Don Hosek - Recent reading

I tend to be a voracious reader, and I read widely. This list has its origins in an old signature file which I would update periodically with the current book that I was reading. That gradually transmogrified itself into the current massive archive with brief reviews.

What I've been reading lately
Number of books read and reviewed each year
1995* (28)
1996 (47)
1997 (74)
1998 (61)
1999 (62)
2000 (27)
2001 (51)
2002 (60)
2003 (37)
2004 (36)
2005 (32)
2006 (46)
2007 (109)
2008 (78)
2009 (65)
2010 (68)
2011 (98)
2012 (129)
2013 (114)
2014 (101)
2015 (88)
2016 (82)
2017 (3)
* Partial year
Jewish Stories of Prague by V. V. Tomek
[Finished 11 January 2017] My disappointment with this book stems perhaps at least in part because I was expecting something that was more voice-driven, sort of a Jewish Brothers Grimm. But it turns out that Tomek wasn’t Jewish (and there are occasional parts of the book where Tomek seems at pains to make it clear that as the author of the book, he is a Christian even if his subject is not). The anonymous translator is also not Jewish and has minimal understanding of Jewish customs as he makes clear in his brief preface where in the first paragraph, he relates an encounter with an Orthodox Jew in tones on par with someone relating an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster.

Aside from telling the stories in a rather sterile style (frequently engaging in bits of irrelevant history), the choice of stories is very much those of someone on the outside looking in, with many of the stories involving Jews only tangentially or as the bogeymen of the gentile imagination.

On top of all that, the translator on at least one occasion interjected his own prose into the text (making a reference to the Holocaust which wasn’t to happen until a decade after Tomek’s death) which leaves me wondering how much of the other defects also belong to the translator.

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski
[Finished 5 January 2017] Absolutely brilliant. I had hesitated about this because I had hoped to read Borowski’s World of Stone which is exclusively about his experiences in DP camps, but it appears that Borowski has only been selectively translated. The writing here is incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking and gives a valuable perspective with a dose of satyric humor on life inside Auschwitz.

Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson
[Finished 1 January 2017] One thing about requesting library books online is that sometimes I get something that I didn’t quite expect. In this instance, I ended up with the only book about Terezin that my library system had and it was a children’s book. It was still helpful for my research and there was the shocking moment when I saw my own last name appear attached to one of the bits of survivor testimony.

La Fiesta del Chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa
[Finished 30 December 2016] Qué me gustó más de este libro fue como Vargas Llosa mezcló el presente y el préterito para hacer el pasado presente in unos escenas de la historia. Quiero tratar haver esto en mi proprio escribiendo.

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron
[Finished 29 December 2016] Another of the books from my brother’s haul from the SFWA conference. My previous experiences had been underwhelming but this was a pleasant surprise. The pacing was well-established and the central conceit, of everyone forgetting everything that they know every twelve years, was managed in a surprisingly good manner. The reveal of the setting was similarly handled in a nicely subtle manner.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Álvarez
[Finished 27 December 2016] It’s a bit of a coincidence that I read this book at the same time that I was finishing La Fiesta del Chivo . Getting two perspectives on the Trujillo administration at the same time was an interesting experience. Álvarez’s perspective is considerably closer to ground level with Trujillo largely an offstage menace while she focuses on the travails of the Mirabal sisters. The whole thing was beautifully written and a joy to read.

Doña Barbara by Rómulo Gallegos
[Finished 18 December 2016] Well, first off, this is a dreadful translation with a number of cases of the translator picking the wrong word in his translation (translating, e.g., rodeo as rodeo rather than round-up, for example, creates a new meaning for the former word that I don’t think has ever existed before). The novel itself, notable for historical significance, doesn’t really hold up very well. The titular character ends up as a two-dimensional caricature and the better-drawn characters seem only mildly better with the motivations for many of the characters being hard to grasp.

Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
[Finished 4 December 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps by Robert H. Abzug
[Finished 27 November 2016] A somewhat narrow but useful account of the end of World War II. Abzug’s mission is to focus specifically on how the Americans dealt with the reality of the Nazi Concentration Camps they discovered as they pressed into Germany, finding atrocities such as barracks full of the charred corpses of prisoners burnt alive (in one instance, a prisoner had managed to flee the burning building only to be electrocuted upon running into the electrified fence surrounding the compound). For my own needs, the chapters on the army’s handling of DPs and the setting up of DP camps in the American zone were especially helpful. Even better, the writing was of a surprisingly high quality given how much historical writing falls into being dryly academic.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
[Finished 23 November 2016] Although it feels a bit as if Whitehead loses steam somewhat as his story moves northwards, this is still a genius bit of work. The idea that the underground railroad was an actual railroad, under the ground, is almost certainly a near-universal misconception/misimagination (I can remember my brothers relaying a classmate asking how they kept the underground railroad from caving in and I, as the younger brother who had not yet learned that aspect of American history was surprised to learn that the underground railroad was neither underground nor a railroad). But to a certain extent, the literal underground railroad of Whitehead’s story exists primarily to give him the freedom to approach the rest of his story with the freedom to engage in the necessary anachronisms to make his broader points about American society and race. Given the rise of Orange Hitler, Whitehead’s novel takes on added gravitas, although I’m sure he would have been happy to avoid that.