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The year of reading dangerously

I read a lot of good books last year, 2009.  I tried to write them down but think I missed a few.  Nevertheless, I’ll tell you about some of them.

Gil Adamson: The Outlander. This was a bit too outrageous at first, hardly believable, but then I actually grew to take an interest in these odd characters, outsiders from the usual social norms, people who roamed the mountains alone, slept outdoors, valued their independence.

William Least Heat-Moon: Blue Highways. I enjoyed this trip around the U.S. via back roads as the author met unusual people living in small towns.  Running away from a failed marriage, looking for himself, he returned home.

Carl Wilson: Let’s Talk About Love: A Jouney to the end of Taste. I think I missed a lot of the references in this book because I am not up on pop music.  Nevertheless, it is a delightful exploration of what makes taste, an ever pressing question in my mind.  In the end, of course, it is highly individual. . . is it not?

Marilynne Robinson: Home. As one reviewer said, this is the saddest book I’ve ever loved.  A beautiful, subtle, quiet exploration of lost people, families coming together in pain and loneliness, rethinking the past and who they are now.

Kate Christensen: The Great Man. I’ve talked about this before.  A good book about the arts, relationships and age.

Cheever: The World of Apples. I really enjoyed the first few but then they seemed a bit thin.

When I was visiting Aaron and Joanne in Exeter last June, I bought three books.  It felt like they cost less in the UK than here but maybe it was just the pound/dollar exchange fooling me or maybe they just don’t have such high taxes.  They were all good books, worth the purchase.

Jlumpa Lahiri: Unaccustomed Earth. Beautiful stories exploring the immigrant experience:  feelings of loss, grief, dislocation yet still hope and dignity.

Anne Michaels: Fugitive Pieces. A very penetrating book, about friendships, relationships, it contains a memorable ending sentence: “I see that I must give what I most need.”

Bernhard Schlink: The Reader. As beautifully executed as the movie.  Maybe more spare.

I’m now reading the complete collection of Bernard Malamud’s short stories, over six hundred pages of stories.  I read a lot of his books when I was in my late twenties, a time when I was living in Manhattan, a Jewish semi-ghetto, and reading mostly books by Jewish authors.  I’m not sure it helped me connect to my “roots” but they were definitely good authors.  Having grown up in a gentile neighborhood, been faced with anti-semitic sentiments, it’s been a long journey to the point where religion is not a tender subject for me.  I’m a religious person in that I enjoy rituals and value compassion.  But the organizations of religion often discourage me.  I have devoted Christian neighbors here who genuinely and thoroughly embody their religious views and that enriches my life as well.

But, back to Malamud, it is fascinating watching the development of his writing craft.  At first all the stories were the same:  the story of a sad Jewish grocer in a poor neighborhood.  But now, more than halfway through the large volume, there is more inventiveness, more depth of exploration.  His writing continues to fascinate me.

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