What I’ve been reading

by on December 5, 2009 at 1:13 pm in Books | Permalink

1. The American Civil War, by John Keegan.  Maybe I was prejudiced by the early reviews, but I didn't think there was much substance here.  Like all of Keegan's work it is very well-written but if you have basic knowledge about the events it doesn't hold your interest.

2. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin.  The Indo-Pak quaint narrative tale is an overexplored genre these days, but still I enjoyed this very much.  It is "full of life," while sidestepping the cliches of other books that are described as such.  Or were all those cliches enjoyable in the first place?  Recommended, surprisingly.

3. The Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare, by Jonathan Bate.  This book offers plenty of good information but it didn't bring Shakespeare to life for me.  Should I prefer the less reliable yet more Shakespearean Stephen Greenblatt book?  

4. Stitches, by David Small.  By now I've concluded that I'm not good at reading graphic novels, except for the Sandman series for some reason.  This much-heralded story of a sick child, mistreated by his parents, struck me as professionally done but pointless. 

5. Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815.  Is "magisterial" simply a fancy word for "boring"?  Since I won't read past p.100 in this book, I guess I'll never find out.

6. Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, by Benjamin Moser.  I loved this book.  She's an interesting writer with a fascinating biography, plus the book doubles as a history of Brazil and a history of Judaism in 20th century South America.  This is one of the sleeper books of the year.  Here is Wikipedia on Clarice Lispector, with a good entry.  This is one of the sleeper books of the year.

Student December 5, 2009 at 1:24 pm

How many “Indo-Pak quaint narrative” novels can you name without googling?

Josh December 5, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I read part of that Gordon Wood book as a sample on my Kindle. If you made it to page 100 you were doing pretty good, I couldn’t bear to finish the sample. It is interesting subject matter written in the most boring way by the author.

dearieme December 5, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Was Greenblatt the chump who said that since Shakespeare was a country boy he would be familiar with the porcupine?

Charles James Socks December 5, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Try Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Shakespeare. I haven’t read it yet, but the opening few pages look promising.

John December 6, 2009 at 1:46 am

Haven’t enjoyed Keegan since the hatchet-job he did on Clausewitz in The History of Warfare. =/

TD December 6, 2009 at 11:27 am

Prospero’s Books (criminally unavailable in a decent DVD edition) remains the most glorious illustration of Shakespeare’s imagination, and (I’ll say it) the mind of Renaissance Man.

Phillip December 6, 2009 at 5:03 pm

No to Watchman?

Anderson December 7, 2009 at 11:37 am

Gordon Wood’s book is not catchy, but it’s remarkably knowledgeable and detailed. I’m on page 576 now.

If you have to have your history dressed up like Hollywood, it’s not for you, but then, that’s true of all the Oxford History of the U.S. volumes. What Hath God Wrought was no page-turner, but it won the Pulitzer. That volume turned me on to the OHUS and I’ve got all of them now except the Revolutionary War one — I’d just read a military history of the Revolution, and by most accounts that 1st volume is deficient in being *just* military history.

Jack Coupal December 7, 2009 at 1:58 pm

With so little hard evidence about Shakespeare’s life available, speculation based on era, religion, and politics is about all we have to go on.

Greenblatt’s Will in the World did a great job of speculating with intelligence. Most importantly, Greenblatt speculates on why there is so little hard evidence.

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