I feel like I’ve been making some serious progress on this Reading Challenge deal – although my thesis is still relatively un-done, but that’s okay… I still have two weeks to get a full draft of at least 80 pages completed… and I already have about 15… so that’s fine…
So, the update. I’ve read:
- something aloud to someone else (The Somethingosaur by Tony Mitton to my nephew, and then niece)
- a middle grade novel (Pax by Sara Pennypacker)
- a National Book Award Winner (Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me)
- a book about religion (C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters)
- a 20th century classic (The Color Purple, which was also Emma Watson’s bookclub pick for February)
- a book set in my home state (The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mackenzie)
- a book translated into English (Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue)
And it’s about these last two that I just want to take a moment.
See, on Goodreads, you can only give full stars. Which is great on one hand and terrible on another. Because these two books deserved (in my opinion) 3.5 stars. So I rounded down and gave them both 3. Giving a book 4 stars means I can confidently recommend it to everyone I know (that would be interested). Giving a book 3 stars means I enjoyed it all right, but wouldn’t go out of my way to convince someone it’s the best book in the world.
The Portable Veblen is a strange book that takes place mostly in Paolo Alto and follows Veblen and her boyfriend-turned-fiance as they try to navigate crazy families and workplaces and what makes them what they are. And it’s… fine…? I think I enjoyed it. But that’s the trouble. After 100 pages, I thought I liked it. At 200, I didn’t think I did. At 300, I was pretty sure I didn’t like it, but I only had a little over 100 to go, so I finished. And I think I liked it at the end. The best part of the whole novel is the squirrel that Veblen talks(?) to that eventually gets a chapter of his own. I told you it was strange.
It’s just a tough book to find a way to sell to someone. Like, I’m really grateful I borrowed it instead of buying it because I don’t like it enough to pay $$$ for it. But I’m glad I read it. I think. It’s just a little too off-center for me. (There’s a reason I like my writers old and dead.)
Enrigue’s Sudden Death is, like Veblen, tough to sell, but I think I enjoyed it more. It’s completely bizarre. Like, seriously, try to read any reviews of it and people say it’s riveting, it’s great, it’s intellectual, it’s brilliant. I found it strange and kind of great. But it’s for a special type of person that I don’t think would appreciate the completely different nature of the work. Basically, Caravaggio (yes, that Caravaggio) is playing a tennis match against a Spaniard and they’re going to “sudden death.” But in between points, you get transported around time and continents, hearing a story about Hernán Cortés and then about Anne Boleyn’s beheading and the creation of tennis balls from her hair and then about the writer and his attempts to write this book and then some stuff about Caravaggio and you basically get wrapped up in a million short essays that are all united by this tennis match that Enrigue has constructed and it’s boggling. There’s a chapter in there that I really liked that focused on translation and how it changes the meanings of works. And, knowing that I’m reading a book translated into English made me read it differently.
So again, it’s a tough book to sell to just anyone because it’s pretty much a limited audience. It’s good, and worth a read if this is your thing, but it’s weird. And you might not understand what you just read when you finish it.
In non-challenge news, I also read Dear Pope Francis, which is wonderful because the Pope does not shy away from the tough questions children from around the world ask him, and The Warden by Anthony Trollope (which was for class, not pleasure). I’m also working on Barchester Towers, another Trollope, and am going to have to finish it within the next two weeks because, well, it’s required reading. It’s better than The Warden, though, so I’m finding it less troublesome than before.
In any case, I’ve lost count of my RC2016 success (I think I’m at 15/63?), but it doesn’t matter because I’m ahead of schedule and that means I have a chance to sit myself down and really get some schoolwork done. Whoo.
As always, find a new book at your local indie – and see if they read Veblen or Sudden Death and listen to what they think. I’m curious how anyone else has taken either, or both.