What I've been reading

My reading frenzy had to slow down, and sure enough it did.During the first six or so weeks of the year, I averaged a book a week. And I was quite proud of myself. In the five weeks since my last update [on what I've been reading][1], I've completed just three books and started another.That's OK, I think. Sometimes you're in a reading groove and sometimes you're not. Sometimes your mental energies turn elsewhere, and that's OK. Because reading DOES take mental energy ... it's not a passive art form by any means. You've got to work at at -- your mind has to do some lifting -- even if it's pleasurable.And it's not like I haven't had reading to do outside my stack of books.These are the magazines I subscribe to:[The New Yorker:][2] I first started subscribing back around 1998 or so, after having enjoyed a copy at the Emporia Public Library. I was somewhat astonished, though, to realize that it was a weekly and not a monthly magazine. There's so much to get through before the next issue arrives. Devil_Fingers' opinions notwithstanding.[Time:][3] My roommate in Emporia subscribed and I got in the habit of reading, so I subscribed when I moved here. I don't pay as much attention to it as I used to, though. Now that so much analysis and in-depth reporting of the news is easily available online, I guess I'm not sure what the role of a weekly newsmagazine is anymore. I'm not sure the newsmagazines see it that way, either. Maybe that's why Time has Terri Hatcher on the cover this week, and why Newsweek seems desperate to put whatever celebrity-du-jour it can on the cover, to the point it's run into some ethical problems with its use of photoshop.[Atlantic Monthly:][4] I subscribed to Harper's for years, but I finally dropped it when it moved away from being interesting to being shrill. Atlantic Monthly took the spot in the rotation; there's the occasional dull issue, but often there's in-depth and interesting writing about subjects that get a lot of attention (the Supreme Court) and topics that are often overlooked (modern-day sea piracy).[Esquire:][5] I will never dress this well, look this beautiful or spend this much on drinks. But at $10 a year, it's a fine, fine publication for the back of my toilet.[The Believer:][6] Occasionally inscrutable, often a little-too-in-love with its own cleverness, I nonetheless enjoy the magazine greatly. It's 19th Century design sensibility and the fact it's introduced me to authors such as [George Saunders][7] makes it a worthy addition to the rotation. Though, unfortunately, last on my priority list ... you could pick up a year-old copy of the magazine and it would be just about as relevant to cultural events as the current issue.I'm also thinking about re-starting my subscription to the Sunday [New York Times][8]. Though I'll probably have to stop spending time with my friends on the weekend if I choose to do that.All these magazines, incidentally, may be the reason I read far more novels than non-fiction books. Between my newspaper job and my subscriptions, I've got a ton of non-fiction in my life anyway.On to the books I've read since last time:["Jarhead" by Anthony Swofford:][9] One marine's account of his somewhat limited action during the First Gulf War. I always thoght of "Full Metal Jacket" as, ultimately, an antiwar film. Turns out that's not how young marines headed off to war see it. They spend the days before they ship to Saudi Arabia drinking and watching "Jacket," "Platoon" and "Apocalpyse Now" to psych themselves up. Recommended.["The Final Solution" by Michael Chabon:][10] Chabon's such a fine writer I typically run out and buy whatever he puts out. It is, as Quinno has noted, a pastiche on Sherlock Holmes. It is also a meditation on aging, as well as being a rather odd murder mystery. Chabon counts on the reader's intelligence here -- he never tells you the old detective's name and he never tells you, ultimately, what mystery has really been solved. It's up to you to know that. Still, it's been years since I've read any Sherlock Holmes stories, but this book made me want to go back.["Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides:][11] This book had been recommended to me so often that it began to feel like homework. I should've known better -- people push books on their friends because they like the books. Crazy. I jokingly would tell my friends that "Middlesex" was "the story of a young hermaphrodite's journey of self-discovery." This novel is that, but it's much more: It's an epic family history, the middle 50 years of the 20th Century seen at eye level, by people who were affected by the events we think of as history. It also has something not often seen in contemporary novels: A satisfactory ending ... the story doesn't just fizzle out like so many modern novels do._Wait a minute, Joel. Do you like everything you read?_Well, yeah, kinda. If I've completed a book, it means that -- though I might have felt a greater or less amount of enjoyment of it -- I thought it was worth my time. I have no problem tossing a book by the wayside if it isn't engaging me. Pleasure reading isn't homework -- there's no quiz and there's no requirements. It's for pleasure. So if I say I've read a whole book, it means it wasn't awful.Still reading [The Center of Everything][12] And I've got a stack of books to read after that. [1]: http://blogs.lawrence.com/mathis/2005/feb/18/reading/ [2]: http://www.newyorker.com/ [3]: http://www.time.com [4]: http://www.theatlantic.com/ [5]: http://www.esquire.com/ [6]: http://www.believermag.com/ [7]: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1573228729/002-7920395-1315256 [8]: http://www.nytimes.com/ [9]: http://www.powells.com/authors/swofford.html [10]: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/006076340X/002-7920395-1315256 [11]: http://www.reviewsofbooks.com/middlesex/ [12]: http://blogs.lawrence.com/vonholten/2005/feb/27/everything/

Comments

Joel 17 years, 3 months ago

I've heard good things about "Seven Types of Ambiguity," but I'm a long way from getting there. After "Center of Everything," I look up at my bookshelf and see "Snow" by Oran Pamuk, "Trials of the Monkey" by Matthew Chapman, "Samaratan" by Richard Price and so on and so forth. "Saturday" by Ian McEwan is in the mail...

But keep me updated on the quality of "Ambiguity." If it's really good, I'll move it into my rotation.

leslie 17 years, 3 months ago

I need a pep talk for Middlesex...I loved the first half, but my interest is waning...I've been reading Vogue and Elle the last 2 weeks! Help me! (And I agree about the Harper's shrill comment, not to mention Lapham fucking up last fall re: the Republican Convention. I, too, am considering letting my subscription fizzle out. This makes me sad.)

Jill Ensley 17 years, 3 months ago

I just spend a lot of paid time in the bookstore, that's all.

Juxtapoz is probably my favorite art mag.
http://www.juxtapoz.com/

CMYK is cool, but with a slightly more graphic design bent: http://www.cmykmag.com/

CMJ is the best new music magazine evar. http://www.cmj.com

Joel, go flip through Paste and see if there's the buy 1 get 1 free subscription dealy. That's how I got mine. I had my parents get it for me for Christmas, and then the freebie went to a friend. At that rate, it's a good deal. I think the best part of that mag is the free DVD that comes to subscribers. I put it in and just workout. The first one I got had Eisley's video for "Marvelous Things" and it was stunning, from a design standpoint (in my opinion). Plus, there are usually some amusing short films on it as well.

Sarah Mathews 17 years, 3 months ago

I'm currently reading "Wigfield: The Can-Do-Town That Just May Not", by the writers of the show Strangers With Candy (Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, Steven Colbert). It's really funny. Plus, it has pictures!

Joel 17 years, 3 months ago

Mike: In addition to "Jarhead," there's a new book called "Generation Kill" by a Rolling Stone writer who was embedded with troops during the early days of the latest Iraq war. It's gotten, from what I can tell, good reviews and might fill your need.

lazz 17 years, 3 months ago

Joel, you have great taste in mag subscriptions! Mine mirror yours, except I started back with Sports Illustrated, and have generally enjoyed it (occasional piece of brilliant writing), and gave up on Time in favor of the Economist. (Which i've given up because it's too expensive -- read it at the library). I, too, gave up on Harper's and am now devoted to Atlantic. I personally think Atlantic is the best magazine in America, with the exception of the New Yorker's occasional wowzer. Speaking of the New Yorker -- have you noticed the new little spot illustrations, presented in story, or flip-book, format? For decades they were just little drawings of this and that -- stand-alone stuff. Now they are little stories. I clipped a series of a guy in a hammock strung between two palm trees, with a little bird flitting about, watching him. NYT did a little piece about it, too, and even some of the senior editors at the New Yorker hadn't noticed ... apparently art dept. did it, and caught everyone by surprise, and they're all loving it. TELL ME MORE about the Believer. I bought a copy at the magazine stand, with the intention of checking it out for possible subscription, but as I recall it was DAMN expensive, and I'm not sure I read all that much of it. P'haps I caught a dull issue, which certainly happens. By the way, you nailed Esquire -- for 10 bucks, it's OK for the john. Man, than magazine has become crapola. I think it was given over to one the lad's mags editors ... and it shows ... damn shame that American magazine journalism is now being so dominated by the English twits.

Joel 17 years, 3 months ago

Lazz: Yeah, I saw that Times piece, and I noticed in the annual anniversary issue that the spot illustrations seemed to be of a theme ... but I hadn't noticed anything more since then. I admit, I've never really paid too much attention to those lil' doodles.

The Believer I subscribed to only because there was a half-price coupon at the back of the Hornby book I read in January. Usually there's only three articles out of the entire thing that I find to be interesting and worth the effort... I don't know if this is a long-term subscription or not. As I say, it's a little too enamored of itself.

Michael Austin 17 years, 3 months ago

Thanks Joel, ever helpful ;) Looks like a lot of decent reviews on Amazon.. thanks!

leslie 17 years, 3 months ago

The thing that has me hanging onto Harper's is the John Leonard book reviews. He has a real voice, which probably alienates people, but I envy it. (And it's funny, I never liked him in the Nation--which is also in the shitter these days, I might add--and I find him insufferable on CBS Sunday Morning.)

I can't do The Believer for many of the same reasons I can't do McSweeney's--it just ain't Might. (Although the new fiction issue of McSweeney's last year was great.) I recently read Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krause Rosenthal--she's a Might/McSweeney's gal. Very quirky and I enjoyed it, but she sure wasn't kidding about the ordinary part.

Jill Ensley 17 years, 3 months ago

SarahSota, I looked at that when it came out but I was kinda disappointed. :/ I wonder if I should look at it again.

Speaking of Sedaris, just saw this yesterday and added it to my list. Looks like an excellent assortment: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/074327394X/qid=1111973420/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/103-9942063-2795044?v=glance&s=books&n=507846

Joel 17 years, 3 months ago

I wasn't hip enough back in the "Might" days to be aware of it. I only became aware of it through reading AHWOSG.

leslie 17 years, 3 months ago

Also wanted to mention that Trinity Episcopal on Vermont is doing a reading of Dante's Inferno today (the Ciardi translation). The entire book, from 11:30-5:30 or so. If you have any free time today, check it out.

Jill Ensley 17 years, 3 months ago

As for mags, there's one that I will always subscribe to and that's CMJ. The new mag Paste (pastemagazine.com) is fairly good as well. Apparently I like magazines with CDs in them.

I got a subscription to The Nation for Christmas last year (yes, I asked for it) and although I do enjoy it, I'm finding it hard to keep up with a weekly (what with school and all).

I also enjoy looking at CMYK, Juxtapoz, The Progressive, and of course, The Onion while at work too.

Movieline used to be a great entertainment mag, but since they turned into Hollywood Life, it's a straight shoot down the crapper.

Someone ordered pizza here at work and I hate them.

Michael Austin 17 years, 3 months ago

Looks like I need to check out CMJ. All I get is Entertainment Weekly and SPIN, yes, don't laugh, it is cheap.. almost free!. Oh, and National Geographic. My Ex's mom used to get that for me. I don't know if I would continue on my own. I have looked around for CMJ at the local bookshops, but have yet to find it. Anyone know one that carries it? I am curious now. Not like I need more reasons to spend money buying music......

I am still trying to work my way through Moby Dick, long book, long read. Trying to get through books I haven't read for a long time. The classics. It isn't working well. I keep picking up other books and reading about half of them in between. Fast Food Nation was really interesting for awhile, but I stopped about half way. I seem to have a problem with books I can't finish in one night of reading. Animal Farm and Brave New World were easy. Wuthering Heights I had to force myself to read, 1 chapter a night. I think I am still in pain from that. The modern age has killed me, if I can't finish it right now, my ADD kicks in and I wander off to the next shiny object.....

Michael Austin 17 years, 3 months ago

Oh, and at first I was in shock. Jill reads the Country Music Journal? heh heh heh......

Joel, I still have been looking for a decent modern era war war book. I have looked through a few and lost interest. I don't know why I have this need, but I would like to hear more from the people, how they see it. Not what we get filtered down through the news. Some of the published diaries of WW2 vets on boths sides were some good reads, just people trying to survive.

I will agree both Platoon and FMJ were anti-war films. We loved those flicks when we were in the military. Not many of the people I knew really wanted to go to war ever, but it was their job. You would sit and watch the films admiring people like Elias, or Joker. You hoped that war wouldn't make you what you didn't want to be.

lazz 17 years, 3 months ago

What's CMJ? CMYK? Juxtapoz? (for us old squares, or at least this old square)

Joel 17 years, 3 months ago

Jilla: I've thought about getting Paste, just as a means of introducing myself to new music I can't hear on the radio. Worthy the dough?

lazz: I think CMJ is a mag documenting the "college music" scene. Other than that, I'm as lost as you. Just when I think I'm hip on all the best reads, Jilla comes along to humble us all.

Jill Ensley 17 years, 3 months ago

I've not seen a bookstore around here carry CMJ for at least a year. I worry about CMJ. I'd think they make money on the music fest, but their subscription efforts have been slacking. I like it, so it'll probably go under. My love is the kiss of death.

Oooo, how gothy.

Joel 17 years, 3 months ago

Incidentally, Leslie: Dante's Inferno at Trinity is yet another reason I love this town.

lazz 17 years, 3 months ago

Yeah, but isn't hanging out inside a church on a Friday afternoon one of the levels of hell??

hehe ... just being a wiseass. the event sounds great. If I can slip out of the office I'm going to drop in. I agree with you Joel -- these are the type of events that make Lawrence Lawrence ... other good such events are the Wednesday noon forum at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, across from the Crossing/Yello Sub on 12th Street. Drop in sometime and chat with Thad Holcombe, get on the mailing list -- he does a pretty good job of publicizing them. Weekly events during fall and spring semesters, with interesting speakers from the faculty, or visiting folks, who give an hour-long presenation after lunch. They are almost always worth attending, and lunches are eaten around big, open-seating tables, so you always meet new and interesting people ... FYI ...

Joel 17 years, 3 months ago

I meant, by the way, to say that Sontag's "Regarding the Pain of Others" -- see my last installment of what I've read -- would be good to read in light of Swofford's enjoyment of ostensibly antiwar movies.

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