January Reads

Welcome to my January reads!

For those of you new to the nest, I have a neurotic reading process. Each month I read at least part of a non-fiction book, a book about reading/writing/editing/language, and as many books from my color stacks as I can (my books are organized by spine color and I’m going through each color stack, reading every book I haven’t yet read).

I read a biography of John Nash for my non-fiction this month, read a book about slang for my language book requirement, back tracked with a newly purchased yellow spine book, knocked out one book from the green stack (which is the color stack I’m working on now) and stole a book from our children’s literature bookshelf.

January Reads

Here’s January’s reads:

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind (1998) by Sylvia Nasar

What you need to know: One of the most interesting biographies ever.

Yes, this biography shares a common problem with its peers: it could be halved and thus would improve twofold. I can forgive the entire chapters spent introducing minor characters; what’s NOT interesting about the life of an eccentric mathematical genius who became a Nobel laureate after being diagnosed with schizophrenia? Even better: not only does the professional life of John Nash make for an interesting read, but his personal life was rather dramatic as well. Parts of this biography are certainly dry, but other parts read more like a novel.

All that said, the book is quite an undertaking. I read about 1/3 of it in December and spent more than half of January reading it as well. If you’ve been tuning in for awhile, you know that I almost never spend that much time reading a single book unless it is a) a textbook or b) Dickens. I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s possible that you could go straight to film with this one.

And now for a quote: ” ‘How could you, a mathematician, believe that extraterrestrials were sending you messages?’ the visitor from Harvard asked the West Virginian with the movie-star looks and Olympian manner.

‘Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way my mathematical ideas did,’ came the answer. ‘So I took them seriously.’ “

Talk the Talk

Talk the Talk (2006) by Luc Reid

What you need to know: Meant to be a reference book, this book detailing the slang of 65 American subcultures is actually an interesting, albeit not academically accurate, cover to cover read.

Or maybe I’m in the minority; do people actually read glossaries for fun? I liked this much more than the glossary-type books I read in 2011 (I read one about misunderstood words in June and one about dirty words in July), mostly because each of the 65 sub-culture sections in the book began with a few paragraphs about the sub-culture before diving into the section’s glossary. This broke up the monotony of reading in the glossary format and also made the slang terms more interesting.

I found this fun and will keep it around as reference for my creative writing, but it wasn’t very well researched, so I’ll make sure to double-check the actual usage of any terms that I decide to use. I know to be skeptical because the few sub-cultures that the book covered that I am/was a part of (punk rockers/ straight edgers, tattoo enthusiasts, and thespians) or that Jake is/was a part of (programmers/hackers and online gamers) weren’t entirely accurate. I was especially irritated that the book’s brief history of Straight Edge was entirely wrong. So I’m not going to put too much stock into the sections I don’t know much about – I’m a fact checker, people. You’d think a person publishing a book would be too, but there you go. That’s what you get when you write a book based pretty much solely on interviews with a non-representative sample of a population. That’s my sociology degree coming out; sorry about that.

And now for a quote: Zombie Gimmick (Magicians): “A hidden rod that makes an object look as though it’s floating in mid-air.”

About a Boy

About a Boy (1998) by Nick Hornby

What you need to know: Read everything Nick Hornby’s ever written. You’re welcome.

This is a re-read, but I just recently added it to my personal library, so I decided to read it again. I’m so glad I did; the first time I read this I didn’t know very much about writing and thus didn’t realize how impressive Hornby’s technique is. About a Boy switches perspective each chapter, going from the point of view of Will, a cool but immature man-child floating aimlessly through his worry free life, to the point of view of Marcus, a boy with a complicated and trouble filled life finding himself outcast and unable to connect with others his age. This book, like everything I’ve read of Horby’s, is literally laugh out loud funny. But it has soul, meaning, and contemporary relevance as well. What more can a reader ask for, really?

And now for a quote: “Will found himself working Marcus’s visits into the fabric of his day. This wasn’t difficult to do, since the fabric of his day was tatty, and filled with any number of large and accommodating holes, but eve so, he could have filled them with other, easier things, like more shopping, or more afternoon cinema visits; nobody could argue that Marcus was the equivalent of a crap Steve martin film and a sackful of licorice all-sorts. “

Tristan and Iseult

The Romance of Tristan and Iseult (1904) by Joseph Bédier

What you need to know: A classic myth, but maybe not the best version.

Tristan and Iseult is a big deal: it’s said to be a major influence for the romance between Lancelot and Guinevere, Romeo and Juliet, and pretty much the majority romantic love stories after the 12th century. This myth was passed down verbally and has been committed to text by several different authors. Bédier argues that his version is adapted from the original poem, which may or may not be historically accurate. The style is conversational as if a bard is telling it aloud, which is probably an attempt to retell the story as closely as possible to the Cornish poem Bédier argued was the original. No matter the accuracy, the story as he writes it is interesting and tragic. It would have been more interesting and tragic if it didn’t start by telling you what is going to happen, but for some reason classics don’t believe in the importance of the element of surprise.

One thing that this book got me thinking about was persuasion of the reader through perspective. As long as a book clearly “sides” with a character as a good guy, the reader generally accepts that the character is someone they should root for. But these people were awful. If we set aside the “forbidden love” /affair moral conundrum, there’s still the fact that Tristan and Iseult go around killing or almost killing several people just to keep their boot knocking secret. Nobel and fair hearted? Not so much. But I bet most people don’t even notice T&I are a-holes, because the narrator keeps talking about how awesome and doomed they are.

I’m now going to have to watch the movie. I’m sure it will have little to do with the book, but a few hours watching James Franco in anything is time well spent. (I’ve been a little obsessed with him since he played James Dean.)

And now for a quote: “Under the trees, without a word, he pressed her to his breast; their arms closed firmly about each other’s bodies, and till dawn, as though tied with cords, they did not break from the embrace. Despite Mark and the watch, the lovers took their bliss.”

The Bad Beginning

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning (1999) by Lemony Snicket

What you need to know: Adorable. So good, I read it in one sitting.

After A Beautiful Mind, I needed a short mental break. I always have to be reading something (as soon as I finish a book I pick out the next one; I’m never not working on reading a book or two), and children’s literature is my favorite fluff when I need something enjoyable that doesn’t take a lot of brain power. I read a lot of children’s lit in college for this reason.

We’ve been building our children’s library ever since we found out I was pregnant with Eliza (the first thing we bought for her was Dr. Suess books; even before clothes), so our kid’s book collection is pretty impressive by now. I’ve been collecting the A Series of Unfortunate Events books from thrift stores and used book stores for a while now. My rule with collecting book series: Pick up whatever numbers you can find when getting them used, because you’ll never be able to find them in order. And wouldn’t you know I ended up finding the whole series in under a year, but I found Book 1 last. Hah!

This book was, as sad and unfortunate as the plot is, extremely funny. The story follows three orphans put in a horrible guardianship situation, but man do those orphans have brains, imagination, and spunk! I love them. I especially love that the baby is never forgotten in the narrative- she’s always biting something or interjecting her nonsense syllables into conversations. I can’t wait to read this series to Eliza (but I’ll probably finish them myself over the next few months first).

And now for a quote: “This is because not very many happy things happened in the lives of the three Baudelaire youngsters. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire were intelligent children and they were charming, and resourceful, and had pleasant facial features, but they were extremely unlucky, and most everything that happened to the was rife with misfortune, misery, and dispair. I’m sorry to tell you this, but that is how the story goes.”

January Reads

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? What have you been reading lately?