key informants on a Texas campus, where the Greek system seems to be particularly entrenched and unpleasant, and it gave a good look into body issue problems, troubled race relations, money and class divisions within and among sororities, and the general social pluses and minuses of enforced sisterhood. I certainly made the right decision for myself in not even giving the sororities a chance (though I made other stupider, more damaging choices instead) but it was interesting to compare how things worked out for the women in this book and for other women I knew in college.

The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain, Simon Baron-Cohen
This is where Baron-Cohen lays out his theory of autism as a sort of extreme male brain capable of systematizing but not empathizing. I’m not entirely sold on the details, but as a general concept it was very interesting. I think I have an integrated brain with certain extreme aspects on both the male and female sides and certainly not autistic because one of my failings is an extreme empathy that makes me incredibly uncomfortable and heart-broken when I think other people are uncomfortable in a situation. Luckily this doesn’t extend directly to the internet to a degree that I care much whether people are unnerved by what I say, because I hope they’ll just click away and be done with it. But I do well with science and math and very much enjoyed the section about people with a head for directions, which I definitely have. I used the book more as a way of testing people I know against the various descriptions of behaviors and tendencies, but it was certainly an interesting read.

The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown
My experience with this book was, I think, the best it could possibly be, with Steven reading it aloud to me. He’d shake his fist to signify the italicized thoughts (generally appropriately) and we’d both interject constantly to mock the writing and the story. Between the two of us, we figured out all the puzzles and major plot twists well before the characters involved, generally by yelling, “Oh, Christ, I’ll bet it’s going to be x because that’s the most awful thing it could be!” If we could rent him out to read this to other people who want to mock the book while finding out what the big deal apparently is, we’d make good money and he’d be worth every penny.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World , Tracy Kidder
I’d heard Tracy Kidder talking about this on one of the NPR afternoon shows and then my grandmother was lending this book to everyone she could, so I borrowed it for a plane ride. It was really interesting, the story of a gifted American doctor who spends much of his time at a clinic he’s built in Haiti (and, now, flying around the world to talk about healthcare for the poor or policy toward developing nations). The anecdotes were fascinating and while anyone would feel a bit inadequate compared to Farmer, it suggests many avenues average people like me could pursue.

Northern Suns: The New Anthology of Canadian Science Fiction, edited by David Hartwell and Glenn Grant
This was a great anthology full of a wide range of stories, all of them in English. I’m not even sure what I would say stood out as very few were disappointing. The biographical notes were engaging enough and the stories themselves were gems. I need to make notes of the authors who were new to me and see what books I can find to fill in the gaps in my reading.

Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood, Naomi Wolf
This is one of those books it seems like everyone has already read, so when I found it for $1 I figured I’d better join the club. Maybe I’m just too young to relate or not cool enough, but I found very little relevant to my own life here. On a sociological/voyeuristic level it was neat to read about how all these women later looked back on their adolescent sexual selves, but I don’t think I learned anything new about feminism, femininities, or myself. I did learn a great deal about Naomi Wolf, like that I probably won’t push myself to read any more of her books.

The Angel with One Hundred Wings, Daniel Horch
This is Horch’s first novel, an elaboration of a story from the 1001 Nights in which a young prince falls in love with the sultan’s favorite wife and they prevail upon the narrator, pharmacist and alchemist (not to mention friend of the sultan) Abulhassan, to help them make their escape to Spain, where they can live in love and obscurity. There was actually quite a lot of drama in the story itself and while the writing sometimes struck me as overmannered, it mostly got to the effect I think Horch was going for. It wasn’t a great book in part because it was so overwrought, but I think I enjoy it more in retrospect than I did at the time, when I was more concerned about why it wasn’t all as good as parts of it were. I don’t read a lot of love stories and this one was convincing in a certain Romeo/Juliet way, although I grew to believe like Abulhassan did that perhaps the young lovers truly did understand and appreciate one another, if not the troubles that would inevitably lie ahead of them. I don’t know if Horch has written more since, but I’d be interested in trying his next book.


  1. David Golding says:

    I try to add the books I read to my sidebar list as soon as I read them. Having the list has been a bonus when I try to remember what I’ve read, or when-ish I’ve read it. I started doing it in 2001 (because I couldn’t remember any movies I’d seen in 2000), but then didn’t in 2002, which I really regret. I think it has caused me to increase the amount I read too!

    I should write comments or reviews more often, because I love reading yours and others, but I never seem to find the time.

    — 16 July 2006 at 10:17 pm (Permalink)

  2. Rose says:

    I honestly hardly expect people to read it, which is silly because I like reading when other people do it. A lot of people post what they are reading in their sidebars, which is a little annoying in that I don’t want to say, “Hey, what did you think about what happened to Bob?” when they haven’t gotten there yet or haven’t updated their lists to take off the books they’ve given up on or something.

    I hate doing reviews and even the paragraphs above that have some sort of half-hearted “maybe you should read/avoid this!” are hard for me to write, but I think it’s worth it for me to put down title, author and a couple of sentences just so that someday I can look back and know that I did something in 2006.

    — 16 July 2006 at 10:22 pm (Permalink)

  3. Dave Intermittent says:

    Last year I kept a yearly book journal, though perhaps journal is too grand a term for a list of books with start and finish dates attached. It wound up being a very self-flattering excercise, as the quantity and quality of books read was way above what I was expecting. Or maybe I just read more, and better, when I felt obligated to tattle on myself.

    No journal this year though, which I sort of regret, but it just seems too far into the year to start.

    I’ve read two McEwan books: the Innocent, and another one about, I think, tourists in Europe being murdered? I don’t feel that invested in looking it up, but I think that was roughly it. The surface appeal of all his books is so decieving that it took me a while to figure out what I was reading was really just well-written trash; the depths promised by the surface shimmer just weren’t there.

    — 17 July 2006 at 3:13 pm (Permalink)

  4. Rose says:

    Dave, I definitely believe you about McEwan, since that was pretty much my impression of this one. I think all his books are equally short, though, so it wouldn’t be the worst 40 minutes (or whatever) of my life to read another.

    I’m definitely reading more (though probably not better) books than I would otherwise because I always panic around the 20th that I haven’t read anything this month and then pack in as much as I can so that I can make a good list that will keep people from mocking me. I’m not sure where the mockery aspect even came into this since poeple who want to laugh at me can do it perfectly well from the books I’ve chosen, but it’s decidedly part of my mental landscape.

    — 17 July 2006 at 4:53 pm (Permalink)

  5. David Welsh says:

    I would upgrade McEwan to “really well-written trash,” which I know is some kind of rationalization, but it’s somehow less depressing than the alternatives.

    I would also recommend “Enduring Love,” if you’re in the mood for more. I liked “Atonement,” but “Enduring Love” is really short, so you’d end up asking for less of your life back if the trashiness overwhelmed the quality of the writing.

    — 20 July 2006 at 10:40 am (Permalink)

  6. Rose says:

    You’re right that the writing is good. I mean, it’s no Da Vinci Code and he’s no Jodi Picoult. If he were just more up front about writing trashy little stories and avoided the Huge Moral Issues I’d have liked it more. I mean, what’s wrong with juts a book about how the lives of all these men who used to sleep with a woman change after she dies? I did enjoy the actual reading, so I don’t think it would be a waste of time to read more he’s written.

    — 20 July 2006 at 11:51 am (Permalink)

  7. Dave Intermittent says:

    I’ve often found this problem with British writers; their use of language is so much more precise and elegant than many modern American writers that it seems like they should also be saying something more important than most modern American writers (though I suppose elegance and importance don’t always go hand in hand, but still). It took me two books to realize that Will Self didn’t really have anything more to say than “See, isn’t this funny and gross!”, albeit if gross as described in precise and elegant prose.

    — 20 July 2006 at 5:50 pm (Permalink)