September 5, 2011

A Month of Reading

Last month I'd been busy and hadn't posted individual posts on a bunch of stuff I'd been reading, so I just decided to clear the decks and do one long post on everything I'd been reading for the previous few weeks.  And I liked it.  It reminded me of Nick Hornby's Believer column in which he'd keep us up to date on his book buying and book reading.  Not that I'm nearly as funny or interesting as Nick Hornby but you get what you pay for I suppose.

So since I last ran off at the keyboard, I finished one novel (that I was supposed to have read for my book club forever ago), went to a book club meeting without having read the book (and was pretty glad I hadn't after the discussion), and have gotten almost halfway through a big, fat nonfiction book.

The finished novel was Gaiman & Pratchett's Good Omens.  ''Gaiman & Pratchett's'' sounds like a haberdashery or something, doesn't it?  Well they created a fun romp of a novel that was right up my alley.  In fact it went down the alley, knocked on the door, and came it for a nice sit down.  It was funny, thoughtful and absurd.  Just the way I like my end-of-the-world novels.  I never finished it the first go round because I was in grad school and it just got squeezed out.  This time I got to take it all in and enjoy every silly detail.  Now I'll have to dig into more Pratchett but, jeez, where to start with that guy?  He's got a jillion books.  Should be fun.

The unread book was A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews.  I know it's incredibly hip to like Harry Crews, but the few guys that finished the book did not recommend it.  Even if they enjoyed parts of it, they said it was more like a collection of character studies that an actual novel.  And a pretty grotesque one at that. I obviously have no problem with the grotesque (remember I'm a fan of Geek Love), but this just sounded like he was working out his small-town derision without anything or anyone to root for.

One of the reason's I didn't read it is because I mistakenly though a class I'll be taking on Thurdays would have already started, but it doesn't start until next week.  Since I'd read two book club books over the summer, Brat Farrar and The Island at the Center of the World, I jumped at the chance to see my buddies and new friends since it may be a while before I see them again.

The big, fat non-fiction book might be even more up my alley that the absurd novel.  It's Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder and it is fantastic.  I loved A Short History of Nearly Everything and also enjoyed The Disappearing Spoon but this takes the cake for mixing science, history biography and, believe it or not, literature.  He's a biographer in the main, and that's mainly what he does here.  Though instead of one figure from history, he ties together many including Joseph Banks, The Herschels, and many more and shows how intimately their discoveries were tied in with Romanticism in the literature of the time.  Keats, Shelly, Coleridge, Wordsworth were all influenced by the astronomy, exploration, and even ballooning going on at the time.  He posits this ''Age of Wonder'' to be from roughly Captain Cook's first major voyage on the Endeavour, accompanied by Banks, the future president of the Royal Society,  to Darwin's explorations on the Beagle.

It's far from dry historical reporting.  Banks is particularly earthy in his descriptions of the free and open personal enjoyments to be had among the natives of Tahiti.  One cool bit: his is the first European description (in the late 1700s) of surfing.  He and some comrades observe natives using old canoe prows to surf the waves for hours at a time for the pure enjoyment of it.  These explorers have a hard time imagining doing something for that long which doesn't lead to food, shelter or getting to a new place.

It's got a ton of fun stories like that, but I'll save a few up for when I finish it.  Hopefully by next month?  I'm in no rush, that's for sure.

In other reading news, we finally read the first Harry Potter to our daughter!  She's eight.  Was it too soon?  She liked it, but kept forgetting who Filch and Mrs. Norris was.  So I had to show her a picture of the guy from the movie and, yeah, he's creepy.  She doesn't seem to be in a rush to start the second one, so now we've gone onto the first Sister's Grimm book.  So far so fun.  Seems to be perfect for third or fourth grade.

Nick Horby's Believer essays compilations begin here.