Wednesday, December 14, 2016

2016 Reading Notes

My reading came to a screeching halt after the election and I've been having trouble resuming it since. But I did have a good reading year before that day.
White Noise by Don DeLillo. First read in 1998, re-read in 2016. I remembered that White Noise is about supermarkets and Hitler studies. I remember loving it in 1998, but little else. What I rediscovered is that this novel is full of anxiety, dread, distrust of systems and data, environmental waste, precocious children, familial and romantic loves, and the repression of our fundamental fear of death. It's satirical but also mildly terrifying. I am happy to say that it's still a five-star read. I also read DeLillo's Zero K, which was fine but unexceptional and probably very close to the future as elites hoard all the money and try to preserve themselves past death, waiting out the demise of most of mankind.
I was happy to discover three Louise Erdrich novels: Love Medicine; The Round House; and LaRose. Loved them all in their own ways, but The Round House rises a step above the others. It's about an adolescent boy bent on revenge for a violent attack on his mother. I revisited Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, which might be dated but I still like more than her more current works of dystopia. New to me: The Sparrow by Mary Russell Doria (Jesuit space opera with loads of friendship, guilt, language, and long amnesiac flights between planets.) Also, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, which I think I had mistaken in my mind with Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but no, they are two separate stories that have nothing in common. I Capture the Castle is a charming family story. I was duly charmed.
Veronica Gaitskill's subversive and angry novel, Two Girls, Fat and Thin, got stuck in my head. Not recommended if you aren't up for lots of violent bullying and sex, plus a satirical jab at Ayn Rand and her deluded followers.
Literary autobiography and memoir: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin is so good. Robert Gottlieb's memoir about his life in publishing, Avid Reader: A Life made me nostalgic for a time I have never really known. Slipstream by Elizabeth Jane Howard has its ups and downs pacing-wise, but I did enjoy her account of growing up in a repressed British family and life during wartime. Also, she had many, many romantic trysts that were always terrible in the end. All three of the aforementioned bios/memoirs showcase sad and unbalanced marriages. Conversely, Ann Patchett's This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, essays about her life and writing, introduced me to a famous author I had never read and showcase a romance that will make you tear up and root for love. I also liked Nick Hornby's More Baths, Less Talking: Stuff I've been Reading #4. And while not necessarily literary, I am so glad I read Susan Faludi's memoir about her father, In the Darkroom (gender identity, war, Nazis, the current right-wing takeover of Hungary, terrible parenting, and deeper family secrets), and Sally Mann's Hold Still (art and photography, family secrets and shames, racism, bonds between parents and children, friendship, guilt, and beauty). Yes, I read harrowing books.
You might like: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (harrowing between the lines) and Ann Patchett's Commonwealth (a delightful novel about a blended family.)
This month, I’ve started Dickens’ Little Dorrit, but haven’t made much progress. We will see what happens in 2017. Fiction feels hard to absorb in this post-fact world.

2 comments:

  1. I liked Commonwealth, but not as much as This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

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  2. I was glad I read the essays first because then I could see how her life stories influenced the novel. But overall, I'd agree that the essays are more powerful than Commonwealth.

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