Favorite Reading from June/July 2012

Everyone once in a while, you just have to write a blogpost with a boring title. Now that you've seen it, though, let's go straight to it: Out of seven books I read and finished this June and July, here are four of my favorites.

Kosovo: A Short History, by Noel Malcolm

This book really isn't "a short history." Most any other adjective would have been more apt, but I understand that it's a historian's humility to say short to mean incomplete, because any attempt to track the history of a whole nation from human arrival to the present could never be complete in one book. However, I really enjoyed this book because Kosovo is country that Americans rarely hear about and few probably ever read about - and when they do, it probably concerns just the last few decades. Noel Malcolm pursues an important project with the book, which is to solidly disaggregate the histories of Serbia and Kosovo, demonstrating that there is ample precedent for the latter to be independent of the former. Quite a few historical myths have been used to help perpetuate ethnic Serbians' domination of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, and it's refreshing to see them refuted - and learn much more than I ever thought I would about a unique place with a complex and interesting past.

Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form, by Bill Holm

ovoids (source)
Growing up around Northwest Coast Native art, I thought I was pretty well acquainted with the basics of formlines, ovoids and other essential elements. Bill Holm's classic book, however, taught me that there can be much to learn even about concepts that are very familiar. This might be a little dry for someone who has no previous knowledge on Northwest Coast Natives and their artistry, but for anyone who knows a little and wants a much greater conceptual grasp of art, you really can't go wrong with An Analysis of Form.

Maus, a Survivor's Tale, by Art Spiegelman

Maus is all the proof you need that graphic novels can be literature. Back in high school, I really had no idea what graphic novels were about, but strangely I started picking them up in the last couple years from the shelves in the Ketchikan Public Library, and then I also read some in my local library on Rue Kuhn in Strasbourg. Graphic novels aren't comic books - they're an elevation of the form, true novels that don't just utilize dialogue and narration, but also visual art. Granted, graphic novels still contain far fewer words than other novels, as was demonstrated by the very quick time in which I read both volumes of Maus. Still, Art Spiegelman's narrative - both in its words and its drawing - truly touched me on the level of classic literature. Though I may have read fewer sentences, I connected deeply with the characters and the tragic, bittersweet story. I highly recommend reading this.

Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson

Like Maus, this is also a novel about World War II, although in a very different context. Snow Falling on Cedars was a book I had heard about for years and seen lying around my house, but it took my girlfriend throwing it at me a week or two ago (not literally) before I finally got around to reading it - and I'm very glad I did. I really enjoyed David Guterson's skill in description and character development, which really brought the setting of 1940s and '50s Puget Sound to life for me. There were also episodes in the Pacific War and at a Japanese internment camp in California that didn't seem episodic or out of place at all: Rather, they played out in my head like scenes from a movie, so engaging was the detail. Without a doubt, this is a very well-written book, likely the most powerful mystery novel I've ever read (though obviously it's much more than that.) My only disappointment was with the ending, which I had hoped would be a little bittersweet, full of some doubt and moral ambiguity. Instead, the conclusion arrived in a nearly unmitigatedly happy fashion, but who can complain too much about that?

Leave a comment if you'd like to recommend some reading to me! However, I've already started a book for one of my upcoming classes at Georgetown, so it might take a while before I turn back to unassigned reading.