2018 was not my greatest reading year. This is the year that social media really devoured my evenings, not with lively conversation or even bitter squabbling, but just mindless scrolling scrolling scrolling. I’m fighting to win that time back, without implying a metaphor that involves reaching into the throat of social media and pulling out a wad of time. What is the matter with me.
Anyway, I recently moved my bed hoping to find my glasses, and I shoveled out a ton of books that had slid down there. Here is a random sampling of books I read at least part of at some point during the year. (I asked Facebook, and Facebook said it wanted to hear about it, so there.) The only thing these books have in common is I thought they were interesting, and you might, too.
I’m linking to Amazon for your convenience, but nobody wins anything if you click on it.
I say “Catholic sci fi,” you say “Space Trilogy by Lewis,” and that’s good, but this one really ought to be on the list. A Peruvian Jesuit biologist is part of a team wrapping up a routine mission to another planet, to judge its suitability for colonization and commerce. The planet Lithia is inhabited by elegant, intelligent, highly civilized lizards who appear to have a sin-free society. And that’s kind of a problem. Good reading for high school and up, very clever and thought-provoking, with a very appealing protagonist. It’s a little bit dated, as an interplanetary travel book from 1958 is bound to be, but the main themes hold up. Plenty of sci fi authors of that period (and this, even more so) leaned too heavily on their ideas and gave the actual writing craft short shrift, but not here.
I read this ages ago and haven’t re-read the ending yet, so I can’t guarantee that the end delivers what it should. I keep meaning to look up more books by Blish.
Okay, I adored The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and I cackled and sobbed my way through The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but every other Chabon novel I’ve read has left me frustrated in one way or another. Summerland was a freaking mess, like someone pretending to have a fever dream. Gentlemen of the Road was self-consciously stuffy, and not in the fun way. Telegraph Avenue had some astonishing passages, but it didn’t hang together.
Wonder Boys is an earlier work which he apparently wrote in lieu of another book for which he was under contract and from which had already spent half of the advance on alimony, so you can imagine. I started to sympathize so much with the characters, it was like living in someone else’s skin, and again, not in the fun way; so I lost heart and set it down. I may pick it up again, because he’s such a good writer, you hate to let it go unread.
I have heard that Moonglow is a semi-autobiographical work (actually it’s described as “quasi-metafictional memoir,” whatever the hell that means) and I’m wondering what else he can possibly not already have told us about himself. What a fascinating writer, though. He’s like David Bowie, always trying something new, but also always circling around the same few ideas.
I remember loathing this book in college, which is the last time I read it. I guess I just disapproved of Madame Bovary so much, I couldn’t deal with spending so much time with her; and I think we were supposed to be scrupulously tracking and cataloguing the symbols, or something, which certainly took all the fun out of it. Anyway, I completely missed how sharply mean and funny the writing is; and yes, the descriptions are exquisite. If you can just pick it up and read it like a novel, instead of like A Classic, then do! I am reading the Francis Steegmuller tranlsation.
The other day, I grabbed what I thought was this book and started reading, only to discover it was Kristen Lavransdatter, Book Two: The Wife. I cannot recommend this experience. Worse than a sip of OJ when you expected milk, let me tell you, but not as bad as thinking it’s a red cup of beer but it’s actually dip spit, like that girl Lodia did in high school, ha ha.
Anyway, I am never quite smart enough to know if David Sedaris actually knows what he is talking about and has an overarching theme for each essay, or if he’s just very, very good at putting everything into a bag and selling it as a lot, but it works, and you always end up thinking, “Oh, I see! Ohhh, man.” Tenderness and hope dressed up as cruelty, and despair desperately grabbing onto a joke to keep afloat. But in the fun way! Above all else, he’s wickedly, wickedly funny, and never stops working for the reader (except for the very last essay on living in Japan and giving up smoking, which I suspect some editor insisted he include before it was really finished).