What I’m Reading in 2019
Universal Harvester (2017) by John Darnielle: This review sums up a lot of how I feel after reading this book:
I’m between 2.5 and 3 stars here, but I’m going to round up because of the quality of John Darnielle’s writing.Larry H. on Goodreads
This should be an interesting exercise: writing a review of a book that you do not understand but you couldn’t stop reading, both because you were hoping things would finally become clear, and because the writing was quite good, even as it meandered.
I read Universal Harvester after doing a search for books in the horror, crime, and psych-thriller genres. I read , and enjoyed, Ubik and the Dunwich Horror last year that I wanted to see what other books were out there that were similar. This book came up on a list of books worth reading in mentioned genre. The description of the book was fascinating. I was hooked. But as the review quoted above states, I kept reading because I waiting for it to deliver on something expressed in the description. The writing is well enough to keep you engrossed but I finished the book slightly baffled and left unsatisfied. Between the third person and first person narratives, sometimes it was difficult to follow what was happening and who was narrating.
The Goldfinch (2013) by Donna Tartt is about a boy, Theo, who survives a museum bombing that kills is mother. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, he connects with an older man, on the cusp of death, who thrusts into the boy’s arm one of the paintings from the wall in the gallery in which they were both standing just minutes before. It’s a secret — this “stolen” painting — that the boy carries with him through out his teens and adulthood. It’s like a nagging thread you know is there, that shouldn’t be there but provides comfort nonetheless. Throughout his life, Theo balances two worlds: a glitzy, high-society formality of his temporary family, and the more rough-and-tumble crime-ridden one of his father’s. In both worlds, however, crime is the common denominator. Drugs or art, everyone has their vice.
The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession (2014), written by journalist and author Dana Goldstein, is a historical look at education in the United States and the tensions that have and continue to exist in the teaching profession more broadly. A lot of the discourse around education reform and issues around teaching (tenure, merit pay, certification, etc.) that seem new today are actually not new, and have been tried in the past. The book itself asks the question that many journalist-written analysis asks: how did we get here? The Teacher Wars synthesizes the various players and institutions that reveal a complexity often ignored in the teaching profession. If you’re mildly curious about the history of teaching in the U.S., and the waves of reform that were attempted, and the policies that continues to impact education as a whole, this is a good read.
Titus Alone (1959), by Mervyn Peake, is the third book in the Gormenghast series (I read the previous two in 2018). It follows Titus Groan, the 77th Earl of Gormenghast as he travels an unknown world. He yearns for home but aches at his traitorous act of abandoning is home, his mother, the rituals. His sister is dead, his father has long been gone, and Mr. Flay was murdered. Everywhere he goes, trouble seems to follow. And death.