Monday, July 3, 2017

What I'm reading this week (7/3/17)

Very seldom do I read a book that I just don't know what to do with, don't know my feelings about, and am not sure how to describe or categorize. But Rules of Civility happens to be one of those books. First of all, I read this on audio, and while I enjoyed the audio--the narrator's voice was low and serious and deliberate--I think I would have been better off reading this in paper. I would have had a better bond with the characters and would have been more able to savor the writing, because if this book is one thing, it's well-written. Plus, I would have been able to mark favorite passages, and I really missed not being able to do that. This is one of those books that I love because the plot is secondary to the characters and the writing. In essence, it's about a group of friends, Katey, Evelyn, and Tinker, and their New York society lives during 1938. There's a fair amount of casual romance and a lot of booze. Both of those things turned me off. I didn't love any of the characters, but contrary to my usual reaction, that didn't seem to matter. Amor Towles excels in setting up scenes, creating completely fleshed characters, and presenting his reader with a slice of life in which nothing much happens, other than people live and breathe and fall in love and feel things deeply. You either love that or don't, I imagine. I fell in love with Towles' second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, for these very reasons. And while I didn't enjoy the subject and setting as much here, I think I fell in love with Rules of Civility, too. This is one I'll definitely re-read some day to get to the bottom of my feelings for it. I think it's worth a read, if you're on the fence, if nothing else for the wonderful writing. My rating: 4 or 4.5 stars.

And then there's My Life with Bob. My feelings about this one were not ambiguous or complicated. I didn't care for it. Or, actually, I didn't care for the first three-quarters of it. I tend to love books about books, but there are several books of this genre that I just don't like (I won't name any names). I think what makes or breaks a book-about-books read is how well it straddles the memoir-slash-bibliography line. This one leaned so heavily on memoir that I wasn't sure it should really be called a "book about books." Normally, memoir is one of my favorite genres, but I found this memoir SO self-important and arrogant it turned me off. It just seemed to me like a platform for Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, to tell about her fantastic life abroad. She'd mention what she was reading while she was living in France or London or Thailand, but she hardly ever put the books first. Perhaps it's a problem of expectation, which I pin squarely on the publisher, because I thought this was going to be about reading and books and Paul's BOB (Book of Books) journal. She introduced us to Bob but never told us what exactly she records there (title and author only, is what I came to assume). In my opinion, Bob became a cheap prop for her travel memoir. So there's that. Also, there's this: don't most readers track what they read? Is this special? I've been keeping my own version of Bob since the mid-1990s, and I've been writing reviews since before I started blogging. This doesn't seem extraordinary to me. But most importantly, I found Paul to be so self-absorbed that I almost abandoned the book. But then, the last quarter of the book or so was about being a wife and mother, and she seemed to have mellowed out her conceited tone a bit, and seemed to become more generous. But that wasn't enough to save it for me. At the same time, I did find the book inspiring, because although she doesn't tell us how much she reads, she does drop titles, and it's a good list of classics (old and modern), making her what most folks would call "well read" though I kind of detest that term. I left the book wanting to up my game a bit with my own reading. But this is just one reader's opinion. You might love the book and not hear the tone that made me so cranky. Just go in knowing it's less about books than it is about the author. My rating: 2.5 stars.

Last week I started:

Last week I was working on my 2018 reading goals (yes, I'm THAT girl), and I got so excited about a goal to read modern classics that I decided to start right away. Since most of my 2017 goals have been met or are almost met, I've decided to begin this goal the last half of 2017 and continue it into 2018. My definition of modern classic is basically anything that was famous in its day but may not be read in college lit classes today. But I also have some more recent stuff on the list like The Poisonwood Bible that everyone seems to agree you "have to read."

The first book I chose for this goal is Margaret Landon's Anna and the King of Siam. This is the fictional biography of Anna Leonowens, the English schoolteacher to the King of Siam's (Siam is now Thailand) 70-some children in the mid-1800s. This book is what the movies Anna and the King of Siam, The King and I, and Anna and the King were based on.

Last week I began:

I'm enjoying Anne Lamott's Hallelujah Anyway, which is a collection of essays on mercy (and not a single jab at the political right yet).

I'm also loving Richard Ford's Between Them, a memoir of his parents. It's one of those quiet, contemplative books that I just adore.

And I began my new audiobook, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven. While I think it's a great story and is well-written, I'm not sure it's the right fit for me. It's one of those "it's me, not you" things. I can see why most people love this book.
This week I continue with:

Finding some gems in Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz's collection Poems to Read. I especially love the charming introductions to poems by readers.


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