Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What I'm Reading

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I tackled this book as part of my 2011 TBR Pile Challenge. It has been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for several years, ever since a friend of mine recommended it to me. I have been wanting to read it for a while, but priorities did not align in such a way that had me reading it until now.

And actually, it has been my loss that I haven't read it sooner. It is an excellent read, smartly written with a fascinating plot. The characters are deep and real, even when they are not particularly likable or even fully comprehensible. It has lots of deep ideas about human psychology, science, and ecology, with a basic message that we're screwing it all up and we only have ourselves to blame. There are no easy answers here, but it raises an alarm that we as human beings need not only to take better care of our planet, its resources and creatures, but also ourselves. A fantastic read. Don't put off cracking open this book as long as I did.

Braving the Elements by James Merrill

I chose this as my January book choice for my Poetry x 12, which was to read a poetry collection published in the year of your birth (1972). It was actually quite a challenge to find one published in that year, because so many are out of print or have been compiled into a collected or selected edition of the author's work. Additionally, I was trying to find one I could get from a Chicago area library, because I didn't want to pay extra for some collector edition. After several attempts to find something a library somewhere in the area would lend me, I finally settled on this one.

This is not a book that I normally would have selected to read, which made it interesting to me to read for this challenge. I've probably read something by James Merrill before, but I don't think I've read an entire book. His lyric poetry is quite lovely, and his more narrative poems are interesting as well. It has been a while since I have read a collection that uses rhyme as much as he does. In some of his poems, I found myself wishing that he had used meter or at least counted his syllables, because his lines seemed ragged and uneven to me. Some of the rhymes seemed forced occasionally, but towards the second half of the collection, the poems seemed stronger and many of the rhymes that came up were occasional or near-rhymes, which were pleasant surprises.

At first, I found his language florid and overly dramatic, but the more I read of him, the easier it was to adapt to the sound. Still, many of the lines I liked the most were the ones where he was most conversational, that had an ease to them. "Days of 1935" struck me as interesting as well, in that he wrote it about events 37 years prior to him, and I was reading it 38 years after it was published. I hear the magic in his language, the way the poems sound like the time they were published. It helps me see a picture of the progression of poetry, filling in gaps with books that influenced those that came after and were influenced by those which came before.

Picked out my February books, Radi Os by Ronald Johnson for my Poetry x 12 selection, a collection of poetry recommended by someone on a blog, and Songs and Stories of the Kojiki by Yoko Danno for the 2011 TBR Pile Challenge. I feel particularly guilty about the latter, because it was given to me by the publisher at AWP 2009, because I talked up my years of study of Japanese language and culture. He made me promise that I would read it and email him back what I thought of it. Sorry, Daniel Sendecki! At least I'm getting around to reading it now!

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