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.) *