The Stack of Books Next to My Bed

stack-of-books2016-8

I read a lot, and keep a massive stack of books next to my bed that I’ve bought, found, or been given. I’ve got two main principles when it comes to reading:

  1. Reading should be fun.
  2. There’s a whole lot of different books out there to check out.

I write about each book I read in 99 words or less. Here’s hoping you find something you like.


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis (1950)

Do children’s classics still hold up when read by adults?  I never read the Narnia books when I was younger, but I did read The Screwtape Letters a few years ago and liked its sinister plot and epistolary storytelling.  Similarly, this book’s heavy Christian undertones fall just short of eye-rolling at times, though the themes of temptation, redemption, and righteousness enhance the plot so effectively that without them the book would have been forgotten as just another kid’s adventure.  A final plus is that the fantasy world feels real enough to immerse readers but not enough to overwhelm them.

Rating

Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami (2001)

An aloof college student falls in love with his best friend, a wannabe writer beatnik—the only catch is that she’s also in love with a businesswoman seventeen years older than her.  Sumire’s an outgoing, speaks-her-mind girl in classic Murakami fashion (she reminded me of Midori in Norwegian Wood) who gives life to much of the novel, which Murakami tells in short spurts between section breaks.  While a lot of Murakami’s subject matter feels familiar, the story’s compactness keeps it moving, with the ending evoking an uncertain stillness that makes the whole novel seem more whole.

Rating

Flighty Lyrical Literary Novel, by Anonymous (2013)

Believe me when I say that great lyrical writing can be some of the most stirring writing there is—I loved Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for instance. This novel, though, felt like a poor man’s version, with a heavy emphasis on style and very little in the way of a plot (which was inspired by historical events in Europe a hundred or so years ago, and may have been part of the problem). The passages that flowed well didn’t go anywhere, and the ones that didn’t felt pretentious and masturbatory—with far too many of them.

Rating

Shakespeare Wrote For Money, by Nick Hornby (2008)

I love Nick Hornby’s Stuff I’ve Been Reading column (which he’s written on and off for The Believer since the 2000s, and perhaps will again when the magazine finally makes its return??) because he talks about books like a real person, avoids pretentious review-speak, and jokes about how Americans don’t understand British football.  Though this review collection’s in the same vein as his others, I missed the more stylized jacket flaps and the book excerpts that came with the first two collections, which made finding new books for my own towering To-Read stack that much easier.

Rating

Four Major Plays, Volume II, by Henrik Ibsen (1881-1896)

Prior to this I’d only read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, and while these four plays are less significant, they built off of the other Ibsen I’d read while covering more thematic ground.  Ibsen was a progressive decades ahead of his time, and today these plays seem more relevant than ever, covering environmental protection, the place of women in society, the dangers of populism, parents wielding control over children, and choosing money over love.  I enjoyed the denser John Gabriel Borkman much less due to its heavy exposition, but maybe also because I haven’t gotten old yet.

Rating

Ghosts 

An Enemy of the People  

The Lady From the Sea  

John Gabriel Borkman  

Fight Scenes, by Greg Bottoms (2008)

Fight Scenes is about growing up in the 1980s with your friend whose dad keeps naked pictures of women he’s slept with under his bed; it’s about dealing with bullies and looking at porn with girls you like and sitting in front of the 7-Eleven and smoking pot in the woods and fending off crazy racists at the local Popeye’s.  Bottoms shows us these moments in a series of vignettes that all say more than they seem to at first glance, so that the book shows us both his ridiculous middle-school adventures and how fucked up life can be.

Rating

Where I Got It

A 2016 Christmas gift from the same friend who got me Rose of No Man’s Land, which is also pretty rad.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan (2001)

In 1935 Britain, a thirteen-year-old girl’s overactive imagination and accidental brush with the c-word lead her to send an innocent man to prison for a sex crime.  While the first half covers the misunderstanding, the second deals with the grim early days of World War II, both on the French front and in the hospitals.  Everything about this book feels like it shouldn’t work (historical fiction, child narrator, loaded politics) but it does, which speaks to McEwan’s skill as a storyteller.  Though the prose is often slow, there are enough hard-hitting dramatic moments to make this an intense read.

Rating

Where I Got It

From a friend who was getting rid of books in the summer of 2015. I have mixed feelings about movie cover tie-ins, but this one pulls it off quite well.

Lichtenstein, by Janis Hendrickson (1988, 2012)

This picture-filled guide to Roy Lichtenstein’s career covers both his paintings of starry-eyed comic-book heroines (an example of which graces the cover), his images of everyday objects like washing machines and golf balls, and his later, more abstract paintings.  There’s also a close technical and thematic look at the Benday dots used in so many of his works.  Though I was most interested in Lichtenstein’s Pop Art images, the book covers much more, though the latter half goes into more depth than I was looking for.  Still, a solid introduction to Lichtenstein’s life and work with cool pictures.

Rating

Where I Got It

At a bookstore in the Germantown section of Columbus, Ohio in summer 2015.  I’d been interested in Lichtenstein’s Pop Art works for a while (one of my teachers had a large “I’d Rather Sink Than Call Brad For Help” print on his office door in college, below), and buying this book was my reminder to actually learn more about him.

 

 

Villa Incognito, by Tom Robbins (2003)

Like every Tom Robbins novel, this one starts out with a chaotic bang: a large-scrotumed talking tanuki parachutes into nineteenth century Japan to drink sake and sleep with girls; meanwhile a band of ex-GIs in southeast Asia panics when their drug-smuggling comrade gets caught in the act. Robbins takes a while to tie his scattered opening together, but when he does, the plot feels surprisingly coherent. We also go along with his writing because it’s devilishly funny and wittily intelligent as we fall into his bizarre world where we never quite know what’s coming, but feel okay with that.

Rating

Where I Got It

From a friend in spring 2015 who thought my writing reminded him of Tom Robbins’s.  He gave me this one along with Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, which I read last year before I started this book blog.

The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad (1907)

A century before anyone would associate terrorism with Islam, Conrad both mocks and captures the gravity of the London anarchist movement and their fictitious plot to blow up Greenwich Observatory.  Mr. Verloc and his team of overweight, bumbling radicals spend a lot of time talking big about the evils of capitalism but prove disastrously incompetent when it comes time to plant the bomb.  Though the prose has its moments of humor and pathos, Conrad’s stuff hasn’t aged well and can make for long slogs through dense paragraphs.  Worth it, however, for its cynical twists on both capitalism and anarchy.

Rating

Where I Got It

The longest-standing book in my pile (nearly 4 and a half years), I bought this hardcover copy at a town festival book sale along with The Epic of Gilgamesh and some others.  Part of a 1960s collection of Conrad’s works, it still had the dust jacket, with a monocle print of Conrad himself on the back cover.

Despite Conrad’s being Polish, this pic is the most British thing I’ve ever seen.

Golgo 13: Supergun, by Takao Saito (1979 & 1997)

Golgo 13 is Japan’s longest-running manga series, chronicling the exploits of super-tough, laconic sniper Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13.  The two jobs in this collection involve an Iraqi ballistic superweapon (a story where both Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein feature prominently) and a mafia hit and run, plus a background dossier on Togo himself.  If you’re looking for an intro to pulp Japanese action manga, start here—the drawings are dark and the midnight cityscapes majestic, with plenty of guns, planes, action, and sex to capture the feel of an ‘80s action movie in comic form.

Rating

Where I Got It

Christmas 2016, from a friend who knew I loved the Golgo 13 NES games. While every convenience store in Japan sells the Japanese manga books, I never got to the chance to check them out when I lived there since English translations are harder to find, .

More

Wikipedia

Playthrough video of Golgo 13 – Top Secret Episode on the NES

Updike, by Adam Begley (2014)

Begley’s biography of writer John Updike exhaustively covers its hero’s rural Pennsylvania childhood, his stint as a twentysomething New Yorker writer, his years in suburban Massachusetts, his elderly descent into isolation, and his many, many novels.  Though Updike’s serial adultery plays a key role, Begley keeps the details vague for privacy reasons—unfortunate, since it often feels like there’s more we’re not getting as Begley instead summarizes the autobiographical facets of Updike’s vast oeuvre.  The result reads more like literary criticism than biography, but still decently flushes out one of America’s most prolific 20th century writers.

Rating

Where I Got It

Ordered online in Fall 2016.

More

Longer review

If you haven’t already, you should probably read Rabbit, Run instead, because it’s excellent.