I’m back on track with reading now, hopefully. As you’ll see, Christmas threw a big, and welcome, wrench into my reading list.
My last five books, in order of completion:
1: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. It’s my Christmas tradition. This year I put it off until the last moment, and didn’t start reading it until I went to bed on Christmas Eve. But that didn’t diminish this classic one bit.
I’m not sure what I can say about this story that hasn’t been said many times before, except that I did wonder about one thing. After Marley’s Ghost had visited Scrooge and warned him of three more spirits, the first to come 1 a.m. the next day, Scrooge woke up at 12 and it was dark outside.
Twelve! It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve!
He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this most preposterous clock. It’s rapid little pulse beat twelve: and stopped.
“Why, it isn’t possible,” said Scrooge, “that I can have slept through a whole day and far into another night…
What is this “repeater” thing he has? Sounds pretty cool, whatever it is. I wish I lived in the high-tech days of the early 19th century.
2: Farther Away, by Jonathan Franzen. This is a collection of essays, speeches and criticism from Franzen over the last few years. Oddly, the pieces are presented in reverse chronological order, but it works, in part because the first one in the book, and therefore the most recent, his 2011 commencement address at Kenyon College, serves as an introduction for the rest. I mentioned one of the essays here.
Franzen has written several nonfiction books along with his novels. I tend to look forward to the fiction more than the nonfiction, for some reason, but I really enjoyed reading this one. If nothing else, he offered up a lot of suggestions for future reading.
3. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. Perhaps you’ve heard of J.K. Rowling. She’s written a few books that have received moderate attention in some circles. But those were all kids’ books. The Casual Vacancy is definitely not a kid’s book. Although, interestingly, the adolescents in this book are the most well-developed characters. The adults, for the most part, are fairly cartoonish, and only the kids are really fleshed out.
This is a book about politics. And I don’t mean electoral politics, although an election is a central part of the story; I mean the politics of rich and poor, the haves and have-nots. It’s also a very English book, much more so than I remember from the Harry Potter series, although it’s been a few years since I read those books. Between all the British idioms and the large number of characters, it took me a hundred pages to really get rolling in this book—but that’s OK, because it’s more than 500 pages long.
This was one of four books I received for Christmas. The holiday really shook up my reading plans for January … in a very good way.
4. The Preacher King: Martin Luther King Jr. And The Word That Moved America, by Richard Lischer. This was a fascinating book. Not a biography per se, but an examination of the evolution of King’s preaching and speaking style, beginning with his tutelage under his father, who was also a pastor in Atlanta. It chronicles King Jr’s education in rhetoric and theology, and the many pastors and professors, in addition to his father, who influenced him. And it details how his message changed from one of identification in the 1950s and early 1960s to one of more confrontation in his last few years. Throughout, though, he always insisted on a strategy of nonviolence for the movement.
This book was some pretty serious stuff. So while I read it, I was simultaneously reading the next book on this list. In terms of balance, it actually worked out quite well, and I finished both of them on the same day.
5. Dogfight, by Calvin Trillin. The blurb on the cover calls this book “laugh out loud.” I normally hate that adjective, because it’s almost never true. For this book, though, it fit. It’s a look at the entire 2012 election campaign (stretching back to 2011, of course), but all told in verse.
Some—OK, a lot—of the rhymes are pretty strained. But that’s part of the charm of the book. There were probably dozens of lines in this book that provoked audible guffaws from me, so the cover blurb was accurate. Just one example:
And Bachman, still the faithfuls’ faithful fighter,
Emerged as Palin lite—or even liter.
Now, time for my best (but inevitably wrong) guess at the next five books I’ll be reading:
1. The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard. Found this on the bargain list in the Kindle store a couple of days ago. Among other things, it’s set in Provincetown, Mass., and I have a great longing for a taste of Provincetown right now.
2. One Heart, by Elie Wiesel. Recommended by my friend Anne the last time I did one of these lists. Hey folks, if you recommend books to me, I pay attention!
3. We Can All Do Better by Bill Bradley. Another Christmas gift, and, after pretty much taking a break from serious politics (Dogfight doesn’t count) I’m ready to get back at it.
4. Are You Happy Now, by Richard Babcock. Another novel purchased from the Kindle bargain book bin.
5. Stan Musial: An American Life, by George Vecsey. This has been on my list for a long time, and I really wanted to read it before Musial passed away. Obviously, I didn’t. Maybe this time.
Previous ‘Five Books’ Lists on Shoulblog: