notes for january, book edition

Recently, I finished the fifth of six books I picked up before Christmas, because there was a great deal for members at Kinokuniya, and I finally had time to read. Because this was an unusually good haul - in the sense that I loved most of the books I completed - I thought they were worth a quick and dirty "review".

I can't believe I'd never read "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hillenbrand until now - I loved every last word and found myself holding my breath during the chapters on the races. I'm pretty inspired to give "Unbroken" a go. The last time I enjoyed a non-fiction account such as this one so much was "The Orchid Thief", which was THE book that made me want to be a journalist. Both books have the kind of depth that comes from really doing your homework and delving into the lives of these people and their circumstances. They also strike that awesome balance between empathy and cold-eyed clarity - you feel deeply for all involved, but you also see them for who they are.

I read "Monuments Men" by Robert M Edsel right after I finished "Seabiscuit", and I suppose because both are books describing the lives of real people, I couldn't help comparing them although the subjects differ. Without a doubt, Laura Hillenbrand is a much better storyteller - the people she wrote about came to life for me, as did the times they lived in and the issues of the day. "Monuments Men" is a great story but it just wasn't told as well.

I bought "The Blazing World" without opening it and reading a single word - it's a rule for me usually, to read the first few pages of a book before I buy it, to decide if it's the book for me. But I love Siri Hustvedt's work that much. The novel begin with a premise that begs for resolution, but the way the tale unfolds left me thinking it didn't matter in the end. The story is told through a jumble of diary entries, recollections of different people, "magazine" articles and reviews, and there are references to philosophy and art, all meticulously foot-noted. This should have been discordant, but everything plays off everything else so deftly that you find yourself completely absorbed, as if you are a scholar, delving into the mysterious life of a woman long dead, trying to make sense of it all. And as always, her writing is clean and beautiful - it never fails to hit me right in the heart.

"Justice" by Michael Sandel was recommended to me - I admit, these days, I read for easy pleasures and moral philosophy didn't immediately excite me. As it turns out, "Justice" is testament to the power of good writing - there is no way I could have absorbed the general premises of Rawls, Dworkin, Aristotle, Kant, Locke and other no-first-name-needed, oft-cited superstars of philosophy otherwise. In about 200 pages. It's quite something, to explain all this and their relevance to contemporary political and social issues, and explain it so well that I've started thinking about issues I come across through their lens.

 I was pretty excited when I bought  "Travelling to Infinity" by Jane Hawking, but after I finished, I felt exhausted, and not in a good way. Yes, their marriage was every bit as complicated as one imagined and Stephen Hawking appears to picnic. But while she painstakingly described her feelings and her experiences, I wished there was a bit more reflection, a little more explanation on why she chose the life she chose. It felt like there were feelings that she had yet to confront.

I have one book left, "The Rest is Noise" by Alex Ross. Haven't started, but I can't imagine disliking a book that comes with a recommended playlist.

Which books have you read lately? Share!


Amanda said…
Thank you for this! I just picked up Michael Sandel's book so I'm stoked. I don't read as much fiction as I would like to these days - my reading list for the month consists of two other books I received during Christmas - The Sixth Extinction and The Language of Food.

Hui Sin Ng said…
For the time being by Ruth Ozeki was pretty awesome for me.
Alison said…
Is it weird that I hadn't heard of any of these on your list? You made me want to check out a few of them though. Right now I'm halfway through Women in Clothes and feeling a bit ehhhh about it - not quite what I expected when I bought it. I think it's back to fiction again once I'm done!
Ammu said…
Seabiscuit sounds amazing.
I finished two novels over the holidays - both by Indian writers, Cobalt Blue and Em and the Big Hoom. Both are terrific but Cobalt Blue is a masterpiece. Spectacularly good writing.
Now reading another novel by a Tamil writer, Perumal Murugan, who has been hounded by Hindu protesters over alleged offence because of his portrayal of sexual relations. His work feels rather timely in light of current events.
lin said…
Amanda: I've been trying to add more non-fiction to my list, but I admit even my non-fiction tastes run towards a good yarn.

Hui Sin: I just looked up a review of does sound promising and I've added it to my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

Alison: No...I only knew about three of the books because they were turned into movies, haha. I never saw the movies though.

I considered buying it too but I decided that ultimately I didn't need to read so obsessively about women and their clothing choices. At least, not at book length!

Ammu: I remember you mentioning Cobalt Blue, and hopefully I will get to reading that and the other books you mentioned some time!

Popular Posts