I really put the “no” in November this year—in many ways, but particularly because I read no actual, physical books. Call it the wave of the future. I call it “I have to read student work whenever I’m not driving, eating, sleeping or doing my regular job.”
Here’s what I listened to:
Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard: Probably not the best book to listen to on CD—I'm pretty sure I missed some major plot points, although I did love Robert Forster's narration (finally, an actor who can capture the mood of Leonard's neo-noir prose but doesn't go overboard trying to "do" the voice of each character). This is the first Elmore Leonard book I've read. I would point any freshman writer to his exemplary use of detail, even if the story itself—one of call girls and hit men and mistaken identities—isn't hugely riveting or thought-provoking.
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck: The main character in this book—John Steinbeck—is a successful author in his late 50s. He has a lot of disposable income, a family (and a dog, the titular poodle) he loves and no real reason to drive around the country in a camper other than to get back in touch with "America." These facts do not a sense of urgency make, but I appreciated his lack of pretension. Although he is adamant that his travel notes do not add up to an assessment of America, he does make prophetic observations about the information age, American mobility and the fallout of a culture of waste. I also liked his musings on everything from redwoods to racism and his dignified adoration of Charley.
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons: I'm not sure if this is Kaye Gibbons' first novel, but it reads like a first novel: engaging youthful voice (which is just liiiittle too precious at times), with an ending that's not quite earned. The title character is an orphan who's been through more than an 11-year-old should. Sometimes her experiences inspire murderous fantasies (which counteract the preciousness), and sometimes she depends on the kindness of teachers and a local "colored" family. The Huck Finn-style ending would have us believe that the latter is the heart of the book, but Ellen seems to overcome her racism, which she never voiced aloud anyway, suddenly and with no real provocation. I was confused as to when the book took place—I know the Jim Crow South overstayed its welcome, but did it survive well into the '80s? Am I just that naive? Ellen Foster isn't telling me the answers.