april + may + june reads!



twenty-two.  meghan daum (ed.), selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed (picador, 2015).

any person who marries but rejects procreation is seen as unnatural.  but a woman who confesses never to have felt the desire for a baby is considered a freak.  women have always been raised to believe they would not be complete and could not be thought to have succeeded in life without the experience of motherhood.  (did woolf believe that her husband’s life must also be judged a failure for reasons of childlessness?  i doubt it.)  that there could be something in the world that a woman could want more than children has been viewed as unacceptable.  things may be marginally different now, but, even if there is something she wants more than children, that is no reason for a woman to remain childless.  any normal woman, it is understood, wants — and should want — both.  (sigrid nunez, “the most important thing,” 109-10)

when this collection was first announced, i immediately started making grabby hands for it, purely for selfish (heh) reasons, as i fall within the ranks of those who do not want and have never wanted or been fond of children.  i was delighted when it was published, and, while i loved it, i admit to wanting more.  i wanted more from people of color.  i wanted more from younger people, people in their twenties and thirties.  i wanted more from people who didn’t want children because they don’t like babies/children.  i wanted more variety, which isn’t to say that the sixteen essays don’t have much variety — i just found myself wanting more.  still, highly recommended.

twenty-three.  michel faber, the book of strange new things (hogarth, 2014).

“you are …” said lover five, and paused to find the right word.  “… man.  only man.  God is more big than you.  you carry the word of God for a while, then the word become too heavy, heavy to carry, and you must rest.”  she laid her hand on his thigh.  “i understand.”  (474)*

one of the things i found most impressive about the book of strange new things was that we were with peter the whole time, and yet his perspective didn’t get dull or boring.  it added to the weirdness of the situation, of being on another planet, unable to communicate with earth except through this shoot, and it added a visceral sense of immediacy because, as he experienced everything for the first time, so did we.  i liked how faber wrote about faith, even when peter was being so frustratingly narrow and pastor-first, husband-second — i found it frustrating in the ways that people [of faith] can be frustrating.  i think that’s what struck me most about the book, how realistic it felt.  like, even though it was mostly set on an alien planet with this unknowable corporation, the heart of the book was human and knowable and relatable.  also, this is one helluva gorgeous book.

(edited:  god, i was flipping through the book to find a quote, and pages 442-5 still reduce me to a sobbing mess.  i don’t know why.  there’s something about those pages that are a punch to the gut, this character’s desire to live, her faith that is so different from peter’s evangelistic faith in the rawness, the desperation, of it.  in the face of that, peter’s faith comes across as privilege and indulgence.)

* a note:  the oasans (the native population), can’t pronounce “s” and “t,” so, in the book, they’re written in special characters that i can’t mimic on my keyboard, so i’ve simply filled in the “s”es and “t”s.)

twenty-four.  catie disabato, the ghost network (melville house, 2015).

“what does it matter if you’re not going?”  (molly, 279)

i read this in less than twenty-four hours, starting in the late evening and finishing in the morning, pausing only to sleep.  the ghost network is a fun, zippy ride that takes you around chicago, and there’s a mystery element to it (a pop star has gone missing!), with a weird sect, underground stations, and mysterious headquarters!  there’s also plenty of sass and humor, and it’s just a lot of fun, a great way to pass a summer afternoon with some iced coffee and something sweet!


twenty-five.  rebecca solnit, the faraway nearby (penguin, 2013).

something wonderful happens to you and you instantly look back over your life and see it as a series of fortunate events stretching off into the distance like mountain peaks.  something terrible happens and your life has always been a litany of woe.  the present rearranges the past.  we never tell the whole story because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole milky way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.  (“apricots,” 246)

i. loved. this.  i loved how solnit talks about stories, how the book is bookended by her mother’s alzheimer’s, and i was surprised by how personally it touched me.  my grandmother passed away in 2012 from alzheimer’s, and the faraway nearby took me back to those months of her deterioration, to the ways my family rallied to care for her, and, eventually, to her death.  it also made me think of backpacking through japan by myself the summer after my grandmother passed away — and maybe it’s odd to be talking about what the book made me think of, but i say good books take you places, which include retrospective explorations of your own memories.  very thoughtful.  loved it.  can’t recommend it enough.

twenty-six.  betty halbreich, i'll drink to that (penguin press, 2014).

if one buys a piece because of a label or a particular store and it is not becoming, that item is worth nothing.  it can be the most wonderful dress in the world (and marked down to the best price!), but if it doesn’t fit, it might as well become a mop-up cloth.  terribly costly mistakes like this are made all the time — and they come with a lot of guilt.  (i know, because i have a dozen pairs of shoes in my closet that are so beautiful.  only my feet don’t think so.  i would like to wear them on my hands.  then i could absolve myself of the guilt i feel at all the money i spent on the shoes themselves and on the shoemaker who tried to stretch them.)  (136)

this was frothy fun.  i don’t know quite how else to describe it.  i find glimpses into the lives of the privileged and wealthy to be fascinating, and i liked halbreich and her frankness.


twenty-seven.  kazuo ishiguro, an artist of the floating world (penguin, 2013) (originally, 1986).

“it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of a world when one doubts its very validity.”  (mori-san, 161)

i am forever in awe of ishiguro’s ability to inhabit the first person.  one of the things i loved about an artist of the floating world is how the dialogue read almost like it was in-translation — ishiguro captures the roundabout nature of the japanese language, the deference, even the differences between honorific speech and casual speech.  he also captures the voice of an old japanese man, reminiscing back on his youth and his experiences during the war, as well as the generational and cultural/social changes in postwar japan.  i make it sound like an artist of the floating world is a historical study, but that’s not it — i love ishiguro’s ability to weave questions about culture, art, memory into his narratives, and, with this particular book, i was very intrigued by how he wrote japan, not necessarily about japan, per se, but how the narrator’s voice is japanese.  does that make sense?  i feel like i’m not saying this clearly …  an artist is great, though, even if i’m muddled up what i find so lovely about it, and i recommend it.


twenty-eight.  george eliot, middlemarch (penguin classics, 2011).

in marriage, the certainty, ‘she will never love me much’, is easier to bear than the fear, ‘i shall love her no more.’  (“two temptations,” 652)

omg, i’m so sick of talking about middlemarch.  i finished it.  i enjoyed it enough to finish it.  i’m glad i never to have to experience it again.  the end.


twenty-nine.  margaret atwood, the stone mattress (nan a. talese, 2014).

young naveena can scarcely believe her luck.  her mouth’s half open, she’s biting the tips of her fingers, she’s holding her breath.  she’s embedding us in amber, thinks tin.  like ancient insects.  preserving us forever.  in amber beads, in amber words.  right before our eyes.  (“dark lady,” 107)

i loved this collection except for the last story, which i’m realizing i didn’t actually finish … oops.  i’m still counting this, though.  my favorite stories were the first three interrelated stories (“alphinland,” “revenant,” and “dark lady”) because i have a particular soft spot for interrelated stories (the book i’m writing is a collection of interrelated short stories) (how many times can i say “interrelated stories” in one sentence?), and these in particular were fun in how they offered different perspectives, different takeaways.  there are nine stories in this collection, but they’re varied, and atwood is one smart, witty woman.  love her.

(by the way, i hate deckle edges.)

thirty.  amy rowland, the transcriptionist (algonquin, 2014) (via oyster books).

“whatever do you think you learn about people from a newspaper?”

“i suppose you learn things about humanity, but very little about individuals.”  (chapter 12)

the funny thing about the transcriptionist is that i kept getting confused because i kept thinking it was set in the mid-twentieth century.  i don’t know quite what it was, but the confusion was particularly strong in the beginning.  maybe the descriptions or the fact that the narrator lived in dorm-like housing for women only with a curfew?  either way, i never really fell in love with the transcriptionist, but i enjoyed reading it now and then when i was on the train.  it was my subway read for a few months.



thirty-one.  paul fischer, a kim jong-il production (flatiron books, 2015).

kim jong-il had invented the mass games in 1972, for his father’s sixtieth birthday, and it was one of the ways he hoped to demonstrate his virtues as an heir.  the games were at the center of what came to be known as “succession art,” write historians heonik kwon and byung-ho chung, “considering that the central objective of the era’s artistic production was to sublimate kim il-sung’s authority in preparation or transforming his personal charisma into a historical, hereditary charisma” that could be passed on to kim jong-il.  (128-9)

this was fun and interesting, and i liked it particularly because it focuses on a specific series of events (the kidnapping of a south korean star actress and star director by north korea because of kim jong-il’s obsession with film and desire to make a name for north korean cinema) and because it gives us a different look into north korea than other books about the country tend to give us.  there’s less politicizing and more story-telling here, but i must admit that i found fischer’s writing to be a tad dramatic.  he kept ending his chapters/sections with these cliffhanger-esque, reflective sentences, and, after a while, i found it a bit overdone.  it’s still a lot of fun and interesting — recommended!

thirty-two.  jonathan galassi, muse (knopf, 2015).

so people [at p&s] — those who lasted — relaxed and homed in on their work, endlessly complaining about the peremptory, ungrateful, self-involved authors whose writing they idolized.  they were utterly mad, of course, but they did their level best to ignore one another’s foibles since they were the same as their own.  and to many of them the cramped, filthy offices on union square were a mind-bending, topsy-turvy little heaven on earth.  (18)

muse is one of those strange reads where i liked it but i’m also not sure how i felt about it.  i’m interested to read galassi’s next fictional offering, though, so that’s a positive sign.  i think my quasi-ambivalence comes from being familiar with a lot of the relationships/people in the novel, so some of the history and background read as a bit long for me because it was mentally redundant, though it wasn't narratively.  which means that you don't have to know anything about publishing to read and enjoy the book -- i actually think that might be better?  at the same time, though, i also admit to this being a case of the publishing geek side of my brain going into overdrive and trying to make connections subconsciously, which probably affected my reading of the book.  regardless, i'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in a bit of publishing history!  it was also a huge pleasure to hear galassi read and talk about the book.

thirty-three.  yangsze choo, the ghost bride (harpercollins, 2013) (via oyster books).

(i made no highlights, therefore no quote)

this was interesting because i zipped through this in one night and enjoyed it … and then a friend of mine started reading it, and she reads slowly, so i would revisit it with her as she read … and we both ended up disliking it.  the ghost bride had a whole lot of potential; it was set in a rich, layered, interesting world; and the main character was set up for an awesome adventure.  instead, there was quite a bit of historical/cultural explanation, predictable turns, and damsel-in-distress moments — instead of the main character actively saving herself, she kept getting into binds and calling out for the hero to rescue her, which got old after the second time.


thirty-four.  lily king, euphoria (atlantic monthly press, 2014) (via oyster books).

‘do you have a favorite part of all this?’ she [nell] asked.


favorite part?  there was little at this point that didn’t make me want to run with my stones straight back into the river.  i shook my head.  ‘you first.’

she looked surprised, as if she hadn’t expected the question to come back at her.  she narrowed her grey eyes.  ‘it’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place.  suddenly it feels within your grasp.  it’s a delusion — you’ve only been there eight weeks — and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything.  but at that moment the place feels entirely yours.  it’s the briefest, purest euphoria.’  (chapter 5)

a few friends recommended this to me, and i am so glad i finally read it.  i’ve never thought much about anthropology, not in the sense that i think little of the discipline but rather that i’ve never given it much thought, just kind of assumed people went off to hidden corners of the world and tried to observe cultures and societies from as objective a view as they could get.  never once did i think of what that entailed, and euphoria did a wonderful job of exploring what anthropologists do, without resorting to exposition.  king tells the story of three anthropologists whose lives become tangled up as they study different tribes with different approaches, and there’s a love triangle, too, but it doesn’t feel trite or cheesy.  i actually quite enjoyed it because it fit seamlessly into the whole big picture of the novel.  thanks for recommending this to me!  and i pass the recommendation along!

(also, i loved the twist with the narrative voice in the first chapter.  that was great.)


thirty-five.  bill clegg, ninety days (little, brown, 2012) (via ibooks).

how many times had i been convinced there was a dark conspiracy of intricately placed people observing, entrapping, stalking, and circling?  so many.  now, with this kind, sober woman sitting next to me in the thicket of a challenging dinner party, i experience the flip side of this paranoia — the opposite of all that wild-minded dread, the feeling instead that there are forces conspiring on my behalf, placing people in my way at precisely the right moments to guide me on whatever path i should be on.  (“shoulder to shoulder”)

i woke up a week or so ago, needing to reread ninety days.  there’s so much rawness and vulnerability in this slim book (well, i assume it’s slim because it’s a fast read — i read it in a few hours — but i read it on ibooks, so i haven’t actually held the physical book in my hand) (D:), and i like clegg’s voice.  a lot.  he’s not a very fancy writer who gets caught up in beautiful sentences, but i like that.  (i describe it as “clean.”)  ninety days is about his struggle to get and stay clean, to get ninety days sober (the first milestone), and he talks frankly about his relapses, his temptations to relapse, the ugliness of addiction, about how it’s people who save you, how it’s community that keeps you going in the day-to-day, that it’s about being there for each other, with each other.  that’s something we all need to be reminded of, i think — and there’s something very humbling about ninety days, too.  it’s easy for us to think that we’re better than addicts because we aren’t addicted to a substance, but that’s not true — we’re all human; we’re all flawed; and we all fuck up.  we all alienate and isolate and hurt the people who love us, and we all destroy relationships.  we all need people and second and third and tenth and hundredth chances.  who are we to judge?

thirty-six.  megan whalen turner, the queen of attolia (greenwillow books, 2000).

“nahuseresh, if there is one thing a woman understands, it is the nature of gifts.  they are bribes when threats will not avail.”  (attolia, 298)

read this for the second time this year because i loved gen and attolia and wanted to read something light and fun.  there’s a lot of heavy-handed plotting and politicizing in queen of attolia, but i love it, anyway.  the romance kind of comes out of nowhere, too, but i love it, anyway.  i love the characters, which means that i can overlook a lot of the other weaknesses because i’m that emotionally taken.

thirty-seven.  bill clegg, did you ever have a family (scout press, forthcoming, 2015).

it is raining now.  somewhere on upper main street a metal mailbox slams shut.  she thinks she hears footsteps again, this time rushing away, but soon there is only the sound of raindrops tapping the fallen leaves, the parked cars, the gutters.  she closes her eyes and listens.  no one calls her name, there are no more footsteps behind her, but still she turns around before unlocking the door and stepping inside.  she takes a long, late-day look at the town where she has lived her whole life, where there are no friends, no family, but where her feet are famous to the sidewalks.  (46)

clegg’s debut novel has been getting a lot of praise, so i was a little nervous going into it because i didn’t want it to disappoint.  the novel follows the aftermath of an accident at a wedding, and the chapters each focus on a different character (kind of like in claire messud’s the emperor’s children, but better).  i loved how the book unfolds, introducing and delving into the different people who are somehow touched by this tragedy, whether directly or indirectly.  it's done beautifully and poignantly in lovely, sparse language, and, while the different voices aren’t so markedly, dramatically different, they are varied in voice, tone, and color, which is no small feat.  i can see where all the high praise is coming from and highly recommend this — it’ll be published on 2015 september 8, and i can’t wait for the book tour!


we are now in the second half of 2015!  i'm happy to say that i am right where i need to be in my goal to read 75 books in 2015!

and, YEY, i caught up to my monthly reading recaps!  sorry for the delays -- it's been a rough three months, but things are better now!  thanks for reading!

march + april reads!

march + april!  and, yes, sometimes, i read on the ipad.  very, very rarely, though.

eleven.  portrait of an addict as a young man, bill clegg.

his words, his caressing hand, carlos on top of me, the drugs and vodka roaring through me — shame, pleasure, care, and approval collide and the worst of the worst no longer seems so bad.  one of the most horrible things i can imagine — having sex, high on drugs, in front of noah — has been reduced to something human, a pain that can be soothed, a monstrous act that can be known and forgiven.  you’re okay, noah reassures me with his soft voice and gentle strokes, and for a few long minutes, i am.  (133)

i read this and ninety days within 24 hours.  clegg’s a pretty adept writer, and i liked how he used the third person when it came to talking his youth — it didn’t read like a shtick but created a nice sort of hazy distance between clegg the adult and clegg the child.  i also appreciated that he isn’t writing to make apologies or excuses for his addiction and its consequences but simply telling his tale the way it happened, no concern for making himself look better or more sympathetic.  which worked because i wasn’t very sympathetic towards him and felt myself growing frustrated and irritated with him.

this was an interesting read in that it made me step back to question how i might react if i had a friend in a similar situation.  i admit that i didn’t like all the answers i discovered, but it’s refreshing when you read something that challenges you as a human being — i’d say that it really is a testament to clegg’s own stark naked honesty that i had to stop to ask myself what i would do and that the answers, in turn, challenged me to be more supportive and understanding of friends who are struggling.

twelve.  ninety days, bill clegg.

so i return to new york, see the studio on 15th street, and even though the rent is pretty cheap, i can’t afford it.  the landlord and broker need all that money.  since jean and dave are out, and because most of my family is broke, i ask elliot.  the first time in my adult life i’ve asked anyone for money, and elliot’s yes is as uncomplicated as if i’d asked him for a french fry off his dinner plate.  as uncomfortable as the asking is, as grim as the circumstances are that bring me to the question, the yes is a miracle.  the yes, with all its confidence and kindness, is like jane’s kiss on the street near one fifth, or jean’s bags of food.  it cuts through the plaque of shame and reminds me that somewhere underneath the wretched addict is a person worth being kind to, even worth betting on.  and i do not look like a good bet, that much is clear from any perspective, but when i tell elliot i don’t know when i’ll be able to pay him back, he just says, i’m not worried.  i know you will.  (74)

i’d say i enjoyed this more than portrait of an addict as a young man, not because ninety days depicts his struggles to get clean — i’m not really that interested in redemption stories — but because it got me in the heart with the emphasis on community.  getting sober wasn’t something clegg did on his own; it was the people beside him who made the difference, whether it was by providing him with groceries or by struggling themselves to get sober or by simply waiting for him to get sober, to get back to work.  there’s such a poignant beauty to that, and something convicting there, too, because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own worries and selfish needs, too absorbed with wanting something in return for our “generosity.”  the stark naked honesty from portrait is here, too, and a whole lot of love and a whole lot of gratitude, and it really was a beautiful, humbling thing to read.

thirteen.  my education, susan choi.

“come on, regina  you ‘love’ me, you want to come set up house?  you ‘love’ me, you want to be joachim’s other mommy?  you want to pay half my mortgage?  you want to bake little pies every day?  what is this bullshit?  what more do you want?  you have me.  quit the ‘gimme.’

“what ‘gimme,’” i whispered, my throat walls grown thick.

“your ‘i love you’ is like ‘gimme, gimme,’” she said, pulling into her driveway.  she turned off the engine and we listened to its tick-tick dying noise as if marking the hours before dawn.  then she seized my hand and at her touch i yanked her close, a tug-of-war stalemate across the gearshift of the saab.  “i want you here, too,” she whispered.  “i want you sleeping with me, in my bed.  i want that even though it’s insane, and my life goes to pieces if we get ourselves caught, i still want it.  can’t that be enough?”  (95)

my feelings re: my education are … not smple:  i found the narrator, regina, both fascinating and irritating (she cries a lot), and i wasn’t necessarily that sucked into the story, but i enjoyed the book overall.  it made me want to read more susan choi (i promptly went out and bought the foreign student and american woman) because i ended up really liking/enjoying regina’s voice in my education, even if i were ambivalent about her (again, too much crying).  i found her arc immensely satisfying, though, loved the way she grew up and matured, and i actually liked the big time jump in my education — i think it served the story well, and i’m not really a fan of big time jumps in general because i tend to find them lazy, whether in novels or in korean dramas.

i felt pretty ambivalent about my education while i was reading it, kind of thought the story was a little whatever, but the further i got into it, the more i didn’t want to stop — the more i liked that there wasn’t a high concept or complicated narrative.  i’ve also heard susan choi in conversation twice in the last few months, and i came away from both events being more curious about her and wanting to hear more from her, although she was really more the moderator at both, because she’s very smart and very poised and has an awesome haircut, which never hurts.  it’s always a plus when you like the author, i say, and susan choi’s definitely on my radar now — i’ll be keeping an eye out for any other events/readings she does in nyc!

fourteen.  the interestings, meg wolitzer.

but when she looked over at ash and ethan, she often felt a small reminder of how she herself didn’t entirely change.  her envy was no longer in bloom; the lifting of dennis’s depression had lessened it.  but it was still there, only closed-budded now, inactive.  because she was less inhabited by it, she tried to understand it, and she read something online about the difference between jealousy and envy.  jealousy was essentially “i want what you have,” while envy was “i want what you have, but i also want to take it away so you can’t have it.”  sometimes in the past she’d wished that ash and ethan’s bounty had simply been taken away from them, and then everything would have been even, everything would have been in balance.  but jules didn’t fantasize about that now.  nothing was terrible, everything was manageable, and sometimes even better than that.  (363)

you know, it really says a lot about a book if, as you’re flipping through it for passages you pencilled, you want to sit down and read it again.  even though you’ve just read it again for a second time in less than twelve months.

i still love ethan figman.

the paperback launch for the interestings was held at powerhouse, and meg wolitzer appeared with susan choi, and it was fun listening to wolitzer talk about the book — how she, too, had been in love with ethan figman, so much so that he wasn’t flawed, that she wrote the book in order, that she tries to get to know her characters first.  she also likes to read something great while writing, not really into the fear of being derivative, and thinks that flashbacks and flash-forwards are false constructs because we’re constantly toggling the past, present, and future in our lives — and there was more, but that’s all i feel like typing up here now.

i wrote about the interestings more in my 2013 reading recap, which you can read here.

fifteen.  drifting house, krys lee.

he says, “appa, i can read now.”

he can read, and you were not there to teach him.  (“the salaryman,” 108)

READ. THIS.  seriously.  read it.  it’s fucking incredible, easily one of the best books i’ve read this year.

there’s a thread that runs through this collection, not necessarily a narrative or thematic thread but an emotional, atmosphere one — it starts with the first story, and, as you continue reading and getting further into the book, the thread pulls tighter, pulling you in tighter and upping the unease that’s been hovering around you as you’ve been reading.  it’s a great unease fed by lee’s atmospheric prose — don’t be deceived by its seeming simplicity — and her stories are narrow in scope but so profoundly deep emotionally.

one of the things i absolutely loved about drifting house, though, is that lee has one foot firmly in korea and one foot firmly in america.  i mentioned that briefly before, but that’s actually a very difficult line to straddle, i’ve found — usually korean-american authors tend to skew more american, which, but lee manages to depict both cultures in language that captures both korean and english, not only in diction but also in tone and voice.  and she does it all with such finesse and ease — there’s nothing clunky about drifting house.

i know this might sound a little weird, but it’s late, so forgive me .  basically, you should read it because it’s a great, incredible, unique book with a great voice, and i am so stoked for her novel, whenever it’s released!

sixteen.  the corrections, jonathan franzen.

he was remembering the nights he’d sat upstairs with one or both of his boys or with his girl in the crook of his arm, their damp bath-smelling heads hard against his ribs as he read aloud to them from black beauty or the chronicles of narnia.  how his voice alone, its palpable resonance, had made them drowsy.  these were evenings, and there were hundreds of them, maybe thousands, when nothing traumatic enough to leave a scar had befallen the nuclear unit.  evenings of plain vanilla closeness in his black leather chair; sweet evenings of doubt between the nights of bleak certainty.  they came to him now, these forgotten counterexamples, because in the end, when you were falling into water, there was no solid thing to reach for but your children.  (335-6)

this was a second read, too — i first read the corrections back in 2011 — and i’d say i enjoyed it just as much as i did the first time around.  i still dislike most of the characters (caroline’s the worst; denise is my favourite; and i have a soft spot for alfred), but i have to give it to franzen for writing these full, human characters in a full, lived-in world — ugh, he’s so good, and what i [almost] resent him most is that he makes it read so easy.  the effort isn’t there on the page, letting itself be known; the words flow easily, naturally off the page; and his dialogue is pretty damn great, too.

the thing with the corrections is that you put up with these unlikable characters for 400-, 500-some pages, but the payoff is great when the lambert children finally put their shit together and grow the fuck up and become adults.  there’s a nice redemption there, and it’s not the sort that feels excessively tidy, like franzen is trying to make up for the book by sweeping up the end, but it’s a human redemption, the way that, sometimes, it really is one event that makes us sit up straight and pay attention and take responsibility for ourselves, our families, our lives — and, seriously, it’s pretty damn gratifying.

seventeen.  sleepwalking, meg wolitzer.

it was children who did it, who drained the life from you, who made you run around the room playing piggyback until you were out of breath.  it was children who scared you as no other people could.  the first time lucy had tried to kill herself and ray had been called ashore by the local coast guard, he had seen helen standing all alone on the dock, clutching herself tightly, and he had known without any doubt that it was about lucy.  he had been able to tell from the urgency of the way helen stood, and when he got off the boat he had slipped into her arms and wanted to stay there forever.  (128)

sleepwalking is wolitzer’s debut novel, published when she was twenty-two, and it was reissued recently with a new cover that uses the same type that her other books use.  first novels are interesting to me (franzen’s first is bizarre, but that might be because i had such a strange experience reading it) because it’s interesting to see where writers begin and how they grow, and you could definitely see the youth in sleepwalking, though you could also see the potential and how wolitzer would go on to write the interestings.

to be quite honest, i found sleepwalking pretty mediocre, nothing that spectacular or interesting.  i kept wanting more to happen, but nothing really did, so it was a rather anticlimactic read.

eighteen.  freedom, jonathan franzen.

she has embarrassingly inquired, of her children, whether there’s a woman in his life, and has rejoiced at hearing no.  not because she doesn’t want him to be happy, not because she has any right or even much inclination to be jealous anymore, but because it means there’s some shadow of a chance that he still thinks, as she does more than ever, that they were not just the worst thing that ever happened to each other, they were also the best thing.  (569)

this was a second read, too — i also read freedom back in 2011 — and i liked it a lot more this time around.  my vague memory of freedom the first time around was that there was too much politicizing, too much of franzen ranting about his own sociopolitical views, but i didn’t find it to be so excessive this time around, although i did still think some of it could have been edited down.  not so much to interfere with my enjoyment of it, though — i basically spent a weekend ploughing through freedom because i didn’t want to stop.

my favourite arc in freedom is that of patty and walter’s marriage.  i think both characters do some terrible things to each other, but they learn from their terrible mistakes and find their ways back to each other, in a sense redeeming each other.  i do think the death in freedom was a cop-out — it was too convenient, too easy — and i’m still not sold on whether or not it was necessary (or effective) to have a third of the novel be written in “patty’s” voice, but i wasn’t that bothered by it during either of my reads.  i derived much enjoyment from joey’s plights, though — they were funny only because joey’s young and does grow up and learn from his stupidity — and, generally, if you were to ask me what freedom’s all about, i’d probably say that it’s a book about redemption, about these characters doing all these shitty things to themselves and to each other but redeeming themselves and each other, and it’s all pretty damn satisfying.

and you know, something franzen just does so well — he sets a general stage, introduces the characters, and then he pulls these long threads from that, zeroing in one character and then another and then another, and you’re kind of wondering how these all come together, but then he does it, weaves all the threads together, and creates this whole, complete narrative.  it’s fucking great to read and a whole lot of fun.

i love franzen.  i enjoy his nonfiction voice, his sense of humor, his perceptions and self-examination, his awareness, and rereading the corrections and freedom made me realize how much i love and miss his fiction voice.  does he deserve all the crazy hype he gets?  i don’t know; i can’t say; but is he good?  hell yes, and i’d even go so far as to say that he’s better than most, at least in creating these big, expansive, human worlds with real human people — and, hey, it’s been four years since freedom, so that makes it five more years to go until we get a new novel from him?

nineteen.  tongue, jo kyung-ran.

the thousands of taste buds on my tongue wake up one after the other.  taste is the most pleasurable of all human senses.  the happiness you get from eating can fill the absence of other pleasures.  there’s a time when all you can do is eat.  when eating is the only way you can prove that you’re still alive.  large raindrops splatter onto the table, signaling the imminent arrival of a squall.

to eat or not to eat.  to love or not to love.  that is the question for the five senses.  (108)

this took me a while to get through.  i found it interesting because it’s about food and there are some great passages about food in it, but i also found it a little slow because the narrator seemed stuck in the same place for the majority of the book — and, when she did get into action to seek out revenge, it was abrupt, like she’d jumped suddenly from point a to point e.  i could see what jo was doing by laying a gradual groundwork, but, even so, maybe it was too subtle, maybe it felt too much like groundwork without enough structure, because i would’ve loved if the narrative had built more and led more gracefully into the ending.

the ending was fantastic, though, and it was still an interesting read, and i did ultimately enjoy it, although i guess we’ll see how memorable it was.

currently, halfway through the emperor’s children and american woman and started the lullaby of polish girls.  i don’t have any kind of “theme” as far as reading goes at the moment, just that i’m still aggressively avoiding books written in the first person and constantly looking for books that are beautifully written — and, okay, this is long enough, and i need to sleep, so good night!