Friday, January 07, 2011

Yep, I still read.

I finally updated the "books on my nightstand" section of the right sidebar. Willard Randall Stearne's biography of George Washington, begone! I was so disappointed in it. After reading David McCullough's wonderful John Adams, I thought it would be cool to read biographies of all the Presidents (in order, natch), and somehow chose this one of Washington. That was over five years ago. It was a poor choice. I'm sure it's well and carefully researched, but it was boring. How can that be?! George Washington's life and times! But yeah. The writing bored me so much that it took half a decade to finish the book. So I should be on to Jefferson, next, but I'm reading Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton first. It's already promising. Lesson learned: don't buy these weighty books in a hurry. Ask for recommendations, and take longer test-drives at the bookstore.

I read a fair bit while we were out west. There were a lot of garden-variety weekdays with the girls in school, Mr. Sandy at work, and with inclement weather and/or too little time for a drive to the mountains or the coast. Some of those days, I headed to the library to read whatever caught my attention.

One strange rainy morning I read The Bell Jar -- Sylvia Plath's semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman's descent into mental illness, her suicide attempt, and her treatment -- in one sitting. Now I wouldn't say don't do that, exactly, but if you do, be sure you're in a resiliently good mood when you start. Particularly if you are a woman who (ahem) sometimes feels she doesn't quite belong where she is, who ever doubts her self-worth, and who is even somewhat prone to dark moods, or who has ever, ever thought of killing herself.
"To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.

How did I know that someday — at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere — the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?"
How, indeed. The lure of the novel is its perspective - the reader is on Esther's path with her, and when she tries to kill herself, it seems almost reasonable. Unnerving in 1963, still unnerving today.

Fear not, I also read fluff. Jennifer Weiner's novels are always fun -- quick, witty reads and good stories. I read Best Friends Forever, about a woman whose childhood pal arrives at her doorstep desperate for her help after decades of estrangement. Wacky adventures naturally ensue. It was entertaining, but to my mind, not her best. If you're new to Jennifer Weiner, start at the beginning, with Good in Bed, a very funny novel about a humiliating break-up and Our Heroine's life afterward, or Goodnight Nobody, in which a mother of toddlers doesn't fit in at all with the perfect mommies in her new town, but becomes obsessed with solving the case when one of the perfect mommies is murdered. At some point I will get Weiner's latest, Fly Away Home. It looks to be a bit different from the others, with a more mature protagonist, and possibly without the once-fat-sensible-heroine/skinny-kooky-friend motif that is becoming just a little bit tired with BFF.

There's more, but hey.  That dishwasher's not going to empty itself.  

What are you reading?


  1. If you like historical biographies, go read The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made by Walter Isaacson. I read it in college, and it was fantastic.

    For fluff, I just read A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White. Cried my eyes out!

  2. Def agree to be "up" when reading The Bell Jar. Great book, but I too identified with it a bit too much at times.