To me, this was surprisingly sentimental, even arguably kind of sweet.
Read all in one day, so I guess I must've liked it? Immediately thought of two (...moreTo me, this was surprisingly sentimental, even arguably kind of sweet.
Read all in one day, so I guess I must've liked it? Immediately thought of two (male) friends I want to make read this, but I really wouldn't recommend it to most people so please don't read it on my account unless specifically instructed.(less)
Unlike every other thinking, literate person in the western world, I somehow never got around to reading Graham Greene (except The Power and the Glory...moreUnlike every other thinking, literate person in the western world, I somehow never got around to reading Graham Greene (except The Power and the Glory, which I liked, for school). I knew that I'd need to correct this embarrassing deficiency of mine at some point, and since every red-blooded human who's ever read The End of the Affair loves it, this seemed like a good place to start.
However, to my great surprise and undying shame, I HATED THIS BOOK. I mean I loathed it. I read a lot of it, trying to finish, just to make sure, but at a certain point I just couldn't go on anymore. While I did like the post-war setting, the characters and premise just seemed so unbelievably boring and juvenile and irrelevant to me that reading them made me feel like I was choking. I felt like I might have liked the book if I were a lot younger and going through some traumatic breakup. Being a tortured agnostic or someone who cares about God stuff at all also may have helped, but I've read books about faith that I loved (e.g., Gilead), so that can't be the whole problem. I've also loved tons of novels about whiny, unappealing characters with problems I can't relate to at all, so I'm really not sure what the problem was here. Everyone else on the planet loves this book, so clearly there's something wrong with me.(less)
Today was Julie Otsuka day at Jessica's house. This morning I read her amazing short story "Diem Perdidi" and cried my eyes out; I just hadn't been th...moreToday was Julie Otsuka day at Jessica's house. This morning I read her amazing short story "Diem Perdidi" and cried my eyes out; I just hadn't been that moved by fiction in a long time. That story is about a woman's mother who has dementia. It's told in the second person, with the "you" being the daughter, in a very repetitive structure that follows the formula "She remembers this... She does not remember that..." throughout, to document not just the mother's decline but her entire life. It was the kind of fiction that stings you all the way through to your core with that conviction as you're reading it that the story is true. Not just true as in taken from real life, but much truer than that, true in the way fiction can be that memoir and history can't. Seriously impressed, I resolved when I was done to read one of Otsuka's novels as soon as I got around to it, which I knew might mean not at all, because I'm bad about that.
But then later on this afternoon while walking around my new neighborhood, I happened upon a bookstore, which is not a common event here in Miami. They didn't have many books, but they did have this one, so I bought it and spent the rest of the day sucking it down.
I loved this book. It had a lot in common with her short story, which I loved even more. Both use point of view in a way that should be MFAed-out and gimmicky, but that instead totally works. This short novel is told in the first person plural, from the perspective of the Issei women who immigrated as "picture brides" from Japan to California around the turn of the last century. While I was especially awed by the first two thirds of the book and felt the internment material was slightly less strong, this whole novel was great and embodied much of what I love most about fiction. It took historical truth -- a historical truth I'm somewhat familiar with, but no expert on -- and made it true for me, in beautiful language and with a clarity of vision and carefully crafted narrative structure that turned what was obviously a ton of research into far more than the sum of its parts.
I grew up in the Bay Area but haven't really lived there as an adult, so it was interesting to read this and realize that I haven't thought much about Japanese immigration and internment for awhile. As a kid, I had classmates whose grandparents had been interned, and it felt very recent and present. But since I've left California, it's not something that I feel comes up very much, even in the context of post-2001 prejudice against Arabs and Muslims (Otsuka does something effective to emphasize that connection here). Reading this made me recall where my existing understanding of internment and Japanese-American history mostly came from, which was the Yoshiko Uchida chapter books that I read as a kid. That's what I mean about why I love fiction: knowing historical facts is important, but feeling empathy for the people of the past requires that you imagine yourself in their place, which is a magic trick that fiction was designed to do. It can remind us of what's happened, which is very important, but it can also make us care, which is another level altogether. As a child, the experience of the Japanese-American girls in Uchida's fiction felt very vital and real to me, so I took for granted that their history was important. Reading Otsuka's novel today, these women whom I have far less in common with than Uchida's heroines seem so real that I can imagine something of what their lives might have been like. I've never left my family and everything I know to cross the world to something terrifying and dangerous and strange, and of course I don't actually know what that's like. But this book got me closer than I've been before at being able to imagine it, and helped me think more not just about Japanese mail-order brides over a hundred years ago, but about the experience of immigration more broadly.
The majority of Americans have immigration stories in our families, and those belonging to groups who might not do have histories of oppression and injustice. That universality, combined with the lovely specificity of Otsuka's prose and the unique characteristics of the Japanese experience, are a lot of what makes this novel work. I loved the way there was no "I" in this story, only "some of us" and "one of us..." There aren't more books written that way because it's very hard to pull off, but the story of this group was told so well here that it was more moving and powerful than it ever could have been had it artificially been restricted to just one or a few women.
I'm an emotional reader, so it's no surprise that I lost it and cried pretty much throughout the whole book. My only major complaint is minor, and it's that I hate the title. I guess it's not that horrible, by itself, but it definitely does not match the very high level of the book's content. It sounds like something her editor made up, but maybe that's just me, and I have to say something negative because otherwise this review will be too gushy.
Anyway, highly recommended. Gonna read her other novel, which is about internment -- this one actually wasn't. Really,this was about the lives of women who left very limited, difficult lives in patriarchal, misogynistic Japan to live very limited, difficult lives in the patriarchal, prejudiced United States. I guess the book sounds like a drag phrased like that, but it wasn't.(less)
I bought this today at the Out of the Closet thrift store on Biscayne, and once I got home and opened it up to read, discovered that it's an autograph...moreI bought this today at the Out of the Closet thrift store on Biscayne, and once I got home and opened it up to read, discovered that it's an autographed copy! I'm irrationally thrilled by this. There's something so cool about finding out that even though I never managed to meet him, I now have a book with his signature in it. I actually don't know why that's cool and exciting to me, I guess because Leonard's one of those writers I would've liked to have met but obviously now I never will, and this seems like a decent consolation?
Also cool and exciting: reading an Elmore Leonard novel set in Miami now that I live here and know where everything is! AND, also awesome... one of this book's early scenes is set in a detox and features a hot, tough social servicey, substance abuse counselor-type chick... wow! So I guess I'll quit with this I-just-started-it non-review and get back to reading.
This is a really fun one with a portrait-of-the-artist twist: a photographer protagonist who, like the author, is enchanted by the colorful characters of super seedy early-eighties Miami Beach. It's impossible to read LaBrava lurking around South Beach's crumbling deco hotels in his pineapple-print shirt, documenting its ancient Jewish ladies and marielitos, without imagining Leonard doing the same thing with his notebook instead of a Leica.
Not perfectly polished, but never a dull moment and flawless in its inimitable atmosphere and style. An awesome Miami novel with Leonard's trademark cast of characters that should be too inventive and bizarre to come off as human as they do, and a plot so enjoyable you don't care if it makes any sense. One thing I love about Leonard is that his books aren't hard-boiled at all and his tough guys are anything but cynical: these novels are all love stories, so warm-blooded they'd be sappy if they weren't so damn cool.
Elmore Leonard is dead. Long live Elmore Leonard!(less)
This book is 326 pages of rabid, unrelenting misanthropy that is all ONE PARAGRAPH, from the perspective of a hateful, very rich Austrian expatriate w...moreThis book is 326 pages of rabid, unrelenting misanthropy that is all ONE PARAGRAPH, from the perspective of a hateful, very rich Austrian expatriate who despises his family, Austria, and everything else.
It is totally impossible for me to explain why I loved reading this, but it had an intoxicating, addictive quality and I really could not put it down. However, I wouldn't in good conscience recommend it to my worst enemy.
Looking forward to reading something else by Bernhard (suggestions, Dieter?), though I'll need to wait awhile to let these toxic levels of bile clear out of my system first.(less)
In many ways this book is old-fashioned, romantic nearly to the point of being sentimental. It's also great and I breathed it all in in one sitting (i...moreIn many ways this book is old-fashioned, romantic nearly to the point of being sentimental. It's also great and I breathed it all in in one sitting (it's short).
Published in 1918, this novel (novella?) is about a wealthy Englishman who returns from the trenches with an unlikely case of PTSD that's caused him to forget the past fifteen years of his life. It's beautifully written and conveys something of just how much World War I must've really fucked with everyone's head. The first thing I wanted to do once I finished was write an English paper about it, which is strange, and absolutely never happens to me. If you're looking for an early-twentieth-century novel to write a really lovely English paper on, definitely check this one out. Check it out anyway, even though you're not.(less)
First James Salter. I might not recommend this book to a friend, because I'd worry that the friend would read it and then say, "Jess, this is just a b...moreFirst James Salter. I might not recommend this book to a friend, because I'd worry that the friend would read it and then say, "Jess, this is just a bunch of boring stories about rich people sleeping with each other, who cares," and then I would like my friend a little less which isn't fair because there's no accounting for taste.
I read this in one sitting, cried a fair amount. Light Years is on deck.(less)
I loved this more than I've loved any novel in a very long time, but please don't interpret that as a recommendation because you might really hate it....moreI loved this more than I've loved any novel in a very long time, but please don't interpret that as a recommendation because you might really hate it. It spans something like fifteen years of a marriage and is mostly about sexy people with tons of money enjoying elaborately prepared meals and traveling around under various types of sky. But it's great.
I've noticed that many people have no tolerance for novels about unendearing rich characters doing nothing -- or perhaps more accurately, not super-rich characters, but a certain level of privileged bourgeois. While to some extent I definitely get this, I think there's a perhaps unfair exemption for books written before, oh say, 1930. Because before that point, weren't most books written about rich(ish) people lying around doing nothing, and does that seem to bother so many readers? I'd argue no, and if this irritable standard were extended back a lot of you would miss out on the best books. Light Years reminded me a lot of To the Lighthouse for many reasons, not least because I felt like if they hadn't been separated by half a century and an ocean, this family would've hung around having a lot of lushly described, unhurried lunches with the Ramsays. So I guess I'm suggesting that if you don't mind Woolf's characters, maybe try to suspend judgment on Salter's and give them a shot?
Light Years was one of those books with language that bleeds off the page and seeps into your entire life so that when you put it down and go off to do things it's as if you're living inside its world. This is some of the greatest prose that I've ever read in my life. While I felt the last fifty pages weren't nearly as good as everything that had come before -- they felt rough by comparison, not entirely edited, and dead in a way that the rest of the book lived -- it's still one of the best books I've read in a long time. Again, this isn't exactly a recommendation because I can see how a lot of my favorite people would complain that this novel is unreadably pretentious and dull, but I personally loved it so much I might start over soon and read it again.(less)
This was my first and so far only Philip K. Dick. I've read very little science fiction in my life, almost none as an adult, which now I see has likel...moreThis was my first and so far only Philip K. Dick. I've read very little science fiction in my life, almost none as an adult, which now I see has likely been a stupid mistake. This book was awesome, and did things non-science fiction just isn't built to do; that is, it was able to talk about all these things that are really important, that regular fiction can't get at and open up in the same way.
Since I no longer possess the capacity to write book reports, I guess that's all I'll say for now. Really hugely enjoyed this. Now excuse me, gonna go revisit Blade Runner.(less)