So, May was a busy-but-good month. The kid keeps growing, the weather in Córdoba is warming up, and Anna’s folks came for a visit. At the beginning of the month, I decided to read and make notes on several dozen very useful articles that had built up in my Pocket queue. They’re now in Evernote, which I find increasingly helpful as a tool for storing reading notes and valuable articles.
In May, I read the following books:
- The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy
- A Permanent Member of the Family by Russell Banks
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Of these three, Tolstoy’s was the most satisfying. This is the second time I’ve read through the title story. If anything, it was more impacting than before. If you read nothing else by Tolstoy, read “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” It’s available for free online here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/tolstoy/ivan.html
His other stories were wonderful as well. Of these, I also recommend “Master and Man,” which was suspenseful enough that I was out of breath at a couple of points. You can also find it online for free here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/986/986-h/986-h.htm
Russell Banks’ collection of short stories was a quick, enjoyable read as well. Most of the stories address family relationships, some breaking, some broken, some long-gone. Among these, the masterpiece is “Blue.” I literally gasped at the ending and had to re-read it twice. Fantastic. Still gives me shivers. Banks is a good writer, and I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about him. He does a masterful job of portraying the even the least significant characters with dignity, and he rarely has a flat, carelessly constructed character. I’ll be reading more by Banks in the future.
And finally, Vonnegut is terrible. This was my second attempt at reading Slaughterhouse-Five because I found myself so disgusted with his ego and nihilism. He can’t pass up an opportunity to declare his own wit. Throughout the entire first chapter, and at a few other points in the novel, he insists on recounting a story solely for the purpose of sharing some wonderful thing he said in the moment. This gets old quickly. But I’m glad I pushed through. The novel is constructed in an interesting way–playing with time and memory as is fitting for the topic. And there were a few genuinely amusing points, though nearly nothing that was as emotionally moving as he seems to think it should be.
As a point of contrast, it feels like Tolstoy and Banks love humankind. Vonnegut loves himself.
Anyhow, I’m not sure which direction I’m going for my June reading. I imagine I’ll figure it out.