The Eternal Question: What Are You Reading? 2
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Here it is for reference, though:
Here it is for reference, though:
I haven't read many plays since college and was surprised how many of our group not only liked the format but actively read plays. For myself, I found the format cumbersome even though I really enjoyed the story. In fact, if the play is performed where I can go and see it I will try to go.
Overall I was comfortable with this choice because we ended up having a lively discussion in spite of celebrating a member birthday.
It is much better than those times that are embarrassing!
I'm about halfway through The Patriots and enjoying it a lot.
Oh and also back to Ordinary Heroes. Willing to overlook time travel issues to find out how much this little white lie of the narrators is going to cost him...
FInished The Lauras, liked it for the most part; felt that the climax ended up not being the end of the story, so the second climax was, well anticlimatic. Still very well written, and look forward to what this young new novelist will do next.
Now what? Was planning on reading Celine next but my enabling sister put Stolen Beauty in my hands so that may be next (Id read The Painted Kiss, which is more about the relationship between Klimt and the model, so not sure how much this is more of the same ) Im almost finished with Ordinary Heroes (its getting better, or maybe Im becoming less picky)
"Hilarious and poignant, The Gargoyle Hunters is a love letter to a vanishing city, and a deeply emotional story of fathers and sons. Intimately portraying New York’s elbow-jostling relationship with time, the novel solves the mystery of a brazen and seemingly impossible architectural heist—the theft of an entire historic Manhattan building—that stunned the city and made the front page of The New York Times in 1974."
“Extravagantly satisfying … It held me, delighted me, and left me enthralled. The Gargoyle Hunters teems with the particular vitality of its time and place, yet it is never for one minute especially ‘nostalgic.’ It is stamped with the moods of Manhattan — specifically, the Upper East and Upper West Sides — and the flavors of the mid-1970s, and yet it seems … delightfully and commandingly strange. And it reads, like all the best novels do, as both the encapsulation of private, urgent experience and a radical, inscrutable transformation of the same.”
—The Los Angeles Review of Books
Edit: Sorry, Cindy, I didn't see your post. Yes. I think you, too, will enjoy this one.
Finished The Patriots, and liked it very much. This is one of my favorite kinds of historical novels, which look at relationships through the lens of history and history through the relationships it helps form, with the understanding that the two are rarely separable. I appreciated that Krasikov's characters weren't simple or even always likeable—she did a good job of telling a story where the lines between what we do to each other and what we do for each other are not necessarily well delimited. I think the narrative could have been a bit tighter, but I don't begrudge Krasikov her sprawling narrative... it is a Russian novel, after all, and she's done a terrific job with it.
Now about to start Idaho on my long schlep down to Brooklyn for an Urban Librarians conference...
by Omar El Akkad
Environmental disaster, war AND plague! Yeehaw
I loved the unsentimentality of it.
I am within about 20 pages of the end of Gail Godwin's Grief Cottage and really enjoying it. It is a ghost story - the way Turn of the Screw is - but it's also a coming of age story and one that is, for the most part, quite delicately rendered with some emotional depths I wasn't expecting.
There's a little bit of eccentric kudzu Southernness but I am trying to ignore that.
But honestly, the strength of the book was not in its history lessons or its travel dialogue (as a traveler, Dickson seems constantly exhausted by the vagaries of train time tables and taxi cabs in traffic) -- it was his account of the myriad of performances he sees, the (seemingly hundreds) of film adaptations he watches. Those are amazing -- school competitions, pirated dvds of old Merchant Ivory productions, outdoor shows in Wild West period dress somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountains, high culture adaptations into Chinese operatic form. The book is worth reading just for those.
I am reading Lit which I am not loving. It is so much showier than The Liars Club and even Cherry. I'm a Virgo, so I'll finish it but I am finding it irritating.
Am I alone here? Am I missing a special Mary Karr gene?
I read a book! An honest to god, real live book! Well, I had a major crisis at work and had a lot of work done on my house, so I ended up splitting time between reading the real live book and listening to the audiobook in my commute to work (thank goodness, I never would have finished it in time!). I read The Nix. It was my pick for our book club, and it was a great choice. I think everyone liked it a lot (or loved it), and it made for a really good discussion. There was too much in it, as I saw several of your reviews say, but most of it worked. I thought it was strange that I really didn't like any of the characters. I'm not opposed to unlikeable characters, but to me, every single character was generally unlikeable, for very different reasons. But in the end, I really enjoyed it and I'm glad I read it. And I'm glad all my friends read it and we had such a good discussion. I think it's one that will come up in future meetings.
Other than that, I've listened to a few true crime books, The Dry, and Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. Now I'm free to read anything I want (since my house is currently the cleanest it has ever been!), and I'm stumped.
-- John Freeman is an adjectivist of major proportions (giving him a pass on hyperbole since his protagonist is a 13-year-old boy).
-- There are two substantive characters, both female, who disappear at the end of the book, their fates unknown.
And now thanks to my ridiculously swollen library holds pile (is it a pile if it's electronic? well, whatever) I am promptly starting Human Acts.
Meanwhile, it is the height of gardening season for me, massive amounts of digging, planting, weeding, and generally shoveling dirt around. I listen to Shakespeare while I'm working in the garden and I'm focusing on the later plays this spring. Next up, Cymbeline, because of some comments Andrew Dickson made in his book, Worlds Elsewhere.
And on my bedside table are a few travel accounts for the Non-European Travel discussion:
Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy: One Woman's Mid-Life Travel Adventures on Myanmar's Great River by Ma Thanegi, because I love the title, Basho's travel account because I love Basho, and Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries, because I don't think I've ever read them, and that seems weird to me.
I'm only on Scene IV (Chapter 4), so it's mostly been all set up, so far. It's about a murder among a tight-knit group of 4th-year students at a private, lakeside "thespian" academy which deals solely in Shakespearean performances. They keep erupting in quotes from the plays during conversation which hasn't annoyed me nearly as much as I thought it would. Yet.
I finished Lit and though I liked the recovery bits, I found it kind of ho-hum and gratuitous. It needed a good editor with a sharp red pencil.
Started The Lauras and have twice needed to change my expectations, presuppositions and everything else that makes you think you are reading one book when you are reading another. I like it............I think.
I had to get A Gentleman in Moscow for book club, and I've bought a few books for my Kindle. But I still haven't even cracked the surface of all the books I bought with some Christmas money (except for The Nix). I need to be watching less tv.
Through the newspapers, you witnessed the seemingly inexorable rise of Chun Doo-hwan, the young general who had been the former president's favorite. You could practically see him in your mind's eye, riding into Seoul on a tank as in a Roman triumph, swiftly appropriating the highest position in the central government. Goose bumps rose on your arms and neck. Frightening things are going to happen. The middle-aged tailor used to tease you: "You're cozying up with that newspaper like it's your new beau, Miss Lim. What a thing it is to be young, and be able to read such fine print without glasses."And man, that gave me a full-body shiver. A flicker of a reminder to all of us who have thought the same thing in the past three months, which I imagine is most of us… pay attention.
Now I would be reading Hari Kunzru's White Tears but the NYPL ebook app is acting up—or more likely their servers, since I'm not able to download books I've checked out. Not like I don't have anything else to read, but I've only got eight days left on the checkout so I'd like to start (even though it's not huge—under 300 pages, anyway). That will give me an excuse to write my review of The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures, which is just the prettiest thing.
Christopher Logue's "War Music" is (obviously) about war, also, but it's just as much about language and art. I was so involved with personal dramas for most of last year that I'd not heard Logue's poet friend was compiling all the published parts with left behind manuscripts into one, complete volume. Even though I have all of them in various, separate forms, my fingers got all tangled up in their rush to Amazon and the click button.
While I was there, I skimmed over some of the reader reviews, and as is wont to happen every blue moon, I was transfixed by one in particular. I know this sounds stalker-y, but it was such a beautifully written review, I wanted to read more by him/her. As it turns out, Temple Cone is a he, who is a published poet in his own right, and a professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy. He has a bunch of other degrees, too.
Anyway, I highly recommend taking the short time to read, ‘I Can Hear Death Pronounce My Name’ Review: Christopher Logue, ‘War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad’ by Temple Cone. It's the entirety of his posted Amazon review as published in The Washington Free Beacon. Few have so eloquently mirrored my own feelings about Logue's masterwork. It remains one of the most affecting pieces of literature I've ever experienced. Such a damn shame Logue became ill and died before he could finish it.
I have read a LOT about this story but there's a lot in here I'd never heard before, especially about his early life. I usually skip the childhoods in bios - SORRY BIOGRAPHERS! - but this one is fascinating. His mother was a piece of work.
The premise, a woman and her adolescent child (you never know whether Alex is boy or a girl) hit the road - the mother has much unfinished business to take care of. But big questions like, why does the mother decide to bring Alex along in the first place why is Alex so ambivalent about being separated from her/his father, how are all these people supporting themselves - are never answered.
There is real frankness about teenage sexuality and a fantastic, although slightly upsetting scene about hitchiking and blow jobs which again, I admired for it's upfrontness. But overall, I don't think the novel works.
Reading some of the short stories in You Should Pity Us sent to me by Lisa P. I think Sue Russell would have really liked this. And about to start Wild Tales
I had similar problems with the Lauras, lots being unsaid, but ultimately liked the book. Loved the idea of a road trip to go back to the people from your life (the scene in her parents house....) was perfect. But Im not sure her escape would have been that easy, or lasted so long. I certainly dont think her rescuing that teenager was realistic and didn't see the reason for her to be addes. The mix gender issue was interesting, because I kept switching what I thought Alex was the more I read into the book. Anyway - It may be a very good book to discuss, but I expect lots of people wouldn't like it for very different reasons.
Now reading Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London Love her essay on NYC and the suburbs, and find her look at Jean Rhys, comparing her to herself at 20 at loose ends in Paris interesting but a bit too long. But liking the style, and the descriptions of cities
Now I'm reading The Animators, which I confess I was drawn to because it reminded me of The Interestings (name, subject, and cover).
still reading the Trollope Barsetshire series (about to start Book 3, Doctor Thorne). I like these -- I'm right on schedule, one every two months, to finish in a year, but I wish they were grabbing me a little more. But it's fine, it's nice to have ten pages a night or so where sometimes nothing happens.
also The Road to Jonestown, which is all sorts of detailed -- I dunno where he got all the childhood stuff.
and finally, Hunters in the Dark. Super blurby blurbs make Highsmith/Greene comparisons and that's about right tone-wise. Also some Maugham thrown in; he's a very Maugham-esque storyteller. It's a very TPC book, I think.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying that I liked The Animators very much. Good solid writing, some really inspired dialogue, and an interesting arc to the story. I may not be a professional artist or a dedicated stoner, but I really lit up at the exploration of what it means when a woman puts her work first, how that reverberates through her life and relationships. Whitaker did a bang-up job on the friendship between the two women as well. I'm not sure I bought the family dynamics all the time but hey, not my family so who am I to say? All in all, this was a lot of fun.
Now on to Dan Chaon's Ill Will.
We Shall Not All Sleep was pretty bad. It's about two families who share an island in Maine. There's a complicated back story that involves the CIA and acts of strange and unexplained cruelties. It's part Great Gatsby and part Lord of the Flies. The characters are so wooden and the plot wasn't even predictable as much as non-existent. I very very rarely go back to my editor and tell her I can't go a book but I'm thinking about it for this one.
What makes it seem worse is that I started read The Leavers which is extraordinary and almost impossible to put down. It takes place in NY and is about a Chinese boy whose mother abandons him when he's about 12 - just disappears. He is adopted by a white family upstate. Fast forward 10 years and the kid has dropped out of college, has a gambling addiction, and is trying to make it as a musician when someone he knew from his past life shows back up with a way to contact his mother.
It is so good and I think some version of it is probably happening all over the world.
A multi-generational story following 4 generations of women from one family, it was a bit uneven. In spite of that, it would make a good book club read as there are many issues to discuss. The writing is good and there are some places where the it just shines.
The major issue I had reading the book ended up getting resolved in the last chapter. And if you read it, be prepared for tears towards the end of the book.
Not too long ago, I picked up A Green and Ancient Light on a whim and loved it. It seemed like a very niche book to me, though, since the story was about a grandmother who takes in her grandson (for safety reasons) due to war outbreak. She lives far out in the country, in a town surrounded by mysterious woods. The plot centers on helping wounded, hiding soldiers (one in particular), and the mythology of the forest.
Then I started reading raves about this Xan Brooks novel which is about... get this... almost the exact same thing: Children being used to aid secret societies of wounded soldiers living in the woods. In AGaAL, everything is generic. It in an unnamed country and most of the characters are unnamed, also. TCiTHATDT is specific with named places and characters.
I didn't even know that was a thing in WWII (using children for that), never mind the coincidence of reading two outstanding novels about the subject released within a short span of time. I mean, that's weirdly specific and niche book publishing synchronicity, doncha' think?
Anyway. I'll report back after I'm done, but so far, the writing/language is just gorgeous.
Cindy, when you wander back here, I enjoyed Uprooted more than I expected to. You're right, it is very 80s fantasy -- Patricia McKillip-ish -- but it was just what I needed when I read it.
In the same vein, I'm re-reading The Crystal Cave and loving it. I thought I was permanently done with the Arthur myth stories after binging on them in my teens but Mary Stewart and Merlin might be the exception. She writes really well and I'm enjoying the semi-historical bits.
I'm also putzing my way through The Improbability of Love. It is fun and light, and easy to read before bed with a focus on food and art. Plus, a Christmas exchange gift from April, so it is that much more fabulous.
The beginning of Uprooted was a little slow for me - they could have cut lots of the girl needing the magician to magically change her dress every time she gets a stain on it - but Im now where its getting really interesting.
Oh and Crystal Cave (and the sequels) makes one of the best Arthur stories around. Enjoy! (Tho if you are intersted in a more historic based version, try Bernard Cornwell The Winter King Its pretty bloody but definitely puts the story in its possible time and place.
I finished The Leavers. People, it's a run, don't walk. Really engaging and timely without being preachy. It's about a Chinese boy Deming and his mother Polly living in NY - the Bronx actually. When he is about 12, she disappears completely and he is fostered and then adopted by a white family upstate. Fast forward 8 years and Deming - now Daniel - dropping out of college with a gambling addiction, trying to start a band. Both his story, and his mother's, are fascinating and the whole novel was inspired by an article in the NYT about a woman illegally detained and jailed in an immigration camp in Texas.
It's very compelling, upsetting, and even funny in parts. Also, a total love letter to NYC.
Thanks you to the Library Thing Early Readers for the chance to read this marvelous book!
The Boy on the Bridge
by Mike Carey
Sequel to his "Girl with All the Gifts"
Also, when I was in the K-12 system they still streamed Jr and Sr High courses, so that students were either in the university entrance stream or not. I was a very dreamy, unfocused, socially awkward kid and my grade six teacher (may she rot in hell) thought I was stupid, which she made clear to the whole class, and recommended that I go into stream that would not take me to university. My grade 7 English/History teacher caught on early that I wasn't a complete waste of space, particularly once I started talking about The Persian Boy by Mary Stewart, and all the Greek Tragedies that my mom and aunt were feeding me. So she called me parents, they raised hell, and I was moved. I still did horribly in all math/science courses, but always did fine in History and English. So I credit Mrs. Stringham who was a brilliant teacher and fabulous human being and Mary Stewart for saving me from complete misery in HS.
All this to say that I was also incredibly lucky to have educated parents and other family members who always thought I was smart enough -- if I hadn't my grade six teacher (and others) would have had a far greater negative impact on my life. Being a flaky kid with adhd who reads all the time, does not help in any education setting, but particularly not in the 70s and 80s.
On topic, I finished the Crystal Cave last night and started listening to Colin Firth reading The End of the Affair on my way to work this morning. Also, woot woot re: new Mike Carey book. I really enjoy his novels.
Shades of The Stranger and lots of moral business to think about.
I am going to go to the library now (website that is) and download something of hers.
It's taking some patience but I like it.
Also lots of drugs in this one! But not fun ones at all. And also an image that was in the last book I read as well, one of those cat wall clocks. What are the odds of that? (We had one in my son's room when he was little so it popped out at me.)
Catching up on New Yorkers right now.
Pat, have you read the Carsten Stroud Niceville trilogy? If not, I think you'd like it.
>77 laurenbufferd: Mount Pleasant looks fantastic! Another book to add to my sample pile.
I keep thinking of that feminist essay from way back when Can the Subaltern Speak by Gayatri Spivack as this novel is very much about the story of the colonized and the key witness is mute.
Going east for a few days and having fun deciding what books to bring.
So I'm trying it again with another big fat book I know without ever really having read it -- Gone with the Wind -- and it's the same exact experience, so much fun to read. The movie jettisoned about a third of the plot (and about a million characters) so there actually is an element of surprise in it. It's not completely problem-free; I still can't really decide if it's an overtly racist book or not -- it's definitely more nuanced than the movie in that regard, but there are still some cringey bits. BUT NO TALKING ABOUT THAT. It's all about the page turning.
No, but it looks good and I put it in the basket. Thanks.
I do like novels that take place in and around where I grew up and this one fit that bill.
I've had, let's just say, a REALLY fucking challenging week. Only able to read in fits and starts, but still managed to get through five back issues of the New Yorker, so I'll call it a win. I'm thinking this might be a good excuse to pull out some of the shorter books on my shelf, and aside from the Mother's Day connection, Mothering Sunday is a tiny little thing.
Started Adam Gopniks Angels and Ages. Beginning with the fact that Darwin and Lincoln were born on the same day. From there he proceeds to look at the time period in each country, their lives and their ideas. Its slow reading - there's a lot to think about on each page and it takes me a bit to get it all. But Im enjoying the mind exercise.
I can't do the news junkie thing—I think it would drive me insane right now. I do a quick read through the NY Times and Washington Post every morning and that's pretty much it, unless something big breaks, and of course I have to keep up on individual stories and the politics around them for work, but that's usually pretty focused down and I honestly don't have time to go down the news hole when I'm doing it. And I don't watch TV, which I'm sure helps on that count.
I do listen to podcasts about journalism, but they're not necessarily immediately topical, or if they are they're at a remove, talking about the people covering the news and what they do—which is oddly helpful sometimes when the world seems to be too awful of a place. But in general I need to keep it all to a low simmer for my own peace of mind.
And yeah on the New Yorkers. I'm so glad I resubscribed, and this time around I'm keeping up reasonably well.
I have The Essex Serpent, but haven't tried it yet. I ended up getting it for free (because it took months to arrive here from UK, and I complained), and I love the jacket. I doubt I'll get to it anytime soon, though.
>102 JulieCarter: I did love the jacket, though.
ONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline
(emotional thriller and suburban crime story/mother of a
high-school-aged boy/stranger posing as a high school
teacher and coach/library Playaway device)
I just read Mothering Sunday because of Mothers' Day, and funnily enough a friend of mine--my ex's cousin's wife, if you want to get granular--read it at the same time for the same reason. Lovely little gem of a book; reminded me fondly of when I was immersed in Mary Wesley for a Bloom piece a few years back.
I'm reading Insomniac City -- its tone reminds me just a bit of Patti Smith's Just Kids -- and enjoying spending time with Bill and Oliver.
I'm also listening to The End of the Affair, which is very different than I expected it to be and I'm finding I want to limit the amount of time I spend in Miles Bendrix's head, so I'm also listening to Broken Homes, which is easy and fun and I'm familiar with all the characters.
And, I'm reading The Reckoning the third book in the Niceville series -- it's just on this edge of horror, which suits me fine, and it's fun. Although I did check the last few pages to see what happens to a character I'm invested in because I'm a weeny.
It's a scatter gun approach to reading, but it seems to be working, and I'm working not to be too judgy about it.
by Abir Mukherjee
On the other hand, I was strangely moved by the end and the whole thing reminded me of AS Byatt's Possession, another book which irked me no end but made me cry. So there you have it.
But I am totally intrigued by the idea of cyanposia or seeing blue everywhere which one character suffers from.
I am currently reading Kamila Shamsie's A God in Every Stone.
I suffered from this one night because of, erm, let's just say it was....a little square piece of paper. I saw blue everywhere, and my friend messed with me by coming downstairs with blue hair. I couldn't tell what was real. It was insane.
On topic, I finished Death in Holy Orders. I will probably read more by James, as I thought this was fairly well done, if not a ton of fun.
I really need to get started on A Gentleman in Moscow for my book group, but I just can't seem to want to read it right now. I don't know why. Boo.
It's a very good book, on my shortlist for the year so far.
Lauren, I can send you my copy if you like.
Next I think I'm on to Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann and for my fiction read, possibly White Tears by Hari Kunzru.
I am just about done with God in Every Stone which is about Pakistan just after WWI and then again in the 1930s - archeology, betrayal, colonialism, and a British woman who makes everything just a bit worse. I like it, although it's a bit overloaded with facts and places - I really wanted a street map of Peshawar.
Also Greco-Buddhist art. You DO want to know about that.
I'm hoping to interview Shamsie for bookpage so bought a bunch of her earlier novels and will be cramming over the two two weeks. Nerd fun.
Shamsie is new to me. I'll have to look into her.
>107 cindydavid4: >108 lisapeet: >109 mkunruh: Thanks for the welcome and a hello to you, Lisa!
It'll be tough to watch the movie now without being the annoying person who sits there and says "oh they left out blah blah blah and so and so is really three different characters in the book and OHMYGOD are they kidding?" so be warned about that if you ever invite me.
Because of a mention from Lauren, I'm going to get So Big today (if the bookstore is open), the Ferber book. That's a good idea for the summer, sort of galumphing whopper books that are all plot but THINK they're something else.
I do know.
It's about a creative, bohemian family (sculptor father, novelist mother, and 12 yr. old Irina) who move into a small, long-abandoned, recently renovated house out in the woods. The daughter has dreams of becoming a writer and gets obsessed with a murder which occurred to former occupants of the house.
The writing is very good, the story is very readable, and I genuinely like Irina's voice even though I'm usually allergic to precociousness, but Lennon uses a ghost-like, omniscient device similar to Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo which is still too device-y feeling to be organic to the story. We'll see. It feels like this book was written for the express purpose of snagging a movie rights contract... which might be just a little too presumptuous, but there ya' go.
I can't put it away, though, so there's that.
Next up is American War by Omar El Akkad.
But I didn't know that Eisenstadt was from the sweet 'n low family.
I have her new book if you are interested. I think it's kind of a sequel or at least has some of the same characters. Swell.
I started a monster historical novel Rebellion by Molly Patterson. We shall see.
I also read Lucy Knisley's graphic memoir Displacement in one sitting, and it was just delightful—a story of the author accompanying her elderly grandparents on a cruise. What can I say?—a lot of the dementia jokes made me laugh out loud, which is always a good thing. It was very sweet and funny.
Now on to Lisa Ko's The Leavers—thank you for the rec, Lauren, because it's really engaging. And damn but I need engaging right now, because life is really challenging. (Don't mean to be vague, just that a lot of what's going on is not my news to share... but trust me, things are tough in my corner of the universe right now.)
Sasha Abramsky's...well, tribute is really the only word for it, to his grandfather Chimon Abramsky is structured around this house the author practically grew up in. He steps in the front foyer, with all the books of early socialist literature to be found there (only one small cupboard grudgingly given over as a place for people's coats), to talk about his great grandfather and his family's suffering under the late tsarist (pogroms) and then the new soviet (Siberian labor camps for dissidents) regimes, and to explore how Chimon became committed to socialism, and even to Stalinism, despite what his family endured, what friends reported when they escaped.
He guides the reader to the kitchen to remember his grandmother Mimi, an Communist activist and psychologist who for years was the head of the Psychiatric Social Work Department of the Royal Free Hospital, as well as the social hostess of Hillway, who fed political and philosophical debates that would coalesce in the impromptu salons with an apparently endless supply of kosher food.
He takes the reader to the Master Bedroom, where Chimon kept his most valuable and historic works of Socialist and Jewish literature -- a complete collection of William Morris's The Commonweal, books with notes handwritten by Karl Marx, annotated by Lenin, manuscripts by Trotsky. We are then guided into the Front Parlor -- where his rising interest in Judaica makes itself known, into the Dining Room, where Jewish history vied for space with prints by Russian Jewish artists, works about revolution, about the need for a Jewish state. Tradition met modernity in this room.
And finally the reader is taken upstairs, perhaps the most mysterious rooms in the house to Sasha as a child -- the books often written in mysterious languages, on old parchment. First edition Spinoza. A manuscript with notes handwritten by Rashi (the great Talmudic scholar), illuminated Hebrew Bibles and copies of the Talmud from the Renaissance.
As the reader is guided into each room they are given not a bibliography of books, exactly, but the author's own thoughts about what the books meant to their owner, to Chimon. The house is a portrait in books, a record of a passionate intellectual life full of great energy, great joy, and also great grief.
The whole account is worth it just for the portrait it gives of leftist and communist activism on the eve of WWII and in the years that immediately followed. And also for its account of how the community tore itself apart following the revelations of Stalin's atrocities. And also for the way it documents the struggles of a conservative and orthodox Jewish community to adapt to a modern, humanistic, and even atheistic time.
And while the account is not without its flaws -- Sasha Abramsky has many questions about his grandfather for which he can only speculate answers, and there is a staggering amount of name dropping since Hillway was the kind of house intellectuals of the era made a point of dropping in to visit, in the end these are minor quibbles compared to the picture the author creates of the man, the family, the house, the movement, the era.
love to read about it all.
There are four stories - two sisters in the 19th century -one a missionary in China, the other living on a remote farm in Illinois. The 20th century bits are about the farmwife's widowed daughter Hazel and a young woman living in rural China outside of Chengdu in the late 1990s. The parts kind of come together, although I found myself caring less if they did or not - and the mystery of what happened to the missionary is not all that compelling. What was endlessly moving though was the incremental bits of people's lives and the small acts of rebellion - infidelities, private hopes and dreams, an old lady secretly driving after her car keys are taken away - that are such a big part of being human.
Just started Home Fires which is shaping up to be a 21st c Antigone.
If I can get A Gentleman in Moscow read in time for my book club, I'd like to read a short history of the Russian Revolution and similar things to what were recently mentioned as part of The House of Twenty Thousand Books. I think I have A Very Short Introduction to the Russian Revolution (Oxford University Press), so it may work. I'm not familiar enough with the history and the ideas, that's for sure. But, depending on timing, I may just have to rely on Wikipedia!
I have to say, the books are a real surprise. I wasn't expecting such an intensely woman-centric story. They are among the great female friendship novels -- something I'm usually a little allergic to. Ferrante, well, she makes almost the whole of the rest of the genre (I'm looking at you, ya-ya sisterhoods and red hat clubs and sweet potato queens and yes, even you, Lee Smith's Last Girls) pallid and insubstantial.
In any case, I'm pretty much devouring them. It's nice to have a stack of books I know are going to really hold me for while.
(Edited about 5 times for coherence and grammar)
The other side of the book is a kind of extended male fantasy -- sex is what's most often on his mind when not distracted by his own or other people's despair -- at one point he notes he is most attracted to his girlfriend because she thinks about her pussy as much as he thinks about his dick. The fantasy is epitomized by his now infamous piece that ran in Le Monde and is reprinted here of a letter to his girlfriend instructing her how to masturbate -- a letter he has timed so that she will be reading it on a train, along with all the other people who might be reading Le Monde alongside her. It's the height of arrogance and control -- telling his girlfriend how to get off on a train where people are reading about him telling her how to get off -- and he works hard (!) to make all 8000 words unbearably erotic. But the exercise, or experiment, is ultimately a failure, which can't have been too much of a surprise to a guy who insists, over and over in his memoir-novel that he is "all about the real."
The combination of detailed despair and detailed sexual fantasy confessionals (even his real sexual encounters seem experienced as fantasy) would probably leave me a little cold -- I'm not a big fan of self-indulgence -- but the truth is, Carrere writes beautifully and he has an ear for truth when he is able to step back from his own myopia. That's what has kept me reading, and when will make me read his other books. I'd like to read one of his novels-written-as-novels, to see how it stands against these nonfiction romans he is known for.
Her first novel is from the the pov of a young boy who witnesses the death of a neighbor and whose uncle is kept under house-arrest by the president of Pakistan. It doesn't quite hang together and is too whimsical for the subject matter- at least, I found it so, but maybe I am underestimating a kid's way of dealing with or understanding tragedy.
I read a few pages of Jill Eistenstadt's Swell and decided life was too short. Just too silly.
I am reading a book I received from Library Thing about modernism and Woolf/Eliot/Forster etc called The World Broke in Two and I have a rather opaque hg wells novel to finish and about 200 other books to read. Sigh.
I very much enjoyed The Leavers—it's good to read a multigenerational coming of age story that's so lacking in clichés, and a story that's about a parent's growth as much as her child's. Strong story, interesting and nuanced characters, and a great sense of place—both China and New York City are characters as much as the people are. I recommend this one to all the usual suspects.
Now I'm in the middle of Hannah Tinti's The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, which is well-written, totally undemanding, and wildly entertaining in that almost-miss-my-subway stop kind of way.
I'm reading A Hundred Thousand Worlds. It was an impulse purchase just before Christmas (preparing to read all those books I didn't read, because I got jammed up The Nix) because I liked its cover and it was blurbed by Karen Joy Fowler. It's geeky to the magnitude of 10 but I'm enjoying it. An interesting follow up to The Animators which I just finished this weekend.
i'm almost finished Zadie Smith's collection of essays (Changing my Mind) -- they are really uneven, and i didn't like her film reviews much, but she is just that close to my age that her generational references are familiar and I like the way she makes me think about fiction. And I'm most of the way through Pinker's Sense of Style. He's a real uptight SOB, but I agree with much of what he says about writing, and I can use much of what he talks about with students I see, so I'm tolerating the tone.
The Leavers so far is my best of 2017. I as fascinated by the story and thought Ko's sense of place was extraordinary. She supposedly has gotten a lot of flack for the character of the mother but I thought that story line was all too believable.
Determined to finish this wooly seldom-read HG Wells novel, some old New Yorkers and The World Broke in Two though the temptation to play games on my phone and catch up on old seasons of Empire and American Crime is almost overwhelming.
ETA never mind; a twist happens that has me very interested. So on I read (and its really an easy read, she's has a way with words that really works for me)
Tinti is just plain brilliant when coloring in the natural world around her characters, that was a treat.
It is an oddity of a charming story of a father / daughter unit, with a deep undertow that creeps up on the reader.
It's an oddball book and I liked it quite well but the undertow is it's saving grace.
Did I say oddball book? Clashing.
Did you read her earlier novel The Good Thief? It's another version of the "innocent child" adrift in the world with all its ills. I think that is her thing. And, zip loved that book.
Yes... I think it could have effectively been The Nine Lives of Samuel Hawley. Still, for all its shaggy-dogness, it was a good yarn and kept me engaged. I do have her The Good Thief but I haven't read it—I'll definitely pick it up after this one has had time to settle, though. I like her writing and, maybe even more, her editorial choices (other than the fact that this book could have been a bit tighter overall)—I'm a longtime subscriber to and fan of One Story and I think a lot of its success is due to her good hand as an editor.
I liked Rules of Civility well enough, though it wasn't terrifically memorable.
Right now I'm reading a book I won here at LT, An Atlas of Countries that Don't Exist, which is super pretty—cutouts!—and I'm enjoying the geographical stuff. This is a fancy book, though, so I'll need to grab something else for tomorrow's commute.
I know it is trite to talk about books being "profoundly moving" but that's what Alexievich's books are to me. Not just "interesting" or "fascinating" but moving, these relentless, passionate, bitter, hopeful, cynical, compassionate, bewildered, apathetic, angry, excited, agonized accounts of what was gained and what was lost with the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Russia. There is one section that begins with a mother's account of her son -- who committed suicide -- and goes on to talk to the boy's friends and their own reactions, and I have to say, I could barely stand to read it. The pages were just saturated in grief. And frankly, it made everything on the news, all the petty sniping over in the Pro/Con section of talk (I've done my share), look utterly pathetic and pointless.
I find myself wondering what it would look like if Svetlana Alexievich wrote a book about the United States, about the transition represented by Obama and then by Trump. I have a feeling I wouldn't like what she would find.
It's an interesting premise - that 1922 was a significant year in the lives + work of V Woolf, TS Eliot, DH Lawrence and EM Forster although I don't think the author quite pulls it off because Lawrence - although he moved to Taos, wasn't really publishing anything that significant - or certainly not as notable as Mrs Dalloway or The Waste Land. Still it was interesting and very much about the business of writing, the day to day struggles, the difference between working and creating. My mind wandered some at the back and forth Eliot had with his various publishers over The Waste Land. On the other hand, there was a very funny anecdote about Forster, Thomas Hardy and a pet cemetery. Interesting too, how all four writers reacted to Proust and Joyce, both of whom had significant work published in the early 1920s. In some ways, you could say that all four writers began writing in reaction to or inspired by Ulysses and Remembrance of Things Past.
For me, the biggest problem with the book was that it didn't inspire me to go back and read any of those authors the way a really good biography or work of criticism can.
I am done with all my Shamsie work but have gone back to finish up Broken Verses which is an overdue library book. Enjoying it very much although her new novel Home Fire is the one to be reading, y'all. Out this summer.
I'm sort of fascinated by that whole group Mabel Dodge Luhan collected for her literary colony.
I've also read some pure-T trash as an any-port-in-a-storm effort to stop pointlessly obsessing over politics. It worked, but AT WHAT COST?
I read another of Kamila Shamsie's back-catalog Broken Verses which was way ambitious - which coming from me means too long and too much plot. I think that may be why Home Fire is such a success- the plot of Antigone is pretty straightorward and there aren't a ton of characters so there isn't a way to make a jumble. I would have been happier with 50 pages and about 3 plot points less.
Then I read the delightful and bittersweet Displacement. Thank you so much, Lisa P. What a perfect Sunday morning book. A graphic novel about a young woman (the author) taking her elderly grandparents on a cruise.
Started reading the stories from Snow in May which is a Sue Russell book if ever I read one. Sniff.
Anyway, I was picking up Cover Her Face by P.D. James (in an omnibus) at the library, and picked up The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher in audio on a whim. I was enjoying the parts that Carrie read in her own voice, but this morning, it moved to the actual diaries that she kept back in the 70s while she was having this affair with Harrison Ford (read by her daughter, Billie Lourd). And wow, those parts are pretty amazing. It makes me think, as smart as we all knew she was, she really hid a lot of her intelligence throughout her life, not to mention her pain. If this is how she wrote diaries? She was always meant to be a writer. Her diaries are what I always think I'm going to write like when I start a new journal, and then I always sound like a big, pathetic moron and end up quitting within a few days. Sigh.
I have been going through my annual cleaning of the shelves and found two book I want to reread, because I don't remember reading them! The Tale of the Rose, memoir of Consuelo St Exupery, wife of the writing of Little Prince and In the Falcon's Claw by Chet Raymo, also author of Dork of Cork, one of the first books I got from RV recommendation. I did read the former, its just been so long so it will be a new read for me!
People We Hate at the Wedding, which is funny but doesn't quite live up to its spectacular title. I hate that Stephen McCauley blurbed it because that's how I really would describe it: it's like a Stephen McCauley book.
Also High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel. It's one of the westerns I call the Big Five (The Searchers, High Noon, My Darling Clementine, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Red River) and honestly I would like a book about each one of them.
I liked to sit up front and ride the fast ones all day long, I liked it when they brushed right up against the buildings north of the Loop and I especially liked it when the buildings dropped away into that bombed-out squalor a little farther north in which people (through windows you'd see a person in his dirty naked kitchen spooning soup toward his face, or twelve children on their bellies on the floor, watching television, but instantly they were gone, wiiped away by a movie billboard of a woman winking and touching her upper lip deftly with her tongue, and she in turn erased by a—wham, the noise and dark dropped down around your head—tunnel) actually lived.
—like an old flame who still, surprisingly, looks fine. I don't find his marginal folks as fascinating as I once did, no doubt because I'm middle-aged and staid and don't know or even really want to know characters like that anymore; no hint of there-but-for-the-grace-of-god in my heart these days. That's been replaced by a healthy middle-aged dose of compassion, which—pleasingly—deepens my appreciation of their hapless lot rather than dulls it.
So really, cheers to Denis Johnson. I could sit down and unpack every sentence in this book and I still wouldn't be able to figure out how he does it, but he does. I should probably own a copy of this—I think I used to, and no doubt gave it away. I'm sure one will turn up someplace.
Now I'm reading Sasha Abramsky's The House of Twenty Thousand Books, which I'm reading at least in part as background for a Bloom essay about cleaning out my own mother's books, and also because I've had it on the shelf forever and Nicki's recent raves made me want to read it already. Plus the whole mid-century Jewish arts'n'letters experience is very much my thing, so yes, I'm enjoying it.
It was the whole socialist/communist revolutionary fervor thing for me!
I started Final Demand about a young woman who figures out how to embezzle from the telecommunications company where she works. Moggach is a funny writer for me - she's the one who wrote Tulip Fever and the novel that got made into the elderly-people-at-the Indian-hotel movie. She is super prolific and most of her novels are the problem-tackling kind (incest, divorce, aging) which I don't read too much but I enjoy hers. She's also done a ton for PEN. It's an easy, pleasing read.
One thing that drives me nuts about LT—and I generally really like its interface—is that it's impossible to find publisher info for a book that's not on your shelves. I just go to Amazon and look it up there, but that's FRICTION and we don't like friction.
Sorry, if I sound like a fragile liberal flower. I am stilling finding this a hard time politically and socially.
Did I mention I finally finished The Autocracy of Mr Parham a kind of long-winded Wells novel that also has parallels to today's climate. Like so many of his books, it has kind of a crackling Dickensian beginning, a woolly middle and a bang-up exciting ending.
Final Demand was interesting. Can there really be a victimless crime?
I started reading Christodora.
In this case, it was sort of interesting to see how Limonov came around to a kind of fascist militant buddhist mindset, if you can get your head around that -- I had a hard time with it, myself. I appreciated the author's insight into his subject, but not his often appalled admiration for Limonov's enthusiasm for brutality. And since for the entirety of the book women only exist as things to fuck, it's hard not to see the whole book as one man's admiration for another's commitment to living out his own extended and elaborate male fantasy.
I'm now on to The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which starts off beautifully.
Yeah, me, too. I'm listening to Al Franken's Giant of the Senate and it's helping a little bit.
>190 southernbooklady: Your comments about Secondhand Time in post 165 prompted me to add it to my wishlist. Sounds as though I'll need to steel myself, though.
I've recently completed Killers of the Flower Moon, which was fascinating, but I thought Grann buried a lot of the drama by the way he structured the story, (though who am I to tell a New Yorker writer how to do his job?), and I've finished Missing, Presumed (meh), and Ready Player One (quick summer fun).
I've also just finished Trajectory by Richard Russo. There are only four stories in this collection, the first of which left me flat, but the last three were quite enjoyable. This is only the second time I've read Russo, the first being Nobody's Fool. I find him to be an amiable writer, which sounds as though I'm damning with faint praise, but I don't mean it that way.
I've now just begun Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar.
Tried to find Hamilton at my local indie and they are out of it. Did find instead a historic fiction The Hamilton Affair Has gotten really good write ups, and appears to be about both of their lives, not just the affair itself. Will be interesting to compare the two once I get ahold of the former
It showed up on the Guardian lists during the xmas swap last Christmas and I allllllmost sent it to Lynn but switched at the last second and now I wish I hadn't switched.
Two little books that Lisa P had sent me Springtime and Ghachar Ghochar, each perfect in its way with a twisty ending. I also read Christodora.
Has anyone read that yet? It felt like a Lisa P or a LuAnn book. It's about a group of people in NYC, the AIDS epidemic, art, adoption, and addiction. I thought it was really good.
New Yorkers and paperback mysteries for the plane.
Home now and just finished Sisters, Lily Tuck's new book.
I'm on the last few pages of The House of Twenty Thousand Books, which has been fun--and the absolute right choice to use as a frame for an essay I'm writing for Bloom about the process of dealing with my mother's books. I thought the beginning of the Abramsky book was a bit on the recursive side, circling back heavy-handedly to the political, cultural, and family history more than he needed to (or maybe just more than I needed him to). I do get how much he wanted to establish that base of knowledge in the reader, and I think once he hit what he imagined that point to be the book hit its groove and was a really fascinating intersection of all those histories, and a great ode to bookishness in a non precious or readers-are-superior-beings way.
The Lily Tuck fell flat for me. What am I missing.
Now reading a Nigerian novel Stay with Me about a woman whose husband takes a second wife
Also started The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shatttuck. It begins in 1938, and after finishing a chapter I had to put it down. The arguments used by the resisters to fight Hitler sound oh so familar and way to current. Not sure I want to continue, tho I like her writing.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron - Really disappointing. She's just saying the same things about aging that everyone else in the world says, and she's not even really saying them in funny ways. Plus, she's a slow talker, and it drove me bananas. And a lot of "upper class white New Yorker" syndrome, although she at least can acknowledge it sometimes.
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham - I don't get it. I know a lot of people (not even people in their 20s!) liked this and said she was insightful or something. I'm not done, but I don't think so. I think the same as I've always thought: she's extremely self-centered, she lacks appreciation for her privileged circumstances (growing up and since then), seems pretty entitled and not all that self-aware really. But she THINKS she's very self-aware and "woke," as the kids say. I was hoping I'd learn something to make me appreciate her more or like her, but that's just not happening. I also quit watching Girls pretty early because I just couldn't stand the entitled whininess. So, she's just not my thing.
Same with McCarthy - don't like her stand up or movies (well a few exceptions) however her role as Scott Spincer* was soooo Perfect!
* yes I know its a typo but i think a rather relevant one :)
Oh and just so you know I also don't like men comics who have the same style - its not just that they love using curse words, its that they think they are hilarious and they just arent
On topic, I finally finished the first Adam Dalgleish mystery by P.D. James, Cover Her Face. I recently read Death in Holy Orders, which is #11 in the series, and I liked it enough that I thought I'd go back and start from the beginning. The first one was very different to me. It was set up almost like an Agatha Christie or some other English country house or manor house mystery, if you know what I mean. Dalgleish didn't show up until halfway into the book, it seemed. And he relayed the facts and solution to the mystery much like those old kinds of mysteries (in my somewhat limited experience/knowledge). But it was not bad. I think she just improved throughout the series, and he developed more of a personality, so that's good. I have several others that I bought at the used bookstore, so I'll read them eventually.
I just started Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton this morning, and I'm already 100+ pages in, with very little time investment, so it's going to be a quick read (as long as I actually spend some time reading and not farting around with the teevee, like I usually do). It's a book club pick. I've enjoyed all of Crichton's books that I have read so far, but this one so far seems to fit alongside his earliest books, which I don't think were his best. But then, I haven't read many of his very late ones either. Anyway, hope it's good!
Oh I loved Critchons early work; read Jurassic Park long before it came out as a movie, and loved Andromeda Strain. I stopped reading him when he got too political, but I haven't read Dragon Teeth, will have to try that one.
Now reading Burr by Gore Vidal, and still working through The Greater Journey Americans in Paris. I like his writing when he is talking about specific subjects or events, but when he just goes on and on about how the Americans spent their days and nights it just gets a bit much. I was fascinated by the recent chapter on medical school in Paris; didn't realize that the way doctors were trained in the US developed from American drs coming back from Paris and teaching in medical colleges.
I read the PD James in order a few years ago and I think it's really worth it. They get slightly more misanthropic as they go.
Stay with Me was very good - about a Nigerian couple who are childless and the lengths they go to have a baby, all against a backdrop of government coups and assassinations. It was up for the Bailey's Women Prize earlier in the year (I can't remember what won but not this).
I saw Roxane Gay earlier this week so have been reading some favorite essays from Bad Feminist and also enjoying In a Lonely Place.
Now reading a sweet book with a stupid title Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. I can't even read this in public.
I read GH and liked it a lot.
I finished American War: A Novel which was a slow starter, but I'm glad I stuck with it.
Presently reading another apocalyptic novel only this time it's about an Amish community: When the English Fall.
Lauren, I liked the blurb for that Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows when I first saw it. Let me know what you think. Yeah, books you don't like to read in public... I have one that I've been dipping in and out of called Fantasies of the Library, which is actually a cool little collection of scholarly articles on information theory, metadata, book-as-object, etc. And the person who recommended the book to me had a copy with this very dignified distressed green cover. But my copy, which I found at work so I guess it's the most recent edition, looks like this—those finger cot things are what you use when working with a lot of paper, so I get it, but the whole thing looks verrry lurid, and I'm sure anyone who sees me reading it on the 1 train thinks it's about people screwing in the stacks.
I just finished a galley, Eileen Myles's Afterglow: A Dog Memoir. I think a lot of the time poets' prose efforts can be so packed that they're by nature uneven—I guess you can say the same for poetry as well. That's definitely the case with this book, and honestly I get the feeling that Myles would be just fine with the idea of taking what you want and leaving the rest. Some of it is just gorgeous, lyrical, madly associative and evocative. And some of it is just too dense or esoteric for the likes of me, and I was perfectly happy to read along and let some of it settle to the bottom in order for the stuff that resonated for me to rise. Although Myles definitely stretches the definition of "a dog memoir," there is some marvelous writing on dogs, and about dog ownership in particular—both the intense scrutiny that's borne out of love and also the dilemma of all that tenderness and adoration weighed against the wrongness of leading another living being around by the neck. I love her directness, often bordering on crudeness, and the love that shines through it all for her departed Rosie—"the physiognomy of dearness unsurpassed." This one takes a little suspension of the need to get every sentence, but the rewards are great.
For a little context to go with, I've been in and out of a collection of Eileen Myles's poems, I Must Be Living Twice. And for something completely different, I'm reading David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is an odd mix. I hate the title and find the plot kind of implausible. But it's not all sexy grandma wink nudge either and deals with some real issues like honor killing and arranged marriages. It's very engaging and Nikki is a great character. So, thumbs up and I hope Jaswal's next novel has a better title!
I am reading another British novel - this one called Greatest Hits. It's about a singer - JoniMitchellSandyDennyKateBush - who is called to put together a greatest hits album mid career which gives her a chance to review her life and her music. It's ok. I can't say I don't have a sense of exactly what is going to happen even if I am only midway through. The cool thing is that the author - Lauren Graham - worked with Kathryn Williams to create an album of the songs. I am a big Kathryn Williams fan - first came across her music a few years ago when she worked with the Durham Literary Festival to create a song cycle based on The Bell Jar. So I'm reading and listening and enjoying, even if neither are the greatest. I like it as an experiment.
Just started Dogs at the Perimeter. I cannot promise a dog will not come to harm here - it's upsetting already.
Your touchstone, for whatever earthly reason of Librarything metadata, goes to The Association's Greatest Hits, and now I have the unshakeable earworm of And then along comes Mary, eeeeee-eee-eee.... And now you all do too.
The Weight of Ink looks good, thanks for the rec. And the library has an e copy, so yay.
Last week I read David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon—an interesting telling of a really terrible episode, a string of murders of Osage folks in the early '20s for their oil rights, and how the difficulty of working within the small-town racist corruption helped establish the FBI. Solid storytelling, easy read. But it's also tangentially about research, the choices you make to tell a story when you have a big pile of source material (literally, to hear Grann tell it) but no personal accounts, and when there's no convenient narrative arc or aha moment to hang it all on. And I think he did a good job of it, though you know someone else would have come up with an entirely different book.
Now I'm going to read Stephen Florida, a book I swooned over for months just for its cover. I finally got a copy at Book Expo because I must have sighed so deeply when the Coffee House Press publicist told me it was her last copy that she pressed it into my sad little hands.
I picked up The Mysteries of Paris earlier this week -- it's a humongous book, almost 1400 pages, with five or six (so far!) major plots. It was originally published in 150 installments, so none of the chapters are more then ten or so pages long and then you switch to another of the plots for a bit, then another, etc etc. The characters have names like Schoolmaster and Songbird, so it's not exactly a deep character study or anything; it all services the plot, plot, plot and so far there's a LOT OF PLOT.
It predates Les Miserables by about twenty years, and I have to say: it's pretty easy to point a finger at Hugo and say, uh, dude, you blatantly stole that.
This translation is from 2015 and is some of shockingly modern-sounding (that should probably be a criticism, but it does make the book easier to read -- though at 1400 pages, it'll still take a while); supposedly this book, which had practically disappeared, suffered from a bad translation before, which I guess contributed to its obscurity. I hope that's changing; it's tremendous fun...and with the short chapters, great for episodic summer reading (though it's a wrist-breaker at over two pounds).
The mother, father and great-aunt of all potboilers... Too bad about the language, Sue was inordinately proud of his mastery of specific jargons then in use by the denizens of the underworld.
Its very violent, although no dogs are harmed.
This is an earlier novel by Thien- I think Do Not Say We Have Nothing was such a success, that the American publisher is issuing older work this fall. I am reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing now - it feels ungainly at 450 pages where Dogs was so slim and contained. But it's early days.
I wanted to speedread my way through Do Not Say We Have nothing but I couldn't because it's so good. Yes, it's too long and I'm not sure the frame works - the family in
Vancouver and Marie. But the story that takes place in Shanghai and Beijing and the way that the Cultural Revolution rips apart this family is so well told and goes really deep emotionally. I loved it. The narrative has a way of repeating and spiralling around itself - I can't explain it and I''m not even sure how she did it but it's pretty incredible.
The set piece of the events in Tienanmen Sq is a tour de force.
If you haven't read it, you should.
I spent much of the weekend getting to and from my darling father's 80th birthday. It was ridiculous fun, not least of which because he was wearing a seersucker suit and a Liberty tie. I read old NYers and To Love and Be Wise.
Part of the delight is reading this in print form on the subway and checking out other commuters' reactions to the very intense cover, which I think is my favorite of the year.
Here are some quick notes, though. Apologies in advance for their haphazard, half-complete state.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is saturated in the vivid scenery and lush, over-the-top language I remember from The God of Small Things and that I find so beautiful and rewarding. It is also highly polemical -- it is hard to avoid the thought that each of the main characters Stands For Something, which is not something I remember from Roy's first book, but then it has been 20 years since I read it. I find the politicization easy to tolerate, because it itself is so easily subsumed by the panorama Roy is painting, and because I am perennially drawn to explorations of people driven by ideals and visions. But the whole book is worth reading just for the account of the birth of the Jannat Guest House.
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them I found I liked for many of the reasons others don't -- its lack of focus, its myopia, its attempts at sarcastic humor confronting the hair-splitting obsessions of the lit crit crowd that come off more bitter than funny (although the account of the Tolstoy conference is pretty hilarious), its utter lack of profundity. "This has nothing new to say about Russian Literature!" reviewers tend to bitch. Instead, it is an extended account -- in a series of collected essays, of Batuman's own love -- or love/hate -- relationship with the books in her life. And that...that I totally get.
The only section I didn't like so much was the one that gives the title to the book, about Dostoyevsky's The Possessed, which I read in college as The Demons. That section is taken up with a fairly long and unnecessary recap of the novel that irritated me, such that by the time she gets into the question of how flawed the book is or may be, I was too annoyed to pay close attention.
But I was willingly drawn in to her arguments with fellow grad students about Isaac Babel -- her summation of him as "an accountant" perversely making me go back to his stories just to see if I could see what she did. (I couldn't). Her account of the Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, a stellar example of a failed travel piece, nevertheless has me hunting around for a copy of Ivan Lazhechnikov's The Ice House -- so far without success. And Batuman's extended account of a summer spent in Samarkand studying Uzbek poetry that other readers found off topic, kept me fairly riveted. She was there because of an accident of grant funding, but then this is how most of my own travels through the land of literature have occurred -- serendipitously, by accident and whim rather than design. Why study Uzbek poetry? Why climb a mountain?
I finished You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day. I suspect if you don't know her, then you would have little to no interest in this. If you know her and have enjoyed her work in the "geek world," such as The Guild, Dr. Horrible, and Tabletop and everything on Geek & Sundry, then you may like this (she's also in plenty of shows, like Supernatural and Eureka, but if you don't know her geek persona, you may not be as interested in this book). I LOVED it. Despite the fact that she seems to have been fairly lucky in her career, she is apparently a violin prodigy and a genius (graduated from U. of Texas with a 4.0 in math and violin performance, was valedictorian of her college class there, and got an almost perfect score on her SAT at 15 or 16 despite not having gone to school for many years)...I still like her and relate to her (i.e., I'm a little envious, but not so jealous that I judge her overly harshly). I enjoyed her journey, her sense of humor and confidence, and her struggles with depression and anxiety. For a fan of hers, it was a really fun book. Loved it.
Other than that, I haven't been reading that much, or not sticking to anything. I started All Grown Up and am really liking it. I'm also reading a pretty silly romance, but it was free (part of the reading group on Goodreads that Felicia Day is part of, called Vaginal Fantasy book club or something, with her and some other women in the geek world). I'm not getting along any better in it than I do in anything else, though.
Bruno is the opposite of Maisie Dobbs -- he eats and drinks nonstop, almost to the point of ludicrousness. There's no way he can be getting anything done with all those little glasses of eau de vie he keeps getting offered at every stop.
I do like it; I'm glad there are a handful of them to move on to.
Praise the lord.
I am quite liking my current reading. On chapter is titled "Ayn Rand Is Bullshit."
The Driver: A Novel by Hart Hanson
I've had that Mink River book forever. I'm not even sure I read it. I'll have to click the link.
I also have the Stephen Florida book, but I know I haven't read that, yet.
I came by this morning just to type that Kat was totally right about The Weight of Ink. Not sure if it'll be on my Best Of list, I'm only at the halfway mark, but it's very good. It's one of those books with historical, parallel plots, and this author is remarkably adept with the transitions and relevance. She's a fine storyteller, and the book is really well-written which is rarely the case with historical fiction.
The premise is that women suddenly have the ability to electrocute others. It's starts with teenage girls giving each other shocks for fun, then the yare able to harness and use the power, pass it on to older women, defend themselves etc. Soon baby girls are being born with it. But absolutely power corrupts absolutely and this feminist fairytale gets very dark very fast.
The women whose stories you follow are an American mayor with political ambitions, the daughter of a British mobster and a young woman who has grown up in foster care, kills her abusive step-father and transforms herself into Mother Eve - the leader of a woman-centric religion. Then, there's a Nigerian photo-journalist - a fellow - who documents the trajectory of the Power - an outsider looking in and puts himself at terrible risk.
It's not perfect and it's funnier than you'd think it should be - there is a framing device of correspondence between two writers - a man and a woman - that really puts the whole thing in perspective, but it's very very clever and like any good speculative fiction, it makes you rethink a lot of things.
Somebody like HBO better scoop this puppy up. It would make a great mini-series. I heard that she just sold the rights of her first novel Disobedience to Rachel Weisz.
The only thing that makes me sad is that Alderman was a writer I shared with Sue Russell and it's just not fair that Sue isn't here anymore!
I had to take a break from upsetting books and am reading the new Fay Weldon who I've never been sure I even liked Before the War and a very cool book of essays I received from the Early Readers program We Wear the Mask about passing in today's culture.
Has anyone read The Madonnas of Echo Park? Skyhorse's essay was really interesting and I'm curious about his fiction.
Taking Dark Vineyard - the second Bruno, Chief of Police book - and American Fire to a five-day cabin in the woods next week. It's a funny mix of people -- mostly college, but a few adult-time Nashville people too, so I suspect it's going to be like The Big Chill...with Murders.
A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck of all people. I picked it up because Travels with Charley is a favorite of mine so I thought, oh, I like Steinbeck's travel writing! But he's a bit of an ass in this book. The trip was a somewhat impromptu affair, the idea of which came from a conversation in a bar when Steinbeck and a few other literary/intelligentsia types started wondering about what "real Russians" were like. They were conscious, even at this time just post WWII, that the picture they received of the Soviet Union was highly skewed and politicized:
"In the papers every day were thousands of words about Russia..What Stalin was thinking about, the plans of the Russian General Staff, the disposition of troops, experiments with atomic weapons...all of this by people who had not been there, and whose sources were not above reproach. And it occurred to us that there were some things that nobody wrote about Russia, and they were the things that interested us most of all. What do the people wear there? What do they serve at dinner? Do they have parties?...How do they make love, and how do they die? What do they talk about?
etc, etc. It's a series of very naive and condescending questions, but it prompted enough interest to organize a trip as a kind of cultural exchange. Steinbeck et al deliberately traveled without journalist credentials, which would have put them under the oversight of the Foreign Office. Instead, they ended up under the care of various cultural departments and writers' unions, which minimized their interactions with state security services, but also meant they had to navigate some truly labyrinthine bureaucracy.
It is the "et al" of the group that is of most interest here, because one of the people traveling with Steinbeck was Robert Capa. As a documentation of "real Russia" Steinbeck's account is not much of a success -- he spends more time talking about the travel conditions and the inconveniences of idiosyncratic plumbing than he does talking about, or to, those real Russians. However, Capa's photographs, which illustrate the book, more than make up for it. They are a wonder. And frankly, they rescue the text from its often petulant myopia.
The best section is the time they spend at several collective farms in the Ukraine and Georgia, where Steinbeck forgets himself enough to really pay attention and talk to the people he encounters. And they talk to him, asking hundreds of questions about farming conditions and political ideas in the United States, most of which he doesn't know how to answer. In this section, Capa's photographs show people working, or dancing, or baking bread, and and they are smiling and proud everyone is barefoot since shoes are too rare to use in the fields:
There was one woman, with an engaging ace and a great laugh, whom Capa picked out for a portrait. She was the village wit. She said, "I am not only a great worker, I am twice widowed, and many men are afraid of me now.." And she shook a cucumber in the lens of Capa's camera.
And Capa said, "Perhaps you'd like to marry me now?"
She rolled back her head and howled with laughter. "Now you, look!" she said. "If God had consulted the cucumber before he made man, there would be less unhappy women in the world."
And all in all, despite Steinbeck's general self-absorption, there does emerge a picture of the nascent Soviet Union, before the terrible realities of the Stalinist regime had fully taken hold or the extent of its crimes had come to light. Steinbeck's account lacks this looming cloud of historical hindsight. Instead this is an account of a Russia that -- infrastructure issues and bureaucratic red tape not withstanding -- had won a war at great cost and whose people were throwing themselves into building a new world.
She's a well-known feminist poet in Pakistan, although her work is completely new to me. Riaz writes in Urdu and is renowned for her command of the language, but of course most of that is lost to me since I don't speak Urdu and don't know anything about its classic poetic forms.
But what does come through in translation is her fury and frankly her physicality -- it was wholly unexpected. She's not one to make her thoughts more palatable by masking them in a metaphor, she's right out there: poems about menstruation, about sexual pleasure, about freedom and joy and pleasure felt by the female body. And poems of sharp scorn of the demands men make on women, the way society cages women, smothers them. Honestly, she reminds me a little of Adrienne Rich, believe it or not. So on one hand there is the ruthless ridicule in a poem like Vital Statistics:
have measured me,
waist, hips, breast,
and all the rest
held a heart
and the round skull
If I'm valued
just by the inch,
why do you shrink,
from tit for tat,
When I start
some of your
But then there is also the sort of burst of joy you get in a poem like The Laughter of a Woman:
In the singing springs of stony mountains
Echoes the gentle laughter of a woman
Wealth, power and fame mean nothing
In her body lies hidden her freedom
Let the new gods of the earth try as they can
They can not hear the sob of her ecstasy.
Everything sells in this marketplace
But her satisfaction
The ecstasy she alone knows
Which she herself cannot sell.
Come you wild winds of the valley
Come and kiss her face
There she goes, her hair billowing in the wind
The daughter of the wind
There she goes, singing with the wind.
There is always a question, reading in translation, of what comes through and what is lost. Especially for poetry. But Riaz comes through for me. Despite the obvious cultural differences, I recognize the woman speaking in the poems, and I recognize the feelings she is seeking to give a voice to. It made a deep impression on me.
Far North: A Novel by Marcel Theroux
I am just a chapter shy of finishing Where Dead Men Meet which is kind of a Hitchcockian case of mistaken identity, plus chases through Europe with Nazis and other Croat strongmen. A nun is hurt in this thriller- full disclosure. It's a bit of a mess but an entertaining one.
Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac, which I'm finding tough going. You'd think, given my affinity for writers like Bolano and Cesar Aria, I'd be used to the whole author-as-character genre of fiction. But this book is testing me. It feels weirdly removed from the heart. Intelligent but not empathetic (a charge no one can lay at Bolano's feet.) Anyway, it's taking me a long time to finish.
Rebecca Solnit's Book of Migrations, on the other hand, is a real delight. I love the way Solnit looks at the world, no matter what part of the world she's in. (in this case, Ireland). This book is getting passed on to my mother.
And lastly, I've just started Confessions of a recovering environmentalist by Paul Kingsnorth -- the guy that wrote The Wake -- can't find the touchstone -- that novel written in the author's own version of Old English that lots of people didn't like, but I really enjoyed. This book I picked up because of what a bookseller at Parnassus Books in Nashville said about it:
Kingsnorth is better known in America for his strange fiction (The Wake), but he’s also a very divisive figure among environmentalists in the UK due to his insistence on abandoning the sustainability movement and instead seeking to protect nature for its own sake. Don’t save the moors because they can be a great spot to plant wind turbines; save them because they deserve to exist, etc. He lays out his case for “dark ecology” in this brilliant collection of essays on the environment and environmentalism, on the sacred and the sustainable, on rapture and disenchantment.
Now I'm reading Jeff VanderMeer's Borne, which I put a hold on for some reason that escapes me now. That kind of gnarly dystopian sf was totally my thing when I was about 19—it was a fun fantasy to have while living in the scabby downtown NYC of the early '80s. I figured not so much anymore, but I'm surprised at how easily I slipped back into that particular head. Liking it well enough so far, but it's also still early days.
Oh and I love Rebecca Solnit. I'll read anything of hers.
Where Dead Men Meet was ok although I've already forgotten most of the plot. But Venice.
I received The Other Alcott as part of the Library Things First Read programs and even though the cover is ALL WRONG, it's really kind an interesting book about May Alcott, the youngest of the sisters and the prototype for Amy March. She was an artist who spent much of her adult life in Europe, taking classes where she could (very few places where women could study art) and exhibited several times in the Paris Salon. Hers is kind of a sad story but I enjoyed this fictional take on it - in part because I am an Alcott slut and in part because I always enjoy a good expat story and this particular time - Americans in Rome, Paris and London just after the Civil War hits a certain hot spot for me.
Louisa comes off as a bit of a pill - which I think she probably was.
Lisa P and SBL, this might be your thing.
Struggling a bit with Michele Roberts The Walworth Beauty. I am bored and find her writing to be quite choppy.
I put a hold on Borne on a total whim (yet another reason why the library is great: because impulse reading is good when impulse spending is not). I don't read a ton of sf these days, although once upon a time, late teens/early 20s, this kind of gnarly dystopian fiction was totally my thing—it matched up well with the gnarly dystopian lower Manhattan of the early '80s, and I think a lot of us secretly imagined ourselves to be undercover Mad Maxes (remember when we liked Mel Gibson?). I fell back into it easily too—VanderMeer's world building and general setup were really fun and inventive. I liked the writing a bit less so—maybe I'm out of the groove of that particular genre and its conventions, but it felt a bit loosely written, or maybe loosely edited, hard to say. Which didn't stop me from enjoying it all the way through... but definitely with a few stylistic reservations.
Now reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which I like—it's being very visual for me, which books aren't always. But this is kind of a cross between Pather Panchali and Princess Mononoke in my addled little brain. So far I like it.
I really liked The Visitation. I thought it was going to be more historical - like the The Glass Room which is based on the Villa Tugenhat - and it is - the house changes hands during both the Nazi and the Communist regimes but more Orlando than Wolf Hall, if you get my drift.
Erpenbeck is also an opera director which makes sense - the work is so visual.
This Walworth Beauty is for the birds.
Re-reading Bad Feminist for fun. I extoled the virtues of We Wear the Mask elsewhere -sheesh - those are some good essays.
I also can't imagine that the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Board is too happy with the book.
Some of the visuals are pretty hard to take -- I can read descriptions of brutality but I don't seem to become inured to them. But Roy's descriptions of buildings, rooms, dwelling places are poetry. I love the slow blooming of the Jannat Guest House in the middle of the cemetery.
Still, one of the characters takes endless walks about her London neighborhood which I found intriguing. As anyone read Flaneuse? Thats my next nf read, I think.
I am still happily re-reading Roxanne Gay and I started So Big because I bought it to read this summer and well, it's post Labor Day. I love it.
I had to virtually put down The Ministry of Utmost Happiness because my checkout ran out and NYPL sucked the ebook back into its hungry maw. I'm liking the imagery—I guess that's kind of a given in a well-written book set in India, huh?—and the insider baseball view of regional politics. But it's distractingly diffuse. Hard to say without having finished, but it feels like all the disparate parts are building to form some kind of modern fairy tale, but doing that takes a little more... let's say concision. There's too much writing in here to be a real allegory, if that's what the book's trajectory is about. But the writing is good, and for the most part it's enjoyable, so I'll pick it back up again and finish when my hold comes back in in another nine weeks—though I'm pretty sure I won't remember a damn thing about the story structure by then, since there are a few too many threads to pin a narrative on right now.
Now I'm just starting Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker for an LJ review. Wilson's a good biographer and of course I'm a Darwin girl, so I have high hopes for this one.
and got some literary awards here and now she's back in North Dakota I believe. I think people really liked this one so i'm hoping I will too.
This is also really making me want to read my copy of The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, since it sings his praises a lot.
Plus all my library holds are coming due and piling up. But I'm guessing I've got another week with Darwin here.
I also got Juliet Nicholson's A House Full of Daughters for my sister-in-law and have been reading it very carefully before I give it to her next week. She;s Nigel Nicholson's daughter - so granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West etc. I thought it was going to be Bloomsbury fun but it's really quite a poignant memoir about her own life and the lives of the other women in her family, going back to her great-great grandmother Petipa, the Spanish dancer. There are a few moments I've had where it's like - hey lady, I'm not feeling sorry for you, you grew up in Sissinghurst! - but she makes a pretty compelling argument for privilege without emotional support is a pretty raw deal.
Legacy of Spies
So many great books out there, and I'm making an effort to turn off the tv earlier most nights, so I can read for a while before I go to bed. Reading Meghan Daum's The Unspeakable. The essays are up and down, not as provocative as I expected. Still good.
Also, reading some samples, some comics, some magazines, and Red Rising (embarrassingly, I picked this up when it was cheap on Kindle purely because Lin-Manuel Miranda's wife loved it, so he mentioned something about it on Twitter. I'm a sucker!)
But am I reading any of those, even the ones I promised to read? No. Because when I went to dig out my copy of The Essex Serpent from the middle of the stack, I had to move Paul Kingsnorth's Beast, (follow up to "The Wake"), and Umami by Laia Jufresa, and now I'm reading those.
Is there such a thing as "Book ADD"? If so, I think I have it.
The rigidity of how she was raised, esp in regard to appearance, seemed so wounding. It also reminded me of my mother's experience. I don't think my grandmother ever expressed the notion that a Jewish girl or woman was or could be beautiful, her ideas of beauty were patrician, non-ethnic. The more you looked like a gentile - small nose, straight hair etc - the better. I feel so bad for my aunt and my mother.
The constant aspiration to whiteness is so wearying.
Jumping into The Madonnas of Echo Park.
I second The Leaver's recommendation.
Right now I'm about 500 pages into the stupidly long Jerusalem and thinking of ditching and/or skimming the remainder. Self indulgent most of it. Some of it is lovely and insightful and interesting, which is frustrating because with some discipline and consultation with an editor or even a reader or two, it could be much, much shorter and much, much better.
Plus, tomorrow the new Leckie is out and I'm ditching everything to read it when it arrives on my Kindle.
The story centers around the people living in a little complex--a mews-- in Mexico City. Each of the little bungalows (I think of them more like row houses around a central court) has been named by the landlord for the five different tastes: Bitter, Sour, Sweet, Salty, and Umami (this last is where the landlord, who has written a book on the subject of umami, himself lives). So it is one of those "neighborhood" stories, that seems to be about how all these disparate people came to be in this place at this time, and how they come together or drift apart. I love stories like that.
But as you get into the story, you start to realize it is really an exploration into grieving and loss -- each of the residents in the mews are dealing with some kind of loss or absence in their lives, as well as becoming involved in the griefs and losses of their neighbors, including one family who suffers the accidental drowning of their youngest child.
The story slides back and forth through time from various characters points of view (including the child's) and is a marvel for its portrayal of sorrow and compassion and deep, deep ache. I find myself in awe of the translator, frankly, for the subtlety and emotional nuance that come through in every scene. I'm going to have to sit tight to read more of Jufresa's work, since Umami is a debut novel. But I'm now on a mission to see what else Sophie Hughes has translated, because my god, I can't believe how beautifully this book reads.
Finally finished Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker—stayed up late just so I could finish it and not have to haul it around anymore. I didn't end up liking it all that much, mostly because I think his logic is flawed and heavily dependent on giving this "maverick" pushback reading of Darwin. I don't buy it. But it was interesting in theory, anyway, and as I said I really liked all the background on the science of the day, even if he could have effectively left about a third of his research out. I finished mainly because I'm reviewing it, so I'll probably have something more cogent to say then.
Anyway, happy to be reading some immersive fiction next.
On the plus side, Skyhorse excels at creating a sense of place. Echo Park is a neighborhood he knows. I also liked how much pop music informed the plot, including Madonna's Borderline. Anytime a Madonna video is a major plot point, I'm in.
I'd definitely read more by him.
Next up: Salt and Saffron and then I'm sending all my Shamsie to Miriam U.
Oh yeah, I'm listening to a Louise "Why use just one adjective when 4 will do" Penny mystery while attending the dentist, weeding, etc.
And woot, I'm looking forward to a Shamsie fiesta.
on edit: I'm tired and apparently can't type whole words.
I'm reading Provenance since it arrived on my Kindle today, and I impulsively purchased Umami yesterday because Niki said it was good. I read a bit last night and it starts strong, although I was surprised by the young narrator.
Kat, I need to go back and look at your pictures again, because I've read almost all the Three Pines books (I keep trying to tell you all, they aren't that twee once you get past the first few!), so it will be nice to see what it really looks like. One of the books was set in Quebec City, and Gamache did research at this historical library and he talked about a lot of the buildings and sites, and I read that book with my phone right next to me, so I could look at all the pictures while I was reading. It was a really wonderful reading experience.
But, I confess we made the decidion to visit Quebec's Eastern Townships before I was aware of the Penny connection.
(Edit: Is it audio book or audiobook? I'm never sure.)
But really, it's like the Odyssey or something. The voice of Jojo, the young boy, is not going to leave me, I don't think. I hope not, anyway.
I am reading a crazily entertaining book about Woody Guthrie and the merchant marines. Woody, Cisco and Me - it would be a delightful movie so if you know anyone ....
Also trying Nathan Englander's latest Dinner at the Center of the Earth. He is s reading here on Thursday. But I'm struggling with it.
Now my hold on Marlena is in, so I guess that's next even though I've heard mixed things.
When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi et al.
I'm reading An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn.
It's a very uncontrived mixture of memoir, literary criticism, travel writing and lovely storytelling.
A college freshman lit professor is taken aback when his retired mathematician father announces he'll be sitting in on his son's upcoming seminar for The Odyssey... especially considering their complex relationship. The classroom dynamics are, in turns, awkward, funny, and touching, and an unlikely father/son cruise retraces The Odyssey's route shortly before the father dies (no spoiler that).
I don't know how many times I've read the epic poem, or how many papers I've written about it, but I've never experienced the classic through a Greek reading/writing scholar's eyes. His examinations of the language of the poem, the remarkable amount of word origins it spawned, and its parallels between an ancient and a modern story are so smoothly, so gently drawn they feel almost discrete.
I'm only about halfway through it, so I don't know if it'll hold up until the end, but, so far, I'm thoroughly hooked.
I'm reading The Potlikker Papers right now, which is by turns entertaining and fascinating. It is a little weird to read since I've gone full-on vegetarian, though. For the first time since I made that change a couple years ago, descriptions of fried chicken and barbecue, or stuffed pork chops, or greens simmering in fatback, do not make me instantly hungry.
Also on tap is The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne, because of something I read in The Guardian, I think.
Finally finished The Greater Journey Really liked it, but there was a lot of (new to me) history to take in, and I needed to reread sections so that slowed me down. Oh, and yeah, started back to school. That will do it!
Librarything not showing my edition: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B072FL4Z1V
An Amazon reader review about it being from Atalanta's perspective talked me into this one:
"Atalanta has always been one of the more interesting heroines of Greek myth: a fleet-footed huntress who challenged her suitors to a foot-race, slew the Calydonian Boar, and made a name for herself as the only woman to join the quest for the Golden Fleece. She makes a bold and appealing heroine in "For The Winner," which simultaneously grounds the legend of Jason and his Argonauts in a grittier, more realistic ancient Greece than we usually see in the myths, and weaves in the gods themselves as they comment on the human adventures below. Atalanta, determined to prove her worth to the kingly father who abandoned her as an infant, disguises herself as a man to join the cold-eyed Jason and his Argonauts as they set sail for Colchis. Atalanta battles the hardships of the voyage, the dislike of Jason who I was pleased to see as the villain of this piece rather than the hero (I never liked him, even in the myth), and the mistrust of her fellow Argonauts who will certainly cast her out if they discover her secret...or will they? Periodically the gods interject themselves from Olympus, deliciously and hilariously vain, more inclined to screw things up for the hyper-competent Atalanta than aid her along. "For The Winner" is a delightful read, all pathos and humor and a heroine to make you cheer-- "
I like these unique angles in both these books. Daniel's father doesn't like Odysseus and constantly argues in the classroom discussions re: his hero status, and Hauser's book casts the same dislike on Jason.
There is an act of great moral kindness that literally took my breath away, so unexpected it was.
Giving myself a crash course in Korean history with Nothing to Envy and reading Faith. I think Haigh is so under-appreciated - her novels are just so quietly good.
I've been reading My Brilliant Friend, finally. And the first volume of the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman.
I thought Faith was very good. I didn't quite bite at the sister being the narrator - there was too much happening that she is relating rather than experiencing herself and I felt like it made the novel kind of clumsy. But for a straight-up novel about family, Catholicism, the priesthood and Boston, it's a winner.
I am going to NY/MA for a long weekend and have about 10 books packed, including an old Antonia Fraser mystery and The Tsar of Love and Techno.
I hope to catch a sighting of Lisa P!
Also just finished Manhattan Beach and I really loved it. Still thinking about it today. Now beginning Magpie Murders and still visiting Middlemarch.
A friend at work just offered to lend me Manhattan Beach when she's done, so I'm looking forward to that. I've heard a lot of praise for it going around, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard setting definitely has my interest. (I know I probably say this all the time, but nothing cheers up a shitty morning commute mood more than walking into work and having the first conversation, before I even get to my desk, be someone waylaying me to talk about a book—and I'd say that happens at least twice a week, so life is good.)
Marlena was a decent read—the writing was very good, and I especially liked a lot of her teen dialogue. But the book still never really took me any place unexpected or—for all its dark corners and end-of-the-tracks white kid peril—made me worry for its marginal characters. I like that Buntin treaded lightly on certain moments that could have been full of pathos or overburdened with significance, but in the end I didn't care quite as much about those poor kids as I wished I had.
Now reading Goodbye, Vitamin!, which is lightweight but smart—another in my favorite category of Charming Alzheimer's Books.
Kat, I read When Breath Becomes Air and it is just a great book. It’s written by a young neurosurgeon who develops stage 4 lung cancer. He writes beautifully and IIRC he was a literature/philosophy major and thought about being a writer and he has the chops. In some ways the book reminded me of The Year of Magical Thinking, in the way Didion was able to stand back and observe and write about her own grief; he was able to do the same.
My two other favorite nonfiction medical reads from last year were Being Mortal Medicine and What Happens at the End (which Lisa mentioned.) I hate to say something should be required reading but this comes pretty close.
The last one is coming out next week and is In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope by Rana Awdish. She is a young ICU doctor who finds herself in the ICU facing her own medical castastrophy. Reminded me a bit of that old movie The Doctor with William Hurt. Really one of the best books I’ve read.
The other nonfiction recommendation is American Kingpin, written by Vanity Fair writer Nick Bilton. It’s all about the guy who started The Silk Road - the dark web’s black market website started by this rather naive decent kid and how it turned dark dark dark. The police procedural part about how he got caught was great too. You just know this will end up a movie and the book reads like fiction. I couldn’t put it down.
Edited to try to fix links.
Am currently reading Little Fires Everywhere , by Celeste Ng and it’s good so far although I’m only about 30 pages in.
Written in Blood by Layton Green. I wouldn’t have finished if I wasn’t reading it for review. This guy never met a metaphor he didn’t like.
And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman. Loved it. It’s about a little boy and his grandfather who has developed dementia. So far I’ve liked everything I’ve read by this guy.
Need to Know by Karen Cleveland. This isn’t coming out for a few months but it’s gotten a lot of good buzz and I think they’ve already optioned it for a movie starring Charlize Theron. I liked it at the beginning but then it started driving me nuts. I didn’t buy into it at all and can’t believe the author really did work as a CIA Counterterrorism analyst. If so, we’re in trouble folks.
Lastly for now, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin which is going down as one of my best of the year picks. It starts off in 1969 in New York when the four Gold children have a gypsy tell them the day they’re going to die. And then the book breaks up into chapters/sections featuring each of them and how this prediction affected their lives. Loved it.
Edited to put in the book links (that I found.) Thanks Lisa.
Re the touchstone feature— it's pretty imperfect, but what you can do is as you're typing, once you've put your brackets around the title or author you want you'll see to the right of the posting window the titles/authors where they're pointing. If you go there and click on "(others)" you'll get a pop-up list to choose the one you want from—just click on the plus sign and it'll change the touchstone. I like it when they're used because I'm really into the LibraryThing recommendations—I can get a sense of the book from the recommended titles, both at the bottom of the main page and, if you really want to geek out, the category you can click on to the left with a bunch of different types of recommendations. I'm not sure what the difference is between them, but I find I have more books in common consistently with the "People with this book also have... (less common)" choices.
I have The Immortalists on my pile—I heard good things about it already but your rec bumped it up. And agreed, Being Mortal should be recommended reading for everyone.
I am having trouble linking to the Rana Awdish book I mentioned even though I can find it through her name, but In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope is as highly recommended as Being Mortal. Terrible title but a page-turner and so insightful. It’s my choice for book club next month and I already know it’s going to be a hit. (3 doctors in my club - all heard about it beforehand but I got the ARC and told them it was as good as they heard.)
Im reading a couple of books for my Reading Through Time group 'Fractured Fairy Tales. (not until December, but no time like the preseng when it comes to books!) Bitter Greens and Children of Hamelin Missing readerville's YA thread that had an ongoing discussion on this topic. I'd love a list of the titles that were being read them...
Looking forward to reading The Immoralists!
I'm now reading The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty, which traces the author's own family history and uses the journey as the scaffolding for tracing the history of Southern food. It is much more intense than Edge's book, much more personal, and consequently much, much more interesting:
The first meal I ever saw in South Carolina was a nightmare waiting to happen. It was a pile of hoppin' john on a plate, and it was exotic and awfule. It was field peas, rice, and various animal parts and bones. I cried and screwed up my face and demanded chicken noodle soup.
Twitty has been a bit of a controversial figure in the Southern food scene, but I have to say, I love his perspective, and his utter lack of preciousness. And his cowhorn okra soup with fish pepper sauce.
There was less reading and more driving on my recent trip but runway delays were helped by A Discovery of Witches which a co-worker loaned me. It's really fun - kind of grown-up Harry Potter with witches and vampires and imp, lost manuscripts, inter-species lovin'.
But here's what I don't like - the romance trope of the man having to be so rich. What is that about? The vampire in this has a chateau, private planes, and endless cashmere sweaters. I mean, it's silly. Maybe because fetishing the rich has landed us with the worst president the US has ever suffered under - but I think even if Trump wasn't president, this would bug me.
It's a really wonderful piece of work -- wonderful in the way E.O. Wilson is when he's writing about ants, or Donald C. Peattie is when he's writing about trees.
Landmarks is an extended paean of the language of landscape -- specifically, British landscape. And "specificity" is the exactly the word -- the first chapter launches into a delighted recounting of the words to be found in a "Peat Glossary" somebody created from the various words for peat, working with peat, and the landscape of peat that existed in three small villages in moor country:
èit: practice of placing quartz stones in moorland streams so that they would sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn. Gaelic (Isle of Lewis)
Every chapter is appendixed by a glossary, a litany of words like that.
So even though I'm reading the book in print, it only took a glance at the first glossary -- words to do with running water -- and I went running to download the audiobook. And I'd recommend the same to anyone thinking of giving the book a try. Because just reading these lists of words is not enough. You have to hear them spoken. And then it is like music.
I finished Samantha Hunt's The Dark Dark, a collection of short stories of both the quietly quirky and the not-so-quietly-quirky variety, and—yes—dark, but not in the obvious ways. Many are sometimes prosaic and sometimes fantastical takes on the impulse toward self-obliteration and the reasons why, which I thought was an interesting thread to run through a collection. Also the choice to twin the first and last stories, the second an alternate version of the first that gets more and more recursive as it goes. The one I loved best, which was also the least fantastic of the ten, was the knockout "A Love Story," which struck all the right notes:
"The uncertain position we all maintain in life asking when will violence strike, when will devastation occur, leaves us looking like the hapless swimmers at the beginning of each Jaws movie. Innocent, tender, and delicious. Our legs tread water, buoyed by all that is right and good and deserved in this world, a house, healthy children, clean food to eat, love. While that animatronic shark, a beast without mercy, catches the scent of blood and locks in on his target."
My e-hold on The Ministry of Utmost Happiness came back around so I can finish that. I'm interested to see if it it gets any more cohesive or circles back to its roots in some way... I admire what she is up to with it but my banal love of plot has kept holding me back from loving this so far.
It wasn't available on my indie audiobook source (libro.fm) but it was on Audible.com
I listen to quite alot of audio, because to be honest it powers me through really boring housecleaning tasks. At this point I'm positive I would never clean house without something to listen to getting me through the tedium of it. And your description of cleaning out your basement and attic? That is totally the kind of thing I use audiobooks to get me through.
In this case, though, I went looking because you know how idiosyncratic the relationship can be between how something is spelled, and how it is pronounced in English. Case in point -- the narrator says "Gaelic" the way I would say "Gallic." Have I been saying it wrong all my life?
Still, even without the audio, Landmarks is a mesmerizing read. Lots of ruminating about the link between language and our experience of the land. Our inclination to name things and our ability to see them, or make them real, significant in our understanding of the world we are in. I love that kind of thing.
Also, there is a great "Selected Bibliography" at the end. I really like it when writers provide selected bibliographies -- not that I don't appreciate a full and complete bibliography in a book for the documentation it provides of the scholar's journey, but I see "Selected Bibliography" and it translates in my head as "Suggested Further Reading" -- a phrase I have never been able to resist since I first picked up a book.
I do have this lovely little book from MIT press that looks like a similar kind of meditation, this one with less of a British focus, I think: What is Landscape? by John R. Stilgoe (great name for an author writing about meandering). Readerville Daniel sent it to me a while back and I was thinking it would be a great book to read during the snowbound winter (gee, can you guess what I'm thinking about right now?) I may recommend it to you when I'm done.
It's not unusual for me to listen to a book and if I really like it to then find a print copy to read. Audio is how I test drive books, I think.
I finished Samantha Hunt's The Dark Dark, which was neither the best nor worst collection I've read—short stories of both the quietly quirky and the not-so-quietly-quirky variety, and—yes—dark, but not in the obvious ways. Many are sometimes prosaic and sometimes fantastical takes on the impulse toward self-obliteration and the reasons why, which I thought was an interesting thread to run through a collection. Also the choice to twin the first and last stories, the second an alternate version of the first that gets more and more recursive as it goes. The one I loved best, which was also the least fantastic of the ten, was the knockout "A Love Story," which struck all the right notes:
"The uncertain position we all maintain in life asking when will violence strike, when will devastation occur, leaves us looking like the hapless swimmers at the beginning of each Jaws movie. Innocent, tender, and delicious. Our legs tread water, buoyed by all that is right and good and deserved in this world, a house, healthy children, clean food to eat, love. While that animatronic shark, a beast without mercy, catches the scent of blood and locks in on his target."
Just had our book club meeting for The Sympathizer. Everyone really loved his writing, and they liked the book, but didn't love it. So, like 3.5-4 stars (out of 5) from everyone, I guess. Really made us all realize we need to watch that Ken Burns Vietnam series going on right now. If we want to be upset and sad and appalled, apparently!
I finished A Discovery of Witches and though I never quite got over my aversion to the controlling wealthy vampire, I did enjoy myself. I didn't realize this was book 1 of a trilogy and so the story doesn't really end, it just concludes until next time. Not in a hurry to read the next book.
Digging harder into Nothing to Envy and reading an obscure HG Wells novel with a chronically depressed Wells-collecting friend. Someday, I'll write an essay about bibliotherapy and Wells and friendship - we've been doing this for four years and it's one of the most unique reading experiences I've ever had.
I have so many books I need to read but an old mystery The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout was offered for free for Kindle and I just started reading it and am having so much fun. I love the writing style and all the mysteries from that era and forgot how witty they could be.
Edit to add - I was only able to see the Touchtones on the right once I posted and then went to edit. Is there a way to see the book links on Touchstones before that?
I just love that.
Now reading Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing, which is getting a ton of positive press right now and, in fact, is very good (so far).
>362 lisapeet: Lynn, I can see the touchstones just to the right of this typing window as I'm writing a post, but I'm on a regular desktop/laptop. I'm not sure what the phone/tablet interface looks like but I'll check later.
I thought Sing, Unburied, Sing was an amazing book. In fact, I spent quite a lot of time trying to pin down why I thought it was so good, as compared to, oh, say, Wiley Cash, or Lalita Tademy -- both great storytellers, both can string a yarn and set a scene, but they don't leave me shaking inside. Ward does, and I can only say that she gets inside her characters -- forces the reader inside her characters -- like very few writers I've ever encountered. I know it sounds a little crazy, but the power of Ward's internal landscapes to illuminate the external ones -- it made me think of Virginia Woolf. Not because of the style or the perspective, obviously, but because of the force of her characters' interior lives.
Jesmyn Ward was at the SIBA conference in New Orleans, but alas I think she gets stage fright in front of large crowds. She's great one on one or in a small room of people, but at the podium in front of a ballroom filled with people she kept her head down and read her remarks. I spent so much effort listening for something spontaneous that I didn't really register what she was reading out.
I have an easy weekend read in my bag Elegance and lots of old New Yorkers.
There is a lot of heartbreak in this book.
BTW, this is a very pretty cover unappreciated by the online pics. When you tilt the book this way or that tiny, solid gold circles flicker on that black background in between the branches.
BUT OHMYGOD it needs maps. It has ONE, and 9/10 of the places he visits aren't on it -- for a book so obsessed with mountain passes (you learn the history of each, right down to what seems like a complete list of everyone who ever traveled through each one), why are none of them marked on the map so you can try to make sense of what those passes CONNECT that made them so important?
So have an atlas ready; other than that, it's a fun book.
Now: In a Lonely Place
She said she'd nominate me next year, though I can't imagine they'll pick two LJ editors in a row (and I'm in news, not reviews). But I'm very excited for her—thanks!
Is your colleague a big short fiction follower? It’s my favourite genre,just the perfect form. Deborah Willis who was long-listed for the giller has a sensational new collection out called darkness and other love stories Just incredible stuff. Based on the critical reception I imagine Jeffrey eugenedes has a good chance of being nominated this year,and maybe Motessha (sp?)
Stephanie's a fan of fiction in all forms, but definitely short stories too. And as Reviews editor she sees a LOT come over the transom, so she should have a good wide-angle view of the field.
One thing I like about this prize is that it doesn't always go to the "big" collections. So it could be Eugenides or Mosfegh or someone neither of us has ever heard of. I try to read all three finalists every year—it's a great prize if you're a completist, since it's never too hard to read all three between when they're announced and the event in March.
Now reading John McPhee's Draft No. 4. I really dig good books on craft, and I love McPhee—no matter how arcane his subjects are, his writing is so good. Plus he came and talked to my 6th-grade English class about writing, so I blame him for my entire livelihood. It's good stuff, and I'm happy to just go with his flow:
“It doesn’t matter that something you’ve done before worked out well. Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you.”
There are many, many days when I need to remember that one.
In her talk at when she accepted the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction, one thing Kim Wright said about Southern writing and Southern language is that you have to remember the King James Bible is the vernacular. That everyone is sort of steeped in it.
My favourirpte Rville comment was when we were discussing the Bass and someone wrote,the most exciting part for me is finally seeing what colour the latest volume happens to be.
>383 Oh man, FAR from a perfect life, in that there is sad and dark shit like anyone else's. But it's a good life, and I love what I do (even though I work like a dog) (which isn't a very good metaphor anymore, is it? my dog sleeps all day on her soft bed and gets lots of treats). Larry I know thanks to Karen Templar of Readerville—she made the introduction. And John McPhee is through no talent of my own, just having grown up in the same university town where he taught... I guess we can thank my parents for that one. But I will say he made a huge impression on me when I was 12.
I haven't seen this year's BASS... I don't even know what color it is! Waiting for someone at work to toss a galley, or for Amazon to put it up on their one-day $1.99 Best American sale. Or, if all else fails, the library will have it soon enough.
And if it is, the fucking raccoons are eating all the caviar and washing their little hands in the champagne.
I sent my copy to LuAnn.
I hit the "jump to the bottom" arrow far too many times before I realized that it was a brand new thread and there were only 4 posts . . .
Does anyone know what happens when the "Continue This Topic in Another Topic" link underneath this "Add a Message" field is clicked?
EDIT: ack, sorry, misread.
EDIT 2: Wait, what "jump to first unread", there's only "jump to the bottom" on top of the threads? The latter takes you to the bottom every time, regardless of read/unread status.
Yes, just remembered. So that's the answer--when there are no unread, you can jump to the last message.