Rereading’s been a smashing success so far. I first read Catch-22 in 2009 during my sophomore year of college. I remembered loving it and laughing at it. I remembered Yossarian and Major Major Major Major. I didn’t remember much else. I often only hold onto vague impressions of books, fuzzy plot lines, and knowing whether I liked it. I’m hoping rereading will make memories of my favorite books more vivid.
No big surprise: Catch-22 stands up to a second read. It’s a classic about this squadron of guys in WWII who, for some reason, don’t want to be in a war. (I’m watching M*A*S*H right now, and there are parts clearly lifted from Catch.) Re-meeting the characters in Catch was a treat. I love Ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen and Dunbar. And I love the sort of manic writing style Heller uses. It’s witty and dark and sad and funny again. My kind of book.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative) was one of my favorite reads from 2014 (and it came out in 2014!). You may recall that I once read a book called Contempt of Court by Mark Curriden that was about a black man living in the south who was (in all probability) wrongly accused of attacking a white woman and shoved onto death row for it. Contempt of Court was a true story of an important court case from 1906. Just Mercy tells many people’s stories, but the main story, the story that threads the entire book, is about a black man named Walter who was wrongly accused of killing a white woman in the south and quickly put on death row for it. Only this time it happened in 1988. And he was at a local church fish fry (I think hosted at his house) and had, like, 20 people around him the whole time the murder took place. He spent years on Alabama’s death row. Eventually Bryan Stevenson met him and represented him.
If you’re poor, or a person of color, or mentally disabled and have been convicted of a crime, it can be difficult to get quality representation. Stevenson tries to help people these people. Unlike Walter, some of the people he represents are guilty of their crime and have been punished too harshly. There was a really moving story about a young boy, 13 years old I believe, who shot and killed his mother’s repeat abuser and was sent to prison for life with no parole. And he was sent to an adult facility instead of a place for juveniles. Yes, the boy was guilty, but should he really spend the rest of his life in prison? I say no, Bryan says no. One of the main ideas in this book is that you are more than the worst thing you have ever done. Guilty people should be punished, but we shouldn’t be too hasty to dish out the harshest punishment possible, and we need to watch our prejudices. Just mercy. Boom.
The Reivers is a comedy by William Faulkner. Until my dad told me about it, I didn’t know Faulkner wrote comedies. But I’m not an expert on his works–the only other book I’ve read by him is As I Lay Dying. The Reivers is pretty funny. Lucius Priest (an 11-year old) and Boon Hogganbeck steal Lucius’s grandfather’s automobile (a rarity at the time) to take it for a joyride to Memphis. Along the way they discover someone they know stowed in the back: Ned McCaslin. The three of them have a wild time getting stuck in mud holes, meeting women of the night, and participating in horse races. A tooth goes missing. They sneak on a train. It’s a wild ride. And it’s written in this sort of rhythmic, circular way. Faulkner’s style really is his own. I quite enjoyed this romp of a tale.
K. Solace by Belinda McKeon. This is by an Irish person about loss. Heather, I don’t know for sure, but you may not like it. Zach borrowed it from a friend during his Irish-loss phase. Because I like Zach and our friend Will and because Ireland publishes some boss books I read it.
It starts out about these two young people, Mark and Joanne, who accidentally have a baby. Then while they’re visiting Mark’s parents in the country there’s an accident, and Joanne and Mark’s mom die. Mark and Mark’s dad Tom are of course devastated and try to carry on in their own ways. Mark takes his baby girl Aoife (I’m in love with this name) back to Dublin, where he’s finishing his graduate thesis (boring). Tom stays on his farm in the country and starts making questionable business decisions. Mark and Tom have never understood each other well but suddenly find themselves needing each other in different ways.
There were many parts of this story that I didn’t find very interesting or compelling, mostly things about the setup. Then there were parts that I thought were exceedingly good. Toward the end there are these scenes where Tom keeps trying to call Mark because something has gone wrong, but Mark has stopped answering calls from his dad because he’s overwhelmed and upset and also being a bit of a prick. I was so stressed out by this–probably more stressed than I should have been. Deep breaths.
I’d been eyeing this book for months before I closed my eyes and bought it. It’s by Charles Frazier, and he wrote Cold Mountain, and I love Cold Mountain (maybe an all-time fave), and I was nervous that Nightwoods wouldn’t be as good. Well, it wasn’t as good. But that’s OK because I still had a good time reading it, and I still think Cold Mountain is as good as I remember it.
Nightwoods is a slim book about Luce, a loner living on the edge of a small, South-Carolinian town, who takes in her murdered sister’s two children. Luce isn’t used to being around kids, and these kids are pretty odd. They don’t talk, and they take delight in destruction. But this book isn’t so much about the misadventures of a spinster dealing with kids as it is a tale of survival. The kids have been through some trauma, so has Luce, and trouble is coming for them.
What an embarrassing year! I read fewer books and fewer pages in 2014 than I did in 2013 coming in at 17 books (read 18 in 2013) and 6,690 pages (after having read 9,591 in 2013, my best year for pages). My favorite books of the year were Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (review forthcoming). I read five books by women, so the #readwomen theme didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I started strong in the year and then forgot about it.
My reading theme this year is #reread. Nabokov says there is no such thing as reading–only rereading. And Dick Cavett says, “We’d all have been better off to have read half as many books. Twice.” There are lots of books I’d love to reread but haven’t because there are always new things to discover. This year I’m going to try rereading several books. I’m hoping this will also help increase how much I’m reading. I sometimes take previews of books from work to read because they are free, and then find myself not so into them. I want to go back to reading books because I’m excited about them.