As I've probably mentioned, owning a Kindle means you have easy access to a lot of classic literature for free, so I have a huge reading list that I'm going through very slowly while reading tangible books at the same time. The last one I finished was Don Quixote, the story of the guy who thinks he's a knight and hurls himself into windmills. My advice to anyone else who's prone to "because it's classic!" reasoning when selecting a book is to skip this one. For a comedy, it's remarkably drab and repetitive, and the fascinating question of why we imitate fictional heroes isn't explored nearly as much as I'd hoped. I think most of what modern literature has gained from Cervantes is more effectively found in modern literature.
The next free classic I had in line was Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. It's substantially longer than Quixote and I immediately noticed I was getting through it much faster (although I lost my Kindle for a long while and was preoccupied with other books, so, not that fast). Interesting characters, assorted weird events, and monologues I can actually appreciate. Also I can't remember when I last talked books here, so I might not have mentioned Jane Eyre in my Kindle conquests - not sure how I never got that one in an English class or an incidental bookshelf before, but now that I've read it, I can easily say I loved it and would shove it in the direction of anyone who wants to read about a girl on a life adventure. If it sounds boring at the beginning, [Spoiler (click to open)]wait for the heroine going hobo and the crazed pyromaniac wife locked upstairs.
Lately I found myself in an enormous New York bookstore and did something I haven't done in a good long time - purchased a book I'd just discovered by browsing. It was on a religious writings display table, it was by an author I've been meaning to investigate, and it had a gargoyle on the cover, so. Oh, and I opened it and saw the name Rudyard Kipling. Meant to be mine, obviously. The book is Heretics and it's by G.K. Chesterton, and I'm liking it. Most of it so far consists of calling out other writers on their hipster tendencies, so that's fun. I've also been continuing my quest to read all of C.S. Lewis's theological writing, which is potentially something you didn't know about me, but that's been a thing for years - C.S. Lewis is what I have instead of self-help books. I think the one I finished most recently was The Problem of Pain, but my favorite is still Til We Have Faces, and regardless of your religious views, that's the one I'd recommend just based on its quality as a novel.
The one that actually reintroduced me to recreational reading, though, was The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It's a vampire book! But it's not your grandma's vampire book. A young woman takes up her father's research about Vlad the Impaler and slowly reveals the truth behind the mythology, so it's essentially the story of several educated, ordinary people being forced to accept that Dracula is not only real, but an immediate danger. I had kind of a weird personal history with this one - started it some years ago but had to give back the library copy before I'd really gotten into it, and it kept giving me this feeling of unfinished business until I finally paid a buck for it at a Goodwill. It wasn't exactly easier to get absorbed on the second go, but the more time I spent with it, the more I wanted to, not because I wanted to know what happened next but because I was enjoying the experience of reading it. There's a lot of unadorned factual history that the characters use to guide their journey, and also a lot of meticulously described European settings, so the pace seems a bit glacial at times and I think that's what I liked about it - as a reader you're essentially alone with some elegant prose and eventually you're forced to either appreciate it or walk away. Unfortunately I don't remember much of the history. I'm so hopeless in that department that sometimes even fiction doesn't help.
I also read a couple of novels by Barbara Kingsolver, an author whose The Poisonwood Bible was one of my favorites from way back. She's also one of my mother's favorites, so I got a copy of The Bean Trees a few Christmases ago from Mom and got to it in my own good time. When I packed Pigs in Heaven for my vacation I was over the moon to discover that it wasn't just the same author, but it was actually a sequel to Bean Trees. Context: these are modern books by a modern author without anything supernatural or implausible in their premise, and that's a rare thing for me to pick up on my own, let alone wholeheartedly adore. But this time I was hooked because I very emphatically did want to know what happened next, to every character, for every minute of the rest of their lives. There were sentences I read over and over again because I couldn't believe how beautiful they were. ("Annawake refines the point on her sugar heart" - no, I'm sorry, you need the context of the whole scene and the character and maybe the whole book.)
Those two books also made me think a lot about finding fictional heroes to emulate. Considering how much of my life consists of obsessing over fiction, you'd think that would be automatic for me, but the truth is that I usually don't bother wanting to be a character because most of those I encounter just don't work as role models. Traits like courage, compassion, and determination are recognizable in all incarnations, but they're very general. If I'm nervous about a job interview I can't exactly tell myself, "I just have to be brave like Daenerys!" Dany never had to endure a job interview, just like I never had to endure an abusive older brother selling me off to a warlord to pay for the conquest of our kingdom. My troubles are usually very mundane, but of course they don't feel that way, and I often wonder if being penniless and lacking focus ruins my hopes of making something worthwhile of myself. That's when it might be a good idea to consider Taylor Greer, her ambitions to avoid pregnancy and tires, and her aimless road trip that results in working at a used tire store and raising an adopted child. Nobody ever tells her she's unimportant because she lacks a real profession, and she wouldn't believe them if they did. She's awesome and she makes me feel good about myself in the real world, and not just some world I wish was real.
Maybe that means I need to get away from genre and old fiction some more, but I'm pretty sure that Taylor Greers are a rarity across the board. Not everyone can write like Kingsolver can write.
The bad apple in this bushel (you knew there had to be one, right?) is The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. Dear God, where do I even start? There were sentences I read over and over again because I couldn't believe someone let them go to print. The misinformation sprinkled generously throughout the book was made infinitely worse by the author gloating over it (who starts a work of fiction with a list of "facts"?). The characters were paper dolls, most shamefully the lone female (you'd think a book about the "sacred feminine" could at least pass the frickin' Bechdel Test), whose personality consists of likes puzzles and follows men. Usually I'm a champion at suspending disbelief, but I fail to see the point in setting the entire story within the span of one night when it means the night must be around thirty hours long. Then of course there were all those moments I spent thinking something like, "This is probably an anagram" and waiting patiently for a few more pages before the characters (experts and geniuses, don't forget) figured out it was an anagram. The style would have been admirable if the author was ten.
The worst part of it is wondering why it was so popular at its release and having an inkling that it's because people are dying to hate something and Brown is handing them a target on a plate. If anyone here needs a shortcut through the simple research (or hell, logic) that would tell you the same thing: the matriarchal paradise of the world before Christianity came along and invented misogyny never existed, and if it had, it still wouldn't support the goddess-worship of Mary Magdalene when the only claim to fame she's supposedly got is being the wife of Jesus, who, for the purposes of the argument, we're calling an ordinary man. Keep in mind also that to Catholics, Mary Magdalene is a figure of redemption, faith, and devotion. To Dan Brown, she's a container. This book isn't just an affront to literature. Through and through, it's vile.
Hate to end on a bad note like that but I can't think of any other books I've read lately. Of course I can always come back and edit. Anyone else got any books to talk about?