In addition to the usual blogs and magazines, I’ve been able to finish a few books so far this year.
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher–this was for book group. It’s a quick and funny read, especially if you’re into academy satire. It’s an epistolary novel through one point of view. As an English professor writes his letters of rec, etc., we learn about him, his department, and the future of academia. My favorite parts are when he describes what his creative writing students are working on–all but one seems to be focused on supernatural drivel. However, the passage I’ll quote is from a letter of rec that I want to steal for some of my own: “Mr. Lesczynski attended class faithfully, arriving on time, and rarely succumbed to the undergraduate impulse to check his cell phone for messages or relentlessly zip and unzip his backpack in the final minutes of class.”
There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In–Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. The novellas in this collection were written a long time ago, but could not be published because they depicted unhappy people struggling to get by behind the iron curtain. Interesting stuff, but I can’t say I found them very engaging. I was also irritated by the introduction–the scholar gives away the endings of what you’re about to read, but doesn’t see fit to contextualize some of the important references (like how the support rationing worked) Westerners will likely not understand.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle–one of Alexander’s favorite artists has done a great cover of the song (by America) from this movie. He asked if we had it–we did once upon a time, but on VHS. And I’d never owned or read the book. I suggested he get a copy from the library. To our surprise, Sac State had a signed one! I now get to show him one of my favorite childhood films (when we get the Netflix disc)–nothing is going to surprise him though (except maybe who voices the King), since the film is remarkably faithful.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande–I’ve been reading and teaching Gawande for years. One of my favorite articles by him is “Letting Go” from The New Yorker, so I was thrilled when his latest book was an expansion of it. Being Mortal is an exploration of how we handle death in America (not well)–we spend most healthcare dollars on the last months of life; we don’t talk to our families about the end (the most heartbreaking section is about Gawande’s own father dying–they’re both physicians, but they had trouble having the necessary end of life conversations); physicians aren’t trained to guide us through these moments/talks–and insurance companies don’t want them spending the time to; etc. Great read–read it, write the living will (as I need to), and talk to your family.
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness–The third in the All Soul’s Trilogy. Satisfying. Perfect for getting to Vancouver and curling up in a hotel room bed.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion–I read most of this on the plane back from Vancouver. A friend of a friend recommended it as a light comic read. It’s about a man on the spectrum in Australia who begins a project to find a wife–questionnaire and all. Things, of course, go awry. I’m tempted to read the sequel, and I’ll definitely go to see the movie they’re making of it.
The gods have not heard my pleas for an easier year; in fact, they’ve taken away a big part of my joy and refuge, but at least there are good books.
(Totally published this at first without mentioning another important book–I’ve had to go in to edit my own book in! Atwood’s Apocalypses–ask your library to buy it now!)