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July Reading List

I think this is finally the month where I didn’t read much and should be ashamed of myself, though I suspect August could be even worse. I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting one book, but it must have been something forgettable. I did write this up a few weeks ago, in fact, but then managed to delete it before posting, so if I sound especially bitter it’s because I’ve had to explain twice why I don’t care for/about most of these books, although the answer might just be that I’m really a grump these days. I used to be so much more forgiving of books when I was young, finding one beautiful sentence that seemed somehow transcendent. Now I just want to toss things away because none can live up to my imaginary expectations.

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
When Calliope hits puberty in the ’60s (I think, maybe very early ’70s) in Detroit she realizes that she’s not like other girls, is in fact perhaps a boy. And there’s plenty of over-foreshadowed drama about intermarriage in previous generations, which is sort of odd as if it’s trying to assign blame or something ridiculous like that. I liked this better when it was an excerpt in The New Yorker or something and Cal got sexually involved with a pair of siblings (independently, not in an orgy situation) in a sexual identity crisis that culminated in the discovery of ambiguous genitalia. The transliterations of the Greek really rubbed me the wrong way. If you want to read a nonfiction and more compelling book about John Money’s theories on how to deal with gender, you’re better off with something by Anne Fausto-Sterling or else John Colpatino’s As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, Steven Covey
I’m sure there are useful techniques here, but it took me months to read because it was such an annoying slog through the parts about how in the ’50s the worst thing that happened at school was that the hoods chewed gum, whereas now kids are being gunned down in the halls, etc. I was not a receptive audience. I am not particularly effective, either.

Candyfreak, Steve Almond
I really strongly disliked this book, although I’m pretty sure I knew I would when I bought it. I know it’s gotten rave reviews elsewhere but something about Almond’s smug reveries about every candy he eats just drove me up the wall. I think it would work better as a blank book so you can fill it in yourself. “Crystallized ginger not only tastes like heaven, but is mentioned in an Incredible String Band song!” “I hate peppermint but once sucked down an entire stick of Blackpool Rock (lettered right through) candy just to watch the pink letters every time I took it out of my mouth.” “I was pretty stupid in my teens when I had no caffeine for 18 months and then ate an entire bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans in about 5 minutes and thought I was going to shake to death. In retrospect, the fishnet stockings I wore later that evening were also probably an unwise choice.” “I remember sitting in a rowboat on Lake Erie eating Jordan almonds, which I thought had the taste of pure delight.” “What could taste more like summer than a Crystal Beach sucker?” “Probably only the awesomest people give out Kinder Surprise eggs as wedding favors.” See, all that was more interesting to me (and who else matters?) than anything Steve Almond had to say about his own boring gluttony. I did like reading about all the regional candies, though of all the options I’ve eaten only GooGoo Clusters. I’m not a fan of this book at all and don’t even want to bother calling it saccharine or something so I can be cute like all the other people who’ve blurbed it, except apparently in some meta way.

A Girl of the Limberlost, Gene Stratton Porter
This was written in the first decade of the 20th century and it shows. But I’d never read it and now I have. Elnora is a poor, good, smart, talented, honest girl, and if you think everything ends badly for her then you’re a very mean person who doesn’t appreciate this sort of narrative. It was actually sort of interesting. I don’t quite know the part of Indiana where it’s set, but I enjoyed the culture clash parts more than the straight-up melodrama.

A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick
If I already wrote about this, am I off the hook? I like it; it’s really interesting. I could say more but probably won’t now. I think I view books about identity and how do we know we’re ourselves and all that differently from the way most people do, but that’s not something I particularly want to muse about now.

Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend
This is another therapist recommendation, but a good one. It’s explicitly geared toward Christians who want to know how to avoid being doormats while still being moral people. I struggle a lot with the secular version of that problem and found it easy to just use the scripture references as metaphor and explication and not worry about my eternal soul, just the extent to which I can stand to keep living my life or maybe even enjoy it. It was a very helpful read for me and I’ll be going back to it a lot.

Vurt, Jeff Noon
This was a reread, a book Steven read in his Modern Fantastic course back in the time just pre-blog. I read along with him but didn’t have a class, which is good because I would have said something about being appalled that no one in his class got the reference in the name of the feather called Curious Yellow. It’s a story about drug culture and virtual culture and a police state and beautiful incest and father figures and authority and the power of word and image. Protagonist Scribble has lost his beloved sister Desdemona to the virtual world and is on a quest to win her back, but life both real and virtual intervenes. What struck me more this time around was how clearly it traces the abusive relationships Scribble is in, on different sides of the power imbalance at different times. I’d remembered some of the scenes of violence pretty clearly, but a lot of the bestial intimidation and jockeying for control was more disturbing than I’d remembered. I’m not sure whether I liked this more than the next book in what can I suppose be thought of as a series, Pollen, but both feature a fascinating, lively world and lots of interesting wordplay and narrative-play. I thought Automated Alice took the punning too far so it was no longer fun, but the other two books are less self-aware in that regard and much more fun, if that’s the right word for this kind of darkness. They’re compelling and captivating, which is maybe better than fun.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Jordan almonds are sugared, right? Those are definitely Proustian for me. I like the sound of the blank book for candy memories. There was something about the presentation of Candyfreak that definitely didn’t make me all that interested to read it. I did like reading your handful of reminiscences though!

    — 23 August 2006 at 6:19 am (Permalink)

  2. Rose says:

    Jordan almonds have a sugar shell on them, not like the almonds that are coated with sugar and spices and then baked (I assume!) so they’re hard and covered with a sort of hard, shiny coating. I like those too, but Jordan almonds always make me wistful and nostalgic and so happy!

    — 23 August 2006 at 8:02 am (Permalink)