First of all, this is the quickest read ever. It says it's 180 pages, but there are so many gaps between paragraphs that it's probably close to half oFirst of all, this is the quickest read ever. It says it's 180 pages, but there are so many gaps between paragraphs that it's probably close to half of that. I picked it up after hearing good things and because it's on the short list for the Tournament of Books, which is a pretty reliable source of great fiction.
I'm not quite sure how to characterize this book, though. It's a novel, I guess, but it doesn't read like one. It's more akin to opening a box of assorted photos and sifting through them, with each representing a paragraph or two. For example, this is one page (or, I think so, given I was reading on my Kindle):
People keep telling me to do yoga. I tried it once at the place down the street. The only part I liked was the part at the end when the teacher covered you with a blanket and you got to pretend you were dead for ten minutes. "Where is that second novel?" the head of my department asks me. "Tick tock. Tick tock."
We used to call her Little.Little, come here, we'd say. Little, unhand the cat, but one day she won't let us. "I am big," she says and her face is stormy.
My old boss calls me to ask if I am looking for work. A rich man he knows needs someone to ghostwrite his book about the history of the space program. "The job pays well," he says, "but the guy's a total dick." I tell my husband about it. Yes, yes, yes, he says. It turns out we're running low on money for diapers and beer and potato chips.
What Fitzgerald said: Once the phial was full--here is the bottle it came in. Hold on, there's a drop left there ... No, it was just the way the light fell.
So, what is it about? A marriage. The child that marriage brings about. Bed bugs. Infidelity. The intricacies of relationships and how we relate to each other. It is real and raw, like eavesdropping on the people at the neighboring table and feeling slightly guilty about starting to know too much about them, but unable to stop. It switches between first person and third in a way that is jarring, but completely understandable.
The husband and wife whisper-fight now in the gloves-off approved way. She calls him a coward. He calls her a bitch. But still they aren’t that good at it yet. Sometimes one or the other stops in the middle and offers the other a cookie or a drink.
I will absolutely read it again, and I never do that....more
This book has a lot of hype surrounding it. A LOT. I knew it wouldn't quite measure up to the praise I'd heard, and yet I was still expecting a bit moThis book has a lot of hype surrounding it. A LOT. I knew it wouldn't quite measure up to the praise I'd heard, and yet I was still expecting a bit more, to rip through it in a flash. Don't get me wrong, I liked the story and the writing (I'll get to that later), but it still wasn't without its flaws. Well, mostly one flaw: the narrative structure.
Does a 530-page book need 178 chapters? That seems excessive. Each one averages about three pages, and the point of view switches between them, so it took me a long time for me to get into the flow of the story and start connecting to the characters. I enjoy books that shift focus between different plots that eventually come together (for the most part), but this was such an extreme example. Thank goodness there were only a few characters to keep track of! Also, the short chapters made it easy for me to put down at almost any time, so it was easy to only read two to ten pages in a sitting.
That said, it's a lovely book. A very lovely book. Some of the descriptions were maybe a bit flowery for me, but overall I can see why there are so many singing its praises.
“To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air. Marie-Laure can sit in an attic high above the street and hear lilies rustling in marshes two miles away. She hears Americans scurry across farm fields, directing their huge cannons at the smoke of Saint-Malo; she hears families sniffling around hurricane lamps in cellars, crows hopping from pile to pile, flies landing on corpses in ditches; she hears the tamarinds shiver and the jays shriek and the dune grass burn; ... she hears the bones of dead whales stir five leagues below, their marrow offering a century of food for cities of creatures who will live their whole lives and never once see a photon sent from the sun. She hears her snails in the grotto drag their bodies over the rocks.”
I definitely recommend it to those who like historical fiction, especially WWII fiction, and those drawn to stories that are less about a fast plot and more about characterization, motivation, and emotion. You will find that here in spades.
This was a fast-paced read, and the main reason I gave it four stars as opposed to three is because it was engrossing enough for me to get through quiThis was a fast-paced read, and the main reason I gave it four stars as opposed to three is because it was engrossing enough for me to get through quickly. The story is told through three perspectives, and let me just say that none of them are good people. Well, they are flawed, at least. There was hardly anyone to root for, and mostly I just kept reading to find out what happened. There's some pretty good writing here, though, so it wasn't just plot, plot, plot like other thrillers.
UPDATE: Okay, changing my rating to three stars, based on the fact that I haven't been recommending it to anyone....more
Miranda July, you wonderfully weird creature. This book is probably one of the craziest things I've ever read, but it works, absolutely and completelyMiranda July, you wonderfully weird creature. This book is probably one of the craziest things I've ever read, but it works, absolutely and completely. She crafts sentences that make you think the world was missing something until they were written. She finds genuine humor in the sadness, and poignancy in the mundane.
"I wondered how many other women had sat on this toilet and stared at this floor. Each of them the center of their own world, all of them yearning for someone to put their love into so they could see their love, see that they had it."
"If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have?"
And, of course, it wouldn't be the same if I wasn't scarred for life by a piece of her work. (Has anyone else seen "Me and You and Everyone We Know"? Then you know what I'm talking about.) I really hope none of my fellow bus riders were reading over my shoulder during the odd, explicit sex parts. As uncomfortable as they often were to read, though, they were so often bookended by incredible passages that pulled me right back into the story.
In summary, it was amazing, though not without its cringeworthy moments. But they aren't cringeworthy because they are bad; they are cringeworthy because people are weird and flawed and real, and it's rare to see that in such a transparent way....more
I feel like the lone person who didn't love love love this book. But it's true, I didn't. I liked it fine and was interested in the storyline, but cerI feel like the lone person who didn't love love love this book. But it's true, I didn't. I liked it fine and was interested in the storyline, but certain things lost me. The philosophical musings seemed...cloying? Is that the right word? There was plenty of dialog that did come across as realistic to me, but so much seemed over-the-top and put there specifically for the reader, to bate them into thinking it was better than it was. Of course, it's entirely possible that I thought this because I am completely cynical. I will admit that much.
Is it weird that Isaac was my favorite part? I loved that guy, and his friendship with Gus. What a good example of bro love.
Anyway, my rating is more like 3.5 than 3, but I couldn't round up this time....more
My rating is more like a 3.5 stars, but I rounded to 4 because so much of the book kept me engaged and flying through it. The slight downgrade from 4My rating is more like a 3.5 stars, but I rounded to 4 because so much of the book kept me engaged and flying through it. The slight downgrade from 4 stars is because I'm a little disappointed that after it started so strong, I got lost a bit in the ending. I found myself skimming through the last pages, just wanting to be done. I think it became a little too meta for me or something. But that's really only the last 50 pages or so, and up until then, the book is pretty strong....more
Grace's Guide is exactly what it sets out to be. And it is wonderful for that fact. Five Grace's Faces!
I only discovered Grace's YouTube channel in MaGrace's Guide is exactly what it sets out to be. And it is wonderful for that fact. Five Grace's Faces!
I only discovered Grace's YouTube channel in March of this year while doing whatever I could to avoid cleaning my condo (because I'm an adult!). I had been watching Hannah Hart's "My Drunk Kitchen" on an off for a few years, but somehow the hilarious weirdo Grace Helbig had never crossed my (twisty, turny) path on the Internets. And, well, let's just say that as soon as I found her, I wasted a LOT of hours watching her give often impractical, sometimes useful, and always entertaining tips.
This book is her videos in written form, plain and simple. It reads a lot like when she's talking to the camera, and that's not a bad thing at all. It feels very stream-of-consciousness (and was?) and authentic. Now, I might not really in the target audience for this book being 29, because supposedly I should have my shit together by now, but guess what! Much like Grace, I'm just kind of figuring out this whole being a grown-up thing through trial and a lot of error. (See: the comment above about procrastinating during cleaning, as well as regularly eating Craisins or Skinny Pop for dinner.) I felt like I could relate to a lot of her experiences, from struggling with social situations to trying to trick myself into being productive. She gets more personal than she has in her videos, and it was reassuring to know that others go through the same stuff, including the hard stuff.
I was kind of wavering between whether to give this four or five stars, and here's why I went with the latter. For me to give a book five stars, sometI was kind of wavering between whether to give this four or five stars, and here's why I went with the latter. For me to give a book five stars, something has to stick with me long after I turn that last page, and I think this book will do that. I finished the last 60 pages at Starbucks, got up, stopped next door to buy the author's first short story collection, and then continued walking down the street listening to music, all the while Ava's naive, 13-year-old voice lingered in my head.
The story centers around the Bigtrees, an alligator wrestling "tribe" in Florida that owns and performs in a tourist attraction called Swamplandia! After their mother—the park's main draw—dies of cancer, each of the Bigtrees withdraws in different ways, while Ava, the youngest, tries to hold the center together. She sees herself as an alligator wrestler through and through, and attempts to maintain whatever sense of normalcy and strength she can while her world crumbles around her: tourists stop coming, her father leaves on a long trip to try to save the park, and her sister Osceola retreats into an obsessive relationship with a teenage ghost. At the same time, her brother Kiwi tries to prove that he is the genius he always thought he was by leaving for school and to earn money to save his family's home. (These sections of the narrative alternate with Ava's and are told in third person. I liked them, but thought Ava's story/voice was stronger.)
I would say one thing that actually annoyed me was a very minor structure problem. Early-ish in the book she mentions a place called Last Ditch, and then later explains it as if mentioning it for the first time. The same thing happened when describing the Four Pilots of the Apocalypse and their maleleuca-seed destruction.
There were several passages I really liked:
“Stars slid away like rain, she was gone so long."
“But she shook her head sharply and I felt pained now, too, like I was the one hurting her. Ossie's hurt was an airborne virus, it could travel at you fast as a sneeze.”
“…somehow I wasn't adding up right anymore. My parts weren't summing into myself.”
“When you are a kid, you don't know yet that a secret, like an animal, can evolve. Like an animal, a secret can develop a self-preserving intelligence. Shaglike, mute and thick, a knowledge with a fur: your secret.”
“But until we are old ladies—a cypress age, a Sawtooth age—I will continue to link arms with her, in public, in private, in a panic of love.”
I'm officially a Karen Russell fan now, after recently finishing her latest short story collection, as well. I'm excited to read her first one and her new novella soon!...more
Okay, my rating is really more like 4.5 stars. Dang, Karen Russell is one fantastic writer, and it's weird to me how polarizing her work appears to beOkay, my rating is really more like 4.5 stars. Dang, Karen Russell is one fantastic writer, and it's weird to me how polarizing her work appears to be. Yes, the stories are quirky, (I mean, one is about a barn full of horses with the consciousnesses of former U.S. presidents), but she pulls them off, and they're completely engrossing. The last two stories weren't as good--in my opinion, anyway--but it is still a great collection, overall. I had been unsure about reading Swamplandia! due to seeing very mixed reviews, but I'm definitely going to give it a try based on my experience with this....more
It can be very hard for me to choose a book for vacation reading. I don't won't to read complete fluff, but I also don't want to read anything super h It can be very hard for me to choose a book for vacation reading. I don't won't to read complete fluff, but I also don't want to read anything super heavy or demanding. The Martian had been on my to-read list for a few weeks, and it turned out to be exactly what I wanted for reading with my feet in the pool and a beer (or several) in my hand. Now, that's not to say The Martian is light, but it is suspenseful and I flew through it. The premise, essentially, is that Mark Watney is an astronaut on a mission to Mars when his team encounters a strong storm and evacuates. He is injured during the course of events and left for dead. But he wasn't dead, and now he's stranded with no communications, trying to figure out how to survive and get the hell back to Earth. Of course, astronauts are smart people, and Watney is no exception. A mechanical engineer and botanist, he has the skills and knowledge to extend his survival odds. It's a hugely imaginative novel, but at the same time incredibly logical. Told primarily through a series of logs, there's a lot of science involved, but also so much humor, such as:
“Things are finally going my way. In fact, they’re going great! I have a chance to live after all!” immediately followed by a log entry beginning, “I’m fucked, and I’m gonna die!"
“Plastic might not burn, but anyone who’s played with a balloon know it’s great at building up static charge. Once I do that, I should be able to make a spark just by touching a metal tool. Fun fact: This is exactly how the Apollo 1 crew died. Wish me luck!"
I had no idea what was going to happen to Watney, and had to find out. Whenever the story cut to one of the peripheral characters, I just wanted it to switch back to Watney’s point of view, with his witty quips and foreign—and yet totally human—predicament. There’s a lot of nerdy math and science (he is an engineer, after all), but you just have to run with it and see what happens. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for something unique, quick and completely entertaining....more