My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues starts with a delicious premise: the author has kept a journal of all the books she has read since her teenager days. It makes me feel good that I’m not the only eccentric who keeps a record of everything she reads. (She reports she has heard from many others who thought they were the only ones to keep track!)
This book is not Bob (book of books); it is a memoir of the author, and while parts of it were delightful to me, others were not. In the delightful category: the description of her childhood with books, with adults unhelpfully suggesting that she was going to ruin her eyes by reading, her dad feeding her book habit, and an extensive knowledge of words she cannot pronounce, having discovered them solely by reading. Also delightful: the conflict between her choices of books suitable to interest her children, and what they thought was suitable. The description of her young adult travels and the long commentaries about books the reader may not have read, or cannot remember reading: not so delightful.
I just love Mary Karr’s memoirs (reviewed here, here, and here), so I was looking forward to this book, which, if I had read the description more carefully, I would have known was not a memoir, or at least not just a memoir, but a compendium of how to write a memoir, based on her experience as a professor. I confess that the best parts of this book for me were, no surprise, the memoir fragments: who can forget the image of her breaking her delete key by overusing it while writing her last memoir? Her suggestions to would-be memoirists are fine, I suppose (I’m not in the market to write a memoir so not a good judge) but they sometimes read as dry, common-sense lists. And her literary analysis of various memoirs written by others are often hard to follow without having actually read the pieces. If you are a fan of Mary Karr’s read this, of course. If not, read her memoirs!
Weatherland: Writers & Artists Under English Skies is an erudite review of how weather figures in the work of British artists. (English artists? That’s what the title says but she makes reference to Wales; how can a non-Brit figure it out?)
So we start, with Roman-time orders for some nice woolens. Poor Romans, they must have felt cold, and damp, in Britain… We plow through Chaucer, and Ms. Harris insist we read it in the original language. Maybe a footnote would suffice? We peek at toes being warmed on a fire in medieval illustrations. I liked the art better than the literature, both because the illustrations are perfect and because much is lacking in my knowledge of British literature. A treat for literary Anglophiles, and an interesting read for everyone else.
Lit up: One Reporter, Three Schools, Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives tells the story of three Sophomore English teachers, all trying to get their charges to read and to think. Their methods are widely different, but they are all committed and passionate, and we rejoice with the author about their successes. Not that the author rejoices much: he seems to have much to criticize about the books the teachers choose (he seems to think that there are “good” books and “bad” books, when many teachers just try to get their charges to read), their methods (they do seem to engage teenagers , for the most part!), their failed experiments (isn’t it great that they are trying new things?), and even the essays that the students write (the whole point of the class is to get them to improve on those weak first-semester essays, right?). I would have liked a less curmudgeon host.
In Ways To Disappear, her translator goes looking for a Brazilian author who suddenly disappeared — and discovers that she is hunted by loan sharks and very happy to spend quality time with the author’s son. The story is at once absurd and full of real-life detailed, and quite fun in its harebrained way.
Ten Years in the Tub is a compendium of monthly columns Hornby wrote for The Believer, following More Baths, Less Talking. I would not recommend reading the whole thing linearly, as I did: the book is too long for that, and the format unavoidably repeats itself a bit. Still, his unpretentious approach to reading (in particular, here, the recommendations for young adult books, which he sees are under-appreciated) and his hilarious asides about soccer (he loves Arsenal and its manager, Arsene Wenger), his children, and even, to excuse his lack of reading on a particular month, his wedding make the book most enjoyable.
I was particularly amused by the strange custom of the magazine for which he writes not to name the books he dislikes, which leads to amusing circumlocutions. Alas, as the book goes on, the tender irony seems to take a darker turn. A book to read in small increments, with a note taking implement at the ready to jot down other books to read…