|We've got a little list:
Laury Fischer: I've loved The Perfect Storm (soon to be starring George Clooney) I fear, am almost done with a book Judy Myers recommended a while back which is quite astounding: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and a group of wonderful short stories by Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. These wouldn't really be my student list, but ones I recommend for us all.
As for books read recently and recommended, I have to say that I really enjoyed Michael Cunningham's The Hours and the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness, and Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, not to be confused with Into the Woods, which I also read recently. By the way, has anyone else ever read Earth Abides?
Dick Shoemaker: Maybe I am the last one reading The Professor and the Madman -- a fascinating account of the making of the OED -- by Simon Winchester (in paper). It's an education AND a page turner. Karen, are you referring to George Stewart's Earth Abides? (He was an English Prof at U.C. Spoke at DVC years ago.) If so, nearly every DVC English student read it in the 60's. It was much assigned then along with such books of the era as Siddhartha, Catcher in the Rye, and Rumors of Peace.
Brian McKinney: [On Earth Abides] When it was in print, my English 123 students chose it
Bruce Reeves: Earth Abides was a favorite in high school, partly because it was about Berkeley, partly because there are a number of lush references to the Bible, but mostly because it raises seminal questions about us. Not navajo, seminal. Steward also wrote Storm long before The Perfect Storm and, somewhat better, Fire a moment-by-moment detailed description of how a major fire in California forests started, grew, and was weeks later put out. Good stuff.
James O'Keefe: Karen et al, I certainly read and re-read Earth Abides as an early teen
I recently finished a novel I picked up at Cody's for no apparent reason called A Journey to the end of the Millenium by A.B. Yehoshua, an Israeli writer. The book is translated from the Hebrew and is set in 999 A.D. It is really kind of an odd and disturbing book about a North African Jewish merchant who, along with his Muslim partner gathers goods in Africa and the mideast and sells them in Europe via a nephew who has settled in Europe (he flees the mideast when his wife commits suicide.) The merchant's polygamy (two wives) becomes the subject of a repudiation by a family of Europeans who are attached to the nephew. The novel raises many excellent and disturbing questions about the role of religion in personal and social contexts and in an odd way considers the role of women in the life of the family and the society. I can't really recommend it because it was so disturbing, but on the other hand, it was so subtly done and the guy has such an interesting
I recently went to the Irish Writer's Festival called Finnegans Awake! in SF. It was great! I heard some first rate writers, so if you happen upon them.... Two fiction writers were excellent, Ronan Bennett. He has a new book called The Catastrophist and Colum McCann read a wonderful story from a book called Everything in this Country Must. I heard some really interesting and sometimes wonderful poetry. Ciaran Carson, from Northern Ireland read poetry that was full of life and anger and intensity. I thought some of his poems were really brilliant, but he struck me as a pretty fucked up guy. Also moments of brilliance from Katie Donovan whose book is called Entering the Mare, the title poem of which was the best thing read that night.
Jim Jacobs: I recommend anything by Martin Cruz Smith, a Californian who first came to fame with Gorky Park. His most recent novel, which is still in hardcover (I obtained a copy from the DVC library) is Havana Bay, set in Cuba. Smith's protagonist from Gorky Park, a police investigator, is in Havana to try to find out what has happened to his long-time KGB nemesis, whose body has been found floating in the harbor under extremely mysterious conditions. Of course, he also falls in love with a beautiful Cuban police officer who helps him solve the mystery. Moreover, Smith paints a picture of contemporary Havana, replete with that infamous tourist attraction--jinoteras--that is both compelling and fascinating.
Well, as you might expect, it was one of the most brilliant talks I've ever heard. He read a little from Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, his new collection of linked short stories. And then he began to talk about black people in America, and how there has never been an alliance to keep black leaders in touch with one another. A large part of this was pairing people in contrast: Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson, etc. I wish I could remember more specific examples. I called the book council the next day to see if they had taped his talk, which they had not, which is a real shame.
Amway, I became a fan of Mosley and have read all he's written. His earlier "detective" books were about a seedy private investigator named Easy Rawlins. There are about six books in this series starting with Devil and ending with Gone Fishin'.
With "Always Outnumbered ..." he has a new character, Socrates Fortlow, a huge black man out on parole for murder, which he indeed committed. Socrates lives in a shack in Watts, and he tries to mind his own business, but he keeps coming into contact with situations that require him to become
Walkin' the Dog, released last year, is a sequel to "Outnumbered". Both would make good summer reading, but I suggest you read them in order.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf is set in rural Colorado, and it involves three dysfunctional families: a pregnant teenager who is kicked out of her house by her mentally unstable mother and is taken in by a high school teacher who lives with her senile, potentially violent father; a man, another high school teacher, and his two sons whose wife withdraws from the world, moves out, and ultimately moves away; and two old brothers who live on the farm where they grew up, neither having married.
The early chapters deal with each of the families, and then as the story progresses the families connect and their lives become intertwined. The writing is strong and direct, and the characters are bold and full. I was really taken by this novel.
Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts is set in Oklahoma and it, too, deals with dysfunctional people, and it too has as a main character (in fact THE main character), a pregnant teenager whose boyfriend abandons her on their way to California so he can become a rock star, and she lives in a Wal-Mart sleeping in a closet at night. She delivers her baby there, delivered by a customer named Forney Hull, who works at the library though his sister, a hopeless alcoholic who doesn't leave the second floor, is the actual librarian.
The girl, Novalee Nation, names her baby girl Americus Nation. They are aided by Forney and a whole bunch of poor people living on the fringe as they struggle to survive and help each other deal with the challenges put before them.
The characters' names are different and interesting: Whitecotton, Goodluck, Sister Husband, and two of the main characters are black and Native American. This is a sentimental book and certainly doesn't display the craft that Plainsong does, but it's a good story when you're on a plane or sitting by the lake and you don't want to deal with Kafka!
Took me back to places I felt privileged to frequent in Syracuse and Rochester, NY (Club 800, Satellite Club, Phoebe's) where the hottest musicians performed, both during and after-hours and the clientele ranged across a wide spectrum. I once sat next to Oscar Robinson ("The Big O") at the Club 800. He came down to the club after the Cincinnati Royals played the Syracuse Nationals to hear Sy Simpson and his All-Stars play. (Sy's daytime job was with the Syracuse Department of Public Works--collecting trash.
Easy also has run-ins with the LAPD, whose racism and nethworld shenanigans, Mosley reminds, have deep roots (and not just in Chinatown). Those depictions are among the best you can find in American fiction. Of course, Mosley also displays a deft (and understated) touch with Black Dialect, featuring grammar, vocabulary and tonality that is period-perfect.
Clark Sturges: (Responding to Jacobs] You're absolutely right. Easy Rawlins isn't himself seedy -- he's a man of high character who does good deeds. What I meant was his environment is seedy -- the margin of LA in the 1950s. Poor modification on my part.
In the literature I've read he's referred to as a "detective" and "private investigator" in terms of the roles he's asked to play. I've never heard of him being called a "sleuth" but that seems to work fine too. And his ear for black dialect is indeed superb as it is in the Socrates Fortlow stories.
Mosley is a fascinating man (he bolted from PEN because of their elitist policies) and writer. My only disappointment was Blue Light, which is kind of new-age. I wouldn't recommend it and critics didn't either. He was raised in LA by a black father and Jewish mother and now lives in New York. He had lots of jobs, including computer work, before he established himself as a writer.
Mikolavich’s Suggested Summer Reading (2000)
Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman
Louise Gluck’s Meadowlands
James O'Keefe: Strange Fruit by David Margolick. A book about the song. Quick and easy reading which nevertheless makes a bunch of connections between song and artist, audience and response, white and black, past and present, north and south.
Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff. Sixth-grade girls in very small-town Oregon, 1949, play softball while taking up lingering issues of race and violence they have inherited from their WWII-washed parents. Not terribly satisfying, though the girls themselves tell the story and the voices are a little hypnotic.
Currently in The Big Test, history of the SAT and the first selection of the Assessment Book Club. Join us in reading it and be ready to meet to chat in July (date and place and time TBA).
Jessica Inclan: I have some reading, too: The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie. Some of the stories seem very Ursula K. Le Guin. But good. I read Fiona Range by Mary Morris McGrath (what a potboiler, but I was completely sucked in). Based on Clark rec, read Where the Heart is and "The Spirit Catches....." both great. Also reading . Really good. All in all, an A for all the above.
Keri Mitchell: I just finished The Hours by Michael Cunningham (as it seems many have or are about to); I thought it was good, but it certainly didn't wash over me the way V. Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway did.
I just started Raymond Carver's Where I'm Calling From (a collection of what some call his best work) as I sat on BART today and tried not to laugh too loudly; so far so good.
Next up are A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind--a story about an African-American boy's transition from inner city life to Brown University (Laury, have you read this?) and Blindness by Jose Saramago, which sounds like a totally depressing tale but powerful, nonetheless. Oh, and I'm thinking of using Mike Rose's Lives on the Boundary for 116 (recommended by both Marcia and Patrick). And somewhere in the middle of that I would like to read Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk, if only because I need to understand the person behind such an acute philosophical mind.
Unlike Patrick and Marcia, I did not have great success teaching Lives on the Boundary in 116. I found that I had to do much more scaffolding and vocabulary in class than I want out of a book -- I know my students enjoyed talking about the themes, but the reading itself didn't give them the kind of pleasure and success I want to occur in 116. I've pretty much stuck with novels since then (The Bluest Eye, Rumors of Peace have both worked well).
Jim Jacobs: Just finished Straight Man by Richard Russo, a satirical novel about a dysfunctional (Pennsylvania) college English Department and its embattled, 50-year-old chairman who also teaches a section of creative comp. It may hit too close to home for some of you (if it does, maybe you need to work on some stuff), but it is hilarious in many parts. He targets all the sacred cows you could imagine.
Jessica Inclan: I don't know if you all recall, but I went through a Richard Russo phase last year. I loved Straight Man and went to the others--Straight Man actually seems like a departure for Russo. The others are all very similar in theme and tone and POV. But good. Nobody's Fool and the Paul Newman movie of the same title wouldn't be a bad teaching deal.