september reads!

mmm september was a dry reading month.  pretty good writing month, though, so there’s balance there.

forty-three.  acceptance, jeff vandermeer.

the world we are part of now is difficult to accept, unimaginably difficult.  i don’t know if i can accept everything even now.  i don’t know how i can.  but acceptance moves past denial, and maybe there’s defiance in that, too.  (338)

i blogged about the whole trilogy here.

acceptance is my favourite of the trilogy.  i love the different voices, and i particularly enjoyed the parts with the lighthouse keeper and with the director, both of whom turned out to be two of my favourite characters from the trilogy.  acceptance is the creepiest book, too, as we find out more about the characters and area x before it became area x, and i appreciate that vandermeer closes the southern reach trilogy without giving us a list of answers and explanations.  the southern reach trilogy basically avoided all the trappings of trilogies i dislike (convenient a-ha! moments, coincidences, heavy exposition, dragged-out stories to fill pages, heavy-handed explication), and acceptance ended on a very fulfilling high note that also left you thinking that these characters would keep on going even though the pages were over.

i had an awesome time reading these books.  and i can’t wait to go back and read them again, this time all the way through in one go.  that’ll be a whole new reading experience, and i wonder what more i’ll pick up then!

forty-four.  the children act, ian mcewan.

in moments of disillusion with due process, she only needed to summon the case of martha longman and runcie’s lapse to confirm a passing sense that the law, however much fiona loved it, was at its worst not an ass but a snake, a poisonous snake.  (55)

when i think of ian mcewan now, i think of gary shteyngart.  in his book trailer for super sad true love story, he’s teaching a seminar at columbia called “how to behave at a paris review party,” and he teaches his students the “proper” way to say “i do so much prefer early ian mcewan to late ian mcewan.”  which made me laugh out loud because that’s exactly what i’ve been saying …

because it’s true!  i do prefer early ian mcewan!  i miss that eeriness and grittiness of his older books, the feeling of something sinister and dark lurking underneath everything, and both solar and sweet tooth lacked that subversion that mcewan does so well.  i was hoping that the children act would bring some of that back, and, you know, i think i was more disappointed by the children act because it almost did — there’s a great twist roughly halfway in, but mcewan doesn’t delve that deeply into it and kind of just drops it instead.  pity, because it made me sit up and start reading with keen interest after slogging through the first half.

forty-five.  sweetness #9, stephan eirik clark.

i suppose i could have answered her by speaking of sweetness #9 and my experiences with it.  if the nine had been deemed safe for public consumption, after all, what did it matter if the medicine they wanted to give our son had also been approved for use?  but none of that came to me in the moment.  my answer was far simpler, even reflexive.  “we always want better for our kids,” i said.  “don’t we?”  (260)

this book is beautifully designed — i love the rich blue of the cover and the bright pink of the book boards (is that what they’re called), and the lettering is wonderfully done, perfectly fitting the theme of the book, which is this artificial sweetener — sweetness #9.

that said.

so wanted to love this book.  i was excited for it when it was published because (01) it’s a beaut of a book and (02) the premise is fascinating and (03) the story is set up to make interesting comments to contemporary food culture.  basically, all the potential was there, but, unfortunately, the book never got there.  the writing is good, and i did enjoy the narrative voice, but the story never takes off — essentially, nothing happens.  there are no stakes.  or that’s not true — there are stakes; they just don’t feel like stakes because there’s no urgency or nervousness or tension.  the narrator himself doesn’t really seem to care, like he’s only reacting in surface ways, so i couldn’t get invested in his struggles or worries or concerns, either. 

on page 244 (the book is 336 pages), i wrote, “i wish clark would dig deeper into the tension and anxiety, like really get into the narrator’s head and his uneasiness/guilt.  i feel like clark’s just showing things instead of going deeper so we can be down in his growing panic with him instead of merely observing.”  i was honestly considering dropping the book then, but, for some reason, i pushed through those last hundred pages, hoping it would pick up, but it didn’t.  and the ending was so lackluster and a little ridiculous and tied things together so neatly, i was simply relieved to have finished the book so i can put it away and take it out to admire its prettiness every once in a while. 

currently reading gilead (which i’m loving) and planning to finish that and home before lila is published on tuesday!

2012 reading review!

hoping to make this an annual thing; it helps me not only read more but also to read more thoughtfully.  2011’s review is here.

Favorite Overall:  Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton
Ah, Joseph Anton — I don’t think I’ve outwardly emoted as much as I did whilst reading Joseph Anton.  It made me laugh, made me cry, made me sigh, and it made me long for community, specifically a literary community, but generally a community of mutual support.  It made me believe in humanity again, surprising, maybe, considering the context of the memoir, but I loved how this community of friends and authors stepped up to support Rushdie even though the threat of death was very real, even though, no, they didn’t really have to do so.  Also, I just loved the members of the security team; some of the ways in which they sought to help Rushdie out, especially where his kid was concerned, made me cry.

Rushdie does this whole community and network of people and support full justice in Joseph Anton, I think, gives it the credit it more-than-deserves, and Joseph Anton is a very personal book that didn’t feel too heavily personal.  I’d say that was most likely because it was written in the third person, and I found that enhanced my enjoyment because the telling helped the memoir.  On one level, the third person actually made it more enjoyable because it created a distance between the teller and the telling, which I think was important in a story like this.  (Or this could also just be me because I personally actually don’t enjoy memoirs that much and generally find them more indulgent narratives than not, except in the case of truly extraordinary circumstances.)

Joseph Anton, though, isn’t simply a story about an extraordinary circumstances — it’s also a well-told one.  I actually haven’t read Rushdie before, although I’ve intended to, and I loved his wit and his frank writing as well as his assurance and confidence and intelligence.  In person, he’s a very self-composed, very competent person (I saw him at the New Yorker Festival in conversation with David Remnick), and that sense of self comes across in the pages of Joseph Anton, in which, yes, he does sometimes go on the defense and justify why he did some of the things he did but does so in an entirely unapologetic way.  I also don’t remember thinking that Rushdie was trying to gloss over the mistakes he made in those years recorded in Joseph Anton or that he tried to paint himself as this glowingly heroic figure, and it was this sense of an attempt at normalcy, this sense of humanity, that drew out these strong emotions and made me laugh and cry and sigh in ways I haven’t really when reading other books and certainly never have when reading other memoirs.

Favorite Book-In-Translation:  Shin Kyung-sook, Please Look After Mom
Please Look After Mom is a great glimpse into Korean motherhood/nationhood.  It captures so amazingly the strength of Korean women as well as the culture of post-war Korea, and I was so impressed by the novel overall that the slightly lackluster ending was entirely forgivable.  (I thought that the novel could only end the way it did, but I would have gone for something less … fanciful?)  It’s not a novel you can read on the surface level, though; I think it’s more crucial in Please Look After Mom than it might be in other novels to consider why the characters act and react the way they do in a cultural/social (in this way, in post-war Korean culture) context (and I hate that word).

I actually remember thinking that many of the elements of Please Look After Mom might be lost or misunderstood by those unfamiliar with Korean culture.  Take this review for example — this reviewer reads the book on a surface level, and I actually cringed when I first read this review when I was Googling reviews after finishing the novel because the reviewer just didn’t get it and didn’t even seem to try to get it.  This other review, though, I found to be more thoughtful and, also, more respectful, and it kind of explains what I mean when I say that Please Look After Mom can’t be read on a surface level better than I can put it.

Also, I picked up Please Look After Mom and started reading it in its original Korean and loved the writing, at least on the first page because that’s as far as I got in the bookstore (had), but I’m planning on picking it up in Korean as well as more of Shin’s work.  I know she has another novel currently being translated by Knopf and slated for publication in spring, so I’m excited for that!

Most Spectacular in Terms of Voice:  Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
I’ve said this before, but I will most likely continue to say this because Ishiguro’s ability to inhabit a voice is absolutely brilliant.  I started reading The Remains of the Day in Japan and finished it off in New York City, and I was pretty much in awe through and through because, regardless of how I feel about Ishiguro’s other novels, I have yet to find myself blurring his narrators because they tend to be so complete and so fully embodied.  (Novel-wise, I was pretty ambivalent towards When We Were Orphans and A Pale View of Hills.)  

The Remains of the Day is Ishiguro in fine form, and it’s really this compact, rather sedate, and collected novel.  I’ve always admired Ishiguro’s “plainer” prose, and I describe it as “plainer” because he’s not really a fancy, elaborate writer, but I love that really, love how restrained his writing reads but how his prose is still very full and complete and rounded.  I admire it, actually, that sparseness, and it serves him well in The Remains of the Day because of the nature of Stevens (the narrator) as this collected, self-possessed butler.

Favorite Collection of Essays, Which is Really a Cheat Category Because I Very Rarely Read Collections of Essays:  Jonathan Franzen, Farther Away
I honestly didn’t expect to love Farther Away as much as I did (I liked How to be Alone, but I wasn’t jumping all over it like I was with Farther Away), but I did.  Admittedly, I think the collection started off very strong but faltered near the end — I was very lukewarm towards the last few essays and thought they could either have been placed closer to the beginning of the collection or omitted altogether because Farther Away would have been no worse off with the omission really.  The essay about Alice Munro in particular had me scratching my head, and I’d say that was my least favorite in the collection because I couldn’t quite get a handle on his tone — he sounded both genuine and also somewhat sarcastic.  On the other hand, I enjoyed his book reviews very much even if I’d never read the books he was reviewing, and all his essays about birds and the threats they face bummed me out, but I suppose that was partly the point because ignorance is bliss but awareness is not.  His general cantankerousness never ceases to amuse me, though, especially when it comes to technology, and, all in all, well, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and am looking to pick up How to be Alone again.

I love Franzen — I’ve never been shy in loudly stating so — and his grasp of language makes me so happy.  He makes his writing read so effortlessly, which makes me imagine how much he must deliberate over every single word, and I appreciate that he makes it read so easily because that’s a skill in and of itself — and one I really do admire fully because I find that to be incredibly hard to do. 

Most Disappointing:  Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth
Oh, how sad this makes me!  Sweet Tooth was ….. mmm, how should I say this.

Immediately after I’d finished it, I’d thought, Hmm, okay, maybe the ending kind of negates my more hesitant feelings towards the rest of the novel, but, the more i thought about, the more I came to the conclusion that, no, it kind of really didn’t.  The thing is that the weakest part of the novel is the voice — I wasn’t once convinced of Serena’s voice, found it rather distancing and lacking — so, when the ending came around, I thought it was McEwan’s way of subverting a weakness, like he’d been aware of where the novel might not be so successful and had come up with this little twist to render it all right.  I think, though, that it might have worked better had Serena’s voice been more convincing, more earnest, more believable, but I was always aware that This Is McEwan’s Voice, and that just placed more distance between me and the novel.

Pity.  I was hoping for something mind-blowing to follow the beautifully written ennui that was Solar.

Faithful rereads:  Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, and Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach, both reread twice this year.  Also reread Sum (David Eagleman) and The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje) once.

Reading Theme:  North Korea
I had a bloody awesome time reading book after book about North Korea.  Admittedly, the craze sort of petered out after I finished Nothing to Envy, but I’ve still got a book I’m working through and a few more I want to pick up in the near future, but, for now, I think the theme has read itself out.  It was fascinating, too, because I had all these preconceptions about North Korea and, in connection, North Koreans, and I think the most important thing that came from my reading craze is the humanization of North Koreans because, even If I never intended to, I found myself realizing that I’d been dehumanizing them and rendering them into these stick figure characterizations based off general blanket statements/horror stories.

I really want to say more — a lot more — about this (and have wanted to for a while), but my books are back home in NYC, and I also still have things I’m ruminating over, so we’ll just have to come back to this in the future.

Most Needed in Terms of Healing:  Tobias Wolff, Old School
I started reading Old School in Furano after I’d cried my eyes out from acute loneliness in my hostel.  I was roughly a week into Japan, and the first three days in Tokyo had been rough, and, even though Sapporo  and Asahikawa had been loads better, once I got to my hostel in Furano in the drizzle of a late afternoon, I think the strain of the first week of backpacking alone in a foreign country just slammed into me like a sledgehammer.

My only solution, obviously, was to pick up a book, and I only had Zöe (my iPad), but Old School was one of the books I’d purchased before hopping on my plane to Japan — and, seriously, it was exactly what I needed at that moment in time.

Old School is amazing — how could it not be?  It’s funny, heart-warming, and earnest, but, more importantly, it’s about literature.  It’s about authors and books and how these authors and books played a role in one man’s life, and it was just the book I needed in that moment, and it helped me get my head back together, to rearrange my itinerary so I could stay in Hokkaido longer because Hokkaido did amazing things for my heart, too.  It got me back in the proper headspace where I could think creatively again, and there are those books that are amazing not only in and of themselves but also in how they bring you together and patch you back together because of their amazingness — and Old School happened to be that book this year, and I pounced on it when I found a copy at Housing Works in September, so I’ve got a hard paper copy I can hold and pet, too!

Most I-WIsh-I-Hadn’t-Bothered:  Erin Morgernstern, The Night Circus
This was such a waste of time, sorry to say.  I was fond of the characters, and I did love the world, but, oh, the novel itself simply did not do its fantastic elements justice.  The writing itself was cliche and much too literal (I understand the need to describe fantastical worlds as that in The Night Circus, but there’s being descriptive and then there’s literally using words to describe things), and the main story itself was anticlimactic and, frankly, not all that interesting in execution, which was really regrettable because it could have been awesome.  

In my initial recap of The Night Circus, I wrote:

it was just too preoccupied with itself to bother to create the emotional/narrative connections required to get there.

I think that’s still a pretty accurate summation of how I felt about The Night Circus.  The writing was too shallow to create anything substantial, and, to be honest, I just didn’t feel like Morgernstern really cared to create a deeper narrative beyond what the world she created intrinsically offered.

The Book That Made Me Reassess My Feelings Toward the Author:  Murakami Haruki, Norwegian Wood
I’ve had a soft spot for Murakami for years, and, yes, although my fondness for Murakami hasn’t waned much, my opinions of him and his writing have changed since 1Q84.

I reread Norwegian Wood earlier this year, and it kind of extended all the thoughts 1Q84 had raised regarding Murakami (that had then been carried further by After Dark, which I read after Norwegian Wood).  Murakami is great at capturing and conveying a mood, and it’s pretty much always a mood of loneliness/aloneness.  The “always” there isn’t meant to be a bad thing actually because Murakami writes loneliness incredibly well, but reading Murakami can sometimes be a narrowing experience because I’ve come to the conclusion that Murakami speaks well to certain moments in your life, which are recurring.  This isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think, but something that I think is rather inevitable when an author writes so particularly well about a specific theme.

I don’t know.  This little blurb is a little odd because, although I’m starting to see Murakami in a different light, I’m honestly no less fond of him.  But maybe I’m also a little less in awe of him?  Or maybe that’s also not the proper way to phrase it.  Murakami, though, continues to speak to a very specific part of me, and I suppose I’ve become more aware of how sterile his novels can feel and how that isn’t necessarily a preferable thing for me, but I’ll still continue to be anticipate his next books and still pick him up when I’m in that space where I just need what Murakami can offer because only Murakami can do what Murakami does — and, yes, any author worth his/her clout will be unique in that way, but Murakami somehow elevates that by being a niche upon himself — and I really don’t think any of this is making any sense now, so I think I’ll stop and try to make better sense of it on a later date.

Most Could-Have-Been-Awesome:  Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son
The Orphan Master’s Son had potential; Johnson has potential; and, despite feeling let down by The Orphan Master’s Son, I’ll definitely be checking out Johnson’s next book because Johnson is a good writer.

The thing is that I feel like a story like The Orphan Master’s Son might have been better served in the hands of a more experienced novelist — that is, I would have loved to see what Johnson could have done with it after he had one or two novels under his belt because it was a big novel set in a specific world, and I do commend Johnson for his ambition.  (But we’ve seen the term “ambition” bandied about enough with 1Q84 and whether or not ambition is sufficient for praise.)  

I had two problems with The Orphan Master’s Son.  The first was with the voice (or multiple voices) — for one, I didn’t really find multiple voices necessary, and, for another, I spent half of the first part of the novel thinking that it was written in the first person (and thought that, you know, maybe it would have been more interesting in the first person?).  The multiple voices also were problematic in that the voices weren’t distinct enough, except for the voice of the propaganda, which was effectively executed but oftentimes felt unnecessarily lengthy.  The second problem was that the majority of the conflict/tension seemed to be sourced from the setting/situation of the novel instead of being provided for by the narrative — this, actually, was a big problem because, while, yes, the narrative wasn’t lacking in conflict, it wasn’t necessarily being driven by the desirable sort of conflict that leaves you flipping the pages in suspense.

Basically, I read The Orphan Master’s Son in one day because I knew that, if I stopped, I wouldn’t pick it up again, but I didn’t not enjoy it while I was reading even though i didn’t necessarily find it all that compelling.  To be honest, story-wise, I wonder if that might have been purely because it is set in North Korea, but, in conclusion, I did like Johnson’s writing enough to keep him on my radar.

Most Significant Accomplishment:  Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way
Oh, hell yes.  After years of making it a New Year’s Resolution to read Proust goddamnit, I’ve finally picked up Proust and read him.  Or, at the time of this posting, am reading him.  And, you know, Swann’s Way is beautiful — the language is ornate and fluid and, yes, twisted up to the point that it’s really easy to get lost in — but it’s wonderful and masterful, and, ah, I’m so happy to be reading it, not only in a sense of personal accomplishment but also simply as a reader/writer who loves word and language and …. yeah.  It’s the perfect book with which to bid adieu to 2012 and welcome 2013.

And Reading Goals for 2013:

  1. read more Proust!!!!!
  2. reread Anna Karenina.
  3. maybe, uh, get going on my Literary Wall of Shame.
  4. speaking of the above, read Nabokov.  For shame.  Seriously.
  5. read more.  like, a whole lot more.

2011 reading review!

Most memorable:  The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen; 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
2011, for me, was indubitably the year of Jonathan Franzen, launched with The Corrections, the first book I read in 2011 as well as the first Franzen I read.  It took me about a week to complete — a week of doing the bare minimum of coursework and required school reading — and, by the end, I was drained and rather blue because The Corrections isn’t exactly happy, cheery, uplifting reading.  Then I read How to be Alone and The Discomfort Zone (love the cover art) then, a few months later, Freedom then, a few months after that, The Twenty-Seventh City.  Now, all I’ve left is Strong Motion, and how sad that thought makes me!

(Favourite Franzen is still The Corrections, though.  Freedom spawned a few weeks of thought and discussion, but I found myself unable to talk about Freedom without references back to The Corrections.  I still refer back to The Corrections; I don’t read much American literature; but I dare say Franzen does a brilliant job at capturing a sector of American suburbia in his writing.)

I’ve been anticipating 1Q84 since it was first published in Japan in 2009, and it didn’t disappoint.  It’s long — 925 pages — and meandering, and it’s by no means a perfect novel (the dialogue between Aomame and Ayumi is awkward, awkward, awkward, so disconcertingly so that I wonder if something were lost in translation because the other dialogue doesn’t read so stiffly) — but the thing with Murakami is that he’s a writer you read in big picture, ignoring the thought that the novel might be better serviced had it been a good two-, three-hundred pages shorter.

There seems to be something so wrong about entertaining even such thoughts because this slow burn is something Murakami does so well.  There were parts, yes, where I wished he would hurry on with it, but I only carry vague memories of such wishes because they were never so loud that I wanted to stop reading.  More memorable, I suppose, is the squeamishness that came hand-in-hand with the novel’s larger thematic elements, none of which I really want to dive into because I loved the surprise elements that came with diving in this novel without a single idea as to what it was about.

A new ritual:  rereading Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go every year.  It still gets me every single time.

Most monumental/regretful finish:  The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
This took me over three years to complete — intentional, really, because I wanted this to last a long, long time — so take my with it I did, picking it up every so often to read more, highlight some more, write down some more passages, all the while taking detours to read biographies, Letters Home, and some of Plath’s (and Ted Hughes’) poetry.  (Loving Birthday Letters thus far — they bleed of Hughes’ love for Plath.)

But all good things, like everything else, must come to an end, and I have finally finished my first read of Plath’s journals.  I anticipate that this is a book I’ll continue to come back to time and time again; my worn out paperback will travel with me everywhere I go; and her journals have only really whetted my interest and curiosity about everything Sylvia Plath — inevitable, really, because the aftermath of her suicide is something I find personally fascinating, that need by people to place reasons and assign blame because nothing can be left unexplained or unreasoned, because someone has to bear responsibility.

Anyway, this was an interesting read, partly because there’s a lot that she writes that I empathise with — her fears, her aspirations, her struggles as a writer, a woman, a mother, a wife, her battles with sinus colds, her insecurity.  Sylvia Plath wasn’t a perfect human being because no one is, and I rather dislike that about her following — that cut-throat need to build her up as more than she was — because Sylvia Plath was flawed, and her work is powerful and strong because she was flawed.

A long time finishing:  The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
It took me over three years to finish this, too, which isn’t a negative comment as to how I feel about this novel.  If I didn’t much care for it, I’d have dropped it instead of coming back to it  continuously, and Nicole Krauss is indubitably my favourite contemporary woman author — and she’s American!  My favourite by her is still Man Walks Into a Room, which I read two years after I started The History of Love, because The History of Love, sometimes, felt bogged down by its voice.  I could only read it in phases, in little pockets stolen here and there; it’s so saturated in emotion that my palate couldn’t take it in large mouthfuls (much like French cuisine); but I’d say this really is a testament to Krauss’ immense skill and ability.

The ending was a slow burn like Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go — a slow, wonderful burn that sapped me of tears because it just so perfectly tied up the novel.

Biggest disappointment:  The Tiger’s Wife, Téa Obreht
Téa Obreht has all the makings of a good novelist.  She’s young — my age — with a strong sense of language and story, and The Tiger’s Wife has the makings of a good novel — if you could break story-telling down to a formula, which you can’t without rendering it a series of cliches, and I’m rather tempted to say that, yes, The Tiger’s Wife toes that line.  (The Telegraph actually says it has fallen past that line.)

My main problem with the novel is that I couldn’t figure out what The Tiger’s Wife was.  I’m not typically a stickler for genre and don’t find it necessary to pigeon-hole novels into specific categories because a good story is a good story, pure and simple, but it’s a problem when questioning the -ism of a novel displaces you from a novel — and that was my main sticking point with The Tiger’s Wife.  It tried to be magical realism but fell short in the same way it tried to be realism, and this lack of commitment placed a limit on the novel — because it was neither this nor that, all the various story threads collapsed in a messy tangle.

My other problem was actually with the writing itself.  Obreht has potential — she does — but The Tiger’s Wife I felt could have used more revision, more tightening of language, more creative language.  As a narrative, it was almost bland and dangerously so, and, in the end, the novel read like a draft, a skeleton even, that could have been pretty enchanting had it been more thoroughly fleshed out and given a proper direction — and, honestly, it’s a novel that made me wonder if it would’ve gotten half the praise it has had it not been the début novel of so young an author.

Least Favourite:  Middlesex, Jeffrey Euginedes
I’ve written briefly about this novel before — or more like mentioned it and how much I disliked it — and I suppose it deserves its dues because I still haven’t been able to let go of how much I disliked it.  I don’t know what it is; I just feel like it betrayed me because I love The Virgin Suicides so — but, simultaneously, I’m also confused because there was nothing technically wrong with Middlesex:  it’s well-written, well-charted, well-narrated.  In short, all the pieces are there, and yet …?

My problem, honestly, was that the novel held me at arm’s length.  It kept its distance from me personally, blocking all the ways in which I could fall into it and love it and treasure it like I do The Virgin Suicides, almost like it was aware that it was too good for me, and it’s a pity, really, because Euginedes is definitely a skilled writer.  But, maybe, this just goes to show that there’s nothing formulaic about writing, that no writer is perfect (I mean, look at McEwan’s Solar — beautifully written [because when does McEwan write something that isn’t beautifully penned?] with an interesting enough story and interesting enough characters — but the sum of all the parts was a rather dull novel), that not everyone is going to like the same book (which just goes to prove my argument that there’s no need to be ashamed for not having read someone/something).

Of course, though, my dislike of this novel wasn’t great enough to deter me from picking up The Marriage Plot, which I hope will fare better, more positively in my book.  Euginedes is skilled and interesting enough that my dislike of one novel isn’t going to put me off the rest of his work; he’s definitely one of the more interesting writers writing today — or so I opine.

Favourite:  The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
I. Loved. This. Novel. — and how do you measure this?  I’ve got it in paperback and as an iBook.  And am looking for a hardback copy.  And am reading it for the second time in two months.  If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

Ondaatje’s language is absolutely masterful; the words drip beautifully — seriously, so beautifully — and languidly off the page; and, when read out loud (read this book out loud!), they slide off your tongue.  It’s been a while since I’ve read a novel that had me in such thralls over its language, but The English Patient doesn’t excel only in its technical form — the narrative is tightly woven and sweeping and romantic without falling prey to the usual saccharine or melodramatic traps of romantic endeavours.  There’s an aching sense of loss written into the entire novel, and, in so many ways, this is the sort of novel I aspire to write because it’s just so magnificent and successful in the story it sets out to tell and how it determines to tell it.

The problem with a novel like this is that all of Ondaatje’s other books fall under high, high, high expectations.  It’s rather kept me from diving into the rest of his back list, but, then again, Atonement set the bar high for Ian McEwan, and McEwan’s back list managed to raise that bar even higher (ugh, Enduring Love and The Comfort of Strangers are so perfect, I want to weep in despair).

here's a big chunk of text:

The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships.  Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person.  Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

Suddenly there’s a real choce to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a Blackberry and an iPhone, but a question:  Do I love this person?  And, for the other person, does this person love me?

There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of.  This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie.  But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of.  And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order:  it exposes the lie.

This is not to say that love is only about fighting.  Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are.  And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific.  Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being.  Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.

The big risk here, of course, is rejection.  We can all handle being disliked now and then, because there’s such an infinitely big pool of otential likers.  But to expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected, can be catastrophically painful.  The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking.

And yet pain hurts but it doesn’t kill.  When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alvie in a resistant world.  To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived.  Even just to say to yourself, “Oh, I’ll get to that love and pain stuff later, maybe in my 30s” is to consign yourself to 10 years of merely taking up space on the planet and burning up its resources.  Of being (and I mean this in the most damning sense of the word) a consumer.

Jonathan Franzen, The New York Times, 2011 May 29, 'Liking is for Cowards.  Go For What Hurts.'

Of course, logically, I could have simply copy-pasted the above from the New York Times, but, no, I had to spend the last few minutes typing this up myself.  I might be part of the internet generation (or however you may desire to term us), but I have difficulties reading large blocks of text on a computer screen for a prolonged period of time.  I like hard copies, having the written word in front of me in physical form — it tires my eyes out less, and that’s the more practical, physiological reason why I shan’t be making the conversion to e-book any time soon.

(If I were to sum up authors, I’d say that Haruki Murakami does an exquisite job of packaging up human loneliness, Franzen self-loathing, and McEwan poetic ennui, but I think I attribute ennui to McEwan because I still haven’t fully shaken off Solar yet …)

voices tell secrets, too.

Sylvia Plath’s voice is deeper than expected and tinged with inflections of the British accent — very proper, very film star.  Camus sounds just as French as I thought he would.  Sartre is more nasal than expected, Heidegger more breathy.  Ted Hughes is more precise, higher-pitched, less intense and wild.  Virginia Woolf could be a professor at Hogwarts; Dame Maggie Smith’s manner of speaking in the Harry Potter films is very reminiscent of Woolf’s way of speaking.  Anne Sexton has a low, husky drawl.

Amongst those living, Ian McEwan is very proper, Jonathan Franzen very collected, and Nicole Krauss simultaneously diminutive and assertive — and these are the voices I’ve amassed in my own person, and, hopefully, more will be heard and experienced in the near future.