Secondly, I didn't read much this month. The first two books I read were nonfiction, so I decided to keep going with that trend. Nonfiction (for me) reads a lot slower than fiction. Plus a lot happened this month, and it's a short month anyway, alright? Geez.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I read this book because my dad had mentioned it a few times over the years. I always said it sounded good, I'd check it out, and then would forget about it. I picked this copy up at a book sale for a dollar and started reading it that day, which means I started in mid-January and just finished the first week of February. Honestly, I probably rushed it a bit. When I re-read it, I'll take more time with it. And I'll definitely be re-reading it. I saw some reviews online where people thought it was pompous and a bunch of bull... and I can see what they mean. I, however, really enjoyed the book. I think that has everything to do with the time in my life when I read it. If I had to read it for school, I could see myself not making it through. But I've taken this year to figure myself out, and this book has greatly helped with that. If I was any younger, I wouldn't have understood, much less appreciated, anything in this book.
That being said, I think this book is excellent. There's a narrative of a father and son going on a motorcycle trip, but hidden beneath that is the story of the father trying to remember his past, which includes a stint as a professor and a PhD candidate, and ends in his going insane, back in the times where electroshock therapy was the answer. If the title seems daunting to you, don't be scared - part of the author's note reads: "..It should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles either."
The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson. Bryson is hilarious. Random sentences had me laughing out loud, and it was hard to put the book down even at the end of a chapter because I wanted to read on and laugh some more. He makes you want to take a road trip, preferably with him along for the ride, supplying witty quips you could never think of yourself. Definitely going to read his entire catalog.
Party of One by Anneli Rufus. Another book where timing is important. I tried reading it last summer but couldn't get into it - probably because I was living with someone in pretty close quarters. Now, with a lot of time spent alone, I'm able to give it the attention it deserves. A book about those who prefer to be alone, Rufus addresses both the personal feelings of loners and how they're portrayed and accepted (or not) in the mainstream.
As someone who has always preferred being alone, even as a kid, this book opened my eyes to a lot of things. I used to feel strange that I didn't like going out and being social, but now I realize a lot of people feel that way (especially creative types - ego boost!) and it's nothing to be ashamed of. There were moments when I felt my heart expand with happiness that someone (or many someones) understood. There were some ideas that were much too extreme for me, but this isn't a "How To" book - it includes a lot of historical references and an extensive bibliography.
IV by Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman has a way of writing essays about pop culture that make you forget they're actually about pop culture. Many read like short stories - too short, cut off without a substantial ending. He is funny in a slight way, more like using dry humor to state what others are thinking. Each essay in this book is led by a thought-provoking question; many are silly, some are deep, but all will make you think about your reply. I especially like his trademark footnotes that allow him to add more thoughts or asides to the published articles. The last section of the book was a short story that, in my opinion, doesn't live up to his other writings. In fact, it made me think of my first creative writing workshop, in which I was the only girl. His short story was exactly what those undergrad guys wrote, what they thought they should write, because they were men and they had things to say, even if those things didn't really mean anything.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. A very personal book about grief, mourning, and "moving on." Didion's daughter is in the hospital in grave condition when Didion's husband, John, dies suddenly at the dinner table. Her daughter goes into a coma, gets better, gets worse, and Didion tries to deal with this while accepting the fact that she is a widow after forty years of marriage. The book is not sentimental, which I applaud Didion for achieving while addressing such a serious, emotional topic. She references equal amounts of medical research and poetry, and her writing at times mirrors both. Still, it leaves a huge impact. There were times when I started crying just imagining having to deal with a portion of what she was going through. Powerful and well-written.
Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman. I think this has been my favorite of his essay collections. Many of the essays were more abstract, dealing with time travel and laugh tracks moreso than pop culture directly. It made me think a lot more, it made me use my imagination. I didn't care for the blurbs between chapters. They were sometimes interesting to read, but bothered me overall. They read like excerpts from interviews, but you were never told who was speaking about what, so most of them felt like a waste - reading words with no context.
After I finished this book, I stared at the cover for a little, as I like to do. A blurb from the Wall Street Journal caught my eye: "Mr. Klosterman's relentlessly thoughtful prose makes a case that our arts and entertainment are more suffused with meaning than ever before."
Okay, I suppose I see the point. But isn't Klosterman mocking the "importance" of and in pop culture? Isn't that why his essays are funny and sad and true? Personally, that's the merit I find in Klosterman. I don't particularly love his essay style. I respect that he knows a lot about pop culture and therefore is the perfect person to make fun of it. The first essay in the book deals with the truth in media and the purpose of interviews and how truthful they really are. I feel like, by starting with that particular point, Klosterman is winking at us, telling us yes, this book is just for fun and trying to find deeper meanings in sitcoms and pop albums is kind of funny, not to be taken seriously.
Of course, maybe Klosterman asked that the WSJ blurb be put on front as a pre-first chapter wink at the reader. Maybe he thinks it's funny that people from high-brow publications take him just as seriously as a blogger with too much free time to stare at book covers.
Where the Girls Are by Susan J. Douglas. (A book I kept referring to as "Where the Girls At?" I had to double-check the title for this review.) An interesting analyzation of girls shaped by the media and feminism, starting in the late '50s and early '60s and ending on the brink of the '90s. It's interesting to read overall, but a lot of the analysis seems blown out of proportion. Were the Beatles really popular because they were androgynous, and girls felt like they could be them? Were certain TV show characters meant to show women how to be subservient? Perhaps, but maybe the Beatles just wrote catchy songs, and TV shows are mindless entertainment. Easy to swallow if taken with a grain of salt. It reminded me a lot of analyzing literature in class - you're sitting there thinking, "Did ____ really include ____ to mean ____? Maybe he just wanted to tell a damn story."
The historical parts were much more interesting than the pop culture analysis. For someone who wasn't alive during that time, it was fascinating to read about the rallies, struggles, and news coverage that came along with feminism. Douglas has written other books on the topic, picking up from the 1990s where she left off, and I will definitely be reading those to see what she has to say about my generation.