Saturday, July 12, 2008

I knocked on the tin roof of the fish

On vacation, I finished the Booker Challenge I began in January. It was easy - just read six Booker prize winners or short- or long-list nominees in 2008. My sixth book was Anne Enright’s The Gathering, a novel about a woman whose older brother commits suicide. The book has a strong negative charge that I enjoyed, but to be honest, although the writing is good, I found the first 2/3rds of it pretty humdrum. Nearer the end, the writer revs things up emotionally and psychologically, but it still didn’t make the book all that remarkable.

I hadn’t been planning to read The Gathering, but when we flew to Italy, Alitalia lost our luggage and I sent a desperate email to my mother, who was coming to join us, asking her to bring along something for me since I was nearly done with what I was reading.

I also read Machado de Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner, written from the perspective of a dead man. It was original and very entertaining. It’s considered an obscure classic, but I found it more prosecco than champagne, and not a must-read.

I also read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, a long novel that won the Pulitzer Prize in the early ‘70’s. It’s about a man confined to a wheelchair who writes about the lives of his grandmother and grandfather in the West, interweaving it with his own biography. The story was engaging and very good. I really hate the ‘70’s though. There’s something grotesque about them.

The best book I read on vacation was Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost, about the author’s great-uncle and his family who are killed in Poland in the Holocaust. It’s probably a prerequisite to be at least slightly interested in the Holocaust to enjoy this book, but if you are, it’s a fascinating, terrible and beautiful story. The story itself isn’t brilliant since unfortunately it’s similar to what befell millions of terrorized European Jews. What’s brilliant is the way the author uncovers the story, the riveting discovery of the story. He pursues it with such loving care and tells it almost unbearably well. I cried all over it.

I also read 12 of the 20 stories in The Best American Short Stories of 2002, which all in all were quite good. There are a couple more stories I want to read before putting this back of the shelf. So far my favorite story in the collection was Richard Ford’s “Puppy,” which you can read here.

Here are the books I’ve read so far this year, excepting poetry:

Schindler’s List – Thomas Keneally (Booker Challenge)
The Color of Blood – Brian Moore (Booker Challenge)
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
When We Were Orphans – Kazuo Ishiguro (Booker Challenge)
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (Booker Challenge)
Rule of the Bone – Russell Banks
Last Orders – Graham Swift (Booker Challenge)
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
Eclipse – John Banville
A Dangerous Friend – Ward Just
This Republic Of Suffering – Drew Gilpin Faust
The Kiss – Kathryn Harrison
Stoner – John Williams
Epitaph of a Small Winner – Machado de Assis
The Lost – Daniel Mendelsohn
The Gathering – Anne Enright
Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner


LKD said...

I keep misreading angle as angel.

Out of all of those books listed, is there one you'd press into my hands and exclaim:

You must read this book!

I'm reading Atonement right now. I plan on reading No Country for Old Men after Atonement. And I've got a book of short stories called The Boat to follow that. But now that I've finally found my reading legs (eyes, heart, whatever) again, after having lost them a few years back after graduating with my BA (my love for reading deserted me completely, maybe due to all the reading I'd done while matriculating), I'm looking constantly forward to the next book, and the next.

You recommended the website GoodReads to me? Or LibraryThing?

Or both?

I'd like to keep track, now that my reading has come back to me, of what I'm reading.

Oh, and hey--I've read your sponge poem a couple of times now and damned love it. (Despite my fear of sponges---don't laugh. Sponges scare the shit outta me. Especially the ones lingering in the sink at work.)

You've got a nifty little kitchen object series going, don't you? I recall totally loving your toaster poem. I can't wait to read your take on a sieve. Or a whisk. Or a spatula.

SarahJane said...

if i could recommend any of those i wouldn't but would jump right to John Williams' "Stoner," which I finished about a month ago. That's one you should read.

Liz said...

Sarah, I've read The Gathering too and as you say, the writing is good but the story in itself was sort of predictable...her short stories are supposed to be better so I might try those.
Have also read The Year of Magical Thinking - quite good too.

Interesting list.

Oh and loved the story line in your dream ; )

SarahJane said...

Hi Liz,
Perhaps if it hadn't won the Booker prize I would have been more impressed? Without the hype? It really is better to enter a book knowing as little as possible.

Laurel - it was Good Reads. although it sometimes makes me feel like hyperventilating.

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