What I read in Spring 2012

Spring 2012

In an attempt to focus my reading for the spring I decided to only read books with white or grey spines. I did this before in spring 2010, with red-black-white spines. There’s no other theme or coherence to these books, but it caused me to read things I might not otherwise have taken off the shelf and for that I am glad.

January

  • Jonathan Raban, Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings (1999) – I bought this at Pulpfiction on Main as the sixth (i.e. free with the discount!) book in my pile and thought: oh, someday, maybe, I might read a book about a boat to Alaska, but then again maybe not. I thought: oh, this might be really boring, but oh well. It is more of a memoir than I understood at first but then it is really more of a memoir than I think the author understood at first, either. At Sidney, on his way up the inside coast of Vancouver Island, he mentions Alice Munro. Near the end of the trip, in Alaska, he compares a couple he meets to an Alice Munro story. And then, by the final chapters, Passage to Juneau is itself an Alice Munro story, perfectly poised and sad and simple.
  • Allen Raymond, How To Rig An Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative (2008) – The most instructive aspect of this book is not how to rig an election (there are no surprises on that front for anyone who works in elections) but how easy it is to do politics for terrible reasons. The fun of this book is that it is not about a big presidential campaign or even about a major scandal. The campaigns in question are small and petty, little meat-grinder races that pad out the ballot but attract little attention. And the scandal in question is just as small and petty. This is what a lot of formal politics is; to get to do the big stuff well is a rare treat.

February

  • Richard Ford, A Multitude Of Sins (2001) – I picked this up for $5 off of the Munro’s discount shelves and read it maybe a month later, despite having had Independence Day on my shelf for maybe two years now. I was trying to find a copy of The Sportswriter that matched but instead I think I’ll get the standard edition that matches A Multitude of Sins. I liked this; I read it in Youbou over Robin’s birthday weekend. Nasty and sad little stories about boring old Americans. But, ugh, the first line, in fact the whole first paragraph of the first story: “This was at a time when my marriage was still happy” which is the theme of the whole thing.
  • John McPhee, Coming Into the Country (1976) – I started to read this in June 2010 but stopped after the section about Juneau and before the real ‘country’ section. As the pattern goes, 18 months later I really enjoyed it. Alaska in the 1970s, plainly presented. From the back: “What is really in view in Coming Into the Country is a matter not usually met in works of reportage… nothing less than the nature of the human condition.”

March

  • Paul Blanc, How Everyday Products Make People Sick: Toxins at Home and in the Workplace (2009) – Little books like this make it impossible for me to ever pass up a stack of discount books. This was sitting alone on the Munro’s discount pile last summer, surely because their only copy had been sitting around for several years and they wanted it off the shelf. If it had been designed as an exposé, the shocking truth about all the poisons in our world and a final chapter on how to make ethical choices at the supermarket, this would sell copies but it would also be a worse book. This is a well-written history of industrial development, with toxins as case studies. “An extraordinarily documented tapestry of history, whodunit, who ignored it, and why it matters.”
  • Barbara Ehrenreich, The Worst Years Of Our Lives: Irreverent Notes from a Decade of Greed (1990) – A secret history of the 1980s, collected from the decade’s worth of magazine articles. This was fun to read over a weekend in Vancouver at the Hyatt, while Robin attended meetings and I read books.

April

  • Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) – I borrowed this from my friend JJ in 2007 and as much as I enjoyed it then, I had so much more context this time. I had looked at this over and over on the shelf of Pulpfiction for over a year – why buy a book that I’d already read? – and when I finally bought it I read it right away and I’m glad that I did.
  • George Stephanopoulos, All Too Human: A Political Education (1999) – I found this in a thrift shop for a dollar. A memoir of the Clinton White House from 1991 to 1996. This was great to read.
  • Tom Perotta, Election (1998) – I read this in a day. What a fun little thing.
  • Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) – Just as I waited and waited to listen to a Bob Dylan novel until I could do it on my own terms, without listening to the myth instead of the record, I waited and waited to read something by Pynchon. And of course I wondered what I had been waiting for because this was fun and really delightful.
  • Martin Cruz Smith, Gorky Park (1981) – Part of what was hard to start about Gorky Park was the contrast to The Crying of Lot 49. I put a lot of thought and time into the sequence of what I read but sometimes I get it wrong and I did in this case.
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