Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Books 9-12

I'm feeling a time-crunch since next week is the primary--I really ought to reacquaint myself with the election manual-- and because I start three-months-worth of extra hours at the library--which were only okayed late last week-- on Sunday. I told my husband over the weekend that I thought I would drop out of the 15/15/15 project to free up some more time between now and then, but he, he of the you-read-too-much/own-too-many-books opinions, told me I'd come too far not to finish.

So what have I read since I last checked in?

Ninth book was E.L. Doctorow's Homer and Langley. Everyone already knows about Homer and Langley, right? It was a pleasant enough read and it firmed up a notion I'd already had for awhile to reread Ragtime--it's been at least 30 years, so I think it's due.

Tenth book was Dorothy Baker's Cassandra at the Wedding, which I loved so much that it moved directly onto my best of the year list. A Berkeley grad student goes home to the family ranch intent on using all her considerable powers of personality to bring her identical twin's wedding to a halt. Cassandra has not felt whole since Judith abandoned her for New York several months earlier; she feels her life impossible if her twin cannot be convinced that their bond is too vital ("Just us. Nobody else ever.") for separation.

If not:

The bridge looked good again, she tells us on the second page. The sun was on it, and it took on something of the appeal of a bright exit sign in an auditorium that is crowded and airless and where you are listening to a lecture, as I so often do, that is in no way brilliant. But lectures can't all be brilliant, of course; they can be sat through and listened to for what there is in them, and if the exit sign is dazzling it can still be ignored. Besides, my guide assures me that I am not, at heart, a jumper; it's not my sort of thing. I'm given to conjecture only, and to restlessness, and I think I knew all the time I was sizing up the bridge that the strong possibility was I'd go home, attend my sister's wedding as invited, help hook-and-zip whatever she wore, take over the bouquet while she received the ring, through the nose or on the finger, wherever she chose to receive it, and hold my peace when it became a question of speaking now or forever holding it. . .

Confession: I chose the eleventh book, Forrest Gander's As a Friend, from the browsing collection at the university library solely because of its size: a mere 106 pages with lots of white on its pages ("I listen to what I can leave out," we're told in those pages). I may have been looking for something to careen through in an hour (the book I'd started earlier in the day turned out not to want me reading it right now), but Gander's book is a gem (and it led me to order his nonfiction A Faithful Existence: Reading, Memory, and Transendence within minutes after it was finished) and much deserving of a less frenzied pace: I won't be returning it to the library any time soon.

A couple of excerpts:

My last birthday. The living room unlit. I suspected a surprise, but before I could reach the light switch, you struck a match to the horse skull you'd hung from the ceiling and doused with lighter fluid. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. The slow liquid-blue flame in the shape of a horse's skull flowering into a new dimension, turning slowly on a string in the dark.


It's a barren feeling to know at the age of twenty five that you've already lived the most intense period of your life, that a vividness has blazed up and short-circuited something in you and you will remember what it felt like to be alive but not feel it again, and you won't even want to remember, can't bear it, it's too ploughed with guilt and pain. It seemed all of a sudden like a wind had slacked off and I was left leaning off-balance in a world something considerable had passed through. Once I had choices. Then it was as if my life leaped out of my body.

And I'm 40 pages away from finishing a reread of James Thurber's My Life and Hard Times; it's book 12. I love Thurber. Are students still required to read him? I don't remember seeing him in either of my kids' texts, so I suppose he's been long gone. A pity.

Three more books to go.


  1. You are doing so well with this--you definitely can't give up when you are so close. I have that same edition of Cassandra at the Wedding and am now looking forward to it even more than I was before!

  2. Husbands can surprise you, don't they? I've picked 2 of the remaining four books I'm going to read on their page count. Unlike you, I'm not yet done with book 12. I think the mantra for this challenge is "no apologies, no such thing as cheating." I'm gratified to see how many short works I've been able to move to my "read" shelves from the "to be read" ones. And I hope it will make me better about taking some of their longer compatriots off the shelf once this challenge is over.

    If I revise this challenge, I'll probably do it the first fortnight of January, or 12 books for 12th Night, or some such.

  3. I am still not done with book#12! Unfortunately, I have all heavy weights lined up for the last three days. Somehow all the books I selected exceed 200 pages! It's criminal! But we're almost near the end and I'm not giving up.

    Here's my last read. Totally enjoyed it and finished it easily too!


  4. From what I've been able to observe, Thurber is one of the boys who got kicked out of the band. Sad.


"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

Sherman Alexie cancels book tour for memoir about his mother.