• Reading Resolution: February Report

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 10 comments

    Reading resolutionHow is that the quickest month, even in a leap year, feels like the longest? Lots of indoor time in February should mean lots of reading, but unlike January, I didn’t get through a whole heap o’ titles. Maybe half a heap.

    I don’t want to waste your time every month rehashing my 2016 reading resolution and why I’m listing the books I’ve read. I covered it in detail in this post. Summation: I must read 52+ books in 2016, at least half by women, and at least half by minority writers and/or foreign writers in translation. Because last year I sucked at doing those things.

    I got through four books in February. Here they be:

    1) The True Deceiver, Tove Jansson (Translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal) (NYRB Classics)

    I heard or that this novel is macabre, unnerving and riveting. For me it wasn’t any of those things. Closest to unnerving.

    A sociopath who is, as you might imagine, probably up to no good moves in with an aging, moneyed children’s book illustrator in the dead of the Swedish winter. It’s a very moody book, ideal for a snowy day, as Jansson does a wonderful job with her setting and the bitter, endless cold and gray of Scandinavia’s winter.

    The story didn’t grab me, though. Doesn’t mean it won’t grab you.


    2) Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (Harper Perennial

    The story of how this book disappeared for thirty years and has become revered since its rediscovery is just as interesting to me as the novel itself, in which protagonist Janie tells her life story to her friend Phoeby, a conversation which serves as the novel’s frame.

    Janie’s story is split into four main parts — upbringing, first marriage, second marriage, third marriage — and the novel traces her search for identity (i.e., her desire to not be defined in ways such as “first marriage, second marriage,” etc.) and her own voice.

    Hurston details several interesting historical events, including the founding of Eatonville, Florida, where she grew up, and the 1928 hurricane that killed several thousands of people when Lake Okeechobee overran its levees.

    It took me a while to get interested in Janie’s story, but once she gets to Eatonville it picks up, and the final section, in particular the hurricane scenes, is riveting. I’ll want to read more Hurston.


    3) Detroit City is the Place to Be, Mark Binelli (Picador)

    I suppose I have a special interest in Rust Belt cities, having been raised in one (though one that somehow escaped the brutal decline of cities such as Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and our focus here, Detroit). Still, Binelli’s account of Detroit’s rise and fall is fascinating. This book kept me up late. Doesn’t hurt that he’s a very funny writer, and delivers brilliant touches of humor when least expected.

    The 1967 riots are seen as the turning point for Detroit, but Binelli argues that the city’s decline began earlier than that. He takes us all the way back to the city’s founding, then covers the boom years in great detail and shows how it all began to unravel.

    But much of his focus is one present-day Detroit, and its future. Binelli (bravely, let’s be honest) actually moved back to the city to write the book, which began as a series of articles, I think for Rolling Stone, where he’s a contributing editor. He covers the city’s political structure, its crime and poverty, its decay and blight — 70,000 abandoned buildings! Downtown skyscrapers of thirty-plus stories abandoned for thirty years! — and its plans, or perhaps lack of, for the future.

    It’s a fascinating book. Did I already say that? It’s worth saying again.


    4) If He Hollers, Let Him Go, Chester Himes (Thunder’s Mouth Press, now defunct)

    I’ve heard this one labeled a novel of social realism, social protest, racial protest, and just protest, as well as a proletarian novel. Doesn’t matter what you call it; it’s very good. This is the kind of book we need more of in U.S. fiction. I’m told that it’s being read in more colleges and even high schools now, after having been somewhat forgotten for decades.

    Bob Jones is a shipyard worker in L.A. during World War II. He loses his supervisory position after a run-in with a white woman, and comes thisclose, twice, to murdering a white man who attacks him at work. The thing is, Himes makes the reader (at least, this reader) lust for Bob to kill the man. His rising anger and the oppression he experiences on a daily basis are palpable, all of it climaxing when the white woman charges him with rape — in essence, charges him with being a black man.

    It’s not a flawless book. For example, Himes squeezes in an awkward plot point surrounding bisexuality, a decision I can’t understand. (If you did understand that decision, I’d love to hear from you.) And the final one-third of the book has some issues with believability, in my silly opinion.

    Still, Himes does a great job depicting that time and place and culture. Pick it up, then pass it along. It should be more widely known.


    So there’s my February progress. I’m eleven books towards my reading resolution. Coming up in March: some Walker Percy, hopefully another Tayeb Salih, maybe some Eileen Chang, and a book I have to review.

    What have you been reading? How is your reading resolution going so far? Better yet, how is your writing resolution going so far? Let us know in the comments below.


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. And join our mailing list, over in the right sidebar, for once-per-week writing goodies in your inbox. 

    Linked2WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.


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    1) I like moody sociopaths. I’ll try this one.

    2) Moses, Man of the Mountain is better. Give that a shot next.

    3) David Giffels’ The Hard Way on Purpose sounds very similar to this Detroit book. It’s about Akron and points surrounding. Very Rust Belt-y, and also very funny. Or “wry.”

    4) As soon as I leave this comment I’ll put in a request for this book.

    Jess Maxwell

    I’m reading long classics all year. Augie March was #1, and it took me about six weeks. (totally worth it) Now I’m reading Hard Times, and then Middlemarch. By which time it should be July 4th or so, at which point I want to get into a long Russian novel or two.

    Glynis Jolly

    For years I read sporadically. I’d go months without reading a single novel. Then I’d read two or three in a row and have another dry spell. Last fall I received a Kindle Fire for free. All of a sudden the classics were available to me for free and I didn’t have to return them like I would at the library. Yes, I’m reading the classics. So far the only one I’ve read before is The Scarlet Letter, but that was over 45 years ago. I’ll most likely come across others I’ve read but enough time has probably past by… Read more »

    B. Holloway

    I loved Their Eyes were Watching god. And I’m with you, that hurrican scene is great, and reminded me alot of Katrina, with the lake overrunning its banks and killing mostly working-class black people. It was sad. So far this year I’ve been reading in more snatches than I used to, if I have five minutes while I wait for tea to steep and when I’m on line at the bank and when traffic is at a total stop and it’s clear we won’t be moving for a few minutes.

    Betty G.

    Ten books after two months, I’d say you’re doing
    pretty well so far, but what about when the weather
    turns? You said yourself how it’s easy to sit inside and
    read when it’s cold, when it’s warm do you read
    Outside? Or does your reading slow down in the spring
    and summertimes?

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x