Recent(ish) Reading List

My grades are in, my wrapping is done (much earlier than usual!), I’m nearly done updating my course schedule for next term, my stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Time to catch up on blogging! I’m thinking about my “reading year in review” post and my reading goals for next year, but in the meantime, here are some things I’ve been reading (and listening to) this fall.

Lots and Lots of Mysteries

This has once again become my genre of choice. Some highlights: Continue reading

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Ah, September

A month ago I finished Reservoir 13Reading (most of) the Man Booker longlist had really restored my reading mojo. I was reading a lot, I was able to immerse myself in reading again, nothing would stop me now! Yeah. Since then I have read a book and three quarters. Short ones.

When I wrote that Reservoir 13 post, the first week of term had just ended. Since then, the reality of work during the semester has set in. I’m often too tired to concentrate after dinner, my main reading time. I’ve listened to a lot of mystery audio in lieu of reading. But now I’m settling into the semester routine, my reading pace is picking up again. I thought some long-weekend blogging might help keep the momentum going.

Continue reading

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Reservoir 13 and My Booker Shortlist

Last night I finished the final book I’ll manage to read before the Man Booker shortlist is announced Wednesday morning, and I loved it.

Sunita said that Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 is a kind of “structural inverse” of Solar Bones

Whereas Reservoir 13 takes a distanced view of a village and slowly draws you into individual lives, community relationships, and the natural world, Solar Bonestakes one man’s life experiences and pans out to encompass the surrounding community. Both juxtapose quotidian events with large-scale change (especially environmental hazards and how we are changing our natural and built surroundings). The main characters are imperfect but humane and caring. Ordinary people turn out to be much more than their simple descriptions suggest.

That strikes me as about right. I loved both books, but Reservoir 13 might have a slight edge. A visiting girl disappears from a small village on New Year’s Eve, and McGregor follows the community through the next thirteen years. We catch glimpses of the characters, watch lovers come together and part, births and deaths, and the cycle of both natural and village life (so many lambing seasons, well-dressings, and Christmas pantomimes). Certain sentences repeat themselves, with slight variations, patterns a reader begins to look for.  Continue reading

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Solar Bones, by Mike McCormack

when I opened Solar Bones by Mike McCormack and I saw the way it begins

the bell

the bell as

hearing the bell as

hearing the bell as standing here

the bell being heard standing here

I remembered someone had said it is one long sentence, if you can call it a sentence when there’s no period at the end, and for that matter no capital letter at the start and

I said to my husband that James Joyce has a lot to answer for, inspiring Irish writers to try this stuff, thinking of Eimear McBride’s book that I couldn’t get through no matter how great everyone said it is but

actually, although there are some fragmentary poetic bits like those opening lines, most of this novel doesn’t really feel experimental, being broken up into paragraphs that help you follow the wandering logic of the narrator, and those poetic moments come at places that feel right, not to mention that

the fact that it has a lot less punctuation than your typical novel effectively represents the stream of Marcus Conway’s consciousness, which I really enjoyed following so I ended up liking this book a lot.

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Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid

Now that I’ve read (or listened to) eight and a bit of the Booker longlist, I can see patterns emerging in the choices: like Autumn and Home FireMohsin Hamid’s Exit West deals with contemporary conflicts, the migrations they cause, and the subsequent fractures in Western countries; like The Underground RailroadExit West adds an element of fantasy, in the doors that open into other countries and allow migration, and thus invites us to imagine this historical moment from a new angle.

Hamid’s approach to the stories of migrants escaping war and economic hardship gives Exit West a hopeful mood, despite often painful events; its gentle, somewhat distant narration was welcome after the emotional intensity of Home Fire (and perhaps that tone or effect is something he shares with Sebastian Barry….).

At the center of this novel are a young couple, Saeed and Nadia, who meet and fall in love in an unnamed country that seems a lot like Syria, but also several other places where vibrant urban places have been consumed by violence. As conditions worsen and militants seize control of more and more of their city, they hear about mysterious doors through which people are escaping. Eventually, they pay an agent to lead them to one, and find themselves first on Mykonos, then in London, then in Marin.

What happens in these places is sometimes an exaggeration of reality (millions of migrants building new shantytowns outside London), but as with the magical doors, a reflection on the hard realities of migration. Woven through Saeed and Nadia’s story are brief vignettes of others who travel through doors, or whose lives are affected by the arrival of migrants on their doorsteps. Even in short sketches, he gives these people a reality, a bit of history and personality.  Continue reading

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