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2018 Summer TOB > June: An American Marriage v. Tomb Song

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message 1: by Amy (new)

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments So excited to see the Summer TOB book selections released today!
In June we'll be reading (and judging):
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Tomb Song by Julian Herbert

no schedule yet on how this will run but it was sounding like Tues/Friday syncs just as with the NF Pop-Up.


message 2: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Womack | 35 comments Amy wrote: "no schedule yet on how this will run but it was sounding like Tues/Friday syncs just as with the NF Pop-Up"

It will be Wednesdays again this summer, same as last time. Still trying things out!


message 3: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 814 comments Glad to be entering the summer ToB with two books already read -- An American Marriage and Census. Good to have a leg up this year!


message 4: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sevitt | 94 comments I just finished An American Marriage. It's a trainwreck.


message 5: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 814 comments Do you mean that in a good way or a bad way?


message 6: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 470 comments Oh, I liked An American Marriage. It did have a few flaws, but it had something.

And I just downloaded a copy of Tomb Song, so I am good to go.


message 7: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 814 comments I ... was pretty disappointed. I had really, really liked Silver Sparrow, and was looking forward to this one. There was so much about it that made me uncomfortable - and not in a good way.


message 8: by Gwendolyn (new)

Gwendolyn | 192 comments Looking forward to this summer TOB!! I listened to the audiobook for An American Marriage, and it’s excellent, particularly on the epistolary parts, so I’d recommend that approach for people who like audiobooks. I haven’t read the other one yet, but I’ve got a copy, so I’m looking forward to that.


message 9: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 241 comments I was riveted by the audio for An American Marriage - my fave litfic of the year so far.


message 10: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sevitt | 94 comments Ellen wrote: "Do you mean that in a good way or a bad way?"

Not sure what the good version of a trainwreck is unless you're Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable.

Interesting that the people listening to it on Audio found it enjoyable. I imagine that dialogue sounds better spoken than read. Still the whole enterprise was shockingly amateurish and painfully self-involved.

Horrible people whining about how horrible they find each other. Really unpleasant stuff that had nothing at all to say about marriage, fidelity, trust or commitment. Unless the title was meant ironically (trust me, it wasn't) this was a dreadful and unsympathetic work.


message 11: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 814 comments Heh. Well, a "good" version of a trainwreck would be the kind you can't wrench yourself away from.

I agree with you to some extent about the book -- maybe not as strongly, but I did find the characters -- and their choices -- generally unpleasant and unappealing. And I DID listen to it on audio, so that didn't make any difference to me. Because I'd so liked her previous book, this book really disappointed me more than angered me. And I totally didn't believe in the ending, which I felt came out of nowhere.


message 12: by Drew (new)

Drew (drewlynn) | 425 comments I'm not finished with An American Marriage yet but I'm relieved that I'm not the only one who doesn't think it's great. I'm up and down about whether I like it or not.


message 13: by Amanda (new)

Amanda | 130 comments I read An American Marriage over the weekend, and I found it to be a muddled mess. I was left confused by the actions of the characters especially Celestial. It felt like I was supposed to feel sympathy for her and Andre while they were doing horrible things to Roy. I also hate when the action is driven by the fact that the characters are incapable of having a simple conversation.


message 14: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 241 comments I have very little sympathy for Andre (except occasionally during his narration) but a bunch for Celestial.

Interesting about the 'communicate already!' aspect, Amanda - normally, I'm very frustrated by that, too, but this time it didn't bother me. I think because I felt this was all so very inside Roy's head, and I enjoyed that, and maybe felt like everything outside that interiority wasn't as real to me? I'll have to think about that.


message 15: by Amanda (new)

Amanda | 130 comments Melanie wrote: "I have very little sympathy for Andre (except occasionally during his narration) but a bunch for Celestial.

Interesting about the 'communicate already!' aspect, Amanda - normally, I'm very frustr..."


For me, it was the mixed messages Celestial was sending Roy and the whole timeline during the latter half of the book. She had 2 years to send a letter or visit Roy to explain how things had changed.
Also, I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I actually believed the marriage of Celestial and Roy was made of firmer stuff. Reading the backstory, I was left with the thought that this marriage would never had lasted anyway.


message 16: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 241 comments (Many spoilers ahead!)

I found that an interesting tension - I wasn't sure the marriage was firm enough, either - their immaturities came through so strongly, with Roy's cheating and Celestial's diving into the marriage as if it was a foxhole where she could be protected from dealing with some of the issues of her life. And those young marriages can come through and people get a chance to learn and grow together, to age into people who really fit.

But Roy's incarceration meant that growth was impossible, and he went about his prison years with this determination to smooth over any of the crumbling foundations, to ignore his own behavior and instead to idealize what they had and create this whole cloth romantic fantasy of where they were and what they could be. But at the same time, he knew the cracks were there, and dealt with them by continuing to ignore them. By not saying "are we really still a couple? do you want a divorce? are you sleeping w Andre?" when he knew the answers to those questions but it was important to his mental health while in prison to not have them spoken aloud.

And I think that's what Celestial was doing, too - going along with the fantasy because it's what she knew he needed. It was sacrificial and a little martyr-ish, a lot of 'be a good black woman for your man' external pressure, and I found her struggle to find a path for herself that was born from her own desires and needs so compelling.

Meanwhile, Andre, the closer Roy got to coming home, the more his version of controlling masculinity came to the fore. He wanted to visibly stake his claim everywhere, to Celestial, to her family, to Roy, and Roy's father. I could see the "you can punch me cause I'm a man and I owe you one punch, but the woman will walk away with me" vibe coming off him miles away. And so could Roy. But Roy found a way around him, and he did so knowing he was tilting at windmills (and had gone straight to another woman's bed in part, I think, to cut himself a little loose from Celestial, and in part because he just wanted to have sex again, and in part because he knew he needed to not place so much importance on a physical connection w Celestial when he saw her again, given the near-surety of her relationship w Andre, and in part because it gave him a new soft place to land once he was done severing that connection.

Anyway, I liked all those various tensions in play, and the ways people told stories about themselves and some of those stories they knew were true and some they knew were very much not true.


message 17: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 470 comments Melanie wrote: "(Many spoilers ahead!)

I found that an interesting tension - I wasn't sure the marriage was firm enough, either - their immaturities came through so strongly, with Roy's cheating and Celestial's d..."


Thanks for posting that.


message 18: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Arnold | 961 comments Has anyone started Tomb Song? From the sample it looks really good, but also like it has the potential to be depressing. I'd have to buy this one, my library doesn't have it, but I don't think I can handle anything depressing right now. So I'm wondering whether the tongue-in-cheek humor lifts it enough that it won't make me want to curl into a ball in a dark corner.


message 19: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 470 comments Elizabeth wrote: "Has anyone started Tomb Song? From the sample it looks really good, but also like it has the potential to be depressing. I'd have to buy this one, my library doesn't have it, but I don't think I ca..."

I also had to buy a copy, and I'm 15% into it. It feels like The Story of My Teeth tonally - the characters are poor and the narrator is the son of a woman who worked in brothels and who is now dying, but it doesn't feel depressing or overly sad.


message 20: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Arnold | 961 comments Alison wrote: "Elizabeth wrote: "It feels like The Story of My Teeth tonally - the characters are poor and the narrator is the son of a woman who worked in brothels and who is now dying, but it doesn't feel depressing or overly sad."

Thanks! It's hard to imagine a story about poor characters with a miserable childhood told by a narrator whose mother is dying could be anything but depressing, ha. But I'm intrigued by the comparison to The Story of My Teeth...I thought that book was so quirky and charming. I think I'll give it a shot...


message 21: by Amy (new)

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments I would agree, I’m not finding it sad, but I am getting it a little mixed up with Census which I’m listening to at the same time.


message 22: by Amy (new)

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Both have dying parents (who are the only parent in the picture) and are told rather vignette style with a large cast of secondary characters.


message 23: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Arnold | 961 comments Amy wrote: "Both have dying parents (who are the only parent in the picture) and are told rather vignette style with a large cast of secondary characters."

I was curious about Census as well, and will be interested to hear what you think. Our library has it, so I'm planning to at least start it, but it sounds so...meandering? Without much to hold on to. (And I'm okay with meandering books, as long as they have something to say, but I need to be in a certain frame of mind.)


message 24: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 505 comments Elizabeth wrote: "I was curious about Census as well, and will be interested to hear what you think. Our library has it, so I'm planning to at least start it, but it sounds so...meandering? Without much to hold on to. (And I'm okay with meandering books, as long as they have something to say, but I need to be in a certain frame of mind.) "

Census was definitely meandering. I found it very interesting and thought-provoking, but I wouldn't call it an enjoyable read, if that makes any sense. Your impression of it is pretty accurate in my opinion, but the "something to say" doesn't really hit until the end. At least it's short?


message 25: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Arnold | 961 comments Bretnie wrote: "Elizabeth wrote: "I was curious about Census as well, and will be interested to hear what you think. Our library has it, so I'm planning to at least start it, but it sounds so...meandering? Without..."

Thanks Bretnie. Hmmm...I feel like I might know more or less what it has to say from looking at reviews, so I need to figure out whether I want to work through a whole book to see it. (Not that its message isn't important.) I guess I'll see what else I have on deck at the time. :)


message 26: by Sherri (new)

Sherri (sherribark) | 358 comments I read An American Marriage when it first came out, and just downloaded Tomb Song. I just couldn't get into the TOB 2018 this year, but the summer matchups look more interesting to me.


message 27: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 814 comments I'm almost halfway into Tomb Song right now, and I certainly don't find it depressing. Weirdly, it's reminding me more of Fever Dream (a book I disliked), just because of the structure -- almost entirely about someone sitting at a hospital bed -- and also the texture of the translation. I hadn't thought of The Story of My Teeth -- but now that I do, I guess I can see the comparison. I wouldn't say I'm loving Tomb Song, exactly, but I'm not hating it and it's keeping me reading, and since I was deeply disappointed by An American Marriage, there's no question which book will get my vote (as if I have a say).

Census reminded me of nothing more than The Road -- another book I didn't care for -- and kind of disappointed me, only because I've been intrigued by all the other Jesse Ball books I've read.


message 28: by Gwendolyn (new)

Gwendolyn | 192 comments I’m approaching the half-way point in Tomb Song. I am finding the writing to be interesting and challenging (in a good way). The prose is fairly dense, and I have to read closely to follow along…definitely not quick moving. Some of the vignettes/flash-backs hold my interest and others lose me (either because they’re not all that interesting to me or because they don’t seem to be relevant to any larger point). Fortunately, all the vignettes are short, so I’m pushing through. There’s not a strong narrative arc here, so the interesting prose style along with some of the more philosophical insights are what is keeping me reading at this point.

I’ve already read An American Marriage, and I pity the poor person who has to compare these two. It’s kind of like comparing a warm apple pie to a clean toilet…both are good things but in such different ways.


message 29: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 241 comments Ellen wrote: "Census reminded me of nothing more than The Road -- another book I didn't care for -- and kind of disappointed me, only because I've been intrigued by all the other Jesse Ball books I've read."

Glad I'm not the only one. It went in one ear and out the other, really, and the author's forward was, I don't know, heavy-handed? Not that I don't feel for the man, but it set me up to feel like I was a Bad Reader if I didn't like the book.

Anyway, we'll talk more about that later in the summer.


message 30: by Ed (new)

Ed (edzafe) | 168 comments Don't think it's been mentioned, but I had not realized on my own, but just stumbled upon some mention that Christina MacSweeney is the translator for both 'Tomb Song' and 'Story of My Teeth'!

Think this is my first time that I have read the same translator for two different authors. Not sure if it's a coincidence, but was not a fan of 'Teeth' and am increasingly struggling/crawling to the finish line with 'Tomb Song' - tho both have their moments. In my review of 'Teeth,' I wondered if it was a case of "lost in translation" and had been thinking the same thing here (even before knowing about MacSweeney connection) - but think it's more just dense, challenging source material that would likely be aided by more knowledge/familiarity with Mexican culture/history/etc.


message 31: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 814 comments They don't fit together at all -- that's the "fun" of it! Although I'm always intrigued when a ToB judge manages to find some link between wholly dissimilar books...

I'm maybe 3/4 of the way through Tomb Song now and I think there's no contest, but of course it's a matter of taste.


message 32: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments Thank you for the excellent review! I devoured American Marriage a few months ago and read it back to back with Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, an amazing book about wrongful incarceration. After reading all these negative reviews, I might reread American Marriage.

But then several exciting books were released today, and SEVEN of my library holds came in.


message 33: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments Ed wrote: "Don't think it's been mentioned, but I had not realized on my own, but just stumbled upon some mention that Christina MacSweeney is the translator for both 'Tomb Song' and 'Story of My Teeth'! "

"Story of My Teeth" did not appeal to me at all, so I skipped it during the TOB, but I adored Luiselli's long-form essay about immigrant children, "Tell Me How It Ends."


message 34: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 814 comments "...SEVEN of my library holds came in."

Sigh. Lisa, I went to the library last week with my list ... and came home with NINETEEN books, and then two days later, two more of my holds came in (both on cd, so they'll take longer). Libraries are like institutionalized drug pushers to me.


message 35: by Jan (new)

Jan (janrowell) | 1122 comments Lisa wrote: "After reading all these negative reviews, I might reread American Marriage. ..."

Lisa, I just wanted to chime in as someone who really enjoyed AMM. I read it when it first came out so I'm not in a good position to talk specifics, but I really admired the way Jones kept me engaged with flawed characters who were caught up in a horrible system. Even when I disagreed with some of their actions or choices, she helped me see why they made them and allowed me to continue wanting the best for them.

As for today's new books, omg, yes!!!! In addition to the big new titles, today also brings the paperback editions of a couple I've been waiting for--Rushdie's The Golden House and Hala Alyan's Salt Houses. Must. Read. Faster. :-)


message 36: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 470 comments Ed wrote: "Don't think it's been mentioned, but I had not realized on my own, but just stumbled upon some mention that Christina MacSweeney is the translator for both 'Tomb Song' and 'Story of My Teeth'!

Th..."


So that's the similarity I was finding in tone between those two books. That's so interesting.

I'm going against my usual read-ahead pattern and I'm going to keep to the schedule so I can be opinionated in the comments section without worrying about spoiling things for other commenters.

I'm enjoying Tomb Song a lot, and certainly a lot more than I'd expected to. I'm loving the parts set in Berlin, a city that I have visited a few times and would love to live in - it's so modern and multi-cultural (and very friendly for a huge city) and yet also haunted by the ghosts of the last century.

Looking forward to today's opening installment!


message 37: by Jan (new)

Jan (janrowell) | 1122 comments Roxane Gay is interviewing Tayari Jones at 7:30 EDT tonight June 6 at the 92 Street Y in NYC, and the event will be live streamed! The info is on Twitter (@92YPoetry) or here:

http://92yondemand.org/roxane-gay-tay...


message 38: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 470 comments And the first round is up:

https://themorningnews.org/article/th...


message 39: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments Ellen wrote: "..Libraries are like institutionalized drug pushers to me. ."

You're my kind of person! I have a friend who checks one book out at a time and doesn't understand why I have so many holds.

I have three more to pick up today.


message 40: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments Jan, I read it when it first came out also and added it to my list of books that give me new perspective. I loved the deeply flawed characters.

And I need to add the books you're excited about to my list.


message 41: by Jan (new)

Jan (janrowell) | 1122 comments Lisa wrote: "Jan, I read it when it first came out also and added it to my list of books that give me new perspective. I loved the deeply flawed characters.

And I need to add the books you're excited about to ..."


Thanks, Lisa! And I *still* need to read Just Mercy.


message 42: by Jan (new)

Jan (janrowell) | 1122 comments Jan wrote: "Roxane Gay is interviewing Tayari Jones at 7:30 EDT tonight June 6 at the 92 Street Y in NYC, and the event will be live streamed! The info is on Twitter (@92YPoetry) or here:

http://92yondemand...."


So maybe just both reading? Not sure if they'll talk together, but it's still fun to have a virtual reading with Roxane and I bet Tayari is going to be awesome too.


message 43: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments Just Mercy is life-changing. I wish I had read it and known about his project while I was in law school.


message 44: by Dianne (new)

Dianne (derbyrock) | 3 comments Listened to AMM. It was an entertaining experience but felt like an “issue of the moment” pop fiction book. Tomb seems to me to have a lot more literary merit but wasn’t always pleasant reading. I was rating it a lot higher before the whole messy Cuba drug section.


message 45: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 470 comments Dianne wrote: "I was rating it a lot higher before the whole messy Cuba drug section. ..."

I was fine with the Cuban adventure, but the long, detailed ode to anal sex both bored and made me angry. It was such a macho, tone deaf chapter.

I've really liked the rest, though.


message 46: by Amanda (new)

Amanda | 130 comments Alison wrote: "Dianne wrote: "I was rating it a lot higher before the whole messy Cuba drug section. ..."

I was fine with the Cuban adventure, but the long, detailed ode to anal sex both bored and made me angry...."


I completely agree with you, that information is completely irrelevant to the overall themes of the book. It added nothing and only made me angry.


message 47: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 814 comments Those were the two parts of the book I could have done without as well, although generally I liked it and greatly preferred it -- to my dismay -- to An American Marriage.


message 48: by Ezzy (new)

Ezzy | 33 comments Alison wrote: I was fine with the Cuban adventure, but the long, detailed ode to anal sex both bored and made me angry...."

I just started this book in Spanish. Sounds like I'm about to learn a lot of words I haven't come across before.


message 49: by Sherri (new)

Sherri (sherribark) | 358 comments I have to laugh at myself, given Ed's little fact about the translator. There are some lines in Tomb Song that I had to re-read because the way the sentence is written, if could mean two different things. I was seriously just thinking that this book could use a clearer translator, like the woman who did Story of My Teeth. Ha!


message 50: by Sherri (new)

Sherri (sherribark) | 358 comments And also, this book is reminding me so much of Sherman Alexie's memoir about his mom so far.


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