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 (76)
2018 (67)
2019 (95)
2020 (90)
2021 (70)
* Partial year
The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood; Youth; Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen
[Finished 20 October 2021] An interesting enough book, although it was odd how little the Second World War seemed to impact Ditlevsen. She was surrounded by pro- and anti-Hitler factions in Denmark and then the country was occupied by the Germans and she seemed to be largely oblivious to all of this. It was an interesting look into her mind and her descent into opioid dependency, but I seem to have missed the mark for being able to love this book as much as many others seem to. There were some fascinating looks at the publishing scene in pre-war Denmark though, including a casual mention of dinner with Evelyn Waugh and how she found her initial publication opportunities. A very different world indeed.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
[Finished 13 October 2021] The subject matter is gripping—the focus on profits over people in the nascent radium industry—and yet I found the reading to frequently be tedious. In the afterword, Moore comments about how there was no non-academic writing about the young women who lost their lives to radium poisoning and I imagine some of the tedium of the academic writing on the subject couldn’t help getting into her writing. It felt like this could have been a better choice for a work of fiction, and given that Moore became interested in the subject while directing a play on the subject, I may not be that far off from the truth of the matter.

Masterclass by Morris West
[Finished 10 October 2021] A late novel from West, it’s at times a jumbled mess, and at times a fun ride. There are two separate plots going on here: one a murder mystery, one a kind of art crime where the protagonist might have a lost Rafael masterpiece, or might have a copy made during the second world war. None of the stakes feel that compelling and yet I had a hard time putting the book down once I started going with it. I’m still not entirely sure what I think of the book.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
[Finished 1 October 2021] Curiously, this is not the first novel I’ve read in recent memory about a family living with a chimpanzee, and I think that as a consequence of having read the first of these books, We Love You, Charlie Freeman, which viewed the situation through a lens of racial issues, I had a harder time dealing with the white middle class characters of this novel and accepting their problems. It didn’t really help a whole lot that Fowler was taking a self-consciously post-modern approach to her narrative in a way that didn’t fully work. And yet, her characterization managed to pierce through her efforts to muddle it, at least for her narrator which was a redeeming facet in the novel even as other characters in the novel fell flat.

Married to Distraction: Restoring Intimacy and Strengthening Your Marriage in an Age of Interruption by Edward M. Hallowell, Sue George Hallowell and Melissa Orlov
[Finished 24 September 2021] Hallowell is best known for writing about ADD issues, and there’s a chapter in this book about ADD, but here, writing with his wife and contributor Orlov, he broadens his focus to relationships in a culture which creates a sort of cultural ADD. There are some rough patches in the book—particularly through a mix of first-person voices in the book where it’s not always clear who “I” is at any point, but overall, a pretty good book.

South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition 1914–1917 by Ernest Shackleton
[Finished 24 September 2021] See my review at dahosek.com

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
[Finished 15 September 2021] Jones made a point of entitling her novel An American Marriage to make the point that it wasn’t especially a Black story, if I remember the interview I heard some years ago correctly. And while the inciting event, a husband wrongfully convicted of rape seems most likely for a Black man (and a point that is made often throughout the book), the emotions in the story, the desperate clinging for love and acceptance, are, indeed, very much universal. Most impressive to me was Jones’s management of three distinct narrative voices in the novel in a way that worked remarkably well.

La historia de mis dientes by Valeria Luiselli
[Finished 14 September 2021] This is the second Luiselli novel I’ve read although the first that I heard about. I found her writing much more compelling in Spanish than in English, with the narrative voice of Carretera especially strong. The final section, which is not written in Carretera’s voice, not surprisingly, is the weakest part of the book, but it was a delightful read.

The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe edited by Lucy S. Dawidowicz
[Finished 10 September 2021] An eclectic anthology of writing by and about notable Jewish thinkers from the 16th century to the eve of World War II. I stumbled upon this after reading Dawidowicz’s memoir of her time before the World War II studying at the YIVO institute in Vilna and then working with DPs in the aftermath of the war, and decided that it would be useful background for immersing myself in pre-Holocaust Jewish thought. It was often a dry read, but it did meet my needs well.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
[Finished 5 September 2021] I picked this up in the pile of free ARCs at the library and I think what I read was a largely unedited text—a few pages in, I realized that what I had was pretty much a bound copy of Semple’s Word document. But even so, this was still a largely enjoyable read. At times, it felt like Semple was hitting many of the same notes as she did in Where’d You Go Bernadette and certainly, this book pales in comparison to Semple’s debut, but it still had fun, although there were some aspects of the story that felt a little cheap and some plot points that didn’t fully work.