Whatever Wednesday: Stacks o’ Books 2015

My traditional goal is to read 24 books per year. Two a month seems ambitious but totally doable to me. I realized though that I’ve been adding books to my library faster than I can read them, and that I’m now on a cycle of starting books and not finishing them. It’s just…So.Many.Books. Check out our office library.

Library

Awesome, right? There are two more bookshelves behind me, as well as boxes of books in the garage. Hence, it’s easy for me to lose a book that I am dying to read, or forget which book I really really wanted to read next, in these shelves. Being a goal-oriented person, I decided to select and set aside the bulk of what I most want to read this year. At this time, anyway. After all, I don’t want to spend another year missing out on reading In Search of Lost Time. Ha.

I tried to make the winning group 50-50 as far as fiction and non-fiction. Once chosen, I put them on my bedframe right above my head…and next to the emergency dark chocolate.

Books

Some are book club selections (#1, 13, and 19); one is inspired by a Beyonce song (#7), another is reading for an upcoming trip (#14), and the fat one came out of what happened in Ferguson over the summer (#16). Number 5 is the latest addition to the pile. I wasn’t planning on reading it again anytime soon, but with the news of the impending release of Harper Lee’s sequel, I was inspired to re-read the classic sooner rather than later. My guilty pleasure is selection 10. I’m not too much of a mystery person, but I’ve read all of the Agatha Raisin mysteries and, as noted in my bio, I have a strange fascination with reading about bad food in the English countryside, so this series feeds into my obsession. Lastly, I found no. 8 via a random post on my cousin’s Facebook wall. It reminded me of the Dobermans my lola (Filipino for grandma) had, which went missing and were later found on a spit to be eaten by squatters. Poverty sucks.

As of today, here’s the list, obviously subject to change and in no particular order:

  1. The Magus – John Fowles
  2. On Beauty – Zadie Smith
  3. The Dud Avocado – Elaine Dundy
  4. The Street of Crocodiles – Bruno Schulz
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  6. Eleonor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
  7. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  8. Dogeaters – Jessica Hagedorn
  9. Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
  10. Something Borrowed, Someone Dead: An Agatha Raisin Mystery – M.C. Beaton
  11. The New Capitalist Manifesto – Umair Haque
  12. The Overachievers – Alexandra Robbins
  13. Yes Please – Amy Poehler
  14. The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba – Julia Cooke
  15. The Raft is not the Shore – Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan
  16. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 – Taylor Branch
  17. Knowledge, Power, and Black Politics – Mack Jones
  18. The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood – Ta-Nehisi Coates
  19. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail – Cheryl Strayed

I’d ask you what you all are reading, but I fear I’d run out of shelf space. So excited to dig in!

Book Review: Am I Too Stupid to Read Kafka?

This is not a running post.

Every 4-6 weeks, my Sunday morning run is pushed off to the afternoon due to the small book club I host. It’s been going on for just over a year, and we have finally started to settle in. The group’s members are feeling comfortable with each other, and we’re pretty much on the same page about what kind of books we like to read. We also like to eat.

The group’s selection this month was “The Trial” by Franz Kafka. Now I’ve read Kafka’s short stories (Metamorphosis, A Hunger Artist, etc.) and enjoyed them. I got no beef with Franz. But after our group discussion, I started to wonder if I’m too dumb to read Kafka.

The Trial

There’s a ton of commentary and analysis out there on the Trial, and I got a little flummoxed by it. One question was “[Question] 20.Write a note on the changes in furniture, robing and disrobing in the book.” Damn, was I supposed to be paying attention to the furniture?!

However, I was more concerned by the fact that I seemed to be the only member struck by the spiritual struggle of the main character; the others focused on the struggle against the system. Perhaps I was born too late. This Big Machine message is such a “duh” idea that I hardly blinked, and thus the major impact this book had was lost on me. I suppose if I had read this in 1925 (?) or when I was 20 years old, this would have made a much stronger impression. But not only did I just read a 300-plus page book on the industrial prison complex, I’ve been an adult working in the corporate world for over 25 years. So this idea of powerlessness against the system barely made a blip on my radar, and I suppose why I was more interested in the internal struggle of Joseph K.

Anyway, I did “enjoy” the book and would give it 3½ out of 5 stars. Here are a few other items of note about the book:

  • Definitely get the Schocken translation. Seriously, you will have a much better experience. The version I have even has the deleted passages and unfinished chapters.
  • In a few instances, a paragraph went on for six whole pages. I found the super-long paragraph an annoying and affected device at first but came to appreciate it as the book went on. The tension! Sometimes it just takes me a while to get into the style of the writer. But once I got into it, I really dug Kafka’s groove.
  • There is an Alice and Wonderland quality to the descriptions of the System, which I found kind of fun.
  • Kafka builds a very palpable feeling of claustrophobia and futility in this oppressive society governed by an omnipresent overseer.

So, while I seemed to get out of The Trial something different from my fellow group members, I wouldn’t say I’m too stupid to read Kafka. Maybe I’m just too familiar with The Machine.

Additional Reading

The book about the industrial prison complex is “The New Jim Crowe: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. An awesome read.

I added Kafka-esque writer Bruno Shulz’s “The Street of Crocodiles” to my reading list based on recommendations of two members. That’s one of the best things about the book group – learning about more books to read.