This book was a favorite of a great friend of mine (who gifted it to me in high school, incidentally) and I just now decided to dip back into it becau...moreThis book was a favorite of a great friend of mine (who gifted it to me in high school, incidentally) and I just now decided to dip back into it because I've been trying to do more narrative non-fiction reading and White's essay "Death of a Pig" was referenced by two different authors (Geraldine Brooks and Ian Reid) during a writing workshop I attended in the spring.
There are some lovely essays here—the paean to the pig, yes, but I was also in a bit of a country mode and really enjoyed "Coon Tree" (the bit where he realizes that his poetical description of how raccoons descend from trees is actually just how this one raccoon descends is great) and "The Eye of Edna." And, of course, I have a great soft spot for "Here is New York" with its nearly perfect first line, "On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy."
You do have to be in a mood for 'ol E.B., however, as he can be a great curmudgeon, grumbling about punctuation marks and those galdurn politicians and rambling on at length about his old wood fire stove and The Way Things Were. This isn't to say he's not a nice curmudgeon—he's a curmudgeon I would have gladly spent time with. But sometimes he takes on a sort of muttering, folksy provincialism that can be quite trying.
All the same, a wonderful—and instructive—collection when you're in the mood. (less)
My first John Dickson Carr novel—a Christmas gift bought for the express purpose of being fitting reading for a few days in a country cabin, which it...moreMy first John Dickson Carr novel—a Christmas gift bought for the express purpose of being fitting reading for a few days in a country cabin, which it very much was. Loads of melodrama (gasping, running toward one's lover just to touch hands before turning and running back in the other direction, be-veiled ghosts, passionate embraces, needlessly complicated back story...), and lots of exposition and character explanation delivered through feverish dialog. Take for example, the introduction that the the hefty, enigmatic Dr. Gideon Fell receives, upon his arrival half way through the book:
'For the ordinary case,' interrupted Nick Barclay with an air of dazzling inspiration, 'he'd be no earthly good at all. It's the hundredth instance where he scores. I never met him until tonight, but I've heard all about him. He's the cross-eyed marksman who hits the game without aiming at it; he's the scatterbrained diver you send into murky waters. His special talent is useful only in a case so crazy that nobody else can understand it.'
And even better is the abundance of amazing exclamations from the good doctor, my favorite being, "O Lord! O Bacchus! O my ancient hat!"(less)
It is always a pleasant surprise to confirm—or reconfirm, as the case may be—that that great author that “everyone” says is so good, or that “everyone...moreIt is always a pleasant surprise to confirm—or reconfirm, as the case may be—that that great author that “everyone” says is so good, or that “everyone” is made to read in high school or college, or that Time has declared to be Important, is actually, sincerely worth the hype. So it happens that I’ve had it reconfirmed for myself this year that J.D. Salinger is, yes: really, incredibly good.
I enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, but I actually read it too late (it wasn’t actually assigned to me in high school, when I really should have read it), and so it maybe hasn't been on the top of my Very Favorites list. Then I loved Franny and Zoey, which still stands as one of those books that I can read over and over, as I always remember loving it, but forget all the details, so then re-read it again and love it all over. Having just finished Nine Stories for the first time, I think it will be one of the latter kinds of books. I may not remember all of the details of each story, but I think the tone of the book will stick with me, and I will undoubtedly read and love it again in the future.
What stood out for me during this reading, stretched out over more than a month, is that I found myself constantly wanting to read little sections or snatches of dialog or wry observations out loud. Not only does Salinger just have an amazing talent for biting dialog which just sounds great to hear spoken, his turns of phrase also just tickle you (me) in a way which makes you want to share it. So it’s in this spirit that I’ve gone back through and found particularly quotable lines to share "aloud."
“A Perfect Day for a Banana Fish”
She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing.
“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”
”Well, wudga marry him for, then?” Mary Jane said.
“Oh, God, I don’t know. He told me he loved Jane Austen. He told me her books meant a great deal to him. That’s exactly what he said. I found out after we were married that he hadn’t even read one of her books. You know who his favorite author is?”
Mary Jane shook her head.
“L. Manning Vines. Ever hear of him?”
“Neither did I. Neither did anybody else. He wrote a book about four men who starved to death in Alaska. Lew doesn’t remember the name of it, but it’s the most beautifully written book he’s ever read. Christ! He isn’t even honest enough to come right out and say he liked it because it was about four guys who starved to death in an igloo or something. He has to say it was beautifully written.”
“Just Before the War with the Eskimos”
Ginnie openly considered Selena the biggest drip at Miss Basehoar’s—a school ostensibly abounding with fair-sized drips—but at the same time she had never known anyone like Selena for bringing a fresh can of tennis balls.
“What happened?” Ginnie asked, looking at him.
“Oh…it’s too long a story. I never bore people I haven’t known for at least a thousand years.”
“For Esme—with Love and Squalor”
”I thought Americans despised tea,” she said.
It wasn’t the observation of a smart aleck but that of a truth-lover or a statistics-lover.
“Yes; quite,” said my guest, in the clear, unmistakable voice of a small-talk detester.
He sighed heavily and said, “Christ, Almighty.” It meant nothing; it was Army.
Loretta was Clay’s girl. They meant to get married at their earliest convenience. She wrote to him fairly regularly, from a paradise of triple exclamation points and inaccurate observations.
Clay stared at him for a moment, then said, rather vividly, as if he were the bearer of exceptionally good news, “I wrote Loretta you had a nervous breakdown."
“Yeah. She’s interested as hell in all that stuff. She’s majoring in psychology.” Clay stretched himself out on the bed, shoes included. “You know what she said? She said nobody gets a nervous breakdown just from the war and all. She says you probably were unstable like, your whole goddamn life.
X bridged his hands over his eyes—the light over the bed seemed to be blinding him—and said that Loretta’s insight into things was always a joy.
“You know that apple Adam ate in the Garden of Eden, referred to in the Bible?” he asked. “You know what in that apple? Logic. Logic and intellectual stuff…I never saw such a bunch of apple-eaters,” he said. He shook his head.
My first Elmore Leonard book, and great fun. I knew going in that Leonard has an ear for dialog, but that didn't make it any less of a delight. And it...moreMy first Elmore Leonard book, and great fun. I knew going in that Leonard has an ear for dialog, but that didn't make it any less of a delight. And it's not even that he has an ear for New York mobster dialog, or Hollywood schmuck dialog, although he certainly does. But I would say more that Leonard creates his own internal speech patterns--characters throughout the book drop verbs in much the same way, elide their sentences in a way that flows nicely together and works naturally for spoken dialog. It's fast to read, and fun to read, and pretty much everyone is very clever. You want to read it out loud, because it just sounds great in your head.
There are some really nice plot digressions and complications which make the story nice and twisty (I love the backstory with Chili's leather jacket and standing grudge with Ray Bones), but all ends are tied very satisfactorily by the end. And not in a way that feels cheap, either--just a way that makes you a bit giggly for how darn clever it was.
Leonard makes this kind of writing seem effortless, but it isn't easy to write a book like this: smart dialog, humor, plot thickenings, well-developed characters, and irony that never feels cheap. The only thing I might say that I thought was a bit forced was foreshadowing the climax on the balcony. But this is small stuff. (less)
A beautiful collection, sometimes funny and wryly observant, sometimes disturbing, sometimes just a bit sad. The language is clean and accessible. I r...moreA beautiful collection, sometimes funny and wryly observant, sometimes disturbing, sometimes just a bit sad. The language is clean and accessible. I read the whole thing in one sitting and think I will be re-reading it soon. (less)
I just read this in the original serialized version which is still available on The Guardian website (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/...)....moreI just read this in the original serialized version which is still available on The Guardian website (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/...). The story is a loving, quasi-Gothic paen to literature, to the act of reading, to librarians and librarianship, to library school, to memory. There are moments when it doesn't totally hang together or sort of veers off a little, which makes me wonder how much of the story the author had planned out ahead of time, and?or whether she was writing it as it was actually being published. Also, I sort of saw where the ending was going and am not totally convinced by how the story wrapped up (it was a bit more despairing than completely made sense to me), but I enjoyed The Night Bookmobile overall.
(But honestly, what librarian wouldn't enjoy a story about one's own personal archive with everything one has ever read traveling around in a mobile home, and which includes the line, "Like a pregnant woman eating for two, I read for myself and the librarian..."? I ask you.)
I've never read one of Niffenegger's novels, so I wonder how the writing here--vocabulary, phrasing, etc.--compares to those longer works. She seems very comfortable in a graphic medium, though: her artwork here is fluid, nicely colored, and very clean. And I'm sure it would be rewarding to examine each page more closely, to check out book titles, etc. Niffenegger's sense of how to divide space and manage the story in each panel is also really great. I appreciated the alternations between full-page illustrations with large blocks of text and pages which were creatively divided into many small boxes or which had a large figure overlapping smaller panels. It made for a dynamic way to tell the story.(less)