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The Omnivorous Reader - Late January, 2018

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The Omnivorous Reader

February 11 · Issue #6 · View online

Recommendations, reviews, and assorted digital flotsam and jetsam


Hi, all.
Here’s what I’ve been reading this month (and this year).
Why You’re Getting This: This reading list is going out to old and new friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. If you’re receiving this, I thought you might appreciate it.
Feel free to unsubscribe–obligatory reading is the worst.
If you know a fellow reader who might enjoy it, please pass it along.

Department of Caprinology (i.e. The G.O.A.T. Report)
This year I’m spending some time each month taking on books that I’ve failed to finished in the past. I will be lovingly referring to these works as my GOATs–both because they are works that I’ve begun multiple times but couldn’t get through and because most of them are considered by many to be one of the Greatest [works of literature] Of All Time. 
I have to admit that I had second thoughts about this endeavor after reading this New Yorker article on what the larger self-help and personal-improvement movement might say about our culture. As someone who has read and thought about many of the books and theories cited in the article, I couldn’t help but wonder whether my GOAT project was just my own anxious attempt to feel better about my own literary bonafides by shoring up some of my own literary shortcomings.  
This was a concern not made better by the fact that my first GOAT was Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a book that I finally finished and appreciated but did not particularly enjoy. Because it was a long trudge to Siberia where the denouement of the novel takes place, I didn’t get the opportunity to read nearly as many books as I otherwise would have. 
In the end, though, I think my motivation for this project stems less from an attempt at self improvement and more from the simple recognition that things that are good are not always comfortable, and that my own ruthless approach to abandoning books might be preventing me from reading books that might ultimately prove satisfying. Maybe it’s just a literary version of another acronym, namely F.O.M.O. or my Fear Of Missing Out.  
I think I’m OK with that. I need a break from heavy Dostoyevskian themes, but I think I finally understand what those are.
Next up will be something a little lighter: Dracula
Crime and Punishment
Look elsewhere for an essay about the literary virtues of Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece. I grabbed a new translation of the work, and the book had blurbs by James Joyce, Virginia Wolff, and Harold Bloom. It is a serious G.O.A.T. and I’m lucky I made it through. 
I did my homework before reading the novel and read the 30 page Introduction carefully as well as reading the Wikipedia entry to get a rough idea of the basic plot. I also remembered that good old Dave F. Wallace had an essay in Consider the Lobster about Dostoyevsky’s ability to take on hyperserious themes about what it means to be human while still adhering to an engaging narrative and fascinating characters.
I’d mostly agree with that sentiment, I suppose. After reading up the importance of understanding Crime and Punishment as Dostoyevsky’s response to some of the philosophies of 1860’s Russia, I was (unfairly) bracing myself for a darker version of The Fountainhead: Lengthy philosophical screeds disguised as dialogue, characters so thinly developed they’d topple over in a light breeze.
The philosophy didn’t stand in the way of a pretty solid story, though. In the end, Crime and Punishment is still a crime novel, and while I won’t be reading it again any time soon, it dealt with anticipation, guilt, and suffering in a unexpectedly gripping way and with weird but compelling characters. It was a tough read, but it wasn’t a dull one. 
An Unexpected Pairing
One unintended result of trying to read Crime and Punishment was that I ended up browsing the titles of my home library. I didn’t want to take out other books from the town library until I’d finished my GOAT, but somehow, books that I already owned seemed fair game.  
As a result, I ended up reading Fight Club all the way through, which I’d never quite realized that I hadn’t ever done before. I’d seen the movie any number of times, and because the movie pulls all the best dialogue directly from the novel, I sorta felt like I’d read the book all the way through. 
I hadn’t though, and reading it again was a lot of fun. Palahniuk is pretty hit or miss for me, but reading this one again reminded me why I enjoyed his early work so much. I may circle back around and read some of his other novels in February.    
Books with "Magician" in the title...
It was only as I stood in line at the library that I realized that I was about to checkout not one but two books with Magician in the title. I’m starting to realize, as I catalogue books read each month, that I lean more heavily towards sci-fi and fantasy than I realized. 
The first, Magician Impossiblewas utterly forgettable. Something about a magic secret agency, I think?
The second, An Unkindness of Magicians, was terrific. It was everything that the other book couldn’t quite accomplish–a fast-paced, sleek, taut novel about magical families dueling one another in New York City. It was good enough that I sought out Kat Howard’s first novel Roses and Rot, which was also pretty enjoyable. 
Other Links and Clicks
In trying to search for the correct terminology to use when discussing the science of studying goats (i.e. Searching for “Goat scientist”) I came across the following:
Thomas Thwaites The Man Who Tried To Live As A Goat, Living As Part Of A Herd In The Swiss Alps - YouTube
I hope you’re all doing well and that you can find (or make) the time to read whichever of these books catches your interest. And if you know of a good book that you’d recommend, please pass it along.
Take care,
Chris Cunningham
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