Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A year in books

I've been getting some good reading done on the bus this year.  Among the books I've read and enjoyed:

Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon

This was my first literary undertaking of the year, and took me a couple months to finish.  It's a tome.  It's also classic Pynchon.  And yes, it is a historical novel about the less than celebrated astronomers and surveyors, who trekked across the continent of North America for no better reason than that's what they were getting paid to do.  This book stands out from other Pynchon novels because it's the most fun.  They sled through the mountains, they marvel at the wizardry of Benjamin Franklin, they smoke pot with George Washington.  They seriously funk with the feng shui of our developing nation.  Good times.  This is a book for people who want to spend a lot of time on a book and be rewarded their efforts.  Fair warning, it's also about as crazy as guano.

Fresh off this high, I immediately headed right back to the Pynchon shelf at the library and snagged

Gravity's Rainbow, also by Thomas Pynchon
Everybody talks about how great this book is.  I don't know.  I couldn't finish it.  Baffling is the only word I can think of to describe it, but it's Pynchon, so duh.  I got bored with it and then distracted by

Christmas at the Orphanage by Bill Knott
Bill Knott is a great poet, and as rumor has it, a huge prick.  I read this book just about every day, and it continues to be great.  If you ever see anything by him in a bookstore, it will probably be used, cheap, and the best thing you ever bought.  I can't believe I got this collection of sonnets for free.

Edit: Bill Knott is not a prick!  See comments for a link to his poems.  Dedicated poets should commit some of these to memory.

Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener
Deserves a mention, because I bought it, read it, loved it.  Yes, it is a comic book. Yes, I own the previous four volumes in the series, which have such illustrious guest stars as Carl Sagan, Nikolai Tesla, and the ghost of Rasputin.  These books are hilarious, elegant, and are a joy to read again and again.  Atomic Robo might be the reason comics were invented.  If you've ever thrown your fist in the air to declare the awesomeness that is science, then you best peep this series immediately.

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Either you know about this already or you don't care.  This one also took a while to complete.  It kinda dragged for the first half, by holy cow do things get cracking by the end.  Leaves you wanting more.

Thus Spake Zarathustra
Still working on this one.  Best taken in small doses, but there's a surprising amount of poetry in between pontification, and thats what keeps me coming back.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
 Satanic little book.  Stream of consciousness writing.  Lots of scene setting in the old west and Mexico, punctuated by short thematic dialogues and bursts of intense violence.  Bloody, disgusting, and bloody disgusting.  There were parts of it I loved, and parts I reread five times before giving up and turning the page.

Picture This by Joseph Heller
I read a poem by Kurt Vonnegut once that was about running into Joseph Heller at a party and asking him if it bothered him that people only talk about his first book.  I will not talk about that book here, because Picture This is the one I just finished reading and prompted this Year Review in Book Reviews in the first place.

I picked up this book for $3, used, because it intrigued me.  Now that I have finished it, it still intrigues me.  It is labeled as fiction right there on the spine, probably for lack of a better word.  It is a book about ancient Athens.  It is about the Dutch Republic during the time of Rembrandt.  It is about Rembrandt painting a picture of Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer.  There are other things the book is about too, since it is essentially a book length essay that manages to connect themes of economics, politics, art, and philosophy from the time of Socrates, through history, and up to the very minute the book was published in 1988.  Straight up fascinating.  But don't take my word for it!

Ba dum bum!

That's my year in books so far.  I still have time for one or two more!  Any suggestions?


  1. the complete texts of all my books are posted at:


    I may be a prick, but I give my work away free in open access, unlike rich poets Seidel Edson Gluck Stand Hass who could afford to do it but won't—

    me living month to month on social security checks, I'm supposed to give my poetry away free but those millionaires sell theirs—


  2. Wow, thanks for commenting Bill. I'm quite honored that you would post on my humble blog.

    I am also sincerely grateful for the link.

    In return for the kindness of providing your excellent poems for free, I will continue to push your poetry onto every willing ear in my direct vicinity.

    Everyone! Follow that link! Do it know!

  3. Hooray for books and hooray for science! We'll have to check out some of your recommendations.