Once a year, my friend Roland Vinyard from Sprakers writes up a nice summary of all the books he's read in the past year. It's always an impressively long list, and he annotates it with brief reviews -- which titles were good, which were disappointing, which were surprising.
He sends his annual "What I've been Reading" report as an e-mail message to all his online correspondents, but nowadays he also writes about books and all sorts of other stuff in a blog on his MySpace page.
I'm not about to produce an annual personal book report as comprehensive as Roland's, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I'd like to open this blog up for discussion of books (and other media: movies, blogs, music, video games, you name it). If you come across something you'd like other folks to know about, leave a comment here or send me an e-mail.
So, then, to answer the question, here's what I've been reading most recently (other than The Leader-Herald and blogs all over cyberspace):
1.) The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl (Random House, 2004). I finished this literary, historical melodramatic novel a couple of weeks ago. The book's details about Henry Wadsworth Long-and-other-fellows were compelling, but the plot (about a series of murders inspired -- sort of -- by Dante's Inferno) seems more and more ridiculous now that I've put the book down and had time to ruminate on it. The book did have the pleasant side-effect of reinvigorating my interest in Dante and 19th-century New England writers, however, so I'm thinking about picking up Pearl's newer book, The Poe Shadow, which is apparently another fictional tale of murder and intrigue blended into the actual life and times of Edgar Allen Poe. (I think there's a copy of The Poe Shadow at the Johnstown Public Library, so if you hurry, you might be able to beat me to it).
2.) Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey, by Bill Roorbach (Dial, 2006). This one has been patiently waiting on my bookshelf for a year and a half. I picked it up (I don't recall where) while I was finishing grad school, and I've been meaning to read it since I got out from under the mountains of books I was required to read for my various academic projects. I just made a foray into the first chapters this week. The book seems to fall into the categories of "Nature Book" and "Memoir," and even though I have little interest, per se, in the wildlife of rural Maine and Roorbach's adolescence, he's got me hooked. He's written an insightful how-to tome on the craft of writing non-fiction, which I also recommend (for folks like myself who fancy themselves writers).
And, since literary monogamy is not my strong suit, I am simultaneously engrossed in ...
3.) Waiting for the Barbarians, by J.M. Coetzee (Penguin, 1999). This book was highly recommended by Glyne Griffith, one of my favorite professors at Albany. I read it at the time I was taking a course with him in post-colonial studies, but I had to read it so quickly -- with so many other things on my mind -- that I hardly was able to appreciate it. This time through, I'm soaking it in, slowing down to appreciate the prose, which is stark yet elegant, and the story, which is powerful in ways that remind me of "Heart of Darkness" or "The Grapes of Wrath" or "The Old Man and the Sea." It won the Nobel Prize for literature and richly deserves that honor.
4) The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, 2006). I won't go into detail about this book, which I read last summer, a few months before it won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. I will simply mention that it's dark and emotionally difficult -- though it was an clear, accessible read -- and I'm bracing myself to give it another look in preparation for discussions about it that I will facilitate next month at the Johnstown Public Library. (If you're interested, The Independent has a feature story online about McCarthy here. Rolling Stone had an excellent interview with him a few months back, but I can't seem to find it online anymore.) The book discussions are scheduled for June 24 and 27. So, if you're feeling up to it, start reading, and I'll see you then. By the way, what have you been reading?