Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reading Update

A brief look at the books I've been checking out of the library.

The Murder Room, P.D. James. I read this with an ongoing sense of deja-vu; turns out I had already seen the BBC production. Which just tells you how behind I am with Adam Dagliesh, the poet and detective protagonist. I mean, jeepers, he has a new love-interest! But the novel unfolded without the usual suspense for, as ready-made scenes rose up out of the murk of my visual memory. And though I didn't remember all the details (Old Timer's Disease has its benefits), I knew the general lay of the land. Still, I read the whole hefty book, just to confirm my vague recollections and because the easily-consumable prose just spooled onward, not letting me off the hook.

Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Susan Farlik. A winner!  A well-structured tale of the author's journey through medical school, science and neurosurgery; I was enraptured. I also learned some neat things. One, I really don't want to be a neurosurgeon. They don't get to be outside too much. But I'll read the stuff this neurosurgeon writes. The whole book was a fascinating, but one point I took away from it: meditation is not all ha ha hee is damn good mental exercise. Farlik (and others) considers Buddhist monks to be the Mental Olympians. So keep at it, folks!

Endpoint, John Updike. I love reading poetry, but I'm not good at sitting down and reading a poetry book cover to cover. I enjoy a poetry book like a box of chocolates, a poem here and there throughout the day or week, to be savored and mulled over, letting its resonances come back to me over time. I've taken this book back, not completely finished but feeling more enlightened about Updike's place in the lit canon (is it just me, or do you always hear a small boom every time that canon is mentioned?) and as a superb writer of all genres.

the life all around me by Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons. Well, I didn't finish this one. I think sequel-itis played a part. I had loved the first book, "Ellen Foster," when I read it, good goddess, was it decades ago? ok, a decade and a half. Spunky Ellen Foster was so fresh and guileless, with a voice rich in self-generated language and metaphor. But I wasn't as enthralled this time, I wasn't able to stay with her. Perhaps it was a lack of narrative tension; Ellen's life seemed to be in the balance in the first book. This time that pressure is off, and though the linguistic charm and intelligence is there, the book didn't get a head of steam up fast enough to make me pick it up time after time. Without that story, the linguistic high-jinks and stylisms seem manufactured. So back it went.

This book, The Best Day, the Worst Day, by Donald Hall, usurped all reading once I started it. It infected my thoughts, still haunts my dreams. Written by one excellent poet about another, the prose is superb, compelling, it pulled me though a story not easy to accept.  This is Hall's tribute, his Taj Mahal, you could say, to his beloved and talented wife, Jane Kenyon, who died 15 short, hectic, medicine-filled months after being diagnosed with a virulent strain of leukemia. Hall is a master at weaving the facts and events of the leukemia year with those of their 20-year marriage, rich in words and love.  Their respect and support for each other is inspirational; in fact the documentary Bill Moyers made about them," A Life Together," shot just before Kenyon's diagnosis, won an Emmy during her final year. By the end of this book, I was in awe by their devotion to each other, the precise attention Hall paid in those months spent "in the country of leukemia," the sheer beauty of his language, the excellent structure of the book.

Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee, Meera Syal. The title is fabulous, but this one went back. Perhaps it suffered for being the one I read after Hall's memoir. I'm sure it is a more than adequate book, it just didn't seem superb. The language was a bit clunky, too aware of itself, though the premise was promising: three young women of Indian-descent coming to terms with their different paths. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let down.

In truth, I haven't read much except poetry since The Best Day, the Worst Day. Though that is about to change.

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