July Reading Update

Books, Reading

I had a feeling that July was going to be a good reading month because I was probably about 90% done Henry Miller’s The Cosmological Eye at the end of June. I knew I would have that under my belt very early in July and would have time to get caught up on my goal of reading 25 books this year.

July turned out to me much more productive on that front than I could have anticipated. In addition to Miller’s collection of stories and essays, I finished two novels (The Night Circus
and Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel) and 4 graphic novels (Building Stories, Pride of Baghdad, and Saga Volume 1& Volume 2).

The Cosmological Eye is a compilation of works written in the same period as the other Miller books I’ve read so far (Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, and Tropic of Capricorn). In fact, The Cosmological Eye has three works that originally appeared in Black Spring. It also has pieces that were originally from the now out of print Max and the White Phagocytes. I believe all the works from Max appear in Cosmological Eye except for “Eye of Paris,” Miller’s essay on Brassaï, which I would love to get my hands on, since I’m a fan of  Brassaï as well.

What makes these essays, and most of Miller’s work post-Tropics, interesting to me is that they feel less forced and more authentic than what comes across with the persona of the Tropics. As much as I love those books, there is a sense that he’s trying a bit too hard to push boundaries, trying too hard to create a rebellious image. His other works feel more honest. Of particular note in this collection are “An Open Letter to Surrealists Everywhere,” “Via Dieppe-Newhaven” and “The Tailor Shop,” the last of which also appears in Black Spring.

In addition to the number of books I want to read this year, one of my other goals has been to branch out and read recent books that are different than the types of things I usually read. Anathem, Empire State and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children all meet these criteria and for the most part have been rewarding reading experiences. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is also one of these books and might be my favorite of this group. It is a love story set in the titular and mysterious circus. It’s a breezy and inventive book.

Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story might be my favorite book so far. I picked it up along with The Night Circus at our local bookstore. I recognized both titles as being on my to read list in Goodreads, so I nabbed them not fully remembering what they were about or why I was interested. I had some recollection about The Night Circus, but I went into Super Sad mostly blind. I was very surprised by this book. It is very much a dystopian tale set in the near future. It is very funny but it also paints an incredibly bleak picture of the path we’re on.

I have never had a particular bias against graphic novels but have never gotten into them either. I have an unhealthy fascination with the film Ghost World and have read and enjoyed the Daniel Clowes graphic novel on which it was based. Despite liking that, I never pursued any other of his work or graphic novels in general. In my effort to branch out this year, I decided to read a few. I was assisted in this when a friend lent me McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #13 which is a compilation of short works and excerpts. I was particularly taken with the included work by Chris Ware and I had also recently read an interview with him, so I decided to read his Building Stories. What particularly fascinated me with this work, which proved to be an interesting follow-up to House of Leaves, is that it is comprised of 14 separate “books.” Even though all of these stories are related–all the characters at one time lived in the same apartment building–there isn’t one specific narrative. Although there is one main character and a general chronology, there isn’t any particular rise and fall of action. It is a great example of a fragmented novel.

I have to admit to not being as impressed by the works of Brian K. Vaughan. A friend of mine raved about Saga on Facebook and in my effort to expand my horizons, I impulsively ordered them not knowing anything about him or these works. As it turned out, my girlfriend is a fan of his Pride of Baghdad, so I read that while I was waiting for Saga, Vols 1 & 2 to arrive.

All three works were enjoyable but they felt slight, especially in comparison to the depth of Building Stories. Pride of Baghdad is a heavy-handed and obvious allegory of the Iraq war. It takes the true story of the escape of some lions from the Iraq zoo during a U.S. led attack and tells it from the point of view of the lions. It’s a great premise but it gets weighed down by the blatant politics.

Saga presents an interesting mix of science fiction and fantasy but is likewise heavy-handed in its approach and I found most of the characters to be some combination of thinly drawn and borderline annoying. The story is fairly compelling but it was tough to care about the fate of couple and their baby on the run from the powers that be.

A very busy month for sure! One which got me back on track to meet my goal to read 25 books this year.

So far in 2013, I have read: