Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer (Re)Reading, 2010

For whatever reason, I've been sort of a slacker this summer when it comes to reading new books. While I can blame my crazy schedule, I think that there is more to it than that. However, this summer has provided me with the perfect opportunity to revisit some of my old favorites as well as some books that I didn't love the first time around but thought they were worth revisiting.

New Books I've Read This Summer

Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose
I didn't care for Prose's How to Read Like a Writer, so I approached Anne Frank with some trepidation. However, I found this book thoroughly enjoyable. Besides exploring the backstory of the diary and how it came to be published, Prose makes a convincing argument for appreciating the diary as literature, rather than just as a historical document.

The Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
Learn pieces of trivia that you thought you knew. From knowing who coined the phrase "the survival of the fittest" (Herbert Spencer) to words that rhyme with orange (two proper nouns: Blorenge and Gorringe), this book serves as a reminder of just how much you don't know. It's a fun, diverting read, even if it does make you question your IQ.

Reading Revisits

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman (first read in 2008)
Even though I had mixed emotions to this book when I read it two years ago, I decided it was worth a revisit, just to see if I had a change of opinion or if absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. I did find Fadiman's essays just as interesting and readable as I did in 2008, but I was also still appalled/fascinated by the self-congratulatory tone in some of the entries. That said, rereading this book also reminding me of some Fadiman's very insightful comments regarding her sometimes idiosyncratic love of reading. Among some of my favorite quotes:
  • "American admire success. Englishmen admire heroic failure. Given a choice - at least in my reading - I'm un-American enough to take quixotry over efficiency any day" (p.24)"
  • I came to realize that just as there is more than one way to love a person, so is there more than one way to love a book. The chambermaid believed in courtly love... The Fadiman family believed in carnal love. To us, a book's words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel" (p.38).
  • "I'd rather have a book [to read], but in a pinch I'll settle for a set of Water Pik instructions" (p.113).
At Large and At Small by Anne Fadiman (started in 2008, finished in 2010)
After Ex Libris, I tried reading another collection of essays by Fadiman. Although I started the book in 2008, I soon found myself occupied with other things (namely, my comprehensive exam), and so At Large and At Small was shelved, unfinished, until this summer. The essays are similar to those in Ex Libris, but the subject matter does not stop at books. Instead, Fadiman writes about her love of coffee and ice cream as well as the bittersweet experience of moving from a beloved New York apartment to a country house. While not as compulsively readable as Ex Libris, At Large and At Small is still worth a read.

Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (read and reviewed earlier this year)
So far, this is one of my favorite books of 2010...