Posts Tagged ‘books’

Currently Reading

February 27, 2009

I’m off for Spring Break in a few hours. One more class. I’m mean. I’m giving a quiz in a 2:00 class on the Friday Spring Break begins. When did I become that professor?

A few things I’m reading lately. Flannery O’Connor’s Wiseblood, which I’ve read a couple times before. It’s eat-up with good. I made a deal with myself round about the new year that I would read a little of William Vollmann’s Europe Central everyday. It’s a long-ish book, and it’s not an easy read, and I would never make time to just sit down and read it at the beach. So I’m slowly making my way through it. It’s more or less about the period between the two world wars. It tells the lives of a few people from both Russia and Germany. Artists. I’m not sure why, yet, but he focuses on artists of some sort or other. This isn’t the easiest of reads, which I don’t mind. What I do mind is that it’s not all that enjoyable. But a deal is a deal, and if I keep reading 4 or 5 pages a day, I should finish in July or August.

And then there’s another book I’m re-reading. I assigned Helen Dewitt’s The Last Samurai for my classes this semester, so I’m reading it along with them. It is genius, I think. (My students really, really disagree with me.) But the story of a young prodigy (speaks / reads several languages [such as Greek and Japanese] by the age of 4). So it’s the story of him growing up with a single mom who refuses to tell him who his father is. It is genius and enjoyable to read. Unless you’re a student who is forced to read it by a professor who gives quizzes the day spring break begins.

And seems like there was something else.

The LA Times usually has something interesting to say. I just read the Wednesday edition and thought the following three articles were interesting.

For fans of The Wire or Fringe or Lost, there is a brief interview with / article about Lance Reddick. I wish it were longer. He’s a very talented actor, and he seems intelligent and someone you’d like to know more about. Although, why do actors feel the need to become musicians?

Everyone always thinks they are taxed more than everyone else. Californians are no different. And when we finally got a budget last week (over halfway through the fiscal year), they announced a tax hike. And people started screaming about how we were already taxed more than anyone else. Turns out they were wrong. We’re only the 19th on the list of most-taxed states.

And finally. Tap water. Somewhere in New York City, some genius decided to bottle actual tap water and sell it for $1.50. And he’s making a killing. Why didn’t I think of that?

Happy Spring Break, everyone.

Elitist Pastime

September 26, 2008

Since things are quiet, and the political news is too bizarre to contemplate, I thought I’d do one of our periodic “Whatcha Been Readin’?” posts. So: whatcha been readin’?

My list:

Owen Sheers, Resistance. It’s a “what if” novel set in Nazi-occupied Wales during WWII. It’s not a war novel in the Herman Wouk/Tom Clancy sense, though. It’s about a small community of Welsh women who are trying to make their lives work with their husbands gone to join the resistance, and a German patrol occupying their small valley; and about that German patrol, trying to turn a short mission into a long-term break from the brutality of the war. Highly recommended.

Michael Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road. A medieval hoot, is what this is. A fun, short, breezy read. Chabon’s original working title was “Jews with Swords.”

Sudhir Venkatesh, Gang Leader for a Day.  This is terrific.  It’s the layman’s version of research Venkatesh did as a grad student in sociology at the University of Chicago.  He spent several years hanging out with the leader of one of the gangs that controlled Chicago’s notorious Robert Taylor Homes — the biggest housing project in the country, and one of the poorest and most violent.  I’d go so far as to call this a Must Read.

Some false starts:

Matthew Kneale, When We Were Romans. This novel is told from the POV of a 10 yr. old boy, Lawrence, whose emotionally damaged mother takes from rural England to Rome, along with his little sister, Jemima, to escape their [abusive?] estranged father. I had to put this one down after a hundred pages or so. It’s incredibly well written and all — the young narrator is almost totally believable — but it was just too sad for me. The kid is so sweet, and trying so hard to help, but mum’s problems keep getting in the family’s way.

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary. It’s a classic, the first modern novel, blah blah blah. Too ruthless for me. It’s like Wuthering Heights, in that regard. Everybody in it is either an infuriating dullard or a completely self-absorbed ass, and the author himself clearly has no sympathy for any of them. Who needs this?

Peter Carey, Theft. I’ve had this one since it came out, which was . . . I dunno . . . a year or two ago. I’ve started it a couple of times, but can’t seem to get more than a couple dozen pages in before I lose all interest in both the characters and the story.

Currently reading:

Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. An interesting journalistic history of American politics and society from the election of 1964 to the election of 1972. In that eight years, the country swung from giving socially liberal Lyndon Johnson an historic landslide victory, to giving socially conservative Richard Nixon an historic landslide victory. Perlstein’s questions are: what happened in those 8 years to move the country so far, so fast, and how does it affect present day politics? It’s an interesting read. Perlstein makes no pretense of being unbiased — it’s very clear he doesn’t like Nixon and thinks the country would be better off if the swing from 1964 to 1972 had not happened. Sometimes he verges over into outright polemic, which is annoying and distracting, but at least he keeps it brief; not more than a sentence or two. Despite his bias, his is probably the best history of “The Sixties” that I’ve seen. (In part, that’s by default: the others really, really suck.)

George Eliot, Janet’s Repentance. Just started this one. It’s one of Eliot’s early, short novels.

(And, of course, as soon as I finished this and hit the “Publish” button, I see Ms.P has just put up a post.  Can we support two posts at once?  Stay tuned.)

I’m a Shepherd

September 11, 2008

I’m one of those weird people who don’t really recall much about their younger years. But most of the things I do remember involve me and my friends quoting significant portions of the movie Fletch.

Which I only mention because the author of the Fletch  books — a series of books on which the movies were based, as well as a series of books I’ve never read — died Sunday. Gregory MacDonald sold over 100 million books. I’ve never even seen one of his books in a bookstore, to be honest, but I’m glad he wrote them.

The Fourth

July 4, 2008

Well…my big plans for the 4th — driving to Newport Beach (specifically to Balboa Island) to live the good life — were thwarted when I was halfway there and my friends called to tell me that they’d closed the streets on Balboa because of overcrowding. Or something. So I turn around and head back to Malibu except I can’t get to the beach in Malibu because of a fire in the canyon. Those things are scarey. So I’m roughing it like the rest of you.

Not all is lost, though.

It’s the 4th, which, of course, brings us the single greatest sporting event of the year. This year was even greatester, as there was an actual overtime period to the hotdog eating contest. Chestnutt, I think, was just toying with Kobayashi. 

I’m reading a couple of books that are just eat up with interesting. One is about water. Anyone name the three qualities water possesses that make it such an incredible molecule? Me either, although I remember my professors always talking about them. But the book, Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource, by Marq De Villiers, kept me up last night. I couldn’t put it down. Quick summary: Water is both abundant and scarce; we need to think a bit more about how we use water; wars over water aren’t far-fetched.

Also reading: Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives, edited by Peter Orner. A collection of stories told by undocumented people living in America. The stories are fascinating and heartbreaking. I’ll actually try to write something about this book later (honest). It’s amazing the things people put themselves through to live in America. I know immigration is a huge issue, and there is no simple solution to the problem of people illegally coming to America. I think understanding where some of these people come from and what they go through and why they go through it is important.

I know that JU has read Richard Price’s Lush Life. I finished it a week or so ago. It was way good. Mary Ann Gwinn (from the National Book Critics Circle) agrees. She has this to say: This is the first book of Price’s I’ve read, and the best novel I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with in many a while. It is utterly contemporary (about a murder on Manhattan’s Lower East Side), so it’s not really an escape; more like deep-diving into the social and psychological currents of our culture. Like other Price readers, I keep thinking of Dickens when I read him, for his grasp of character, dialogue and incredible feeling for textural detail. In a hundred years readers will go back to this book to fathom what Life Was Like in our age; I suspect they’ll find, as we do when we read Dickens, that the more things change, the more people remain the same – mucking things up, then reaching for redemption.

Also: We should hire a staff writer to write about architecture. That’s my idea for the month. If Al will make me editor of the architecture section, the first assignment for our expert would be to discuss what has to be hands-down the coolest skyscraper ever. The crazy building will rotate, move, and change shape. I’ve never wanted to live in Dubai more than right this very moment.