Reading Too Many New Books: Stunning Reads & Stinkers

I’m notorious for loving tan-paged classics published in earlier centuries, but this year I’ve ventured into the manic-depressive world of new books.   Too many new books can bewilder you.  You’re dazed by the quantity and unexceptional quality.  Sometimes you wake up and think, Did So-and-So at the East Coast Buzz really review that?

And so I’m taking a short break from my wobbling TBR of new books, but first let me share my list of Stunning Reads and Stinkers of the year so far.

STUNNING READS

  1. Klotsvog by Margarita Khemlin, translated by Lisa C. Hayden.  A translation of this brilliant 2009 Russian novel was recently published by Columbia University Press.   The Jewish narrator,  Maya Klotsvog, dismisses the impact of Soviet history on her character, despite her tragic past.  Absorbed in love affairs and multiple marriages that ultimately hurt her family, she has a psychological explanation for other people’s errors, but does not examine her own.  The most extraordinary novel I’ve read this year.
  2. The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley.  A stunning, lyrical modern feminist retelling of Beowulf.
  3.  Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson.  This retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein alternates two narratives, a fictional history of Mary Shelley and a narrative by a near-future doctor about the future of A.I.. This was longlisted for the Booker Prize.
  4. We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White.  In this beautifully-written novel,  two friends deal with political and social changes of the 1960s.  I recommend this to fans of Mary McCarthy’s The Group and Marge Piercy’s Vida.
  5. Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country by Pam Houston.  A collection of reflective essays on living on a ranch in Colorado with affectionate Irish wolfhounds,  miniature donkeys, no electricity, and dealing with climate change.

STINKERS!

  1. The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict.  A very slight novel about actress Hedy Lamar. A disappointing Barnes and Noble book club selection.
  2. The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine.  This bon-bon of a book about intellectual identical red-haired twins who feud about grammar must be meant for the big screen.  To be read and forgotten.

How Many Pages in an E-book? or How to Ruin Your Reading Schedule

” Woman with Parasol” 1921 Henri Matisse

I often read books “from alternative timelines,” according to my cousin the cataloguer.  This whimsical category includes out-of-print books “nobody reads,” she says disapprovingly, by the likes of Pamela Hansford Johnson, Harriette Arnow, Edna Ferber, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and Margaret Oliphant.  Public libraries do not generate business with such books, so one looks for them at used bookstores or university libraries.  

I will defend my reading of such books to the death, but I am out of the loop of modern culture.  And so I resolved to read  three new books this summer.  They’re remarkably easy reads (I’ve read four), so I plan to keep going.

Mind you, my attitude toward new books is:  don’t let them deflect you from your natural reading course. I can’t become one of those bloggers who devote themselves to schilling new books. And  I don’t want to  read the books everyone promotes, so I’m trying to choose carefully.   Much to my surprise, one of them has turned out to be the flavor of the month. “If ever a book didn’t need my review…” I wryly thought after I saw Emily Nussbaum on CBS This Morning.

I planned July as an easy month.  I decided this weekend to read a new Russian novel.  There are, however,  no page numbers in the e-book, and I  bizarrely had read only a tiny percentage of the pages in an hour.  And so I checked online:  it is over 500 pages.  That’s too much for a holiday weekend.

So much for schedules! And that’s why I seldom write anything on a calendar.