Home > Uncategorized > Some books I read recently

Some books I read recently

Refuge (Terry Tempest Williams):

I read this book thinking I might use it in a class I was proposing on religion, literature, and the environment. But I didn’t love the book, and it stayed off the syllabus. I like the contrast Williams makes between the intractable wildness of the Great Salt Lake and her mother’s breast cancer, but the memoir played the same key over and over with little variation. You could start from page 50, 100, or 150, read a hundred pages, and your experience of the book would not be much different. Williams is a very poetic writer, which works fabulous in some places but comes across a bit too strong in others.




Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson):

Another book auditioning for a spot on the syllabus, and this one made the cut. This is Robinson’s first novel, before she wrote Gilead and Home (Gilead‘s excellent), and it is a powerful meditation on a young girl’s connection to her family, her lost mother, and a home that she never quite belongs to. Robinson’s prose is breath-taking in places; I found myself pausing repeatedly to reflect before moving on, something I don’t do often when I read novels. Readers mostly interested in the plot won’t be satisfied much, but I highly recommend it.






A Friend of the Earth (T. C. Boyle):

I am working as a T.A. on a course on sustainability my advisor is teaching, and the students will be reading this novel in the course. A Friend of the Earth is a remarkable satire, poking fun at both consumer culture and environmentalism while not abandoning an earnest concern for how we treat the planet. Boyle folllows the life of Tyrone O’Shaughnessy Tierwater, an “eco-terrorist” who bombed construction equipment and sabotaged lumber companies during his early years. But now it’s 2025, and with the planet falling apart due to global warming, Ty is jaded and bitterly cynical about how meaningless his life of crime was. To call him an anti-hero would be putting it too nicely: he’s impulsive, rash, irresponsible, lustful, paranoid, and angry towards everyone else (“To be a friend of the earth, you have to be an enemy to humanity,” he claims). When the state takes away his daughter for negligent parenting, you nod in agreement. This novel is laugh-out loud funny (another thing I don’t do much when I read novels), and Boyle captures many of the ironies, paradoxes, contradictions, and compromises that come with trying to be a “friend of the earth” without bitterly hating the world at the same time.



Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins):

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t really impressed. Collins centers the first of her trilogy on an intriguing premise: a post-apocalyptic society where children are randomly selected to play the role of gladiators in a massive biodome, fighting each other to the death in order to secure food for the rest of their lives. Katniss, a terribly-poor 16 trying to care for her mother and younger sister, is forced to outlast and ultimately kill the other 23 competitors in order to secure a basic level of comfort for her family–or die herself. Something Jack London would write after reading Ender’s Game and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” But too many problems nagged me: the importance of winning over the audience, both before and during the Hunger Games, was never fully explained until later, and the “reality-TV” aspect of the game was more distracting than interesting. The teenage romance felt contrived from beginning to end (Katniss even admits as much, and it doesn’t help). And the ending of the game itself was anti-climatic: the last third of the book began to drag, and it felt like Collins didn’t know how to wrap things up and tried to improvise on the spot.

Which is too bad, because the beginning of the game was fantastic, with much anticipation about how Katniss would survive and which other characters would meet her in a final showdown. The book also makes some subtle comments on social stratification, the politics of food, and how we can amuse ourselves to death. Katniss herself was also an absorbing main character. But she was most absorbing when she was playing the part of heroine, not girlfriend. I want to see the movie, but I’m not sure if I’ll finish the trilogy.

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