I need to step up my reading game. Once upon a time (pre-smartphone app distraction is the best I can figure), I was constantly reading. I loved Goodreads’ annual reading challenge (and still do) – I can keep track of what books I’ve read during the course of the year AND it compiles all the stats into charts and graphs that the site retains for eternity? Because who doesn’t want to know what your most-read genre is or what the longest book you read in 2012 was? (For the record, it was Colleen McCullough’s The Grass Crown. 1132 pages!) (That’s also my reminder that I need to finish that series sometime.) (One way to gauge just how big of a geek you are is the amount of time you spend analyzing these charts. Me = way too much.)
While I’m not always cranking out almost 70 books over twelve months like I did in 2013 (although I must admit, that was the year I read all of the Walking Dead comics, so those numbers are kind of skewed), I feel like I’m not turning to books in my free time like I used to. And looking at how many books are on my currently reading shelf (and have been there for an extended amount of time) testifies to that. So I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to put the phone down in the evenings and pick up one of myriad books that always seem to materialize on the living room end table. My new position at the library is even helping with that – one of my new responsibilities as an adult librarian is overseeing a book discussion group that meets once a month at a local pub (I know, right? And they’re PAYING me), and it just so happens that the books that group likes to read are the ones I read myself (the author for my first meeting was one of my absolute favorites). And then, at the beginning of the month, rather than devote an entire blog post to a single book review (which I tried doing last year. It didn’t work out), I’m going to do a brief rundown of everything I read the previous month. How does that sound? (And yes, I’m aware that I’m a week late with this. I’ll do my best to publish this on the first of the month from here on out, k?)
- Nutshell, by Ian McEwan
This book is the reason I knew that my taking over the pub-based book discussion group was meant to be (other than the pub part). I was joining the group in the middle of a cycle, so for the next couple of months, the books had already been chosen by someone else. But lo and behold, at my inaugural meeting, we would be reading a very good book (one I’d already read) by one of my favorite contemporary authors: Ian McEwan’s Nutshell. I love Ian McEwan. Atonement is one of my top five favorite books of all time (and I’m sure I’ll spare some words for it soon, since I seemed compelled to re-read it every two or three years and I’m due). His mastery of language is unparalleled; he turns everything into poetry, whether he’s describing a sultry summer day in the English countryside on the eve of World War II (as in Atonement) or a sordid extramarital affair that eventually leads to murder, as in this novel. A take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Nutshell is told from the perspective of a near-term unborn baby who becomes an unwilling party to his mother’s betrayal of his father with his uncle. A weird premise, I know, but it worked. The unnamed baby is far more insightful and cultured than his mother and uncle, which some people found insufferable, but I found endearing and amusing. Once he becomes aware of the situation, he does his best to foil it, but is rather hamstrung by his circumstances. His observations (because what else does an unborn baby have to do but think and ponder) about both the state of existence and about the world into which he’s about to be born are perceptive, harrowing, thought-provoking. The story is short and unfolds quickly, driving full-on to the inevitable denouement and leaving the reader breathless. I loved it.
- The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I spent more than a decade as a children’s librarian, and somehow this classic slipped by me. It wasn’t until a friend mentioned that it was his favorite book that I figured it was time – past time – that I read it. And it’s one of those instances where I don’t know if I should be grateful or wistful that I didn’t discover it until later in life. I certainly wouldn’t have understood any of the allegory if I’d read it as a child – it would have just been a sweet story, a fanciful fairy tale. But at the same time, would I have grown more attached to the characters and the story itself if I had had them by my side as I aged? I don’t know. But as an adult, I found it unutterably sad and caught myself, like every other adult who has read it, mourning the loss of my childhood through it. It was lovely and powerful. And one day, I’ll watch Rudy’s reading of it. But I’m not quite ready yet.
- The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
I started this book when I was en route to Chicago in January, and it took me until the end of April to finish it. That’s three months for a 350 page book, an exceedingly long time for me. It’s not because it was bad; on the contrary, it was very, very good. And that was precisely the problem. It was too good and too detailed and depicted too vividly a scenario that we Americans have found ourselves playing out right now. This is an alternate history that details what could have happened if Charles Lindbergh had defeated Franklin Roosevelt in the presidential election of 1940. In real life, Lindbergh was a fascist with Nazi ties, and Roth’s book asks us to ponder what could have happened if the wave of pre-World War II nationalism had succeeded in boosting him into a position of power. What transpired was ugly, reprehensible, completely in contrast to the morals and beliefs that we Americans supposedly hold dear…and alarmingly similar to what we’re seeing now in 2017. The reason it took me so long to finish this book is because the parallels hit too close to home. The despair I felt was so deep that I felt physically sick reading it. We can only hope that our story ends as well as Roth’s.
That was it for April, but I’m already on a roll for May and we’re only a week in. If you don’t feel like waiting an entire month to see what I’ve read, feel free to check out my Goodreads page. Don’t worry, it’s not all going to be high-brow, literary stuff…there will be some kids books, a few bodice-rippers, and a LOT of Stephen King.