Reading List 2010

(From Yale’s open courses:

Black Boy – Richard Wright

All autobiographies are fictionalized.

Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor

This is a difficult book, not because the plot is hard to follow or because the story goes slowly – it was a fast read. I’ve read things about the way that O’Conner should be interpreted or about her personal beliefs. But on its own, the meaning isn’t obvious. I don’t think that a lot of interpretation is nearly as important as absorbing everything though.

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

The first time I read Lolita, I was just fascinated and amazed. This time I read more slowly and more carefully and had more pity for Lolita herself.

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

I liked this book more after reading it than while I was reading it. The last trip to Mexico was very vivid, and I also have taken many road trips – from Virginia to Los Angeles, to Seattle via Michigan, to Maine, and to Denver, plus the return trips except for the last. Kerouac spent a lot of time in Denver as well.

Franny and Zooey – J. D. Salinger

I had mixed feelings about this story, not least because I have mixed feelings about the subject matter. I had a lot of sympathy for Franny but was never sure how I was supposed to feel about Zooey. The first section that focused on Franny was more engaging.

Lost in the Funhouse – John Barth

This was like no other book that I’ve ever read. Some of the stories were outstanding and some were terribly boring, but they weren’t typical. It may sound a bit pretentious, but I feel that I understand modern literature in a different way for having read this.

The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon

Reading it again was worth it, and I’m sure that reading it for a third time sometime in the future will also be worth it. Gravity’s Rainbow has been on my reading list for a long time now and I plan to read it in 2011, despite the difficulty, because I truly do enjoy Pynchon.

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

This book is so sad that it was hard to read. It’s more than a bludgeon to beat the reader over the head with its message, but the pain and violence aren’t insignificant and I can’t imagine reading it again for a long time.

Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

At some point, it occurred to me that my sympathies might lie with Lucille rather than with the protagonist, Ruth. I felt that the author was making value judgments about the superiority of one type of personality.

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

If I could only have ten books to read over and over again for the rest of my life, this would be one of them.

The Human Stain – Philip Roth

I loathe this book. I loathe the plot and I loathe the writing style. And if Nathan Zuckerman is Philip Roth’s alter ego, then I loathe Philip Roth.

The Known World – Edward P. Jones

I agree with all the positive reviews about the merits of this book, but it didn’t make a lasting impact on me. The prose, the story lines, the characters were all well crafted, but I was never completely drawn in. It’s still a book that I’d recommend as a worthwhile read.

Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

There are a lot of  wonderful moments in this book. I’m glad that I missed the hype, because with no expectations, I enjoyed it a good deal. However, too much of it seemed contrived and self conscious. This isn’t a new criticism, and like many people, I also think that Safran Foer will be worth reading again in the future.

(Free Kindle books)

Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

I don’t ever remember reading this before, but everything in it was familiar – apparently picking up descriptions and discussions of the book is pretty much the same as actually reading it.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I enjoyed these stories a long time ago, and they’re pleasantly nostalgic.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll

I’d forgotten how short these books were. I can still clearly remember the illustrations in the book I had as a child.

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When I first read this in high school, it was very successful in making me identify with Raskolnikov. The whole time I was reading, I felt his guilt and fear. I had a lot of personal philosophical problems and contempt for the people around me at the time that were causing my own guilt and stress, although I never killed anyone. This time, I appreciated the writing and psychology, but felt no particular identification, and I’m glad that I read it first when it could make more of an impact on me.

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say about a good book. This was a good book.

Perdido Street Station/The Scar/Iron Council – China Mieville

I loved all three of these books. PSS was brilliant but uneven – I was captivated by the world building and the constant moving through the city, seeing something new with every page, but the ending felt a bit exploitative and tacked on. The Scar was the best of the three – one of my favorite books. IMO, Iron Council had pacing problems – I didn’t enjoy it as much while I was reading it, but after I’d finished, I felt that the setup paid off, and I was extremely satisfied to see that my instincts about the protagonist weren’t accidental.

The Darkness that Comes Before/The Warrior Prophet/The Thousandfold Thought – R. Scott Bakker

I really don’t understand how people whose literary opinions I respect can like this series. It’s not uniformly horrible – there are some worthwhile plots and philosophies – but ultimately I failed to find any of the characters believable. A major problem I had was that Kellhus was supposed to be insightful, motivational and a figure that inspired near-fanatical devotion, but his speeches and dialog failed to capture that.

Neuromancer – William Gibson

I feel like I missed a lot from this book, probably because I tried to read it too quickly (before a book signing). Gibson is a prophet of technology, and his most famous book is worth reading if only for that. However, I was never able to get immersed enough to care about the missions and motivations of the characters; I felt that I was watching things go by without being able to get a hold on them. I feel that this book deserves a re-read in the future.

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

I enjoyed reading it, but the further I get from it, the less impressed I am. There wasn’t any specific thing that was bad – the setting, the plot, and the characters all had many interesting aspects. There just wasn’t anything sublime. I never got the feeling that the story was one facet of a rich world of history and real people.

City of Saints and Madmen – Jeff Vandermeer

Despite some flaws, this was an amazing book. The part that seemed like it might be the most dry, a history of the city, was the most mysterious and sinister. Where I lost interest was when things became overly meta. Vandermeer did an excellent job of taking phenomena related to organic fears – the mushroom growing upon decay and dampness, the squid living in the murky and possibly bottomless ocean – and creating a world where those fears become a source of culture. Finch and other books set in Ambergris will be on my reading list for 2011.

Year of Living Biblically – A. J. Jacobs

The idea was interesting but the execution lacked focus. I admit that I was biased because the author didn’t do things the way that I would have, and perhaps as someone who grew up with a system of religiously related rules – particularly at Christian school – I was overly hard to impress. Jacobs acknowledges that living apart from a devout community has a significant impact on his inability to live identically to an Old Testament Hebrew, and it’s part of the point that even in Orthodox Judaism, it’s impossible to re-create that exact environment within a larger modern non-theocratic society. But I still felt that his effort was too disorganized to be a proper experiment.

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

Rothfuss is a very likable and clever author and his prose is fun and easy to read, but I had mixed feelings about this book. Several other readers were in agreement that it was a promising start, but the plot doesn’t get very far off the ground and an important female character is extremely irritating and lacking in personality. I’m not sure that I want to invest the time in finishing the series.

The Unlikely Disciple – Kevin Roose

It’s a revelation to hear about your own culture (at least one you used to belong to)  from someone else. I went to Baptist school, went to Liberty’s campus many times for concerts, many of my schoolmates went to college there. The rules of my high school were fairly similar to the rules at the university – dress code, restrictions on movies and music, mandatory chapel, expectations for dating… I plan to write more about how my experiences compared to Kevin Roose’s after I finish Genesis.

Lost Christianities – Bart Ehrman

I didn’t get all that I could out of this read because I didn’t finish the accompanying text of “Lost Scriptures” which contained a sampling of some extra-Biblical texts. There was too much material to take in at one time considering that I wasn’t familiar with most of the documents. The Yale courses on the NT give a more localized, more specific discussion on the Gospel of Thomas and the Acts of Thecla. I decided to read the canonical books again (starting with my blogged review of Genesis), then come back and read the Lost Scriptures while using this book as a reference, so I will return to it within the year.

Requiem for a Dream – Hubert Selby Jr.

The movie follows the book fairly closely. It’s one of the few books that I’d say is not necessary to read if you’ve seen the movie.

Sympathy for the Devil – Tim Pratt

This was a collection of short stories, and I can sum it up by saying that it was pretty good. Almost every story was good, but as a whole, it wasn’t incredibly memorable. It seemed like a lot of the stories had weak endings. I don’t mind ambiguous or open endings, but too often the stories simply seemed as if they’d been left unfinished, unresolved.

A Garden of Earthly Delights – Joyce Carol Oates

I first read this book in the Radford library, when I stayed on campus all day between classes, about five years ago. Although the first section is by far the best, the writing stuck with me and I considered it one of the most compelling books I’d ever read. It was every bit as striking on a re-read.

Ulysses – James Joyce

It took me two years. I had to read the Telemachiad twice and then I stopped about 30 pages short of the ending for almost a year. And as soon as I was finished, I immediately felt that I needed to read it again, more carefully. But not right now.


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