Friday, June 21, 2013

End-of-year list part one

Every year in June, I like to compile and publish my list of books read and music that defined that last academic year (including the previous summer). I do this really for myself, kind of like a journal entry, but also just as one would with a blog, I share it with others as well. I’ll begin with the books read- and this is limited to only those that I read in their entirety, and excludes texts such as those multiple readings to the boys of Dr. Seuss or the “Parts” series, which are wonderful, by the way:  

Fiction (Novels):

Crime & Punishment- Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866) (translated from Russian by Jesse Coulson): A deliberately incongruous choice to bring on our family’s trip to Disney World last summer. Still, it certainly kept me riveted through the plane ride.

The Sun Also Rises- Ernest Hemingway (1926) (RR)

The Giver- Lois Lowry (1993) (RR)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian- Sherman Alexie (2007): I read this with a class of boys, 6th and 7th graders, last summer and they loved it. One kid laughed so hard at a certain section that he upchucked a little in the middle of class. Another kid read a section aloud in class, which wouldn’t seem to be such a big deal except that he was in the 4th percentile for reading ability at the time and his educational consultant told me after observing our class that it was the first time he had ever volunteered to read aloud in school.

Strangers on a Train- Patricia Highsmith (1950): In my opinion, the movie version is generally inferior to the book. However, with Hitchcock films, the inverse can often be true. For instance, “Rear Window,” with the addition of the romantic storyline and the parallels with neighbors was more interesting than the short story it’s based on (“It Had To Be Murder”). And while the novel of “Strangers” still contains the brilliant premise, the characters are not as compelling as in the film plus the things that Hitchcock and his screenwriters added, subtracted or altered make for a much better film than book. For example, changing Guy from an architect to a tennis player allows for some nice visuals in the film, plus the symbolic aspect of the ‘opponent,’ first embodied by his faithless wife, then by the terrifying Bruno character.

Great Expectations- Charles Dickens (1861)

Gathering Blue- Lois Lowry (2000)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy- Douglas Adams (1980)

Demian- Herman Hesse (1925)

The Thirty-Nine Steps- John Buchan (1915)

As I Lay Dying- William Faulkner (1930): “The Sound and the Fury,” which I finally got around to reading (see below) is the more famous classic and I can see why but this one gets the edge for me. It’s easier to follow, certainly more fun (although it contains quite a few genuinely humorous moments, it also has some graphically tragic ones as well). In other words, unless I had to do it for a class or something, I don’t know that I would choose to ever re-read “Sound and Fury” but I look forward to pulling this one out ten years or so from now and enjoying it all over again.

Hatchet- Gary Paulsen (1987)

Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte (1847)

The Catcher in the Rye- J.D. Salinger (1951) (RR)

The Age of Innocence- Edith Wharton (1920): Edith at her best never fails to capture me. But rather than blather on about why, I’ll just note one cool detail to illustrate. I’m sure you are familiar with that phenomenon in which you are speaking with someone and you can’t come up with a quip to reply on the spot, but then it comes to you a minute later after the appropriate time has passed? In one of her magnificent turns of phrase, Edith describes that, through her Newland Archer character, as the “belated eloquence of the inarticulate.”

The Unbearable Lightness of Being- Milan Kundera (1984) (translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim)

The Sound and the Fury- William Faulkner (1929)

Flowers for Algernon- Daniel Keyes (1966)

In Cold Blood- Truman Capote (1966)

The Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini (2003) There really is something to be said for plot. I plowed through this 300+ page novel in just a few days, so utterly did its story pull me in, whereas Virginia Woolf’s brilliant but essentially plot-less “To The Lighthouse” took about three weeks of sustained attention to complete.

Old School- Tobias Wolff (2003)

To The Lighthouse- Virginia Woolf (1927)

Elijah of Buxton- Christopher Paul Curtis (2007): In everything I’ve read this year, nothing made me laugh so hard as Chapter Two of this book. I won’t give it away but it has to do with famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass and an infant. Maybe parents would find it funnier than the average person. This is another instance of a book that’s written for middle-schoolers but is eminently entertaining for adults too

This Is Where I Leave You- Jonathan Tropper (2009): Recommended highly by a handful of colleagues. Some parts of it I found rather contrived, especially towards the beginning, like the painfully perfect dialogue of the meet-cute scene at college between the main character and his wife, or the nephew flinging feces from his potty onto the dinner table. At the same time, there were scenes that really nailed me like the protagonist’s solitary wandering through the parking lot of a strip mall late at night, by the “Cheesecake Factory, Applebee’s, Rock & Bowl, the Szechaun Garden… all flashing and blinking, burning pink and red streaks into my eyelids when I close them. Generations of broken glass twinkle like glitter in the pavement… every few stoplights, traffic slows to a crawl, cars ejaculated out of the bottlenecks one by one, burning rubber just to make a point, since there’s really nowhere here worth rushing to.”

The Invention of Morel- Adolfo Bioy Casares (1964) (translated by Ruth Simms)

Fiction (Novellas)

The Pearl- John Steinbeck (1947) (RR)

The Call of the Wild- Jack London (1903)

Seize the Day- Saul Bellow (1956)

The Eye- Vladimir Nabokov (1930, English translation by Dmitri Nabokov, 1965)

The Lilies of the Field- William Barrett (1962)

The Crossing- Gary Paulsen (1987): This narrative about a young Mexican boy trying to cross the border into Texas and his intersection with an alcoholic U.S. Army sergeant is written for young adults but is deceptive in its simplicity, almost achieving a Hemingway-like brilliance.

Nightjohn- Gary Paulsen (1993)

The Red Pony- John Steinbeck (1933)

Fiction (Short Story Collections)

Ethan Frome (RR) & Selected Stories (1908-1916): I read “Ethan” aloud to my daughter Hannah, now eleven, over the course of a few weeks, in preparation for a visit to Wharton’s summer home, The Mount, out in Lenox. This collection also features “Xingu,” which is as sharp as Wharton can be and the funniest of her stories that I’ve read.

Tales of Men and Ghosts- Edith Wharton (1910): This collection is uneven to say the least, containing some meandering, forgettable stories alongside gems like “Afterward” and “The Eyes.” But even when she’s got a weak plot or premise, Wharton still delights with her turns of phrase. For instance, when describing a character living in a cheap hotel having to share soap and other bathing supplies with other residents, these objects are referred to as “promiscuous implements of ablution.” At another point, Wharton is describing a writer who is so successful and self-absorbed that he’s utterly bored by his situation in life, especially interactions with his adoring audience, so she begins a sentence/idea with, “When the thick broth of praise was strained through the author’s vanity…” Mmmm-mmm, I love that Edith.

Nine Stories- J.D. Salinger (1953) (RR)

Poirot Investigates- Agatha Christie (1925)

The Golden Ball & Other Stories- Agatha Christie (1924-1934)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Noose Report (1966)

Alfred Hitchcock’s More Stories My Mother Never Told Me (1963)


I taught two drama classes this year: Reading Modern Drama and a Shakespeare course so I bulked up on reading plays more than usual. Interestingly, I ended up relying on plays I’ve read and taught before since a lot of these that were new to me didn’t do much for me. For instance, “The Children’s Hour” is well-written but its shock value has decreased with age. “Equus” and “Gamma Rays” also seem dated while “Angels In America” is not only much longer than it needs to be but is a jumbled mess at times, although the Roy Cohn character is fantastic, especially when interacting with his nurse. I just found myself not caring too much about some of the other principal characters. And I cannot see why “Our Town” has ever become a classic. Is it just because it’s so obviously (albeit uninterestingly) universally sentimental?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?- Edward Albee (1962)

Blues For Mister Charlie- James Baldwin (1964)

The Boys in the Band- Mart Crowley (1968) (RR)

Alison’s House- Susan Glaspell (1930)

Trifles- Susan Glaspell (1916)

A Raisin in the Sun- Lorraine Hansberry (1959) (RR)

The Children’s Hour- Lillian Hellman (1934)

The Little Foxes- Lillian Hellman (1939)

An Enemy of the People- Henrik Ibsen (1882) (translated from Norwegian by Rolf Fjelde) (RR)

Angels in America- Tony Kushner (1993)

My Fair Lady- Alan Jay Lerner & George Bernard Shaw (1956)

The Belle of Amherst- William Luce (1976)

All My Sons- Arthur Miller (1947) (RR)

Long Day’s Journey Into Night- Eugene O’Neill (1956)

The Birthday Party- Harold Pinter (1958)

Equus- Peter Shaffer (1973)

Macbeth- William Shakespeare (RR)

Twelfth Night- William Shakespeare

The Taming of the Shrew- William Shakespeare (RR)

Hamlet- William Shakespeare (RR)

Romeo and Juliet- William Shakespeare (RR)

Pygmalion- George Bernard Shaw (1912) (RR)

Our Town- Thornton Wilder (1938)

A Streetcar Named Desire- Tennessee Williams (1947) (RR)

The Glass Menagerie- Tennessee Williams (1944) (RR)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom- August Wilson (1984)

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds- Paul Zindel (1970)


Are You My Mother?- Alison Bechdel (2012)

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me- Ellen Forney (2012)

Heartache and Hope in Haiti: The Britney Gengel Story- Len & Cherylann Gengel (2013): Britney was a local college student who died in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Both of her younger brothers were former students of mine and their parents are known for being very gregarious and generous folks. They’ve just opened an orphanage in Haiti after years of fund-raising and construction. Len Gengel is a particularly inspiring guy who grew up in a relatively poor family, began a successful construction business from scratch and has now devoted himself to this orphanage project, following his simple but understandable three-stage progression through life, what he calls, “Learn, Earn, and Return.”

When I Grow Up- Juliana Hatfield (2008): She’s kind of a whiner (although she herself would be the first to admit it) but I really enjoyed how easily I could relate to her descriptions of all these nightclubs and soundmen and dressing rooms and awfulness.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking- Susan Cain (2012): This is one of those instances where you learn something about yourself that you always kind of knew already but it sharpens your perspective to the point where you feel like you can make an actual improvement in your own life. Reading about introversion (according to personality tests I’ve taken, I’m not only deep on the introvert side but of the sixteen Jung personality archetypes, mine is the smallest (2% of the population), tinier even for males, so that when you figure in my sex, only .5 % of the population shares my personality characteristics. Anyway, I urge you to check out Susan Cain’s TedTalk if you’re interested in the introvert/extrovert dynamic here:

And while reading the book last summer, I arrived at a mini-epiphany while on vacation in Disney World, which can be read here:

Teaching With Your Mouth Shut- Donald Finkel (2000)

A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future- Daniel H. Pink (2005)

What Teachers Make- Taylor Mali (2012)

Mindset- Carol Dweck (2003)

The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest Book- The New Yorker/ Robert Mankoff (2008): One of my student’s mothers got me into this contest, but I’m sporadic in my submissions, to say the least. She, however, has won three times and has been nominated six. In fact, as I write this, she is yet again a finalist this month.

The Go-Betweens-David Nichols (2006)

Junk English- Ken Smith (2001)

Catch a Wave: the Rise, Fall, and Redemption of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson- Peter Ames Carlin (2006)


The Gospel According to Matthew- King James Holy Bible (1952)

The Gospel According to Mark – King James Holy Bible (1952)

Individual Short Stories (of merit):

In A Bamboo Grove- Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1921) (translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin)
Rashomon- Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1915) (translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin)
The Kugelmass Episode- Woody Allen (1977)
Sophistication- Sherwood Anderson (1919)
Beach- Roberto Bolano (2011) (translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer)
The Clodhopper’s Halloween Ball- Rick Book (1999)
A Christmas Memory- Truman Capote (1956) (RR)
Peter’s Buddies- Michael Carson (1990)
Neighbor Rosicky- Willa Cather (1930): It took me just about an hour to read this while monitoring a dorm floor one afternoon. Sometimes I wonder about all the hours I spend engrossed in reading and whether it is worth it. This was worth it.
The Bet- Anton Chekhov (RR)
The Lottery Ticket- Anton Chekhov
The Story of an Hour- Kate Chopin (1894)
Wasps’ Nest- Agatha Christie (1925)
The Double Clue- Agatha Christie (1925)
The Case of the Distressed Lady- Agatha Christie (1932)
White Balloons- Judith Ortiz Cofer (1996)
The Secret Woman- Colette
The Most Dangerous Game- Richard Connell (1924)
Lamb to the Slaughter- Roald Dahl (1953)
The Magic Finger- Roald Dahl (1966)
Man from the South- Roald Dahl (1948) (RR)
Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” Part II- Jenny Diski
A Scandal in Bohemia- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1891)
The Speckled Band- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
On Being Crazy- WEB Du Bois (1907)
A Poetics for Bullies- Stanley Elkin
Bernice Bobs Her Hair- F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
The Offshore Pirate- F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
The Lover of Horses- Tess Gallagher (1986)
Hills Like White Elephants- Ernest Hemingway (1927) (RR)
Selway- Pam Houston (1993)
Thank You Ma’am- Langston Hughes (1958)
The Scarlet Ibis- James Hurst (1960)
Sure Thing- David Ives (1988)
The Lottery- Shirley Jackson (1948) (RR)
First Sorrow- Franz Kafka (1922)
Children of the Corn- Stephen King (1977) (RR)
Brutal Interlude- Ron Koertge
A Lot to Learn- R.T. Kurosaka
Through The Tunnel- Doris Lessing (1957)
Pickman’s Model- H.P. Lovecraft (1927)
A Dill Pickle- Katherine Mansfield (1917)
Button, Button- Richard Matheson (1970) (RR)
Was it a Dream?- Guy de Maupassant
Blonde- Katherine Min
Where Have You Gone, Charming Billy?- Tim O’Brien (1975)
A Good Man is Hard to Find- Flannery O’Connor (1953) (RR)
The Life You Save May Be Your Own- Flannery O’Connor (1955)
The Sniper- Liam O’Flaherty (1923)
The Black Cat- Edgar Allan Poe (1843) (RR)
The Murders in the Rue Morgue- Edgar Allan Poe (1841)
The Open Window- Saki (H.H. Munro) (1930) (RR)
The Girls in Their Summer Dresses- Irwin Shaw (1939)
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner- Alan Sillitoe (1959)
Mr. Raynor, the School-teacher- Alan Sillitoe (1959)
The Chrysanthemums- John Steinbeck (1938)
Something Old, Something New- Joyce Sweeney (2003)
A&P- John Updike (1961) (RR)
Who Am I This Time?- Kurt Vonnegut (1961)
Carl’s Outside- Brad Watson (2010)
Water Dog God- Brad Watson (2010)
Miss Mary Pask- Edith Wharton (1926) (RR)
Fetch!- Robb White (RR)
It Had To Be Murder- Cornell Woolrich (1942)

1 comment:

Tom Merchant said...

I bow to your voracious consumption of the written word ,well done.