Books finished from one 14 to another


057) Messages on the Water by Merrijane Rice, finished on June 14

File this book under volumes that fell behind some furniture midread thus causing me to forget most of what I wanted to say about it. But I did rediscover it Saturday and finished it Monday. Most of what I would have had to say would have been similar to what I said about Grace Like Water (or yet will say---my full review is coming out fall). The final poem, I think, gives you an appropriate flavor:

Like love,

you can only write so many poems
about the sky—

whether saturated with slate-blue clouds,
heavy as huddled bison herds
in leisurely migration
over valley grazing grounds,

or dry and flat
as bone china crisply glazed,
as lead crystal glinting
so it seems to ping
when light first hits—

but every time I look up,
heaven grabs hold and lifts,
pumps my heart as full
as a helium balloon, and I think:
This should be a poem.

Just like when you walk by
raining unexpected kisses
across my upturned face.

about six months

058) Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen, finished on June 16

I found this book frustrating almost to the point of enraging. While the second half of the book has sustained sequence of adventure and suspense that work well, the first half relies on the character development of our protagonist, Audra, a Lithuanian girl in the 1890s whose parents, book smugglers, are arrested, throwing her into a world of chaos.

She starts meek and quiet and illiterate and ends brave and outspoken and authorial. And not one moment of epiphany or changed opinion or personal growth is believable. Not one. Every bit of emotion that is supposed to project personal growth is cheap telling in showing's clothing.

Maybe this is typical of middle-grade fiction, but somehow I doubt it. But the book won awards and praise and I am left frustrated and mystified.

I almost purchased this book for myself (I bought another instead) but since my mother was interested (for the same reason) I bought it for her instead, with the intention of borrowing it later (which took longer than anticipated as she recommended it to her book group and then she made my sister read it when she was visiting over the holidays).

Honestly, if I'd gotten this from the library, I would not have finished it. If I'd purchased it for myself, it may have taken me years to get to the entertaining second half. But I borrowed it from my mom who loved it, so, you know, had to finish it.

I do wonder if some of the praise the book has received is backpatting among the book-loving set, but it's also possible I'm an awful snob who does not deserve nice things. Anyway. I can't recommend it. Sorry.

a small number of months

059) There There by Tommy Orange, finished on June 19

Natives who live in Oakland and their interconnecting lives. That's the elevator for this novel. And it's well written with a host of rich characters crammed into less that 300 pages. Many of the chapters (less so those at the end) work excellently well as short stories---honestly, they work better as stories than as pieces of a novel for a long time. It takes a while for the pieces to start connecting. I read this book relatively quickly and I read many books at once and yet this was still difficult to keep track of. Even at the end, I would sometimes spend half a chapter figuring out who the protagonist was. I recommend taking notes as you read this novel. Maybe in the paperback they added a fantasynovelesque family tree? Probably not.

Anyway! Oakland people who claim Cheyenne or mixed or uncertain ancestry stretched over several decades from Right Now on back, all building to a powwow held at the Oakland Coliseum. Families will be reunited, crimes will be committed, distances will be traveled, and time will collapse.

This is not a novel that can really be spoiled or summarized. It's a series of life slices layered atop one another like colored cellophane; as they pass under and beyond one another, the light you see by shifts to reveal and conceal.

And if you never read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the intro should catch you up.

(Incidentally, this book should also be considered in conversation with recent movies like Sorry to Bother You and Black Panther and Blindspotting that also look at the disadvantaged-minorities-in-Oakland experience. Different minorities with different experiences but the conversation is what I'm pointing out, not any particular conclusions.)

a week's worth of days with a week break in the middle

060) The Shakespeare Stories by Andrew Matthews and illustrated by Tony Ross, finished on June 19

This isn't really a book. It's twelve books that fail to qualify for this list. It's twelve books because I bought them at Costco. This was years ago. Hoping son #3 would read them. He read I think one. And I read one to him. The end.

Then I decided to maybe read As You Like It over the internet to my seniors before we read the play. But I read it to daughter #1 first. But she wanted to read a different one so As You Like It had to wait to be second. Then we continued on and finally read them all.

Each book is 60 pages of text and Quentin Blake-like illustrations. Necessarily, this results in much cutting. For instance, Romeo and Juliet (our final read) began in act two, with the party.

Largely, the reductions work pretty well. A few choices annoyed me, but I recognize that with the amount of flesh left on the floor, some blood will be spilt.

Speaking of which, Merchant of Venice and Taming of the Shrew should not have been included. They ended up too problematic for an audience this age, in my opinion. And it's not like there weren't other plays to choose from.

That said, all the tragedies were bloody messes not typical of children's fare. But the four-year-old stuck with them, to the end.

When we came to Hamlet, the most interior of the plays, Matthews made a good choice by telling the story in first person. (Same choice employed for Richard III.)

On a few of the plays, the initial cast list contained no women, an observation my daughter noted each time. And in some cases (eg, Julius Caesar, Richard III) a woman does make an appearance. It wouldn't have been hard to put her on the cast-list spread. An oversight my daughter was troubled by every time. Good for her.

Anyway, I thought they were pretty good. I won't reread them but I wonder, when she comes to read, if she will?

under two months

061) The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part Two by Scott Hales, finished on June 20

I haven't had the daughter for bedtime on many Sundays of late, but we did finish up Enid today, albeit at a slower pace than volume one.

She always pushed back when I proposed reading Enid but she always loved it when we did. And she asked so many questions, which I think is a good sign of engagement at her age.

Plus, volume two makes me cry. I cried when Enid's mom died and I cried when her friends rescue her. While it seems like a series of silly moments, they add up to a great character with a strong supporting cast.

These are great books to have on the shelf, near your kids, where they one day might take them down and start to read.

over a month

062) Do the Movies Have a Future? by David Denby, finished on July 14

I picked up this book from a Little Free Library a few years ago and lost it and forgot about it almost immediately. I found it not long back and decided, since it was by a New Yorker critic, to start it after finishing my Pauline Kael book. I started with his essay on Kael which set the tone for the rest of the book.

Here's the summary: Young David is adopted by old Pauline as one of her proteges. After a close relationship for some years, he apostatizes from the cult of Pauline and their relationship, though it never disappears, becomes weird and strained.

This seems to be a trend with David. He has a similar relationship with some directors, some stars, and the movies themselves. While I liked reading the book, and while Denby makes some excellent points, I did find his company a bit tiresome at times. And no matter if he chose the (barely relevant) title to his book, it kind of captures him perfectly.

So while he makes me think about looking at Clint Eastwood-directed movies more closely (the only one I've seen is Sully), he also leaves me convinced that he doesn't understand the Coens at all.

a month and five days

Previously . . . . :

books from this year

1, 2, 4, 5, 6

001) The Sun Has Burned My Skin: a modest paraphrase of solomon's song of songs by Adam S. Miller, finished January 3
002) You're a Pal, Snoopy by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 4
004) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished January 9
005) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished January 17
006) Shem in Zarahemla by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 19

7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 3

007) iPlates: Zerin's Sacrifice by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 21
008) iPlates: Alma in the Wilderness by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 24
009) Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard, finished January 27
010) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished February 4
011) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, finished February 4
003) Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, finished January 6

12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

012) Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, finished February 5
013) My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, finished February 15
014) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, finished February 16
015) Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, finished February 18
016) A Desolating Sickness: Stories of Pandemic edited by D.J. Butler, finished February 21
017) Nothing Very Important and other stories by Béla Petsco, finished February 22

18, 19, 20, 21, 22

018) Muppets Present "The Great Gatsby" by Ben Crew, finished February 24
 Uncanny Avengers: Counter-Evolutionary by Rick Remender and Daniel Acuna, finished February 28
 Guts by Raina Telgemeier, finished March 2
 The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by D. Manus Pinkwater, finished March 4
022) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeieir, finished March 5

23, 24, 25, 26, 27

023) Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of You by Rachel Brian, finished March 11
 Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint, finished March 12
 Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh, finished March 20
 The Invisible Saint by Curtis Taylor, finished March 25
 Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, finished March 25

28, 29, 30

028) Scrap Mettle by Scott Morse, finished March 26
029) Dugout: The Zombie Steals Home by Scott Morse, finished April 1
030) The Barefoot Serpent by Scott Morse, finished April 1

31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36

031) Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do by James Thurber and E. B. White, finished April 1
032) Boys Who Became Prophets by Lynda Cory Hardy, finished April 11
033) George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends by James Marshall, finished April 12
034) Stuart Little by E.B. White, finished April 14
035) Achilles by Elizabeth Cook, finished April 15
036) Have It Your Way, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 15

37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42

037) The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne, finished April 21
038) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished April 22
039) The Garden of Enid—Volume One by Scott Hales, finished May 2
040) Tiny Writings by Danny Nelson, finished May 5
041) Whispering Death! by R.A. Christmas, finished May 6
042) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, finished May 9

43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

043) T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton, finished May 14
044) Sweet Tooth – Volume 1: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
045) Sweet Tooth – Volume 2: In Captivity by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
046) Sweet Tooth – Volume 3: Animal Armies by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
047) Sweet Tooth Deluxe Edition – Volume 2 by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
048) Sweet Tooth Deluxe Edition – Volume 3 by Jeff Lemire, finished May 23

49, 50, 51

049) A Book of Lamentations by James Goldberg, finished on May 23
050) How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, finished on May 25
051) We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, finished on May 26

52, 53, 54, 55, 56

052) Vertigo CMYK, finished on June 5
053) Plutona by Jeff Lemire and Eme Lenox and friends, finished on January 5
054) The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael edited by Sanford Schwartz, finished on June 9
055) Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card, finished on June 11
056) American Cult edited by Robyn Chapman, finished on June 12

final posts in this series from

2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012
2013 = 2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020


the most recent post in the books-read series *

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