The Eternal Question: What Are You Reading? 3
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I have several other open reads, but I have been looking high and low for a new holiday book to try and get myself in the mood. I usually pull out my big, beautiful The Annotated Christmas Carol along with the exceptional Broadview Press edition sometime in December, but I was looking for something different this year to kick-start the season. I decided to give Mr. Dickens and His Carol: A Novel a try. So far, it's merely pleasant, but I've only read about 30 pp.
I've been trying to read an Ann Rule book when I'm really tired and can't focus much. I read a lot of true crime, and it is pretty hard to find good ones. But Ann Rule is so revered, and I can never understand why when I try to read her books. I've never been able to finish one. She's a terrible writer! Everything is so repetitive and all over the place. There's no linearity at all, so I always get confused. It's like she just writes stuff as she's researching and learning it, but she has no idea how to put all the information into a cohesive narrative.
Then again, I was trying to start Less by Andrew Sean Greer, and it's kind of all over the place right now too. I didn't get too far. I've loved his other books, so I am just blaming my mood and how tired I was when I started it. I'll try again.
Emotionally it's a wise and sad book, but plot-wise there was too much deus ex machina. The first couple times it was sort of furiously funny, but when it kept happening it began to throw me out of the narrativ. I stand by my original assessment: it is a compassionate and yet deeply angry story, full of heartbreak.
Now on to Darwin's Backyard and Her Body and Other Parties.
In an interview, he said that this is his homage to Naipaul's In a Free State which also pushes how novels are constructed.
There is also a Henry James-ish feeling to the whole novel - like everything is being looked at obliquely and not straight on. At the same time, it feels more allegory than realism, despite the details of everyday life.
Caveat - horrible animal abuse and vivid description of goat sacrifice so if that's not your jam, avoid.
Thank god someone put a Delia Ephron novel in the FLL Siracusa.
I do have the Naipaul on reserve at the library.
I am also STILL listening to Jerusalem. It's far too long, and there are moments when I roll my eyes, one of the chapters in the middle section (Mansoul) is from the perspective of a 3 year old, and it drove me nuts. But overall, it has been worth the time spent (largely in the car to and from work). There is a good deal of interesting perspectives and I adore Alma (even though she represents Alan Moore). Moore's focus on Northampton is both the book's best part and its worst. With Northampton standing in for the world, it feels ethnocentric and provincial, but he's also passionate about his borough, Northhampton has an interesting role to play in British history and his awareness of the less represented people in Northhampton (the mad, the poor, and the uneducated) is keen.
My most recent, favorite passage is:
" can recall her own Spare Rib days in the 1970s and how she’d briefly entertained the idea that a woman leader might make all the difference. This had obviously been back in the early seventies. Her point is that despite the very real continuing abuses born of anti-Semitism, born of racism and sexism and homophobia, there are MPs and leaders who are female, Jewish, black or gay. There are none who are poor. There never have been, and there never will be. Every decade since society’s inception has been witness to a holocaust of paupers, so enormous and perpetual that it has become wallpaper, unnoticed, unreported. The mass graves at Dachau and at Auschwitz are, rightly, remembered and repeatedly deplored, but what about the one in Bunhill Fields that William Blake and his beloved Catherine were shovelled into? What about the one under the car park in Chalk Lane, across the road from Doddridge Church? What of the countless generations that have lived poor and have in one way or other died of that condition, uncommemorated and anonymous? Where are their fucking monuments and special ringed dates on the calendar? Where are their Spielberg films? Part of the problem is, no doubt, that poverty lacks a dramatic arc. From rags to rags to rags to rags to dust has never been an Oscar-winning formula."
I'm reading The Power by Naomi Alderman because one of TAs lent it to me (bless her). It's good so far -- easy to read, short chapters with rotating characters and interesting way to explore power and gender, all bonuses. One of the positives of teaching a "super" section (160 students in a writing course) is that I get TAs, all of whom I adore. Lots of book and movie talk to go alongside marking and lesson planning.
I am also STILL listening to Jerusalem. It's far too long, and there are moments when I roll my eyes, one of the chapters in the middle section (Mansoul) is from the perspective of a 3 year old, and it drove me nuts. But overall, it has been worth the time spent. There are treasures and I adore Alma (even though she represents Alan Moore). Moore's focus on Northampton is both the book's best part and its worst. With Northampton standing in for the world, it feels ethnocentric and provincial, but Northhampton has played an interesting role in British history, so there's that and his awareness of the less represented people in Northhampton (the mad, the poor, and the uneducated) is keen.
My most recent, favorite passage is:
"Alma can recall her own Spare Rib days in the 1970s and how she’d briefly entertained the idea that a woman leader might make all the difference. This had obviously been back in the early seventies. Her point is that despite the very real continuing abuses born of anti-Semitism, born of racism and sexism and homophobia, there are MPs and leaders who are female, Jewish, black or gay. There are none who are poor. There never have been, and there never will be. Every decade since society’s inception has been witness to a holocaust of paupers, so enormous and perpetual that it has become wallpaper, unnoticed, unreported. The mass graves at Dachau and at Auschwitz are, rightly, remembered and repeatedly deplored, but what about the one in Bunhill Fields that William Blake and his beloved Catherine were shovelled into? What about the one under the car park in Chalk Lane, across the road from Doddridge Church? What of the countless generations that have lived poor and have in one way or other died of that condition, uncommemorated and anonymous? Where are their fucking monuments and special ringed dates on the calendar? Where are their Spielberg films? Part of the problem is, no doubt, that poverty lacks a dramatic arc. From rags to rags to rags to rags to dust has never been an Oscar-winning formula."
I gobbled up John McPhee's Draft No. 4 last week. You might imagine that, as someone who writes all day, and therefore thinks about writing most of the day, I wouldn't want to spend my off hours thinking about writing more. But you'd be wrong. I really like reading books on craft, especially if they're crafty themselves, and this absolutely qualifies. I love McPhee's writing—he manages to be both playful and precise, with the one dependent on the other. It makes me happy as both a reader and a writer, and I love how he talks about it here, addressing both of those aspects and a few other things besides. I actually picked up a few tips along the way, too, which is always a welcome side effect of reading writers on writing.
Now I'm going to jump into Joe Ide's IQ, because I feel like something on the more genre-y end of the spectrum and I'm thinking about doing a piece on him for Bloom, so it'd be good to know if I like his writing first.
Now reading VS Naipaul's In a Free State.
Now I'm reading The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, which tells the stories of two women living in what was the Barbizon Hotel for Women, one in the 1950s and the other today. It's not high art, but perfectly enjoyable, so far.
A Very Close Conspiracy: Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf
by Jane Dunn
My favorite Naipauls:
Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion
by V. S. Naipaul
A House for Mr. Biswas
by V.S. Naipaul
A Bend in the River
by V.S. Naipaul
by V.S. Naipaul
Hell House by Richard Matheson is terrible. I was talking about his books with someone else, and I just think he's not a very good writer. The story ideas are good, the execution is awful. This one is the same old story as many other haunted house books (especially The Haunting of Hill House), but there is a lot of misogyny in here. Maybe others wouldn't see it that way, but I'm not sure what else to call it. Antiquated views on women? The researcher's wife is a little mouse who almost had a nervous breakdown when her husband went out of town for 3 weeks, because she just doesn't know how to function without a man (even though she's probably actually a lesbian, but refuses to admit it). And the clairvoyant woman was just there to be the one who gets sexually assaulted constantly by ghost men. It's a terrible book.
I'm also reading Us Conductors, which is good. It reminds me a lot of a Gentleman in Moscow. My only problem with it is that it seems a little cold or something. A little standoffish? I am not sure how to describe what I mean right now (need coffee). I'm about halfway through, so hopefully I'll have more to say when I finish it.
I'm also listening to The Hate U Give, which is really good. But the audiobook was so highly recommended, I decided to try that rather than read the book. And there is so much yelling in this book! You listen to regular voice level for a while, and then there's screaming. It hurts my ears, so I wish I'd read the book.
Since I was reviewing the Mukherjee, I felt obligated to read the Naipaul In a Free Stateand I'm so glad I did. It really helped me understand what Mukherjee was going for stylistically and thematically and I thought it was cool that he created a dialogue with an older author. While I can't say I enjoyed the Naipaul - I just never do, I guess - I really admired it. The writing is just so distinct and beautiful but his characters leave me cold and I'm never entirely sure where he is coming from politically which makes me uncomfortable. He seems very very misanthropic. But I'm glad I read it and I'm glad to have the opportunity to review the Mukherjee. I find that sometimes when I like something less, the reviews are more rewarding to write.
I found Manhattan Beach at the library on the Lucky Day shelf and am reading it like a demon. It's my first Egan.
Still looking for a good holiday/winter book before my yearly A Christmas Carol reread.
Lauren, I'm liking Us Conductors more and more. I was reading the other day and actually ignoring the tv and my brother and my dog, who were all trying to get my attention. I don't think there was anything crazy exciting going on in the book, I was just mesmerized by it for some reason! I've always been curious about the theremin, and now I know a lot more than I did. I love looking at the real life pictures, so I will definitely check out the Youtube of Clara Rockwood! Edit: Clara Rockmore.
I'm currently reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow for my local book group and The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. I'm really enjoying both of them, but I need to spend more time on the Hamilton biography in order to make sure I get it read. And speaking of Hamilton, we scored two tickets to Hamilton in Seattle next March, and we didn't have to do a single thing. My sister-in-law went absolutely nuts and got two tickets to the Chicago production because they will be there in March. Then she got word that she was part of the lottery for tickets in Seattle. She scored four more tickets, so her good friend is taking her daughter, and DH and I will buy the other two.
I'm also listening to N.K. Jemisin's The Stone Sky, which is the third part of The Broken Earth trilogy. I noticed when listening to book two that I was missing some stuff, and now that I'm listening to book three I realize that some of threads are not connecting. I don't usually read fantasy, so listening to the audio book probably wasn't a wise choice. If I was reading the book I could look back and get back on track, but that doesn't work well with an audio book, and I have The Name of the Wind at something like 28 hours sitting in my Audible library. This does not bode well.
Very jealous of all that have seen the play. Have a great time, April. Looking forward to your post play post.
by Sam White
I enjoyed John McPhee's Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process so much I wanted to go back and revisit some of his essays, so I got The John McPhee Reader out of the library. I mentioned that he came to talk to my English class when I was in sixth grade, and I could swear that we all got copies of this book—I remember the cover of the first edition really clearly. And if that's true, what a cool collection to have 11- and 12-year-olds read.
I'm not sure if I'm going to go all the way to the end on this, since I have so much else calling my name, but it'll be fun to read at least a few. Started at the beginning with his profile of Princeton basketball star Bill Bradley, set mostly during his senior year in 1965. And I've gotta say, the man got me interested in the mechanics of basketball, so right there he's a damn good essayist.
Oh and April, thats so exciting! Its coming here in January; getting tickets is now impossible. Like Pat I am very jealous but really want to hear how you like it!
It's a good NY novel too, Lisa P.
Ok, breathe (LOL)...I recently finished Us Conductors by Sean Michaels, which was excellent. I loved it and recommended it to my book club. So many people here would love it, and you've probably all already read it. I also finished The Hate U Give (audiobook) by Angie Thomas, and it was also excellent! I'm so excited to have really enjoyed reading both of them, and it's making me excited to find my next great read. Could the reading slump truly be over?? Let's hope so. edit OH yeah, I also finished The Sun is Also a Star and I loved that one too! It's a little romance-y, I guess, and YA. But I thought it was amazing, and I plan to read Yoon's first book, Everything, Everything.
I want to start reading The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Everyone's raving about the newest one, which I see April is reading (hi, reading twin!), but I just went to B&N and couldn't find any of the trilogy! What is up with that? I tried to find someone to help me, but in a giant B&N in a huge suburb right off a major freeway, there was one person at the cash register and one other employee in the entire store! So I was going to buy a bunch of books, but they suck, so Amazon it is! (Actually, I'm getting most of the books I wanted at the library. I need to start saving some money so I can buy a car without feeling guilty about it.)
Gosh, I just want to go home and crawl in bed (I also feel like I'm starting to get sick) and read for the rest of the day. I hate winter (HATE IT), but I love not feeling guilty for crawling in bed and doing nothing because it's cold. (To me, cold is anything under 65. It's Texas, y'all!)
>17 AprilAdamson: April, I listened to both the Rothfuss books (actually, I may not have finished the 2nd one), and I really didn't enjoy them. I have several friends who will start freaking out if you even bring up the series, because they loved it so much. I most definitely did not. We all listened to the audiobook, but it just didn't work for me. I hated the main female love interest and the most interesting parts of the story are left behind while they talk about this stupid guy in school and playing his lute and whatever the fuck. I have discovered that many of the longest fantasy series just don't work for me. They put everything and the kitchen sink into the story, and I just do not care. It gets SO boring to me. (Hyperion by Dan Simmons is another long-ass sci-fi one I really didn't like. Also audio, so maybe I just need to stay away from those audios! Also, Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon. I do actually like some sci-fi and fantasy, just not all the trilogies of 1500 pages each book. Blech. Find a freaking editor!)
I liked Us Conductors a lot.
I'm reading John McPhee writing about the New Jersey Pine Barrens in 1968 and wondering how changed they are since then. He describes them as wild and weird and relatively untouched—a quick look at Wiki says they're a protected area, but I don't know how much of the place's temperament, as a whole, remains. There was a time when that would have been an excuse for a road trip. But most definitely not right now.
I managed to start We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night thanks to Miriam's generosity. At first, I thought the SoC Johnny voice would lose its luster quickly, but before I knew it, I'd read 50pp. Also started The City of Brass. I like the story's premise, but I'm feeling a disconnect between the story and its modern prose. I don't expect every author to perfectly mimic 18th century writing, but it just feels off. Very, very early days with that one, so maybe the story will overcome that flaw.
I just finished My Name is Lucy Barton and was surprised by how much I like it. Because of the thread on writing that moves its way through the book, it reminded me just a little of that bedbug book by the literary darling (whose name I'm blanking on right now). But Strout's book is so much better.
I'm also about half-way through Keeper 'N Me by Richard Wagameses. It's his first book and autobiographical, and a bit clunky at times, but am a fan of his approach and he's a generous and kind writer, so none of that is bothering much.
one day walked into the store-the store was high class and in the middle of Manhattan so is this a surprise? I've never read Picano before but I'd like to try more of his work, particularly his memoirs. He's just so full of himself it gets a bit much. But I love the stories of rotting New York-particularly the west village.
And it's mean, super mean, to almost all of its characters -- "like every conventional woman, Lucy likes to pretend she is unconventional by buying attention-seeking shoes." But maybe it's not mean. Maybe that's just the Englishness of it -- there's no soft spot anywhere, just brusque judgment and then on to the next thing.
Ran through Draft No. 4 yesterday. I think I'm going to give it to my brother for Christmas because there is so much in there about how McPhee finds, structures, and tells a story. I do wonder how the book would come across to anyone who hasn't read every single friggin' McPhee book like I have. I mean, I would read his shopping lists given the chance (a chance I was effectively given in the section that talks about his romance with the KEDIT text editor).
Weirdly enough, this is not a book I'd give to my mother, although mom and I happily discuss all of his books at the least provocation. But as lisapeet says above, this is a book about craft. Even when it is a book about his other books, it is a book about craft -- how he finds the structure inherent in a story, how he solves problems of elusive endings or mediocre ledes. How he navigates the editorial process and when he takes a stand, and when he doesn't. There's some historical interest in his various stories about writing the stories, of course. The man worked closely with William Shawn and Robert Gottlieb for most of his career, so how could there not be? But the "memoir" aspect of the book is always in service to the discussions of the craft, which is something I found I appreciated. It's not a "how to write" book, but it is very much a "how John McPhee writes a book"book -- which is far better.
I had low expectations of the Jimmy Webb but I do like one or two celebrity memoirs per year and it was an ok one. It's well written, if a little purple in places, and the bits about his childhood were really interesting - his parents were very young when they married and once his father found Jesus in a big way, moved the family from place to place as an itinerant preacher. With the amount of drug use, I'm surprised if he remembers anything from the festival at Monterey and I lost track of what girl he was in love with when. I don't know what it says about me that my favorite parts were about the unhealthy rat pack he formed with Harry Nillsson. John Lennon comes off very poorly. Less Glen Campbell then you'd think.
I am reviewing the novel so I need to time to think more about it. It's about a year in the life of a young man before he goes into the Israeli army and what factors in to his decision not to serve. The author's own story follows the fictional one quite closely. American family that's emigrated to Israel, Zionist bent, son eager to join the army but also becomes politicized to the Palestinian situation, choses not to serve, and goes to jail. As a novel, it's a bit on the melodramatic side - it's written as a letter to another man with whom the narrator has a passionate friendship. But it goes a long way toward hinting at how complex the situation in Israel is and the kind of activism that exists there that Americans don't see much of. Certainly interesting stuff.
The title is taken from a Darwish poem and there is quite a bit of poetry quoted throughout the novel.
Thanks to Lisa P passing on my first but not last Charles Baxter - as I was reading the stories, I had the sensation that this was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I liked the first half of the book better - for me, the 'vice' stories felt more labored over or rather, I could see the author's hand in them mucking about. But the book still had me oohing and aahing and tearing up.
Thanks to Lisa, I am also reading The Hearts of Men. I was skeptical - 3 decades worth of boy scout troop leaders, knot tying, and whatnot, but man, I got sucked in right away. I think some of it is the setting - Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I like a good Midwestern novel.
Yesterday, I read Teju Cole's Every Day is for the Thief. I wasn't sure if I would like it, I had some qualms about Open City and there's a part of me that just doesn't get what the fuss is about him. He's a bit of a media darling for white people. It;'s one of those books that doesn't quite seem like fiction or memoir - a young man returns to Lagos after being away for many years, highly critical of Nigerian politics, sees friends and family, searches for glimpses of high culture and African history, returns to the US. There are oddly grainy floaty photographs that accompany the text. Despite my reservations, I enjoyed this very much - it's very readable and, in part, quite beautiful, the importance of family and identity, the choice of self-exile and sensibility are fully explored. And you can read it in a day.
I think you might have given me Mean which I started last night (clearly, I'm working off a stack piled near my bed. It's a memoir by the artist Myriam Gurba and it's acerbic and funny and horrifying all at the same time.
I have been home with stomach bug and so sleeping a lot but also thanking the goddess for TCM. But I finished Mean which was a cool surprise in all kinds of ways. It's certainly the funniest memoir about sexual assault I've ever read. She draws from such a wide net and it's both cultural and personal, full of bad puns and a thousand little piercing details.
I started Here comes the Sun which Kat sent me - which won all kinds of prizes last year - it's the story of a poor family in rural Jamaica, the mother has a crafts stall where she sells to tourists, the older sister works in a fancy resort and the two ladies' hopes and dreams are pinned on to the younger sister who is enrolled in a private school. The older sister was pimped out by the mother when she was a teen and sex work is still a part of her life as is the affair she begins with a lady neighbor. This all in fiercely anti-gay Jamaica. It's a very accomplished first novel so far.
This year my list is pitifully attenuated.
Last week I read The Best American Short Stories 2017, an interesting mix this year. While I liked Meg Wolitzer's intro on reading short fiction in the age of Trump, she didn't get to what struck me as most notable in the collection, which is that so many of the stories had sexual power plays at their center. Particularly interesting given the huge buzz around "Cat People," Kristen Roupenian's recent piece in the New Yorker, which was all about that—sex, but not so much the sex itself as the power dynamics, how those sands continuously shift between two people. I wonder if it isn’t tapping into a certain zeitgeist right now—granted, the stories in BASS were all written in 2016, before Trump took office and this year's outcry against sexual abusers, but if you want to see culture as a barometer for the times (sometimes I do and sometimes I don't), these issues have been simmering.
Anyway, a low-key but mainly good batch. Standouts for me were "Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain," "Ugly," "Gabe Dove," "Last Day on Earth," "Gender Studies." No one who's reviewed this seemed to like Jim Shepard's longish "Telemachus," but it has the best last-paragraph payoff of them all. I'm tempted to see how many of the Other Distinguished Stories listed in the back I can find, to see what else turned up on the editors' radar.
Right now reading a big handsome book for review, America's Greatest Library: An Illustrated History of the Library of Congress by John Y. Cole. Apparently I'm the go-to reviewer at LJ for Library of Congress stuff, which makes me very happy. This one's almost coffee-table sized, and lovely.
I finished Here Comes the Sun. It's a very impressive piece of fiction and I thought it was quite good, esp for a first novel. But I found it a little on the melodramatic side - I wouldn't have minded the plot turned down a notch or two. Still, it's an important look at Jamaican culture - the misogyny and intensely anti-gayness that also shows up on Marlon James' novels. I will be following this author.
Another Kat book from the pile The Fifth Servant has been a great diversion.
It's a good book, so far. What a life!
Killers of the Flower Moon was really interesting, in an awful way—plus thinking about Grann's journalistic/authorial choices. So many nonfiction writers want to remain invisible and he definitely steps up and lets you see what he was doing all along the way (though you have to get all the way through the first two parts of the book before he really pulls the curtain back).
I’ve read all (I think) of her novels but this one is a memoir. It’s really different - it’s divided into chapters about the 17 times she felt she was close to death and each chapter is entitled and illustrated by a body part which relates to the chapter. Hard to explain it but it’s really good and it’s not till the end you understand why some of her experiences were so harrowing to her.
You can read this in one sitting, easy-peasy.
(Edited for links.)
I am also reading The Parking Lot Attendant and it's just awful. I'm no dummy, but I can't make heads or tails of it. It's about a young Ethiopian woman who lives in Boston who falls under the spell of a charismatic older man who manages an outdoor lot downtown. There's ,mich mystery and comings and goings and nothing seems realistic but it'snot quite a fantasy either and by the end, everyone's on this Utopian community on a west Indian Island - god, it's dreadful.
At first I thought maybe it was me - that I had a certain expectation of the story, especially because the writer was Ethiopian and perhaps I wanted a more typical novel of immigrant life. But I really think it was the book.
I'm going to read some Grace Paley today just to get my head on straight.
But now that I'm about done with that book, I'm going to return the rest of the library books and try to read some of the gifts sent to me by Ms. Lauren (all right on my bedside table!) or some of the many, many, many books I bought over the last few years. It's ridiculous, really, especially all the stuff I've bought for my Kindle. I'm also trying to read some more serious stuff this year, from nonfiction on science and history and philosophy to whatever will help me "figure out who I am" kinda stuff. I've been thinking about what makes me happy and unhappy in life, and a life lived watching tv and never using my brain is not the way for me. So I'll hopefully get better about that, and I'll discover some great writing! I wish you all (and myself) happy reading in 2018!
*I should make another late resolution to re-learn how to link.
I was turned on to this young mans writing this summer; I am eager to read anything he writes.
by Michael Braddick
Then I read Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark, an official book swap gift from Kat, and it's really wonderful. It's all late-life Spark, from 1990 on, and she's funny and surprising. There's a a great sequence when she revisits Manhattan for a New Yorker magazine anniversary and goes to the Metropolitan Museum in a wheelchair and while in line outside, a museum liaison comes out and asks if she's Muriel Spark (tipped off in advance by the New Yorker staff) and whisks her into the museum and asks her what she wants to see and Spark says "the shop."
I had a quick trip east to check on parents and see a few friends. And in a snowstorm, no less. I only read on the plane and that's when I wasn't sleeping. One mystery there and one back - Antonia Fraser's Oxford Blood WITH A MEDDLING NUN! and Frances Fyfeld's Shadow Play which I really liked.
I am reading the new Aminatta Forna novel Happiness and it's so radically different than anything she's written before, I am baffled but persevering.
by J. M. Coetzee
The image of figs falling on the breakfast table from the overhead tree ("Those were the best figs I ever had," Harold McGee said) was wonderful. And I'm sorry, I do love the women's names here—Patience, Primrose, Amaryllis, and two copy editors (who worked for the same person at different times) named Candida Brazil and Indonea Muggeridge.
Now I'm reading Mary Beard's Women & Power: A Manifesto for a pop-up book club a friend put together just for that book. I don't know if it's going to be an ongoing book club or anything—I'm kind of resistant to them—but this should make for an interesting conversation. Also started What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky because I had a library hold come in... I'm only about two stories in and I get the feeling these are a whole-collection kind of thing. I mean so far so good but I'm interested to see how they all stack up.
The pop-up book club my friend organized around the book is tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to that. She has lots of smart and interesting friends from all sorts of walks of life, so it's definitely not going to be boring (a few are my friends already, and it'll be great to see them too). Will report back.
>18 Pat_D: As far back as middle school, I've been aware of the historical revisionism waged on Hamilton. I had to do a paper on him, and at the time it was very confusing. The library research I was doing conflicted with the general info we'd always been taught about him. IMO, it was the first largely successful "fake news" political campaign, and it severely affected my respect for Adams and Jefferson.
I never really paid much attention - I knew about the duel but since I wasn't all that interested in US history most of the fake news passed me by. But by the time I read more and learned more, like you my respect for Adams and Jefferson really diminished (well it did a bit anyway for the latter given the news of him the last few years)
He's a bit of a media darling for white people.
I think comments like this are belittling, and making it sound like he is not deserving of praise. And a bit snarky to those who sincerely like his work. Can you explain more what you mean?
Ta-Nahisi Coates gets this comment all the time. James Baldwin used to get it as well. My impression is that it refers to black writers who can write about race issues without scaring the pants off white people.
I'm enjoying all the "Writers from S##thole Countries" lists and displays people are posting:
Rough Draft in Kingston, NY
I was really flummoxed by Aminatta Forna's new novel Happiness in which nothing much happens but there are a lot of words!
Then I got sick so have been reading You will Know Me which is creepy but fun. Badly written though. All those short choppy non-sentences. And it's a bit Gone Girl or Girl on the Train because if you have a brain you can figure out exactly whodunnit. The girl gymnast setting does give it an extra layer of 'ick' though.
>98 southernbooklady: >99 lisapeet: >100 southernbooklady: thank you ladies for helping me understand the troublesome phrase That does make more sense to me, tho Id like to think that my enjoyment of his writing is because he has a different outlook than other African authors I have read. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is another author I admire for her writing, for the same reason.
by Harriet A. Washington
I'm too focused on my upcoming trip to read much right now. Trying to read Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor for book club right after I get back.
Perhaps age and what goes with it was the cause of the comment if so I sympathize with her. It just took me aback so much that it ended up coloring what I thought of her. You are right its very sad.
As far as her reaction to Trump - I'd bet had she been alive, she would have been constantly on the attack, until he just quit. Unfortunately there aren't many others who had the balls and guts to do that. She more likely did.
I'd be glad to send it.
Now reading Joan Silber's Improvement, as per recommendations from all you fine folks (and because I loved Fools).
I'm also very sad to report I never did make it to that book club I was so looking forward to. I lost Saturday of the long weekend to a broken washer-dryer (shopping for a new one, mostly, and then having a long earnest discussion as to whether we should just get the old one fixed for the fourth time in three years so we wouldn't be making such a big-ticket purchase with our backs against the wall, which ultimately won out—still, all that appliance drama and we're still married), Monday was for visiting my mom in the nursing home because my sister couldn't, and I had brought home a boatload of work, so... I stayed home and worked. Which was a shitty choice, trading fun for the lack of anxiety all the following week, but it was probably the right one. And there will be more of these book clubs. But my inner literary child was pissed off. I have no life.
All that being said, of course it’s the pictures of Julia (including one arty nude) that are the most engaging. She was just such a presence, and you can’t help but be a little thrilled to see her cooking in their shitty little Paris kitchen or striding around the Alps or somewhere.
Anyway, it’s tons of fun, and will make you want to sign up for some sort of class or something or renew your passport or wear a beret or espadrilles or striped bateau neck shirt. Maybe all of that at once!
I adopted that very thing. Works wonders.
Also just received Frost Fairs, another discovered here, about a murder that takes place during one of the times the Thames froze over, in 1666. Looks very interesting.
Reading the new Wolitzer and feeling lucky.
I finished Improvement and now I'm really glad I traded my library copy for an ebook. I loved it—it was delightful, and a little profound but not obsessively so. Actually it made me think of Prezi—remember that, the presentation software that everybody wanted to play with a few years back because they were so sick of Powerpoint, how you could make it swoop in and out and go from macro to micro and back again? I hated Prezi, it made me dizzy. But this book is what Prezi wishes it could be. Silber uses these beautiful little declarative sentences to paint a whole mural, and it's just neat how she does it—plus entertaining and very sweet. This is a morally decent novel and god knows we need more of those right now.
Now I'm reading Edwidge Danticat's The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story. It's part of that "Art of" writing series from Graywolf Press that I like a lot, and... I don't know. I think about death a lot, so why not read about it?
So, finally getting around to give my thoughts about Her Body and Other Parties -- it has set the bar pretty high for books this year. I was impressed and the range of reactions it evoked in me -- the intensity of my responses to each story in itself demands that I acknowledge the book as something special, even though I had very different feelings about every story. Some, like the extended re-interpretation of every episode of Law and Order SVU, left me cool -- very aware of the brilliance of Machado's style, and intellectually impressed with her imagination. But not so emotionally engaged, perhaps because I've never seen an episode of that show in my life and have no plans -- even after reading this -- to start watching reruns.
But others gripped me tight and left me feeling both profoundly exhilarated and deeply unsettled. "Eight Bites" -- the internal and external journey of a woman who undergoes one of those stomach reduction surgeries to become thin -- well, it gave me very bad dreams. And "Inventory" -- a woman's description of her lovers as a epidemic spreads across the country and empties the landscape of people -- was erotic and beautiful and scary. The first story in the book, "The Husband Stitch" is a tour de force and possibly my favorite. It's a retelling of the fairy/horror story of the man who marries a beautiful woman who wears a ribbon around her neck, and refuses to take it off -- the retelling is, naturally, from the woman's perspective and is brilliant. That ribbon becomes....I don't know....that vital part of us which belongs only to us, and which the people in our lives can't let be, but must own and control.
Is there such a genre as feminist horror? Because that is the only label I could give this collection and as umbrella terms go it is a tattered, lacy one, full of ripped holes. Her Body and Other Parties is a direct descendant of The Yellow Wallpaper, only more -- more physical, more frightening, more sexy, more mad. I really, really loved it.
I read The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story in a couple of days, since it's a short little thing. I like the "Art of" series a lot—they're always thought-provoking, both in terms of writing and life in general, and add a bunch of books to my wish list (which is always a good thing). This one is no exception. Danticat does a good job with the subject, meditating on death and dying and their depictions in literature—well woven together and not maudlin or overly sentimental.
Just started Elmet, one of my Guardian swap books from LuAnn, and so far it's very lovely/dreamy, a good antidote to all that death (for a little while, anyway... because after all there is no antidote to death).
Four Frightened People (Virago Modern Classics)
by E. Arnot Robertson
The new Meg Woltizer The Female Persuasion really is all that. It's about a young woman who meets a feminist icon while in college and works for her not-for-profit after graduation. New feminism meets the old, what does success mean, can friendships survive betrayals - all the big questions and themes. To me, Wolitizer's books are like that adage - life is what happens to you while making other plans, but in a good way. The Interestings remains my favorite but this book seems to get at exactly what is happening right now and it goes down as easy as a chocolate milkshake.
I went back to an earlier novel Surrender Dorothy.
The cover of the book has to be one of the ugliest I have ever seen . Perhaps in line with the authors world-view.
I finished Elmet, which I liked a lot although it turned out not to be an antidote to death, exactly—there was quite a bit there. It's a dark fairy tale set in a just-barely contemporary England, thick with beautiful woodsy descriptions and a hovering anticipation of violence all the way through. Mozley just about out–Angela Carters Angela Carter, but there's also some Faulkner-level southern gothic at work (without the actual south). I liked it overall, though the Yorkshire dialect set my teeth on edge sometimes. But I'm always a sucker for a green-wood fable, and this put an interesting and unique spin on it, so I approve.
Now I'm reading the first book in Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond chronicles, The Game of Kings. Because how better to totally fail in my resolution of reading the books already on my physical and virtual shelves than by starting a six-book series from the library? Though this one is longish and if my hold runs out before it's over I'll probably end up impulsively grabbing my own copy (which still trashes my resolution). I do have a bunch of airplane time next week, though—and, if the weather stays true to form, a bunch of airPORT time as well—so maybe that won't happen.
Now reading The Overneath a new collection of short stories by Peter Beagle. If you are a fantasy fan, and have read Last Unicorn, you may get a kick out of the stories about Smendrick the Magician! All of the stories Ive read so far are excellent; he is still one of my favorite story tellers. My fav is A Fine and Private Place
The "E" is for Eileen, what a relief, not Elizabeth.
Four Frightened People (Virago Modern Classics)
by E. Arnot Robertson
Ordinary families: A novel (A Virago modern classic)
by E. Arnot Robertson
Cullum (Virago Modern Classics)
by E. Arnot Robertson
Three Came Unarmed
Justice of the Heart
Devices and Desires
But in the meantime I'm thoroughly enjoying The Game of Kings—it's super dense and twisty-turny, full of references to all sorts of classics and mythology and 16th-century culture and politics. This is a time when reading the ebook is the best (aside from the fact that it's 540 pages long)—clicking on a word or phrase gives instant satisfaction. Except if you're on a plane, of course... in which case it was also nice to just chug along and not keep interrupting myself. Someone in another LT group linked to a great blog that analyzes each chapter of the book and explains some of the esoteric stuff, so I just opened a bunch of tabs before I got on the plane to circumvent the no wi-fi thing.
I don't think anyone writes about the ups and downs of friendships like she does. For me, she gets every single nuance right.
I am reading Stray City - very readable, almost breezy novel about a young lesbian who moves from Nebraska to Portland, has a fling with a dude, gets pregnant and keeps the baby. Lots of good pre-pub buzz and I think it's going to be hit.
I am LOVING Circe by Madeline Miller. If you read her previous book Song of Achilles and liked it, you’ll love this. This is going down on my best of the year list if it continues to be this good. I keep hugging to my chest it I love it so much.
(Pat if you’re still here, this is a guarantee winner for you but I’m betting the usual suspects here will love this too.)
And in between I'm sneaking paragraphs of the Dunnett so I don't forget what's happening. At least I'm not likely to get the two books confused in any way, shape, or form.
Now reading Celine loved his Dog Stars, already loving this one.
There's very little fiction about the emergence of the Harlem drag ball scene - lots of documentary stuff, but not fiction - so it's interesting in that regard. Tough to avoid some inherent cliches with the material but it's pretty good so far. It mixes up fictional characters and real ones, founder of certain houses, so it sends you down a lot of research rabbit holes. My internet browsing history is quite hilarious right now.
I spent a rainy quiet Saturday reading Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India which I am loving and is also sending me to the internet to look at Sufi shrines and Thyyam dancers. Also, read the stories in Multitudes - a beautifully put together collection by Lucy Caldwell - the stories all take place in E Belfast and most are about girls - young or on the verge of adolescence and all the trials and tribulations therein. There are a few missteps but some real stunners too. I loved the sense of place, the Van Morrison references - very subtle but there, and the way the Troubles were implicit but not overt. A childs-eye view without a lick of twee-ness.
I wish Sue Russell was alive to share them with.
Not bad at all. It just slipped right off me although there was one place where I did let out a hearty laugh.
Anyone want this? It's awfully pretty and not an ARC. DG, Nancy?
Reading The Wife. Darker but funnier too than more recent Wolitzer. One thing we talked about when I interviewed her was her wry sensibility - she said that when she is in revisions, she looks out for glibness. There's a little of that here.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk - I loathe the cutesy title but the book is a winner at the halfway point. There's a blurb that compares it to Dorothy Parker and Dawn Powell (I mean, who do they write these blurbs for other than me?), which isn't really accurate; it's sweeter than those two, less acid. But still quite funny; there have been some laugh aloud parts. And it has some good Mad Men-era stuff.
The Stowaway - another in a looooong line of "white dudes do crazy things" books. It's short, but fascinating.
A Stolen Paradise - this is a book about the filming of Night of the Iguana in Puerto Vallarta. It's written by a film historian and is mostly notes in paragraph form. A little dry ("a further $41,000 was allocated for equipment"), but full of good details. I think it's not quiiiite self-published, but whatever the step up from that is -- it's cheap-looking and the type is spaced sort of unprofessionally
irresistible. also NYC in the 60s and 70s for those of you who like sort of thing LISA PEET.
I bought some used books off ebay and was sent the wrong thing - an early Pat Barker novel called The Century's Daughter with just about the ugliest cover known to man or beast. It's a book I'd have totally bought myself, if I'd known that it existed, although truth be told, except for the Regeneration series, I've never been able to get through a book of hers. I am finding this uneven - there are some scenes where I honestly could not tell you what happened- it's like she leaves some key verbs out of the story. But I still like it - it's about a woman born in 1900, living in dilapidated housing in an old steel mill community and a community worker who grows close to her. I think it was published here as Liza's England. Anyway, very SP, DG, LuAnn, Kat.
Honestly, Regeneration set the bar pretty high for me (conscientious objectors! conflicted doctors! sanity in wartime!, POETS!), but I've liked many of her other books -- the one about the sociopath who may or may not have really killed his family when he was a kid, the one about the combat journalist with a hefty case of PTSD, even the one about the artist-turned-ambulance driver in WWI. Barker is always working her way around some Big Question and that appeals to me.
I started Under the Udala Trees and am also reading Astrid Lindgren's War Diaries. She is the Pippi Longstocking lady, in case you didn't know and these are excerpted from 4 years of scrapbooks she kept during WWII. It's a bit more than a civilian's account, Lindgren had a job with the censorship bureau so she was reading lots of letters in and out of the office and so was privy to quite a bit of information. But it's still very much from a ordinary housewife's point of view and it's a before the fame that her children's books brought her. Very readable and interesting. War Diaries
I've only read Regeneration, maybe a dozen years ago? But remember liking it very much. I have the rest of the trilogy but I'd probably go back and reread that again if I was going to do the whole thing. Which who knows, I might—I've got a new respect for series, which I've always shied away from, because I totally loved The Game of Kings and will definitely keep going with the rest of the series. There are five more, and I don't want to read them all in a row—these need palate cleansers in between, I think, because they're SO dense. But if I do end up going all the way through, this will be the first series I've read since The Chronicles of Narnia when I was 12.
I took some time off in the middle of the Dunnett to read Viv Albertine's To Throw Away Unopened, which turned verrry dark at the end. She reads both her dead parents' diaries, which chronicle the end of their really awful, abusive, manipulative marriage, and is kind of forced to weigh them against each other—kind of Rashomon-on-the-couch. Which could be really heavy and grim, but her voice is great—very droll, funny, often extremely profane, and it makes for a really odd but fascinating (but did I mention dark?) memoir. And it's all interposed with scenes of the night her mother dies, when she gets into a brawl with her sister in the hospital room... you have to be there, or at least read it yourself.
Now reading Xhenet Aliu's Brass, which I think Lauren you liked? Anyway, early days but a refreshingly different voice. And I don't just mean different from 16th-century Scotland, although there's also that.
I did like Brass quite a bit. I felt like the story was familiar but the setting and the voice were fresh enough to keep me interested. But I have to say the cover does a horrible injustice to the novel - it's just not right at all - with that pliable young woman leaning up against a car, knees coyly peeking out from her skirt - it's not a match at all for either of the very scrappy mother/daughter narrators. Who signed off on that? Sexist bullshit.
I totally understand why Wolitzer wants non-figurative imagery for her covers.
A cool thing about Aliu is that she's a librarian.
“The soul must balance the weight of its heart against the feather of truth in order to pass into the realm beyond. Or it must cross a bridge as narrow as a knife’s edge, or brave a mountain pass where the mountains clash against one another, or it must pay the boatman to ferry it across the river, which is a river of blood, or of tears, or of waters of forgetting. Or it rides a horse that gallops across the ocean’s surfaces, or sails in a boat made of glass. Or it must descend into a frozen pit, or climb a vast mountain to the celestial spheres. It undertakes a journey that may last three days, or a year, or four, or that is outside of time entirely. The soul’s destination is a meadow, or a field, or a green lawn, or hunting grounds, or an island, or the first home of mankind where the food is plentiful and disease does not exist and it is always summer. The valorous dead are carried from the field of battle to a great feast, the benevolent find themselves in a garden of eternal joy, and the wise become one with all. The sinful dead face their punishments in a maze, a lake of fire, or a dark and frozen cave, or they are returned to the world, given another birth, another life, another death, in which to redeem their mistakes. Or the dead are simply dead. Their energy returns to the universe, their elements the same as the living and dying stars. Death is the beginning of a journey, a doorway to another world, one part of an eternal cycle. It is never truly the end.”
Tomorrow I need to read for our book club, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
Then an ARC, The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery.
(Edited for links.)
by Olivia Manning
Next, on to a big chunk of an ARC: Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow.
I am glad you liked Brass. I did too. As I think I may have said, it's not that the story is so new but the setting is. And I think it's a fresh take on the immigrant in America story. I keep meaning to hunt up Aliu's short stories.
I finished Under the Udala Trees and despite wanting to reedit it (too many dreams and folktales), I thought it was a really interesting and compelling novel about growing up gay in Nigeria right after the Biafran war. Definitely a story that needed to be told.
Reading a new British novel Tin Man.
It's curious, in fact, what has come to count as "impressive" biography to me. Uglow, Richardson, Janet Malcolm, Peter Ackroyd, Megan Marshall, maybe even Ron Chernow despite my love/hate relationship with his books -- what is it about these biographers that makes such a deep impact on me?
It's a question that I've been turning over in my mind having finished Walter Isaacson's book on Da Vinci. Now there's a book that by all accounts I should be raving about -- endlessly fascinating subject, interesting perspective (it's all focused on Da Vinci's notebooks), a theme -- where creativity comes from -- that I have great affinity for. The book should be a slam dunk.
And yet, although I enjoyed it -- very much -- the book did not rock my world. Unlike Uglow did when she wrote about Thomas Bewick, or Janet Malcolm did when she wrote about the marriage between Hughes and Plath. Or like Richardson did when he wrote about Emerson's spiritual and philosophical evolution.
Why? The only thing I can come up with is that Isaacson leans a little heavily on his subject for support. He lets Da Vinci's genius, rather than his own insight, do most of the talking. As a result, his book reads like a kind of extended adulation of a man who we already knew clearly deserved all the praise. The reader learns very many small things about Da Vinci's life, techniques, and creative process (or procrastination thereof), but not a lot of deep, big things. Da Vinci is full of insight. His biographer, maybe not so much.
It's utterly unlike the response I had to Marshall on Margaret Fuller -- where her account got you into the head and heart of her subject, but also had you walking in her shoes in the time and place. And I think it is this quality -- the ability to show the subject as both unique, complicated person and yet also of their era -- that I find so appealing in biography.
I'm not sure I'm explaining it well, but Uglow can do it beautifully.
Edit: So why exactly is the Shelley NYRB Classics version so expensive? List price is $40? Yeah, nope. I'll just read my mother's grad school papers.
Reading the very un-meh A Wrinkle in Time.
Soon, I will be starting The Immortalists, because it was picked for my book club and I skipped the last book.
I finished War Diaries 1939-1945 and it's really good - a very very interesting POV from the homefront and because it's Sweden, a very fresh one as well. Or at least less well known to me. Lindgren is a good writer - there's an elegance and economy to the entries I wasn't expecting. In fact, the whole book was a really pleasant surprise. Highly recommended.
There's a glossary at the end for names but I'd have loved some personal information too. Absolutely buried in the glossary is the fact that her first son was born out of wedlock and was fostered out as a baby. And in 1945 or so, it's clear that her husband is having an affair and she's writing Pippi Longstocking. I wanted more.
I am reading Pachinko. It's very good.
Anyway, if you read that new one by Dara Horn, Cindy, let me know. I’ve kind of given up on her.
We are reading the Immortalists for my book club next month Julie. It wasn’t my pick but since I read it and liked it, thumb’s up from me. I do have to reread before club because I forget too much.
Lastly, just finished and really liked The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind by Barbara Lipska. Super interesting memoir about this 65 year old woman who developed brain tumors as a results of metastasis from an earlier melanoma.
Because she was a neuroscientist, she was able to (later) explain how her bizarre behavior could be explained by showing how different parts of her brain were affected - the frontal lobe, cerebellum, occipital lobe, etc.
She explains more than just how her symptoms could be explained; like how dementia works, why the frontal lobe dosen’t fully develop until our 20’s and what that means, on and on.
Anyway, I liked it.
By the way, the post that got accidentally deleted was really brilliant. This one will just have to do.
>184 laurenbufferd: You're selling me on that Lindgren book. Plus now I want to go back and reread Pippi Longstocking. But I'm not sure about A Wrinkle in Time... that was such A Book for me when I was a kid, I'm not sure I want to know how it holds up.
Anyway, I'm going to be reading Mr. Lear for the near future. I'm about halfway through (500 pages) but the time change is screwing with my reading patterns—every time I sit down on the train, which is when I usually do all my reading, I nod out like a junkie. It's going to take another week before I can convince my body that I'm not actually waking up at 5 a.m. every morning. But it's fun—ah, for the life of a mid-18th-century itinerant painter, traveling the world with my painter friends and talking about painting. Life—or at least that life—was just so different.
The Lindgren book is good! And my editor snagged an ARC of the Lear bio - I am super excited about that.
I am really enjoying Pachinko. It's beautifully paced and about a world I know so little about.
I am SO glad it's an oral autobiography, though -- his storytelling voice is very specific and if an author had ironed any of it out, it would all be quite unbelievable, even though it already IS quite unbelievable, the squiring Dinesen around Rome, the appearances in Fellini films...just all of it. It's so obviously and beautifully embroidered that you admire the skill of the embroiderer even though you know a lot of it is proooobably iffy.
edit: and the Kindle version is only $4.19! click
LJ review to follow, and then Nicki if you want the galley let me know.
Now I'm reading Promise, which I don't know much about other than it's set in Tupelo, MS, and the devastating tornado that hit during the depression.This doesn't look like my usual cuppa tea—warm intergenerational/interracial tale of adversity etc.—but I had put a hold on a copy a while back because it was touted as one of those "books you missed in February," and I'm nothing if not impulsive when it comes to clicking on library books. Readable enough so far, if just a teeny touch heavy handed setting things up, so we'll see.
I've been catching up on old New Yorkers and dipping into To Throw Away Unopened but I seriously started Invitation to a Bonfire for review and people, it is all that! Boarding school + Nabokov +love triangle.
Oh goooooddd because I just got it.
I'm also really stoked because Deborah Eisenberg has a new book of short stories out and I LUFF her. Your Duck Is My Duck. Got that one too.
I finished Terese Marie Mailhot's Heart Berries this week. It's not a long book, but I had to read it twice because it felt so densely packed. And that in itself was an experience because the book is a loose collection of essays that build into a memoir of sorts -- but a memoir of addiction, poverty, sexual abuse, mental illness, and the kind of relentlessly ugly racism and sexism an indigenous woman will inevitably have to deal with. So yeah. But also art, rebellion, beauty, and a kind of singing out in defiance.
It's rare that a book demands so much focus -- insists that the reader pay such close attention every. single. second. Especially because the writing is, well, fairly straightforward. Expository. It's lots of "tell" and very little "show." But all I can say is that it works. Otherwise, I wouldn't have had to stop every other page to just think about what Mailhot was saying. I think it would be a great book club book for feminist groups (well, for anyone, really) because it turns so much of our expectations on its head: a memoir of abuse that can be art without being sentimental, of a woman who is a self-proclaimed fuck up but also a kind of take-no-prisoners fighter, of a mother who knows she is sometimes bad for her children. Mailhot says at one point "In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution." -- which is as close to a summary of the book as I can get: a ceremony of reconciliation with a life of pain and grief.
Strangely enough, the end result is a book that makes the reader feel hopeful. Or charged with energy or something. It's a book about living, not about dying or being killed.
And okay, I'm rambling. I really did like it. Sherman Alexie was a mentor to her and wrote the intro to the book. Which is weird in itself since the book is all about naming what happened to her and Alexie is under fire right now in the #metoo movement.
Here's one of the pieces:
I finished Promise pretty quickly—it had its issues, but for all that it was engrossing. The book is a piece of historical fiction set in the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Tupelo, MS, on Good Friday, 1936, and what's both good and bad about it is that takes on a lot of big tasks. It tells the story of two women—one young and white, one black and older—struggling to find loved ones in an almost apocryphally destroyed town, and Gwin does a good job of conveying the enormous swath of damage wrought by the storm. There are multiple odysseys, and the juxtaposition of age vs. youth but chiefly, as it should be, the ways the characters' journeys and impressions separate (and, as it turns out, are connected) along racial lines. Gwin confronts the systemic racism of the time and place—the black dead were simply not counted, for instance, making their recovery a whole degree of magnitude harder than that of the whites—but this still works better as Story than Statement. There are parts where that story dithers a bit, and plenty of places where it is probably not as hard-hitting as it should be—although I'd also argue that this is not necessarily that book. And it was ultimately an absorbing read—bonus points to the author for some moments of kindhearted foreshadowing beyond the parameters of the book—hitting on a couple of my current interests: natural disasters, and the mindset of service.
Now I'm in the mood for something short and sharp and made out of paper, so I'm reading Myriam Gurba's Mean.
I'm reading Enchantress of Florence because my dad just read it and wanted to talk about it. I'm enjoying it though -- has a Dunnet feel to it at times, which I don't expect from a Rushdie novel -- he writes very well, the moghul sections are interesting, and I want to know where he going with the "Enchantress."
I started Mean, like what I've read so far (I get the "funniest book about rape") and decided to wait to read it in one go after I'm done Enchantress. (Or, I'll pick it up again and finish it before I'm done Enchantress but it deserves more than to be read in 5 minute chunks as I wait in line for coffee) .
I'm listening to Amor Towles A Gentleman in Moscow as I travel to and from work -- it is elitist, full of literary name drops, dismissive of huge swaths of Soviet history -- he spends more time on the switching of the power grid in Moscow to nuclear power than on the all the death and destruction that went before (because this serves the plot), and twee, but its content is so undemanding that it perfect for a 15 minute commute (sorry Lisa). Plus, I can grumble at it rather than at the university admin, which is healthier I think.
I've read a bunch of other things -- my reading life after a longish drought has been decent -- but the most recent and most engaging read was Fever Dream. Totally unexpected. I was grumpy with the TOB's knock out of both Exit West and Sing, Unburied, Sing but I'm not as grumpy now -- it's a fascinating and creepy read that gives the reader lots to think about. I'd happily read it again.
edited for blue language
It's definitely pretty vagina-y. Julie, I'd read it first before putting it up for your book club—it's short and then you can decide if they can handle it. It definitely skews edgy.
Mir, you're my first friend who's read (or at least talked about) Fever Dream, though I've seen it around all over. ToB got me interested, though, so I'm glad to hear you were into it.
I just started Educated, a memoir of how the author grew up in Idaho with survivalist parents who never sent her to school and ultimately ended up getting a PhD at Cambridge, which is so out there it reads like a novel—but it's not, which makes it even more out there.
I agree about the Gurba - it's a cool book and her voice isn't quite like any I'd read. Humor is what saves and sustains her and not in any ho-hum channeling my pain into stand-up way comedy way but in a life-giving, take-no-prisoners, crucial, burn it down to the ground and then rebuild way. I'd love to hear her perform - she's a spoken word artist as well. And yes, gorgeous.
It doesn't seem book club-y to me but Julie, I don't know your club.
I finished Fever at Dawn which was sweet but a bit vague where it needed to be sharp and visa versa. I can't recommend it (though I am passing it on to a young friend whose grandfather was in a Hungarian POW camp) but it's not bad. I don't think Gardos is a writer, it's a bit stiff. But the story is lovely and based on his parents who met as pen friends when they were Hungarian refugees in Swedish hospitals although I get the feeling that his dad was a first class shit. I also read it in two days.
I liked Invitation to a Beheading a lot. It's based on the Nabokov marriage but mostly told by a young Russian émigré who works at an elite girls boarding school. She gets involved with the Russian novelist (here called Leo Orlov) and then co-conspires to kill his wife. It's a little plotty but the writing is so gorgeous and seductive, I didn't much care. I think ti would appeal to the usual Readerville/BB/LT suspects.
I am reading Celt's first book now The Daughters which is similarly over-the-top plotwise but also beautifully written - about an opera singer trying to regain her voice after a family curse.
The thing that interests me the most about Celt is that she's a also a cartoonist. Her blog Love Among the Lampreys features her animal cartoons and they are FAB.
I am still reading Throw Away Unopened but finding it very painful so can only read a few pages at a time. Aging is a bitch and family is so fucked up.
I finished Gentleman in Moscow on my way home yesterday, and so got to start Landmarks on my to work this morning. Such a treat. Thanks for that rec Niki.
on edit (much later): Yesterday, 5 Goodreads friends, (in a row) gave Tayari Jones' American Marriage 5/5 stars. So its now very high on my imaginary TBR pile.
I held my graded critique of Intra-Venus. Ten out of ten was written in green ink at the top. In the margin beside my second paragraph were the words, "Yes, I agree. She was BRAVE."
I watched the grad student's sweater sleeves jiggle while she passed back the other critiques. I said, "Excuse me?"
"Yes?" she answered.
"What do you find brave about Hannah Wilke's work?" I asked.
In a tone you use to explain the obvious, she answered, "Well, it's that… she was so beautiful."
I looked at the grad student like I needed more.
She added, "She was so beautiful, and she let us see that beauty destroyed."
I thought this was an unsatisfactory answer. Maybe the grad student's mom wasn't a beautiful woman whom she got to watch age. Every pretty woman who lives a long life gets to perform an art project called "watch my beauty disintegrate." It's not revolutionary. It just happens.
It was a really fascinating memoir of reinvention, not just moving from outsider to mainstream or unschooled to academically adept, but how she forcibly reoriented her own internal world map. The first part of the book was more of a dysfunctional-family page-turner than I expected from reading reviews, a barrage of violence and mental illness and a jaw-dropping amount of physical injury—it boggles the mind how any of these people were still walking upright by the book's end—but it all served a purpose, and painted a good solid picture of the emotional and psychological boundaries she had to work so hard to redraw. Westover tells her story well, and of course it's all the more dramatic for not being a novel. But she manages to pull no punches and at the same time not edge over into pathos. As someone who's recreated myself in very comparatively small ways, but still thinks about all the tiny choices that went into something so momentous (to me), I found her story really affecting. I wonder if she'll write more popular work or settle into the academic life that seems to suit her so well.
Now I'm reading Morgan Jerkins's essay collection This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America. It was my pick for my new book club and I think it'll be super interesting to talk about in that group.
Landmarks continues to be lovely. I went to sleep the other night listening to the word list - who needs meditation when you have some reading landscape words outloud. I need to get a print copy so I can use it as a reference going forward. I also want to read The Living Mountain now, and I suspect my wish list will only grow as I listen.
Lisa, you are reading everything I want to be reading!
I found To Throw Away Unopened very difficult but also very worth reading . It has none of the yeah yeah feel goodness of Clothes Clothes Clothes which was all about punk and London and overcoming obstacles to be a relevant artist. This was the aftermath, dealing with the death of both parents, and trying to make sense of what sounds like a very troubling childhood. But it takes a good writer who can handle that kind of introspection and make it interesting to the reader. I came out of it with more respect for her than ever but also some sadness.
It also has one of the most horrible and kind of funny death bed scene I've ever read.
The Daughters was a bit ho-hum. Not much of a story but seriously, what a package! Celt's really a gifted stylist. The thing I liked the best about it was that it took place in Chicago so there were lots of wonderful landmarks.
I am reading Small Country by Gael Faye which is really quite good. Coming of age story in Burundi at the time of the war in Ruanda. Its won all kind of prizes in France and tbh, my expectations were pretty low but it's quite an interesting look at the idylls of childhood before a war in a country I know very little about.
Faye is also a singer/songwriter - his work is kind of ambient French pop with a little rap thrown in, also better than it sounds.
I really wonder what impact the Diaz article will have-will people remember it down the road as that article that just shook people to their core. I tried to find discussion of it online but there
is little apart from the sensational aspect of the article. I really think this will go down as one of the greatest works of memoir/journalism in a very long time.
The Overstory - Richard Powers
Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast - Megan Marshall
(Look who finally learned to link.)
For those who are OK with Amazon, Educated is slightly on sale in Kindle form today—$6.99. (If you want to give LibraryThing a little love, go through my touchstone link or any LT link to the "direct" Amazon page that you can find on the upper right of the book's LT page, and they get a tiny kickback if you order anything. Also works for non-Amazon sellers.)
Small Country was really really good. It's a first novel by Gael Faye and it's about growing up in Burundi right before the Rwandan civil war in 1995. The main character has this really idyllic childhood which is totally ripped apart when the war starts and violence crosses over the border. Like Faye, the character is mixed race - in fact, I think the novel is in part autobiographical. It's short - less than 200 pages - all the more admirable as so much is packed in - the end of innocence, the need to take sides, the question of identity.
I am reviewing it for Book Page.
I spent the weekend with a very nice Soho mystery The Big Both Ways written by the guy who is also the poet laureate of Alaska! Anarchists, miners, a boat trip up the Inland Passage, a precocious child and a bird. And characters who had more lives than cats - every time I thought they were goners, they popped back up again.
But lately I've been reading Theft by Finding, David Sedaris' journals. It's perfect before-bed reading because there are all these discrete pieces. And, as usual, Sedaris is funny and peculiar.
I finished Neon in Daylight last night, which I enjoyed even though it didn't really go anywhere. I like a good New York story—especially a good downtown New York story—and Hoby carries the book with a smart, sharp observational voice. Not a lot of plot, and only one character actually makes any kind of inner progress—and not very much at that. But as a slightly acid-tongued travelogue, it was fun. Hoby has a good sense of looking around and taking in the city, and for that alone it was a worthwhile read (though if you're not amused by tales of wayward downtown New Yorkers, then skip it).
Now back to This Will Be My Undoing, which I'm finding both interesting—she has some sharp takes on moving around the world as a black woman—and a bit frustrating, because she's also looking at all this with very young eyes, and I think that makes her more reactive than serves her objectives. Although I am also middle-aged and cranky, which may color my opinions just a bit.
Full disclosure: I am trying to whittle down some of the insane book stacks in my house and I don't know how long this book has been there. And the introductory note about how the book was based on the author's grandparent who was institutionalized both in India and in England after Independence hooked me. But it's such an icky mix of exoticism and wish fulfillment, not to mention the fact that the narrator seemed much more 1990s than 1920s. And the novel has this total happy ending where there should have been no happy ending anywhere in sight so I just felt manipulated and slightly complicit.
Now reading two books that were left in my Free Little Library - David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris which is funny with recipes and Hilma Wolitzer's very charming Hearts. I'll put them right back when I'm done.
I finished Bernd Heinrich's Mind of the Raven this past weekend -- a book I thoroughly enjoyed but I'm not sure that I would give to others. It's a book about exactly what the title says -- an investigation into the thought processes of ravens, based largely on studies the Heinrich made of both wild ravens he has studied, as well as a number of raven pairs he raised.
It's not primarily a narrative, nor is it really written for the layperson, although I think it is written for the serious birder. Heinrich assumes his readers don't need to be convinced that his enthusiasm for the species is warranted, and he doesn't bother to justify either his own interest or his assumption that his readers share it. Presumably, that's why they are reading his book in the first place: because they are into ravens.
Instead, the book is all about methodology: what hypothesis needs to be tested, and how he does the testing, and what the results confirm or disprove. Do ravens recognize their own eggs by their color? When and why do they hide caches of food? When are strangers tolerated and when not? Do ravens follow wolves and why? Can they problem solve? How much of the problem solving is conscious and how much is just learned behavior?
There is a fair amount of the obsessive scientist to the book that I, for one, found appealing -- at one point he freeze-dries his own scalp with dry ice to see if it will work as a form of freeze-branding. He eats bumblebees to see what they taste like and to see if he'll get stung (he has a theory that ravens find the taste of bumble bees repugnant).
And being an obsessive scientist, he questions everything. He is diligent in picking apart what we see, what we think we see, what motivations we ascribe to a raven, and what can actually be proved. The whole last part of the book, which deals with conscious thought and intention and the reported ability of the raven to plan, deliberately and consciously, for the future -- is really pretty fascinating. It made me think about the nature of thinking, to be honest.
But he's all about the experimental method and the proof. He's not interested in turning his ravens into characters for the reader to become emotionally invested in even though it is clear all of them have what we'd call "personalities." Case in point -- the section where he's trying to determine just how much problem solving is present involves a lengthy description of several ravens and various rocks and pieces of meat dangling on strings. The experiment is repeated multiple times with controlled variations (sometimes, he crosses the strings! whoa!), and, when his write up is rejected by a scientific journal, he repeats this experiment not once, not twice, but something like six different times in order to confront objections his peers have made about his assumptions. We, the readers, get to read about every step of the process. It was awesome.
The end result? I did not start out reading the book being particularly interested in ravens, but damn if I'm not interested now. And Heinrich's general approach to life -- endlessly curious, relentlessly questioning everything he sees -- driven to test his assumptions. Well, in our current age of "fake news" and science hoaxes and social-media-powered conspiracies, I think Heinrich, and the scientists like him, might be a kind of quiet superhero.
Finished Morgan Jerkins's This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America, which grew on me as I went. She's smart and articulate, and juggles a lot of sometimes contradictory thoughts about blackness, womanhood, and privilege. Certainly I can learn from what she has to say. Her youth works both for and against her—against because as I mentioned earlier sometimes it feels like all her triggers are on the surface of her writing, which doesn't always serve her as an essayist with a point to develop. But on the other hand, her enthusiasm and earnestness are totally in her favor, and keep her thoughts fresh and far away from any kind of polemics. I wonder if the essays are presented in any kind of chronological writing order, or if it was just well edited as a collection, because her thought and expression do progress throughout to a really triumphant note... that's probably my secret shameful love of the fist-pump ending showing, but whatever—it worked. I'm so interested to talk about this in my book club next month, both because it was my pick and because I think it's a great group of people to get into this collection with—diverse ages and races, all feminist (that's loosely the book club theme), all very outspoken.
(I like the idea of the thumbnails, Nicki. Who knows the html to get the text to wrap around the image?)
Funny thing as I was reading and enjoying The Sweet Life in Paris I saw on goodreads that I'd actually read this before. People, I have zero memory of it. not a recipe, not an anecdote. Is this what old age is going to be like? Still, it could be worse.
I loved Hilma Wolitzer's Hearts. The novel is at least 30 years old but it still feels fresh and funny. A classic road trip story, a recently widowed woman and her step daughter set off cross country to find the girl's biological mother. Hijinks ensue. One thing about Wolitzer mere and filles is that there is truly nothing human they are afraid of. The compassion quotient is so high in their novels. I do love that about them.
And speaking of faulty memories (above), my husband brought home a pile of discarded books from the high school library, including The Key to Rebecca I was sure I'd read this before, heck, I know I sold it when it came out and I was working in a bookstore and I was such a Rebecca freak...But I'm five chapters in and nothing is familiar. Characters, plotlines, zip, nada.
At least I've got my health.
height="300" (makes the image 300 pixels high)
width="200" (makes it 200 pixels wide)
alt="some text here" (displays text if the image can't be shown, and is important for accessibility)
text wrapping is done with
align="left" (or right)
. . . but I'm not sure if LT recognizes that attribute. The allowed options are limited.
The code for inserting images is:
(Which is an image itself, so you can't cut and paste--sorry, I don't have the patience to figure out how to make it so the posting window doesn't think it's actual code.)
I don't bother with the "alt" or "height"--for "width, 125 seems like an unobtrusive size. For the book covers, I'm just copying the image location of the LibraryThing thumbnails on the book's pages. That goes where the example has "smiley.gif", in quotes.
ETA--I don't use the "alt" for book thumbnails. Otherwise it's good practice, though. I guess I should use it all the time but I'm la-Z.
Here to tell y'all that The Last Cruise is hitting that sweet spot between beach read and literary fiction. A group of people on a 1950s style cruise from Long Beach to Hawaii; a journalist turned Maine farmer's wife, a Hungarian line cook and an Israeli classical string quartet. Delicious.
I have about 30 pages left in the Enchantress of Florence and I left it at home (dammit). So I started The Seventh Function of Language -- Roland Barthes hit by a car, is dying, and the narrator (who might be fictional) is trying to figure out who killed him. Binet has a light hand with the theory and invites the reader into the fun, so, unexpectedly, it is a light read.
I'm most of the way through Landmarks, but home life is a bit complicated these days, my attention is shot and I like to focus when listening to it, so I listened to Travis McGee this morning instead (the first one, A Deep Blue Good-Bye). I don't know why the MacDonald mysteries are so comforting, but they are.
I'm about a 1/3 into Who Fears Death -- a title I keep having to look up -- I'm a bit impatient with it, but willing to give it some space.
While I was at the used book store, picked up Hyperion and Name of the Wind , both recommended by fans on the GOT site. Not sure which I will start with, but they look intersting.
I took a brief detour from my other books in progress because my library hold on Something Light, by Margery Sharp, came in. She wrote The Rescuers series and a lot of other children's books, but also adult work as well. Something Light was exactly that—a frothy and agreeable tale of a 1950s British woman tired of scrambling to make ends meet who decides what she needs is a husband. Of course you know that after several disastrous forays she'll end up with someone who's lurking in plain sight—I don't even think that counts as a spoiler in this kind of novel—and the question, of course, is who? And how will the scales fall from here eyes, etc.
This kind of snappy little British tale of love and woe isn't my usual fare, but a few of my dear book friends—LuAnn, I think, and SP—were reading it/had read it and were talking it up, plus the cover they posted on FB was just marvelous (it's the one I used here, even though the cover of my ebook was different... but it's an ebook, so I can pretend it has whatever cover I want, dammit. It was fun, and I was won over by the fact that Louisa's a dog photographer. What a perfect profession for a struggling career woman in mid-century England! I couldn't help hoping she sticks with it even after her successful nuptial campaign.
I've got a super busy reading month—at the end of May I'm moderating a panel for Library Journal's Day of Dialog, which is an all-day conference where publishers and writers sit on panels for a crowd of librarians. The LJ Reviews editor, Barbara Hoffert, asked me if I'd do this one—it's on writers reporting—and I'm totally stoked. The authors/books are:
John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Tom Mohr, Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Eli Saslow, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist
Susan Orlean, The Library Book (about the 1986 fire that burnt down the LA Public Library, which I already had on my list plus I'm a total fan of hers)
Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City—she's the pediatrician who broke the story of the water crisis in Flint, and has won a bunch of humanitarian awards, and I'm SUCH A FANGIRL.
This is going to be fun, but boy do I have my reading cut out for me. I've started with Burning Down the Haus, which is terrific so far—I know a solid lot about the early punk scene in the U.S., having been active in it in my teens and early 20s, and a fair amount about its beginnings in the UK, but nothing about the origins of punk in East Germany. Unsurprisingly, the movement and music were born of serious political issues, but the progression is fascinating—people, largely teenagers at first, getting jailed for dressing punk, gathering at clubs, playing in bands. The musicians wouldn't write down their lyrics in case the Stasi searched their bedrooms (often thanks to mom and dad), because those were evidence for jailable offenses against the state.
I was looking at my reading list for the year and realized that this is the first book by a man I've read all year. Nothing I set out to do on purpose—it just shook out that way. Guess I'm more interested in what the ladies are writing these days.
Cindy, I'll be interested to see if you enjoy Hyperion and Name of the Wind. I've read both and disliked both (definitely doesn't mean you will!). They're both exceedingly loooooong, so that many parts of them are just a waste of time and really boring. I think I've just discovered that I'm not the kind of person to normally enjoy the 1000 page-a-book series, of which both of those are first books (I did like the GoT books). So, I don't like short stories and I don't like super long stories. Do I like anything anymore? I think I'm having a years-long existential crisis or something. Anyway...sorry for the digression. Cindy, I think you'll really love Name of the Wind, and maybe Hyperion too. Name of the Wind definitely seems like your kind of book, and I have several friends who RAVED about it and basically hate me now because I didn't love it. I even tried to read the second one because they loved that one too, and I haven't been able to finish it. It's just not for me! (Another first-in-a-series that they loved and I hated I will now recommend to you! Speaks the Nightbird by Robert R. McCammon, first Matthew Corbett series....I've never been able to finish it.)
I m about halfway through the new Rebecca Makkai The Great Believers which is set in Chicago during the mid 1980s right in the middle of the AIDS crisis. It's weird to read a novel that you feel like you could have been a minor character in - not to make a situation about me - but I wrote theater reviews for a gay paper, went through the hospice program at Illinois Masonic and worked with PWAs at a few different residences, protested at the AMA conference and shopped at the Brown Elephant. So it's hard to separate my own experience of that time with the events of the book.
The novel is about a group of men, some of whom have tested positive, some quite sick and others not. The main character is a development director at a small university gallery and there's a subplot about a potential donor with a collection of post-impressionist French art. Another plot, set in the present, concerns a woman who lost her brother to AIDS and is currently in Paris to visit her estranged daughter.
It's a lot.
As someone who was involved in the downtown NYC punk scene starting in roughly 1981, I was fascinated by the contrast. Note that I ID what I was part of as a scene, rather than a movement—it may have stemmed from adolescent (and post-adolescent) rebellion and a dislike of conformity on my end, but it didn't carry the same kind of life-and-death charter—no one I knew was going to jail for their beliefs (other than for public intoxication, maybe), or having to dodge police to make the music they wanted to make or attend concerts or marches. So even though I know my history and have read a fair amount about the end of the DDR and the Communist regime at the time, this was an interesting filter to drive home the import of what a lot of young people were dealing with there and then.
It also sparked a wave of nostalgia, and I stayed up too late last night Googling photos of punks in the early 80s East Village and falling down a few where-are-they-now rabbit holes.
Now I'm on to What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Mona Hanna-Attisha, about her life and work with the Flint water crisis.
The Makkai was good. It was a bit kitchen-sinky and if if I was the editor, I'd have told her to cut a few big reveals at the end that didn't feel necessary. She says some interesting thing in the afterword about appropriation and allyship - as a heterosexual woman writing about AIDs etc so I was glad she acknowledged that as I found myself thinking about it at various points in the book. And yet, it was a part of my life too - and everyone's life who lost someone or who had their consciousness raised when someone famous died from it. So there is value, I think, even in a view from the periphery.
I read Blue Plate Special with very mixed feelings. I was so horrified by the father's violence and then the abuse at the Waldorf School that I never quite got past that - so the NY years and the marriages all felt a bit like chatter. to make it worse, I read the essay she'd written for Elle about coming to terms with the abuse and how she didn't even realize the impact of it until after she'd written the memoir. So I mostly felt discombobulated and upset.
I read Country Dark in two sittings and loved it. It's my first Offutt but won't be the last. DG, do you want this? It's very you. Bootlegging and all.
Now reading The Kindness of Enemies because it's been on the shelf for sooooo long.
What are you reading?
I guess they're out enjoying the lovely spring weather? Or else they're home reading while it drizzles, coldly, outside, which is more how things are in New York.
Finished What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, which was thoroughly well-done account of how Hanna-Attisha broke the Flint water crisis, taking on the indifference (and mendacity) of city, state, and federal agencies to advocate for the city's children. She frames her story well, moving between the context of her family story—activist Iraqis for generations, and immigrant parents who caught the tail end of the American Dream but made sure their children knew of the world's injustices—her own environmental activism as a teen and college student, her life as a pediatrician in an already economically-troubled city, and, front and center, the very dramatic story of her discovery of, and battle against, the urgent crisis of lead-contaminated water that affected the city's already disadvantaged residents. (Was that sentence long enough?)
Her recounting of her fight against the powers that be—all against the ticking clock of children's lead exposure—was well written, with plenty of suspense even though anyone who follows the news knows what happened, and her sense of urgency comes through clearly. It's a gripping story, and an important one. I hope this book gets a lot of play, if only to inspire future resisters and activists to stand up for what's right.
I was impressed by Hanna-Attisha just from reading the news coverage of the Flint crisis, but after getting the whole story in her voice I just think she's awesome. I'm so, so looking forward to doing this panel that she's a part of, just to get to meet her. And Susan Orlean! I'm usually not much of a fan-girl, but those two are totally going to make me go eeeeeee. (Not really—I'll be professional as hell. But inside, yeah.)
And speaking of Susan Orlean, now I'm reading The Library Book, her story of the 1986 LA Public Library fire. I love her reporting... this is what you get when you don't have to answer to an editor who wants you to take out all the oddball adjectives.
I'm listening to The Transcriptionist and loving it. Very much a bookballon book. And reading Something Light, which is lots of fun. I finished Priestdaddy. I read it immediately after Hunger, so I was a bit memoired out -- not always my favorite literary form -- but it was an interesting and often wild ride. I think her fabulous sentences get in the way of form, but she does manage to corral them at various points into something that is almost coherent.
Anyway, the Orlean is a lot of fun and will be up the alleys of many folks here. Total insider baseball for me but I'm still finding a lot to enjoy and marvel at. She uses language in this great precise way, something I also love about John McPhee, which makes for very synesthetic reading--always a good thing. I do need to hurry through it because I have two more books to read for this panel and want to get the authors their questions before the long weekend, but I think I'll save my skimming for those two, and get back to them afterward if they draw me in.
I thought I would finish it this weekend but driving and sleeping and guacamole-making took up all my time somehow. Oh and kitten-adopting-out--we've gotten rid of all but two of our litter of five, and another friend said she'd take the fantastically chilled out baby daddy cat. All of them are living in my son's room, and since he's coming for the long weekend I'm very interested in homing them all by Friday, in time to scrub and fumigate. It's an interesting life I lead.
Anyway, the whole novel is totally engrossing.
Lisa, I am loaning it to a friend but if the novel makes its way back to me, I'll send it on. I usually find these historical fictions books where two narratives run on parallel tracks to be very formulaic but this one isn't at all.
I loved the character of the Georgian princess.
I started reading Lidia Bastianich's memoir My American Dream - there's nary a recipe, rather it's a story of her family, why and how they escaped from Yugoslavia to Italy and then emigrated to NY. It's not hugely exciting but it's lovely and tender.
But I think she - and her husband and son- really did change the landscape of restaurant cooking and Italian food - it's nice to see her claim and get some credit.
Powers really does write beautifully, whether he's talking about redwood forests or suspect psychological studies of prison populations or MMORPG culture or what it feels like to have a stroke. Amazing.
I haven't finished the Orlean yet, but I'm also reading chunks of the other two books to prep for the panel, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup and Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist. Neither is a book I would have picked up on my own, I think, but they're both really interesting, and compelling reads. It's driving me a bit nuts to have to skim and skip large chunks, but I'm going to be going back and reading them all the way through afterward—they're definitely good enough to warrant that.
I did come up with my questions for the panel and ran them by the editor who organized it, and she was happy with them—which was a load off my mind, since this is my first author panel. I need to write them up in coherent form and she'll send them along to the authors in advance. I'm really looking forward to this!
...but has been taken up by the American Booksellers Association and American Booksellers for Free Expression. The goal is to give bookstores tools and resources to host constructive events around polarizing issues/books/authors. It's pretty interesting to hear the QRB manager, Sarah Goddin, talk about how much work goes into getting people of completely opposite viewpoints into the same room and talking to (instead of "at") each other.
Right now I am reading Red Clocks, which feels very timely given the vote in Ireland this week, and so far I love it.
Just found out there's going to be a movie. Nicole Kidman is going to be Faith Frank.
1. Describes how and why Poldi moves to Sicily and what her sisters-in-law think of it. Unable to function without her wig and a bottle of brandy, Poldi invites everyone to a roast pork lunch, makes her nephew an offer he can't refuse, and gets to know her neighbours in the Via Baronnessa. One of them goes missing shortly afterwards.
I've seen the main character described as a cross between Auntie Mame and Miss Marple; she's not, but it's summertime-amusing. I think it's a series; this is the first translated one.
I wish I was the kind of person who loved writers like Sebald and Kis but I'm not. I really need plot and character . The novel is very witty and there's lots to chew on but it's tough going and the maps that are sprinkled throughout feel very untethered to the text. It just won the Man Booker International prize.
It's interesting though because the original Polish title is Bieguni which is the name of a(perhaps fictional) wandering itinerant Slavic people - like gypsies or yogis. I know there's no way of selling that to an English speaking audience but its so much more indicative of what the reader is about to be getting into.
anyway, wish me luck
I appreciate the idea behind it—the first contact/theology mashup—but I found the ending both too brutal and too pat. I spent the whole last quarter or so wanting it to be over, and then the end was really kind of disappointingly wholesome. Still, the book was interesting. I'm just not sure I really enjoyed it.
Gave it three stars. I do remember DG's comment but won't reprint it here since it contains spoilers, as they say.
And ohhhh, I hated the book. I mean hated hated. Like poke my eyes out, never read again hated.
Just finished Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time, and am moving on to a new to me, E.F. Benson. The Freaks of Mayfair. I know nothing about it, but with that author and that title, how can you resist?
I’m still deciding about the Wolitzer. A lot of it seemed very on-the-nose, but then I burst into tears a couple of times mid-paragraph and I already feel myself thinking about it. The same thing happened with The Interestings.
However, speaking as one myself, I firmly believe middle-aged white ladies need to never invent rapper names and certainly not actual rap lyrics. Cringey!
Now I'm reading February by Lisa Moore for my RL bookclub. I really wanted to read the The Maze at Windermere next, so picked February up reluctantly, but so far so good. Moore has more edge than I expected, which is a good thing.
I also want to read The Maze at Windermere... NYPL has the ebook, good. I'm due for some novel binging after I finish up this big pile of nonfiction, although all of it has been really engaging.
A real review for LJ is coming shortly, but that's my mushy version.
My review here: https://bookpage.com/reviews/22330-aminatta-forna-happiness#.WxXmYEgvywU.
ETA: I looked at the Wayback Machine, but I don't see any of the book groups where we discussed a specific book.
I confess I get a little icky in the tummy at the thought of a manicure.
"I know that to me, words are things, almost immaterial but actual objects, things and that I like them
I like their most material aspect - the sound of them, heard in the mind, or spoken by the voice.
And right along with that, I like the dances of meaning words do with one another, the endless changes and complexities of there interrelationships in sentence or in text, by which imaginary worlds are shaped and shared.Writing engages me in both of these aspects of words, in the inexhaustible playing which is my life work
Words are my matter, my stuff. they are my skein of yarn my lump of clay, my block of uncarved wood. words are my magic, my antiproverbial cake. I eat it and still have it!"
I started Brother and its a bloody heartbreak. Shortlisted for the Giller and deservedly so.
I'm working my way through all the books from my panel that I didn't read in depth—I ran out of time toward the end and had to skim a bit, skip around, and read the end, which is something I never do. But all of them were good enough to warrant thorough reads. I just finished Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, which I really enjoyed. This account of a Silicon Valley med tech startup that attracted high-profile investors, supporters, and press without ever coming close to delivering on its promise—largely due to the charismatic young woman at its helm—and its takedown by a Wall Street Journal reporter is riveting and fun. All the more so because it wasn't a book I'd have picked up ordinarily if I hadn't been asked to moderate the panel, but I'm greatly glad I did. This is great book-length investigative reporting, but never felt needlessly padded out. Rather, it had all the elements of a good thriller, including hubris, whistleblowers, big venture cap money, patients in potential peril, and a truly byzantine antiheroine.
Carreyrou is in the story, and he mentions some of the investigative work he does, but what he never touches on—probably wisely, given the book's tone and scope—is how incredibly exciting, and probably often terrifying, bringing this story to light must have been. I'm very glad he turned it into a book, though, and recommend it all around.
>321 laurenbufferd: Lauren, who wrote Brothers? The touchstone isn't going to the book.
Question for anyone who knows more about LibraryThing than I do—why isn't publication info on a book's main page? I would dearly like to see the publisher and publication date for a book I'm checking out, but I only see that info for books I've read. It's a strange glitch/feature, IMO.
I'm finishing up Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow right now... this one's really timely on the subject of how to interact with people whose beliefs are abhorrent to you. As with Bad Blood, it looks like it's the young people and their ideals that will save the day. (Said like an old fart, huh?)
The book's "main page" is what LT calls the "work" page -- you can actually see the word "work" in the url:
"works" are the top-level listings in LT and contain information that is constant across any edition of the book. The way I originally heard it described was information that passed "the cocktail party test" -- meaning, if two people were talking about Pride and Prejudice at a cocktail party, they could have a real conversation about it even if one of them had read the Penguin Classics edition, and the other had read the Everyman Classics edition.
there is a listing for "work details" that has the kind of info I think generally of use for library cataloging purposes. But information about a specific edition is usually filed under the "book" level -- the level at which real physical books are entered into people's LT catalogs.
It's one of the reasons that you can just search for a book on LT and click "add" to add it to your own catalog. You're viewing top level work information, not edition-specific level "book" information.
ETA: and did you like Rising Out of Hatred? It's on my list for the summer, but I'm feeling a little bit of trepidation. I'm kind of allergic to angry-young-men-lashing-out-because-life-isn't-going-their-way stories, and people-doing-evil-crap-because-they're-hypocritical-sociopaths stories, and people-suffering-because-of-corporate-and-government-greed-and-hubris stories at the moment.
>326 southernbooklady: It isn't one of those books at all. The story takes place at a very human level, and what actually drives Black's transformation is the compassion, and persistence, of his peers. Which sounds almost too good to be true but a) Saslow is a good reporter who obviously had full cooperation from his sources, and I believe him and b) Black was such a star of the White Nationalist movement because of the family he was born into, but also because he was very smart, very inquisitive, something of a polymath. Whatever other enormous ideological flaws his parents had, they apparently raised him to seek out the answers to his own questions, and he did.
It's actually pretty encouraging for these dark times—that such great personal change can come out of simple actions: kindness, patience, the exchange of ideas. I can send you a galley, if you like.
For a total change of pace, now I'm reading Invitation to a Bonfire, on Lauren's recommendation, which is great fun so far. I do love some Russians in my fiction.
oh, and you can also go through, but not complete the process of adding the book to your library. A search for an isbn under the add books heading will bring up listings from numerous library sources, and often includes publication data.
Circe is next, and oh boy, it's fun so far.
Reading Here I Am Liking it but really find some of the sexual language unecessary - The story could have been written with much less (not talking about the sex scenes themselves, just the constant adding of language that doesn't add to my enjoyment of the story. I am likelyin the minority however which is fine
Also reading, (finally) a 2017 edition of Guns Germs and Steel. Read the preface and am interesting to see how things go - I know this book was very controversial when it came out, suspect it still does, still wanted to check it out
Next was The Word Is Murder. Fun and meta—Horowitz acts as his own narrator and there’s a scene near the end that must have been a hoot to write—but ultimately not as clever as it thought it was and it made me kind of unnecessarily dislike the author.
Invitation to a Bonfire was total fun—thanks so much for the rec, Lauren! 1930s, boarding school, Russian émigrés including Vladimir and Vera Nabokov stand-ins, literature (including a mysterious missing manuscript), the politics of entitlement vs. deprivation, murder plots, and some really enjoyable writing... as Lauren said elsewhere, a very Readerville book.
And just for the hell of it, I pulled Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading off my shelf, because a home library is the best thing ever when it actually replicates the kind of free association you'd use a real library for. I may give it a try as my bedside book, because I'm also back to Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over, which I began before my big nonfiction read in May.
And I just may have pulled There There up on my iPad, but I think I'll hold off until I've finished one of the above. I'm not enough of a multitasker to read three books at a time (plus the ever-present New Yorker).
Orange is a great writer and the novel is a gorgeous mix of poetry, total justified rage and badassery. I could not be happier.
On the other hand, I hated Elmet. Talk about misery porn. BOOOOO. A novel about child abuse wrapped up in something to make it seem soulful and sound pretty.
I was waiting around for planes this weekend and so I also read A Play of Isaac.
Lisa, P, I knew that Celt book was for you.
Everyone here should read The Maze at Windermere -- it's so much fun with lots of bits that need to be puzzled out. I even got a piece of paper out so that I could map the crossover points. Lots of Henry James and 5 interweaving narratives that are linked through Newport landmarks and James' novels (although the only one I know, because it's referenced specifically, is What Maisie Knew). James himself, is one of the characters.
Then I really am going to try to read Less by Andrew Sean Greer. I've started it twice, but keep getting pulled away from it. I want it to just click, so I can read it in a day or two. But my mood hasn't been quite right, I guess.
>349 JulieCarter: I don't think I've ever read a book in a day or two in my life, other than super short things (under 100 pages)—I'm just a slow reader and I'm OK with that, I guess. Although given the ridiculous number of books I just picked up at ALA in New Orleans (hey, packing for hot climates means more room in the suitcase) I really wish I could get to more of them sooner.
A case in point being Old in Art School, which I'm enjoying but she's really nonlinear—and it's interesting stuff she has to say about art world and art school politics as well as the nature of art, of being an outsider in several ways (chiefly being black, female, older than her fellow students, and a professional in another field), and some cool stuff about art itself, but it's not propulsive. She also has an oddball voice that's refreshing, but again pushes back as much as it pulls you in. So I find myself reading a bit, drifting away, reading a bit more, etc. Maybe that's just the way it needs to be consumed, which is cool. There's still something very intrinsically likeable about it.
>345 laurenbufferd: I liked Elmet more than you did, Lauren... I think it was my mood, kind of dark and dank to begin with.
I'm reading There, There now, and liking it a lot -- loved that he references A Tribe Called Quest (a band I encourage everyone check out). Very similar in tone to Eden Robinson's Son of a Trickster.
I'm on a bit of an Indigenous fiction tear. Canadian Settlers and the Canadian Government treat Indigenous Canadians like shit, and our Truth and Reconciliation Commission has an up-hill battle, particularly since so many Indigenous people are living in third world situations with limited access to health care and education, BUT I am so delighted that there are an increasing number Indigenous voices/writers that are now more prominent and available. Recent excellent reads are the already mentioned Trickster, The Break by Katherena Vermette, and the deeply nerdy part of me loved the non-fiction book by Gregory Younging, Elements of Indigenous Style.
I thought There There was really good. I have a few quibbles - maybe one or two too many characters and with any novel like that where there a lot of story lines, I'm not sure he totally pulls it together. It lurches forward, rather than flows and I found the ending slight underwhelming. One chapter really works better as a stand alone (in fact, it was published as a short story in the NYer). But Orange is really blazing a new path and the ambition, the language, the creativity - all worth reading. His is truly a new voice.
I am still reading the stories Man V. Nature which are weird and kind of John Cheever in the post-apocalypse. Lisa, P, I'm sending this one to you.
Man, I miss Sue Russell.
I also started Dear Friend from My Life I write to You in Your life. It's beautiful but it would be less painful to have gall bladder surgery without anesthesia.
Finished Old in Art School, which I ended up liking very much. Painter’s voice is a surprise at first, but it’s as unique as her art, and communicates her heart and mind as effectively. I enjoyed being along on that journey with her, from eager artist to disillusioned graduate student dealing with a multitude of outsider statuses—female, black, over 60, out of sync with art world hip (marked, among other things, by a love of incorporating history and text into her work), with a firmly established non-art career already under her belt (Painter was a tenured, well-published professor of history at Princeton), and the caretaker of elderly parents—to a truly adventurous artist who believes in her own voice, her own hand, and her own old self. If my description of it sounds sunshiney, the book is decidedly not. But it’s affirming, maybe especially for those of us who aspire to make art in the face of the rest of life, or just to give fewer fucks. There’s a lot of incidentally good art history slipped in, and some good description of techniques, as well. This is a genuinely outside-the-lines memoir, and I’m so pleased it is.
Now on to the book of the moment among my people, Tommy Orange's There There.
>353 laurenbufferd: kind of John Cheever in the post-apocalypse Far out! Looking forward.
And I miss Sue too. Like every time I read something.
I can't wait to hear your thoughts on There There. And sheesh, that Bell Painter book is high on my list.
Because the Yiyun Lin references John McGahern, I started reading The Barracks. I loved Amongst Women. It's like a palette cleanser for me - I read it when I've read too much muck and my mind feels plaque-y and cobweb-y. It's so cleansing and bracing and perfect.
So I'm quite happy.
Theory of Bastards
by Audrey Schulman
Now on to The Great Believers. About sixty pages in and it feels like the real deal. I think 80s books are tough, especially when they're written by people who were only 12 at the end of them. But she gets it right, I think.
But when we have lunch, I'll tell you all my quibbles.
That said, there is a story in there. It comes through the cracks between other, larger concerns: For example, in Ijeoma's (she is the main voice) complicated relationship with her mother, and in the blooming of her first girlhood love affair -- which is just beautifully done. So I know Okparanta can write. This is her first novel (she also has a collection of short stories) and I find myself interested in reading other things she has written.
Ultimately it feels to me like the novel was written in response to -- or at least, owes its final form to -- the anti-gay legislation Nigeria enacted in 2014. It is a defiant voice against the much-touted polls that 98% of Nigerians think homosexuality should not be accepted by society. And I find I can't fault the author for that. But weirdly enough I think the book would be stronger and serve her purpose better if it had a more narrow focus instead of its overly-ambitious attempt to get it all -- religion, war, sex, love, ethnicities, class, education -- jammed into the life of a girl who is becoming a woman with all of existence arrayed against her.
SBL, I felt exactly the same way about Under the Udala Tree. Very well intentioned, very passionate and assertive. But somehow, the most interesting piece of the story - which to me would have been the reconciliation of mother and daughter, was missing. I also found th book to be bogged down with myth and fable - I'd have preferred a more streamlined story.
Still, a worthy novel.
home now, already missing the beach. Finished The Man in the Wooden Hat and now in the middle of Old Filth and oh its amazing how well Gardam holds you in her writing and makes even the sea disappear. Seeing so much now that I missed the first time.
Reread a couple of other books but they just didn't take for some reason. Was surprised to find no bookstores in the area (I was in whats known as The Beach Cities) so glad that I had these three handy.
Karen, have you read Alec Guinness’ memoirs (I think there are two — or I read one twice). I think you would really like those.
FYI: I think it's time to continue this discussion in a new thread.