Third Five Books Finished in 2007


15) Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda, finished March 5
    Lady Steed gave me this book for Valentine's Day, and a very good Valentine's Day present it was. If only I could manage to be so apropos! Thanks, lover! ¶ Disclaimer: One could easily argue that this book does not qualify according to the rules I set up, but I'm including it anyway. Even if I skipped the Spanish parts. ¶ So I've been interested in Neruda since seeing Il Postino in, oh, 2001? Something like that. But I have never read more than a couple poems. In part, because I am always leery of literature in translation--particularly poetry. But I read this volume and I thought it was pretty good--though to claim only one of these twenty-one poems is of despair seems to put too bright a face on it to me. ¶ The best part of this book however, for me, was the illustrations by Picasso. ¶ I've always been a bit skeptical of Picasso, and while, sure, I can appreciate Guernica as much as the next guy, to me, Picasso was simply intellectual exercise. ¶ Not so anymore. I stared at some of the images in this book a long long time and was moved. Nice job, Picasso. Wanna hang out? ¶ Oh! And Neruda? You're no slouch either.
    a couple weeks or so

14) Frindle by Andrew Clements, finished March 1
    So people have been talking this book up for years, and today I found myself in a fifth-grade classroom, saw it and picked it up, noticed the 25pt type and said to myself, "Yeah. I can read this." And so I did, during Art and Lunch. ¶ And I loved it. ¶ I laughed a lot and was touched like so. It's the perfect little chapter book for any kid you want to grow up loving words, teachers, brilliance, chance-taking, self-trusting, and slyness. And what kid shouldn't?
    just over an hour

13) Brain Wave by Poul Anderson, finished February 27
    Here's the skinny: spiraling out from the core of the galaxy is an inhibitor field that slows down all electromagnetic energy. Humanity has discovered this because we have just left that field. For millions of years--over our entire evolution--we have been inside the inhibitor field. Now we are out and out mental processes are speeding up as a result. Within weeks pesky problems such as world hunger and interstellar travel are solved. Humanity is no longer what it once was. ¶ Telling a story like this is tricky. How, for instance, do you represent the communication of humans for whom modern language is obsolete? It's an ambitious project Anderson picked up here. ¶ I bought this book up last month (it was one of about fifty from my last library sale splurge) and took it with me on a walk because it is quite short and easily fit in my pocket. Poul Anderson is one of the grand old daddys of science fiction whom I feel an obligation to try out and see what I think. That this book failed over and over again and on so many basic levels is sad, but according to Wikipedia this is one of his first books, and I don't suppose I should lambaste him for being daring and biting off more than he had skill to chew in 1954. Indeed, I should wax Teddyian and congratulate him on that failure. ¶ So no, I did not like this book. Every time it looked to get good, it would again collapse. I cannot recommend it. But I have a longer, forty-years-younger, award-winning Anderson book on my shelf (from another library sale back in Utah), and although I am not anxious (coming off Brain Wave) to pick it up, I think someday I will.
    eighteen days

12) The Best American Comics 2006 edited by Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore, finished February 26
Best American Comics 2006
    First let me just admit that I don't share Pekar's taste and so, necessarily, I don't like everything in this book. Also let me say that I don't think Pekar was truly aiming for the "best" when he made his selections. However: none of that changes the fact that this is a pretty darn good collection. Of the thirty comics collected here, I want to focus on one, the absolutely incredible "RabbitHead". ¶ In my experience, when an artist decides to be innovative with form, their work tends to lose heart--it may be an excellent intellectual exercise, but there is no soul to it. Like, mm, say a Mondrian painting. It's an interesting exercise, but there's nothing to move the viewer. ¶ Incredibly, artist Rebecca Dart doesn't run into that problem. "RabbitHead" is, in terms of form, truly innovative, but the story--grotesque and surreal as it is--stabs straight into the heart. It's a moving read and worth the price of admission all on its own. ¶ Dart says in the contributors' notes: "One of my main criteria while drawing 'RabbitHead' was that I desperately wanted to create a comic that could only be a comic and couldn't be translated into another visual form." ¶ In other words, she has created a work of art that cannot be film or anything else. It is comics only. And comics' ability to tell unique tales is further evidence of their great worth. ¶ One last thing: I think it's worth noting that this collection contains the first R. Crumb tale I've ever liked.
    maybe two months

11) Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, finished February 15
    It took me about 30 pages to develop enough tolerance for this book to believe I could finish it. I did not start liking it till page 118, but that was immediately followed by my putting it down for a week because I could not bear to look at it anymore. Then I swallowed hard and decided to wrap it up. The tale managed to get quite moving . . . and then it was over; one story ended cleanly and satisfactorily, the other with a blunt butterknife. ¶ The book's scattershot manner makes it tricky to figure out who is talking and what they are talking about. This is not a complaint precisely--many people have said that about my own first novel--but it demands the reader to decide why the author is so slow with the clues: does he respect me, or does he hate me? Is he just full of his own cleverness? I am trying hard to withhold judgement on this matter for now. ¶ The book, as I mentioned, does get emotionally involving towards the end, but I have to admit I am not entirely certain how much of the credit should go to Foer. It might be impossible to write a story on this subject without yanking soul-strings--historically, we are still much too close to this horror to look at it dispassionately. So yes, Foer's book "worked," but how much this is to his credit is difficult to say. Perhaps after ruminating more I will have a better answer. ¶ Anyway, I although I will not not recommend this book, nor rebut anyone else's recommendation of it, neither am I its proselyte.. It is worth considering to read. That much I can say.
    about three weeks


10) The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ edited by Mormon and Moroni, finished February 7
9) Lisey's Story by Stephen King, finished February 1
8) The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, finished January 26
7) Empire by Orson Scott Card, finished January 24
6) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, finished January 22
5) Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, finished January 17
4) Superman Adventures Vol. 1: Up, Up and Away! by Mark Millar, finished January 16
3) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, finished January 12
2) Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, finished January 11
1) Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut, finished January 10


  1. I really like Neruda a lot. Since my whole thesis is based on the premise of eliminating value judgements applied to translation, I won't say he's better in Spanish. But hopefully you got a good translation, because some are better than others for various reasons. I do enjoy him more in Spanish. I think the illustrations by Picasso sound cool too.

    Oh, and I think Guernica is only appreciated in person. Did you know that it is huge? Like, it takes up an entire wall of a room. It makes an impact more that way than in a small reproduction.

  2. I didn't mean to sound snooty. "I read Neruda in the original language". "I've seen the original Guernica, armed guards and everything". I really don't think I'm that cool...

  3. .

    Well I do.

    And I did know how big Guernica is, but no, I've never seen it live and in person. I can imagine it does make a difference--violence, in particular, comes off better big.

    At least war violence.

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  5. "In my experience, when an artist decides to be innovative with form, their work tends to lose heart--it may be an excellent intellectual exercise, but there is no soul to it."

    My sentiments exactly! Hence my excoriation of the orchestral work I heard premiered this week. It was very unsatisfying to me when I expected music with soul to be subjected to 20 minutes of pure form exploration.

    It's sad that so much art these days puts primary emphasis on form innovation rather than on soul. I wonder if that's always been the case historically or if that's a modern affliction of the arts.

  6. .

    That is a very interesting question. After all, all music was new once.

    Aristophanes was rather daring in his day, caused a bit of a ruckus with techniques we would call postmodern.

    And he's been dead a long, long time....

  7. I blame Romanticism for putting such a burden on artists to be "original". Most content is somewhat unoriginal, but form is moldable. Of course, as I type this, I realize that Shakespeare was very unoriginal in content and a genius in form. It was a nice idea though... (I like to blame Romanticism for everything).

    I am also not a fan of soulless modern art, literature or music. I am a big fan of postmodernism though, so I guess I'm a hypocrite. Which is why I love Moulin Rouge and hate Kandinsky. I guess I'm also not really cultured enough either.

  8. .

    I'm writing another post now wherein I mention Foer and I have to update my feeling about him.

    I hate him.

    He is a shallow and cowardly writer. He hides behind postmodern tricks and emotionally saddled historical events to hide the fact that he doesn't know how to write or what to write about.

    I have nothing against postmodern tricks or writing about either the Holocaust or 9/11. I just don't think using those things as crutches rather than learning one's craft deserves any respect.