Sunday, December 23, 2012

31 Before 31 Update

I realized the other day that I am over six months into my "31 Before 31" list (31 books I feel I ought to have read by the time I'm 31), and have so far completed four of the books on the list. 

To be fair, I've started three others.

Here's a recap of my list so far. I'm still three books shy of the complete list, but at this point, I'm looking at having to amend the list to be "32 before 32."

1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
2. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
3. The Grass is Singing, Doris Lessing - changed to The Golden Notebook, started
4. Lolita, Nabokov
5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig - started
6. For Whom The Bell Tolls, Hemingway
7. The Rules of Attraction, Brett Easton Ellis
8. Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Dandicat
9. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
10. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
11. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
12. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond - started
13. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
14. Cities of Salt, Abdul Rahman Munif
15. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
16. The Satanic Verses, Salmon Rushdie
17. Native Son, Richard Wright
18. The Savage Detectives, Bolano
19. Jesus' Son, Denis Hale Johnson
20. Notebook, Agota Christof (NOTE - not "The Notebook" by Nicholas Sparks. Come on.)
21. White Noise, Don DeLillo
22. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
23. Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
24. The 19th Wife, David Evershoff
25. As I Lay Dying, Faulkner
26. The Prophet, Khalil Gibran
27. A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf
28. Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut

Here are my takeaways thus far:

"Let the Great World Spin," Colum McCann
An incredible book. Just incredible. At first, I wasn't sure where it was headed, but that's part of the point. The fictional story brings in narratives from a handful of different characters, all living in New York City in 1974 during the real-life event wherein French acrobat Phillippe Petit walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center buildings. The act seems to be a hinge point for all of these other stories to intersect, and the narratives see characters through Harlem prostitution rings, Vietnam, coke-fueled nightclubs, and the art world of the Village in the 70's.

"The Rules of Attraction," Bret Easton Ellis
I read somewhere that Ellis is the cockiest mofo to grace contemporary literature, and that he can essentially spit on a piece of paper and critics will bend over backwards to exclaim that it's the best thing since "Catcher in the Rye." 
The fact is, after reading this book, I'd say that if Ellis is cocky, he's earned the right to be. The book is an incredibly depressing look into the lives of 1980's college kids at a liberal arts New England college with nothing to do but spend down their trust funds, sleep with each other, drink every day, and perhaps go to class from time to time. I came to this book not wanting to like it and wanting furiously to see Ellis's pretension in every page, but I came away grudgingly having to admit that I liked the characters, liked the story, and thought that Ellis did a damn fine job of channeling ennui so passionately. It's not an easy thing to do, and he's somehow managed to do it. While I won't say that he's Salinger, he has his own voice and reading this made me want to read his other work. And possibly stream the 2002 James Van Der Beek film made from this book. 

"Guns, Germs, and Steel," Jared Diamond
I'm picking away at this one. It's dense, for sure, but ridiculously interesting and documents the reasons why some world civilizations became more advanced (with agriculture, medicine, buildings, etc.) and why some stalled out (like Australian aborigines). I borrowed it from a friend who condoned skimming some pages, and skipping others altogether, but with the endorsement that the overall book itself is fascinating. She was completely right - Diamond tends to go on highly scientific rants (I couldn't really give two shits about how accurate radio carbon dating is - whether you're talking about 39,000 years ago or 50,000 years ago, it doesn't register a difference in my mind and while I'm sure this inaccuracy would be a grievous error in the archaeology world, it matters little to none in mine), but on the whole his arguments are interesting, profound, and even common sensical at times. This is a book that will take me awhile to get through, and so tends to be one I'll pick up here and there while reading through some of the others on the list. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is the same way - it's dense at times, but overall a very satisfactory read yet not one that pulls me in the way some narratives can. Books like these tend to be snacks or appetizers for me. Things I pick at when I only have ten or fifteen minutes here and there, and not something I can sit and read for hours at a time.

I've also been privy to some pretty fantastic fiction lately that's not on the "31 before 31" list but that I've read for Book Club or because a friend told me I simply must read it.

"The Last Letter from your Lover," JoJo Moyes
I can't remember the last time I read a book in a weekend. But this one was it. It was compelling, beautiful, and I absolutely couldn't put it down. It begins with the protagonist, a total Betty Draper named Jennifer Stirling, waking up in London from a severe head injury after a car accident. She has a handsome husband who owns a company that manufactures asbestos; the hot new building material in the 1960's; tons of money, and what appears to be the perfect life. But as she tries to adjust from severe memory loss and get back into her glamorous, wealthy life she discovers that she was having an affair, and the book follows her attempts to piece together love letters and clues to figure out who her lover was - and if he died in the automobile accident that caused her injury. It's the perfect rainy weekend novel, and beautifully written. 

"Gone Girl," Gillian Flynn
Oh wait, you haven't read "Gone Girl" yet? Stop reading this blog, right now. Go get it. Read it. It'll take you about a day. Come back and let's talk about how amazing this book is, and how creeped out we are by the whole thing.

On that note, I'm gonna go finish my beer and read some more of "Guns, Germs, and Steel."


katiebird said...

Replace Atlas Shrugged with The Fountainhead so we talk about how awesome it is

The New Glitterati said...

Oooh. I'm definitely game for that!