What We’re Reading Right Now: [08.31.11]

Periodically (my guess is once a month) we’ll all share a few words about what self-directed reading we’re doing at the moment. Mostly I want us to describe what the book is about (without any spoilers) in a few sentences and then give everybody a sense of what you’re getting out of the book so far. A nice meaty paragraph (or three, if you’re as long-winded as me) should suffice.

By way of example, here’s what I’m reading right now:

Guralnick is one of the preeminent music writers in America today. His area of focus is Blues, R&B, traditional country, and early rock-and-roll music — what is sometimes collectively called American roots music. This book is basically a series of profiles of individual musicians, all of whom are (or were at the time the book was written) purveyors of one brand of roots music or another. As much as anything else, it’s a consideration of how these different musical (and cultural) tributaries have fed each other, and it’s particularly interested in the ways race, class, and geography have all played into the developmental mish-mash of the music.

This book is capturing my imagination because I’m interested these days in how/why people devote themselves to a creative life and what kinds of sacrifices they have to make in order to do that. I’m about halfway through the book, and it’s interesting to note that Guralnick hasn’t profiled one musician who a reasonable (“reasonable”) person might classify as “normal.” Guralnick points out that some of that has to do with the lifestyle itself — the rigors of touring, waking up in a new town 150 or 200 nights a year, pose considerable challenges to maintaining connections in the “real world” where most people live. But Guralnick also suggests that most if not all of these guys (they’re all men) wouldn’t have it any other way. They really can’t exist comfortably in a more settled, conventional life.

I also like how Guralnick turned his obsession with roots music into his own creative vocation: writing is an act of connection, and it has allowed Guralnick to connect more deeply and intimately with the music and musicians he fell in  love with as a teenager. (Plus: I met him at a conference in April and he was a really nice guy. We talked about baseball and Bob Dylan. At one point, he got up from his chair and unabashedly demonstrated the proper mechanics of hitting a baseball for me. It was cool. Plus there was barbecue involved.)

Okay. Now it’s your turn. The comments section awaits!

18 thoughts on “What We’re Reading Right Now: [08.31.11]

  1. Jay B. August 31, 2011 / 6:58 pm

    I’m reading A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3500 B.C. – 1603 A.D. by Simon Schama. It is, as it sounds like it might be, a book about the history of Britain. I like it because Schama has a way of writing about things that might be boring in a really interesting fashion. Of course I am also a very large anglophile so it might just be that I’m already interested. I’ve just gotten to the Norman Invasion (1066 A.D.) and I’m loving the way Schama portrays William the Conquerer. I guess that’s another good thing about this book. I know a lot already about British history, but I’ve learned many new things from this book because Schama tends to talk about events in totally new ways from anything I’ve read before.

  2. sophia August 31, 2011 / 7:03 pm

    currently, I am reading all of the hunger games books (rereading), the stranger, the gunslinger (of the dark tower series) and the stand. of these, the one I am focusing on is the stand. its by stephen king, (going throught a phase right now) and its his version of an apocolytic world. Its rather long (about 1157 pages) and its extremely good. its also extremely intriguing to me. i’ve been going through a dark-writing (my definition of it) and i thought it would suit my dark/depressing tastes.
    so far, i’ve gotten to page 50. which you would think is far, but considering the overall length of it…but anyway, what i’ve gotten from the inside cover, reading and the internet is that there is a disease that is releasied into the world, and everyone who gets it dies. there is no cure because there the virus changes shape constantly and they can’t find something to change shape as quickly–nor can the body. therefore, everyone dies. its quite depressing, really. right up my alley. but its so long, many people may avoid it, or atleast read the the cut version. i, being ambitious and also limited to what the IRC has, have gotten the large and uncut version.
    honestly, i love stephen king. his ability to create believable, and, to quote annie wilkes from misery, ‘fair’ storys, is admirable. i truly enjoy reading his writing.

  3. Jasmine W. August 31, 2011 / 7:04 pm

    The books that I’m reading at the moment include

    Season of the Witch (fiction) by Natasha Mostert. I can’t really say a whole a lot of info because I just started it, but it’ basically about a young man named Gabriel, living in London who works as a thief and investigatior stealing business information from big companies for that big companies competition. He gets a mysterious request to find this man’s missing son. As Gabriel delves deeper into the case, he meets two women who he suspects as the kidnappers and comes to their creepy, mystical house. Then, a whole lot of hooplah happens.

    In poetry, I’m reading Electric Light by Seamus Heaney and The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock and other poems by T.S. Eliot.

    The first has a lot of scene-like poems, where we are put at an exact place at an exact time. The second has a lot of nice imagery and the poems are written in the time period from 1900-1935.

  4. Ceri-Lune August 31, 2011 / 7:04 pm

    I’m reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and it’s so wonderful. Marquez writes in the purest form of lyrical writing, and describes everything in the most beautiful ways. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, even though I haven’t been able to find time to finish it.

  5. Jesica August 31, 2011 / 7:05 pm

    I’m reading The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. This book has been on my “list” for a while, then Lita gave it to me for my birthday. So far, I love it. I’m only about 80 pages in, but the voice is fantastic. There are some really incredible metaphors, which personally made me feel closer to the narrator emotionally.
    She also does a great job of tying things in with other aspects of the story, which is something I admire. I think she was a very skilled writer, and definitely a very interesting person.
    Like I said, I’m not very far into it, but I have heard such great things about this, and I’m very excited to get to the core of this book. Yeep!

  6. Lauren August 31, 2011 / 7:05 pm

    The book that I’m reading is called ‘The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.’ When I picked up the book in the beginning I wanted it because the book cover looked funny. I don’t like boring things. In many parts, it actually is rather funny. The narrarator’s tone is presented in a way that makes it seem like she herself is actually talking to you.
    The book follows the life of a teenage girl named Virginia who is overweight, socially awkward, and very insecure. She belongs to a family of attractive brunettes who are fit and lean, and generally successful. And she is constantly (well not really, but she thinks so) harassed about her weight by her classmates and her parents. She feels that she cannot live up to her two older siblings. And the feels that her parents think little, if not anything about her.
    She has one friend that she tells all of her secrets to, but currently in the book, the friend is in Washington D.C for an entire year. The book is generally easy to read, and there are a few intimate parts of the book that make me want to blush, then cringe, and finally throw up on my pet cat…
    Mostly because Virginia is a hormonal teen.
    But overall, I think that it’s a nice book. It may not be stable, but I mean. How many teenagers ARE stable?

  7. Laura August 31, 2011 / 7:05 pm

    Right now I am reading Rurouni Kenshin. It is a manga, or japanese graphic novel that has been translated into english. It is my first manga. I decided to read it because I have recently fallen in love with anime and everything about it. I heard through the internet that Rurouni Kenshin is one of the most beloved manga and anime’s.

    The book is about a rogue swordsman living during the Meiji dynasty in Feudal Japan. The swordsman’s name is Himura Kenshin. He is a young boy who claims he is about thirty. He defends people in need with a super cool backwards blade sword. Whenever he fights bad guys, he turns into the Battosai, which is a super strong, ridiculously fast swordsman who killed thousands of men during the revolution 500 years back.
    Anyway, he meets this girl an he ends up tagging along with her at her dojo and they meet this angry little boy who ends up staying there also.
    Its full name is Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story.

    I am learning from this book all about how amazing adding actual facts and historical references into fiction. It puts the reader into a specific period, and can let them research and identify the entire culture of the time.
    I am also learning about the balance between action and humor. I have always watched lots of television, but now after seeing so much anime, I feel that it is okay to just tell a story no matter if it seems cheesy or not, because if you tell the story truly, it will be true. I love to laugh, but I also love adventure, and this book balances adventure with laughter in a way that makes me want to smile and cry and karate chop bad guys all at once.

    • Carmen August 31, 2011 / 8:02 pm

  8. Amanda August 31, 2011 / 7:10 pm

    I am so close (so, so unbearably close) to finishing The Stranger by Albert Camus. It’s interesting to me, because I’d always heard about Camus and expected this book to be some walloping punch in the face, the thousand-page kind of book that you devote summers to and spend nights dissecting it months after you’re done. But it’s really quite short, less than 150 pages. Camus is famous for his briefness and the levels to which he takes psychology and philosophy in his writing, which is why the book feels so heavy in my heart and head but not in my hands. There’s not much to spoil, since Meursault will pretty much tell you anything and everything. He’s going through his menial life in his loose, uncaring, fluid kind of way and even manages (kind of) to wade through difficulties with that mindset. Best read on a train.

    I know this doesn’t really count, but I read The Brothers Karamazov over the summer, and that WAS the kind of book that I described earlier. I pick it up at least once every two days and read over a few pages. It really did punch me in the face in a lot of ways. Best read in the middle of the night by lamplight.

  9. Liam August 31, 2011 / 7:16 pm

    I actually just finished a book and I’ve already started a brand new one. So I’ll tell you what I think about both of them (my opinion of the one I’m reading right now should be brief since I just started it, so please bear with me).

    I recently finished reading Smoke and Mirrors which is a collection of short stories and poems. The author is Neil Gaiman (one of those writers who is alive that I’m sure you’re probably all familiar with). And, as you may or may not know Mister Gaiman is a very quirky, funny, sometimes dark writer. Before reading this book I wasn’t too familiar with his writing. I read Coraline when I was younger and really loved it but that’s about all I’ve read of his. So the book kind of took me by surprise. Pleasantly I might add.

    The stories are very imaginative. I’d say they are all humorous (even the dark, slightly disturbing ones). I thought most of them were pretty interesting. All of them were good but not all of them were exactly the kind of stories that I enjoy reading. The poems often tell a little story as well. They are a bit more unusual than the short stories and most of them left me either slightly confused or amazed. All in all, I liked the characters and ideas in this collection and I think Gaiman did a good job with little twists and turns and his images are great as always.

    The new book that I’m reading is called the Celtic Riddle. It’s by someone named Lyn Hamilton. I’m only ten pages in but basically this chick Lara goes with her employee to County Kerry Ireland for the reading of an old friend’s will. I haven’t gotten into the meat of the plot yet but I know by the cover that it is a mystery book so I’m sure that some puzzling events are in store. I think the author does a really good job describing the characters and her imagery is very nice. I’m definetly enjoying it so far and I can’t wait to see what happens.

    That is all. Four paragraphs of long windedness.

  10. Dakotah August 31, 2011 / 7:16 pm

    Right now I’m reading:
    Just Kids by Patti Smith

    Just Kids is a memoir focusing on Patti Smith’s young adult life and her complex, shadowed relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti runs away to Brooklyn when she is 19. She is “saved” by Robert. They start living together and have an intensly close relationship.Together the two move homes, trade jobs, question authority, their relationship and their purpose. They ask when their big break will come and if being an artist is worth it.
    I think the book is about Patti’s love for Robert, not in a romantic sense but in a sense that Patti loves Robert as a person and an idea and an entit and their love could be called unconditional. The two turn everything into art. They take the needle off the turntable and let Who albums play while they sleep . They paint on the walls. They must choose between buying dinner or paintbrushes.
    This book has made me examine and realize the intimacy of things. The book has beautiful imagery. It’s the kind of the story you would love to read slowly, lingering on the perfect sentences and phrases and pages. I want to quote it and post it all over my walls. It’s also an excellent look into the art and music scenes in New York City in the 1970s. I really love the small details Patti Smith includes. They make the story feel intimate and relatable. So far, this is one of my favorite books I’ve picked up this year. Just beautiful.

  11. Antoinette August 31, 2011 / 7:26 pm

    Currently, I’m sort of reading two books, the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the book of poetry Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a rather challenging read. The language is a bit flowery and it’s just very long. But I do really like the character Colonel Aureliano Buendia; he’s very easy for me to sympathize with. Also, I enjoy the very outlandish-ness of the book, the setting, the characters and their situation, and just the way the book is written. Picnic, Lightning is a wonderful read. It’s quite easier for me to read Collin’s poetry. It’s very sweet and sad and inspiring. His poetry is more narrative than mine, but I still find a lot in common with it, and hope by reading it, my poetry might become a bit more his.

  12. Carmen August 31, 2011 / 7:29 pm

    Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is…..fantasy in a mideval setting. I recently got in the mood to read fantasy after re-watching Neverending Story. I got to thinking– why don’t we write about strange creatures and dreamworld anymore? I think we write fantasy on the down-low, and sometimes it gets a bad rap for not having enough substance or for being “child-like”. Why don’t we really get crazy with weird animals and mythology and just straight up goofy stuff? Just for fun. Are our imaginations dying because we’re too busy being “scholarly” to dream? to be completely ridiculous? we’re killing Fantasia!

    Anyways, at first, I thought Game of Thrones was a crazy fantasy book with weird monsters and such because in the very beginning, there’s a scene in which this ghosty-ice-like-samurai-red-eyed thing (real descriptive, I know) opens a can of kick-butt on some young, pompous commander. As I read on past the prologue, however, the story became more about Eddark Starrk (ruler of the North/Winterfell) getting to the bottom of the death of his good friend (who is also the King’s Hand). The story revolves around how deceptive and corrupt people in power are and so on and so forth.

    Mainly, the tensions in the story comes from the medieval standards– how young girls are supposed to sew and be flowery and so darn polite and get married young and such, how wives are supposed to turn the other cheek when their husbands have sons on the side, how boys are supposed to mature quickly, ride horses, kill people, drink wine and spirits, go to brothels, etc etc. How the characters react to these standards is simply compelling and as more pressure is placed on them, the more they want to step out of line, and everything seems on the verge of collapse.

  13. Ryan August 31, 2011 / 8:04 pm

    I actually just spent the majority of the period reading the play ‘Equus’, (it was so intense I just read for a solid hour and a half with no pause). You probably know it already– about a boy who is sent to a psychologist for blinding six horses with a steel pick, for an unknown reason. I’ve already seen the play and am rereading the screenplay, and I’m enjoying it almost as much as I enjoyed the play itself. It’s probably the best screenplay I’ve ever read, and the best play I’ve ever seen. Like I said, the intensity is almost unbearable, and it has a legitimate question of insanity vs. sanity that I actually find myself thinking about a lot. It has no clear decision on that question, though; it’s open ended. It doesn’t help you make up your mind on the matter at all. Just like the story that never seems to reach a conclusion, it’s frustrating and distressing. It’s a very dark play.

  14. Adriane September 1, 2011 / 1:33 am

    I’m currently reading Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon and An Accidental Athlete by John “The Penguin” Bingham. Infinity is extremely odd (I seem to be a magnet lately for strange books). It begins with a fourteen year-old named Nick Gautier (pronounced Go-shay) who is a freshman at a private school. He is there on scholarship; his single mother can hardly afford their small, run down condominium in the ghetto. The book seemed like a wonderful realistic fiction book until I reached the part about a boy in Nick’s grade turning into a zombie (this is what I get for reading the summary of the sequel and not the first book [not to mention that I read that summary a few months back and only remembered the author and title]). It is very easy to read, and Nick’s sarcastic comments are funny. Most of the dialogue is comical. The characters are strange and therefore memorable. I haven’t decided if I like this book yet or not.

    As for An Accidental Athlete, I can say without a doubt that I am in love with this book, even though I’m not very far into it yet. I have read some of The Pinguin’s articles in Runner’s World magazine and online, and he seemed like a pretty cool guy. John found out during his childhood that he would never become an athlete, so this led to a sedentary lifestyle as an adult. He was overweight, he smoked, he drank, and he overate. Then when he hit his fourties, he decided to try running. Even though he’s not very fast, it made him feel alive. That’s exactly how I feel when I run. John makes it so easy to relate to him, and his tone is so casual that his story feels like one he would share if we were running together. He is incredibly witty and makes non-fiction interesting.

  15. Brennan September 6, 2011 / 7:08 pm

    I just found this post after looking for it everyday last week…

    Anyway, I’m rereading Charles Bukowski’s “Post Office,” which Amazon describes in this way: “‘It began as a mistake.’ By middle age, Henry Chinaski has lost more than twelve years of his life to the U.S. Postal Service. In a world where his three true, bitter pleasures are women, booze, and racetrack betting, he somehow drags his hangover out of bed every dawn to lug waterlogged mailbags up mud-soaked mountains, outsmart vicious guard dogs, and pray to survive the day-to-day trials of sadistic bosses and certifiable coworkers. This classic 1971 novel—the one that catapulted its author to national fame—is the perfect introduction to the grimly hysterical world of legendary writer, poet, and Dirty Old Man Charles Bukowski and his fictional alter ego, Chinaski.”

    I picked it up again after remembering that I could only remember bits and pieces of it. It’s the “stream-of-consciousness” poster (I mean, novel) child, so describing it chronologically would be a challenge.

    So far, Chinaski has been offered a job as a substitute postal worker, which–as he describes in the book–entails delivering mail on days with bad weather and the days preceding holidays (when the mail load is most abundant [or when the real mailmen don’t want to go to work]). Chinaski, who is the epitome of carefree, has no respect for his boss, women, or himself, which is both the basis of the book and his personal downfall.

  16. Natalie September 6, 2011 / 11:51 pm

    I just finished rereading “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls. It’s a memoir, and essentially it’s about her tumultuous childhood, in which her parents would pack up and move her and her siblings a lot, often in the middle of the night, as they drove around the country avoiding tax collectors. Her mother is the true epitome of a “starving artist” and her father always talks about building this elaborate glass castle for them all to live in, but in reality they’re poor and their parents’ behavior tends to be questionable, especially in the terms of legality. The thing is, though, you sort of start to connect the dots about the tax collectors and her father’s drinking problem and in general what kind of people her parents are, as Jeannette does.

  17. Julianna S. September 12, 2011 / 8:42 pm

    Right now, I’m reading the latest installment in one of my favorite series, Maisie Dobbs. It takes between the two World Wars and it’s about a British psychologist and investigator. All of Maisie’s cases are related to World War I somehow. For instance, I just finished one about the cartographers in the army who were sent out to map the battlefield. I feel like the stereotype for mystery series is that each series fit the same profile (just like teen fiction), but the Maisie Dobbs series is much different.

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