2015 reading: here are some numbers.

this is why i like the end of the year.  >:3

in 2015, i read 68 books*, and here are my top 7 from those 68 (in no particular order) (or, rather, in the order i posted them on instagram, which was in no particular order).

  1. helen macdonald, h is for hawk (jonathan cape, 2014)
  2. alex mar, witches of america (FSG, 2015)
  3. patricia park, re jane (viking, 2015)
  4. rebecca solnit, the faraway nearby (penguin, 2014, paperback)
  5. jonathan franzen, purity (FSG, 2015)
  6. han kang, human acts (portobello, 2016)
  7. robert s. boynton, the invitation-only zone (FSG, forthcoming 2016)

(you can find quotes and reasons why i chose these 7 on my instagram.)

* as of this posting time.  i still have two days to read more!

in 2015, i went to 38 book events and readings, and here are 10 i particularly enjoyed.

  1. marie mutsuki mockett and emily st. john mandel with ken chen at AAWW
  2. michael cunningham at columbia
  3. meghan daum with glenn kurtz at mcnally jackson
  4. kazuo ishiguro and caryl phillips at the 92Y
  5. aleksandar hemon with sean macdonald at mcnally jackson
  6. alexandra kleeman and patricia park with anelise chen at AAWW
  7. lauren groff at bookcourt
  8. jonathan franzen with wyatt mason at st. joseph's college
  9. patti smith with david remnick at the new yorker festival
  10. alex mar with leslie jamison at housingworks bookstore

(both franzen events had no-photo policies.)

in 2015, i took 34 photos of books with pie.  mind you, this is not the number of times i ate pie.  this is simply the number of times i went to eat pie and decided to photograph it with the book i was reading at the time.  and by pie, i mean pie from four and twenty blackbirds because their pie is delicious and not too sweet and totally worth going to gowanus for (so, if you're in nyc, go get some!).

here are 5 photos of books with pie because it would be unnecessarily mean of me to torture you with all 34 slices of amazing pie, wouldn't it?


in 2015, i took 38 photos of books with stitch.

i suppose, to provide some context:  i love stitch.  lilo and stitch is one of my favorite movies (we're talking top 3 here).  i've had this stitch for 13 years.  i still shamelessly take him with me everywhere (he's in california with me right now).  obviously, he popped up every now and then with a book.

here are 5 photos of books with stitch.  i'm totally choosing how many photos to post arbitrarily (in multiples of 5, though, so maybe not so arbitrarily?).


in 2015, my book club started, and we read 10 books.  we've now eased into a routine of meeting at my friend's apartment and having a potluck, but we were absent this routine the first two times we met, hence the three out-of-place photos.  i know; it's making me a little twitchy, too; but we'll have 12 consistent flat-lays from 2016!

  1. marilynne robinson, lila (FSG, 2014)
  2. alice munro, the beggar maid (vintage, 1991) (first published 1977)
  3. kazuo ishiguro, an artist of the floating world (vintage,1989) (first published 1986)
  4. margaret atwood, the stone mattress (nan a. talese, 2014)
  5. jeffrey eugenides, the virgin suicides (picador, 2009) (first published 1993)
  6. ta-nehisi coates, between the world and me (random house, 2015)
  7. virginia woolf, mrs. dalloway (vintage, 1992) (first published 1925)
  8. michael cunningham, the hours (FSG, 1998)
  9. nikolai gogol, the complete tales (vintage, 1999)
  10. nathaniel hawthorne, short stories (vintage, 1955)

(we combined two months, so i didn't have 10 photos, so i included the nachos i ate when we met to discuss munro's the beggar maid.)

in 2015, i became much more brutal with dropping books because life is too short for books that simply don't hold your interest.  i intentionally dropped 13 books.

  1. claire messud, the woman upstairs (knopf, 2013):  so. boring. nothing. happens.
  2. cheryl strayed, tiny beautiful things (vintage, 2012):  i started reading this in earnest, but then i skimmed it with a friend, and then i never went back to it.  strayed’s columns are generally hit or miss for me.
  3. atul gawande, being mortal (metropolitan books, 2014):  this wasn’t what i was expecting it to be ... though i’m also not entirely sure what i was expecting it to be.  i think i was expecting more profundity, and i wasn’t taken by the writing.
  4. renee ahdieh, the wrath and the dawn (putnam, 2015):  omg, the sheer amount of adverbs in this made me want to throttle the book.  i always read with a pencil to mark passages i like or to jot down thoughts, but i read this with a pencil to cross out all the adverbs and circle all the different variations of “said” --  i want to ban her from using a thesaurus ever again.  and limit how many adverbs she's allowed to use.
  5. rebecca mead, my life in middlemarch (crown, 2014):  i really liked what i read of this, but i finished middlemarch and didn’t like that that much, so i never did finish the mead.
  6. rabih alameddine, an unnecessary woman (grove, 2014):  i just stopped reading this -- like, i put it down for the day and kind of forgot i’d ever started reading it, which was weird because i started reading it on oyster books and liked it enough that i bought the paperback … and then i never went back to it and probably never will.
  7. ta-nehisi coates, between the world and me (random house, 2015):  i know; i’m horrible for dropping this; but i did.  i never finished reading it for book club, and i didn’t finish it after book club and have no inclination to pick it up again.
  8. jesse ball, a cure for suicide (pantheon, 2015):  this tried too hard to be … whatever the hell it is.
  9. virginia woolf, mrs. dalloway (vintage, 1992):  ugh.  i'm sorry, michael cunningham, but UGH.
  10. emile zola, thêrèse raquin (penguin, 2010):  given the plot, this is going to sound bizarre, but i was bored to death with this.  it was so predictable.
  11. philip weinstein, jonathan franzen (bloomsbury, 2015):  given my unabashed, vocal love for franzen, you’d think i’d be all over this, but, as it turns out -- and i say this in the most non-creepy way possible -- i know way too much about franzen’s bio already.  also, my brain kept going off in all sorts of directions because it’s already full with my own critical analyses of franzen, and weinstein’s writing is very flat.  one day, i'll write about franzen.
  12. shirley jackson, we have always lived in the castle (penguin, 2006):  so. boring. nothing. happens.
  13. nathaniel hawthorne, short stories (vintage classics, 2011):  (no comment.)

in 2015, i took a lot of photos of books with food, and i am not going to count them all.  here are 5 i randomly chose so that i'd have 7 "in 2015"s instead of 6.


and that's all, folks!  stay tuned for my year-end recap coming ... at some point in the next two weeks.  >:3  happy new year!

march reads!


fifteen.  allie brosh, hyperbole & a half (touchstone, 2013).

(no quote because i don’t have the book, sorry!  i borrowed it from a friend.)

read this in an afternoon in los angeles, and there were no surprises here — what you see on her blog is what you get here.  the book felt a little long, though; i found my interest significantly waning as i got closer to the end. 


sixteen.  asa akira, insatiable:  porn — a love story (grove press, 2014).

i stormed off set.  it takes a lot to get me that mad, but dan had done it.  i was tired of people trying to tell me the sexual orientation of my boyfriend.  no one was going to tell me my boyfriend was gay anymore.  in an industry where we were so often shunned from society because of our sexuality, you would think people would be more open-minded and understanding.  it made me sick.  ("penis envy")

asa akira’s a porn actress, and she wrote a memoir about, well, being a porn actress, and this was an easy read.  her writing is simple and casual, and she’s very frank and open and doesn’t try to cater to an audience — i got the feeling that she was writing insatiable more for herself than anyone else, though, at the same time, there wasn’t a cloying sense of “this is a diary,” either.

i’ve read reviews/comments about insatiable being shallow or lacking in introspection or deflecting from deeper thought about issues like asian fetishization or homophobia in the straight porn industry or personal things like her family, and i’m torn about this.  on one hand, yes, it would have been interesting if she’d delved deeper, but, on the other, i don’t know — as far as her relationship with her family’s concerned, we aren’t owed that, and, as far as issues in the porn industry are concerned, do we need that — or, from another perspective, why do we require that?

i didn’t feel that the book was lacking much because of the lack of introspection, but maybe that’s because i went into insatiable expecting a fun, breezy read with blunt sex talk.  i will say that i found the last bit (her letter to her future child) a little too flippant and defensive (and most telling, in ways) for me, but, otherwise, i enjoyed it for what it was, a casual memoir by a woman who works in porn and enjoys her work.


seventeen.  joy cho, blog, inc.  (chronicle books, 2012).

authenticity simply means writing in a voice that comes naturally to you, and posting things that you simply want to share with others — not what you think they want to see.  (39)

i picked this up because i spent a lot of the last few weeks thinking about what to do with my blog and wondering how the hell people made money off their blogs and, yes, if i might be able to do something more with my little corner on the internet.  a lot of the stuff about blogging in blog, inc., wasn’t new to me, but i was glad for the chapters about monetizing blogs and what things like analytics or SEOs and such were.  i love cho’s blog, oh joy!, and her sunny, approachable personality is very present in this book, which is also laid out well and designed beautifully and filled with interviews with other bloggers (these were my favourite parts).  in the end, i still don’t know what i’m doing with this blog, but that’s okay — i’m glad i picked this up and have it as a resource.


eighteen.  jonathan franzen, the kraus project (FSG, 2013).

sex looks like nothing or like everything, depending on when you look at it, and it must have been looking to me like nothing in munich, at the predawn hour when you’re finally exhausted by unsatisfied desire and only want to sleep a little.  not until i was back in my clothes and standing on a train platform in hannover, a few hours later, hurling pfennings, did it look like everything again.  (250-1)

this is a book of franzen’s translations of karl kraus, along with annotations and commentary from himself, paul reitter (kraus scholar) and daniel kehlmann (austrian novelist + kraus fan) — okay, so, i’m going to confess to a sort of bad thing and say that i didn’t read all the kraus essays.  :|  i started reading the kraus project when it was published in autumn 2013, but i put it down until march 2015, and i have a habit of not going back to reread things to refresh my memory, so … i never went back to figure out where i’d left off in the kraus essay and merrily proceeded to read all the commentary.

… i’m sorry, franzen.

i thought the kraus project was kind of cool, and i loved the dialogue in the annotations between reitter, kehlmann, and franzen.  there seems to be a deep camaraderie there, which i enjoyed; they approached kraus seriously, thoughtfully, intellectually without being pedantic or teacherly; and i liked how they sometimes build on each other and ultimately created this living, communal project that encourages the reader, too, to engage (yes, even without having read all the kraus).  i found the kraus project to be an interesting experience, and i look forward to revisiting it and maybe giving the kraus essays another go.

also, this was one beautifully designed book.  (cue:  whathappenedwithpurity.)  (and cue:  five months to purity!)


nineteen.  roxane gay, an untamed state (grove/atlantic, 2014).

"it is often women who pay the price for what men want."  (mireille)

read this on oyster books (which i am loving) — i wrote about this in a hello monday post, and i don’t know if i want to expand on it more.  except maybe to say that, wanting better writing does not mean wanting flowery, beautiful writing.  it just means wanting better writing, and i wanted better (much better) writing from an untamed state.  not beautiful writing.  better.


twenty.  miriam toews, all my puny sorrows (mcsweeney’s, 2014).

on the way back to the hospital i thought about my crazy outburst in the parking lot.  it’s my past, i say out loud to nobody in the car.  i had figured it out.  i was sigmund freud.  mennonite men in church with tight collars and bulging necks accusing me of preposterous acts and damning me to some underground fire when i hadn’t done a thing.  i was an innocent child.  elf was an innocent child.  my father was an innocent child.  my cousin was an innocent child.  you can’t flagrantly march around the fronts of churches waving your arms in the air and scaring people with threats and accusations just because your family was slaughtered in russia and you were forced to run and hide in a pile of manure when you were little.  what you do at the pulpit would be considered lunatic behavior on the street.  you can’t go around terrorizing people and making them feel small and shitty and then call them evil when they destroy themselves.  you will never walk down a street and feel a lightness come over you.  you will never fly.  (177-8)

this is a novel about two sisters.  the elder is a brilliant pianist, and the younger is “ordinary” — she’s been twice married, twice divorced, with two kids and a decent (basic?) writing career.  the brilliant pianist is suicidal and wants to die, and her sister struggles to come to terms with this, whatever “coming to terms with this” means — and all of this meant i was, one, instantly interested and, two, intensely wary.

i’m wary of portrayals of depression and suicide because i’m wary of reductive caricatures, a lack of sympathy/empathy, dismissive condescension.  i also generally avoid writing of/by people who’ve lost loved ones to suicide, so i walked into all my puny sorrows with a whole lot of reservation, ready to close the book and move on at any given point.  the voice sucked me in, though — the novel is told by the younger sister, yolandi, and there is so much personality and vivacity in her voice that i couldn’t help but be invested in her story, in her relationship with her sister and mother, in her conflicting emotions and thoughts about what to do for her sister.

toews’ portrayal of suicidal depression is remarkably nuanced and human, withholding in judgment and simply portraying the person within, but, surprisingly, i think i appreciated more how she conveyed the complicated nature of caring for someone who’s suicidal.  yolandi is faced with heavy questions, questions whose answers might have seemed obvious in hypothetical situations but become more complex in the face of her sister’s real desire to die, and her grief, too, is complicated, not a static thing but one that goes through cycles and emotions, rage one instant, deep sorrow the next, normality in yet another.  it’s this humanity that grounds the novel and pulled me in and left me at the end satisfied, even though the book did go on a little long.


twenty-one.  alice munro, the beggar maid (vintage, 1991).

the most mortifying thing of all was simply hope, which burrows so deceitfully at first, masks itself cunningly, but not for long.  in a week’s time it can be out trilling and twittering and singing hymns at heaven’s gate.  and it was busy even now, telling her that simon might be turning into her driveway at this very moment, might be standing at her door with his hands together, praying, mocking, apologizing.  memento mori.  (“simon’s luck,” 173)

i also wrote about the beggar maid in the same hello monday post linked above, and i don’t know if i want to write more about it here.  i’m not being lazy, i swear — i honestly don’t have much to add to it, which leaves me feeling conflicted and leads me to …

it’s been a weird reading year thus far.  i find myself hungry to read constantly, and i’ve been reading a lot and consistently, but, while i’ve been having several strong, intense reading experiences, i’ve found much of my reading kind of falling away from me once i’m done.  an untamed state was like that; the beggar maid also fell away from me once i’d completed it; and hyperbole and a half, too, had zero sticky factor (though i wasn’t much surprised by that, to be honest).  i’ve admittedly found it a bit discouraging, that i can be so invested in a book while i reading it, only to emerge from it and essentially forget about it.

though that wasn’t the case with the beggar maid, so maybe i should have brought this up after writing about it …

to be honest, if i hadn’t been reading the beggar maid for book club, i wonder if i would have finished it.  it’s not that i don’t see the merits in munro’s writing, but there’s a staticity and flatness to her stories that wear me down and leave me wanting more.  i thought about marilynne robinson when i was reading the beggar maid, and particularly of lila, how there’s a provinciality to robinson’s gilead, too, but how robinson’s stories feel bigger than that, seem to encompass so much more and transcend the narrowed focus of her characters and stories.  i don’t think it’s a novel versus short story thing because i still found much of the beggar maid static, but i wonder if it isn’t a tone thing because there was a distance to munro’s writing in the beggar maid, a lack of connection that kept me at arm’s length from rose and made me see her more as a series of actions/movements than an emotive, expressive person.

which isn’t to say that all characters should be emotional or expressive, just that i couldn’t get a gauge for anything below the surface or the sense that rose was simply a quiet, reserved woman or even that she was suppressing things.  she was simply there on the page doing things, so there wasn’t much there for me to hold onto as a reader.  i do like munro’s writing, though; it’s quite lovely.

april thus far has been a great reading month.  selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed has given me plenty to mull over, and the book of strange new things haunted me for days (and still fills me with despair when i think about it).  the ghost network was loads of fun and excitement (though let’s see about the sticky factor), and i’m absolutely loving the faraway nearby (and can’t wait to acquire/read a field guide to getting lost next) — and i’m not sure where i’ll go after that, so we’ll see!

as always, thanks for reading!

hello monday! (150330)

maybe one of the contradictions/surprises of my life is that i write short stories yet i read so few of them.  to be quite honest, i’m impressed by so few of them; there’s a sparseness to short stories that i can’t get into; and i personally enjoy being able to sink into a story and luxuriate in it, spending hours or days or weeks with the characters in their world.

over the weekend, i read alice munro's the beggar maid for book club, and this was my second munro collection.  i admit to not having been all that enthused by my first munro collection, hateship friendship courtship loveship marriage, maybe because i didn't "get it" or maybe because her narrative eye is so honed in to a particular, provincial life that i kept feeling myself drifting away -- who knows, but i can understand the argument for munro being boring.

the beggar maid was better, though, and i'd say it was because the stories in this collection are interrelated, following the same characters at different points in their lives without feeling like munro had meant to write a novel but had somehow fallen short of that.  these were decidedly short stories, and i enjoyed them for the way that they layered upon each other, though i will say ... god, munro bums me the fuck out.  she gets there in the gritty and dark recesses of human behavior, but she does so without sentimentalizing it or glorifying it or making it seem like something out of the norm, and i find that to be more off-putting because it's true -- acts of violence against women aren't a one-off thing, and they've been so inculcated into our culture that we absorb it, and i think that is the most terrifying thing about it.

the tournament of books has been going on, and, because of it, i find i have a lot of thoughts about roxane gay's an untamed state when, to be honest, had the tournament not been going on (and had it not been my march crack), the book would have completely slipped out of my mind. 

however, because the ToB is my crack and an untamed state has been advancing, which means i've read all the comments about it and had to mull over it myself, i can say that i didn't like an untamed state.  i commend it for its content and the frankness with which gay writes about rape and the violence mireille endures and her PTSD after she's set free, but, unfortunately, content ultimately isn't enough, and an untamed state fell apart in so many ways.  for one, the writing was clumsy and clunky, and, for another, mireille never convinced me as a human being, and, for another, the marriage failed to convince me and the dual points-of-view confused me and, while i did love mireille and lorraine, i wasn't convinced of that either.

setting aside the last few points and focusing on the first, though:  i understand that gay was trying to do something with the writing, that she was trying to demonstrate that, sometimes, language fails us, to communicate that mireille has been through trauma and this is her story so this is her voice and it's been fractured.  i understand that, similarly, mireille's portrayal of herself is also not going to be sweet and sentimental (as well as her portrayal of her marriage), and i didn't find any of that problematic -- it's just that intention is one thing, and execution is another.  ultimately, the language in an untamed state does not convey the failure of language or the brokenness of a woman.  mireille does not come across as an actual human being, more like a figure upon which these violent acts have been committed but not in a way of mireille having disappeared because of the trauma.  and, because mireille reads like a string of character quirks almost (her penchant for throwing things comes to mind), i fail to be convinced of everything else:  her marriage, her taking care of lorraine when lorraine is ill, her relationship with her parents, etcetera.  in the end, unfortunately, intention is not sufficient, and gay's writing in an untamed state is simply clunky and clumsy and flat instead of being fully-realized and vibrant and alive.  

and i don't think that's an unfair thing to pick on because the writing really is the foundation.  if the writing rings false or contrived or flat, it inevitably distances readers, and i pick on the clumsy writing of an untamed state because it was the reason i couldn't connect with the book -- i could make myself feel for mireille in an abstract way, but, in the end, she felt riddled with holes, again not in the sense of her having been fractured but simply in the sense that the writing wasn't there to hold her.

i’ve decided to give up on the friday posts, at least in the way they were intentioned to be about writing from a personal POV.  maybe i'm not ready to be vulnerable in that way yet.  heh.  i’d still like to keep posting on fridays, though, but i’m not sure how they’ll proceed yet.  i shall continue ruminating upon it!

that said, i am excited for this week.  i’m going to hear marilynne robinson tonight, and tomorrow is pub day for selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed, and i have been waiting for this book for months.  i cannot wait to have it in my hands to read and to hold, and housing works is hosting a launch event, so i’m super stoked for that, too!

how're y'all doing?

2013 reading review!

2013 in books!  This is long.  I also proceeded in the order in which I read these books, instead of trying to make some sort of arbitrary order …  Also, there are more quotes in here than in previous years (here are 2011 and 2012).

First Book Read in 2013:  Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Wrote in my book journal:  “Munro is less about writing/prose than she is about a certain tone/mood she captures. […]  Munro is so fabulous at creating a whole, lived-in world, even in the frame of a short story.”

Favorite stories were “Family Furnishings,” “Nettles,” and “What Is Remembered.”

It seemed to her that this was the first time ever that she had participated in a kiss that was an event in itself.  The whole story, all by itself.  A tender prologue, an efficient pressure, a wholehearted probing and receiving, a lingering thanks, and a drawing away satisfied.
-  “Floating Bridge” (84)

One of My Favorite Passages Was From Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun:

Yukiko, I love you very much.  I loved you from the first day I met you, and I still feel the same.  If I hadn’t met you, my life would have been unbearable.  For that I am grateful beyond words.  Yet here I am, hurting you.  Because I’m a selfish, worthless human being.  For no apparent reason, I hurt the people around me and end up hurting myself.  Ruining someone else’s life and my own.  Not because I like to.  But that’s how it ends up.  (207)

blogged about this earlier this year, and to quote myself (har):  “This is such a great summation of what it means to be human, I think.  We don’t mean to hurt people or do wrong, but it can’t be helped because we’re human.  We’re imperfect and sinful and selfish, hopeless, worthless, &c, and the most we can do is the best we can — all we can do is try and recognize that we will fail, but, then, we get up and try again — so, in the end, I did appreciate Hajime’s struggle throughout the novel and how he came out from it.”

(I generally enjoyed this book; it felt more solid and less other-worldly than his other books.) 

Author of the Year:  Banana Yoshimoto

2013 was the year I read Banana Yoshimoto.  I wanted to finish all her books (that have been translated into English) this year, but I’m still working on Amrita, so, unfortunately, I can’t say I quite accomplished that goal, but I got pretty damn close!  Amrita is surprisingly long (for Yoshimoto), and, because it’s my last of her books, I’m taking it a little slower.  Or, you know, I’ve picked up three other books while reading Amrita, so …

Yoshimoto reminds me a lot of Murakami, in that I don’t necessarily find myself that engrossed in their stories/worlds/characters but I’m intrigued enough to keep reading.  And, clearly, I’ve been intrigued enough by Yoshimoto to plow through her backlist, so I’d say that probably says enough in an of itself?

(Favorite Banana Yoshimoto:  Goodbye Tsugumi

I really enjoyed the dynamic between the narrator and Tsugumi in this, and Tsugumi, particularly, cracked me up, her and her digging a hole especially, and I liked the little bits of thoughtful wisdom placed throughout the book.  In general, Goodbye Tsugumi felt very warm and tangible and genuine to me, and, in turn, I felt warm and comforted by it.  That’s generally one thing I love about books personally — they give back as much as I invest into them.

A passage:

Each one of us continues to carry the heart of each self we’ve ever been, of every stage along the way, and a chaos of everything good and rotten.  And we have to carry this weight all alone, through each day that we live.  We try to be as nice as we can to the people we love, but we alone support the weight of ourselves.  (39)

My second favourite Banana Yoshimoto would be The Lake.)

(Favorite Quote from a Banana Yoshimoto is from “Helix” in Lizard:

“Even when I have crushes on other men, I always see you in the curve of their eyebrows.”  (64)

I think that is so bloody fantastic.)

Biggest Disappointment:  Elizabeth Winder, Pain, Parties, Work:  Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

This could have been great.  Seriously.  The author had a lot of interviews to cull from, and, had it been written better (or maybe even researched better?  I can’t tell), this could have been pretty damn awesome.  Instead, we got a very superficial, surface-skimming book with a lot of quotations and stated facts, and that was that.

I did like this, though:

What strange anxiety did this all trigger in Sylvia?  The precarious nature of her own happiness, the instability of character, persona, identity, even affection.  The instability of identity — how we are seen only one dimension at a time.  Cryilly saw a kindred bluestocking.  Laurie Glazer saw a cultivated beauty.  Ann Burnside saw a caviar-stuffing barbarian.  How we are labeled for our glamour — or lack of it.  That French perfumes were far more important than she even imagined (and Sylvia never doubted their importance).  That if you stand still for a moment the world keeps moving, that sometimes no head will turn despite shiny hair and freshly applied lipstick.  That many of your peers will want less than you, and that you will envy them for that.  (203)

Least Enjoyable:  Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

I read this for a Murakami book club, and, while I hated the book, it made for a fun book club discussion because we were polarized — half of us loved the book while the other half hated it; there wasn’t any sort of middle ground.  For me, I think part of it was that the book wasn’t really one thing or another — it was surreal but not?  Or maybe the dream-like world segments were too convoluted?  Although the real world stuff was just as convoluted?  Maybe I just didn’t Get It?

But, I did love this passage:

“No.  Think it over carefully.  This is very important because to believe something, whatever it might be, is the doing of the mind.  Do you follow?  When you say you believe, you allow the possibility of disappointment.  And from disappointment or betrayal, there may come despair.  Such is the way of the mind.”  (351)

In the end, I’ve learned this year that neither surrealism nor magic realism does anything for me — they tend to annoy me, rather.

Quote in Defense of Stories (Because This Is Currently a Sore Subject For Me)

Now, the significance of stories is this.  While many stories are often no more than entertainment, narratives are actually so fundamental to how we think that they determine how we understand to live life itself.  The term “worldview,” from the German word Welternschauung, means the comprehensive perspective from which we interpret all of reality.  But a worldview is not merely a set of philosophical bullet points.  It is essentially a master narrative, a fundamental story about (a) what human life in the world should be like, (b) what has knocked it off balance, and (c) what can be done to make it right.
-  Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor (157)

And, In Relation, an Obligatory Quote from One of Franzen’s

“But Kafka’s about your life!” Avery said.  “Not to take anything away from your admiration of Rilke, but I’ll tell you right now, Kafka’s a lot more about your life than Rilke is.  Kafka was like us.  All of these writers, they were human beings trying to make sense of their lives.  But Kafka about all!  Kafka was afraid of death, he had problems with sex, he had problems with women, he had problems with his job, he had problems with his parents.  And he was writing fiction to try to figure these things out.  that’s what his books are about.  Actual living human beings trying to make sense of death and the modern world and the mess of their lives.”
-  Jonathan Franzen, The Discomfort Zone (140-1)

(I thoroughly enjoy Franzen’s non-fiction voice.  Part of it is that I feel like his non-fiction voice reads very much like him himself, which, okay, duh, sounds like an obvious thing, but a lot of times there’s a disconnect between a writer and his/her voice, even in non-fiction.  Franzen’s funny, too, or I just have a bizarre sense of humor [you know, it really could be that], but I like his general sort of crankiness and wryness and self-awareness.)

Most Sometimes-There-Is-A-Proper-Time-And-Place-For-Books:  Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

Eugenides is 2 for 3 in my book!  I first picked up The Marriage Plot when it was first published in 2011, but I couldn’t get past the first 20-some pages because I was in university then, studying comparative literature and surrounded by the same character types depicted in the beginning of the novel.  I picked it up in paperback earlier this year, though, when I was in law school and miserable and unhappy, and, damn, was it a comfort to my soul.

The thing that stood out to me most about The Marriage Plot, though, was how much love Eugenides had for his characters, especially Leonard, and I felt a lot of warmth/love while reading it.  The ending was good, too — not so tightly closed or neatly knotted together but rather realistic and hopeful? 

Favorite Overall:  Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings

I picked The Interestings up on a whim and started reading it on a particularly humid Wednesday in August, ignoring any and all other responsibilities I had because it was too goddamn humid to do anything but read.  I didn’t expect to love it, but I did — I head-over-heels loved it.

It’s rare (in my opinion) to find good books about friendship and, particularly, about friendship in an ensemble way, but The Interestings did so deftly, weaving together these six lives and carrying this friendship through time, which, also, is impressive — but I’d say that what I liked most about The Interestings was that the characters felt thoroughly real to me.  They felt like people to me, people I could know, could come across, and they lived lives that were actual, full lives — these people, these friends, were fleshed out, traveling the trajectories of their individual and, also, entwined lives, and I, as the reader, was there along for the ride.

This passage, in particular, gets me in the heart every single fucking time:

Once, a few years earlier, Jules had gone to see a play at Ash’s theater, and afterward, during the “talkback,” when the audience asked questions of the playwright and of Ash, who’d directed the production, a woman stood up and said, “This one is for Ms. Wolf.  My daughter wants to be a director too.  She’s applying to graduate school in directing, but I know very well that there are no jobs, and that she’s probably only going to have her dreams dashed.  Shouldn’t I encourage her to do something else, to find some other field she can get into before too much time goes by?”  And Ask had said to that mother, “Well, if she’s thinking about going into directing, she has to really, really want it.  That’s the first thing.  Because if she doesn’t, then there’s no point in putting herself through all of this, because it’s incredibly hard and dispiriting.  But if she does really, really want it, and if she seems to have a talent for it, then I think you should tell her, ‘That’s wonderful.’  Because the truth is, the world will probably whittle your daughter down.  But a mother never should.”  (460)

Also, I’m still a little in love with Ethan Figman.

Non-fiction of 2013:  Boris Kachka, Hothouse:  The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

I’m such a sucker for anything related to publishing.

However, while I really, really loved what this book was about, I kind of really, really didn’t care for the writing.  For one, it drove me crazy that Kachka wasn’t consistent with the names — like, he kept hopping between “Roger” and “Straus” and “Straus Jr,” so I was bloody confused from time-to-time exactly which Straus he was referring to.  For another, the writing just seemed really uneven — it wasn’t bad, per se, just … uneven … and it didn’t necessarily detract that much from the reading, but, honestly, I couldn’t not enjoy Hothouse because it was the story of a great publishing house.

My favorite passage from it:

It may have been Straus who, by sheer force of his charm and quickness managed to preserve the company that arguably set the intellectual tone of postwar America.But it was Giroux and Robbins and Vursell and many other underpaid strivers who advised him on what to publish, how to promote it, how to translate it and sell it properly abroad — who, in short, made the company worth preserving.They worked in gloves in the winter when the heat broke down; they jerry-rigged the paper towel roll in the ladies’ room with an oversized dinner fork; they repaired their own desks and bought their own pencils and made sacrifices in their lives that well-born Roger W. Straus, Jr., would never have to make, all for the freedom to publish what they loved, and little else.  (09)

Favorite Poem Because, Yes, Sometimes, I Read Poems, Too:  Ted Hughes, “The Offers,” Howls and Whispers

Ted Hughes is one of two poets from whom I’ve read fairly extensively (the other poet being T.S. Eliot).  I always say I’m going to read more poetry, but the truth is that I probably won’t ever — I used to love poetry when I was young, but my love for poetry died a swift and permanent death early on.

The last few lines are my absolute favorite:

Even in my dreams, our house was in ruins.
But suddenly — the third time — you were there.
Younger than I had ever known you.  You
As if new made, half a wild roe, half
A flawless thing, priceless, facetted
Like a cobalt jewel.  You came behind me
(At my helpless moment, as I lowered
A testing foot into the running bath)
And spoke — peremptory, as a familiar voice
Will startle out of a river’s uproar, urgent,
Close:  ‘This is the last.  This one.  This time
Don’t fail me.’

Fun Fact:  Ted Hughes is distantly related to John Farrar of FSG!

Last Book Read in 2013:  Aleksandar Hemon, The Book of My Lives

Read it.  I’d have more to say about this, but I finished it on 2013 December 31, and I’m still processing it in my head.  But read it.  I highly recommend it.

Going Into 2014 Reading:

  • Chang-rae Lee, The Surrendered
  • Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump
  • Diane Middlebrook, Her Husband:  Hughes and Plath — A Marriage

Looking Forward to in 2014:

  • Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead, 2014 January 7)
  • Lydia Davis, Can’t and Won’t (FSG, 2014 April 8)
  • Shin Kyung-sook, I’ll Be Right There (Other Press, 2014 May 6)
  • Gong Ji-young, Our Happy Time (Atria Books/Marble Arch Press, 2014 July 1)
  • Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Random House, 2014 August 12)


recent reads + current (or intended) reads.

nicole krauss, man walks into a room
this remains one of my favourite books and is still my favourite by her.  man walks into a room is krauss’ debut novel, yet her writing is assured and confident but humbly so — the novel doesn’t carry the insecurities you might find lurking under other debut novels — and i just love that it’s a book about memories and self and how those two intersect in questions about identity.  this is one of my favourite quotes from it.  this is another.  this is one of my favourite passages.  gah, basically, i love this book, everything about it — the story it tells, the characters it shares, the words in which its written — and i love how human it is, how relatable samson is even if his experience is one entirely foreign to me, how full of love it is.

alice munro, hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage
favourite stories were “family furnishings,” “nettles,” and “what is remembered.”  i also really liked “queenie,” except the ending felt really abrupt and incomplete.  munro is less about her writing itself technically than she is about this mood/tone she captures, and she does such an excellent job of creating a whole, lived-in world in the frame of a short story.  her portrayals of life and marriage are so real but almost in a way that i, at this moment in my life, find rather undesirable as a reading experience — munro doesn’t try to create a veneer over the realities of marriage in her stories (and i think this distinction is important — that these are the realities of marriage in her stories) — but you know how it’s pretty much universally accepted that munro is not only a fantastic writer but also a brilliant short story writer?  yeah, that’s all entirely warranted; her stories are compelling and told well; but i do stick to my brief comment before about how i find her stories in first-person more powerful.

haruki murakami, south of the border, west of the sun
ah, murakami, i can’t stay away.  as i was reading this, i wrote in the margin, “this does feel more solid and less other worldly than, say, norwegian wood or 1q84,” and it really did.  murakami’s tone is the same as ever (he’s so consistent in that aspect), but south of the border, west of the sun felt very grounded, very much a story of this world and only this world, even if there were hints of murakami’s usual surrealism.  i’m still a little unsure as to how i feel about the story; there are strong elements of justification (or, if not justification, then mere acceptance) for hajime’s decisions to cheat on, first, his girlfriend and, then, his wife; and i guess i was put off by the ease with which these justifications (which were pretty much nothing more than physical desire) were given.

however, a passage i absolutely loved when yukiko (hajime’s wife) asks him if he’s leaving her — hajime says,

yukiko, i love you very much.  i loved you from the first day i met you, and i still feel the same.  if i hadn’t met you, my life would have been unbearable.  for that i am grateful beyond words.  yet here i am, hurting you.  because i’m a selfish, hopeless, worthless human being.  for no apparent reason, i hurt the people around me and end up hurting myself.  ruining someone else’s life and my own.  not because i like to.  but that’s how it ends up.

this is such a great summation of what it means to be human, i think.  we don’t mean to hurt people or do wrong, but it can’t be helped because we’re human.  we’re imperfect and sinful and selfish, hopeless, worthless, &c, and the most we can do is the best we can — all we can do is try and recognize that we will fail, but, then, we get up and try again — so, in the end, i did appreciate hajime’s struggle throughout the novel and how he came out from it.

(current [or intended] reads:  a re-read of the tiger’s wife because, even i found this very flawed when i first read it when it was published, i like obreht’s writing, and i liked the story of the deathless man + a re-read of the comfort of strangers, which i loved when i read it years ago + ariel’s gift because birthday letters is the only poetry collection i absolutely love and, well, my obsession with sylvia plath is still going strong.  let’s see what other books distract me from these, though.)