2018 Halfway Point

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We're halfway into this year. Crazy! That also puts me halfway through my new year's resolution to read 26 books. Or, it should. After setting my challenge, I figured I should read two books a month and then divide the two leviathans (I'm looking at you, Ulysses and Infinite Jest) into "manageable" monthly portions. Halfway through the year, I've read ten books, am on target for Infinite Jest, and about a month behind in Ulysses. Phew!


What do I think about the challenge I set for myself?

I'm grateful that it's motivated me to read significantly more than I have managed since Edith was born. I'm also thinking it was a zero to ninety scenario. I basically have one week to read each book or "manageable" portion. It's not a lot of time, I'm finding! (And why didn't I do this math beforehand??) Should my pace of life change at all, be it having friends over, going on a weekend outing, working on a handmade gift, or garden harvest picking up, I fall behind. In order to stay on top of my resolution, I should read everyday. Otherwise, I have to do 2-3 days of serious binge reading. That means, walking around with a book in front of my face. Literally. With a baby on a hip too. It means staying up to the wee hours with the bed lamp on. It means beelining to my book anytime a free moment occurs. Bottom line, it requires being at least half a decade younger when I could afford to be in a book all day, get even less sleep, and have no pressing responsibilities that demand any free time (i.e. doing laundry so my daughter has underwear, making dinner so the family can eat, changing a diaper, etc...).

So what am I saying?

Essentially that my resolution was a bit mad. All free time needs to be consumed by reading in order to stay on track, and there is no room to read anything beyond my list. Nevertheless, I did commit to the resolution and I figured I'll stick to it as faithfully as I can. I just sure won't repeat it next year! Half the number of books would be much more reasonable. 

What about the books I've read so far?

My little thoughts:

1. Absalom, Absalom!

I enjoyed this more than the only other Faulkner I've read -- The Sound and the Fury. This book is more accessible. But, it has much of the same difficult style, hinting and never stating outright. Characters are obsessed with and driven by ideas that seem strange and somewhat uncompelling. Frankly, Faulkner is not my cup of tea.

2. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

This was a riveting read, especially for a biography. It is no small book, but it was hard to put down. The book paints Bonhoeffer and his times so vividly, I would have to remind myself I was not in Hitler Germany -- thank goodness! It also got me thinking on the purpose of biographies and the impact of a single human person. Why write a book on Bonhoeffer? Seems a bit obscure. But, you meet a man so convicted, thoughtful, courageous, sincere, and filled with love. He impresses and compels. 

3. Cold Sassy Tree

This was a fantastic read. It was so enjoyable. I loved the story, characters, and style. My favorite part was the author's way of baiting the reader with hints of future events. The technique built anticipation and speculation and did not disappoint. 

4. Infinite Jest

This book has me in a conundrum. Its narrative is pretentious. Its subject matter is often depressing. Its characters are ignoble to varying degrees. It is crass and outright obscene. Yet it is strangely readable and engaging. I cannot recommend the book without major reservations. At the same time, it presents a perceptive understanding of human life, desire, and suffering. Though I think a work should be appreciated separate from who the author was, it is hard to forget David Foster Wallace's sad life and death while reading. It makes the book seem a cry or plea. I'm certainly going to stick it out, despite its difficulties. I wonder what my final judgment will be.

5. Jayber Crow

I haven't started this yet, but it's next in the cheque! I have heard snippets of this while Philip listened to it on tape and liked what I heard. I think it will be a good read. But why is it 300+ pages?! That seems so long when I've still got another book to read this month plus Ulysses to catch up in. (Why didn't I think to look at length when choosing all these books???)

6. King Lear

I read this play in high school and thought I should re-read it due to it being a classic and a feeling that I must have missed something. But I had the same exact reaction upon reaching the end: "WHY?" This play slams you with the problem of human suffering. It hurts. It seems utterly irrational and unjust. It is pure tragedy. 

After reading it, I decided to watch four video renditions of it within a week's span. I was struck by how differently Shakespeare can played. What a genius. Ian McClellan was my favorite Lear. I was intrigued by the father-daughter tension between Goneril and Lear several chose to flesh out. Kurosawa's Ran was a creative, pondering spin. But still, I ended each with a pit in my stomach. 

BUT I just discovered THIS! I might have to make a return to Lear.

7. Letter to a Young Farmer

Unless you are a somewhat crazy farmer like me and my husband, you probably won't enjoy this book. Well, you might laugh. I prefer to read Joel Salatin, but appreciated that the tone wasn't overly dogmatic. It was a bit scattered though. Biggest take from it: I'm set on learning how to identify wild local plants, trees, and flowers. I'd especially like to find some pawpaws this autumn and attempt to get at least one growing in the backyard. 

8. Never Cry Wolf

A quick, enjoyable read even though the personification of the animals is overboard at times. I was riveted by the observations of arctic wolf life. Only after reading did I discover that the authenticity and accurateness of the book is highly suspect. Still, it told a good story. 

9. The Old Curiosity Shop

Not the strongest Dickens, but enjoyable for its elaborate, vivid characters. Daniel Quilp is especially colorful as a horrid villain. 

10. The Quiet American

I liked this Graham Greene. It told a good story, keeping you interested and engaged. It's a historical fiction set during French colonialism in Vietnam around the 1950s. Unfortunately the main character is a small person. In fact, all the characters are rather sad which dampers the story significantly. 

11. The Trial

What a bizarre book. To be fair, it was unfinished and fragmented when Kafka died, so should be taken with a good few grains of salt. It had a murky, nightmarish feeling with a fittingly convoluted, thinly plausible sequence of events. 

12. Ulysses

Maria warned me that this book was pure work. I'm going to admit straight off that I have no clue what is going on most of the time which is maddening, incredibly frustrating, and awfully discouraging. Trying to slough my way through a mere 50 pages or so each month becomes a mammoth task. I hate it. I'm behind and honestly, not going to worry about it. Maybe I would appreciate it more with a guide? Quite possibly, but I get frustrated with books that are barely accessible on their own. 

On a purely theoretical level, I enjoy this book in comparing and contrasting it with Infinite Jest. Both have similar tones, sad characters, and vivid descriptions of their respective cities so that supposedly you can map out either from the book alone. Infinite Jest is clearly inspired by Ulysses at points, such as the email headline section in the former mirroring the newspaper headline episode in the latter. 

13. Xingu

A clever short story with a spread of amusing characters in a humorous chain of events. Short, but stays with you not so much for its depth but for its good description and portrayal. 

To read my thoughts on the second half of the books, see my post here.