before Ohhh this book is like my favorite hoodie—threadbare and falling apart but so so soft and comfy, with all those little stains and patches as swbefore Ohhh this book is like my favorite hoodie—threadbare and falling apart but so so soft and comfy, with all those little stains and patches as sweet reminders of long ago. Love love love love this book...
after Well yes, I do love this book as much as ever, but I was actually kind of surprised at how different it was from the last time I read it, oh, five or six years ago. Here are some reflections (in list form, because I'm feeling lazy):
1. I am still terribly and utterly in love with Duncan, who was I believe my very first literary crush, when I was like fifteen. But some of the magic is gone this time. He's gotten a little clichéd with over-reading, I guess? (I've easily read this ten times.)
2. I was really surprised how steeped in fifties mentality and early feminist theory it was. Marian has to quit her job when they find out she's getting married, for example, and this is accepted placidly as normal. Huh?
3. While the story is totally awesome and the characters are incredibly great, the most important element (for me) of any Margaret Atwood book is always the stunning stunning language, which was not so much on display here. This was (I'm pretty sure) her first published novel, but she was a poet before that, and so it's not like she didn't already know how to turn like the most beautiful phrases ever.
4. The whole "not eating" thing... Gosh, I'd remembered it being like the whole book, this agonizing descent, food item by food item, into essential starvation, but actually she doesn't even stop eating meat until like a third of the way through the book.
5. Also, I remembered being totally on Marian's side when she goes sort of crazy, but this time she really did seem a bit more hysterical, a bit less a victim of oppressive and destabilizing circumstances.
6. Also WTF, I was so bummed that (minor spoiler, I guess, if you care) Ainslie wound up deciding to get married after all—even trying to get Len to marry her! Blaugh. (Again, though, this was written in, what, the mid-fifties or early sixties? So what do I know.)
7. It made me really upset to realize, about halfway through, that I am older than these characters. If not all of them, at least most. I don't really feel like going into why this was so disconcerting, but it was, staggeringly....more
I unearthed this book from the very bottom of a very large stack as a possible candidate to read to my sister while she was recovering from surgery (bI unearthed this book from the very bottom of a very large stack as a possible candidate to read to my sister while she was recovering from surgery (broke her fucking jaw). We chose Alice in Wonderland instead, but then I thought I'd maybe glance at this one, which I haven't read in years.
Um, I think – with the possible exception of The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan – that this may well be the funniest book ever written. I read only eleven pages over a cigarette and found myself laughing – out loud – three times. How often does that happen? Not ever, actually.
This book is extraordinary. Truly, it is so clever, so silly, so warm and sweet. And so funny!! Did I mention that? It's a book of stunning minutia, where the seemingly simplest things – a Little League game, getting a new dog, making a family dinner, finding a missing sneaker – really just bubble with life and love and joy and fun. Shirley Jackson has just got an impeccable ear for speech and an unsurpassable sense of story, rendering with stunning deftness detailed conversations with her children (in all their non-sequiturian glory) and the many hilarious episodes in her family's day-to-day small-town life. It is absolutely mind-boggling to think that this kind, sweet, gentle, sarcastic woman is the same person from whose brain sprung "The Lottery" and other such disturbing pieces.
Here's the cast. Shirley herself, a very poised, often self-deprecating but extremely perceptive wife and mother of four. Her husband, an English professor at a nearby women's college, coin collector, and extremely sarcastic wit, who is regularly bewildered by his entire family. Then the kids: Laurie, about thirteen, the protective older brother who loves baseball and building stuff and is always being fined by his dad for pronouncing things to be 'real cool' or 'flipped'; Jannie, maybe ten, in her mind a future beauty queen (or princess, hopefully), who is quite smart and often funny; Sally, about five, who speaks in the most delicious "odd jangling manner", which usually means repeating the central theme of each sentence at its end, as in, "Laurie is on his bike, and Jannie has been eaten by bears, eaten"; and finally Barry, two, whose constant companion is a blue teddy bear named Dikidiki.
And look, I should mention that this is not the kind of book I would ever think to read. I mean, it's a memoir by a fifties housewife about life with her family in a small town in Vermont. I hate the perceived preciousness of small-town life. I hate women who think their little babies' foibles are worth transcribing in agonizing detail. And I really hate – or am at least made distinctly uncomfortable by – fifties housewives who simper and obsique, describe themselves as 'helpless little women', and defer to their husbands on everything. Truth be told, I have absolutely no idea what possessed me to pick this up in the first place, given the above. But honestly? None of that matters. Shirley Jackson is just brilliant, in every way, and I don't care what she's writing about – it's just so much fun to listen to and be a part of. I did wind up deciding to read a few little selections to my sister – just a paragraph or two here or there – but each time I started, she didn't let me stop for twenty or thirty pages! I'm avoiding transcribing passages here for the same reason: if I started, I'd have to type up the whole damn book. Shirley Jackson is just superb....more
This is another book that makes me want to go back through and knock down all my five-star ratings, so it can be in a class all its own. Honestly andThis is another book that makes me want to go back through and knock down all my five-star ratings, so it can be in a class all its own. Honestly and truly one of the most astonishingly beautiful things I've ever read.
Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is a memoir of sorts. Cortázar (the most devastatingly brilliant author of modern times, if you didn't know) and his wife Carol decide to spend thirty-odd days living on the highway connecting Paris to Marseille (for a local reference, it seems rather like the New Jersey Turnpike), in their red Volkswagen van named Fafner, going to two rest areas each day. They set up camp (as it were) at each one, finding the best picnic table at which to write, eat, talk, and lounge in the sun, taking time to explore the wilds of each locale. It's written as a travelog, with a list of how many shops, bathrooms, trees, waste bins, etc., etc., etc. can be found in each, and they include things like the temperature, which direction Fafner faces, and what they eat each day.
If this sounds a little childish and silly, that's exactly the point. Cortázar is a literary icon, an undeniable genius, but here we see him only as a man, a boyish man at that, impish and gleeful and silly, and his wonderful wife the same. It is just these two people, relishing the strangeness of the world in which they've decided to live, and the sheer joy of one another's company. It is absolutely stunning to witness the immense sense of wonder that they bring to even the most mundane endeavors, how much joy and love suffuses each of their days. This book encompases so much more than insipid handles like memoir or essay; it is a love story to each other, to friends, to every day, to the amazement that is the world. I realize I may have hazed into corniness here, but this book is like nothing else. It's like spending a month in a van with two of the most fascinating, happy, brilliant people you'll never be lucky enough to meet.
If I could, I would send a copy of this book to everyone I have ever loved, and everyone who needs to be reminded of how thrilling the world can be.
I just saw this movie (which was terrible) so of course I had to re-read the book. Other than the fact that I adore this book, and every time I read iI just saw this movie (which was terrible) so of course I had to re-read the book. Other than the fact that I adore this book, and every time I read it I am re-struck by how great it is, the coolest thing is that I've read the same copy maybe five time over like six years. So as I read it, I also get a tiny re-reading of myself reading, because there are overlays of six years of margin-scrawl that I get to discover, laughing at my 16-yr-old self writing things like 'aaah!' and 'oh, wow', and little stars and exclamation points in three different colors. The cover is falling off, too, and almost every page is dog-eared....more
Oh oh oh it almost hurts me how much I love this book. Baricco can make anything, anything into gorgeousness.
City is a brilliant amalgam of stories,Oh oh oh it almost hurts me how much I love this book. Baricco can make anything, anything into gorgeousness.
City is a brilliant amalgam of stories, including a comic book, a boxing match, lectures by myriad professors on things like curves in nature or Monet's Waterlillies or intellectual dishonesty, and of course the main story, which is about a boy-genius, his two imaginary friends (a giant and a bald mute), his absent military father and his institutionalized mother, and his kooky fantastic governess who is writing a Western. Yes yes, a Western, which in itself is maybe one of the most beautiful, clever stories I have ever read.
I. Love. This. Book.
Good grief go out and get a copy and read it already....more
post-read: Well I had to knock it down a star on this read (count: maybe four?) because I forgot just how very Jewish every single Philip Roth book ispost-read: Well I had to knock it down a star on this read (count: maybe four?) because I forgot just how very Jewish every single Philip Roth book is, but I still really adore this one. All told in unattributed dialogue, with snappy cool conversations and great, sexy characters. Plus it was my first-ever taste of meta when I read it in high school – the chapter where the wife is grilling the husband as to whether the woman he's conducting an affair with in his study is real or imaginary, plus then later conversations with the woman herself about the book we are still reading... Oh it's great. I think Roth has become a bit of a cliché lately, all letch and Jew-ery and old-man-ness, but I will always always love this book.
pre-read I've been flouncing around, starting book after book and being unsatisfied. Well, that's why I have a 'perennial favorites' shelf!...more
It pretty much breaks my heart to knock this book down from five stars to four, but that's the chance you take when you re-read something that you lovIt pretty much breaks my heart to knock this book down from five stars to four, but that's the chance you take when you re-read something that you loved many years ago. The book is still great, of course, with an outstandingly original premise (a library for books people write one copy of, that will never ever get published, let alone read by anyone else), and the characters are super... But it just wasn't as knock-out fantastic this time as it was when I was nineteen....more
I almost can't believe how dazzling this book is. In Watermelon Sugar is 138 pages long — many of which are half pages at best — and yet manages to whI almost can't believe how dazzling this book is. In Watermelon Sugar is 138 pages long — many of which are half pages at best — and yet manages to whip up a stunning, strange, surreal little world, full of sad, sweet characters and shockingly beautiful images.
It's the simplest little story: two lovers, a scorned ex-girlfriend, an old-timer who lights the lanterns on the bridges, a chef who cooks nothing but carrots. The whole book takes place in a few days, in a tiny little town where everything (houses, statues, dishes, clothes, etc.) is made of watermelon sugar.
Oh, and the sun shines a different color every day of the week, so the watermelon sugar is different colors depending on the day it was made. On Sundays the sun is not only black but soundless, and everything is silent until the sun sets.
In addition to the statues of vegetables all around the town, there's a trout hatchery, the Forgotten Works, the abandoned bridge, a restaurant, and a huge lake, with couches on the beach. When anyone in town dies, they are put in a glass coffin which is lined with foxfire and sunk into the lake, where it glows and glows and glows.
I know a lot of people hate Brautigan pretty rabidly, but those people are obviously missing some kind of cog or other soul mechanism that fosters the appreciation of strange, sad beauty....more
As for the story itself, it was entitled "The Dancing Fool." Like so many Trout stories, it was about a tragic failure tWhy Kurt Vonnegut is a genius:
As for the story itself, it was entitled "The Dancing Fool." Like so many Trout stories, it was about a tragic failure to communicate.
Here was the plot: A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and how cancer could be cured. He brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farts and tap dancing.
Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golfclub....more
Reading Kelly Link makes me wonder why anyone else ever tries to write anything. Honestly.
I mean, I'm sorry to have to say this to all the people whoReading Kelly Link makes me wonder why anyone else ever tries to write anything. Honestly.
I mean, I'm sorry to have to say this to all the people who write short stories and everything, but "Stone Animals" is the absolute very best short story that has ever been written. Oh, wait, except for "Lull"; that is actually the very best short story that has ever been written ever. I can't decide, but anyway, the rest of the writing world should just give it up, nothing can top this book.
Honestly I can't even do a real review of Magic for Beginners, or any Kelly Link. I love it and her too much, and there's nothing I can say that doesn't sound shoddy and trite and silly. So bah, I won't try.
But if you haven't read this book, there is a huge sad gaping hole in your life that you don't even know about. ...more
I just read this again for IDK like the 10th time. It is my favorite book of all time ever and I'd like to tell you about it.
I think what I'm actuallI just read this again for IDK like the 10th time. It is my favorite book of all time ever and I'd like to tell you about it.
I think what I'm actually going to do is like a CliffNotes sort of thing, where I tell you first a few reasons why this book is nearly impossible to read the first time, then give you the cast of characters and a few things they do, so that if you do try to read it, you'll have some hope of figuring out what's going on before you're 3/4 of the way through.
I suppose that means this'll be kind of spoilery? I mean it's really not that kind of book, but if you want to go into it blind, you should probably just not read this review at all.
Okay here we go. The first thing that's important to know is that Cortázar does this thing with time where it does not go the way it's supposed to, like in a way everything in the book happens all at once, in a clearly impossible way. So it opens on Juan alone on Christmas Eve at a subpar restaurant having just bought a book and in the process of getting diligently drunk, and someone else in the restaurant says something that reminds him of a series of things that he reminisces about -- except that it'll be clear later that those things haven't really happened yet, and not in the order he remembers them anyway. It's like this wild Möbius strip where everything is an eternal present and is also all in the past. So there's that at first.
Second, this is really just a book about a bunch of super-smart, super-silly, super-cosmopolitan friends; they all travel all the time for work and for play, and most of the book takes place in their various hotel rooms or bars or cafés in Paris or Oslo or Barcelona. But then also laid over all of this as a semi-comprehensible patina is the City, like the ur-city maybe, where everyone sometimes slips into on their respective journeys, and everyone seems to have a moment or a mission there that they are constantly reliving or trying to complete, and sometimes they run into each other and other times they are endlessly fruitlessly searching and never finding what or whom they're meant to.
Third, several of the characters are never really explained, like for ex. Osvaldo you find out many pages in is actually a pet snail, and I think Feuille Morte is a bird although I'm not certain. Then there's a character called "my paredros," which, like the City, is not exactly one person but a composite person, or maybe it's each of them at different times. So they'll say things like "my paredros said," but when Juan says it he might mean Polanco, and when Nicole says it she might mean Calac, or maybe they all have an imaginary friend in common that everyone believes in together.
Finally fourth, he does this thing which by the third read I adored but at first I just found so jarring, which is that he switches from third person to first person all the time, often in the middle of a sentence. And especially at the start when you don't know who these people are or what they're like, it's just about impossible to know who's narrating when.
Okay those are the disclaimers. Are you still with me? Because here are the characters.
Juan He's the Cortázar stand-in, surely. He's ruggedly handsome (actually I don't know if he's ever physically described, but in my head he's devastatingly gorgeous because Juan is exactly the boy I always and forever will unreachably fall in love with). He's from Buenos Aires and works as a U.N. interpreter and so is always in new cities being exhausted by an endless barrage of words. For most of the course of this book he's in Vienna with Tell, his "crazy Danish girl." He's in desperate, aching, unrequited love with Hélène.
Tell She is this fabulous redheaded Danish marvel, very independent and fun and demanding. She knows Juan isn't in love with her and she's perfectly happy to be his vixen for a little while when the whim takes her. Together they have a lot of sex and drink a lot of wine and have an adventure with a vampire (maybe). Tell is fiercely protective of her friends, especially Nicole. At one point she sends a doll to Hélène that has something mysterious and dirty in it, which has severe ramifications.
Nicole She's French. Her boyfriend Marrast calls her "the Malcontent." She's quiet and mournful and an artist; through most of the book she's illustrating a children's book about gnomes. She's in desperate, aching, unrequited love with Juan. Things with Marrast are bad, and eventually she will do something about it, which I won't tell you because that does feel spoilery. When she's in the City there are red houses and high sidewalks and everything is despair.
Marrast Also French, and darkly hilarious, and an overly smart sculptor. He does three things mostly in the book: 1. Make a gigantic commissioned sculpture for the town of Arcuile that's a deconstruction of what a sculpture should be in that it has its pedestal on top and the sculpture itself on the bottom, 2. Talks and talks and talks and drinks and talks and mourns the dissolution of his relationship with Nicole without being able to do anything about it, and 3. Crafts this elaborate sort-of prank involving a random painting in an art gallery, a host of Anonymous Neurotics, and an unidentified plant sprig.
Calac & Polanco Argentinian BFFs. These two could easily be dismissed as comic relief, which is often the role they fill -- Polanco, for ex, works at a nursery school with a lake and has inherited a canoe and unattached motor; the first time we meet him he's in a hotel room with an electric razor submerged in porridge because he thinks if he can keep it running, that will bode well for his soon-to-be-motorized canoe not tipping him out into the lake. He and Calac often speak in their own made-up language that is unparsable but still you get the idea. They're not just comic relief, but their levity always comes in at just the right moments when things have got too heavy.
Celia She's a fairly daffy young English girl who runs away from home and is very angstily sad. I can't go into what happens between her and Hélene, sorry. Eventually she winds up with Austin.
Austin He begins as an Anonymous Neurotic, then becomes Marrast's French pupil, and winds up almost inadvertently as a major agent of the plot. Prior to that there's a hilarious episode where he describes sleeping with French girls who have huge elaborate hairdos and will only fuck in positions that will not get their heads anywhere near a pillow.
Hélène The most mysterious figure in the group; she's an anesthesiologist and has a catastrophic hospital encounter with a young boy who reminds her of Juan. She might be evil actually, I can't say for sure. Her recurrence in the City has her always walking and walking, holding a package tied with a yellow cord that gets heavier and heavier, but she can't put it down until she gets where she's going, which of course she never does.
I don't know, I thought laying that all out would prove that this is one of the most difficult but also the most beautiful and strange book that exists, but I'm not sure that's what happened.
All I have left to say is this: This book is magic, magic, magic; on every page, in every line, shot through every twistedly long and nearly un-parse-able sentence. One day I will meet someone who loves it as much as I do, and we will read it back and forth, bit by bit, over and over every day for the rest our lives. ...more
Ooooh this book is so good. It's fun, funny, and clever; and it's a super-quick read that's worth every second spent. Apparently in France this book iOoooh this book is so good. It's fun, funny, and clever; and it's a super-quick read that's worth every second spent. Apparently in France this book is to Raymond Queneau as Lolita is to Nabokov, i.e. a seemingly simple, widely accessible, and wildly popular novel by an otherwise very intellectual, somewhat unapproachable genius. For whatever that's worth. In any case, this book is phenomenally good. A perfect Sunday-afternoon read....more
One of my all time most beloved books. Showing that, though there may be nothing new under the sun, there are still some unbearably brilliant writersOne of my all time most beloved books. Showing that, though there may be nothing new under the sun, there are still some unbearably brilliant writers that can make something seem shockingly original.
There are two narratives in this book, one which is in 2nd person, so that You, the Reader, become the protagonist. So You are reading the newest book by Italo Calvino, when You suddenly turn the page to find that another book's text has been mistakenly inserted in the middle of the story. You go back to the bookstore to exchange the book, and are given another copy, only to find an entirely different story, and also meet the Other Reader. The books proceeds like this, alternating between the story of You and the Other Reader, and the stalled openings of several different novels.
There is still a wide-eyed teenager living inside me, and this book makes my melty twee little heart break and sing in equal measure. When I was 16 anThere is still a wide-eyed teenager living inside me, and this book makes my melty twee little heart break and sing in equal measure. When I was 16 and read it for the first time, that was as close to a transcendental experience as I've ever had. Since then, I have re-read it roughly twenty thousand times, always whenever I need to just submerge myself in drenching beauty and angst....more
According to the endorsement on the back of the 50th anniversary edition, this is the book that launched the Beat Generation. I have no comment on thaAccording to the endorsement on the back of the 50th anniversary edition, this is the book that launched the Beat Generation. I have no comment on that, but it's a gritty, unforgiving story of artists and junkies in the Village in the '50s. Phenomenal dialogue and characters, stunning depictions of a long-gone New York, aching and gorgeous and harrowing and beautiful, and pretty consistently heartbreaking... I'm running out of adjectives here but seriously, I adore this book and have read it three times.
And guys, again? No one else has reviewed this book! And only like four people have even rated it! What is going on??...more