Nose In A Book

Sometimes you don’t have a lot to say, and so you write a short entry about what you’re reading, what you just read, what you’re re-reading, and what you might like to read in the future. No one minds, right?

A History of God by Karen Armstrong. I think this is actually overdue at the library. Don’t tell my new librarian friend Joy, okay? I got this a while ago and have dipped in and out sporadically. It’s well written, but I don’t think my brain is big enough to read very much of it at a time. I tend to get distracted when I use it as my bus book, I notice. It’s a history, as one might expect, of monotheism. I’m right at the part where it’s the Dark Ages in Europe but in the Arab world they’re having this major big smart discovery time, like a combination of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment (according to the book). Europe is drowning witches and having plagues and the Arabs are inventing algebra. One point this books makes over and over is that a lot of people at various times have decided that regular language is too small to contain God, that the way we think and conceptualize the world doesn’t apply to the way God is, and that’s why we have had to use special kinds of language to talk about and describe and think about God. I think that’s pretty interesting.

Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. Just like when I was reading Biting The Dust, I had to put this down and go wash my dishes out of pure guilt. This is a doorstop reference manual written by a lawyer who clearly is in some sort of extended (and very productive!) manic phase because girlfriend wants me to have three sets of rags that I soak in bleach every night and wants me to wash and disinfect the garbage can every night and also wants me to a) have tablecloths and b) change them for every meal. It’s a little nutty. Not exactly in a Martha Stewart way, because there isn’t much bandying about of the word “perfect”, and there aren’t precious directions for making precious origami baskets for table settings. I’m able to ignore some of the more outstandingly time consuming things like rotating my canned goods in the cabinets (although this author believes we should all have pantries, apparently) and making a log of what’s in the freezer (frozen food? ice cubes?), and have really liked the very practical advice on how best to do laundry and what to use on what kind of stains and on ironing and how to hand wash your dishes without creating a giant soapy lake in your tiny handkerchief-sized kitchen. I didn’t really do household chores when I was growing up (which would make me spoiled, I know) and so to this day I don’t have much of an idea how to sew on a button or how to defrost a freezer. This book…all 900 pages of it…is very helpful for matters like those.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros. I read The House On Mango Street years ago, probably in high school, and if I remember correctly I even made one of the chapters into a monologue for ninth-period drama class in tenth or eleventh grade. This is her newest book, and I got it from my gracious mother for Christmas off my Amazon wishlist. I just started it, and am only about two hundred pages in, but I’m enjoying the style and especially the Spanish songs that are sprinkled in and around the pages. I have just enough Spanish to get the gist of them, so that’s pretty fun. And I’m loving the depiction of pre-revolutionary Mexico City as the “Paris of the New World.” If this wasn’t a huge hardback, it would be the perfect bus book, but as such I think I should just leave it at home and read it before bed. I’m feeling so busy that that’s pretty much the only places and times I’m reading lately, and you know that’s not right. Sigh.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. What can I say. I love it. I love the language, I love the historical context, I love the characters, I love the snarkiness, I love the absurdity, I love the love, I love everything about it. I’m re-reading this for, oh, I don’t know, easily the fifteenth or twentieth time. The edition I’m reading right now has a very interesting introduction written by someone whose name escapes me at the moment, discussing Austen’s place in the romantic literature of her time and that immediately proceeding her, and brings up that age-old question of whether she was a proto-feminist, comparing her, inevitably, to Mary Wollstonecraft. The issue I am finding most interesting this go-round is that of class and social mobility. I just find it fascinating that everyone talks so openly about how many thousands per year everyone else has. Everyone knows everyone else’s financial business. The notes on this edition are really good and they’re making a couple of historical context things a little more clear for me. But can you all help me out with something? When Jane and Elizabeth are at Netherfield, and Mrs. Bennet comes to visit, and they’re all having that awkward conversation about country life vs. city life and Mrs. Bennet says that she doesn’t find country life stultifying at all, and that she dines with four and twenty families? I get that that’s a stupid thing to say, but I haven’t been able to figure out if that’s because twenty-four is a laughably small or a ridiculously inflated number. It’s in the first six or eight chapters, or the first hour of the excellent BBC six-part series. Anyone?

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I know I am eight hundred years late with these, and I knew they were going to be good. I am happy to report they were both excellent and made my Christmas vacation a very nice one in terms of good fiction. Actually, wait, no, I read The Lovely Bones before Christmas. In fact, I read it while I was at clinic, waiting for clients to show up who never showed up. I plowed through it in about three hours, and when I was done I sort of turned it over in my hands forlornly, not wanting it to be over, wondering if I’d perhaps spilled a little on the table that I could lap up. I was so excited to get it for Christmas so I can read it again. I left it in Miami with my mom and she says she sending it back to me, but I just went out to my mailbox and I saw nothing of the kind. Hmmmm.

Jenny and the Jaws of Life I love short stories. The only English class I took in college (I know, only one, can you believe it? How embarrassing) was a short story class called World In A Nutshell, and that’s it exactly for me. Anyway, Carl got this for me, and I snapped it up like it was a delicious morsel of…something delicious. These stories hit me where I live. It doesn’t hurt that David Sedaris wrote the introduction, and it’s nice to see that it’s back in print…but seriously, how did it ever get out of print? Go read these stories right this second, okay? As a personal favor to me? Thanks, you’re a peach.

Small Wonders by Barbara Kingsolver. Well, of course I’ve read The Bean Trees and the Poisonwood Bible, as required by law. This is a set of non-fiction essays, some of which are her responses to September 11. I burned right through this (my mom gave it Carl for Christmas so technically I had to let him read it first, but I would sneak it whenever he wasn’t looking) and had my thoughts provoked on a number of subjects all having to do with our place in the world as Americans and as members of our communities and as humans and everything else. It’s very clearly politically to the left, which was sort of refreshing.

I think that’s about it. I still want to read The Virgin Suicides (and Middlesex, of course) and Tobias Wolff, whose story in the New Yorker I just read, and of course everything Lynda Barry has ever written or drawn, and then there’s all the newish Ursula K. LeGuin stuff, which I’ve actually read but don’t own quite yet. And I know there’s lots more stuff out there that I don’t even know about…which is pretty exciting, when you think about it.

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