The Books of June

Books I read in June:

Cleaning Up New York — Bob Rosenthal (1976)

Referred to as a cult clas­sic. I don’t get it. You expect a clean­ing mem­oir to have good sto­ries about clients and the occa­sion­al clean­ing tip. This one has both but does­n’t man­age to make either of them interesting.
* I just don’t see the charm. *

A Man Called Ove — Fredrik Backman (2014)

Ove is 59 years-old. He’s lost both his wife and his job. Without love or pur­pose left in his life, Ove is try­ing to com­mit sui­cide. Every day he plans a new way out of his now bar­ren life and back to his beloved Sonja. Every day the peo­ple around him inter­rupt and inter­fere and gen­er­al­ly get in his way. It begins with the arrival of a new neigh­bor, a man who can’t back up a trail­er. A skill that Ove con­sid­ers basic to adult­hood. This Lanky Man and his very preg­nant wife, and two noisy, nosy daugh­ters com­pli­cate Ove’s life in ways that only well-meaning strangers can.  His com­fort­able rou­tines and griev­ances take a beat­ing. Along the way he gains new friends, becomes an unlike­ly ally, and dis­cov­ers that not dis­ap­point­ing Sonja isn’t the only rea­son for doing the right thing.
* Because no one with any sense would buy a Renault. *

Nobody’s Fool — Richard Russo (1994)

Sully is a 60ish odd-job man whose life is a bit of a sham­bles. He’s got no steady job, a bum knee, a crazy ex-wife with a grudge, a woman who isn’t actu­al­ly his, and a son who’s sud­den­ly back in his life car­ry­ing along a timid 10 year-old and trou­bles of his own.
The char­ac­ters are lik­able — even the obnox­ious ones, and the sit­u­a­tions only just enough big­ger than real life to make the humor stand out. Russo writes with humor and grace and a good deal of respect for the dif­fi­cul­ties of being human.
* It must be my month for grumpy old men who find grace. *

Possession — A. S. Byatt (1990)

(I both­er review­ing this only to remind myself not to try read­ing it again.) This is the sec­ond time I’ve start­ed this book and the sec­ond time I’ve stopped at the intro­duc­tion of James Blackadder as a nar­ra­tor. I sim­ply can­not abide him. Can not. I know he’s sup­posed to be fun­ny and a sly poke in the eye with a sharp stick for super­an­nu­at­ed aca­d­e­mics. But it’s just too easy and not fun­ny. The book is slow up to that point and the oth­er char­ac­ters are so gen­er­al­ly flat and morose that I put it down one night and just nev­er picked it up again.

* Leaving it on the night stand. *

Books I Listened to in June:

The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

You all know the sto­ry and prob­a­bly read it in high school, but have you read it (lis­tened to it) late­ly? Fitzgerald’s prose is sharp and on point, even if “old boy” sounds des­per­ate­ly man­nered today.  Prettily nar­rat­ed by Jake Gyllenhaal — who makes a con­vinc­ing Nick.
* Actually a sto­ry for grownups. *

The Complete Sherlock Holmes — Arthur Conan Doyle (1927)

There’s over 50 hours of this one. The short­er sto­ries (often only 15 or 20 min­utes) are an easy thing to sneak into a day of laun­dry and oth­er house chores. And that’s about the right length for a clever Sherlock Holmes sto­ry. The nov­els are a lit­tle hard­er work to lis­ten to.
* Good in small doses *

The Lives and Works of the English Romantic Poets — Willard Spiegelman (2013)

One of the Great Courses lec­ture series avail­able from Audible. 24 half-hour lec­tures and accom­pa­ny­ing read­ings. Spiegelman offers good overview of the six  18th/19th cen­tu­ry poets that make up the English Romantic Movement: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Byron, Shelly, and Keats. It’s easy enough to knock the whole series off in a month. I lis­tened most­ly as a mat­ter of curios­i­ty. Wondering what I had missed by being a Philosophy major rather than an English major. I think it was worth my time, per­haps not so much because I like the poets being stud­ied but because I learned a bit more about the sys­tem­at­ic study of poetry.
* If you miss school (and I do.) *