May–June Reads (2024)

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series 2024-Reads

This is the fourth in a series of posts about books I’ve read in 2024.  May was rough for reading, due to a crazy work schedule, a crazy translation schedule, and a heavy practice schedule, so I didn’t really get much reading done that month—or, rather, I finished relatively little in May, though I had several books on the go. Therefore, I’m posting about May and June together in a single entry here. 

A while back I posted about Peter Pettinger‘s Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, but only just finished it this month. If you’re interested in Evans’ working life, it’s the book for you; personally, I would rather read about the music—say, in Jack Reilly’s The Harmony of Bill Evans—or about his catastrophic personal life, which I guess is probably discussed in Laurie Verchomin’s The Big Love: Life & Death with Bill Evans in even more detail than it was in the 2015 documentary Time Remembered.

That’s not to say the book isn’t good: for a look at the man’s career, an exhaustive listing of professional intersections with other musicians, and for its solid research into all things Evans, it’s worth reading, but Pettinger wrote for an audience that mostly can’t read music, and writes far more about Evans’ performances and musical habits in expressive and thoughtful prose, leaving the man’s rather depressing life offstage most of the time. I think it’s an omission that’s understandable, but leaves the book lacking somewhat, even if Pettinger’s reasons for choosing to do so are admirable and understandable. 

I will say that listening to work from each of the groups Evans played with enhances the reading experience infinitely. If (like me) you don’t have much in the way of Evans’ work, Youtube can be an invaluable resource in doing so. It does slow down the reading process, but it enriches it enough to make it very much worthwhile.  

Ian MacEwan‘s Atonement was a book club book, and, well, it’s a book-clubbish sort of book when compared to the sort of thing I typically read. I struggled to really care much about the characters, and didn’t finish it. I did track down the film adaptation, which I hear is pretty faithful and which confirmed for me that I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the book all that much. 

Neil Gaiman‘s Norse Mythology was an enjoyable collection of retellings of semi-familiar tales from Norse Mythology—a sort of greatest hits collection with a lot of little touches by Gaiman to make the stories accessible to modern readers, without straying very far from his source materials. I should note I finished this about a month before the most recent set of (very disturbing) allegations hit the news. 

The late Alice Munro‘s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories was another book club book, and another one I didn’t get far with. It’s not my first time reading Munro—she’s CanLit and on syllabi all over—but my reaction is the same now as it was in my supposedly-callow youth: I’m afraid her work is just not for me. The issue for me is not her writing, which is skilful enough if sometimes confusing due to her trademark move of leaping about in time, but rather her choice of setting and subject that don’t interest me in the slightest. I know I’m required to say something nice, as a fellow Canadian (and because she recently passed away, and because people sometimes dogpile anyone who expresses anything but admiration for her work), but nothing much comes to mind.   

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a hell of a novel. Jackson had a skill at evoking the uncanny, and for unearthing the feeling of an unhealthy relationship (Eleanor’s with the house, I mean). I’m still haunted by the “picnic” Theodora and Eleanor glimpsed and fled in terror, and so many other little moments are downright sticky in their uncanniness too. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading this: I’d had a copy since 2006, but somehow never got around it, even despite having read (and enjoyed) Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle somewhere along the way. (My copy’s of Hill House is long gone, given away as part of a move, but the university library had a handy Library of America edition available.)

This is a novel I might have to reread sometime, because I feel like it’s brilliantly structured and works in ways I don’t think I consciously registered the first time through. I rarely reread books, but this one is, I think, worth it. 

I guess that’s a pretty slow two months, but my wife and I also translated a book in there along the way, and I taught a much heavier course load than usual, so… well, it is what it is. 

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