Monday, June 08, 2009

On the Pile

Not a lot of reading has gotten done in the past two weeks. Between TAing and a bad back, I’ve mostly wanted to sack out on the couch with a heating pad and recorded episodes of “90210.” And what has gotten read has mostly been for TAing.

I’ve also posted this disclaimer before, but I tend to be a bit ADD about reading (and, well, about most things in life). So please don’t expect any sort of consistency from week to week.


* Netherland by Joseph O’Neill. LOVED. O’Neill mixes together a medley of contemporary lits’ worst sins---navel-gazing, mildly depressive narrator; post-9/11 ennui; Babelesque ethnic diversity; therapy as narrative device---and makes them not only tolerable, but enjoyable. His quick pace is largely to credit for O’Neill’s ability to explore disaffection without dragging the reader down into the narrator’s interior muck. A few plot points strain credulity, and the ending feels a bit overly resolved. But these are minor flaws in an overall highly successful novel.

* King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. Again, a disclaimer: I finished this in the grad school sense of finished; as in, I finished as much as I needed to for the purpose at hand and in the time available. I still haven’t entirely shaken my obsessive need to read all books from cover to cover, but I’m getting better at forcing myself to move on, if only as a survival mechanism.

In any case, I’m of two minds about King Leopold’s Ghost. As a general audience book, which is how it was intended, I think it is an engaging and accessible account of an under-reported historical episode: the colonization of the Congo. Hochschild weaves a compelling narrative through a series of characters: the megomaniacal King Leopold; the anti-hero Henry Morgan Stanley; the tragic, and tragically flawed, men who fought against Leopold; the status-obsessed dupes and sociopathic footsoldiers who enabled Leopold’s brutal regime. But as an academic text, it has significant flaws. Hochschild’s emphasis of individual characters and amateur psychoanalysis makes for compelling reading, but obscures the broader processes that make Leopold’s colonial ambition not only imaginable but also achievable. And a coherent narrative leaves little room for dealing with ambiguities, such as the contested numbers of fatalities and the role of missionaries in the colonial project.

* Nuer Dilemmas by Sharon Hutchinson. Same disclaimer about the meaning of “finished.” And one of these days, I really will read all of this, if only because my advisor wrote it. As ethnographies go, Nuer Dilemmas is accessible and readable, although dense with detail. The intricacies of Nuer cattle relations can be mind boggling if you haven’t lived with them for many years. And while I appreciate that Hutchinson was writing at the height of the reflexive moment, I could have done with less intrusion by the author.

Now Reading

* Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. For the course, but I’m excited to read a novel by an African writer. I’m embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of African literature beyond Chinua Achebe.

* The Turnaround by George Pelecanos. So I meant to get another book by Richard Price, after finally reading---and enjoying---the much hyped Lush Life. But I got the names mixed up and bought this book by Pelecanos instead. But I have been meaning to read Pelecanos; he’s a writer and producer on The Wire, one of the best-written (and produced and acted and everything else) television shows ever. In any case, I’m hooked into the story about the consequences of a violent attack that was steeped in the racial tensions of 1970s DC.

* A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Conner. So, turns out that I have read some Flannery O'Conner---or, at least, I'd previously read the title story in this collection. I just forgot that I had read the story.

Added to the Pile

* More prelims reading: Curing Their Ills by Megan Vaughan, Lords of Poverty by Graham Hancock, and Toward a Political Economy of Development, edited by Robert Bates.

* Some fun---or, at least, optional---social science reading: Hollywood by Hortense Powdermaker and Reconstructing Reality in the Courtroom by W. Lance Bennett and Martha Feldman.

* And some novels: City of Thieves by David Benioff, The Scenic Route by Binnie Kirshenbaum, and The Fortune of the Rougons by Emile Zola

Wish List

* The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

* Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

* My Father’s Tears and Other Stories by John Updike

* A Short History of the American Stomach by Frederick Kaufman

* The Sugar House by Laura Lippman

* Towelhead by Alicia Erian

* The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi


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