This reminded me of a certain sort of holiday movie - think Love Actually or 200 Cigarettes (the 1999 movie about hipsters on New Year's Eve) that covThis reminded me of a certain sort of holiday movie - think Love Actually or 200 Cigarettes (the 1999 movie about hipsters on New Year's Eve) that covers one day's happenings and follows the actions of a large linked assortment of characters. But then add a hyperverbal 10-year-old, lots of quirk and whimsy, several off-key notes, a few too many characters, and a very strange conclusion. There are some great sentences here (which I regretfully failed to mark). Not "staggeringly original" at all, but okay. ...more
Well, this did not read well for me. I read it very fast, since it all ran together like a Saramago novel with few paragraphs breaks, but I read withWell, this did not read well for me. I read it very fast, since it all ran together like a Saramago novel with few paragraphs breaks, but I read with increasing dismay and pique. I'm not even going to revisit it all now; I've moved on. I couldn't find a single mainstream review that addressed the problems I had, but Kelly's review here (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) says what I felt and more, so I can't resist quoting her (thanks, Kelly):
My major issue is, overall, that this is the sort of book that gives literary fiction a bad name. This is exactly the sort of thing that is the basis for pretension puncturing parodies with melodramatic lighting and unnecessarily florid language that people point to when you ask them why they don't want to read. This is thatbook, where people sit around in half lit rooms and have silent, weirdly distant sex in between pontificating to each other unbearably about philosophy. Moreover, it is the sort of dated philosophy where women still have lives that artfully revolve around men and men have the sort of Freudian, idea-driven obsessions that were fashionable to write about in the middle of the last century. The sort surrounded by cigarettes and brandy and intense gazes and five o'clock shadows. You know what I mean.
You know, that's it. That's what bothers me. This book seems like such a pose. Sure, there are a few things in here that rang true. I've had some thoughts in here, almost verbatim, that he writes down. But they are so banal, it's like going to a fortune teller and being totally amazed when she tells you that she can feel that you had trouble in your adolescence or made some bad choices with alcohol in college. So I don't know how much credit you can give it for that. It all felt like such a sham, like a set that Marias threw down that he felt was appropriate for some things he thought he wanted to say.
For what it's worth I do still like the Marias quote on my Goodreads page ("What happens [in a novel] is the least of it. . . ) and some of the ideas in this novel really are worth long consideration (e.g., about mourning, and about relationships). But most are not. ...more
What at first irritated me with its author's self-involved concerns about how going to the "dark place" of exploring Iris Chang's life would affect heWhat at first irritated me with its author's self-involved concerns about how going to the "dark place" of exploring Iris Chang's life would affect her, and its intimations of conspiracy theory, and its unnecessary recaps of what Chang wrote in The Rape of Nanking (since anyone reading this has already read that), turned into a pretty respectable work of investigation of Chang's life and mental health (she was bipolar) and a methodical de-construction of the conspiracy theories about the Japanese and U.S. governments and their roles in Chang's suicide. ...more
It hardly needs mentioning that I'm grateful to Solnit for bringing to America's attention that men explain things to women. I have been the recipientIt hardly needs mentioning that I'm grateful to Solnit for bringing to America's attention that men explain things to women. I have been the recipient of this so many times and wish I could reinhabit my younger self on a few of those occasions to speak back to the men who've embarrassed me and/or left me feeling helpless or furious. So I agree with Solnit on every point she makes with regard to that issue and those of the other pieces here: feminism and rape-culture and violence against women ... even the Virginia Woolf/Sontag essay here was good. My only complaint, and it's not much, is that this is the fourth or fifth book of hers I've read over the years and there is always something about Solnit's prose that "repels" me - as in throws me off, flings me out of itself so that my attention is repeatedly dissipated and I have to continually re-focus on the content. That process just tires me. I still don't what it really is - it's very much about style, but perhaps also topics like "hope" and getting lost and wanderlust and muzzy concepts like "faraway nearby" - but even the Eadweard Muybridge book had this effect on me. Eula Biss's book didn't bore me though I wasn't particularly excited by it. I just started reading Meghan Daum's new collection and the prose is so different I feel as if I've had a shot of adrenaline. Style is ineffable....more
I'd read most of these interviews in the Times since Pamela Paul took over editing the Book Review, but of course it was fun to read them all togetherI'd read most of these interviews in the Times since Pamela Paul took over editing the Book Review, but of course it was fun to read them all together and to see how she chose their order-of-appearance. Certain books/authors come up frequently: Wolf Hall and St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels were HOT among writers (this is two-three years ago), Knausgaard hadn't hit the broader scene yet, and I'm reminded to read Peter Nadas, Jonathan Dee, and Alejandro Zambra. For nonfiction LeBlanc's Random Family and Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals came up with surprising frequency (the latter because of the Spielberg film, I assume). ...more
D: You're reading about a Polish boxer? Me: Well, not really . . D: Then what's it about? Me: It's sort of about a Guatemalan literature professor, and SD: You're reading about a Polish boxer? Me: Well, not really . . D: Then what's it about? Me: It's sort of about a Guatemalan literature professor, and Sarajevo, and Gypsies, and Auschwitz, and Mark Twain conferences, and what literature is, and a woman who draws pictures of her orgasms, and . . . D: Do you like it? Me: I have no idea....more
I think the least interesting and silliest question authors are asked to consider during a certain sort of quick interview (e.g., for Powell's Books Q&A)I think the least interesting and silliest question authors are asked to consider during a certain sort of quick interview (e.g., for Powell's Books Q&A) has to do with what books are on the shelf next to theirs in a library or bookshop. It's meaningless. So I was pleased to discover that Phyllis Rose chose the LEQ-LES shelf for more-or-less arbitrary reasons. Her point was to choose a random shelf and read her way through it. She actually dislikes most of the books.
Like me she seems to prefer reading on a e-reader even when she has the physical book at hand - physical book purists need to know this: it's all about the lighting and font size! But one of the actual library books she read for the project she mishandled so much - threw it on the floor roughly every night - that it needed to be repaired after she returned it (Phyllis, no).
Most interesting were her general ideas on the life of reading, and reading tastes, and how literary reputation is created, destroyed, or never takes off.
Rose is dismayed that five books at the end of her shelf are by John Lescroart, a popular author of detective novels (his books go on to fill the following shelf, too). She gives him his due and describes a few things she appreciated about his work, but then realizes that what she liked - his background research into the topic of each novel (e.g., military contractors in Iraq for one novel) isn't what most of his fans read for. She feels a growing boredom after getting through a couple Lescroarts and then asserts:
This is what I've learned: if you don't like the characters, and there isn't a compelling narrative (what I would call plot), and you're resistant to the puzzle-solving element in mystery novels, then you have to be reading for the direct contact with the writer that is the quality Geoff Dyer talked about. But that quality, "voice," is the hardest thing to achieve in literature. It requires that a writer fight against every sentence, resisting the pressure of convention and conformity, resisting his or her own impulses toward banality and the easy way. Unsurprisingly, not many writers do this. They just shuffle around the same old words, the same old ways of thinking, into a semblance of something new: new information, new settings, a new kind of detective. Most genre writers choose to write genre fiction because will, determination, and very hard work are enough to see them through. Although some writers achieve it, authenticity is not required. (page 211-12)
People will always read series-mysteries or other genre fiction, so there's absolutely no risk that opinions like hers will threaten those writers or readers. But it gives me something to think about (and reminds me that it's time to re-read a favorite of mine: Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage.) ...more
DNF. This was on somebody's year's-best international/independent novels, but the audiobook didn't work for me. Francisco Goldman says the second halfDNF. This was on somebody's year's-best international/independent novels, but the audiobook didn't work for me. Francisco Goldman says the second half changes, but I needed to stop just before the halfway point. ...more
I think Giffels is a fine writer with a distinctive style, but I just wasn't interested in most of these pieces about professional sports, hamburgers,I think Giffels is a fine writer with a distinctive style, but I just wasn't interested in most of these pieces about professional sports, hamburgers, nostalgia, and what makes Akron, Ohio special. I hesitate to call these essays because they are not exploratory, more informational (for lack of the best word) and have the heavy-handedness and brevity of a newspaper columnist (which is how I think many of these originated).
I really liked Giffels's earlier book All the Way Home, that chronicles in wincing detail his purchase of a decrepit house with six fireplaces and the drastic home repair project that followed, but I read that last spring when I was in that surreal, heightened emotional-logistical-organizational state that is the process-of-buying-a-house. (Hey I didn't know Meghan Daum had written a house book - that would've been the inspired time to read it!) Anyway. This collection goes in my new "skimmed" category. ...more
Hurray for a bookclub discussion that challenges me to read a writer I'd never read and has left me a true admirer. (Thanks Liz, Kefi, and Laura.) NotHurray for a bookclub discussion that challenges me to read a writer I'd never read and has left me a true admirer. (Thanks Liz, Kefi, and Laura.) Notes:
Evocative names (Everard Bone, Rockingham Napier, an anthropologist named Clovis) Comedy of manners (class satirization, stereotyped characters, plot as less important than dialogue) Observing the anthropologists (haha!) High and Low Anglo-Catholicism and Newman/Oxford Movement Postwar austerity Individuality Gender relations and pre-feminism mores
References to poetry and classic literature that are there for the reader who recognizes them or is interested in following up,(Mildred seeing a woman with a large book and a loaf of bread - could it be poetry? Omar Khayyam? But does Mildred's own companion warrant a "Thou?" Surely not.)
Clear implications of homosexuality that everyone recognizes (He's not for marrying!) but can't outright acknowledge. A few "Boston marriages" and female companions. (The Roman Catholic ladies that move into the Napier's apartment? Everard's mother and Miss Jessop, no?)
It's not a shallow comedy of mostly dialogue: there are even a couple of scenes that I thought almost stunning: Page 77-78 Mildred's observations of long line of patrons lining up for their meal in the huge industrial cafeteria (And we're expected to love them all? ~paraphrase~) Page 131 Mildred's escape to the department store's women's lounge after buying her lipstick
All flesh is but as grass ... I thought, watching the women working at their faces with savage concentration opening their mouths wide, biting and licking their lips, stabbing at their noses and chins with powder-puffs. Some, who had abandoned the struggle to keep up, sat in chairs, their bodies slumped down, their hands resting on their parcels. One woman lay on a couch, her hat and shoes off, her eyes closed. I tiptoed past her with my penny in my hand.
Both scenes: very Flannery O'Connor!
Though at first it seems to be a story told mainly in dialogue, the interior life of Mildred grows more subtle and everything on the page does work to build the meaning (what does it mean when Mildred makes weak tea as opposed to when her tea comes out strong? The mimosas. The anthropologists. The WRENs. The pubs and drinking.)
Ambiguous conclusion. Does Mildred want to be married? not particularly, but she wants closeness. Where is the friendship with Everard Bone heading? - is she just going to do his proofreading and his indexing? (Haha! I'm an indexer myself so I had to chuckle). ...more