Sunday, November 23, 2008

52 books in 52 weeks

25. Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

Reading this collection of essays is like spending time with a smart, charming writer friend whose obsessive tastes don't quite align with mine, but listening to him hold court is a fine way to spend an afternoon.

26. Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles by Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly

I still think about this book often after reviewing it for the LA Times earlier this month, so I stand behind my positive remarks.

27. The Best American Essays 2007

In lieu of a traditional composition reader, I decided to trust my students to know what to take from these essays to improve their academic writing and what to leave. I started reading the collection in preparation for the class on September 3. On September 12, when I was about halfway through guest editor David Foster Wallace's introduction, he took his own life. It was at least a week or two before I was able to return to the collection, feeling spooked and sad to realize this was probably one of the last things he had written. Once I began again, every word choice and candid declaration was full of portent and significance; the reading proceeded painfully. Reviewing the essays Harper's posted after Wallace's death, I came across "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage" and realized that - in combination with the introduction "Deciderization 2007: A Special Report" - I would be completely justified in devoting the first week of class to Wallace and introducing him to a gaggle of teenagers. Fortunately, I teach at a school where the students are intellectually advanced, and they unwittingly helped me grieve for this man whom I did not know but mourn nonetheless.

28. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I'm not sure why this Pultizer Prize winning novel didn't rock my world, because I believe it was supposed to. There were elements I admired and moments I was touched, but I did not rush back to it when I was away. My only guess is that I did not connect with the female characters, and that failure colored my enjoyment. This may be as much my fault as Diaz's.

29. The Last Novel by David Markson

This non-novel took me by complete surprise. The entire book is a collection of facts about and quotes from artists and writers throughout history, but at the same time, it's the tale of a man approaching the end of creativity. I carried it around with me for days, reading selections aloud to anyone who would listen.

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