I managed to write at least a paragraph or two about all fifteen books I read this month, so in some ways a round-up isn’t strictly necessary. But it’s nice whenever a widely acknowledged marker of time has passed to take a moment to reflect on what one did with that chunk of time, so I’m going to do a round-up anyway. This month, I read the following books—
Anne Perry: The Murder of the Century by Peter Graham
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
A Killing in Amish Country by Gregg Olsen & Rebecca Morris
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
The Murder on the Enriqueta by Molly Thynne
March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell
Lucky You by Erika Carter
The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Insane Clown President by Matt Taibbi
About half of these were published in the past year, which is a sort of unusual trend for me but, current events being as pressing as they are, I spent a lot of time with my eyes glued to The National Conversation and hence read a great many titles that have been touted as being Important Cultural Touchstones. Some of what I read as a result was rewarding—Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land and Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World were probably my two favorite reads this month—while some of what I read was awfully disappointing. The benefit of sticking primarily to time-tested reading material is that, while disappointment isn’t eliminated, one usually knows that the book in question is likely to be a bit of a letdown and can begin with the appropriate mindset.
It took me a while to get to the first book for my new year’s resolution challenge (described here) which ended up being Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. It was lovely to sit down with this book and know at page one that it was going to be worth the effort. And The Monkey Wrench Gang was a bit of an effort (I blogged about my problems with it here). So many classics are, each for their own unique reasons, but, as I was reminded of this month, so are a great deal of non-classics, and they aren’t necessarily worth all the fuss and headaches, ultimately. And then again, some are. (Have I mentioned often enough how goddamn good Moshfegh’s short story collection, Homesick for Another World, is? I’m not sure I could mention this fact enough.) Discovering a truly good and rewarding new book is a very particular kind of joy, one I value enough to keep trying new books for even when odds are great that I’ll be less than blown away. It’s a little like being among the first to discover that the new restaurant in town is actually phenomenal, but you can do it from your couch in your underwear and you won’t have that awful experience of returning with a friend to whom you’ve hyped the place nonstop only to find that there’s a different, less skilled chef on shift that evening.
When it comes down to it, though, there is a finite number of books we’ll all manage to cram into our short lifetimes, though, so it’s best to err on the side of choosiness. When my dad retired about a year ago, he started to delve into those long haha-maybe-someday titles most of us keep on our shelves but never touch (Proust, the complete works of Henry James, that sort of thing). This habit has rather precluded the reading of lots of smaller, unestablished works, but the payoff of devoting months to Remembrance of Things Past seems, from what I can tell of his experience, worth the sacrifices. I imagine I’ll come to similar habits eventually, but I’m not there yet. I still love my trash and my open-ended small risk-taking reads.