hello friday! (150403)


a week-in-review then, because i'd still like to post something on fridays and books are the most comfortable (and obvious) choice!

  • i finished reading selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed (picador, 2015) today.  favorite essays were those by sigrid nunez, anna holmes, danielle henderson, jeanne safer, and elliott holt.
    • i would've loved to see an essay or two by people in their late-twenties/early-thirties because i think (or, at least, i like to think) that you can be in your late-twenties and early-thirties and have decided not to have kids -- some of us have known this about ourselves since we were young.  
    • someone (i'm pretty sure it was laura kipnis) on the panel of contributors at the event on tuesday said there seemed to be a preponderance of writers defending that they liked kids, and, having finished the collection, i agree that there is.  i don't doubt that they genuinely love children; sometimes, though, it did feel very defensive; and i admit it was refreshing to come across the writer who baldly said s/he didn't like kids.  (this was mostly personal, though; it's hard in general to come across someone who doesn't like children.)
  • this week, i started doing a buddy read of michel faber's the book of strange new things (hogarth, 2014) with a friend on instagram.  this is one of the reasons i can't dismiss social media; i've had the pleasure of meeting some incredible people via the internet; and i love the fact that this friend (who lives in japan) and i can actively read a book together.
  • speaking of the book of strange new things, faber writes with such ease, and his prose is natural and lovely.  his descriptions are vivid and alive, too -- i dreamt i was on oasis because i'd been reading right before going to sleep, and it felt so real, the humidity, the atmosphere, the colors, that i woke up feeling kind of disoriented, wondering, wait, that wasn't real?
  • books i've been reading off-and-on the last few weeks (yes, weeks):  
    • cheryl strayed's tiny beautiful things (vintage, 2012):  when i was in LA, the illustrator friend and i went flipped through all the columns, and i haven't felt very inspired to go back and give them all a thorough reading.
    • rebecca solnit's men who explain things to me (haymarket books, 2014):  i'm thrilled this was reissued in hardback with new essays! 
    • joan didion's white album (FSG, 2009):  i love lingering over my didion, taking little morsels and letting them melt into me.  (i'm not quite sure how to credit these publication years ... right now, i'm going with when the edition i own was issued.)
    • kazuo ishiguro's an artist of the floating world (penguin, 2013):  there's such a lovely tension and unease simmering through this book that i'm afraid to find out what the narrator did during the war.  this is my book club's next selection, though, so i'll have to grit my teeth and find out!
    • catie disabato's the ghost network (melville house, 2015, forthcoming):  this is a cheat; i found this ARC at housing works on tuesday and was so very excited; so i had to share.

march reading recap will be up by the end of the weekend!  have a great weekend, all!

hello monday! (150223)


(before we begin, here are a few books i've been reading lately.)

i think i've said the phrase, "it's cold," so many times now it's lost all meaning.  i feel like we got more snow last winter, but it's been much, much colder this winter, and i admit i don't mind it.  i might even love it.  i wouldn't mind if we had more snow, either, but, see, i'm a december baby, and i love cold weather.  which means that, sometimes, i check the weather in california and shudder when it gives me 80-degree temperatures in february because, gross, that sounds like hell, i'll take my 20 degrees, feels like 3 degrees with wind chill, thank you very much.

idk what those silly kids were doing in narnia, trying to do away with eternal winter.

i read this article published in vanity fair last july talking about donna tartt's the goldfinch and how the new yorker, the new york review of books, and the paris review poo-pooed it.  i have not read the goldfinch.  i have no intention of reading the goldfinch.  for one, it's absurdly long, and, before you sniff at me for that, for another, the most common criticism i've heard about it is that it could have used a heavier editing hand and lost at least 100-200 pages, and, if there's one thing i cannot forgive in a book, it is exactly that.

going back to the article, though, and the question of "but is it art?":  my question comes back as, "and does it matter?"  beyond that, though, everything gets muddled up because i do think there's an argument to be made for "serious literature" and the need to uphold it, because i do think there's a standard that makes "good" writing or "bad" writing (in the loosest sense), because i do think we need to have these standards and lines in place.  and i think we do need tastemakers and gatekeepers who are essentially curators who help find the good from among the ocean of "created things" and bring attention to them because we don't all have the time to do that ourselves.  and, at the same time, i think we badly need more diversity within these circles of tastemakers and gatekeepers (i love the paris review, but, sometimes, it pains me how white it is) (same with FSG) because, for me personally, it's not only the gender thing that gets under my skin but also (and maybe more so) the diversity thing.  we don't just need writers who are of different color; we need writers of color from different backgrounds who tell a wide tapestry of stories; and we need this -- it's a matter of necessity, not of whim or simple desire. 

at the same time, i'm aware that the conversation of diversity is more nuanced than simply pointing at the tastemakers and gatekeepers and saying, you're doing a bad job.  i can't fault the paris review when they're doing their job and getting quality writing in their pages and oftentimes helping launch careers (and obviously my subscription is clear support), just like i can't fault FSG when they're publishing great writing and supporting more "serious" endeavors that other houses might not risk -- but isn't that also the funny thing about loving something?  that it increases your capacity to be disappointed sometimes because you expect more because you know you can expect more, though "disappointed" is a bit of a strong sentiment here.

sometimes, i think it's funny how i've become so attached to certain publications and houses.  do people regularly think along the lines of houses?  but i've always organized my shelves by houses (then by authors), and i credit penguin for this entirely because i love that penguin logo, and it's always been a joy to see that line of penguins neatly in a row on my shelves.

(as an aside, i must admit i've been side-eyeing the pulitzer since 2011.  i wonder what randomness they'll pull this year.)

i went to another event last week, elliot ackerman with phil klay.  will write up a recap this week, in between editing stories, tutoring, and writing cover letters because, oh, i suppose i'm "officially" looking for a full-time job, which basically means i'm coming face-to-face with my sad, sorry lack of qualifications ...

anyway.  have a good week, all!  as always, thanks for reading!

december reads!

december reads!  end of 2014!  this year went by so fast …

fifty-four.  the strange library, haruki murakami.

at the same time, my anxiety had turned into an anxiety quite lacking in anxiousness.  and any anxiety that is not especially anxious is, in the end, an anxiety hardly worth mentioning.  (19) (no page numbers so section number)

this was … weird.  (which i guess kind of goes without saying.)  to be honest, i’m not sure if i liked it or not.  and, to be even more honest, i’m not sure if there’s anything that much deeper to it — it’s a strange little book, and that’s what it was meant to be.

… apparently, that’s all i have to say about it.  the strange library was interesting to pick up as a visual reading experience because of the way it was designed, and i’d recommend it as such — an interesting visual reading experience.

fifty-five.  belzhar, meg wolitzer.

“everyone,” she [mrs. quenell] continues, looking around at all of us, “has something to say.  but not everyone can bear to say it.  your job is to find a way.”  (34)

belzhar was an easy, quick read, and i liked a lot of the ideas in it — the boarding school for kids recovering from trauma or working through struggles/disorders, a world within journals where the characters can return to the days before their lives were flipped upside down, the juxtaposition of this static but desirable world of the past and the vibrant but unbearable, changed world of the present.  i liked the struggle that came with that, the inevitable point of having to learn to let go and return to the present.

i have mixed feelings about the book, though.  i wished wolitzer would dig deeper; everything felt like it was held on the surface of things; and the stakes honestly didn’t seem high enough, particularly for the narrator.  and i’m mixed about the twist at the end because i’m not that convinced of it?  and the ending was too hopeful, too neat and clean; i honestly kind of just shrugged it off.

all in all, though, it was an easy, quick read, and i enjoyed it enough.

fifty-six.  the unspeakable, meghan daum.

after more than a decade of being told that i’d wake up one morning at age thirty or thirty-three or, God forbid, forty, to the ear-splitting peals of my biological clock, i’d failed to capitulate in any significant way.  i would still look at a woman pushing a baby stroller and feel more pity than envy.  in fact, i felt no envy at all, only relief that i wasn’t her.  (“difference maker,” 116)

i liked how the “unspeakable” things in this collection weren’t big, dark, giant secrets — daum isn’t tackling hugely controversial or necessarily new topics; she’s talking about them with more honesty and candor than might be expected.  like, she doesn’t try to “make excuses” for choosing childlessness or gloss over the intensity of the dog owner-dog relationship or tell some grand tales laden with epiphany or emotion from the mysterious illness that put her in a coma and close to death a few years ago — and, in such ways, i feel she tackles the unspeakable.  she does it in very engaging, frank, and funny writing, too, without going on the defensive (or even feeling like she should be defensive), and i appreciated this collection and daum’s for their openness.

it’s interesting to think about how things become “unspeakable” — or, more specifically, in what ways things become “unspeakable.”  we can talk about things all we want, but when there’s a barrier of emotional expectation or societal niceties, then how much are we really talking?

fifty-seven.  station eleven, emily st. john mandel.

hell is the absence of the people you long for.  (144)

if i had to describe station eleven in three words, i’d call it beautiful, haunting, and hopeful.  it’s a world that’s essentially been “reboot” by a virus that killed off millions (i’m assuming) more or less overnight and thus saw the end of technology and electricity and other such “basic” things we’re accustomed to.  even so, it’s not a book of despair, and it’s not a story of mere survival either but of people who are making their lives in a changed world and finding hope and togetherness and purpose — and i loved how mandel tied together all the different characters and mapped out how they were connected in the “previous” world.

i loved the days i spent immersed in this world.

fifty-eight.  the twenty-seventh city, jonathan franzen.

poverty, poor education, discrimination and institutionalized criminality were not modern.  they were indian problems, sustaining an ideology of separateness, of meaningful suffering, of despairing pride.  in the ghetto, just as in the indian ghettos of caste, consciousness would come slowly and painfully.  jammu had no patience.  she’d hauled the big industrial guns into the inner city and called it a solution, because ultimately it was far easier to change the thinking of a rich white fifty-year-old or to deflect the course of his eighteen-year-old daughter than it was to give a black child fifteen years of decent education.  (399)

when i first read the twenty-seventh city a few years ago, for some reason, i went into it thinking it was sci-fi.  i’m not sure why i thought that — i actually kind of blame it on the picador cover — but i did, so i was so fucking confused for the first hundred pages, wondering where the sci part of it was, which meant that the whole novel was kind of lost to me.  i’ve read (or reread) franzen’s othernovels this year, so i figured i might as well round it out with the twenty-seventh city, which is his first.

to be quite honest, i couldn’t quite get into it this second time around, though i also can’t fully remember what i thought of it the first time around because i was so confused.  the short, clipped sentences drove me kind of batty, and i didn’t like all the conspiratorial stuff of the new police chief coming into st. louis and trying to amass power, and i hated singh for being so dastardly and casual with violence to achieve these conspiratorial ends and i also hated jammu for pretending to be above the dirty, sneaky crap singh would do, like she could keep her hands clean.

i also hated the ending.  i almost stopped reading because i hated it — it was unnecessarily violent and jarring in the narrative, too, and i just did not like it.

fifty-nine.  the discomfort zone, jonathan franzen.  (audiobook)

adolescence is best enjoyed without self-consciousness, but self-consciousness, unfortunately, is its leading symptom.  even when something important happens to you, even when your heart’s getting crushed or exalted, even when you’re absorbed in building foundations of a personality, there come these moments when you’re aware that what’s happening is not the real story.  unless you actually die, the real story is still ahead of you.  this alone, this cruel mixture of consciousness and irrelevance, this built-in hollowness, is enough to account for how pissed off you are.  you’re miserable and ashamed if you don’t believe your adolescent troubles matter, but you’re stupid if you do.  (“centrally located,” 113)

my first audiobook!  i’ve discovered that audiobooks are awesome for plane rides!  though maybe i specifically mean audiobooks recorded by franzen himself because i love his voice (it’s so throaty and deep and hoarse), and i’m sad that he hasn’t recorded more …

listening to an audiobook is [obviously] a different experience.  i’d already readthe discomfort zone twice before, so i wasn’t listening to it for the first time, so it was interesting to experience the book in a different way, especially because franzen adds his own tone and [physical] voice to it.  it’s also different listening to him read on audiobook because i feel like he’s more intense “in real life,” reading faster and more fluidly whereas, on audiobook, he had to slow down and be more rigid in pace.

sixty.  slouching towards bethlehem, joan didion.

that is a story my generation knows; i doubt that the next will know it, the children of the aerospace engineers.  who would tell it to them?  […]  “old” sacramento to them will be something colorful, something they read about in sunset.  […]  they will have lost the real past and gained a manufactured one […].

but perhaps it is presumptuous of me to assume that they will be missing something.  perhaps in retrospect this has been a story not about sacramento at all, but about the things we lose and the promises we break as we grow older […].  (“notes from a native daughter,” 185-6)

my first didion!  didion’s writing has an ethereal, dreamy quality to it, even when she’s covering trials or immersing herself in san francisco’s haight-ashbury or writing about sacramento.  i like the way she writes about california — there’s a tenderness and affection to it — and it makes me think of california in different hues, too.

sixty-one.  you are one of them, elliott holt.

there is something painfully honest about winter:  the skeletal trees, the brutal repetition of the cold.  there are no empty promises, no hazy, humid hopes.  it’s reality, lonely and stark.  (198)

last book of the year!  i loved holt’s depiction of childhood friendship and the tangles of it and how the spectre of it can loom over you, and the russian and descriptions of russia poked at my yen to travel.  it felt a little anticlimactic, though, and i wanted more conflict, more tension, more emotion, actually, on the narrator’s end.  i loved the ending, though, especially because i was all set to be disappointed in the narrator, so i was proud of her for actively pursuing a decision and effectively shedding her past.

this was a good book to end the year on, and i’m pleased to say that it’s been an awesome reading year, and it’s been such a pleasure to be able to read more and to practice reading more thoughtfully.  i know i’m still not that great at writing about books, but i’m glad to be challenging myself to try to get better at it!

thanks for being with me through the year!  and now i go off to write my year-end recap …!