Reading Roundup: January 2022
Reading becomes more and more important to me every day. Earlier this year, I dropped an essay that listed my Top Ten Books for 2021. This year, I will be turning it into a monthly series reflecting on my reading list throughout 2022.
Top Ten Books I Read in 2021
Early in the pandemic, around June 2020, after spending five weeks waiting for the world to end, I decided to make two…
A Word on Method
I average about two hours of reading per day. One hour I spent reading works from Martin Seymour-Smith’s “The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written”, beginning in 2022 near the middle of Philo’s complete works. Another hour is spent at night before bed, reading from a stack of books on my nightstand I replenish as needed. Each stack contains about fifteen regular authors I’m reading chronologically, and five other works from whatever I happened to find in used bookstores or thrift shops or has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for a long time. As of the beginning of this year, I’m also working on an historical fiction work of indeterminate size, which will require re-reading a few classics, as time permits.
I’ve completed seven more treatises from Philo this month: “On the Migration of Abraham”, “Who is the Heir of Diving Things?”, “On Mating with the Preliminary Studies”, “On Flight and Finding”, “On the Change of Names”, “On Dreams, That They Are God-Sent”, and “On Abraham”. All seven focus mainly on Abraham’s story, told mostly as a narrative in “On Abraham” with little interpretation, and interpreted allegorically in the other six. I found getting a refresh on Abraham’s life to be fascinating and seeing it from Philo’s perspective enlightening, if not always agreeable. I was also moved to publish a moderate-sized essay about Hagar, the handmaid of Sarah, and her influence in the Abrahamic religions and modern society. Coincidentally, the character of Hagar also has allusions in characters of two books I read this month: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Octavia E Butler’s Kindred, both of which represent examples of reconsidering the story of Hagar by black authors from a literary perspective.
The Handmaid’s Tale: From Genesis to Gilead
An essay considering the story of Hagar from the earliest version in Genesis through the modern literary interpretation…
Here are the five other books I finished in January 2022.
Margaret Atwood — Lady Oracle (1976)
Margaret Atwood is one of my regular authors that I am reading. Lady Oracle follows the life of Joan Foster, a secret writer of gothic romances whose volume of feminist poetry suddenly makes her famous, much to the chagrin of her husband, Arthur. Atwood’s tale unfolds the life of Joan Foster, from her mysterious origins within Canada to her life-changing trips abroad, while she attempts to hide out in Italy after faking her own death. It’s hard not to see Atwood working out the sense of what her own success means through the character of Joan Foster, but I really appreciated the deeper subtext about social expectations and roles for women as we learn more about Joan. Entirely more whimsical than Surfacing, and much closer in tone to The Edible Woman, which I would also recommend for another subversive look at those same expectations and roles.
Louise Erdrich — The Night Watchman (2020)
A holiday gift from my spouse and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2021. Erdrich’s historical novel is set in North Dakota during the 1950s, specifically the Turtle Mountain Reservation, as Thomas Wazhask, a night watchman at a jewel bearing plant, leads an active resistance by the Chippewa to prevent their nation from being terminated by the United States Government. While the novel is named after Thomas, the story also follows the members of his community, in particular Pixie Paranteau, a 19-year-old employee at the same plant, who is attempting to find her older sister Vera, gone missing within Minneapolis. Erdrich’s novel is based on the stories of her grandfather from the time, who was a member of the same nation, basing this fictional accounting on her family history and many primary sources from the era. Erdrich also masterfully demonstrates the concept of white privilege with her character Lloyd Barnes, a white teacher working on the reservation struggling to be accepted, as well as using Vera’s story to highlight the plight of Native women being disappeared today.
Philip K Dick — Time Out of Joint (1959)
Philip K Dick is another author I read regularly. Time Out of Joint falls squarely into his group of novels which would make (and have made) great episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. Ragle Gumm lives in a 1950s American suburb with his sister, subsisting every day by winning the “Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next?” contest in the paper. Each day goes by pretty much the same, but when Gumm starts having hallucinations about the world around him and discovers a magazine about an unknown actress named Marilyn Monroe, his world slowly begins to crumble away. As Gumm attempts to find out more about the world outside his town, memories from his past begin to return, and the truth of the world is revealed. This novel, along with Heinlein’s short story “They”, would form the basis for many constructed reality stories, like The Truman Show and The Village. Short, fun read with Dick’s usual set of interchangeable characters, who all smoke cigarettes constantly, and display all the shallow depth of the science-fiction anthology television shows which would begin the same year.
Toni Morrison — Song of Solomon (1977)
The first Toni Morrison novel I’ve ever read, but certainly won’t be the last. I’m continuing my efforts to expand my reading beyond white, male authors. Adding Morrison to my regular rotation seems awfully prescient with Beloved back on banned book lists throughout the nation. Song of Solomon follows the story of Macon “Milkman” Dead III, the son of a wealthy black landlord, who struggles to understand his family’s history based on the stories he has been told. His curiosity ultimately takes him out on the road to track down those stories in Pennsylvania and Virginia, pursued metaphorically and physically by his past. Morrison unfolds the story piece by piece, with each story twisting Milkman’s perception of his own history, while showing the conflicts within black culture during the 1960s and in the past: rich vs. poor, urban vs. rural, and militant vs. non-militant. Most importantly, Milkman’s story becomes the confusing and heartbreaking story of African Americans in the 1960s, a struggle for equal rights within a racist country, while dealing with the none-too-distant legacy of slavery a scant hundred years after Juneteenth in 1865.
Octavia E Butler — Kindred (1979)
Kindred is the most challenging read I had this month. At the beginning of the pandemic, I read through an anthology of slave narratives I had sitting on my shelf. It was brutal and difficult, but it also brought the much-needed perspective of the slaves themselves to discussions about slavery within our nation’s history. They taught me very quickly that simply saying “it was a different time” is a poor substitute for dealing with our historical crimes. Kindred follows Dana Franklin, a black writer in 1976 California married to Kevin, a white man. As they move into their new house, Dana finds herself inexplicably drawn through time to save Rufus Weylin, a young white man who she quickly discerns is her white ancestor and a slaveowner in 1815 Maryland. The first incident lasts minutes, but the subsequent incidents become longer and longer journeys back in time, drawing Kevin back with her and forcing Dana to become a slave enduring nearly all the terror and horror that comes with it. Butler’s unflinching look at slavery makes white readers justifiably uncomfortable, but not just with accurate looks at white people of both eras (1815/1976). By the end of Kindred, the white reader should understand that just as Dana cannot kill Rufus without harming herself, we as white people must continue to carry the shame of slavery while we continue to structurally benefit from that legacy today.
Next month will be a continuation of Philo’s complete works, along with books by Ursula K. Le Guin and the Subutai Corporation, a book of interviews with Kurt Vonnegut, and, if time permits, another humorist gem from Christopher Moore.