Monday, February 28, 2011

February Reading

I couldn't find a good picture to represent February, so here's a picture of me getting Willie Mays's signature back in 1989.  That's Joe Pepitone sitting next to him.

All right!  Let's get to the books!

(Joe Pepitone, man.  You gotta be careful when you are doing a google image search on that guy, let me tell you.)

1. Into the Great Wide Open by Kevin Canty

I wanted to read some books that more more contemporary this month, after my literary dust-ups with D.H. Lawrence, Johnathan Swift, and the transcendentalists in January.  I started with this book, which had somehow made it onto my bookcase.  Aft first I assumed that my mother had given it to me, but then she said she had never seen it before, and now I have no plausible explanation of how it ended up in my library.  To make it more weird, I didn't realize until just a few minutes ago that I had a copy of this book as a teenager, and never read it.

Anyway, Into the Great Wide Open is a bildungsroman about a moody teenager named Kenny who has an alcoholic father, a chip on his shoulder, and smokes lots of weed.  He meets a girl named Junie and they have a lot of teenage S-E-X, all while feeling sorry for themselves and contemplating their bleak futures.  

Into the Great Wide Open was pretty slight stuff, and part of the reason I didn't like it too much is because Kenny reminded me of the self-indulgent, moody teenager that I was about the time this book came out.   No way do I need to be reminded of that.

2. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran

Next, I read Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, which I wrote about on my page (you can read it here.)

I don't really understand the point of, other than you can see all of the books you remember reading all on one page.  It's glorious!  It makes me think, "Ooh!  Look at all these books!  I loved reading every one of them!"

3. Little Bee by Chris Cleave

My friend Amy recommended this book to me, and I really must thank her next time I see her.  The only thing that she told me about was that it was "shocking."  The blurb on the inside flap states "We don't want to tell you what happens in this book.  It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it."  

Little Bee is both shocking and special, and I feel fortunate to have read it.  It tells the stories of two women--one a jaded London magazine editor, the other a Nigerian refugee escaping the purgatory of the British immigration system--and how their lives collided in a horrific event on a Nigerian beach.  The story is heart-rending and meticulously constructed, and it has a bat and a bee and a girl who wishes she was the Queen of England on the one-pound coin.

But I feel I have already stated too much.  Amy didn't give away too much of the novel, and the book itself asks me to keep quiet, so I will.  So let me leave it at that, and add only that I highly recommend this read to anyone who has gone a long time since being frightened by a book.

4. Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

During my senior year at Christian Brothers High School, I took remedial physics.  It wasn't called remedial physics (the book stated that the class was conceptual), but it should have, because I was stuck in a class with all the mouth-breathers from the eleventh- and twelfth grade who, like me, couldn't do math higher than the FOIL method.  Our textbooks taught all the interesting stuff, such as how fast a pebble falls off a cliff, how you can boil water and then freeze it in a bell jar, how the shuttle stays in orbit.  Whenever the math got too involved, though, the book just dropped it and moved on, so that we sort of got the idea of how these things happened without having to be embarrassed at our mathematical ineptitude.

Our textbook had a lot in it about Einstein's concepts of time, and I remember a little cartoon (this book was big on cartoons.  When your textbook has cartoons in it, there's no use in calling it anything other than remedial) of twin brothers, one of whom got into a rocketship and traveled at nearly the speed of light for a long time.  When he came back from his trip, he looked just about the same as he had when he left, but his twin brother was an old man with a cartoon white beard and cane.  That cartoon taught me all I know about Einstein's theory of the relativity of time.  My understanding is, to say the least, limited.

Just before graduation, my school held its annual awards ceremony.  I was surprised that morning when my name was included in the list of students who needed to show up ten minutes early to the cafeteria.  I had no idea that I was receiving an award, but I showed up anyway, and took my seat at the back of the stage.  Then the ceremony started, and I hunted through the program until I found my name far at the bottom.  I was being given the award for highest average in conceptual physics.  

So I sat there through the whole awards ceremony, trying my best to turn invisible.  (Perhaps Einstein could have helped me out with that?)  Finally, they called my name, a walked up to get my medal, and the assembly was over.  I threw my award in the trash cans at the back of the cafeteria and went to third period religion class.

So this week I read Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman.  I didn't understand much of it.

5. Miscellaneous

"Bernice Bobs Her Hair" by F. Scott Fitzgerald  

There are not many writers who could write a sharper story than F. Scott Fitzgerald when his game was on.  "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" is a lovely, biting little story about a "dopeless" youngster named Bernice who wants the attention that her cousin, Marjorie, so effortlessly attracts.  So Bernice undergoes a transformation, 20's style, that culminates with her sitting in a barber's chair to get her hair bobbed.  

This story reminded me of Carson McCuller's "Sucker"; both are amusing stories about the pressures of popularity, gossip, and identity that teenagers face.  They both seem light-hearted and superficial, but have real hearts of darkness lurking within.  "Bernice" is a look into the pressures of female life,  written by the very male F. Scott Fitzgerald.  "Sucker," on the other hand, tells the story of a boy facing the exigences of being a man, though it was written by a woman.  Crazy world!

Here is a picture of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda.

Scott and Zelda.  It seems impossible that these two people were actual human beings who walked the earth.  Did you know that Fitzgerald became drinking buddies with Ernest Hemingway when they both lived in Paris?  Can you imagine walking into a bar and seeing Fitzgerald and Hemingway getting drunk together at a small table cluttered with empty beer glasses?  Man, oh man.

"The People V. Football" by Jeanne Marie Laskas

I have become obsessed with reading all I can about the concussion situation in football and how it threatens the existence of the NFL.  Here is another article about just how bleak the picture is, and how badly players have to suffer as a result of playing the game.  It's grim, grim stuff and worth reading for any football fan.

And here's a picture I took this month!  And now February is over!  Happy reading, everyone.

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to look for "Sucker." My book club loved Einstein's Dreams by the way. Maybe it helped that I took Physic's for Poets when I was an undergrad. Lots of very high level concepts with no math at all. We poets loved it.