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
Received a used copy of this from a reseller, with a souvenir photo from North Carolina Aquariums showing five teenage girls being dramatically eatenReceived a used copy of this from a reseller, with a souvenir photo from North Carolina Aquariums showing five teenage girls being dramatically eaten by a green-screen shark, stuck in as a bookmark before Chapter 8.
Found this at More Than Words Bookstore & Cafe in Waltham, MA which is my new favorite thing in the entire world, honestly, can we all have these,Found this at More Than Words Bookstore & Cafe in Waltham, MA which is my new favorite thing in the entire world, honestly, can we all have these, please.
This is an ex-library copy out of the Cambridge Public Library, with stickers all over it from last year's Cambridge Reads event....more
Impulse buy at More Than Words Bookstore & Cafe in Waltham, MA which is my new favorite thing in the entire world, honestly, can we all have theseImpulse buy at More Than Words Bookstore & Cafe in Waltham, MA which is my new favorite thing in the entire world, honestly, can we all have these, please.
This copy has the impression of someone's signature on the soft front cover, as if they'd used the book as a pad while signing their name on something one day. But it's centered and straight, and makes me wonder if it was a deliberate, subtle way of this girl marking the books in her library, like a bookplate. (Then, apparently, sending some off into the world without her.)...more
I just saw this title while looking up the author, and realized that I read this during college but remember almost nothing about it. I didn't enjoy mI just saw this title while looking up the author, and realized that I read this during college but remember almost nothing about it. I didn't enjoy most of the reading I did for that class, on colonialism in literature, but I don't know whether my reading of twelve years ago was to blame, or the book list really wasn't for me. I think I'd probably rather try something new from that area before specifically revisiting them. (Or maybe, today, I am cranky!)...more
This book. I didn't think I loved it too much. But I have noticed that it placed some things inside me that have stayed. They're me now. I'm very gratThis book. I didn't think I loved it too much. But I have noticed that it placed some things inside me that have stayed. They're me now. I'm very grateful for the places I get my ideas and knowledge from, and this was a great book for that. I will always round up for that. That makes it a keeper.
I think, for me, this book is more important in chunks. As a whole, it felt puzzling — it's a book of raw materials. It took a while to reach me. And this was confusing, because there is a lot of feeling at the surface level, here. We have dual narratives, Ruth the author (actual Ruth the author) and Nao the diarist, and in the novel, both of them are in crisis. Nao, in particular, is experiencing some real horrors in the chapters of hers we share, and declares herself on the brink of suicide. Ruth, having found this diary, weaves its contents into all the painful and confusing questions of her own life and identity that she is experiencing. These are some pretty good feelings, in a book, but they didn't come to me easily.
And it's really because of the stuff. They are burdened with it. The dual narratives are themselves about so, so many things, and each thing grows its own space, subdivided and subdivided until the feelings that you expect you're reading about become ideas instead. That's what my experience was. But the ideas are not small, or even digestible at all; they are lifelong, and I feel the awe of gratitude to this book for getting me to think (and feel) them.
So I don't think I'm using this review space to try and explain what happens and why. That's not what was interesting for me, or what I connected to, so instead we're gonna talk about ideas.
Nao's story ends up mining far into her past, and some of my favorite elements here were about things one and two generations older than her. We learn about the literature of feminism that came out of Japan's brief democratic period in the early 20th century. The text name-checks the work of several women writers: Kanno Sugako, who wrote Reflections on the Way to the Gallows after conspiring to assassinate the emperor with a bomb; Fumiko Enchi, a novelist and playwright; Akiko Yosano, a poet and social reformer. (The bibliography also points me to Hiratsuka Raicho, suffragist and founder of a feminist literary journal.) In addition to how impressive and relatively obscure these thought leaders were, I was also introduced to the concept of the "I-novel," a form of reflective fiction that seems to be rather masculine in its extant works, but in this book is all wrapped up amongst these women. (More sourcesabout it in the bibliography, too.)
Nao learns about these things because her great-grandmother Jiko ran with this crowd, was a writer, was an activist. When her son Haruki died as a kamikaze pilot in the war, she left those things and became a nun. Now, when she teaches Nao, they are all fitting together: she says, the feminist poets, the Zen, it will all make you strong. SUPAPAWA!
By far the most emotional segment of the book comes from this kamikaze pilot, Haruki. He gets mentioned a lot (Nao's father is named after him), but the real exploration of him comes so deep and late in the novel that it almost feels like it constitutes a spoiler. Which is what's so strange about this book — it opens up in ways that make emotions feel like spoilers. But, the things we learn from this section are wondrous, the conscripted student soldiers, writing to us as they prepare to die. We get to see several writings that belonged to Haruki, and diaries like these are very real things. And that is pretty stunning. A novel about this subject, listed in the bibliography, appears to be extremely hard to track down. … Which is kind of fitting.
In some ways, the novel is about the impermanence of information and truth. If you erase something, if it's digital, is it still real? Ruth spends a good amount of time in this book Googling, desperate for information about the innermost souls of people she is observing from afar. Does she have a right to know? What was the true intention of a kamikaze pilot? If you write for someone but don't know who your reader will be (hello, internet!), are they a real person yet? If you pretend a teenage girl doesn't exist, will she die?
How, how, how can we talk about this book. There are thirty more things to discuss. I've got all day. I'll just pick one though.
It's Zen Buddhism! Okay. Ozeki, in real life, is ordained as a priest, and so her teaching in the book has the heft of good authority. Nao spends a lot of time talking about it. Her great-grandmother is her rock, and this great-grandmother is a nun in a remote mountain temple, and that's that.
Nao's time visiting Jiko's temple was my favorite event in the book. It felt special to me. She goes there tortured and raw, and therefore so, so open, and she doesn't know it. But she follows the rules, she makes the full-body bows of gratitude for every single thing, and she learns. It's her tool for healing. She does zazen. It helps.
I finished reading the second half of this book in one afternoon, ostensibly because my book club met soon, but mostly because that day I felt too peaceful to stop. I felt so lucky! It was so kind of the world to let me read. I watched the clouds moving by outside my window, the afternoon light changing, me reading. How many moments are in a fingersnap?
I will admit that lately I have been seeking. I have been finding teachers everywhere. Recently I saw the "Do Nothing For 2 Minutes" website. And it is a joke of course, a whole website for this, Ha, ha, I don't need a website in order to accomplish nothing for two minutes, thanks though! But then you go there and it says "FAIL" right away, and you're like wait, just a second, I don't want to fail. I didn't know it was a real test. You're really watching me, website? You are holding me accountable? You really want me to succeed at this? Me? I'm just somebody stupid. But no, this is in my power! The key is that it's nothing! Anybody can do nothing. What do I even have to give up, how much am I holding on to, this minute? Isn't this "nothing" about attachment, really? Isn't this website like a little zen master for the internet?
I mean, probably not. But I like to be optimistic sometimes? Question mark?
One day at the temple, it all starts to "click" for Nao, and she admits that she said thank you to the toilet. And she's like, wow, I just thanked a toilet? But actually I do appreciate it a lot?
The other day, in my real life, I did this with a stepstool in the kitchen where I'm short, and I accomplished something up on a high shelf and I felt good, so when I put the stepstool back I said "Thank you, stepstool, I appreciate what you do for me!" And then I was like, wow, I just thanked a stepstool. But actually I do appreciate it a lot.
So that's where we are, me and this book. A teacher, I think, is a good thing to have....more
Jo Ann Beard was one of my favorite discoveries of 2013 (though I entirely owe the "discovering" to Sara), so I of course had to snatch up the first oJo Ann Beard was one of my favorite discoveries of 2013 (though I entirely owe the "discovering" to Sara), so I of course had to snatch up the first of her two published books, as well. It is eating me up that there are only two!
This one is straightforward memoir, in short essay pieces. Her form really is creative nonfiction, memory-plumbing and storytelling. Although she published her more recent book In Zanesville as a novel, a large portion of that material is not-at-all veiled borrowings from her self. Which is fine. I think that's interesting. The writing's so good, call it whatever you want. Let it spring from wherever you get it from.
Anyway, what I mean is that it didn't surprise me to encounter the atmosphere of her life (especially her childhood) in this book; it felt familiar and I was glad to be closer to it with this writing, even though so much of the storytelling is so very uncomfortable. I definitely have a threshold for uncomfortable, and a few of these toed that line (mostly her bleak dating years) when there wasn't enough counterweight of something else, irony or affection.
But she is one of those writers with one hell of a gift for writing childhood, nailing the really mean and really funny details. She remembers (or at least extrapolates) enough to bring us back there to what children do and don't get about what goes on, and meanwhile keeps her adult eye always on her parents. Being able to contextualize your parents will always be one of the most fascinating things about adulthood to me. I think one's parents are a mystery you will never truly crack even though you have every clue. I collect so many clues. Does everyone feel that way, or is it just me? When a really good writer writes about their parents, I believe everyone does.
About half of the stories here are about being young (sometimes very, very young); feelings about big sisters, cousins, toys. The other half are about her adulthood, particularly her marriage and divorce, the story of which is sprinkled all throughout.
By the end, I was invested enough that I wished there was something more of a through-narrative to tell me all the missing details of her personal history. But that's impossible, in a collection of short pieces, and I'm a nosy person who likes details even if the teller doesn't want to show them to me. So that's not the author's fault. I never really consider it a criticism when I love something in a book so much that I just want a lot more than it has to give me.
About some particular pieces:
"The Fourth State of Matter" is such a good piece it would be worth buying a book for by itself, but as good luck has it you can already read that one for free. (I already wrote about it a couple of months ago.)
"The Family Hour" was the other jaw-drop standout for me, a stunner from her childhood that reads very close to the novelized family elements from In Zanesville, with the added horror-twinge of it being definitely from real memories. The sewer grate, the beer bottle, the back door. This story was amazing.
"Out There" was a brilliant and brief one about powering through a terrifying experience on a long trip. It reminded me of a segment out of Wild. The facts of it made a good story all on its own, but it's her way of showing the background that gives it weight. Us knowing where her head was reminds us that we never really know where anyone else's head is while they do anything. Which is cool, but isolating, and also sometimes people are terrifying.
The title piece is really long, bringing up the last fifty pages. It's about her friendship with her best friend, weaving stories from middle school up to their current relationship. Something about the way that their adult friendship is written made me laugh so, so hard a bunch of times. It's like the way she writes the blunt blindness of kids, only they're grownups so it's even funnier and sadder at the same time. I loved it. Also, for some reason lately there's nothing I like better than stories about sneaking around at night (I don't know) and this has a great one.
And definitely can't let this go without mentioning my other favorite character Hal, which was Jo's favorite doll when she was three, who figures significantly into a short Preface to the book as well as the longer story "Bulldozing the Baby." (Jo Ann Beard, I love you, but your titles.)
So what now? I don't know. These days, the author appears to have (what is hopefully) a nice teaching job at Sarah Lawrence, but her faculty page isn't up to date with publications, and she has no proper website. So she's just a person! What. That's fine. I would just be excited if there were more to go around. I'm so into this writer, you guys, and I can't quite handle the fact that she hasn't had a wide and prolific publishing career.
So I had Google do some homework and did my best to come up with a little Internet Bibliography for Jo Ann Beard.
Firstly, there are some pieces out there that are from this book:
* "Maybe It Happened." Memoir. (O Magazine, 2008.) You can read this for free! But it's very slight, almost like a teaser for another story. * "All the Many Beasts." Reporting. (Byliner, 1998.) Paywalled, with a free trial. Also with a little use of caching… * "Undertaker, Please Drive Slow." Reporting. (Tin House, 2002.) Only available by hard copy back issue. Looks unbearably depressing, anyway. * "Werner." Reporting. (Tin House, 2006.) Only available by hard copy back issue. I really want to read this one! It's also anthologized in The Best American Essays 2007, in case for some reason one ever runs into a copy of that....more
So, if I really really want to read the Snopes family, I think what I do is start here: Abner during the war, plus Colonel Sartoris after whom he nameSo, if I really really want to read the Snopes family, I think what I do is start here: Abner during the war, plus Colonel Sartoris after whom he named his little son in "Barn Burning".
Project: find a decent reading chronology for all the Yoknapatawpha families, my goodness this seems harder than it should be.
What I think it is, for Snopes:
1. The Unvanquished, pub. 1938, set ca. 1862 2. Flags in the Dust (not Sartoris), pub. 1929 originally, set ca. 1919* 3. "Barn Burning", pub. 1939, set ca. 1895 4. The Hamlet, pub. 1940, set ca. OMG why can't anyplace tell me this? But it is definitely post-Sarty and probably pre-1900. 5. The Town, pub. 1957 (!) 6. The Mansion, pub. 1959
* I know this is out of order but I gotta nail down the setting of the trilogy; also it's about the Sartorises really but I'm counting them.
Although Flem apparently shows up like six other places and basically the whole entire place is lousy with Snopeses, it seems like this covers the bases.
The opening line of this novel is the novel. Its whole wicked anatomy is exposed to us, right there:
"The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny hThe opening line of this novel is the novel. Its whole wicked anatomy is exposed to us, right there:
"The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation."
I came back to this line over and over, while I read. I started using it as a meter. I would frequently flip back to see the wording again, and check where I was, with some impatience and some dread. Three things, this sentence tells us, are bound to happen:
1. Bunny will be dead. 2. Several weeks will pass. 3. An understanding will come. Gravely.
And so. In actuality, this outline turns out to only describe the second half of the novel, which we realize quite easily, because we do not fulfill milestone #1 for quite a while. Bunny is there. Unbelievable, awful Bunny, one of the gang for a long good time. How amazing it is to create a book that works like this, where while reading the first half we cannot imagine Bunny not being part of it, and later, in the aftermath, it's hard to believe he really was, that we knew him really. It feels like a trick, a misty time paradox. Like irrevocable real life transitions do.
Once this book starts getting where it's going, it carries us off with incredibly lovely, sinister motion, mystifying and enthralling. Our protagonist Richard, getting into the mysterious Greek department at college, and the glow of the friendship in it. But these people are also dark, and fight like family, and there's a flighty skittish feeling around the truth. They keep lots of things hidden from Richard. They're all captivating people, though, and I love seeing them through this dense, horrible connection they have to one another for this awful year. (Mainly: Francis. <3) The great exposition of the first half that we get at last, the (view spoiler)[goddamned Bacchanalia(hide spoiler)], is just wretchedly gorgeous; I read it three times.
But then, strangely, I kind of feel like we peak. It's weird, knowing what comes next — see, again, the opening line. I keep almost making an unfortunate simile, but let's leave it to say it's like when something pleasant goes on for a long while after your fun is past. Things get undeniably nuts once again when the ending is closer, but the middle felt sort of torpid and rigid. Once Bunny is dead — even beforehand, since we know it will decidedly happen — there's a lot of hurry up and waiting, for a lot of the remainder. You're upset! We're all upset. See everyone upset. Watch them all lie to our face. Wait for them to drink themselves to death, if nothing else.
The way our tweedy, upper-crusty characters wear their selves so well, it's easy to misplace them into a different setting; probably England, probably sometime quaint like the fifties. We forget they are only twenty years old. But then we're reminded — usually through Richard and his penchant for normality, contemporary dorm life and keg parties — that everyone else there is just basically a college student. Studying saccharine subjects like Elementary Education. How small everybody else looks to us, after being with these people the whole time. It kind of reminded me of the movie Brick, the way each clique at school is an opaque underworld, full of secrets and danger (and a not inconsiderable drug trade).
Richard is in sort of a weird position for a protagonist in this story. He misses, basically, half of everything important that happens — maybe more, considering how many secrets get kept. At the end, does he even know everything? (view spoiler)[What was up with Henry signing over his car to him? Wasn't this supposed to somehow be part of some plot to snag Richard in a trap if need be? Right? (hide spoiler)] He's a loner, an outsider even while he's in, with one foot still left in the "phenomenal" (as Julian would say) world. He's our observer. And some of what he sees is irreplaceable. He has a few experiences without the rest of them that can't be dismissed as pointless, though they don't do a whole lot to the plot. His winter break is one of the most grim, striking chapters in the whole book, and he spends most of it all alone, on the brink of freezing to death, hallucinating himself to sleep in the snow. This chapter doesn't really mean anything, but reminds us how unreliable Richard's perspective and decisions are. He spends so much of his first semester lying to people, fabricating a background we know is untrue. There's a little bit of Ishmael in him: we assume we trust him, our narrator, but who even is he?
I also loved the weird mystique of Julian, his cult of personality — the letter from Orwell, the photo with Marilyn. Lifestyles of the rich and famous Classics scholars. But he wasn't used quite the way I expected, and ultimately he was too elusive to impact me much anyway. In the beginning, when we hear of the secretive professor who never opens his door and only accepts five students in his department, it sounds like: what is he doing with them?! But it isn't him at all. Not at all.
It was funny to me, thinking of this book in 1992. In some ways it could have been about any period of college life in the decades preceding the internet. Handwritten assignments and payphones. Other details gave it right away; hilariously, mentions of shoes of all things were what did it the most for me: high-top sneakers, clog shoes. (CLOG SHOES. Their spirits now torn from the paradise of forgetting they existed!) It's surprising to me that I didn't know about this book until a year or so ago. I'm not sure why, since of course once I knew of it, it was everywhere (and then The Goldfinch happened). Hat-tip to Punk's review of Tana French's book The Likeness (a book I also read) for explaining it, and no kidding, there are our characters transplanted off into a different book. (A less good book, but one that scratches a similar itch.)
Ultimately, I didn't feel that this was one of my favorites, but it's gotten under my skin anyway. The spooky little details of it. Henry and his saucer of milk. Charles and all the cars. Camilla and the deer. Francis, beckoning "like Saint John the Baptist." And Bunny, and the typewriter.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
So far, I have really liked these books better in retrospect. For three of them in a row, I've been ultimately let down by how high my expectations weSo far, I have really liked these books better in retrospect. For three of them in a row, I've been ultimately let down by how high my expectations were. Man, people really talk these books up, don't they? It's been interesting. This one fits well, though, with the set so far. Three books that are fun to read about screwed-up people having feelings and solving crimes. I love all those things. Yet it's important to me that the feelings mean a lot. I always want the feelings to mean more. It's what elevates this whole detective genre, for me, into something special enough to make them unique.
Well, that, and a crime worth investigating. I think I just did not manage to connect to this one. The case was too cold. Frank's connection to it was too sappy. (view spoiler)[I didn't care whether it would turn out that his girlfriend had stood him up or not, all those years ago. The discovery that maybe they could have been living happily ever after for all this time — she didn't leave you, she got killed! — is not that stunning or special or impressive or I don't know. (hide spoiler)] I didn't care very much about what Frank cared about. Murder is bad, of course — surely, sure! — but without something drenching it with layers and layers of other problems and implications and frustration and pain and tangles, I don't really get the point of it as a story. I'm not only about the twists and turns, though those are the popcorn and candy you get to have along the way. To me they're an ingredient and not a main course.
For the author, the point of middle-aged Frank digging into a cold case from his youth is to bring him back there to face stuff he left behind. But maybe this just did not zap me where I was meant to be zapped. He's from a bad background and a real rough family, off a street where they don't like cops none. He's divorced from someone a lot classier and working on co-parenting and custody agreements off in that world. These things sort of mush up together into something like a character conflict, but not as much as it should to make it worthwhile. I even was making up silly Greek tragedian theories that would make this all go deeper, and ultimately mean more. But I think, to me personally, it just was the least interesting story of the series so far.
But the thing that shone wonderfully here was Frank's family, the one he re-encounters after a few decades of purposeful distance. Every one of those characters was great, and I loved how important they were to the book. He's got both living parents and four siblings and they're all still there. And Frank is so, so uncomfortable with it. He goes home but he's trying to prove stuff to people left and right. The scenes with his siblings — that long one in the bar — made the book worth reading. I loved them. I loved the twists and folds in between them, the family members. The subject that gets touched on, about abuse and protection and who in a family has it "worst," is amazing and heated and I was a little disappointed it didn't have a more plausible connection to the actual detective-ing. In fact, after getting invested in all of these Mackeys, the actual resolution to the story was deflating.
Frank himself was okay? It's fun to have a rowdy narrator sometimes who is able to punch people in the face when he feels like it. But he's not really my guy. He's too tough to root for. He's a real a-hole a lot of the time, and not just to be funny but to be mean. It's sad that he's troubled and lonely, but I don't care enough about his armchair psychoanalysis. Sarah Brown wrote a review (of the following book), which describes Frank's narration (in this book) as "a bit maudlin, like it was written by the Shane MacGowan character from Fairytale of New York." Even though we feel pretty differently about the books… at the moment, this is the funniest thing I've ever heard. She hit a nail on the damn head.
I'd say that I'll remember this more fondly a few months from now, but since I'm so far behind on reviews I've already finished the next book, too, and loved it. It's something special. So. Perceptions are shifting, series-wise, but in the best possible way.
Besides, a few months from now I'll have book five in my hands, and that's all I'll care about. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Got a used copy in the mail today, inscribed to or by what might be "Alan Carre, 6 November 1985, San Francisco." There's a word before the 6, "deu" mGot a used copy in the mail today, inscribed to or by what might be "Alan Carre, 6 November 1985, San Francisco." There's a word before the 6, "deu" maybe? It probably isn't English, considering the date format.
Had a hand-illustrated bookmark inside from The Iliad Bookshop of North Hollywood, at its old address, which makes it eight years old at the least. It's real cute and looks older. "Art by Racer."
Yes, yes. Found this in the $1 racks at The Strand, and it's a sign! I've been thinking about rereading it really often lately, and needing to own a cYes, yes. Found this in the $1 racks at The Strand, and it's a sign! I've been thinking about rereading it really often lately, and needing to own a copy. I'm so glad!
This book made a really, really big impression on me in 12th grade. I was the only person in class who liked it, and I didn't only like it, I loved it. I read it at least twice around that time.
In terms of my reading habits, I'm much better suited to read it again now. I have the trepidation of rereading a youthful favorite, though. If I don't like this any more I'll be genuinely sad.
I don't own a copy any more, either, which is a problem....more