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 (5)
* Partial year
I Do Not Come to You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
[Finished 19 January 2015] A wonderful story about the Nigerian side of those scam e-mails that come in and the protagonist’s moral journey from being poor and naïve to his involvement in 419 scamming. It was also an interesting examination of a number of quotidian aspects of life in modern Nigeria, helping me learn more about a region in which I’ve become quite interested of late.

5 Survivors: Personal Stories of Healing from PTSD and Traumatic Events by Tracy Stecker, Ph.D.
[Finished 19 January 2015] This was not the book I was hoping for. What I was interested in reading were first-person accounts that described what it was like to live with PTSD. Instead we had five peoples’ autobiographies, focusing on what led up to their traumatic event and then a shorter passage about their healing process, but little about the actual experience of having PTSD.

The Taken by Vicki Pettersson
[Finished 16 January 2015] An amusing enough story with a novel concept, although the story line feels a bit over-improvised and too convoluted for its own good.

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov
[Finished 8 January 2015] Oh my, this is wonderful. I don’t know how Nabokov was capable of writing so beautifully in a foreign language when my own efforts in my native language are so clumsy and ugly in comparison. Post-modern in its structure, the novel tells the story of the narrator attempting to write the biography of his brother (and claiming along the way that he is omitting himself from the story while doing precisely the opposite). There are cases of people claiming to be others, of continual missed connections and mistaken identities. There are numerous possible readings of the text, including a literal sense that what’s happening is what’s claimed to be and then the possibilities that Sebastian Knight might be a creation of the narrator or have been a creation of his previous biographer or been no relation to the narrator despite the narrator’s claims… The whole question of what happened is left deliciously open. This has left me ready to go back to Pale Fire and see more.

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
[Finished 2 January 2015] A very short novel that’s as much objet d’art as story. Reportedly the text was given to designer Chip Kidd with the instructions to illustrate it somehow. This is one of four extent editions of the book at this time (the British, German and original Japanese were all designed and illustrated independently). The illustrations live as reflections on the text more than illuminations of it. Kidd’s illustrations, with the exception of two photographs, are all original and manage a mix of pop-art and Japanesque style. Even the binding does something different with the front cover (if that’s what you’d identify it as), folding up from the back cover with another protective tab folding down from the back to reveal the first page of text. The text itself is set in a typewriter-esque font giving the feeling like one is reading the writer’s original transcript.

The story itself has the feel and logic of a dream, with a labyrinthine set of corridors leading form the mysterious room 107 to the reading room which turns out to be a prison cell. The characters include a sheepman and a girl who is nearly incorporeal and transforms into/from a bird (perhaps?). Everyone has their own fears and their own concerns, whether it’s the old man’s willow switch with which he torments the sheepman or the memory of being bitten by a large black dog which torments our nameless narrator.

Conclave by Greg Tobin
[Finished 31 December 2014] One of these days, I need to write the definitive critical survey of the genre of “pope novels”. Having read a wide sprectrum of these, it seems that these are continually a sort of wish fulfilment fantasy: “This is what I would do given the power of the papacy.” Here, our protagonist, a liberal New Jersey cardinal stands in for the author, a liberal New Jersey journalist writing largely on Vatican and Catholic topics. The Evangelium Christi group of the novel seems pretty clearly a stand-in for the real-life Opus Dei, although more specific identifications become harder to make. It is interesting to note the many parallels between the pope that Tobin’s cardinal becomes and the pope that Cardinal Bergoglio became, although I think that even Tobin would be surprised at how much more humble Francis is than his own Celestine.

It was a bit disconcerting to see the references to terrorism as a concern in this book published in the first half of 2001. I’d be curious to see how the post-9/11 world would fit into a pope novel written in the time between 9/11 and the death of John Paul II.

The Stand by Stephen King
[Finished 29 December 2014] I read the full “restored” edition which adds a whole novel’s worth of filler to an already long novel as well as incompletely updates the date of the novel by a decade. My overall impression of the book is that while some of what King had to cut in the initial release of the novel was a loss, other parts were far from essential and could have just as easily remained cut from the text.

The novel itself aspires to theological depths but fails miserably at reaching them. It seems to me that King lacks the necessary theological background and/or intuition to be able to really tackle the question. Perhaps it’s a consequence of a shallow protestantism in his background but his great theological insight comes down to “apparently God sometimes demands a sacrifice for no apparent reason.” Among the characters, the growth of Larry Underwood is a missed opportunity and Mother Abagail is literally a magic negro. There are handfuls of literary references sprinkled through the text with no apparent purpose other than to show off that King has read T. S. Eliot. In one instance, he goes too far, I think, taking the image of “Strange Fruit” and applying it not to lynched black men but to flyers blowing from someone’s trunk.

Thoughts of Sorts by Georges Perec
[Finished 22 December 2014] Thirteen essays from one of the key members of the Oulipo. The most Oulipan of the works here was “Eighty-One Easy Cook Recipes” which works through a full panoply of permutations of ingredients and techniques, leaving a piece of writing that is more to be counted than read.

Stupid Children by Lenore Zion
[Finished 20 December 2014] I wasn’t really left with much sense of there being anything of depth in this book. The author’s psychological training didn’t seem to have provided her with the ability to create a compelling psychological portrait of her characters.

Best American Poetry 2014 edited by Terrance Hayes
[Finished 17 December 2014] Not a whole lot to say. The Best American Poetry series depends heavily on the tastes of the guest editor and while there are some really fantastic poems in this volume. I’m also left with a sense that Hayes was making an effort to include a lot of friends and colleagues in this collection.