Runners Who Read

Who knew? A bunch of runners who enjoy reading and discussing what they read.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Clearing the Decks ...

… so I can read the RWR Reader’s Choice(s). I recently finished Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, an elegantly poetic and richly detailed fictional memoir of the Roman emperor, one of the best and most unusual historical novels I’ve ever read. Stacey Schiff’s A Great Improvisation is a fascinating look at Benjamin Franklin and his efforts in France to secure and keep a French alliance with America during the Revolution, with lots of political intrigue, espionage, secret missions, infighting and character assassination among the American commissioners and Franklin, and a dash of sex to spice things up. I learned a lot from this one and enjoyed it thoroughly. The Raft Is Not the Shore is a record of an actual series of engaging, thoughtful conversations between a Jesuit priest (Daniel Berrigan) and a Buddhist monk (Thich Nhat Hanh) in the 1960s. It’s centered on the tragedy of the Vietnam War that both were living through at the time but filled with timeless wisdom and understanding, both spiritual and secular. Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Volume One is a rich collection by one of our best contemporary American poets, focused largely on the natural world – expertly crafted, burning with quiet intensity and subtle depth. Her work stays with you long after you’ve finished reading. I have fallen in love with this woman and can hardly wait for Volume Two to be published this fall. Last but not least, Volume 3 (1955-1956) of The Complete Peanuts. It’s amazing how quickly Charles Schulz “found” the personalities of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, et. al., and also revealing to realize how the best of his work often dealt with the darker side of suffering and pathos. Yet he was also one of the best pure sight gag/slapstick cartoonists in history. Hats off to Fantagraphics for their commitment to this ambitious and long-awaited project.

Now, on to The Second Coming -- just in time for our annual trip to Boulder. It’s turning into a good reading summer …

6 Comments:

Blogger Paula said...

Sounds like some good reading, Ed. I have a real fondness for the Berrigan brothers.

For some reason, I tend to gravitate toward non-fiction in the summertime. I just finished reading a really interesting book exploring the debate between hi- and lo-brow culture as epitomized by Oprah's Book Club ("Reading with Oprah"). It included an entire chapter on the Franzen-Oprah debate, as well as brief reviews of all the books selected by Oprah. In the final analysis, the author concluded that many (but not all) of the OBC books had significant literary merit and the dismissal of OBC by literary purists has more to do with the contradictions inherent in a society where popularity is often equated with trash. She also discussed the role that gender and class bias play in the wholesale dismissal of a bunch of "housewives reading trash" attitude that often colors the debate on OBC. While there is clearly a difference between timeless literature and that which fades, the author concludes that the bifurcation between "good" literature and "bad" is often both fuzzy and insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

Also just finished Peter Kramer's latest "Against Depression". Kramer is one of my all-time favorite writers (I loved "Listening to Prozac") because he so thoughtfully discussed the human condition. This book was a polemic written in response to the question he is often asked about whether van Gogh would have been as prolific/good an artist if he had been treated for his depression. Kramer's reply is that he would have been better and that depression (true depression) takes a horrible toll of individuals and society. The book includes several really good chapters on the latest research on depression, as well as an exploration of why depression is often romanticized in the arts. Kramer's writing throughout this book (as in all his books) is simultaneously precise and filled with great compassion. Overall a good read.

I also just finished "Honeymoon with my Brother" and will save my comments on it for our discussion.

I am in the midst of Hornby's latest "A Long Way Down" which I am not enjoying as much as his previous books. The narration alternates between four characters, which I find a bit disconcerting. ALso, his writing sometimes strikes me as facile. But I am not very far into so I may change my mind.....

Just took out The Last Gentleman to read prior to re-reading The Second Coming. The last time I read The Second Coming was in the early '80's when I was living in NC and going to school in the mountains of SC. I am preparing myself for a trip down memory lane and looking forward to it....

N.B. - For those who like Percy and want to read more about his life (as well as the lives of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Flannery O'Connor) I would suggest reading "The Life You Save May Be Your Own". The book explores the role that spirituality (specifically, Catholicism) played in their life's work and their writing. What a fascinating group of individuals.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Len said...

On the contrary, I read very little non-fiction. It's not that I don't like it - in fact, I just read "Devil in the White City" (which is actually non-fiction written in fiction style) and loved it.

But my purpose in reading is usually to "escape" everyday life and go somewhere else. I suppose I feel like I get there easier with fiction. I figure some people can do that as easily with non-fiction...its just not part of my idiom (nod to Sir Lancelot in the Holy Grail).

Reading non-fiction also reminds at times like I'm in college and reading text books. I think it takes a special author to take non-fiction and make it readable. I've had enough bad experiences to steer clear of most of it.

But...as I get older, I suppose I'll take them time to try a few titles here and there again - assuming the topic actually interests me.

9:46 AM  
Blogger RWR said...

I have nothing to add to this discussion as I'm a literary tramp and read whatever is around. Just wanted to say it's always nice to hear from Paula.

-richfscott

11:55 AM  
Blogger k said...

Interesting, Len. About 5 years ago I switched from reading fiction to reading non-fiction almost exclusively. Most of my non-fiction tends to be travel or personal adventure related (like Into the Wild by Krakauer and Dark Star Safari by Theroux). For me these real life stories are more interesting than most of the fiction I used to read.

6:03 AM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Ed, given your love of poetry I urge you to explore the beauty of May Swenson's work...

11:38 AM  
Blogger Len said...

I'm still confused on how to post on the "main page" as a contributor. Help!!

1:37 PM  

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