Les livres de 2010, round 6

For a long (long, long) time, I didn't know who my people were. Two months ago I had a lunch meeting with Tim and talked to him about work and what I'm doing in the tech world and how I see my career. Are the tech people my people? And if they are, then which subset of them do I belong to? Or maybe the bloggers are my people? Or the French-speakers? Or the academics?

I spent a long time trying to belong everywhere. And then I went to Iowa. And even though it didn't feel like it while I was there, something pretty amazing happened.

I found my people. The people who write.

A few weeks ago, I cleared out my Twitter account. I kept following people that I actually know and spend time with outside of work and started following a bunch of literary magazines and writers. Then I cleaned up Facebook. I hid the activity of anyone who I wouldn't be THRILLED to hang out with if they arrived in my city. The lack of noise has been amazing, but more than that, the targeted noise about writing has kept my brain in the writing world - even as I spend my working hours designing and building an iPhone app.

I'm getting off track here. This post is about the latest books I've read, but part of the reason there's so many of them is that reading (and writing) has become the focus this month. I'm plowing through books like they're going out of style. I guess my people are the book people, huh? Here comes the latest set:

18. Red Tails in Love by Marie Winn
I love the library and rarely purchase books for myself, but for some reason this book called out to me from across the independent book shop on our block. It's the true story of a group of bird watchers in Central Park who start tracking a couple of red-tailed hawks living and breeding in the park. It was not as magical as I'd hoped, but it really was a great New York read. I was flooded by memories of my college summers at Muscoot Farm, birding early in the morning when the grass was still wet and everyone was sleepy. When we went to DC the other week, I brought this book for Steve, the true birder of the family. I recommend it for all nature-loving readers out there.

19. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I read this book in high school and then Amber Dermont, my teacher at Iowa, taught from it during our novel course. Her enthusiasm for Fitzgerald's language and metaphor was enough for me to grab this at the library when I got back.

And the truth? The story reads like one of the Old Timer Classics. I love reading more modern books because of the feeling that you're INSIDE a character and I wasn't close enough to anyone in the story to feel that intimacy. But nonetheless, Gatsby is such a beautifully-written story; Fitzgerald's sentences made me swoon. For example:

With little ripples that were hardly the shadows of waves, the laden mattress moved irregularly down the pool. A small gust of wind that scarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidental course with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of transit, a thin red circle in the water. (p. 162)

I mean, holy crap. "... accidental course with its accidental burden"?? Perfect, perfect repetition. Try this one:

The track curved and now it was going away from the sun, which, as it sank lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever. (p. 153)

The sun spreading itself in benediction! The spot that she had made lovely for him! I mean, come on. Genius.

20. Nocturnes by Kazuro Ishiguro
Here comes a bummer. I love the idea of this collection of short stories. All five stories revolved around a musical theme. But I felt as though they were rushed and random; why tell these specific stories? At the end of almost every one, I felt disappointed, as though the language was distracting and pretty to disguise a lack of direction underneath.

I've heard good things about Remains of the Day, though, so I'm not writing Ishiguro off.

21. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
I love how different novels can be. This books spans the entire lifetime of almost two generations, starting with an Indian nun who is sent on a mission to Africa in the 50s and her twin sons (yes! a nun with twins!) and their lives in Ethiopia. It's written by a surgeon and his deep knowledge of the human body is obvious. There are surgeon characters all over the pages and in some places, I felt as though I could use this book as a guide to doing a Cesarean section or transplant a liver.

I immediately wrote to my sister to recommend this book to her; totally interesting read for anyone remotely interested in Africa, medicine, or long and twisted family tales.

22. Gardens of Water by Alan Drew
I've never been particularly interested in visiting Turkey and Drew's book didn't really raise that motivation, but this book, which depicts an earthquake in Turkey and the lives of a family and their neighbors in the aftermath, was intense. You know how you read an article about the Middle East and think "what a freaking mess"? That's this book. The politics and the hurt feelings and the broken cultures and the traditional families... you just want to sit everyone down and tell them to cool it. But of course, this is the nature of humans. We hold grudges and we do stupid things in the name of gods and, in the end, there may be tragedy.

I hate the title of this book and I don't think it fits it at all, so don't go by title alone. A good read though, exotic enough to make it a good cultural read and universal enough that you're invested.


Allison said...

I would love to go meet other writers in Iowa someday, seems like it would be very inspiring. Love your book write-ups. Surely there must be a writing community in Brooklyn? I'm still looking, though.

Steve said...

dude - update this blog already. you're killing me.

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