What I’ve been reading, №. 1
A handful of friends have asked me recently what I’m reading. I’d love to give you all a list this long of the books I’m reading purely for pleasure, but – alas – it cannot be. These are all at least tangentially work related, mostly books I’m teaching with a few thrown in that are research for an upcoming class. That being said, I have the pleasure to teach at a place that lets me teach exactly what I want. This means that course reading is a delight! With no further ado, this is what I’ve read since January 1, with two additions from November and December. I recommend all of it.
Voices from Chernobyl - This collection of oral narratives about the time during and after the meltdown at Chernobyl is utterly devastating, but also a really beautiful document of how articulate – almost poetic – normal people can be in the face of disaster. Highly recommend, but not for beach reading.
At Risk - Fascinating academic book about vulnerable populations and disaster preparation. Again, not necessarily fun reading (this time because the tone is also not fun-reading-y).
Zeitoun - You’ve all probably heard of this Katrina memoir-cum-novel. It’s great. Yes, the recent headlines about the title figure in the book are upsetting, but that doesn’t make this book any less of an achievement. Eggers hits the sweet spot between journalistic reporting, straight up fictional narrative, and personal memoir (albeit through someone else’s eyes). It’s a feat. Also not exactly *light*, but riveting.
The Marquise of O - and Other Stories - Revisted “The Earthquake in Chile” for a class I’m teaching. Granted, I reread this in German as well, but these novellas stand up fairly well to translation. Bite-sized, bizarre, and beautiful.
A Guide to the End of the World - This is a flippant, sometimes snarky, sometimes paranoid layman’s science book about the many ways the earth might come to an end. Massive earthquake, volcano explosion, climate change, nuclear holocaust, all that good stuff. Very readable.
Irrungen, Wirrungen - I taught this this semester, which meant rereading it for the first time since college. It’s SO GOOD. Much much better than I remembered. (English here.) It’s a story of an ill-fated love affair, social stratification in Berlin just before 1900, and a vibrant portrait of the rise of the metropolis.
Briefe aus Berlin - Heine’s letters to his friend from 1822 describe Berlin before it became the metropolis. Hilarious snarky portraits of the monarchy, early 19th century foppish students, and Berlin’s art world before it became saturated with expat hipsters.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - This is the novel that inspired Bladerunner (admittedly not my favorite movie). This book is a quick read, but not unchallenging. This particular dystopia is really, really upsetting. The vagueness of the disaster that precedes and necessitates the circumstances we see in the novel heightens our nervousness that we might be on the brink. Go. Read. Now.
The Time Machine - This is a little, tiny book, but a touch slow to start. However, when it becomes apparent that what we’re dealing with is basically alien Downton Abbey, it becomes much more exciting.
The Left Hand of Darkness - This one is a masterpiece. Le Guin creates a totally believable, but thoroughly alien world. It’s another one that is a bit slow to start, but the second half is some of the best writing and storytelling I’ve ever experienced. Ironically, it’s when the set dressing is less prominent and the action is most predictable that the narrative really takes off. And now, having read the last half, I can’t wait to go back and really soak up the first half while rereading. Go read this one right now too.
2312 - Full disclosure: I read this before January 1, but I’m including it because I can’t stop thinking about it. As one who is (or WAS) VERY skeptical of Science Fiction as Literature, this book knocked me right off my feet. Beautiful descriptions of astounding events and environments, really innovative concepts and images of a mid-apocalypse world and humans’ attempts to arrest it, space-based terrorism, inter-planetary political intrigue, terraforming on Earth, etc. All great.
Teaching Science Fiction - This in response to my afore-mentioned former skepticism. I’m over it now.
A Tale for the Time Being - This one is also a holdover from last fall/winter, but it might just be my #1 favorite new novel of recent memory. It fuses faux-memoir set in the Pacific Northwest, magic realism, Japanese pop culture and history, Continental Philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and quantum physics. Need I say more?