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 (16)
* Partial year
Pirate Cinema by Corey Doctorow
[Finished 16 February 2014] A ridiculously bad book. Where to start? There’s the whole propaganda aspect of the book. Everything and everyone in the book exists to serve Doctorow’s ideological argument. Then there are the incredibly two-dimensional characters, especially the narrator who is an almost archetypal “Mary Sue” character. Even the “flaws” that Doctorow gives him in an attempt to make him less of a caricature only highlight the ridiculousness of the character. And then of course, there’s the painful overuse of British slang. It’s like the unpronounceable alien names in bad sci fi but worse because Doctorow apparently thinks this gives his book dimension. Instead, it just calls attention to the fact that this is a book about a British teen written by an American. The discourse about how the House of Lords works is the biggest case of this. Seriously? We’re going to take a break from the narrative to correct the sort of misimpression about Lords that an American would have in a story narrated by a British kid who we can only assume is speaking to a British audience? A friend said that there was a good book hiding somewhere in the pages, but I really don’t think so.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
[Finished 11 February 2014] The first time I read this, I didn’t care for it. I don’t know what the hell was wrong with me. This is hilarious and wonderfully written. I owe Brock Clarke and apology for not accepting his whole-hearted recommendation of Muriel Spark.

iZombie: uVampire by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred
[Finished 9 February 2014] After a strong start in the first volume of the series, I felt like the writers were treading water in this volume. Yes, a new antagonist is introduced (or maybe she appeared at the end of the first volume—I don’t remember), but overall there was not much to make me too excited about where things were going. I gather it gets better in the last two TPs of the series.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
[Finished 8 February 2014] This is apparently one of the “big” books of 2013. Certainly big in terms of page count. I’m less persuaded about big in terms of importance. The narrative voice felt a bit grating to me, not really someone that I cared to spend 771 pages with.

The Mindful Way through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn
[Finished 6 February 2014] While there’s some good ideas here, I felt like a lot of this was marred by a rather western sensibility of goal-orientedness. The presentation of ideas through “case studies” in particular struck me as rather irritating.

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
[Finished 5 February 2014] Fitzgerald does some interesting things with voice, veering from a close third-person perspective to a rather detached narration which would be appropriate in a pure non-fiction history. There’s a lot to learn about technique here, but I wasn’t really taken by the experience of reading the book.

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn
[Finished 29 January 2014] The good: The book is lyrically written and doesn’t oversimplify mindfulness like some other books on the subject does. The bad: there seems to be a confusion of being attentive towards a child and being indulgent towards a child. There’s a fair amount in here which seems like a recipe for disaster in childrearing.

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
[Finished 29 January 2014] A curiously structured story. Two chess players, Czentovic and Dr B are each introduced with lengthy backstories and the story culminates with the two broken men facing off at the chess table with Czentovic’s brokenness ultimately defeating Dr B’s brokenness at the chess table, but revealing Dr B to be the more humane and more human of the two men in the end.

Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman
[Finished 22 January 2014] Part of my project to learn everything there is to know about parenting before the babies are born. My wife and I both read this; she went first. As she told me about the book and raised some objections about how it all seemed common sense to her (she’s Mexican), I told her that reading the book was likely to be a different experience for us. For me it would be about how the French parent, for her it would be about how Americans parent. With that insight she realized that this was precisely the case.

The book presents its insights in a memoir format, letting us discover the French parenting ideas through her eyes. At times, she seems to get the clue a little slowly.

Druckerman is clearly an aficionado of the French parenting style, and I can see why. There’s a lot to be learned from the French cadre. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Cesar Millan’s techniques in dog behavior management. A lot comes down to rules, boundaries and limitations, but with the added bonus that given that we’re working with human beings rather than animals, it’s possible to actually communicate rationally with children.

My wife says that there are a number of bad reviews of the book on amazon from people who mistake discipline for cruelty. That’s a pity. My experience is that children are pretty resilient, even the most spoiled children can grow up to be good adults. The big difference really is how pleasant the journey there will be for those around them.

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
[Finished 19 January 2014] The first of my reading for the last term of my MFA. Hansen is one of these authors that I should have known sooner than I have. Hansen is what seems like a rarity in contemporary literature: someone who takes religion seriously without becoming overly pious or sentimental. There are some wonderful sentences in this book, and intriguing uses of mixed chronology (the bulk of the narrative comes in paired streams: a present-tense narrative of Mariette along with conversations relating observations about the events of the present-tense narrative given in past tense within the conversation).