Instead of June Gloom (weather in San Francisco is usually gloomy and overcast due to thick marine layer), I have June Bloom in terms of reading. The month of June saw some of the most diverse readings and new authors.
Number of books: 11
Total pages read: 2841
Average per day: 95
French Lessons by Ellen Sussman.
I love Paris and everything about Paris. But this book doesn’t live up to my expectation, other than that it’s setting in one of my favorite cities. I was hoping for one tightly woven story with more well-developed characters rather than three loosely spun novellas forcefully tied up in the bundle at the end. Sussman raises such provocative themes about love, sex, fidelity, but almost all the vignettes of this book are about gratuitous, descriptive sex scenes, which reduce the merit of the book in my estimation.
Remainder by Tom McCarthy.
This is a beautifully strange and chilly book. The anonymous narrator’s (could have been an everyman) creeping madness is what captures me to the very end. His desire to ratify his existence is blown into an obsession that is edging into a delirium: all those actions, into which so much energy has been invested, so many man-hours, so much money—all confront us with the question: for what purpose? This book is just plain intelligent.
Show Dog by Josh Dean.
This is a delightful read, filled with heart and humor. It doesn’t get bogged down by the technical details of prepping a dog for the show nor the obsession with winning. It’s good for anyone who wants to know more about this sport, which nonetheless defines a slice of our society. It also changes my opinion about how the dogs are just unhappy participants in their owners’ variety project.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.
I’m not thrilled about this one. It tells the story of a girl, mindful of the harsh realities to which her fate has subjected her, who doesn’t want to belong. She wants to leave the rundown neighborhood, to flee the low expectations the world has for her. Some parts are better written than others. It is a collection of literary sketches that capture a girl growing up in an ethnic neighborhood.
A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons.
Gibbons writes a tale of a woman who, carefully raised in family of Carolina gentry, shocks her well-to-do parents by running off with John Woodrow, a migrant who abuses her but meets his end at a brawl fight. Ruby marries Jack, the quiet, uneducated farmer—and it seems at first out of convenience but not quite. This book is a good read but one should not feel compelled to seek it out immediately. In unadorned and unsentimental prose Gibbons shows a woman’s love and concern for her husband’s well-being through her selfless acts.
Perfect Agreement by Michael Downing.
An English professor lost his job for not passing an African American student, who claims being discriminated. Then there is a long historical flashback about a Shaker girl who sees a dark-skinned man that the community, in the midst of its decline, wants to believe is a mystical vision of a black Jesus. This story is interwoven with the contemporary goings-on. The Shaker stretch steals the limelight, and the material is first-rate, making up the strength that the rest of the book lacks.
Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin.
Packed with schemes, drama, and humor, this is a social comedy and commentary. I am not left with the impression that Gatlin goes out of her way to trash Christianity. Instead she is laying out those who claim to be Christian and yet put their worldly desires above the desire to be like Christ. The book is actually well-written and entertaining. It is satirical of our self-righteousness and double standards.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano.
Giordano’s debut novel relates the mathematical interpretation of prime numbers to human life. The two main characters are two people who never fully assimilate to the society, but acknowledge their own solitude within the other. Their broken foundation during adolescence leads them to a life so lonely, abnormal, and alienated. The novel is a meditation on loneliness, since it follows the aftermath of their adolescent challenges and demonstrates no changes in their lives. Not much going on in this book.
The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle.
I finish this novel drained and upset. Paula’s story is one that by the end has an outcome where all the victims of Charlo’s violence are still alive—if they actually have lives. This book leaves you with this disturbing feeling that her husband has killed parts of her. If love is really blind, Paula’s example is unmatched. All that hurt, brutality, and physical abuse to which Charlo has subjected her seems to make her a woman.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf.
This book is beautiful in its plainness. It quietly evokes the kindred spirits and simple decency in us that are either forgotten or distrusted. Haruf steers clear of sentimentality and melodrama while constructing a taut narrative in which the revelations of characters and their rising emotional tensions are held at perfect balance. His prose is fine and spare but the language deep. The touching humor of their awkward interaction endows the story with a heartwarming dimensionality.
The Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf.
This book exudes an elegiac sense as Haruf’s unadorned prose guides me through the lives of the Goodnoughs and the stoic truths of middle America landscapes. The interaction between the Roscoes and Goodnoughs evokes the simple decency of human beings, whereas Edith’s uncomplaining nature is an impeccable show of the tenacity of human spirit.
Recommended from this month: Plainsong, Good Christian Bitches, Show Dog