February 2006 Books

February 1, 2006
Buying A Fishing Rod For My Grandfather by Gao Xingjian

Another mystery hold list book, I had a hard time getting into it, and it’s so short that by the time I was sort of in, I was out again. If that makes sense, which it totally doesn’t, but that’s okay because the stories don’t much either. I had a hard time following and I was sort of disappointed in myself as a reader but then I read the translator’s note at the end: “… he [the author] warns readers that his fiction does not set out to tell a story. There is no plot, as found in most fiction, and anything of interest to be found in it is inherent in the language itself (p. 124).” And I was all like “Ohhhhhh.” And then I understood why I didn’t much like it, and why I have to be very careful with my hold list sometimes.

February 6, 2006
Best American Short Stories

I read this on the plane to the Bay Area on Friday and was sufficiently engrossed by the stories, I guess, to get through the flight just fine. I can’t remember any one that really stood out for me though, unless perhaps it was the one about the mother who loses her daughter to the cult, I don’t remember if it’s by Joyce Carol Oates or Alice Munro. Yeah. What a great book review!

February 6, 2006
Assasination Vacation By Sarah Vowell

This book taught me that I don’t know anything about American history and also that I would probably get along pretty well with Sarah Vowell. I bet she gets that all the time. This reads very much like a long rambling conversation with your smart and obsessive hipster friend who never knows where her keys are; the demographic appeal is really sharp and dialed-in. A quick and fun read, I now want to read her other books and maybe try reading A People’s History Of The United States again.

February 14, 2006
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

This was very engrossing on a number of levels: politically, socially, and of course just plain historically. Or maybe those are just some of the ways in which the author approaches the fascinating and really confusing subject matter. This was good reading because he presents you with a lot of new information in such a way that sort of lets you know where he stands but also lets you assess the facts (such as we know them) for yourself, which I appreciate and which is probably pretty difficult when writing history. I learned a little about a lot of things: haplotype grouping, a type of “writing” that uses knotted strings instead of paper and ink, the possibility that the Amazon rain forest is in fact part of the “built environment” and can in fact be considered to be ruins the same way the Inka pyramids are, some of the new thinking about the Clovis First hypothesis (including an aside about Kennewick Man in the late nineties, with which I have a very tenuous connection that has to do with Native American burial traditions and involves a grown man wearing a Hammer Of Thor necklace), the sophistication of the Mayan calendar system, and syphilis. I love stuff like that. It’s really illuminating to understand the scope of what happened with the European conquest of the Americas; just the idea that there were many more people living here when the Spanish got here and that they were living much more complex lives than previously supposed is challenging. This took me quite a while to plow through, but very much worth it. I wish I knew more about math so I could better understand the stuff about the calendars.

February 17, 2006
Tales Of The City by Armistad Maupin

This is a great…I don’t know whether to call it a novel or set of stories…maybe “story suite” as Ursula K. LeGuin proposes. The stories and the characters are all pretty well done but I admit what I can’t stop thinking about is what the Castro must have been like pre-HIV and also that Mary Ann Singleton gets an apartment in Russian Hill with a deck and a fireplace for one hundred and seventy-five dollars a
month.

February 22, 2006
American Mania: When More Is Not Enough by Peter Whybrow

I saw this guy speak at my work a couple of weeks ago and was really impressed by his comparison of American social behavior (in the larger sense, for example, in the sense of changing cultural patterns away from community and towards more commercialism) and bipolar disorder. I’d forgotten the word “dysphoria” since I no longer have to use the DSM-IV at work but the analogy makes pretty good sense to me. A lot of this seems pretty intuitive to me; I don’t think it’s revolutionary to suggest that we’re living in a fast new future shock global hegemony kind of world, but for preaching-to-the-choir purposes it was an excellent read.

February 28, 2006
The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

Probably I ought to have read this before Assassination Vacation for chronology’s sake but my hold list is no respecter of conventional organizational rubrics. I think I read this in about two hours; it’s a similar style to the other book of hers I read in that it’s a geek talking about stuff that really interests her in an amusingly erudite yet accessible manner.

1 comment

  1. I’m pleased that you enjoyed 1491 — I was trying to get people to read it for awhile after I read it. It was just so neat.

    Tales of the City probably seems more cohesive when you read more in the series or if you watch the tv show — I’ve enjoyed it both ways.

    Also, Sarah Vowell often does stories on This American Life. If you don’t listen already, you may enjoy listening to some of the past shows with her in it — she has a really interesting voice. Actually, if you just want to hear her stories, I just found them on their own page.