january books

I just had several glorious weeks carved wide for reading, and my nightstand piled up — more than usual.  I spent the early part of December in Chechnya dodging grenades and stepping over splintered hearts with Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.  Now I don’t know about you, but after a book like that, I need some cheap laughs and bawdy dancing.  The Ancient Greeks understood this well, which is why at their earliest dramatic festivals, tragedies like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex or Euripides’ Medea were followed by Satyr Plays, silly comedies rife with drunkenness and sexual merriment and mockery.  After laying the audience on the floor with all that incest, betrayal and murder, these comedies raised them right back up.

My comic relief came pretty swiftly with A. M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven.  The first thirty pages of this book are brilliant — a delicious train wreck full of ironic wit and sarcasm, jealousy, marital intrigue and comedic trysts.  But Homes is unable to sustain that comic tension for the rest of the book, and I got bored with it.  You know that scene in Election when Mr. McAllister gets stung by a wasp and swells up?  ferrisThe film version of Tom Perrotta’s novel is one of my all time favorites and I never get tired of watching it, but at that point in the story, McAllister just can’t be brought any lower.  It’s painful pity you just want to end, and luckily it does.  But Homes’ book gets to that point too quickly for me — around page 75 — and with so many tense and tragic mishaps still to go, I just couldn’t soldier on.  Next!  Something shake me . . . make me laugh!

JanuaryBooksGeorge Saunders Tenth of December has gotten rave reviews and when I asked The Book Buyer at Powell’s, they suggested I should give it a try.  I’m a few stories in and enjoying it.  Inventive, funny, and short!  I’ve also started the YA dystopian fave Divergent by Veronica Roth, which is way outside my comfort zone, but I am falling on the sword here and reading this along with my basic writing students.  Biggest love devoured this trilogy a few years ago, and my hope is that these non-readers might get into an accessible coming of age story they can relate to.  And if nothing else, they will have been exposed to the book when the movie comes out at the end of March.  I’m only on page eight and have already predicted the faction Beatrice will join at her choosing ceremony, but I will try to enjoy watching that all unfold with my students.  And finally, since the steady stream of summer weather here in California has everyone worried about drought and water rationing, I’m staging my own rain dance with Carl Hiaasen’s Stormy Weather.  This is a madcap comedy set in Florida after a hurricane, and with its dark hilarity and fast pacing, I can pick it up for a perfect escape in between Saunders and Roth.

What books are you juggling in January?



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  1. I started reading Jill Lepore’s bio of Jane Franklin, but I’m not sure the style is going to work for me, so I put it down to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I’m only about 50 pages in, so I don’t have too many thoughts about it yet.

    • I am so curious about Goldfinch but worried I will not like it as much as the critics do. I did like The Secret History, though! I hope you love it!!!

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