Some Books I Read This Winter

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Edit: how amazing is this collage I made?! My computer freaks out whenever I try to open Paint, so this is the best I could do. Yes, I know half of the cover of Housekeeping is missing, but honestly I think Robinson would approve. It’s thematic or whatever.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: I guess I can’t say that a writer who won the Nobel Prize is underrated, but this book was so wonderful and it literally made me cry, which almost never happens. And it’s SUCH a hard sell when I tell people about it. You use the words 14th century Norway, and immediately your listener’s eyes glaze over, but it’s such a beautiful book(s) about girlhood and womanhood. #historicalfictiongoals

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck: Another Nobel Prize winner! This was one of the only books I’ve read in recent memory that when I mentioned it to my dad, his answer was “Oh, I’ve read that!” Anyway, the language, the voice, in this book was sort of revelatory. It was able to take in so many characters, and cover so much ground so quickly without ever coming across as superficial or cliched. It’s that big-picture expository voice that still eludes me. Sketch-y but rich…a seeming paradox. I wish I could talk to someone about it.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson: A book I thought I would love, but that I ended up finding really difficult to get through. I’m still not sure why. I think I ended up feeling that the characters’ problems somehow lacked urgency, that their plight was sort of alien or arcane to me. Sort of contrived? Maybe it just wasn’t the right moment in my life to read it? I’ll try her again in a while. I hate when I don’t love something that many people I respect love. It makes me feel like I’m reading…badly?

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: Still on the fence about Ferrante, too. To keep talking about the same thing I just talked about, with certain books I can SEE why they’re brilliant (her depiction of this friendship between two women is so honest and complete and complicated, it really is a marvel), but for whatever reason they don’t take hold of my heart the way others do. I listened to this one, which might be part of the problem? After I finish My Struggle Vol. 1, I think I’ll buy the next Ferrante in paper book form. So much to read, so much to read!

The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss: I’ve been listening to these when I run, and need something less dense to occupy myself with. Prose-wise, they are definitely on the purple spectrum. The writing is not not purple. I am not sure that this plot couldn’t have been condensed…a LOT. But they’re great fun despite that! Again, I feel like having an audiobook narrated by a real human voice distorts my perception, because in this case the voice is super-young and whenever he tries to be romantic I’m like “gross, go text someone or something.”

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino: whenever I read Calvino, I think of the word confection: something beautiful and carefully constructed out of air and pastry. This is such a bittersweet book. Maybe I’m just on a crying jag, because this was also really moving. When Prince Andrei came out of the woods (this is just a weird little detail) I was like… =(.

-I also read the newest JK Rowling/Cormorant Strike book, A Career of Evil. This continues to be my favorite contemporary mystery series (though I have to say I WISH JK Rowling would stop talking about Harry Potter*). And I listened to Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, which I last read when I was like 12, and I still love it, still wish I’d written it.

*You love it, I love it, we all love it. I don’t need to hear from her about it anymore. I get why authors promote their books of course. It’s a crowded marketplace! And I’m glad as a writer that I have access to the thoughts and methods of other practitioners. But as a reader, I really hate to hear from the writer of a book I like. HATE IT. I just want the story, and I want it the way I read it, the way it exists in my head. I don’t want or need someone to come along and start shaping and shifting that with an endless series of peripheral details and commentary. One of the things I love about written work is that it’s a collaboration between the writer and the reader, who is also creative, who builds the world of the story in his or her head, who fills it with all these beautiful little things from their own lives and experiences. I’d like to be trusted, as a reader, to do my job.

 

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