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March Reading Update

I guess one of the upsides to the super cold and snowy winter we just experienced is that I finished reading 4 books in March, bringing my total for 2014 to 9. Last year, I didn’t finish my 9th book until June, so I am quite pleased with my progress.

I already wrote about Mrs. Dalloway and Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The next book I read was The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, which was this years One Book, One Philadelphia selection. Private Bartle is a twenty-one-year old soldier recently returned from Iraq. The novel bounces back and forth between his time in the service and his life when he returns. Although the book is well-written, it follows the pattern of so many war stories: naive young man goes into the army, bad things happen, he comes home psychologically damaged. Because it is set in Iraq, many of the details are new, but the trajectory felt so familiar that I was unable to feel engaged.

March Reading Update

March Reading Update

I followed-up my rewarded re-reading of Mrs. Dalloway by re-reading To the Lighthouse. As with Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse is a longtime favorite that I hadn’t read in many years and it held up well. My recollection was that I preferred To the Lighthouse, but after reading them last month, I found Mrs. Dalloway to be the more interesting novel. That’s not to say that To the Lighthouse still isn’t wonderful, but I found myself much more engaged with Mrs. Dalloway this time around.

On a sad note, I recently found out that Readmill, the site via which I read the two Virginia Woolf novels, is shutting down. I had only recently discovered it and really loved the selection of classic novels and found the reading app to be one of the best I’ve used. Readmill users can download their libraries and use another app. I will take advantage of this but will miss the Readmill interface.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Joan Didion is someone who I’ve been interested in reading for quite a while but only recently rose to the top of my to read list, most likely because she is occasionally mentioned on Brain Pickings, one of my favorite blogs. I chose Slouching Towards Bethlehem as my first Didion because it includes “On Keeping a Notebook,” which is often referenced in writing circles.

IMG_9210Slouching Towards Bethlehem is an incredible collection of some of Didion’s essays from the late 1960s. It perfectly blends Didion’s personal experiences within a greater cultural context, as when, in the title essay, she explores the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and interviews young people in the counterculture movement.

These essays appealed to me for a few reasons. One is that I was born in the late 1960s and have a great interest in that period. Didion’s personal spin on those times brings them to life.

Another reason is that I lived in Las Vegas for four years and one of her essays, “Marrying Absurd,” focuses on Vegas weddings. But more than that, having lived in the southwest, I also spent a great deal of time in California and despite Nevada being my home state for that time, I always felt more of a kinship to its neighbor to the west. The bulk of Slouching Towards Bethlehem is about California and much of it resonated with me. Didion also writes about her time in New York and her reactions to living on the east coast. As someone who has spent time on both coasts, I found her perceptions fascinating.

Although I have personal reasons for loving this collection, I would imagine that anyone who likes reading personal essays from intriguing people would like Slouching Towards Bethlehem.