Summer reading

I am not exactly a voracious book reader as a rule, but lately I’ve been doing a lot of it. There was a story in the NYT recently about how the Harry Potter books may not be the turn-on to children’s reading habits that they’re cracked up to be. (I haven’t read the books. I tried to start with the first one, but just couldn’t get into it.) The Ur-book(s) for many people is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I come from a different angle at the adventure-and-morality epic — my Ur-book was Watership Down, which is just one volume to get through. Maybe that’s why I have little patience for book series today. I wonder why authors can’t just write a story in one go and be done with it.

Nevertheless, I did get through the His Dark Materials trilogy this summer. (I cheated: I bought the audiobooks.) It’s a sinking feeling when you reasonably enjoyed the first two parts of a trilogy, and then you sense the author is going off the deep end of profundity, and yet you paid for the thing, so you have to finish it. (Pretentious pre-chapter quotations really come off poorly when you have to sit through an actor reading them.) I think the themes in this series are fascinating, but somehow the ending just doesn’t seem like much fun, even “serious” thoughtprovoking fun.

In addition to the other books I mentioned previously (Jared Diamond’s, and Joseph Tainter’s books on societies collapsing), I have been reading Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China, an autobiography by a Yale professor named Kang Zhengguo. It is about a guy (him) who wouldn’t have fit in well in any society, much less repressive Maoist China, so it’s the story of how this misfit just keeps shooting himself in the foot over and over again and what happens to him. (Example: At the height of the Cultural Revolution, Dr. Zhivago becomes a super-denounced book for some reason, so this guy starts imagining how cool and interesting it would be to translate Dr. Zhivago into Chinese and he writes to Moscow asking them to send him a free copy. When he gets in deep trouble — by no means the first time he has gotten in deep trouble — he has no idea why.) I don’t think I would be so much of a misfit, but I am really glad I was not born in China.

3 thoughts on “Summer reading

  1. Al Z.

    Let’s see. I just finished the “The Pesthouse” by Jim Crace and I’ve started “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy; two novels about post-apocalyptic America. For non-fiction I’ve been reading “Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes” by Kerry Emanuel” which is fabulous.

    I’ve also been reading “The Hobbit” to my older girls (4 and 7) as a bedtime story; and “Where the Wild Things are” for my 16 month old (a must-read before she goes to sleep).

  2. Phil

    I started to track my reading progress on my blog when I realized I had twenty books sitting on my dresser, desk and end table–all unread. I was hoping to shame myself back into the reading habit by listing all the books and giving myself six months to plow through them.

    Happily I ignored my advice, having barely glanced at the Twenty Most Wanted, but rather have jumped back into reading by finding new and interesting books–none of them tainted by my “failure” to read.

    I’m currently reading “Talk Talk” a novel by one of my favorite authors, T.C. Boyle: a fast-paced story about identity theft, deafness and the ability of couples to truly communicate.

  3. Taylor Made

    I highly recommend Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files….the TV show pales in comparison with the books. They are excellent summer reads — lotsa thriller excitement and the plots are really pretty interesting.

    N.B., the Dresden Files should be read in sequence…my better half and I have worked out a pretty good scheme. I’m a faster reader and have more time off….she reads ’em after me….

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