Book Log – The Best American Essays 2005

The Best American Essays 2005 edited by Susan Orlean (Series editor Robert Atwan)

I have, at home, almost a complete set of The Best American Essays, starting from 1986. I have only read about 20% of them.

Since the editor changes every year, the number of essays that I find interesting in each vary considerably.

I pulled 2005 of the shelf because I have read and enjoyed Susan Orlean’s essay collection The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. Also, other authors in this one include David Sedaris, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, and Ian Frazier.

Sedaris has a witty and surprisingly touching essay about lancing a boil on his butt.

Kitty Burns Florey has a nostalgic essay about diagramming sentences.

Ian Frazier’s essay about memory or the lack thereof is a bit tiresome.

Ellen Ullman has a disappointing essay promisingly titled “Dining with Robots” that ends with the line “Robots aren’t becoming us, I feared; we are becoming them.” What. Ever.

David Foster Wallace delves into a lobster festival in the overly analyzing, wordily written, extensively annotated way that only he could. (RIP)

I enjoyed Jonathan Franzen’s essay The Comfort Zone about his obsession with Peanuts against the backdrop of the 60’s. I find I appreciate Peanuts more reading about it than actually reading it.

Book Log – Cringe

Cringe edited by Sarah Brown

So, in various parts of the country, they do this thing called Cringe. The brainchild of Sarah Brown, essentially people dig out their old diaries from childhood and read the most embarrassing parts in front of lots of people. This book is a compilation of some of those pieces.

It’s pretty funny. And it’s funny because it’s true. Maybe we didn’t keep diaries, but we all at least thought some of the things that go on up on that stage or in this book. Cringe is an apt name.

What’s also true is what Ms. Brown says in the afterword:

“If there’s one thing that this experience has taught me, it’s that I have zero patience for teenagers. When I was a teenager myself, I always thought I’d be one of those cool adults who Understood and Listened, but now I realize that my reaction to any current angst is Please, go form your personality somewhere far away from me.

The book has fantastic art direction, with beautiful collages of teenage angst mementos.

What’s (unintentionally?) funny is that each piece has some commentary by the “grown-up” version of the person who wrote the original pieces. I expect that some of the commentary, when read after these authors leave their twenties, will be just as cringe-worthy as the original pieces.

It’s a good reality check for a parent of a future teen, and a current elementary school kid. Right now, even smaller matters have even greater significance than the teenage angst over relationships and school… it’s good to keep that in mind.

Also, it’s good to keep in mind that I’ll likely be reading excerpts from LiveJournal at Cringe 2014.

Book Log – David Copperfield

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

I’m disappointed.

Not in the book. The book was awesome. But I feel like I blew the experience.

I should have gotten a hardback. Probably an old one, with some wear on it. Something with a little character. I should have found a couple days over the holiday break to read it straight through, in front of a roaring fire. I started this one by downloading it from Gutenberg.com and reading it on my Palm. But pretty soon, I felt I needed to upgrade the experience and bought a paperback copy when we happened on a mall bookstore in New Jersey.

I thought Great Expectations was okay when I read it in high school. A Christmas Carol is a fine work. But David Copperfield is really good and, more importantly, very funny. It’s chock full of really enjoyable characters and elegant prose.

Nick Hornby repeatedly recommends Copperfield in his now-defunct Believer column, and I have to say he hasn’t steered me wrong yet. The man knows a good book when it bites him on the nose.

It’s a good way to kick off 2009… a story of perseverance through adversity.

There’s a nice pile of books waiting for me next.

My brother got me The Magicians and Mrs. Quent for Xmas, which appears to be a book in the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I asked him what it was, and he said he got it off my Amazon Wish List, which was embarrassing. I’ve no idea what motivated me to add it (I really need to start leaving little memos in the blanks provided on those things), but the first couple of chapters seem promising.

Sarah Brown’s Cringe compilation is in my briefcase, courtesy of paperbackswap.com. If you haven’t heard about her Cringe Festivals, I invite you to check out her blog.

And, of course, the ever present Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. This book is entering its third year on my Currently Reading pile, sitting side-by-side with Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale and Watson’s Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud. It’s a good book, but it is not light reading. I really want to knock this one out, because there are people waiting to discuss it with me, not to mention I’m interested in what it has to say.

Book Log – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Vols I & II – by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Kicking off the 2009 book log, these graphic novels were a bit different than I expected.

I had expected a turn of the last century equivalent of a Justice League or X-men, meaning set in a universe that would later have those groups or their equivalent. But these stories exist in a universe that is wholly different, where virtually all fictional characters of our universe are real. In short, the concept is more literature-based than… whatever typical superhero comics are based on.

Which is not to say this is not a good premise. It’s very enjoyable, and most of that fun is in trying to catch the literary references (not unlike Jasper Fforde’s stuff). There is a gentleman, a professor in a college somewhere, who has extensively researched the tomes and identified all the references to literature and history, from subtle background objects to main characters. I read a little of his website and grew exhausted with the scope of his research, which must mirror the research of the original authors.

The almanac at the back of Vol. II is good reading, and packed with detail on this universe they’ve created. It’s essentially a travel guide, detailing where you can find the hole Alice fell down and other interesting attractions in post-Victorian England.

There is one more LoEG novel (The Black Dossier) and a new one due out this year (Vol. III: Century). I look forward to reading them.

I’m told to skip the movie adaptation.

2008 Book Log in Review

Books read in 2004: 21
Books read in 2005: 28
Books read in 2006: 40
Books read in 2007: 30
Books read in 2008: 41

That’s right, folks. I’m back on track, increasing my read rate by 34%!

I’m not sure what to credit the increase to. Shorter books, a decrease in TV Series DVDs loaned to me, a streak of graphic novels read, longer potty breaks… hard to say.

One thing is for sure, I have achieved my highest books-read to books-bought ratio since I was of an age where my parents bought all my reading material. Seriously, check these stats:

Purchased : 4
Paperbackswap.com : 19
Gifts : 4
Gutenberg.org : 12
Borrowed : 1
Stolen : 1

In the interest of full disclosure, paperbackswap.com costs you about $2.50 per book in shipping charges, so… not entirely free, but still… cheap.

In chronological order, with sources:
The List