I’m still here, waiting, sometimes patiently, sometimes not, for the baby to arrive. I’m not due for two more weeks, but I’m far enough along that it could possibly be any day now. I’m excited, but I also spend my time in a little bit of a haze: I read some, I sleep a lot, I take walks now and then, I panic about whether I’m ready and reorganize the baby’s clothes once again. I’m watching Hobgoblin and other teacher friends return to school after winter break, and it feels strange not to be working on my own syllabi.
So here are some very brief thoughts about what I’ve been reading. I’d love to write longer reviews … except that’s a lie, because I’m feeling lazy and wouldn’t really love it. Brief thoughts are all I have ambition and energy for.
- Barbara Comyns’s Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. I put this on my list of my best books of 2012, but I wanted to mention it again here, as I read it right at the year’s end. What a fabulous book! Comyns has a wonderful style and creates a marvelously strange atmosphere. It reminded me of Shirley Jackson, although Comyns is less gothic. I’m looking forward to reading her other books and now have The Vet’s Daughter on its way here.
- Megan Abbott’s Dare Me. I listened to this one on audio and liked it. It’s about a group of high school girls on a cheer leading squad and a new coach who comes in and transforms their lives. The book is forthright about the combination of vulnerability and cruelty, especially the cruelty, of young women at this age, which I admired, but I loved the depiction of female athleticism and what it means to the characters to train hard and transform their bodies for competition.
- Lauren Groff’s Arcadia. This was a very absorbing read and very well-written. It’s about a commune in upstate New York and tells the story of Bit who spends his childhood there. It’s more accurate to say that the book is about Bit himself, because it follows him after he grows up and leaves Arcadia, but, unsurprisingly, Arcadia haunts his entire life. The novel is well-written, Bit is an appealing character, and the ideas the novel explores about utopian societies are interesting.
- Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John. I approached this book as a novel, so I was surprised to see Sven Birkerts mention it as a memoir in his book on the subject. Perhaps the book combines elements of both genres. At any rate, it’s a very good book. It’s a coming-of-age story and focuses on Annie’s relationship with her mother, first with their closeness and then their growing estrangement. The outlines of the story are not unique, but it’s particularly well-told and moving.
- Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. I liked this retelling of Achilles’s story very much. It’s from the point of view of Patroclus and focuses on their relationship. The novel makes the familiar story of the Iliad feel fresh and new.
- Nicholson Baker’s The Way the World Works. This is a collection of essays, some of which were fabulous, and some of which left me thinking, huh? I should care about this why? These particular essays could have benefited from a little context, more explanation of why they were written and how they fit into the magazine or book collection they were originally written for. Baker is fascinated by the everyday stuff we are surrounded by, and I admire that quality in him, but sometimes he doesn’t convince us that his preoccupations might be our preoccupations as well. But then some of the essays are great, particularly the ones that are longer and more in-depth, where we get a sense of why his subject matters.
- Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother. I was inspired to check out a couple memoirs about motherhood from the library recently, and this is the first one I read. I also found Anne Enright’s Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood, which Hobgoblin picked up and read immediately. He laughed his way through Enright’s book, while I read Cusk’s account of motherhood with growing anxiety. I admired the honesty of Cusk’s book, but her experience was very difficult. I can only hope mine won’t at all be like hers, although if it is, I’ll look back at her book and find comfort.
- Lastly, Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitrios. We are discussing this book at my mystery book group meeting this weekend. I enjoyed the novel very much, although I found its structure odd: it’s a thriller, I guess, but surprisingly long chunks of it are made up of people sitting around talking. There isn’t a whole lot of action, or at least not as much as you might expect. But the story itself is a good one, and the novel is very writerly as well: the main character is a crime novelist who decides he wants to investigate a crime himself, and so there is a lot of discussion of novelistic vs. real-life crimes, criminals, and crime narratives. That’s a lot of fun.
Finally, my week 38 picture: