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text 2018-05-23 02:29
Summer Reading List 2018
Pete Rose: An American Dilemma - Kostya Kennedy
First Love, Last Rites - Ian McEwan
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket - Edgar Allan Poe,Richard Kopley
Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld,Keith Thompson
Three Tall Women - Edward Albee
Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë

I'm well behind pace in my reading this year. I always say I "average" a book a week, for 52 or so books a year, but I usually exceed that by a fair margin. This year, I'm quite slow. Only 16 so far - even though at least two were "doorstops."

 

So two weeks ago, when I realized I hadn't even considered my summer reading list, I was worried. But when I finally sat down to compose it, the list came flowing straight out. Easy-peasy, less than an hour's contemplation, for sure.

 

The fact I've been using the same nine categories for years, I'm sure, helps considerably. Three books for each month of summer. Things that make me happy and better-rounded. Plenty of room left for serendipity and other titles. Here goes:

The list.

 

1. A baseball book - "Pete Rose: An American Dilemma" by Kostya Kennedy. Reading a baseball book - fiction or non-fiction - is a summer tradition. Thanks, Casey Awards for the ready-made list. 

 

2. A Michael Chabon book - "Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces." This was both tough and incredibly easy. I've read all of Chabon's books, except some very hard to get screenplays and graphic novels. Luckily, he has a new book out this month. It's an anthology of his magazine essays, in the mode of "Maps and Legends," but it's better than none!

 

3. An Ian McEwan book - "First Love, Last Rites." I've read all of McEwan's recent stuff, so I have to reach way back into the Ian Macabre phase, which I like less, but it needs to be done. At least there's a new McEwan adaptation coming out in theaters soon.

 

4. A Neglected Classic - "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket," Edgar Allen Poe's only novel. Not one that was really on my radar, but read entry five for more "why." 

 

5. A recent "big" book - "Pym" by Mat Johnson. I have the opportunity to hear Johnson read in June, and I think it's time to read his novel, inspired by Poe's, as listed above. 

 

6. A YA book - "Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld. A steampunk, World War I revisionist novel? Yes, please. 

 

7. A Play - "Three Tall Women" by Edward Albee. It's in revival on Broadway right now with Laurie Metcalf. You know I won't make it to Manhattan, so I'd better finally read it.

 

8. A Recommendation from a Friend - "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi. My friend, Laura, suggested it. She didn't have to suggest very hard, because I was already meaning to read it. And she loaned me her copy!

 

9. The book I didn't read from last year's list - "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte. There's one every year. This year's will probably be the Chabon, just because it's new and might be hard to acquire through library means.

 

Well, that's it. I'll post a list on the booklikes list app. Will you read along with me? What's on your list for Summer '18? 

 

-cg

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review 2018-05-14 23:56
Some odd little short stories
Pastoralia - George Saunders

Published in 2000, this book was somehow completely off my radar. The six short stories in this volume all feature people who are generally unhappy. They are unhappy for different reasons, but every one of them is trying their best, and none are wallowing in their unhappiness.

 

Pastoralia, my favorite of the stories, features a man who is working as a caveman in a museum exhibit. Living at the museum full time, he is trying to make enough money for his young son's medical treatment.

 

Another story features a young man working as a stripper of sorts, trying to support his aunt, his two cousins, and each of their young children. With no education and no other options, his aunt makes a plan.

 

The other 4 stories also feature men--boy to middle aged--who are unhappy in their lives. None have given up. In many ways these stories reflect the common theme of unhappy people, but Saunders gives his characters agency that they act on.

 

With under 200 pages, this book is a quick read and highly recommended for fans of short stories and unusual story lines.

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text 2018-05-13 20:00
Living the Liberal Arts
Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain

I work at a university. Over the past year, we've been working with a new strategic plan, as an organization, and the first, most vital point of that plan has been a discussion of liberal arts, a passion area for me. Far too much is happening, and there are far too many ideas to discuss here - plus, I want to tie this column directly to a book - so I'm going to narrow in. 

 

I talk a lot with my students about the value of liberal arts (liberal, I remind them, in this case means "broad," not necessarily "left"). The specific, tangible benefits of liberal arts often need to be enumerated, because they're less obvious than in the professional or vocational disciplines. But every scholar of the liberal arts know that the intangible benefits of the education are where your heart goes.

 

Sometimes, in my reading, I run across some statement that makes me sit up and say, "Yes! This is liberal arts. This is what happens when you open yourself up broadly to the gifts of learning." I'm going to quote a few sentences from Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth" here. Her moving memoir is a bildungsroman from a female (before the late 20th century, not a common thing at all), and a profound meditation on what happened to the youth of Britain, an entire generation decimated and affected primally and permanently by The Great War.

 

With students investing so much in their educations these days, words like these help us and inspire us to continue the good fight for liberal arts:

 

(If you're following along at home, this is from pages 30-31of the 1934 American edition, published by Macmillan.)

 

"I suppose it was the very completeness with which all doors and windows to the more adventurous and colourful world, the world of literature, of scholarship, of art, of politics, of travel, were closed to me, that kept my childhood so relatively contented a time. Once I went away to school and learnt--even thought from a distance that filled me with dismay--what far countries of loveliness, and learning, and discovery, and social relationship based upon enduring values, lay beyond those solid provincial walls which enclosed the stuffiness of complacent bourgeoisdom so securely within themselves, my discontent kindled until I determined somehow to break though them to the paradise of sweetness and light which I firmly believed awaited me in the south." 

 

-cg

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text 2018-05-13 19:59
This Is Going To Take Awhile
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 - Christopher Clark

This book is going to be my Ypres, as it will take quite the battle (maybe three battles) to get through this dense writing - a judgement I am making solely on reading just the introduction alone. Holy academic writing Batman! There doesn't seem to be much narrative storytelling, just a lot of who, what, and where - I hope I am wrong on this point. 

 

This is not the book to start your discovery of WWI with - you need to get your feet wet and have a working background knowledge base before getting to this book. I am really glad I read Hochschild's book before taking this one on.

 

Also I am not sold on how the author sets up the book based on the table of contents; I am a linear reader, so an author has to build from the foundation up for me to follow and truly understand. This author decided to pay special attention to the Balkan/Serbia area first, then the 30+ years of European history prior to the war, then back to the Balkans/Serbia area for the July 1914 Crisis. I am thinking of reading the 30+ years part first, then the backstory of the Balkan region and then the July 1914 part so that it flows better in my head. I do admit that I am looking forward to having a special section devoted to the Balkans/Serbia area and its' backstory - that is one thing I haven't gotten any perspective on in the books I have read so far.

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review 2018-05-13 17:23
To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild
To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 - Adam Hochschild

An extremely gripping and yet comprehensive look at The Great War. This is very British centric piece of work, however there are ties to resisters/peace activists in Germany, France, and Russia mixed in. I didn't know anything about this book (or of Hochschild's writing, as he was a new to me author), so I didn't know I had put a book about the anti-war movement on my reading list. However, I am so glad I inadvertently did so, because this was a great book.

 

The book is divided into six parts, the first setting up both the people that the reader will follow through the book (even past the end of the war) and the political climates of the different regions playing a part in the war. In the case of Britain, the book starts in Omdurman and the Boer Wars as well as Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubliee. The reader is introduced to the major players in the military and government as well as the suffragettes, trade unionists, and other political and social reformers. Allies and rivals switch a lot in this book (*all the side eyes to you Emmeline Pankhurst*), so this part of the book is essential for understanding the ideology behind the British Empire and its' people.

 

Parts two through five go through each year in the war, with the follies, victories, and new weapons on each side given page space. It is some wonder that anyone survived the war considering the blunders and general dumb ass-ness of political and military leaders. Then there were the times/events that a government can only get away with in war time (example includes the Wheeldon trial). Mixed in were the other events going on at the time: unrest in Ireland (including the Easter Rebellion), the Russian Revolution, some women getting the right to vote, strikes and union activities. Nothing is left off the table here. Also noted time and again is when certain actions or thoughts are echoed in the Second World War.The final part to the book deals with the unrest in Britain post-war and the Treaty of Versailles that was more of a ticking time bomb. The end of the book follows the people to their deaths (natural or man-dictated).

 

If you want one book that comprehensively looks at the war from many different angles, I highly recommend this one. 

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