Books I've read since college (2012-13 edition)

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When I first graduated from Trinity, I was stunned to discover I could actually enjoy reading again. With new found focus and enthusiasm, I started a list of "Books I've read since college" on my old website, but I eventually abandoned this list (and pursuit) when I reentered grad school, followed by my time at Pace (yep, I just kept going to college).

Having finally (I think) left college for the foreseeable future this spring, I thought it would behoove me to periodically (I'm thinking seasonally or annually) summarize the books I've read, enjoyed etc. I'm leaning heavily on Goodreads to refresh my memory here, and I encourage you to go be my friend on there if you aren't already.

Instrumental in what I hope to be a dramatic improvement in my reading habits is the lovely Kindle Paperwhite my brother gave me for my last birthday. I used to be emphatically opposed to e-readers, and I still have an absurd, delectable amount of books in my apartment, but for novels and straight text books, I've rapidly become a total Kindle convert. I'll possibly ramble on and on about it another time.


Books I've Read Since College, Spring 2012-present

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind, 255 pg., Complete.

I gave the dubious honor of being the first thing I read upon escaping from chemistry textbooks to this weird and yet sickly fascinating book. I spent most of my time reading it feeling queasy and mildly to completely disgusted, and I have to give credit to the forceful efficacy of Suskind's writing that despite my literal horror, I couldn't put it down. The details are fetishistically, meticulously layered to create a viscerally chilling and overwhelming experience that continued to shock even when I knew what was going to happen. The ending fell apart and felt forced to me. It seemed unnecessary and overwrought, and I kept thinking how much more satisfying I found the book before reading the final tacked-on pages that served neither as resolution or relief. Still, a pretty engaging and surprisingly enjoyable creepfest.

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon, 288 pg., Complete.

Ironically, I was so disturbed by Perfume that I sought refuge in a lighter murder story. But this was a playful murder mystery, read as a guilty pleasure because it is set in Venice and Commissario Guido Brunetti is such a loveable, reasonable character. I totally guessed the gist of the crime and the guilty parties partway through, but I enjoyed the way the story was put together and I loved the richness of Venetian detail. Donna Leon has written dozens of Brunetti mysteries, all set in Venice and nearby, and I have it in mind to read these as palette cleansers when I need a jaunt to La Serenissima.

Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them, by Donovan Hohn, 416 pg., Complete.

This book was recommended to me by my mother and brother, both of whom said it was excellent and engaging and wonderful. I later learned that my mother heard about it on NPR, on the same broadcast that piqued my friend Hope's interest, and that no one I know had at the time read past the first chapter. It is their loss because this was by far one of the most fascinating, beautifully written nonfiction books I've read in a long time. I probably had more patience than most for the digressions into the science of plastics because the dream of pursuing a PhD in macromolecular chemistry and materials science was still fresh and forefront in my mind (sigh). I love reading about the sea despite the abject terror it typically incites in me, and this book really went at every subtopic of driftology and the story of these bath toys with exquisite, obsessive detail. I truly loved this book.

The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State by David Stradling, 58/277 pg., Incomplete.

I bought this book when I was taking a wonderful class on the History and Geography of New York at Pace. It reads very much like a reference book, but a solid, nicely written one. It fared unfavorably in comparison with Moby-Duck, but then again so does all nonfiction. I think you have to be as obsessed with the history of New York as I was when I started reading it, and admittedly I put it aside because I was craving a story and feeling exhausted with onslaughts of facts in the mornings. I definitely want to read the rest of it.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 315 pg., Incomplete (about 150 pg.).

I wanted so badly to like this book. I wanted to love the characters and their idiosyncrasies, to drink in all the nuance and detail of the time and place, to lavish in Fitzgerald's language and style, and ugh, I just got so annoyed every time I picked it up. I Tweeted about my disappointment in myself, and I suspected the book wasn't getting a fair shake because I was so dreadfully sick and impatient in a codeine haze while I was reading it. I conveniently lost track of the book for a few months, giving myself what apparently was a much needed break from Dick Diver and the insipid Rosemary. I suppose I'll end up giving this one another chance sometime, but I can't say I'm looking forward to it yet.

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo, 209 pg., Complete.

In seeking the opposite of a sappy, meandering love story, I picked up DeLillo, and I actually really enjoyed this book. It was tightly-written, if slightly overindulgent in its structural conceit, and I loved how much I disliked the protagonist while simultaneously thirsting for every scrap of information about him. I keep thinking about the storytelling mechanisms that were in play, and more and more I have to admire the way DeLillo let things express themselves (that is a shamelessly stolen line from the book). I wish I hadn't chased it with another DeLillo because this book was a solid standalone.

White Noise by Don DeLillo, 326 pg., Complete.

Uff, I wish I hadn't read this book. I was on such a DeLillo high after Cosmopolis that I figured I should go straight for what most people called his masterpiece. I was expecting something biting, incisive, contemplative, and exciting, and instead I got a maddeningly slow and ultimately pointless story about characters I could barely stand, which felt like some sort of hazy fever dream. It's probably my fault - I was nearly finished and getting impatient, when I glanced at the blurb on the back that declared it DeLillo's "funniest" book. "Funny?" I thought, bewildered, "Oh God, this is supposed to be funny?!" I have always had a problem with satire (I will own that it is one of my weaknesses as a reader) that if it hits too close to a believable description and doesn't add up to anything profound, I get furious for having my time wasted. Whether I am reading a tediously written scene intended to illustrate a hopelessly bourgeois family's typical evening to poke fun at them or not, I'm still stuck reading it. I still have to get to know them, even if it's to deride them. My default mechanism is empathy for characters, no matter what role they play in the story, but I found myself positively loathing every single character in this book by the end, not caring what happened, and just wishing it would end. Maybe I was asking too much of it, or maybe I just didn't get it, but I found this book pretty terribly unsatisfying, with a handful of interesting details that stuck out.

Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, 270 pg., Complete

This book was actually the first I read entirely on my Kindle. I was such a fan of Freakonomics that I thought it would only get better. I was wrong. This book was okay, but not amazing. I started to suspect some academic laziness and cherry-picking of data, but not enough to care. As entertainment during a stressful time, it was fine, but I will admit that when I reached the end (having not yet figured out how to display the percentage completion on the Kindle), my first reaction was, "Oh, that's it?" I think that aptly summarizes my experience with the whole book.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, 636 pg., Complete.

This book was easily the best I've read in five years, and it may be one of my favorite books of all time. What a beautiful, wonderfully written, transcendent book. I read a pretty great profile on Chabon that described him as having a "surfeit of empathy," which caused him to develop affection and compassion for all of his characters. That deep and gentle understanding of the human condition was evident in every detail, every scene of this epic (and I mean that in the real way, not the internet way), sprawling story. I got completely lost in this book, falling head over heels in love along with the characters, tearing up unabashedly on the 4 train at their losses, thinking about them while I wasn't reading the book and worrying how things would turn out for them. I can't get over what an extraordinarily well-written, perfect book this was, and I've been enthusiastically recommending it to anyone who will listen. Including you.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 104 pg., Complete

My family and I went to see a pretty delightful production of A Christmas Carol at the Count Basie Theater, and I got all mushy and Christmas-minded. My reference (and still favorite) version of this story is the Muppet movie, so it was nice to give Dickens a proper read.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, 647 pg., Complete.

I have always loved Rushdie, and though I "read" this book my freshman year of college, I didn't actually read it past the first few chapters that I skimmed. In my defense, I got sick with scarlet fever and missed a lot of class - by the time I returned to that lit seminar, my professor said not to worry because no one had anything interesting to say about Rushdie and he suspected no one read it in full, so they were concentrating on the other books on the syllabus for the rest of the semester. I have had a weird guilt complex toward this book since then, feeling like I'd been lazy and half-assed and that my class collectively discouraged my professor from a book he seemed to love. Guilt assuaged, I truly adored this book. I wish I had taken some more time to read about the history of India because I imagine there are tons of allusions and clever details I missed, but I was so greedy and excited to keep moving through the story that I didn't want to stop. As with Kavalier and Clay, I loved the sprawling, literal transportation from Kashmir, all around India, Pakistan, and eventually back home to Bombay. My ignorant western impressions of India were confirmed, that it is every bit as complex, corrupt, extravagantly complicated, tangled, and beautiful as I imagined. For the past few years, I've vastly preferred magical realism to any other type of literature, and Rushdie is one of its true masters. This book is another true masterpiece, and I would highly recommend it.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, ~172/465 (37%), Currently Reading.

Since Kavalier and Clay, I have wanted to read every word Chabon has ever written, but I need to be careful not to constantly compare the two. So far, I love the richness of detail and tenderness of characterization just as much as I expected I would, although the story is not as immediately gripping yet. Still, I'm really enjoying it and looking forward to how it progresses.

So there we are. From last May to now, I've read somewhere around 3531 pages, almost exclusively on the subway and ferry and occasionally before falling asleep. 2787 fiction, 744 nonfiction.

Best book, hands down, was Kavalier and Clay, and the most regrettable is probably a toss-up between White Noise and Tender is the Night. I suspect the latter was a victim of circumstance and that I'll be back at some point extolling its virtues, so the ignominious title goes to DeLillo.

Somehow the Kindle makes me monogamous to books in a way I've never been before (I usually juggle 8 or 9 books at a time, finishing one rarely). I am still an agonizingly slow reader, but I'm enjoying it more and more, either through better choices or a slow progression into relaxation and allowing myself pleasure in words again. I deeply envy the friends who I see tearing through books at a comparatively breakneck pace, but my brain is only going to move at the pace it does.

The only hard part, I suppose, is the agonizing decision of what to read next.

(Except for once, that's not true. I know exactly what I want to read next this time, and I'm ridiculously excited to get my grabby little hands on it. We'll talk about it soon.)

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This page contains a single entry by Vicki published on February 20, 2013 5:38 AM.

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