I have been reading quite a bit these past few weeks, which is rare for me. It’s been a lot of fun to update my Reading Present and Reading Past pages. And because I rarely comment on books after reading them, I thought I would do so now. So here are my finished books of April:
- Donald Barthelme’s collection City Life
- Margot Livesey’s Learning by Heart: Stories
- Ian McEwan’s Atonement
- George Eliot’s novella The Lifted Veil
After listening to Tracy Daugherty (former professor at OSU) read from his biography of Donald Barthelme (which received rave reviews in The New Yorker and in The New York Times), I decided I needed to respond to the nagging guilt of only having read one of Barthelme’s stories. So I checked out City Life since Tracy and others have called it his most successful (and perhaps accessible) collection. His style is post-modern (and has been much imitated) and the stories in this collection are mostly short-shorts and are often playful and non-linear/non-narrative, all of which makes the stories both fun and challenging. Also, pleasantly surprising was the use of images throughout the stories that either supported or complicated the story or were there for the story to comment on. I had never seen that before and instantly felt the urge to populate my stories with images.
My favorites are “Views of my Father Weeping” and “The Phantom of the Opera’s Friend.” The first one is very episodic but moving and the latter actually made me laugh aloud. Of course, now that I’ve read this collection, I need to go read Keirkegaard and Tolstoy to understand a few of the stories. But all in all, I feel better for having read the collection and now am guilt-free.
Then I read, in less than a week (which is a big deal for me), Margot Livesey’s first story collection, Learning by Heart. I’d read Eva Moves the Furniture several years ago and enjoyed it, and since she is visiting OSU this spring, I figured I should read up on her work. I enjoyed each and every one of the stories, written in a plain prose style (similar to Jhumpa Lahiri’s) and delved into character’s lives with accuracy and economy. And nothing terribly depressing happened at the end of any of the stories, which is why I was able to read them so quickly. I didn’t have to take a breather and drag myself up from the depths of a mini-depression and then into the next story, knowing I would soon find myself at the bottom again. It was refreshing to read intriguing and moving pieces that didn’t rely on the “desolation of life” theme to drive their points home.
And then, on Tuesday, I finally finished Atonement. It was beautiful and wonderful and just what I wanted it to be. And because I’d already seen the movie, I didn’t let myself cry at the end. Though I think the movie made the ending a bit more sentimental and heart-wrenching. But maybe that’s because Keira Knightley and James McAvoy are just too attractive for their own good (even though I still maintain that Keira Knightley is too devastatingly and disturbingly thin.) I must admit that I enjoyed the first half of the book the most because of its lush writing and methodical points of view switches between the characters as the tension and suspense builds. But the second half was spectacular in its own right for its patient following of Robbie’s determination to find Dunkirk. All in all, a fabulous read.
And then started Tuesday and finished Wednesday is George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil. It’s a novella, a generous 76 pages in my edition with lovingly large margins, that reminded me of Charlotte Perkins’ story “The Yellow Wallpaper” because of its intimate and “off” narrator. I bought the novella last year when Marjorie was teaching the novella/uncanny class that I couldn’t take. (I often troll through the OSU bookstore and buy books from the textbook shelves. I like choosing from an pre-selected list of “good books” that must at least have some redeeming qualities.) And this one did! It was a fun, engaging read, and the subject feels so modern, like “The Yellow Wallpaper” and like Eliot’s Middlemarch.
Now I’ve started Livesey’s newest novel, The House on Fortune Street, which will hopefully be as pleasantly fulfilling as her stories.
Note: photos of recent knitting and painting projects will arrive shortly. And I can finally post pictures of my baby shower gifts after Joani’s shower tonight!