Thursday, December 30, 2010

The reckoning, part 3.

On Books.

I find myself to be an undisciplined, a chaotic reader. Much like every other endeavor I undertake. Anyway. I consulted my bookshelves, my Amazon account, and my memory to come up with the following annotated list of books I read, or bought, or dipped into, and why:

Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked A Hornet's Nest. Having finished the previous two, I obviously needed to finish the set. Slower, talkier; still had the advantage of the great character Lisbeth Salander.

Arnaldur Indridason, Hypothermia. Love this guy, loved this book. The character, Erlendur, is wonderful--melancholy, deliberate, intelligent. It's worth hearing about his own history as he makes sense of the cases that come his way. Also, set in Iceland, which is fascinating. I cannot get enough of this stuff.

Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist. I said to the historian, This book is good but it doesn't really have a story. I had been reading it a few pages at a time and finding it easy to put down. And then, I read the rest of it like the next day, as if it were the most delicious thing ever. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are a poet or have any interest whatsoever in poetry.

Beautiful Junk. A children's book about the Watts Towers. I am working on a poem about them, and this book was recommended somewhere in my research. It is lovely.

Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands. Prose poems? Brief essays? about actual remote islands, accompanied by beautiful little drawings. This book is mysterious and ineffable.

Lynda Barry, Picture This. Who does not love Lynda Barry, except perhaps for those who have not encountered her? She is a humane, quirky genius. This book is Barry's answer to the question, Do you wish you could draw? The answer is: yes.

Joseph Brodsky, Watermark. I read about this book of prose poems about Venice in an article about traveling in Venice in the winter. (a) I really want to go to Venice in the (b) winter, and (c) this book is actually waiting for me at the post office as we speak. I am anxious to read it.

Kate Braverman, Frantic Transmissions to and from L.A. A memoir in which the novelist talks about leaving L.A. for upstate New York. Part of my L.A. Project, as I, too, am absent from L.A.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. We read this in my book group. I loved it. Not everyone loves it, but I did. I thought Ishiguro's handling of the narrator, who tells the story in an emotionally flattened voice, was kind of brilliant, in that the pathos of the story seeped through that flatness and was all the more compelling for the filter. Well, it's not a long novel, you can see for yourself what you think.

David Smit, The End of Composition Studies. I read a bit of this book and will probably read more. What I read was pretty depressing, I must say, but not wrong. So I better find out what Smit ultimately concludes. I hate lingering over the incisive yet devastating analysis, especially when it's my job to go teach composition.

Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: the Natural History of Innovation. I bought this because I read an article about it on Slate, which mentioned that creative minds are often chaotic minds, which made me feel good about myself. I love, though, the ideas that mistakes often lead to more creative solutions, and that a connected environment leads to greater creativity. Looking forward to spending more time with this.

Clayton Christensen, Disrupting class: how disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. My friend George recommended this. Also, this disruptive innovation idea was what spawned the recent reorg of the Deseret News (by "reorg" I mean, of course, "wholesale layoffs"). Sometimes you gotta read what the opposition is thinking about.

David Jauss, Alone with all that could happen: rethinking conventional wisdom about the craft of fiction. I bought this because of the chapter called "What We Think About When We Think About Flow." Have I read this book? I have not. However, I want to send this essay to some of my students. If it happens to be good, which I hope it will.

James White, The Salt Ecstasies. I heard about this book from a panel at AWP a few years ago. It's a reissue, part of Graywolf's Re/View series--what a great idea, taking out-of-print books of poems and reprinting them with a friendly introduction (here, Mark Doty introduces). A beautiful book.

Anya Kamenetz, DIY U. I feel a theme emerging--lots of books about higher ed and the challenges posed by different paradigms. This book still needs to be read by me. A colleague recommended it, and actually, I look forward to it.

John D'agata The Lost Origins of the Essay. Thinking a lot about essays, especially brief essays, and especially really old ones. This is a really good book.

Philip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay. See the above.

John James Audubon, Library of American Art. These paintings and drawings are spectacular, as is Audubon's whole project--wild and ambitious and grand. Working on an Audubon poem.

John James Audubon: Drawings and art (Library of America). See the above.

Selected Poems, Robert Duncan. Duncan has a poem about the Watts Towers, "Nel Mezzo del Cammin di Nostra Vita."

Darcy Steinke, Easter Everywhere. Memoir about Steinke's youth in a highly religious--Christian--family. I loved a novel of hers, Suicide Blonde, years ago. And I am interested in stories about religious lives.

Christian Weisser et al, The Locations of Composition. Essays I may one day get around to reading.

Public Literacy, Elizabeth Ervin. Another composition book.

Seeking Common Cause (Diane Bennet Durkin/Lisa Gerrard). And another composition book.

Anne Carson, Nox. I am saving the actual reading of this for a time when I can hole up with it for a day or a week.

Microscripts (Walser). Why did I buy this book? Because it is interesting looking. The microscripts are just like what they sound like--tiny pieces of writing, in tiny hand writing. Because it looks cool, okay?

Nicola Griffith, Always. I love this small series of detective novels. The heroine is Aud Torvingen and she is awesome.

Tana French, The Likeness/Faithful Place/In the Woods. All so very good. These are surely some of the most memorable books I read this year.

Berryman Selected Poems. Because everyone needs to read some Berryman.

Greil Marcus, When That Rough God Goes Riding. On listening to Van Morrison. This is more like notes about listening than a fully worked out essay, but it's interesting enough, if you love Van Morrison, which I do.

Kafka, The Trial. For the book group. We also watched the Orson Welles film. Kafka has the power to make you anxious, if that's what you're looking for in a novel.

Krista Ratcliffe, Rhetorical Listening. We read this for our theory book group. If I were a better person, I might gather my thoughts and look at this book again, and tell you what it was about. Like a lot of scholarly books, its crucial theory and working model would make a slimmer book than it actually is, with lots of examples and so forth.

Various LA guidebooks. I am now in the market for many, many, many maps of the greater Los Angeles Area. Part of the ongoing L.A. Project.

Down By the Los Angeles River. A book that will help you find spots on the L.A. River, where you can actually walk alongside it, hear it, see it. But don't step in it. That's a little scary. In a related matter, my oldest darling friend sent me a book of historic photos of the Los Angeles River.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. This used to be freely available online via Bartleby, but no more. Alas. Now I own it as a slender volume. It is one of my favorite tools for writing. What's amazing is to see how a single Proto Indo European root can manifest in a bunch of different languages, allowing you to see that the word for tongue and the word for thorn both spring from the same PIE root. Thrilling.

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. Book? or pamphlet? Still, an interesting look into Web 2.o and beyond. Shirky is a very smart guy.

Gunther Kress, Multimodality. Gunther Kress: very smart guy. I have *used* this book but I could not tell you what it is all the way about.

Noulipian Analects. Resource for Oulipo work in creative writing classes.

Desserts by Pierre Herme (with Dorie Greenspan). Dessert! extra fancy!

Dorie Greenspan, Baking from My Home to Yours. Baking! Not as fancy, and lots of fun. Greenspan is an enjoyable writer to read.

A pile of L.A. police procedurals by Michael Connelly. I loved Angels Flight, but I have to say that Connelly is a merely serviceable writer. Still: L.A. And serviceable is not bad.

Kim Stringfellow, Jackrabbit Homestead. We bought this book after spending a couple of days in Joshua Tree, which is fantastic and everyone should go there sometime. This is about the homesteading that took place there through the mid-20th century. Lots and lots of fascinating pictures. Very cool.

Karin Fossum, Don't Look Back, When the Devil Holds the Candle, He Who Fears the Wolf. Fossum is good. Her police procedurals are as good, maybe better, than Henning Mankell's. Set in Norway.

Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End. Read for book club. Whined about its non-plot engine before having finished it. Finished it and loved it. Moral of the story: finish books before whining about them. (This is a wonderful book.)

Substrate, Jim Powell. Poems set in California. Some interesting stuff.

A Place of Execution, Val MacDermid. A book that thought it was smarter than it actually was. But still readable. Set in Derbyshire.

The Names, Don Delillo. Not my favorite Delillo, but Delillo always still holds delights for me, including the fact that the guy knows his way around a sentence.

March, Geraldine Brooks. A splendid book. Civil War, told from the point of view of Mr. March of Little Women fame.

All of it Singing, Linda Gregg. A selected and new from one of my favorite poets.

The Manual of Detection, Jedediah Berry. Not quite as clever as its author might have hoped. Steampunk. But better than George Mann's robot/zombie/zeppelin romance (see below).

Girls Like Us, Sheila Weller. About Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and Carole King. Joni Mitchell. About halfway through this.

Just Kids, Patti Smith. LOVED. Patti Smith's youth as an artist and her long friendship etc. with Robert Mapplethorpe. Beautiful and sweet and charming and more.

Into a Paris Quartier, Diane Johnson. Who thought Le Divorce was pretty good? I know I did. This is fun to read, Johnson's historical reading of a neighborhood in Paris where she lives. Wish I lived in a neighborhood in Paris.

The Field Guide to Prose Poetry. Bought this as a result of a panel at AWP. Pretty good book--essays by the poets, along with a handful of their poems.

George Mann, The Affinity Bridge. This book is basically a treatment for a screenplay. It made me mad. I kept going. Why? I don't know. It was overdue at the library and I couldn't renew it online because someone else wanted to check it out. It was popular! I hated it! I kept going, because maybe those popular kids knew something I didn't? Gosh. Robots, zombies, and zeppelins, as well as, I don't know, a steampunk Queen Victoria? Give me a break.

I am looking forward to reading: Freedom, Human Smoke, the new Elmore Leonard (Djibouti), the new China Mieville (Kraken--not sure how I missed that this happened! I love Mieville.), and finishing/starting some of the books mentioned above. Also, for Christmas, the historian gave me a book about Obama, The Bridge (David Remnick) and a book by Peter Stark called The Last Empty Places: A Past and Present Journey Through the Blank Spots on the American Map. This is right up my alley, and in fact, I am already there, in Maine. See you when I get back.


  1. I like to read lists, especially yours, and especially this one about books. I will read some of these books (I even have some of them). I am also going to make my own list of books because I generally aspire to be like you in all things (it's true).

  2. Great list. Your list is like mine in that the genre fiction gets gobbled up while the important academic tomes are deferred. This is as it should be. Though you've read more intelligent nonfiction than I have; you're read more of everything.

    I have many important academic books on my to-read list where most of them shall remain.

  3. I am agog with admiration. Agog.

    Happy New Year, HTMS!

  4. What a fantastic list - and even better I've read only two on the list - The Names which haunted my long summer bike ride in the rain since I carried it with me - and the IndoEuropean roots book - also a slim paperback, well-thumbed.



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