April 2005 Books

I notice as the months go by I am reading fewer and fewer books! Sadness! I never used to notice the amount of reading I did…it always seemed pretty steady to me. I’m not keeping track this year for guilt reasons, I keep telling myself I’m not being graded or anything…but I guess I’m competitive. Against whom, I don’t know. It was a good book-reading month, though, especially Cloud Atlas, which I finished just in time to count as April and which I am still savoring.

Also, the dates for each book indicate the day I finished something…it’s not like every five days or so I read a book in one day.

April 5, 2005
The Frequency of Souls by Mary Kay Zuravleff

This is a book about engineers, regrets, and freaky science. I liked it quite a bit…I was interested to see a female character spoken of by the other characters as weird and ugly, yet very much loved by the protagonist. Zuravleff did a good job of making Niagara Spense into a real, broken, crazy, human love interest…not a pretty ugly girl, you know, like she takes her hair down from its bun and takes off her glasses and all of a sudden we’re in a ZZ Top video. I also enjoyed the relationship between George and his genius son…a rare window into parenthood, one that lets you wonder what to do if you have a kid that you love but don’t necessarily like. I have another book by this author in my pile and I’m looking forward to it very much. And I learned a little bit about the science of refrigeration. Also, I have to say, I just love the last name “Zuravleff.” Zuravleff!

April 10, 2005
Irish Girls Are Back In Town, edited by Cecelia Ahern, Patricia Scanlan, Gemma O’Connor, and Sarah Webb.

Sometimes, it’s true, I have the mind of an eighteen-year-old frat boy known to his friends only as “Smitty.” This is the only explanation I can come up with as to why I picked this from the pile of giveaways Gael had on her side table at book club last, which I like to treat as my own private free bookstore. The cover features a bared female torso with a shamrock tattoo on it. I can only assume that’s why I put it in my bag…either that or I was fooled into thinking that perhaps the writing would be like Coleen’s (the only Irish girl I know) or something. I was sadly, sadly wrong. I don’t know why I even bothered finishing this…none of the stories made sense, they were all silly in a not-good way, and they all read like first chapters of chick lit (the not-good kind) novels. I mean, sometimes I think I shouldn’t talk, because I can’t seem to write any kind of novel, chick-lit or non-chick lit. I stand by my assertion, though, that the next time the Irish girls come back to town, or whatever, I am going to close the blinds and turn out the lights in the hope that they don’t come to my house.

April 12, 2005
Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz

I loved these stories so so much, both for the different types of language they used, for their characterization, and for their bizarreness. Incredible and gorgeous and humbling to read…they reminded me of Jenny and the Jaws of Life by Jincy Willets, which is great, because sometimes I wish every book could remind me of that one. As I read them, each one, I’d go “Okay, that one was my favorite,” and then I’d read the next and go “No, wait, that one.” How can you choose a favorite, when there is a story about what happens when the President decides to test the end-of-the-world warning system, a story about a woman who is pregnant for three years, a story about a Civil War surgeon who plants a garden of amputated limbs, a story about an elephant, and boy and a cruel benefactor? You can’t. You just have to be grateful you got this book for free at book club and that you can keep it on your shelf and read the stories again, any time you want.

April 14, 2005
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Just noting that I’ve read this book recently makes me feel like I’m about sixteen. You know that I had a quote from this book on my senior page in my high school yearbook, yes? It was something like “ Life on the moon may not be on the surface but inside.” (I also had quotes from The Awakening, Leaves of Grass, and Alice in Wonderland, so make of that what you will). Anyway, my sister sent me a signed copy for my birthday so I read it again…my first re-read in 2005, which is something of a record for me, as I have been up to now a consummate re-reader…and I noticed a couple of things that hadn’t caught my eye before. Mainly I could really tell that this book was written in the eighties because of the conceptions of what the technology of the near future would be like. I found myself concentrating on Offred’s memories of her mother and her daughter more, when other times I’ve read it I’ve focused on the social anthropology, so to speak. I think it’s de rigeur to mention, when one reads this book, that it’s scary to see how much of it is really true…I’m not sure what I think about that quite yet, but I will say that some of the fundamentalist religious rhetoric struck a slightly familiar note.

April 18, 2005
The Almond Picker by Simonetta Agnello Hornby

Apparently this is a bestseller in Italy and was just translated into English recently. I haven’t read too much of Under The Tuscan Sun-type visions of Italy, with their crumbling villas and mysterious raven-haired women, but enough to know that I usually don’t much like the versions of Italy, Italians,and Italian life presented there. I don’t even really know anything about Italy, Italians, and Italian life, but a lot of those depictions ring false to me anyway…you know, the pace of life is slowed, the soft southern wind brings the scent of wild lavendar into the kitchen through the wide linen curtains, the people really know how to eat, how to live, how to love. Mamma mia, and all that. This book is brilliant because it’s a picture of semi-modern Italy, if Sicily in the 1960s can be called modern. I got glimpses of the class system there, the relationship between the bourgeosie and the mafia, the relationship between men and women, the political climate of the time, and the relationship between Sicily and the rest of Italy, just in one little book about the death of a rich family’s maid. Amazing. I wish all history and anthropology was written this way. Also, I just loved some of the chapter sub-headings: “Don Giovannino Pinzimonio recalls the past in the Conversation Club,” “Father Arena meets Chairman Fatta in the square and they have a granita,” “Lilla Alfallipe and her husband meet Gerlando Mancuso, Mennulara’s nephew.”  Could you die?

April 21, 2005
The Facts Behind The Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel

This is a lovely quarto of short stories that are deliciously odd and sort of sad. They’re pre-Life Of Pi and I have to say I liked them better than that book. I liked the skewed perspective and the freedom they embody, especially, for some reason, the title story. It’s a great story, as well as a great story-within-a-story. Man! I love short fiction! Reading it, that is. I have no idea if I like writing it, but the more I read the more I want to find out. I sort of feel, though, that there are so many good stories in the world, who am I to try to add a mediocre (at best) one?

April 22, 2005
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Book club book for the month. Non-fiction that reads like fiction…which may be a function of my incredibly middle-class biases. I mean, man. The stuff she writes about is just incredible, and I kind of wanted to throttle the parents by the end of the first chapter. It’s amazing those kids even lived much less did as well as they did. The opening scene of the author seeing her homeless mom from the backseat of a limo was pretty striking, and set a decent tone for the rest of the book. Quick read.

April 29, 2005
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This was one of my birthday books. The copy on the book jacket is all about what a genius Mitchell is, how absolutely and astoundingly brilliant his writing, how reading this book will blow your mind, man. I thought that was a little repellent, frankly, and I had my doubts, and it’s impossible to figure out what the book was even about and now I forget why I asked for it but I’m very glad I did. I’m telling you I spent my Friday night with this book, forsaking all others, until the last page came and I closed it and looked around for more chapters that I’d obviously misplaced because…why wasn’t I reading it anymore? I wanted to know more about Ewing’s ailment, more about the fabricants, more more more about life in the Nine Valleys, more about everything, about every character. It could have been twice as long and I’d have been happy…although I do have to say that I think the structure and pacing works nicely as well. The thing that makes me think Mitchell maybe is kind of a genius is that during every section of the various narratives, I immediately believed in each world, each voice, and forgot about the author entirely. Regular readers of this feature here at Ampersand will recognize that that’s usually how I judge fiction (unsophisticated thought it may be), by how completely I fall into the world. This book, it’s like it took a deep breath and grabbed me by the ears and sucked me right in. I’m glad I finished the bulk of it in one long delicious shot because I had to forcibly claw myself to the surface every time my bus came to my stop. Much better, this book, for letting the bath water get cold.

Comments are closed.