Saturday, February 23, 2013

Return of book reviews: January's reading (admittedly late)

Back when I gave up writing this blog, I wrote that of all the topics about which I write here, the one I would miss the most would be book reviews. But as I wrote upon my return, I've become even more out of hand with my reading with every passing year. Last year I read 102 books, 26,000 pages, and I vowed that this year I was going to read fewer books, read more books of my own (as opposed to library books), read more baseball books, and read longer books. The thought being that all this might help me become a less manic reader (and if you don't understand how where a book comes from make a difference, try working at a library on a slow day and see how many books you end up requesting to be delivered to you from other libraries).

I thought reading fewer books would be a requirement for me to return to reviewing books. 102 books in 365 days? That's a lot of book reviews to try and get in. Fewer books. Longer books. Fewer library books. Much easier to review. So how did I do in January (and I know it's almost March, I'm catching up)?

I read ten books; eight of them library books, two books over 400 pages in length, and one baseball book.

So I'm not doing all that well with my goals.

Yet I still want to give a little more of a book review than just the Goodreads 5-star system. But I also don't want to write paragraphs of reviews for everything I read. So I've decided to go with a sort of "digest" form of book reviews. I'm going to write about what I read and make note of what I feel merits notation. So here we go:

I wrote about Popular Crime and Connie Mack already. Nothing to add there. Those were the two long books and Mack was one of my personal books and the only baseball book. The other book of my own that I read was The Girl in Hyacinth Blue. This book reminded me a lot of the movie The Red Violin, in that it traced the history of an object, in this case a painting by Vermeer, through its owners. As a fan of Dutch culture and of Vermeer (because of the amount of art forgery involved with him less than appreciation of his work), I enjoyed the book a lot. But I'll take music over art any day, especially when it includes a great soundtrack like The Red Violin does.

Two other novels were read in January, one good and one mediocre. The good one was Pigeon English which did not have that much to do with pigeons which would have made it a five star book I'm sure. It's about a boy from Ghana who moves to England and gets caught up in a gang war. Very sad ending and the main character is almost unbelievable in his kindness/naivete. The middling book was Stephen Dixon's Meyer. Dixon's title character is trying to write a book but finds he cannot write. Since the book is in first person, you have in essence Dixon writing a book about how he cannot write a book which is sort of interesting in a metafiction kind of way.

I also read two collections of short stories. The style of writing of the one, Vicky Swanky is a Beauty, was compared to that of the above mentioned Stephen Dixon. This was just horrible, though. The stories were incredibly short, and I found them to be pretty pointless. McSweeney's published the book which usually bodes well but not in this case. You can check out four of the stories on McSweeney's site. The good news is that the stories were so short, I was done with the book very quickly.

The other collection was an old one (originally published in 1905) by G.H. Chesterton called The Club of Queer Trades. Chesterton creates an anti-Sherlock Holmes detective hero who prefers to solve cases by sociological rather than deductive means. The stories were entertaining but came across as very dated. They don't hold up near as well as those by Doyle.

On the non-fiction side, The Little Book of Talent was a brief collection of ways to improve your skills in things. Most came across to me as mere platitudes and I did not find much benefit from the book. How to Sharpen Pencils is an odd book in that it seems to be an instructional on sharpening pencils but it's a very funny book. It's cataloged as humor in the library system but it makes you think about what can be turned into an art form. I despise pencils but after reading this, I wished I didn't.

The last book of January was the most disappointing in terms of failing to meet expectations. The magician Penn Jillette is very vocal about his atheism and he has a lot of intelligent things to say about religion and religious beliefs. I had hoped and expected that Every Day is an Atheist Holiday would demonstrate some of that. Not really. It was mostly a pointless and aimless memoir that had very little entertainment value and very little to do with religion (or atheism). This from a huge Penn Jillette fan. Without a doubt the first thing he has done that has disappointed me.

Look at that! Ten reviews in one post....sort of. I'll do February's books sometime in early March.

Book I'd recommend reading the most from this month: How to Sharpen Pencils.
Post written while listening to Episode 150 of Other People.

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