1. Distracted by James M. Lang (this one is not pictured because it upset the arrangement of photos and it was the most "one of these books is not like the others"). Lang writes about cultivating attention in the classroom. I was intrigued about mindfulness and attention and curiosity (and still am) and was in a major teaching application mode at the time.
2. What It Is by Lynda Barry. I believe I discovered Lynda Barry through Austin Kleon. During my Tumblr days, I would devour her posts, which were bits of her drawing/writing/comic courses at the University of Wisconsin. This book is a kind of collage of memoir/essay/activity book that wonders what an Image is. It also wonders what happens to the person who, as a child, played and drew and sang and danced. How can we get back to that state?
3. Via Negativa by Daniel Hornsby. I love a road trip story. In the first pages an ex-priest saves a coyote who's been hit by a car. The animal stays in the back seat (served plenty of pain killers and fed Spam by the spoonful) while Father Dan travels west. His car becomes a kind of monk's cell. He visits a variety of roadside attractions and reflects on his life and the reader learns over time just why he's become homeless. (Oooh this would make a cool multimedia pairing with the film Nomadland.)
4. Drifts by Kate Zambreno. This is a novel about a writer writing a novel. It's a series of diary-like entries where the author writes about her dog, her neighborhood's landscape (the trees, the garbage, and animals), her correspondence with fellow writers, the books she reads and the films she watches, her pregnancy. It's a way of looking very closely at the mundane and finding wonder and beauty in it. I loved it. It's looking at the work of an artist through time and space in a way I don't often read in literature. Often, the "art" becomes the set dressing for whatever drama is going on for the characters (it's not lost on me that writing about fictional paintings, music, dance, etc. is hard to pull off in fiction and if anyone has recommendations for those who do this spectacularly, I'm all ears). Instead, the walks, the meanderings, the commutes, the adjunct teaching is very much a part of the artist's work despite them not appearing in the final product. I'd love to read a similar kind of book from an actor's perspective. Shoot, maybe I'll even write my own about preparing for a role.
5. The Searcher by Tana French. I adore French's mysteries. (I have 2 or 3 yet to read.) This is a wonderful slow burner about a retired Chicago cop who moves to a remote village in Ireland. He ends up "taking on" a missing persons case--only without the resources of being an actual cop. I'm not doing that description any justice. She's so good with atmosphere and character. This isn't an edge-of-your-seat thriller like some of her other books can be, but I loved the simmering pace. It felt like it was just what I needed. French first started with the the "Dublin Murder Squad" series (which I think can be read in any order) and are wonderfully complex procedural mysteries. The Searcher, along with The Witch Elm, is a "standalone."
6. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. I listened to Marin Ireland narrate the audiobook to this "domestic chamber thriller." (I just made up that phrase.) A well-to-do Manhattan family takes a vacation to the Long Island countryside, stays at a marvelous Air B&B and then the Internet disappears and cell phones stop working. Some global event has happened. Soon, the owners of the Air B&B house show up and need a place to stay. This book doesn't answer a lot of questions. I highly recommend listening to the book. It's not a Covid novel, but Alam wrote something uncannily timely but something that will surely transcend our situation.
7. Memorial by Bryan Washington. Benson and Mike live together in Houston and have a...let's just say, a strained relationship. To add further complications, Mike brings his mother to stay at their apartment (for an indeterminate amount of time) while he flies to Japan to look after his estranged, dying father. (I loathe writing succinct summaries, so click through the link to get a better handle on it.) The writing on Houston and food is exquisite. The book is sensitive and wry and great.
8. Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning. This was my door stopper read for the month. I made it (barely) with the goal of reading 30 pages a day. British newlyweds, Harriet and Guy, have moved to Bucharest, where Guy teaches English. But World War II is imminent. So for 900 pages, you get this incredibly twisty, suspenseful, domestic, cosmopolitan clash of circumstances. Manning drops these marvelously insightful observations of people and their relationships. She writes about the city and landscape beautifully. It's frequently funny and charming. I'm in awe. There's a brightness and energy flowing through this writing that I sometimes miss from contemporary stuff that I read. Is that a "me thing" or is it indicative of the times/trends? Do I read older works through a different, subconscious way? AND YET...this was an eerily relevant read in the midst of the pandemic (not that I want to compare WWII with now, but there are parallels). It's full of people denying their reality or choosing to commit to life in midst of chaos in baffling and touching ways. For example, Guy stages a production of Troilus and Cressida while the Germans invade Paris (and inch their way closer to Romania). I've got the second installment--The Levant Trilogy--where Harriet and Guy settle down in Cairo, I believe. I'd like to read it later this year; we'll see. A BBC miniseries of Fortunes of War is available on Youtube, starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh (which I haven't seen, but plan to check it out).
News, updates, quotes, and other miscellany.
Books Read 2020
Books Read 2019
Books Read 2018
Books Read 2017
Books Read 2016
Books Read 2015
Movies Watched 2020
Movies Watched 2019
Movies Watched 2018
Movies Watched 2017
Movies Watched 2016
Movies Watched 2015