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What I'm Reading: March 2012

March 15, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Here are the books I've read and especially admired in recent months, August 2011-February 2012.

  • Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, fiction
  • A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, memoir
  • The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, fiction
  • Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch, nonfiction
  • Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller, biography/memoir
  • The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's most Glorious—and Perplexing—City by David Lebovitz, biography/dessert recipes
  • Keeping the Feast: One Couple's Story of love, Food, and Healing by Paula Butturini, memoir
  • The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life by Piero Ferrucci, nonfiction/psychology
  • Goodbye Without Leaving by Laurie Colwin, fiction
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, nonfiction
  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCannn, rereading, memoir
  • Blue Nights by Joan Didion, memoir
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, fiction
  • A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, fiction
  • The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest by Yochai Benkler, nonfiction
  • The Art of Slow Reading by Thomas Newkirk, professional
  • Essential Lessons for School Leaders by Joseph Murphy, professional
  • The Best of American Poetry: 2011, Kevin Young, Ed; David Lehman, Series Ed., poetry
  • The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E. L. Konigsburg, children's fiction
  • The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life by Robert Trivers, psychology/nonfiction
  • What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng by Dave Eggers, "true" fiction
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell, fiction
  • Picasso: Master of the New Idea by Marie-Laure Bernadac and Paula Du Bouchet, illustrated biography
  • An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer, fiction
  • One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing, by Diane Ackerman, rereading, memoir

The book that most impacted me in 2011 was The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, an outstanding work of fiction, which won the Man Booker Prize. It was the enticing book review in The Times, Sunday, November 13, 2011, that caused me to run out and buy the book and to immediately begin reading it. The review concluded: "The Sense of an Ending is a short book, but not a slight one. In it Julian Barnes reveals crystalline truths that have taken a lifetime to harden. He has honed their edges, and polished them to a high gleam." I found the book to be beautifully written and incredibly thought provoking.

The main character and narrator is Tony Webster, a man in his sixties, who receives a confounding legacy that compels him to look back on his life and try to make sense of it. Main themes of the book include remorse, the impact of time on memory, the role of responsibility for others, accumulation and loss, and what constitutes a well lived life. Some favorite, powerful quotes for me include, "What you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you witnessed." (p. 1) and "Life isn't just addition and subtraction. There's also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure." (p.113)

I finished the book in one sitting, then promptly began reading it all over again as the ending of the book astonished me, and I wasn't certain what had just happened. I was full of questions I couldn't answer. A second, careful reading led to deeper insights, truths, and greater understanding. Still I only had a "sense" of what the author was trying to say about life and living and, like life itself, my conclusions were partly based on my own experiences and reality. The book did for me what great literature does. I couldn't stop thinking about it and reflecting upon it, especially how the passage of time can greatly impact the memory of past, life events. I felt a great need to talk about the book and its meaning with other readers.

When I saw an announcement for a "book club" discussion of a Sense of an Ending at an independent bookstore that I frequent, I showed up. In preparation, I reread the book again, took notes, flagged pages and quotes for reference, and wrote down questions I still had. The book discussion led to different interpretations, more questions, and renewed appreciation for a powerful book. Months later, I am still full of gratitude and satisfaction for having read and thought deeply about The Sense of an Ending and my own life.

Category: My Reading

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