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!