Tuesday, February 26, 2019

BLTN (Better Later Than Never): "Other" Books read in 2018

For the past few years, I've been tracking my reading, splitting it up into three categories:  Novels, Non-fiction, and Other.  The first two are relatively self-explanatory; the last one is more malleable, a hodge-podge categorization that allows me to dump whatever doesn't easily fit into the first two into it.  Books I've read under this heading include plays, collections of poetry or short stories, screenplays, novellas, even, this year, an illustrated children's story by a noted novelist.  It's a grab bag, and there's some great stuff to be found in "other."

As noted in previous posts, I've been trying to read works from authors who fall outside my personal demographic -- white, hetero, cis, male, American, in whatever order you choose -- and as I slide across my spreadsheet from left to right, I find myself veering farther away from this self-imposed mandate.  Which can definitely be seen as a failing on my part, but it is also an opportunity to do better this year.  Without having logged my reading, in this manner, I am certain that, anecdotally, I would believe I am doing very well with this aspiration; the data states otherwise.

Only 3 of the authors in this category are female.  Of the 15 men remaining, one is gay, that I know of, one is African-American, one is Japanese, and one is of Afghan descent.  Not stellar work on finding diverse voices, on my part.  But it gives me something to aspire to this year.

I read three plays in 2018 (one of them in two parts):

"All the Way" by Robert Schenkkan about LBJ's effort to push through civil rights legislation.  Having seen the film adaptation first, I was curious to understand how the playwright and director managed to switch between so many different settings.  It was a fascinating conundrum, and one they achieved through a minimum of set dressing, while utilizing a chorus section for the many players to go in and out of, utilizing the audience's imagination to fill in the details needed for the drama.  It's something I wish I could have experienced, myself.

"Angels in America" parts 1 & 2 by Tony Kushner.  The epic play about the AIDS epidemic in America, during the 80s and early 90s.  This was just an amazing piece of writing.  The dialogue, the characterizations, the settings and experiences of the characters.  A powerful play and something to aspire to.

"The Piano Lesson," by August Wilson.  This is the second play of Wilson's that I've read, and it was just as incredible as "Fences."  Set in early-20th century America, in the middle of the Depression, it follows an African-American family as they argue over their legacy.  What should they do with the piano that sits in the front room, unused.  A family heirloom, one member wants to sell in order to buy land, while another insists they must keep it.  The drama, and tension, surrounding this disagreement escalates until the threat of violence becomes all too real.  I won't spoil the end, but will only say:  seek out the work of August Wilson; you won't be disappointed.

Surprisingly, I did not get to any Shakespeare last year.  I need to remedy that, soon.

A couple of notable short story collections I read were Jhumpa Lahiri's "Unaccustomed Earth" and Mariana Enriquez's "Things We Lost in the Fire."  Both of these collections were incredibly satisfying.  Lahiri's deft use of language and ability to craft stories that, although steeped in her Indian heritage, are terribly relatable is, if not unmatched, at least unsurpassed.  Her writing is always engaging and enthralling.

Mariana Enriquez was an author I'd never heard of, but found in my search for female authors outside of the American/European mold.  An Argentine author, Enriquez's stories were affecting and engaging, infusing family dramas and teen rebellion with a spark of magical realism made popular by writers south of the American border.  This was a great collection.

Four Harlan Ellison books made it into this category, meaning I read six books from Ellison, last year.  Two of the books were short story collections, "Harlan 101," which also included a number of essays on writing, and "From the Land of Fear."  The other two included "None of the Above," an unfilmed screenplay and "Brain Movies v.6," a collection of his teleplays.  It may seem surprising, but, despite the fact that a teleplay or screenplay includes a basic description of the scene interspersed with dialogue, Ellison's screenplays are always enjoyable and have as much lyricism and verve as his finished prose.

My favorite from this selection of books read, in 2018, might be Richard Russo's "Interventions," a print-only collection of four chapbooks in a slipcase that reprinted two short stories and one essay of Russo's, along with a new novella, along with paintings for each chapbook from his daughter, Kate.  Russo's prose is precise and lyrical and insightful.  His Pulitzer for "Empire Falls" was no fluke.  The man can write, and the stellar heights of his writing is something I truly aspire to, even if I always find myself falling far short of the goal.

Other authors whose work I read last year, in this category, are Neil Gaiman, Gary Gerani (Topps Star Wars cards reminiscences), Haruki Murakami, Anna Akhmatova, and Khaled Hosseini.  Not a bad crop of writers.


No comments: