This book was a gift, and I’m glad it was, because it wasn’t really blipping on my radar this year. I don’t go to the altar of Ann Patchett as some reThis book was a gift, and I’m glad it was, because it wasn’t really blipping on my radar this year. I don’t go to the altar of Ann Patchett as some readers do; I’m a skeptic who nonetheless kinda sorta wants to be saved.
In the way that the best new books do, the work transcends its blurb, which doesn’t really convey the fun and stitch-witchery of the big, loping cast and extended timelines. So ziggy and zaggy a structure could be a mess but it never feels like one. It’s a book where you know the tragic outcomes before you see them; you infer patiently and trace back in your mind, multitasking in the past while following someone on a different adventure.
That’s the craft, that this works. It’s nice. Though quite a lot of the emotional content of the story isn’t nice at all, even leaving aside its major wallop. You’ll get so angry at parents and partners, so anxious for unsupervised kids and so raging at a husband who can’t resist twisting the knife. It’s some work. Puppet strings, we readers have, and there’s a whole show.
I’m working on my reading pace, lately. I’m having trouble with stamina. In a year when many habits changed, I find I still love to finish a book but that starting them is a great coup of attention. This book languished on my bedside table for weeks after I read its first two pages; I even brought it on vacation to a cabin in the country (with a fireplace!) and still I didn’t manage to read any. I feel so vulnerable in the beginning of a book, exposed, like someone’s given the game away and I’m the game. I went through a lot of my young adulthood where reading felt like work my brain couldn’t do, and that is misery. At the moment, if I keep working, eventually the story’s teeth will bite and surrender me.
Anyway, I read my final chunk of this on New Year’s Eve, determined to clock it in for 2016, all day long dipping in when I could. It can be such a pleasure to take a huge sprint with a novel; at least, it is when you aren’t doing it for class in the morning, which is how I used to sprint. I’m never up for much on NYEs but I like traditions, and that might be the ticket: whatever book you’re reading? See if you can finish it. Then, after midnight, when you place it back on its shelf and look around for what’s next, all its unread and once-read brethren reflect back at you like a blanket of snow. A new year. What’s first?...more
How dearly I love that the world is super excited right now about reading A PLAY. <3
Harry Potter! I enjoyed this a lot, as a Harry Potter story andHow dearly I love that the world is super excited right now about reading A PLAY. <3
Harry Potter! I enjoyed this a lot, as a Harry Potter story and as a play-reading experience. I love reading plays. Of course it’s a stretch to read something on a page when it’s intended to be spoken and lived with actors and staging, but it’s a fun stretch if you have a little something to base your imagination on. (Ideally, go to the theater a bit and see how it’s done.) I’d love to see this play because I’m sure it’s pretty dazzling, but I have no clue if I will get to, so for me I’m just considering this story as bound in this book.
There are some real Rowling touches to the text, though its writing was the domain of the proper playwright Jack Thorne. In reading, you can tell just how influenced he was, when the scene is set for a busy meeting room at the Ministry, where “they rattle and chatter like all true wizards and witches can”, and the (view spoiler)[time-turner (hide spoiler)] which causes things to “turn over, think a bit, then speed up”, each time. Such fun.
But mostly, really what this read did for me was make me look forward to rereading the books. Part of me wants to go pick them up and do it right now. It made me miss them, partly, remembering how much more interesting and dangerous they got each time. Although this play makes Harry Potter no. 8, it needed to be its own machine, and couldn’t really fit that task, I think. How could it top Deathly Hallows, and what lunatic would want it to? As much as I enjoy the Harry Potter universe’s chewy generational back story and, now, its sequel, this is quieter and less of an epic because that’s what it needs to be.
I also just kind of need to say… something… about the relationship between (view spoiler)[Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (hide spoiler)], because even I found it sort of misleading. I've basically got zero history in fandom, and no inclination to build inferred love interests out of subtext, but I actually genuinely thought that this story was giving us a same sex relationship. Maybe that was dumb? Idk. But it really, really is coded that way, and the insertion of the hetero crush is awkwardly done. (Also, problematic in itself because she's got no role beyond it, which is weird relegation for (view spoiler)[the child of Ron and Hermione (hide spoiler)].) I'm not offended by the misread — male friendship is nice, there's history between the families (though, in fandom, a slashy one?), and Harry Potter was always about friends after all, wasn't it. And I suppose, sadly, it may have been a lot to assume a same sex pairing for the main character. Kind of weird, though. If anyone were to write some long form think pieces about this I would click it.
Either way, there’s a lot in here that wouldn’t be in a normal play. Effects of magic are generously described in directions without shame. Someone throws a chair, and someone else “ducks underneath it and slows the chair with his wand”. Doesn’t that sound cool? I want to see them do that! I want to see them throw spells around with their wands on stage. Because this is for Harry Potter, and you know they figured out how to do it. It would be fun to see, but it’s also fun to play out in your head, to picture the pacing, the looks and the delivery, the magic coming to life. Just as with a novel, I think it’s probably ten times more wonderful in our own imaginations....more
I will always read these, I think, because sometimes it's just that the only cure is a Tana French-y murder novel. It's a thing and you can count on iI will always read these, I think, because sometimes it's just that the only cure is a Tana French-y murder novel. It's a thing and you can count on it.
It wasn't my favorite one but I keep the faith. I don't really mind the places it breaks with tradition, and I liked Conway and Steve, and I liked the story being so deep inside the department that you're stuck in all the muck of getting things done. And even though I do like it when Tana French's detectives' heads completely explode (I mean, it's kind of the thing, is it not), I was happy for Conway to stay above water, except that there was some kind of prickle missing. I don't need her entire sense of sanity to be put in danger, but, I don't know, a little shark in the water is good for a protagonist in any novel. The one we get (view spoiler)[with the identity and meeting of her father (hide spoiler)] is weird and out of balance. And, ultimately, the solve on our mystery felt way off, not its answer but its explanation, and these things are all about the backstory. In a mystery novel, technically, that's the important part we're all reading to get, so, that's not the best reward I've ever gotten.
I read this as eager escapism close in the wake of the US election. It worked, but trigger warning for this joke in the denouement:
Nothing's safe in 2016, even the Dublin Murder Squad.
(Okay, especially the Dublin Murder Squad.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Taken with a sudden desire to read this book this week, I found there were no copies left at my library, thanks in part to the summer’s Big Friendly RTaken with a sudden desire to read this book this week, I found there were no copies left at my library, thanks in part to the summer’s Big Friendly Read project. Who am I to take a book out of the hands of a babe, anyway? Instead I checked out an ebook from OpenLibrary that turned out to be a PDF scan of the original hardback, preserving all the Quentin Blake illustrations. Perfect.
So I think that, despite having been a big Roald Dahl fan as a child, I never properly read The BFG before now. I could be wrong — the illustrations were all familiar, but the plot was not. It also occurred to me that, as with many of my favorite books from childhood, I have actual visceral memories of reading other Dahl books. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator in our dimly lit kichen. James and the Giant Peach on our sunny striped chair by the window. All of The Twits at my desk during one library period at school. The Witches in the car on the way to the mall by my grandparents’ house; I’d just read the mouse scene, and the whole time we shopped I felt my insides burning as though it were happening to me, too.
One thing that I loved about this but that also gives pause is its atmosphere of quaint Englishness, a quiet old-fashioned feeling of orphanages and village hedgerows and the Queen, despite being published in 1982 when the UK was of course quite a modern and diverse place. (Ahem, that’s the year I was born. Oldness warning: if you read this to your child, you will have to explain what an atlas is. This may be harder for them to believe in than giants.) Indeed, several of the jokes about other nations are in quite bad taste now, if they ever were in good. Like many, I love a classic, nostalgic feeling, but it’s good to be aware. It makes such an enticing and lovely picture but, for sure, a fantasy one.
At any rate, this was so fantastic and hilarious and sweet. I laughed out loud and have begun going around calling things by the names the BFG would use. Perhaps it’s been too long since I’ve read any Dahl books as an adult, since those are generally the traits they’re prized for. But it tickled me terrifically, and I’m so happy I finally had a whim to pick it up. Reading it right now, when I happen to be a brand new parent, only made me overwhelmed with glee to think of sharing it with a new reader in a handful of years. I can’t wait to get to all the others I missed the first time around, too....more
I guess it’s not the best thing when you get to the end of a series and think, “Well, okay. Now I don’t have to read these any more!” So… three stars?I guess it’s not the best thing when you get to the end of a series and think, “Well, okay. Now I don’t have to read these any more!” So… three stars?
It’s fine. But the thing clunked around the way all these books have clunked around, and after having us read fffffffoooouuuurr not especially shortish novels, I wanted to feel like there was more to the package than a bucket with some magicky idea soup in it.
But hey some bits of this book are really, really well done. The other books often have scenes where the author builds up this fantastic atmosphere but, when pressed for specifics, deflates the thing. Here, though, we get some sincerely scary and lovely sections. I especially loved the scenes with Blue’s possessed house, and Mr Gray in the supermarket, and Gansey’s ultimate flock of ravens. A hat needs to be tipped to Henry Cheng, too, a super-welcome character this group of friends has needed all along.
Look, though. This book is meant to be wrapping up a whole tangle of mythical business, and to me its plot just confirmed how weak that business really always was. In particular, (view spoiler)[Glendower (hide spoiler)] was an enormous letdown; it felt like the wrong choice to have him come to nothing. What was the point of using that story? I’ve been curious for four books to find out, but in the end: the author deflates the thing. (view spoiler)[Artemus (hide spoiler)] also disappointed, having been picked up at the end of book three only to sit around and talk to almost no one despite being hugely fascinating and relevant to everything in the plot. (view spoiler)[And Blue is part tree? (hide spoiler)] Or something? Why? Okay.
Ronan, at least, is more important than he was in the last book, so yay Ronan. He gets enough depth even to make Adam feel somewhat interesting and that guy is a drag. But I’m sorry to say that Ronan’s dream magic still does nothing for me, it just doesn’t make sense, and upping the drama and carnage and danger around it — essentially the whole stakes for this final story — consequently doesn’t land because it never felt very right to begin with. At the very climax of the book, Blue says it herself: “I always knew it was going to end like this, but it still doesn’t feel right. Would this ever feel right?” Well! I mean… we’d all been hoping it was going to, guys! Oh well.
So why did I read it then? It’s all about the other moments, the ones that have nothing to do with structure and continuity and world-building, which are not the strong points here. It’s the lives and the destinies of these characters. Destiny is strong with this one. Worrying about Gansey, prophesied to die since the opening of book one, carries a lot of emotional heft. It’s so touching the way everyone is afraid and sad the realer it seems. (Let’s not talk about how this all plays out; I’m afraid the author is going to ring my doorbell right now and hand me a piece of paper that mentions his “rain-spattered shoulders” one more time.) The relationship between him and Blue, also prophesied since the first, brings lovely little swells of emotion too. The other relationship, a satisfying new discovery here, does the same.
That’s where the realness of these characters is, and the hearts of this knotty story: it’s Blue’s family sitting clothed in the bathtub doing a weird ritual and telling her there’s life after high school, and it’s Ronan in his house, his element, hoping high school will just stop existing. It’s Adam’s mother: “At some point she had released him, and she didn’t want him back. She just wanted to see what happened.” There are times these folks all make sense, on their own and together, and those moments are (and have been) a pleasure to read. Even if I don’t really believe in magic, it’s nice that they’ve existed for us anyway....more
Well, I didn't have as much fun reading this as I thought I would. And it's all right. It wasn't for me right now but it's nice it's here.
The author lWell, I didn't have as much fun reading this as I thought I would. And it's all right. It wasn't for me right now but it's nice it's here.
The author lived a life that basically led me to read the whole book imagining her as Phryne Fisher? In probably less insane clothes. But all of her stories have that same sort of shine in which she is so outside of her time, so good at everything she tries, so untouched by cultural consequences, so fearless and well-liked, it grates after a while. Her stories are true (at least, I imagine, they all are true enough) and truly heroic, and it's great -- here we are reading about British East Africa just before it was known as Kenya, with this girl who grows up getting mauled by lions and making pals with the Nandi tribe and training racehorses and flying planes. It's not unimpressive. I feel so glib, being like "I didn't really enjoy these stories of fabulous experiences and heroic attitudes," but I didn't, today.
Actually, I genuinely think there's good appeal here for younger readers, maybe around the 10-14 range in particular. A lot of the chapters are simplified adventure, which didn't especially excite me -- I outright skimmed over the hunting expeditions, and I really don't do that -- but the author's narrative enthusiasm could definitely pull in younger readers, even if it isn't aimed at them. (However, a few wise words about imperialism would be necessary, in my opinion.)
It also doesn't hurt that she makes a fantastic figure of a female role model without that being the main focus of the book. I liked that -- it's not writing that's about a woman having accomplished these things, it's writing about these accomplishments, and she is a woman. It's glossed over enough, in fact, that I couldn't help but wonder about the underside of her experience. In this book, she has all these admiring, respectful male mentors and colleagues in these masculine professions she excels in. Was it really that easy? She was very privileged, so, perhaps? But I'm thinking it's more likely that when writing in the 1940's she found it easier to highlight the thrill and excitement and fun and glory of it all, and never mind the bollocks.
There is some unfortunate portrayal of her relationship to African people, growing up when and where she did. This isn't particularly surprising but it still isn't great to read, though often it's so gently done that perhaps not all readers will feel it's cruel. But she grew up and became this fabulous, successful woman within the environment of imperial domination. There are many overt comments on the lesser intelligence of the tribal Africans: "I couldn't help wondering what Africa would have been like if such physique as these Kavirondo had were coupled with equal intelligence -- or perhaps I should say with cunning equal to that of their white brethren." Er, no. But mostly this bias is written into the background of her day to day life -- one surrounded by kind, happy natives who are thrilled to include this white girl in their hunting rituals and protect her when she is a child, and once she is older, be employed by her. When she is raising horses, she speaks of the limitations of her dozen-odd "syces," how good and loyal they are but that the most expert tasks "are for me." Her best friend, a Nandi boy who is her childhood playmate, grows up to clean her plane and serve her tea and dispense tribal wisdom.
And once she leaves it behind, flies to England with her white male friends, they drink "a toast to Africa because we knew Africa was gone." Oh yeah? You just closed that book yourself, did you?
Anyway, this privilege problem isn't a dealbreaker, nor is it a shock to hear in the author's voice within its historical context. With perspective, I could have enjoyed the book in spite of it, but in fact I found the book a little too boring. It's odd, because the author's writing style is often noted as the finest thing about the book (and there is the famous Hemingway endorsement), but despite its occasional beauty, at times I found it stilted and barely coherent. Just, really, not for me. But I'm going to keep it around in case it's good for somebody else, someday....more
I bought this book to make friends. I never would have, otherwise. I’m the nerd in the movie — or the novel — at home alone studying up on ways to meeI bought this book to make friends. I never would have, otherwise. I’m the nerd in the movie — or the novel — at home alone studying up on ways to meet people. An open book club in my neighborhood, says the internet! In my new city, in my new country. A grand idea. What are they reading this January? Ta-da.
I’m pleased, because I’ve never read Kazuo Ishiguro before, famous as he is. So this was a great choice, although it’s true that I would have been rather unlikely to pick this particular one out myself. “Five Stories of Music and Nightfall.” Sweet, but will it be cloying? Will it be facile and samey?
No and yes. Five is a good number of stories; they feel connected by the theme without making you read something similar too many times. They also went so quickly, I feel like I hardly spent any time at all finishing this book. It was easy and so pleasant to read, I really enjoyed it a lot.
Nos. 2 and 4 did the best for me, and here is why: they are about crazy people. “Come Rain or Come Shine,” in particular, it takes you a little while to notice that everyone is insane, but once you do, suddenly the stilted way they are conversing and handling everything becomes hilarious and suspenseful. I got excitedly on board to slide all the way downhill with these weirdos. It went pretty well, though it was more like a sled ride and less like a cliff tumble. That was okay, but it could have gone off an even deeper end, I’m sure. I’d brought my cliff-tumbling gear, I was all padded up and really wanted to head down to rock bottom with them. (And I wonder why it’s hard for me to meet people?)
“Nocturne,” the 4th and semi-title story, also pushes a bit of these wackadoo buttons, which has a nice way of interplaying with the sentiment and melancholy in the characters. The thing is, though, that most of these stories do play with sentiment quite a lot — what you might expect, wouldn’t you say, from a book about “music and nightfall” with a dancing couple on its cover — and don’t really deliver something in full. They do try: the last story is the only one out of the five, I noticed, that doesn’t involve the death throes of a marriage somewhere in the bones of the story. All the others have, somewhere in their premise, a relationship falling apart, and then something else goes on with music and nightfall and that’s really the thing you’re paying attention to. But it’s there, it’s smart. It smarts.
Particularly, the middle story “Malvern Hills” deserves a mention for this, because it spends most of its time making you feel it’s about one thing — a young singer-songwriter, not yet completely out of his “nobody understands me” teenage years — but the gut punch comes from somewhere else well outside him. Really well done, and easily the saddest of the stories for me.
In general, I used to use books to connect with people, and I’ve fallen out of these habits since a lot of life changes have been going on with me. Can it be a coincidence that I’ve also been having trouble connecting with books? I've missed both, and I’m claiming them back, I am. Here’s my review, now, of a book I never would have read, and thoughts to share with people I haven’t even met yet....more
It's almost funny to me the way each of these books manages a cliffhanger of a sort, even in such a staid style of storytelling. But this time it's aIt's almost funny to me the way each of these books manages a cliffhanger of a sort, even in such a staid style of storytelling. But this time it's a pretty big one. The whole time I read this, I was thinking, "I read this too soon after the other one. I'm bored. I'm definitely going to wait a while before I pick up the last one." And then at the end she gets you!
I do feel the epic, the something, being built up so gradually over these long stories. And I'm still puzzled by why they feel so plain, even when they are digging fingernails into the dirt and clawing up difficult stuff. Psychological insight is one of the things I enjoy most about novels, so I can't figure out why with these books I sort of feel like I'm trapped with a friend who won't stop analyzing every little thing about herself out loud; maybe not everything needs to be remarked upon, okay, friend? (Usually, I am that friend, so I don't even know.)
Partly, Elena and Lila are both so exhausting to our sympathies, I get sort of fatigued by hanging in there with their decisions and enmities and waiting out bad times. And the men. Ladies... these men. Sigh. It's realistic, but again, the experience in real life of hanging in there while people sort themselves out is not always rewarding in the moment. Afterward, sometimes. I think these might feel more rewarding later.
Quite a lot of new things go on in this book, and I liked learning about them. I enjoyed Lila's rise into computer programming (on an IBM System 3 Model 10). I enjoyed Elena's interest in feminist politics, and in the radical academia world of her sister in law. I most enjoyed learning about the student rebellions (there in Italy, but also in France) and the general terrible political chaos of this period in Italy of the late 1960's and 1970's. There is quite a lot more I think will be interesting to learn about this subject.
One of the interesting aspects of these novels to me is its portrait of the postwar generation. Even while I read the first book, which is contained almost 100% within a few blocks of the neighborhood, I felt the need to understand the bigger picture of what was happening to them in their country. You can sense that it matters in the author's arrangement of everything, even if it's not directly on the page. By the time of this third novel, this generation is fighting the wheel that it is being crushed by. That's important, and I want a better understanding of the wheel. (Helpfully, my partner has been reading on this subject lately, and read a history and analysis of Italian unity while I read this -- he recommends it for a picture of modern politics, for those who feel the need. Mostly I just made him explain the political parties to me over dinner.)
I still find it challenging that, because the author is covering so much ground with this series, even over a thousand pages of novels, the readers are tugged along so briskly. I feel like a kid being taken by the hand through a fair or a zoo or somewhere by an adult who needs to get us someplace else and won't let me stop and look. I can't get over things like, Elena gets married and has a baby all inside one shortish chapter. To others, that's the whole novel. Not this novel, I know, but I feel like I could get empathy whiplash. She changes so much so fast, and yet lingers and lingers. It's sort of disorienting and ultimately numbing to me. I wish that these books were tugging at my gut, but they don't quite make it there.
Nevertheless I'm getting on a library list for number four, you know? You know....more
So, about a month ago, I moved to England from the U.S., to London. (Recently enough that it still feels a little bit preposterous to say.) One of theSo, about a month ago, I moved to England from the U.S., to London. (Recently enough that it still feels a little bit preposterous to say.) One of the things we had to do, in packing our suitcases, was select which books we'd carry with us for the next several weeks and which would travel the long way inside a shipping container. If my count is correct, we brought 16 books with us, and this was one of my picks.
I like Bill Bryson and I figured this would be fun to read as a new resident of England, as a sort of joking but genuine guide to people I'd like to get to know, as well as to some places I'm eager to visit. As soon as I started reading, though, I found that I wished I had done it another way: I got the sense that I didn't much agree with him at all, and wish I had read this instead after accumulating some years of my own, when I'll be able to articulate why.
This book is 20 years old (indeed, it's been so long, he is about to publish a sequel) and in many ways that makes it a really interesting historical perspective on modern England. Bryson settled in the U.K. in 1977, two years before Thatcher came to office, and he decided to leave (and wrote this book) in 1994, four years after she was ousted. The outlook from where he sat, in the mid-90's, was bad.
So the book, then, is positively drenched in this pessimism, the hope lost that anything kind or fair or reasonable will ever be restored to the country, because the government is stone broke with no end in sight. In quite a lot of the places he visits, Bryson basically observes that everything is stupid now, and surely only going to get worse, before it ultimately disappears altogether. It's extremely sad. I'm curious whether the sequel will be interested in addressing the discrepancies between these expectations and the realities of British life in these past 20 years (a majority of which he's spent as a resident again). The country Bryson moved away from in 1995 isn't one I'd have been eager to try living in. But in 2015, on balance, I feel optimism.
It isn't Bryson's dated facts that prevented me from enjoying the book, though. There are other things about its 20 years' age that really no longer flatter him. The negative, cranky character he casts of himself is incredibly unpleasant. He writes as an observer of absurdities, but really he is doing almost nothing but complaining about people and places and things until I could hardly stand it. I nearly tried to keep count of the rants that began "Now here is something I've never understood," or "I have simply never seen the appeal of," etc. I guess that these are funny to some readers, because they're sure written as if they're a hoot. He also both repeats and contradicts himself a lot, and I started to think he didn't really have principles about anything, but just liked to hear himself opine.
But often, there's something so much darker and weird about it: he'll say the nice hotel receptionist has a brain the size of a bean, he'll call someone's wife stupid for no reason, and he'll spend a full page talking about the eating habits of overweight people as if they are cartoon zoo animals. (If you think I might be overreacting, read that, I mean it. Make sure you make it to "their chins glistening with chocolate." It's a disgusting way to describe people, satire or no.) And for goodness sake, for someone spending a solid 7 weeks as a full-time tourist in order to write this book, he sure has some kinda disdain for tourists, doing the exact same things he's doing -- it's just that they're being mindless buffoons about it, of course, and he's gonna get paid.
I couldn't get past this mean-spirited attitude, however much self-satire was sometimes involved, and it impacted my enjoyment of the entire book. There's a dated quality to Bryson the narrator that just doesn't gel with a contemporary tone. I kept thinking about the "typical 90's dad" brand of humor, the Dave Barry and hapless sitcom sorts: the way he talks about his wife here as if all she cares about is shopping and the car, but calls her lovely all the way through so it's all fun. Giving the benefit of the doubt, I'm deciding that I only really dislike "1995" Bill Bryson, in particular. However, this is also the first of Bryson's travel books I've read, and humor and travel are genres that rely wholly on the author's personality. I'm a little warier than I was before.
I'm not sorry I read this, and it did make me laugh, and I did make a nice list of places I hadn't heard of before that I'd like to visit myself: Virginia Waters, Corfe Castle, Snowshill Manor, Welbeck Abbey, Morecambe, Near Sawrey, Durham. Bryson and I share a love for seeing a nice old house. And I think, soon, we'll probably share a love for this funny old country....more
I bought a beautiful edition of this book to read instead, but no way am I giving this one up. Opposite-greatest copy of all time, MTI edition starrinI bought a beautiful edition of this book to read instead, but no way am I giving this one up. Opposite-greatest copy of all time, MTI edition starring Patrick Stewart. Prize of the collection, this....more
Wow. This was just fantastic! I could hardly stand to put it down, and read the whole thing looking something like: :D
This felt so original, and everyWow. This was just fantastic! I could hardly stand to put it down, and read the whole thing looking something like: :D
This felt so original, and everything just clicked right away. From the beginning, our man Aspen’s narrative voice is dark and glittersome; he’s not entirely right, and that edge just works at you until everything starts to unfold. Which way is this guy going to go?
I love the story, I love the backstory, I loved getting to the bottom of the mysterious bits, I loved not being able to predict how these relationships would end up. I love that people get surprised, not everyone gets what they want, and they have to figure it out. The supernatural bits are explained with just the right levels of detail and magic, without too much boggy chat. The plot pacing is perfect.
Also, we really need to just acknowledge that we’ve got the best title and cover ever here. Love them so much! Aces to the publisher for going with the grim humor of it all. It fits the book so well.
It’s additionally worth saying how immensely, brilliantly different this is from the author’s previous books in the Wishing duology, which do dig into some extremely unique identity questions but also follow a pretty familiar paranormal romance trajectory. I didn’t find anything about Rocks Fall familiar, at all. This author’s turned the uniqueness up to 1100. I cannot wait to see how far she keeps going....more
So, I have loved Samantha Hunt’s writing for a long while, since I bought her first novel in 2004. I own all three of them in hardcover, which is kindSo, I have loved Samantha Hunt’s writing for a long while, since I bought her first novel in 2004. I own all three of them in hardcover, which is kind of special for me. To me, her style has always held a conciseness and glory that made every scene in her two short novels sing out. The chilly, surreal mood of The Seas overtook me when I read it, and there are scenes in The Invention of Everything Else that still take my breath away to remember. I read them and thought, “This is so beautiful that I can hardly believe how lucky I am to actually be reading it in a book.” I haven’t reread them. It’s what I remember.
A fair bit of time has passed since she published one, in 2008, and this time makes a change. This one is certainly out of a somewhat different recipe. I’m not sharp enough to be able to name what the influences are that might have shaped the style of this book for her, but something new is driving. Unfortunately, what was noticeable to me was the lack of those favorite qualities, the weird fluid lovely oddity. Bravery. But in some ways, it makes for a technically stronger novel this time around: there’s a sraightforward present-and-flashback structure that twines together, a twist ending. Style-wise, however, it felt sicker, scarier, dark in a way that made me feel gross instead of casting a spell over me. That’s up some alleys of some people; at the moment it doesn’t seem to be mine.
One interesting thing about this read is that more or less all of Cora’s half of the story is about pregnancy, and I happen to be in the middle of one. This is the first novel I’ve read during where someone is openly reflecting on what that feels like and what she thinks of it. I didn’t identify with it all but there was a kernel for me there that was unique.
Before I was pregnant, I thought carrying a baby meant knowing a baby. That’s not true. … The baby gives me a small kick, taking what’s delicate — lung tissue, tiny see-through fingers, hair fine enough to spin webs — and hardens it into a tough thing, a thing that likes it rough. It’ll grow and I will be the only one who remembers when it was unmarked and delicate as a moth.
One day it will talk to me. It will die. How is that possible?
Anyway, there are a couple of significant things that didn’t work for me in the story, and mainly it has to do with Ruth’s half. I didn’t enjoy much about the apocalyptic, controlling foster home in which she and Nat grow up (this is weird because: I love cults?), and even their relationship struck me as off. I didn’t enjoy reading about their jobs as false mediums for the dead (this is weird because: I love cons? And spooks?) and the deeper they got in freaky trouble the more turned off I felt by the details.
Also the ending.
But what I loved best, with Ruth, was the blizzard. The trio’s strange and unwise foxhole, hiding in a mansion. The cooking, the records, the falling together. There is some great magic in the book there and it warmed me.
It’s why I’m sure I’ll always buy Samantha Hunt’s books in hardcover, why I already am fascinated by what direction she will turn in next. We’re together on this, writer and reader, and I'm happy to wait for years to change, and to see her again....more
I read this book ages ago now, but I'll probably always remember reading its long, harrowing section on the RAF air raid battles while I crossed the AI read this book ages ago now, but I'll probably always remember reading its long, harrowing section on the RAF air raid battles while I crossed the Atlantic on a plane that had just been hit by lightning.
This book was given to me because "I don't know anyone who likes Life After Life more than you," said my friend, which is fair. As such, I've no objections to getting a little more of it to taste, although this book is entirely separate. I appreciate that it's a very different creature than its predecessor. There's nothing more stylistically unusual here than multiple p.o.v. This may be good -- no sense in overusing a nice trick -- but also means that what you get is essentially a normal novel about some normal English folks.
I liked the generational scope we get this time, especially the parenting challenges of each, and the sense of how the old-fashioned became the modern. I was returning from my first trip to London on that flight, which also gave a nice tinge of knowingness to the very last, contemporary bits of the novel. But in the end, I surprised myself by finding the reading hard to get through: it is depressing. And I have a rather high threshold for depressing, and I almost never make that comment, so I don't know. I just felt terrible for everyone.
But for some reason, when I think about what I liked best in this book, I just keep thinking about Teddy's vegetable garden. Thinking of his vegetable garden makes me happy. Plus the nature walks, and boring his wife about snowdrops. And his crazy self-indulgent tromp through France. And the poetry. I liked Teddy, Teddy made me happy. I'm gonna remember him.
I bought My Brilliant Friend back in November, which apparently is nearly a year ago and let's not get into what this year was like (it was interestinI bought My Brilliant Friend back in November, which apparently is nearly a year ago and let's not get into what this year was like (it was interesting). When I finished that one, I didn't think I was going to read any more! And then a few weeks ago I started stalking library listings for no. 2, signing up for libraries in boroughs I don't even live in, and one day I traveled an hour across town to pick up the one copy in the city actually on a library shelf only to discover that it had been checked out by somebody else just while I walked over. I looked at the fresh gap on the shelf and finally reflected, "I guess I do want to read this?"
Because they're strangely compelling. (To me, it is strange.) And I can't exactly understand what I do like reading them for. They make me frustrated and annoyed and sad. But I get going and then I don't want to stop reading.
The main thing I am continuing to read to figure out is why, in this story of the girls, the protagonist is Elena instead of Lina. There are superficial reasons — firstly, the author's unusual, anonymous, semi-autobiographical style here is clearly portraying a version of herself as Elena, digging into her own view of her life. Also, if Lina's perspective were the first-person, it wouldn't be a story of friendship but would focus instead on her own intense experiences. Their link, the often ugly connection between these lifelong friends, is really Elena's true subject in telling us their story. But in so doing, we watch Lina do and endure so many unbelievable things from afar that we're left sort of dazed and (for me) rather unable to really cope with all that happens to her.
What we read in these books is simultaneously so minute and so epic. A significant amount of the storytelling is not of firsthand events (as in: I am this character having this experience and you're reading while it happens) but is information recounted in one way or another. This arm's-length feeling gets uncomfortably in the way, like, get those arms out of here, I want to go in. But there is a tremendous amount of distance between us and the events, and that's what we have to swim through. We're kept busy, sorting out the boring bits, and trying not to miss the treasures.
We don't get a good look at many of these most marvelous things, and there are several different sorts of layers in the way: Elena is standing in front of our view of Lina's life and thoughts; the author is telling so many events at a distant remove; and the translator is boiling it all down into these dusty, detached words. Not being able to read an original language, it's petty to diss a translator, but I have a very hard time getting the English writing of these books to stir my emotions. I lay the blame twofold: think that Elena Ferrante is playing authorial tricks with us, keeping us aloof, and I think Ann Goldstein is keeping the prose cold and literal. It's a little bit punishing.
But amidst it all, what we get to read about is often so thrilling and, I don't know, chewy. We get adultery and violence and madness and freezing beaches under the stars. Most of all, though, a great amount of the inscrutable drama of the adults in the previous book (during which our protagonists were mostly young children) is revealed in full as a deep, vast foundation for the knotted fates and relationships our characters now all have together. Until this book reminded me, I had forgotten one of the most wonderful ideas of the first novel: the belief as they near adulthood that it is with their generation that they will change the history of their neighborhood, that they will wipe out enemies and allies alike and be new. Being the first generation to be born after the war — and thus the first to discover that the adults they know all have a hidden story — they are the ones who get to remake the world. They are already doing it, as the first novel closes. But then, now, we see.
Anyway, there's something in here, something important in the distance and the reader's fight to be close to the story. I think it's possible that other readers have this insight learned already, and I am still seeking it. I have to work for this one, like Elena studying twice as hard to succeed as a student yet always remaining on the outside. But like her, I'll press on....more
It's such an odd one, and I wasn't sure what to expect, so I think having some miPicked this up the other night for £2 outside the Vestry House Museum.
It's such an odd one, and I wasn't sure what to expect, so I think having some mixed feelings is okay. Possibly it's the one to revisit after I read all of Fitzgerald's other novels, which I pretty much intend to do, when it might do something different for me.
Fitzgerald's prose is restrained beyond belief, and whether that's typical of her style or her intentions for this work particularly I don't know how to tell yet. There's not quite enough irony in the clipped, straightforward sentences, although often they will suddenly pay off tremendously. Take the ending of the chapter about surgery prep: "Frau Winkler, waiting below on the bottom stair, had been able to hear nothing, but now her patience was rewarded." Go get yourself a sweater for those goosebumps now.
But the plot, too, has a rote feel and is vignetted into extremely short chapters, moving point-by-point through the everyday milestones of the source documents, such as diaries, Fitzgerald obviously relied upon. Fritz studies this then that, apprentices here then goes to work there. A good deal about salt mines. He does this for 100 pages before even meeting Sophie. Perhaps this is one of those reader situations where I was warped by the flap copy, because I assumed that their relationship was the focal point of the novel, and I suppose, really, it is -- but the restraint shown, again, is enormous, and I'm not certain to what effect. Not a bad one. But I haven't decided what.
Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with Novalis other than as this novel's subject. His poetry, though, is used occasionally in the text and it is breathtaking....more
Well, I'm addicted to Louise Erdrich now, this is going to go on. This is only no. 2 for me, but the rest are lining up like dominoes.
This book's notWell, I'm addicted to Louise Erdrich now, this is going to go on. This is only no. 2 for me, but the rest are lining up like dominoes.
This book's not perfect but I loved it to shreds anyway. I'm still not used to her powers; I feel like she's knocking my block straight off when she manages to do one amazing thing after another all in the same book. By the time we were spending a chapter founding a town through a frost-bitten prairie winter in the nineteenth century I was all gone, completely absorbed, I had no idea and I'd climbed right in.
As I sense is one of the author's usual m.o.'s, we get a lot of narrators in this book, which can get tricky and in my opinion is where the only loose threads here come from. For the most part we have three, though a fourth emerges at the end as a sort of surprise to wrap us up. We start with the young girl Evelina, who is less young later on, and she's spectacular. Evelina is a daughter of Clemence and granddaughter of Mooshum (thus cousin to Joe, my last Erdrich protagonist in The Round House), and mainly stays in the present helping us piece everything together although she gets a few wanders of her own. After a bit of that we get Bazil, Judge Coutts (whom I met before as Joe's father — Bazil and Geraldine marry in this book). He, however, is primarily here to reminisce, telling the story of his grandfather, letting old Shamengwa tell a story, and eventually telling of his own first love. And then, in the middle of the book, we zip over to Marn, who takes us on an intense and unbelievable and creepy journey through a cult with Billy Peace.
And it… doesn't have a lot to do with anything else, Marn's story. It's puzzling. I should really like it (cults!!) because it is written in this beautiful and nail-bitey way (how are Erdrich's books so crazy action-packed on top of all the other ways they're good?) but it is way too bright and strong a thread to be a backdrop here — it doesn't work as a short story; we need more. Way more. Marn ends her story with the words "I need to see the judge," and she means Bazil, and we know exactly what she needs to do, and it is immensely exciting, and I thought: aha! Here is the rest of our plot, and I settled in. But then we do not get to see her do it. She's more or less done. It's odd.
(However: that chapter where Marn and Evelina are together in the diner is so incredibly amazing! There's stabbing! And also it's super funny and sweet, somehow! Mooshum telling Evelina how French she looks. And his hopeless flirting in Ojibwe, Evelina translating: "He says the doctor will treat your snakebites. He's the doctor, I'm sure." MOOSHUM. Cracking me up.)
(Also is it just going to be a rule that Mooshum comes close to death in some slightly hilarious manner in every book he's in?)
I DESPERATELY WANT for there to be an outstanding chart or wiki or something on the internet somewhere delineating all of these people, places, and timelines that we get to encounter multiple times in Erdrich's writing. I want them all laid out so I can see who I will get to meet in each book and, as I want to do with Faulkner (and it was damn hard to figure it out with Faulkner!), perhaps move around the canon in order to read one family's story chronologically. This is just candy to me, it has always been pretty much my favorite type of realistic fiction, ever; I am just made for you to build your worlds in me.
Anyway, I'm pretty disappointed, because I think that if I want that to exist I'm going to have to make it myself. (Or, apparently, apprentice myself to her copy editor.) This book, which can only have been someone's literature dissertation because boy is it dense, looks pretty helpful but boy, is it dense (and only includes books to 2006).
In the end I thought this book was fantastic, but that I would have done without two or three of the side bits, which perhaps felt more like they belonged in novels of their own. Which, I guess, is the trouble with big scope; couldn't it always be bigger.
Next up I believe I'm going to have to do Tracks, because as far as I can find chronology-wise, it tells the earliest stories and I'm interested to read some that way. Then maybe Four Souls and The Beet Queen. Or do I just go back to Love Medicine and read them the way she wrote them? Help me, internet. Help.
(The Beet Queen: good DJ name or best DJ name?)...more
I came down with a cold while reading this book about an apocalyptic flu, so, that's one recommendation.
I slurped this whole thing down in about 36 hoI came down with a cold while reading this book about an apocalyptic flu, so, that's one recommendation.
I slurped this whole thing down in about 36 hours, which is not a thing I often indulge in doing with books any more. I got attached. Yesterday I began reading on a commute into town, as I typically do, but once I got there I saw a park bench and instead of going where I was going I sat down on it to read some more. Then I walked a little ways more but there was another park so I sat down in it too and read. Then I got up to go but there was a cafe in another park so I sat down there also. And I had about a mile to walk through Bloomsbury in London, of which apparently about 70% is made up of darling little parks, so it's kind of a miracle I ever got out of there.
Honestly, part of this high rating for me is just for what it felt like to spend the day in bed today, because that is where I needed to spend my day, drenched in the wonder and paranoia of this new world. I was tense as hell in the woods with Kirsten, I was grim with schadenfreude at the disbelief of the survivors watching the world fall. My own recognizable world — which has disoriented me recently, in real life, with a move to a new country and a house that's half uninhabitable (long story); until things come back to normal (a new normal) in the near future, I've got a little part of me alert in survival mode right now, making do with substitutes and oddments and distractions. This novel's premise was the kind of dystopian downfall that infected the edges of reality, so that a bit of me jumped in fear when I heard a voice or a dog bark, wondering vaguely in the back of my mind if I'd ever see my partner again or if it was already too late. I plowed through the book on purpose, I think, because I knew it wouldn't seem as good if I didn't stay hunched inside it, if I came all the way back to check the world of Facebook and text messages.
The novel itself, maybe, sort of doesn't all work at a five-star level, but I don't feel like being entirely honest about it. There's many threads and I preferred some very much to others, I saw pretty early on how the whole thing would fit together, and I had a few stray logistical questions. (view spoiler)[The jumping back and forth in time between backstory, the pandemic catastrophe itself, and the storyline 20 years afterward makes great authorial sense, but made for one of those reading experiences where you are sometimes dropped off at one point and you want to be somewhere else instead (so you keep reading!). I enjoyed the beginning so much that I was disappointed the first time I flash-forwarded to adult Kirsten and her tough, remaking world. But in fact that quickly became the only place I wanted to be, to keep unraveling the terrible and terrifying danger they are in, and I got the feeling after a while that the rest of the novel's pieces were just stalling to build the suspense there. (hide spoiler)] It didn't impair my enjoyment, though, so are they really flaws? I guess if this were the only novel to survive the end, to be found after or held on to through the obsoleting of literature itself, it might matter that it isn't perfect. So I hope it's just one of an innumerable many that make it, how about.
This book kind of made me want to go get my desert island book and carry a copy with me all the time, just in case. After all, you never know when the desert island is coming, right?
Endings are also beginnings, but let's just hold on as best we can, anyway....more
I love YA books, but I do have to admit, sadly, that “kissing” is not my best genre as a reader these days. Although saying so simultaneously brings tI love YA books, but I do have to admit, sadly, that “kissing” is not my best genre as a reader these days. Although saying so simultaneously brings to mind both “the golden gates of childhood had forever closed behind them,” and Fred Savage:
Yes, kind of! This is a kissing book, and it’s funny and there’s good characters, and a culture war to boot. Perfect fun.
Jules, the most dedicated editor of a high school paper one has ever seen outside of Paris Geller, gets blindsided in senior year by an upstart video news project of which she does not approve. Worse, her boyfriend starts working with them, a punishable offense, and pretty soon the news teams are at war.
I liked this because not only is it a cute beat-down of new media/old media’s real-world rivalry, but a prank war also brings back whiffs of Frankie Landau-Banks, which is a thing 100% of us want at all times from all books. I presume. If that’s hyperbole, let’s not speak for a little while. Particularly, I liked here that it gets escalated by both sides, that both Jules and Alex needle each other in their competition for scoops. Jules might be acting ridiculously quite often, and blowing things out of proportion from the get-go, but soon enough it’s much more than a misunderstanding driving them apart. It is war.
However, a helpful lesson learnable from multiple Amy Spalding books: do not date somebody without telling your best friend! Your best friend will be sad. Here, at least, Jules insists on a “secret relationship” due to the war! but, although she’s our narrator, we see everyone telling her: Jules! No one takes this “war” as seriously as you do. Rein it in, Jules. But Jules doesn’t. She keeps going until it blows up big time.
But that’s where Jules’s vulnerability lies, and if you care about her character you’ll care about her wacked sense of judgment where her responsibilities are concerned. We get a bit of backstory that assists us in piecing this girl together; her parents (two moms) went to lots of what she assumes was trouble in order to have and raise her, something Jules feels guilt about. She over-commits to perfection. In particular, there is a good slice of senior year college application angst, which is my #1 favorite.
Side note: this author’s books always have the very best parents in YA. Both the adult and teen characters are always great. It’s a nice touch, for this old fart who’s too lame for lots of kissing books. <3...more
Feeling generous with my five stars, these last couple days. There was so much I loved about this book, all the way through, that really only got inteFeeling generous with my five stars, these last couple days. There was so much I loved about this book, all the way through, that really only got interrupted right at the end. That end! This was a book club pick where it was just not okay for anyone to show up without having finished the last page!
Some people have said: this book isn't sure what it is trying to be. There's some genre mystery, at first, until that sort of goes away. There's some revenge crime. Quite a bit of coming-of-age. Folklore. A decades-long cultural picture of the Anishinaabe reservation town. There's tropes from all sorts, and none specifically from beginning to end. I guess this reads as messy to some, but it didn't to me. Not when the book is this awesome, and not when I enjoyed it all so, so much.
First of all, something is wrong with me and I had never known of Louise Erdrich before somebody selected that we read this one. This is only her fourteenth extremely well-received novel, so, that's understandable, right? Also, she is doing so many things I love in her work. The Faulkner-esque way her characters fit together through each of the novels into family histories, generations, into a town, is one of my favorite uses of literature. I read just one and feel the universe is unfolding its secrets to me. So in a way, this book being great was enough to make a lifelong fan of me, because I want all those secrets, every one. I'll wend my way to more of them, undoubtedly.
Here's what I loved about this one: our young narrator Joe's family, to whom something awful happens, was so loving and real to me. Both his father and his mother were great characters. The way they struggled to cope together, and individually, and managed not to break completely moved me a lot. I felt that the initial plot, of the brutal attack and rape of Joe's mother, was handled well: a woman retreating after a trauma can be a way for her reality to be swept under the rug of the narrative while her men take care of her, but I felt that she emerged at just the right time to prevent this cliche. She airs her story out quite thoroughly (perhaps too thoroughly, for Joe), and though she isn't the main character, we see her recover in a realistic way as the story deepens.
What's it deepen into? One of my favorite threads that emerged is the backstory of the white characters, Linda and Linden, twins with a birth story worthy of a folktale but who are simply our characters' neighbors. I loved the actual folktales of Nanapush (seen previously in Erdrich's novel Tracks) via Joe's loony grandfather, and the ghost. I loved Joe's friends, geeks on a mission. I loved the soldier-priest, letting them watch Alien through the window. And I loved Sonja, and the money.
It deepens into a whole lot more, too, spoilers for which I'm just going to leave out of the review, I think. The finale is hugely shocking and upsetting. I was sure, certain, that someone would stop it from happening. Once I had to really watch it happen — and then the double shocker that comes at the very end — I didn't really know what to think. To my surprise, it all impeded my enthusiasm a bit. It's almost too big to settle. I think I have different feelings about the ending than I do for the rest of the novel. But it probably is one of those stories that couldn't have ended with anything less....more
Yeah. You know what? You know what? There it is, boom, five stars, I love it, we did it. We did it!
I really liked everything that happened in this booYeah. You know what? You know what? There it is, boom, five stars, I love it, we did it. We did it!
I really liked everything that happened in this book. And that felt like a relief, like finally, achievement unlocked! Each of the other books has something, a caper, a subplot, or yet another Polyjuice Potion that I waited patiently with as it went on and on. But this book really did it: in all, all, all the hundreds of pages of lead-time going down before That Ending, it all flowed nice and crisp from one slightly dreadful thing into another. The pace and tone kept an emotional logic. It was really, really good. And, almost, like its own separate novel. (It's really easy to see why it seemed natural to make two movies.) I truly loved the first 80% of this book, and then, pretty much, I watched patiently through the end until I could say it was all over.
Let's break down some of those great things, in order of how awesomely they spring to mind:
* The wedding. It's such a good beginning. And it sets everyone in motion, which I also loved, the escapes and endless tense traveling, with the tent and all.
* Godric's Hollow. I loved it there. I love Harry's sad little reckoning with the graves of his parents, and the memorial set up at their house, and then the terrifying encounter they flee from.
* The Ministry of Magic. This episode really impressed me, because it's leaning on several things that aren't the strongest for me: the Muggle-born hearing could easily sail over the top. And Polyjuice, again? But they were put into such frightening effect that I was thrilled it happened and totally anxious and sad. (It's kinda good when books make me sad? Idk?)
* Malfoy Manor. BELLATRIX. That is all.
* Every thing where Luna and Neville were there. The Room of Requirement and the D.-frickin'-A.
The extended mythology of this book, like the Deathly Hallows themselves, and Dumbledore's backstory, were all well and good. And certainly, we needed them, because those are the gifts that keep on giving once the reading's all over. The element I enjoyed the most was Harry's keeping an eye on V-mort's frantic search, figuring out what he's after, figuring out how scared to be. But what really did it for me, reading-wise, were how good all these scenes themselves were, around all the information.
The utter epicness of the Battle of Hogwarts is rather overwhelming. Like a Russell T. Davies series finale, it's one of those deals where every single thing and person needs to show up and be dealt with and have an extended reverie and then deaths and the whole hundred and nine yards. It's a lot. Not all of it worked for me, but that's okay. I'm not a battle type, I'm a staring-morosely-at-gravestones type, so we got me covered way earlier. It's cool.
But, so, I didn't get particularly emotional about any of these things going on, which is sort of too bad because it's doing a lot, with a lot of people I cared for. Only ONE THING created a small particle of a salty tear in my eye. (view spoiler)[Although it is the most ridiculous thing ever to watch Snape dyingly draw blue wispy memories out of his brains with his wand and then immediately expire, AND although it's also ridiculous to then go and spend twenty minutes of a raging battle watching a movie in the Pensieve, I rather loved the very adult and tragic gesture of Snape letting Harry finally have the story. It's a humiliating one, as far as Snape is concerned. We know how fiercely he was embarrassed by it, and it's such a sad little surrender to make with your final act, to let your guard all the way down forever. In general Snape always had my heart, though his actual presentation in the series could have been a million times subtler. But I get it, and I like him, a lot. (hide spoiler)]
And the very very end… it's okay. (And the Epilogue, I know, I know.)
Overall. Overall. What do I think. What did I like. Basically I'm obsessed with the First Wizarding War as it is apparently known. It is some of the coolest backstory of anything, I really like it. It annoys me a lot that there aren't real stories to have about it. Because I kinda think I like its story better than our whole latter-day series, here. Or rather, it's the sadder, grown-up story that I wish we could have more of. For, y'know, the sad grownup in us.
Related, not surprising that the adult women made the biggest heroic impression for me, meaning, McGonagall is #1 forever (Molly Weasley a near but distinct second).
Also, I started a whole email thread with Lindsay to help me process my feelings about Remus Lupin and I MAY NEED TO UPDATE once I have finished, you know. My Lupin Feelings.
A few evenings after I finished this book, I walked past a little boy playing on his front stoop in my neighborhood. He was out there in the dark, practicing his "Wingardium Leviosa!!!!" as heartily as he possibly could....more