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Friday, March 7, 2014

Catch up

Been away for a couple of weeks and been reading, but not reporting. Need a quick catching up session, so here it is.

#6 Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Abraham Lincoln, on meeting Mrs. Stowe, is supposed to have said, "So you're the little lady who started this great war." You can certainly see why the pen is mightier than the sword. I wanted to fight the Civil War all over again after reading this book. I set out to read it for the sake of filling in the gaps in my knowledge. I mean, we've all heard of Little Eva and Eliza and Topsy and Uncle Tom. But I wanted to know how and why they got to be so much a part of our collective consciousness. And now I do. The book was as preachy as I expected it to be, and far more compelling a read. I cried more than once, chuckled occasionally, and was completely captivated by the story. 12 Years a Slave, eat your heart out. I can see why that book was thoroughly eclipsed by this one.

#7 The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. Read it for my book group and loved it. So bleak! So despairing! So dark! It reminded me, in its blisteringly desolate view of humanity and its place in the godless universe, of The Stranger, another favorite. I just have a soft spot for those absurdist, existentialist writers, I guess. They make for such compelling reading. The story of a young married couple, Port and Kit, who take a misbegotten trip to the North African desert, the book takes a strange turn about midway through, when Port dies and Kit goes off into an acid-trip-like journey through the desert and into a strange sexual landscape. It's all weird, and all wonderfully written.

#8 Little Failure by Gary Schteyngart. His memoir. Born Igor in St. Petersburg when it was still Leningrad, he came to the US at age 7, lived in Queens with his mismatched, unhappy, and overly attentive parents, attended Yeshiva, then Oberlin. It's wonderfully funny, and caustic, and loving.

#9 Straight Man by Richard Russo. Although I usually love Richard Russo's books, I can't say I liked this one much. So I won't. In the first sentence, the narrator, an English professor at a small college in Pennsylvania, tells us that he was an exasperating child and is an exasperating man. I would add that he is an exasperating narrator. His jokey, take-nothing-seriously (including his marriage, career, and children) tone, got on my nerves. Not my favorite by him.

#10 The Reef by Edith Wharton. This was, way back when, the first Edith Wharton book I ever read, and I remember loving it so much that I went on to read everything Mrs. Wharton ever wrote. But I had since completely forgotten what this book was about, except that it had something to do with a governess. So it was time for a re-reading. Unfortunately, the passage of years had not treated this book well, at least in the eyes of this reader. Considered her most "Jamesian" work, it reminded me of everything I don't like about the later works of Mr. James. The characters are overly opaque, the writing is oblique and veiled, and I found myself uninterested and uninvolved. I'll stick to other Wharton for future re-reads.

I've read ten books and it's week 10. 2014: So far so good!

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