station eleven

IMG_4190IMG_1425IMG_1424

Do you ever know that you are going to love a book and then put off reading it? I do this all the time, and I often do it on purpose; I like to have a list of books that I look forward to reading. Up until this week, that list included Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

Here is what I knew about Station Eleven going in: A traveling symphony performs Shakespeare plays in a post-apocalyptic world. Which, yeah, that’s true. But it does not even begin to describe the ground covered by this book.

I understand the reluctance to give a more descriptive plot summary. The storytelling method surprised me, and I wouldn’t want to steal that surprise from anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I couldn’t do the plot justice, either—anything I could tell you about it would fall flat. It needs to be discovered the way it was written.

I will tell you how the world ends: There’s a strain of flu that kills 99 percent of the world’s population. Or that’s the estimate. It is impossible to know the actual number because, when approximately 7.5 billion people die, so does global society. The internet is gone; electricity is gone; newspapers are gone; gasoline goes bad after two years; each highway is a gridlock of unmovable cars. People can only communicate with their neighbors. There is no infrastructure, no easy way of contacting someone ten miles away, and intercontinental communication is impossible.

I could not put this book down. Considering that I waited four years to read it, it is ridiculous that once I started, I risked being late for work daily until I finished it. (I was late for work all three days, actually, but does it really count as late when it’s only seven minutes? (That’s a question I won’t ask my manager.))

What made Station Eleven so addicting, aside from the unique structure, is how believable it is. I could see this happening. There is nothing in this book that seemed far fetched. Every few years (or, recently, more frequently), there is talk of a possible pandemic. Plenty of people won’t board a plane without wearing a mask, and they’re not germaphobes. They’re smart.

What frightened me the most about the future as written by St. John Mandel (aside from the mass death) is the absolute isolation. In most cases, these characters don’t know what’s one mile down the road. I like knowing what’s ahead of me when I’m on my 10-mile commute; I am one of those drivers who relies on Waze for alerts about traffic and cops, potholes and parked vehicles. I love being able to open an app to see whether my drive will be five minutes longer than usual. And if what lay ahead could be an ambush rather than a traffic jam? No, thank you.

Another aspect of the isolation is how difficult it is to go anywhere. Not only does the unknown increase with distance, making it dangerous to leave frequently traveled areas, the more distant a destination, the less likely it is that it is possible to reach it. There’s a Parisian character who is on vacation in the United States when the flu hits. Getting from the Midwestern United States to France in the world of Station Eleven is not just difficult, it wouldn’t just take a long time or cost a lot of money. This character can never see Paris again. And no one in the central United States even knows if anyone in Paris has survived. No one knows if anyone in France or Russia or the United Kingdom has survived. Immediately following the flu, a person in Detroit couldn’t know for sure that anyone survived in Ann Arbor. The isolation is complete.

As I’m sure you can tell, Station Eleven made me think. It made me aware of my privilege (recognizing that the mobility I value and would miss is impossible for many today), and it frightened me. Our world is fragile in so many ways. This book highlighted a number of them.

I would recommend this to everyone (except possibly hypochondriacs). The characters are incredible and the storytelling is magnetic. There is one terrifying degree of separation between the world of this book and reality, and entering that world through fiction is one of the best (and most frightening) reading experiences I have had in a long time.

Advertisements

salinger

fullsizeoutput_161d

I was in college when I first read The Catcher in the Rye. I know that was late, and I don’t know why I waited so long. I think I would have loved it in high school. I still loved it in college, but it is not the growing-up book for me that it is for many other people. I loved Franny and Zooey even more. The Glass family caught me. I know many people didn’t like Seymour: An Introduction. I did, because I was hungry for anything to do with the Glasses by the time I read it. I don’t know if it would stand up to my expectations now, many years later, but I loved it back then.

All of this is to say that I became a little obsessed with Salinger. Not crazy obsessed, really, and I knew that he was not the person everyone wanted him to be. Not a great role model. But Salinger as a writer, rather than as a man? I loved him.

So, when David Shields and Shane Salerno’s Salinger, generating an astonishing amount of hype for a book unrelated to Harry Potter or John Green, I could not wait to read it. I got it for my birthday soon after publication and then…let it sit on my shelves for almost three years.* (Because, again. This is what I do.)

But I finally read it! I didn’t love it, but I’m glad that I read it. The structure of it surprised me. I was expecting a straightforward narrative, but Salinger is a variation on an oral biography. A benefit for the authors—I think a drawback for the book overall—was that they could rely on this structure to make assumptions without having a lot of firsthand knowledge about Salinger. Because he was so secretive, so private, and kept his friends so close, Shields and Salerno played a game of six degrees of separation in order to collect enough material to finish their book. I think this would have been more effective as a biography if it had been less discursive. I think it would have been a more successful book overall if they had not defined it as a biography.

Following accounts of what he “would have” experienced during WWII, the longest and most descriptive accounts in this book come from the women who had been a part of Salinger’s life. His treatment of women and girls is particularly abhorrent; I had not known before how far some of his relationships went. I appreciated that Jean Miller, Joyce Maynard, and his daughter, Margaret, all contributed.

The women could have said worse things about Salinger, and the authors could certainly have been more critical of him. They included a quote from Geraldine McGowan which treats his opinion of women much too kindly, but I tagged it because I thought it provided at least the beginnings of understanding where Salinger went wrong:

…Salinger always treated women like they were unbreakable. He has this idea that little girls especially can be leaned on by adult males. It’s a bizarre, bizarre thing to think. But he does, and in the fiction it’s almost like he’s writing an urban Heidi or an urban Pollyanna. These little girls, who come in and save the world, don’t need any help from anybody, no matter what they’ve suffered. It’s a fairy tale, of sorts. Women have a fairy-tale quality in his work. (335)

That’s a romanticized way of putting it, and the romantic side of it goes out the window when Salinger applies that view of girls to the world outside his books. His relationships seemed to be a mess. But even this book, which at times came across as a tell-all, did not allow anyone to completely eviscerate him. It is amazing how fictional characters outlive and overshadow the character of the man who created them. It amazes me that, even though I was cringing at most of the things this book shared about Salinger, even when he was a young man, but even more when he was an older one, I know I will still buy anything that comes from his alleged vault.

I also felt a great deal of sympathy for him because he was traumatized by the War and its aftermath and then destroyed by the fame he sought so ardently, and it is extremely sad to think of the life he could have had if he had been able to live it quietly from the start, living in the woods and publishing without too much fanfare. A question Shields and Salerno keep coming back to is whether he would have liked that life, or if his hermit-ness was simply a very dramatic and lasting publicity stunt. It’s impossible to know, of course, what Salinger thought, but people are complicated and can want very many contradictory things at once. He may have wanted both intense privacy and immense fame.

Most of this book did not surprise me—I was spoiled for the authors’ “big reveal” by the buzz that surrounded this book when it was first published in 2013, and I knew going into the book that Salinger was not the man the world wishes he was. The biggest flaw here was whenever the authors decided to include their own opinions. Anytime I saw “Shields:” or “Salerno:” followed by a block of text, I automatically tensed. The people they interviewed, the articles and criticisms and letters they excerpted, all had individual arguments to make about Salinger and his writing. Shields and Salerno curated what they included in order to support their theses, but the way they themselves expressed those theses within the book came across as juvenile and sloppy.

On the same page as the quote above about Salinger and the way he fairy-tailed young women, Shields is quoted:

David Shields: It’s as if he is pulling an immense blanket over himself: from now on he will keep himself warm by the heat of this impossibly idealized, suicidal, genius, alternative family. This will become his mission: to disappear into the Glasses. (335)

This is not scholarly language. This is not a researcher making an argument; this is a person looking at a hero and trying to understand his life. It’s esoteric to some extent and impossible to prove. The argument of this book, an attempt to solve and define the mystery of Salinger through ten “conditions,” including “Anatomy,” “Oona,” “Wives,” etc., misses the mark, or it did for me. It’s a kind of psychology that doesn’t work, because this book is not about Salinger, himself. It’s about the world outside of Salinger and how it shaped around him. What the world did to Salinger was only ever on the periphery—what he did to the world was central to the book.

If the authors had made an argument about how outsiders were affected by Salinger, they would have been more successful. As it is, they attempted to map an unforthcoming man who had never been public in any way, and I think they failed. I liked this book more for its historical details than anything else. The authors certainly had ambition and a vision, but they went too far in their attempts to prove their thesis and ended up losing their man among all the myths of him.

*A hint that this review was originally written in 2016. Why, yes, I am still working through my backlog of blog posts. Thanks for checking.

letters from a stoic

IMG_5897

In 2014, I started watching booktube videos. Listening to people talk about books while I was making dinner or getting ready for work or trying to fall asleep was not a bad way to fill the airspace. It has resulted in me reading some “fun” (read: emotionally traumatic) series, Throne of Glass and The Raven Boys probably the most notable.

At some point in 2015, I watched a video on this channel, which mentioned Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. I don’t remember which video that was, and I’ve just done a quick search and can’t track it down, but I was apparently intrigued.

I’ve never read much about ancient Greek or Rome, beyond reading some Sophocles and studying mythology in high school. I am interested in the classics, but in a very surface way. A collection of letters from Seneca to Lucilius is not something that I would have picked up if that video hadn’t done such a good job selling it and if, probably more importantly, Penguin hadn’t released a hardback edition as part of their Classics imprint and if, less important but still a reason, Amazon hadn’t stocked that edition at a nice price. Those three factors met on whatever day I added this book to my Amazon cart, and I hit buy at some point, and the book showed up in my mailbox.

And then got added to my to-read shelf because, well. That’s the story of my life and books.

I eventually picked this up in January and just finished it in April (of 2016). It was a good book for sporadic reading, which makes sense, since it is a collection of letters, with an informative but brief introduction which provides a background on Seneca and some of his philosophical ideas. Once I made it through the introduction, it was easy to just read one or two letters every few days.

The topics Seneca covers are wide-ranging and, while he does seem to be lecturing, there are also moments when his tone is chatty. Or, the translation makes it chatty—I don’t know how true the translation is to the original, but it read very well. Some of the things he mentioned, like the treatment of slaves, are abhorrent to today’s readers and some, like the risk of shipwrecks, are not relevant to most people, but he also discusses fear of death (at length) and how to endure suffering with dignity and how to better absorb information, and I really enjoyed those discussions.

All in all, I have no idea what I was expecting when I picked this book up, and also have no real idea why I decided to order it in the first place (aside from that previously mentioned mélange of pretty and cheap and recommended), but I ended up liking it very much. There was some prescient advice, and then some extremely not good advice, and a whole lot of throwaway comments about life in ancient Rome that totally charmed me.

Three lines I particularly loved:
“Let fate find us ready and eager.” (235)

“One of the causes of the troubles that beset us is the way our lives are guided by the example of others, instead of being set to rights by reason. We’re seduced by convention.” (272-273)

“No man’s good by accident.” (276)

There were so many sections of this book that just made it clear that, even though it’s been two thousand years, people are still very much the same.

 

the colours of madeleine

Jaclyn Moriarty is one of the most distinct authors I’ve ever read. Her voice is humorous and clever, and I love the way her books are made up of the written pieces of her characters’ lives. From letters to newspaper articles, book excerpts to journals to Lydia’s condescending writer’s notebook in The Year of Secret Assignments, Moriarty has a way of structuring her novels around these bits of text that make their atmospheres realistic and engaging.

A Corner of White, The Cracks in the Kingdom, and A Tangle of Gold, the three books in The Colours of Madeleine series, rely less on the epistolary form than many of Moriarty’s earlier books—unlike Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments, the story is told through a much more traditional narrative technique. Even so, Moriarty includes letters and book and newspaper articles that lend the series depth and believability.

A Corner of White and its sequels are different from anything else I’ve read in the young adult fantasy genre. (And I have read a lot.) The books are set in parallel universes, this world and Cello, a kingdom with random seasons, where Colors attack like natural disasters and spells can be fished from a lake. Cellians know about the World, but the World has forgotten Cello, and so when Madeleine finds a note sticking out of a parking meter in Cambridge and writes back, she believes that Elliot, the boy she’s writing to, is a lonely nerd, trying out a fantasy world he’s created on the girl silly enough to return a note to a parking meter.

At one point, Elliot writes to Madeleine: “One last thing, if you decide on writing back, you’ve got to at least pretend that I am real. ‘Cause I’m not in the mood for being treated like I don’t exist.” (147) Madeleine says: “Yeah, okay, you can exist if you want.” (156) And then she continues not believing in him for the next hundred pages.

Because the books are told in multiple perspectives, Cello is real from page one—for us. Madeleine’s disbelief made me want to shake her a few times, but it also allowed her to act the critic of Moriarty’s own fictional world:

You say you’re about to go on a trip to the “Magical North.” Well, I guess you want to narrate an “epic journey” of some kind, but maybe you could change the place name? “Magical North” makes me think of reindeers and Santa Claus and that maybe you’re planning to rip off Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights.

The fact that Moriarty called herself out on an occasional lack of originality via one of her characters made me totally willing to accept that Cello has a Magical North, that the open spaces between the World and Cello are called cracks, and absolutely any other fantasy cliché she felt like throwing in there. For me, everything worked.

The books are about people going missing, and about the people left behind when they do. In A Corner of White, everyone in Elliot’s town believes his father has been killed by a Purple. Except Elliot, who goes off on dangerous “epic” trips across his kingdom to find him. Madeleine and her mother ran away from her distant father, who, despite his wealth and resources, has never made any effort to find them. When Madeleine writes to him, her letter comes back unread. Elliot’s father is missing in the traditional sense; Madeleine’s experience is more an inversion of the typical runaway story.

Disappearance is a main theme of the series as a whole, and it grows from the thread of missing fathers that winds through the first novel. The growth of that theme into a widespread incident of disappearances made the series successful. The second and third books expanded on the plot initially introduced in A Corner of White without trivializing Elliot’s and Madeleine’s reactions to their absent fathers.

Plot and voice and skillful world-building are all qualities I appreciate very much, particularly in fantasy works, but these books would have suffered if their characters had not been so wonderful.

Moriarty does not write the most realistic characters—her adults, in particular, sometimes come off as caricatures—but that is part of the charm of her work. I still find her characters easy to connect to, and I still root for them and want them to succeed (or fail); they are not surface characters, but they are also not characters whose minds I felt I needed to be inside of. She gives snippets of them; she gets what’s very important to them and leaves out the rest. There’s a lot of space to fill, but she fills what needs to be in order to make her series succeed. It’s a really wonderful way of writing, and it worked particularly well in this series, because of some of the mysteries at play throughout the trio of books.

I really love Moriarty and, while Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments (or Finding Cassie Crazy for anyone in Australia and the UK) are early favorites, this series is so wholly different, while retaining that unique Moriarty style, that they are certainly at least on level with those older books.

winter reads

Snapseed

Growing up, I was a chronic rereader. I don’t know that I typically reread more books in a year than I read new ones, but I think I may have. I loved revisiting well-loved characters and stories, and I would often pick books up at a similar time every year, so I now associate certain books with certain seasons.

I know it’s a little late for a winter recommendations post, but I’m doing it anyway. Tardiness is the one area in which I’m consistent—I won’t be changing that this late in life.

The following is an updated version of a list I posted on my Tumblr several years ago.

The Children’s Book — A.S. Byatt [historical fiction] He thought: when this is over, everything will be different, including me.

This is a long book, and it’s immersive, which combine to make it the ideal winter read. Curl up under a blanket with this one, and you’ll be set to hibernate for a week at least. You will emerge a little sadder and with about twenty characters whom you either love or violently hate.

The Eye of the World — Robert Jordan [fantasy] The fact that the price must be paid is proof that it is worth paying.

This is the first novel in a (now complete) high-fantasy series. Told in the Tolkien tradition, this book introduces us to our heroes, who are more than the small-town teenagers they seem to be and are therefore corralled into one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures that happen so often in books. In this book, our characters are experiencing what could be termed a pre-apocalypse, a feature of which is a lingering winter, so it’s super appropriate to read on chilly nights. Bonus: Once you’re finished with The Eye of the World, there are fourteen other books (thirteen sequels and one prequel novella) to carry you through to spring.

The Secret History — Donna Tartt [psychological thriller] Imagine what heroes you’d be.

I think that every person on the internet has heard of this book, but on the off chance you haven’t: pretentious college students commit murder, and it takes four-hundred pages to explain why and how. This book is clever and addicting.

The Dark is Rising — Susan Cooper [children’s lit/fantasy] Any great gift or power or talent is a burden and this more than any, and you will long to be free of it. But there is nothing to be done. If you were born with the gift, then you must serve it, and nothing in this world or out of it may stand in the way of that service, because that is why you were born and that is the Law.

The Dark is Rising is technically the second book in the series of the same name; the first is Over Sea, Under Stone (which I would also recommend). The Dark is Rising is set in a particularly wintry winter, and it follows a delightful young British boy as he learns that he is actually a member of an ancient group of protectors of the light (i.e., good) against the dark (i.e., bad). This series was among my favorites growing up, and I’ve reread it several times.

The Golem and the Jinni — Helene Wecker [historical fantasy] If he could pick a moment to be taken into the flask, a moment to live in endlessly, perhaps he would choose this one: the passing city, and the woman at his side.

This book is stunning. The golem and the jinni of the title both end up in New York City in 1899, and this book describes their individual experiences as outsiders in the vivid atmosphere of turn-of-the-century New York. The book is strong before the two characters cross paths, and it becomes even more engrossing once they’ve met.

The Bear and the Nightingale — Katherine Arden [historical fantasy] I do not understand “damned.” You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.

If I could recommend this book to everyone, I would. I could not put it down. It tells the story of Vasilisa, who is the daughter of a Russian boyar living some distance from Moscow. This is set during the period of the Golden Horde, in pre-czarist Rus’, when the Russian lords answered to the Mongols. In this complicated political sphere, Christianity is beginning to find a foothold in Rus’, and the magical beings that populate Russian folklore are fading from reality. Our wonderful, perfect, brave, flawed, stubborn, perfect (sorry I said that already) protagonist Vasilisa can still see and communicate with them, though, and this book describes how she fights for them and the well-being of her home. As I’ve mentioned, the book is set in Russia, so it’s obviously a winter read, and there’s also a frost demon who features pretty prominently—you should probably read it right now.

Little Women — Louisa May Alcott [classic] I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.

I haven’t reread this since I was in high school but, considering that it is one of the Great American Classics, I assume I would still recommend it. It is a family-centric story about four sisters growing up in New England; it begins during the American Civil War and follows the sisters as they enter adulthood. Deciding to read this book was one of the most pivotal moments of my days as a young reader; I finally decided I was old enough, felt very mature renting a copy from the library, got home, made myself a cup of hot chocolate, curled up under a fuzzy crocheted blanket in the basement of my house, and determined not to move until I had made some serious headway. I still remember the burn that I got from the hot chocolate and a little spot that spilled over the typewriter font of the copy my library owned (sorry to whoever rented that book after me). Anyway, hot chocolate-related nostalgia aside, many of the most significant moments of this book are set in the winter, so it’s fully appropriate for this time of year. That’s why the Winona Ryder movie is all over TV at Christmastime. Because I am right, and it is a winter read, and you should read it if you haven’t.

Mary Poppins [children’s lit/classic] “I smell snow,” said Jane, as they got out of the Bus. / “I smell Christmas trees,” said Michael. / “I smell fried fish,” said Mary Poppins.

If the above quote doesn’t convince you this book is perfect to read post-October, I don’t think anything will. This is one of my favorite children’s books, and it held up when I reread it fairly recently. I love it. The musical is wonderful, but it is missing some of my favorite Poppins experiences (for example, the children go to a circus run by animals, where humans perform, and the scene is immensely twisty in a dark way. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a whole chapter focusing on a starling, the sun, and the baby twins that is absolutely delightful). This is a feel-good read that makes winter nights pass a bit more quickly.

As you can see, I tend to go back to old favorites in the colder months, and I have never been disappointed upon dipping back in to any of these books.

xx

 

telegraph avenue

img_5820.jpg

A year or so ago,* I was job-searching in a Barnes & Noble café, which I’ve found is often a better place to turn good intentions into productivity than my bedroom (although definitely more expensive). I wrapped up the job search after applying to probably a grand total of three positions and, turning to leave, caught sight of a glossy red hardback sitting at the end of one of the shelves near the store exit, cover marred only by the “Bargain Priced” sticker advertising a cost of $6.98.

$6.98 for a new-looking hardcover by Michael Chabon, the author of the original and stunning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay? Yes, please, thanks very much, I’ll take that and run.

Considering it a reward—and a cheap one!—for all the very hard job application work I had done that night, I bought the book, relocated it from the end of a Barnes & Noble shelf to the dead center of one of my three to-be-read shelves, and continued to not read it.

Three months into my second year of trying to read all of the impulse-buys I’ve been collecting since high school, I finally decided to give this one a shot.

Since reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay back in 2014, I have picked up two other Chabon novels (or, more accurately, bought the Nook editions in sleep-deprived 2:00 a.m. searches of the online store). I read both as soon as I downloaded them, only a few weeks apart. The first, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, I liked a lot. It was a young book, but it fit where I was when I read it, and the characters fascinated me. Chabon has a strong and unique writing style. This style was also a feature of the other novel of his I read, Wonder Boys, but I did not like Wonder Boys nearly as much as his other novels. It left me feeling vaguely scummy.

My opinion of Wonder Boys contributed to my reluctance to read Telegraph Avenue. I finally picked it up because of my goal to clear my TBR, and also because I had reread a few of my favorite scenes from Kavalier & Clay and remembered how much Chabon’s style floors me. In that respect, Telegraph Avenue did not disappoint.

Boiled down, the plot features two pairs of business partners and the decline of their businesses. Gwen and Aviva are midwives in a community where the midwife is the hippie choice of the rich and the white, and therefore the women are not respected in the way straight-up medical doctors often are. Their husbands, Archy and Nat, co-own a record store. In 2004. In a neighborhood where a black mogul is planning on placing a shopping center, a “Dogpile Thang,” which will, obviously, have a superior selection of vinyl on offer. While the theory is that the Thang will revitalize the community, Archy and Nat’s record store, repeatedly called a neighborhood institution, will be history.

Boiled up, the plot is about race and community and relationships, family, fatherhood, growing up, blackmail, failure and redemption. The characters are deep. The history is deep. Each decision makes sense for the character who makes it (even if many of the decisions are Very Stupid Ones). The interactions between the characters—the way Archy and Nat hurt each other and Archy hurts Gwen and Archy lies to himself, the way Nat’s son, Julie, bonds with another boy, the way Nat and Aviva protect Julie and protect each other, the way Archy’s father looms in the future and the past—made me love them all. I’ve had some problems with how Chabon portrays women in his other books, but Gwen and Aviva and even Valletta, Archy’s sort-of-not-really-stepmother, are wonderful. Chabon did a good job this time. The politics surrounding the Thang are intriguing. Overall, the development of the plot and of the characters is very, very solid.

All of this good stuff made the book difficult to rate. Because I did end up enjoying it a lot. By the time I hit page 120 or so, I was invested. I was foregoing sleep and timeliness and food to find out what terrible choices these characters were going to make next.

I said that Chabon’s writing style in Kavalier & Clay floored me. Here it smacked me down and kept me there. The style in Telegraph Avenue is experimental. Regardless of my overall impression of it, it is impressive. It is dense and often absurd, made up of lengthy sentences full of metaphors that do not make sense or, if they do, require several imaginative leaps.

The sentence-paragraph that killed me the most (although I’m sure there were others that would have killed me worse if I hadn’t been lulled by the time I reached them) was:

His disdainful drawl intoned the title of the seventh film on the syllabus with a contempt so all-encompassing that it led one of the fearsome-looking, old, ex-nun-style, Communist, lesbian retired piano teachers who principally made up the enrollment of “Sampling as Revenge” to get up and start passing out oxygen masks and air tanks, so that all the other old people and Julie could go on breathing and not have the air sucked out of their lungs by the whooshing vacuum that followed this sally from the back of the room. (96)

This is like an onomatopoeia, except instead of sounding like the thing it describes, the paragraph creates the feeling it describes. Whoosh.

The writing style did result in some fantastic descriptions. It made this book unique. But at times it was tiresome and made Chabon seem pretentious. (I’m sure that he’s not. He just felt the unstoppable need to repurpose an entire dictionary a few times over. I get it.)

But! But then! He goes and writes an 11-page sentence and it is beautiful. It follows a bird through Oakland and, because it is about something as flowing as flight, the experimental language makes sense. It works. I just wish Chabon had given more consideration to areas where that style may not have worked as well.

Some of my favorite sentences had fairly reasonable syntax: “Julie, with two disappointing years of fencing lessons in his recent past, has the advantage of knowing what you could do with a sword if you actually held one, while Titus had the advantage he always would have: The whole thing was his idea.” (100); “They [the Mary Janes] had the charm of cement and the elegance of cinderblocks, but they held her feet without pain or structural failure, and it seemed to her that the librarian-nun vibe they exuded was also not incompatible with the kicking of ass.” (320); “You had to figure thirty years of on-and-off love was some kind of heroic feat.” (409); and (my favorite and probably the shortest sentence in the entire book) “Reliably, it destroyed him.” (414)

This book is hard to sum up. I realize that it is a brave book. I wish that Chabon had been willing to experiment, and then also been willing to cut back in areas where the experiment failed. The heavy writing style, however, does not destroy the book, which I found to be a success. The characters are flawed and occasionally awful and yet I was still rooting for them. I connected to them. While I did not enjoy everything about this book, I admired it, not because of Chabon’s writing style, but because his characters overcame it.

xx

*At the time of posting, it is closer to three years ago, which is ridiculous.

reading list: 2018

 

JPEG image-CD817108EA25-1

A list seems like a good way to begin blogging: quick, easy, numbered. A painless start to the new year. In this case, it will serve as an introduction to some of the books that will appear on this blog over the next several months (if my efforts to minimize my TBR go according to plan).

The titles below are books that I own but have never read, with the year (or a guess at the year) that I received/bought the book in parentheses following the author. Over the last several years, it has been my goal to read these books, and it’s possible that 2018 will be the year. Or maybe 2019. I’m sure the suspense over this will keep you coming back to see how I’m doing/how epically I’m failing.

Here we go:

Poetry collections:

  1. The Geography of Broken Things — Sean Thomas Dougherty (2017)
  2. Nietzsche’s Horse — Christopher Kennedy (2017)
  3. The Greensboro Review — Various (2017)
  4. The Poetry of Pablo Neruda — Pablo Neruda (2017)
  5. The Rag-Picker’s Guide to Poetry — Eleanor Wilner and Maurice Manning (2017)
  6. The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara — Frank O’Hara (2017) *
  7. Wishing for Birds — Elisabeth Hewer (2015)
  8. Collected Lyrics of Edna St. Vincent Millay — Edna St. Vincent Millay (~2014)

Nonfiction:

  1. Published in Paris — Hugh Ford (2015)
  2. A Brief History of Time — Stephen Hawking (2014) *
  3. How We Die — Simon B. Nuland (2014)
  4. A Barbarian in Asia — Henri Michaux (2015)
  5. The Magical Chorus — Solomon Volkev (~2014)
  6. Shores of Knowledge — Hoyce Appleby (2017)
  7. A Little Book on Form — Robert Hass (2017) *
  8. Talking As Fast As I Can — Lauren Graham (2017)
  9. Greyfriar’s Bobby — Eleanor Atkinson (~2014)
  10. Scotland — Magnus Magnusson (2012)

Fiction:

  1. Nana — Emile Zola (2012)
  2. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany (2016)
  3. The Last Tycoon — F. Scott Fitzgerald (2014)
  4. Babel Tower — A.S. Byatt (2013) *
  5. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine — Gail Honeyman (2017)

* Currently reading.

So, a total of 23 books, and I’m in the middle of four of them. That seems perfectly manageable, although we’ll see what I think of that assessment next December. The problem is that new books always seem to pop up and require more immediate attention than the books that I’ve had for years. This year, I plan to finish two books before I allow myself to go to the library or buy a new one. Of course, I just ordered a new book yesterday (The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones), and I am dying for Ursula K. Le Guin’s No Time to Spare, but maybe I can achieve an average of completing two for every new book by the end of the year.

As noted above, I’m reading Babel Tower, which I am loving; A Brief History of Time, which is fascinating, but I put it down a month ago and then got distracted by several novels; and The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara and A Little Book on Form, which are books I’m dipping in and out of. I think I’ll pick up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (which was a Christmas gift) and Nana next.

In terms of numbers (because no discussion of reading goals is complete without a number), I’ve set my Goodreads goal to 50. Last year, I set it to 40, hit 40 in early November, upped it to 50, and finished out the year at 48. I’m totally fine with that, but if I’m going to raise my goal if I reach it, I figured that I may as well start off high. Again, we’ll see what I think of that come December.

I hope 2018 is off to a good start for everyone!

xx