Books I have read in the last six weeks or so in no particular order

•May 27, 2017 • 9 Comments

Hisham Matar, The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between. The author’s memoir of his search for his father, who was kidnapped in 1990 and disappeared into a political prison in Libya, never to emerge. Amazingly moving and a newly relevant read in light of last week’s events — and the themes of grief and the engagement with the literature completely sucked me in. Probably the best book I have read this year. 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner. I plan to read his novels next.

Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings. A group of friends coalesces at a summer camp; the book traces their creative ups and downs through the events and fads of New York City for thirty years. Story told mainly / heavily from the perspective of the friend who doesn’t make it creatively. The allusions to modern American culture are annoying, but somehow this one kept me reading, the portrayals of the characters’ emotional responses feel authentic, and I really liked the ending.

Rachel Cusk, Outline and Transit. A recently divorced woman tells her story through a series of deftly constructed, partially philosophical conversations with people she encounters about their lives — students, fellow travelers, workmen, friends. I loved these and wish I had written them. First two books of a projected trilogy.

Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why. A young man listens to the tapes made by a young woman to explain why she killed herself and point the finger at her classmates. I read this in order to talk about it with A, but we haven’t had a chance to discuss it. The world is in uproar because the Netflix filmed version is supposedly triggering or suicide-positive. I thought the book told a fascinating story but the emotional life of the female protagonist didn’t ring true to me; while there was a high degree of verisimilitude regarding U.S. high schools, I found the entire narrative implausible.

Alice Dreger, Galileo’s Middle Finger. A discussion of the conflicts between scientists and activists over social science questions of political relevance, with heavy emphasis on intersex and transgender matters. The author (a professor of medical history and ethics) seems to take the position that political activism around social science is okay as long as the science is accurate — but ignores that she herself occupies a political position (it’s the bad guys who distort science with politics, never she herself). Interesting read, though, and a huge indictment of the American Anthropological Society.

Kayla Rae Whitaker, The Animators. Read only 100 pp. The story of the tensions between a creative pair of friends that meets in college, makes an animated film together, wins an award, and then suffers a devastating blow. I could not get the slightest bit interested in how the story ended.

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo. Read only about 50 pp. When U.S. President Lincoln’s son, Willie, died, Lincoln was so grief-stricken that he entered the crypt several times to embrace the body (a historical anecdote for which there is contemporary evidence). The novel retells the story with Willie “trapped” in the bardo, a sort of Buddhist intermediate status between life and death, conversing with others in the same place. This book has been a critical darling, but I found it turgid, uninteresting, and pretentious in terms of its form — it seemed to me that the novelist gave up his obligation to actually tell us a story about anything. For readers familiar with Kempowski’s Das Echolot, the formal structure is very similar, but the confusion between real historical data and fictional narratives makes for unpleasant reading. (So this is the second book that Lee Pace has liked that I have not cared for.)

Bandi, The Accusation. This the first North Korean story collection to be published outside North Korea, which is why I am reading it. I don’t usually like short stories, but the world described in these seems very remote and intriguing to me. I am halfway through but plan to finish it, mostly because it feels so much like undiscovered territory.

Chimamanda Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun. A story of the Nigerian / Biafran civil war told from the perspectives of a Nigerian couple, a white novelist and his partner, the sister of the woman in the couple, and a young man from a village who’s the man in the couple’s houseboy. I didn’t connect anything with “Biafra” except famine / starvation before I read this — it’s a tremendously moving book. This is the third book of hers I’ve read and they have all been excellent. I’ve read just recently that she’s involved in some sort of controversy over gender matters and I am studiously trying to ignore it.

Chris Kraus, I Love Dick. A couple who have dinner with an acquaintance conceive the idea that he wanted to have sexual encounter with the woman, and write a long series of letters to him together that they eventually send, to his bemusement and alienation. I’d heard about this book ages ago and just saw that it’s been made into a film, so decided to get on top of it. Probably not a book for the faint of heart — it makes tons of references to literary theory and long stretches of it reminded me of Waiting for Godot (which is not everyone’s thing). The narrative is not particularly compelling, but I finished it because it’s a rigorous treatment of what Derrida called “enforced voyeurism,” something I’ve been accused of on blog many times.

Julia Pierpont, Among Ten Thousand Things. The marriage of a New York couple breaks up, and shatters their family in the wake of the husband’s infidelity. I read all the the way to the end but I am not sure why. Not very compelling. This might have been on the catapult “staff picks” list.

Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. A study of housing conditions and rental markets for the poor in Milwaukee. Essentially reportage but very well done, and makes clear that the major people benefiting from the current situation are the slumlords, but somehow managing not to slam them, either. Pulitzer Prize winner. An interesting read but not essential.

Julie Buntin, Marlena. A high schooler moves to northern Michigan from Ann Arbor and becomes friends with a drug dealer and his girlfriend, Marlena. Years later, memories of her youth are invoked when Marlena’s brother visits the protagonist in NYC. (Why is so much contemporary American writing about NYC?) I read this because I read a really thought-provoking interview with the author about writing about things that have happened in one’s family — an issue that I have as a writer as well. The book was okay, but the interview was better.

Megan Marshall, Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast. Biography of the famous poet (author of “One Art,” a favorite of mine), whom the author knew slightly because she took a class with her at Harvard in the 1970s. Their narratives are intertwined in thoughtful ways. It’s been widely compared with Kay Jamison’s recent biography of Robert Lowell (Bishop’s friend and a poet of similar inclinations), but it’s much better as a study of the artistry of poetry (Jamison, as per usual, only wants to write about mental illness and its etiology, about which I don’t find her tremendously insightful.)

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, The Fact of a Body: Murder and Memoir. The author weaves information about the sexual molestation and murder of a young boy that she encountered while interning for an anti-death penalty law firm with her own fragmentary memories of sexual abuse at the hand of her grandfather. Neither story is entirely clear-cut. The first third of the book annoyed me but I was interested enough in the murder conviction to keep reading; by the end of the book I was more interested in the author’s experiences.

Patty Yumi Cottrell, Sorry to Disrupt the Peace. A young woman living in New York City learns that her brother (like her, a Korean adoptee into a white family) has killed himself; she returns to her uncomfortable childhood home to Milwaukee to “solve the mystery.” I thought this book was hilarious! But it is page after page after page of satire and black humor.

Alan Garner, The Owl Service. Apparently Garner is a classic youth fantasy author in the UK; I’d never heard of him. Two English youngsters visit Wales in the school holidays and stir up some trouble in the attic of the cottage they stay in. Lots of classic tropes of this kind of story here, but I enjoyed it without thinking it was spectacular.

Ramadan mubarak

•May 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Best wishes for an easy fast to all our Muslim friends who will be marking the sacred month! As always, I am praying for peace for all of us.

Richard Armitage white knuckle dirty fingers

•May 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Seems metaphorical. Happy Guyday!

Some days the only Richard Armitage fantasy

•May 25, 2017 • 4 Comments

Going back to the original point of the blog: why is Richard Armitage on my mind so much?

You’d think after all this time, but no; or in this atmosphere, but no. Still on my mind. All the time.

And I guess it comes down, in the end, to the basic fantasy.

Sometimes when everything is too dumbfounding to be true: me, in bed, head on pillow, lying on my side. Fantasy Richard Armitage, half spooning, half covering me. He’s weighty and warm and he presses me into the mattress as I fall asleep and because he’s there, I can’t be lost.

It’s been a bit mau around here

•May 24, 2017 • 28 Comments

Thanks to everyone who keeps popping by in hope that I’ve posted — I’m grateful.

Every day that I don’t write makes it harder the next time I try — I know this from academic writing and it’s been true here, too. Writing here almost every day has sustained me for so long that I’m at a loss to explain, completely, what’s been going on lately. There was the trifecta of Mom-remembering (wedding anniversary, confirmation, Mother’s Day), and that has started to fade. There’s the problem of managing Dad’s emotions about the fishing (for some reason he’s suddenly convinced this is the last year he will go fishing) and about a friend of his who’s moved into a nursing home. There’s the political situation, with every day bringing new blows, and yet I find myself unable to stop staring, transfixed, at the domestic and international train wreck the U.S. is initiating at the moment. There’s my frustration with my job situation (multiple interviews, waiting, waiting). I have some friends who are really suffering right now and I found myself weeping today after talking to one of them (although in the end that was probably a good sign). I’ve been trying to do some marketing research for my wannabe book and finding it a bit discouraging. I turn on the computer and find myself uncomfortable within the fandom.

So all of this: several weeks with no flow and I really can’t afford to go on this way. The longer without flow, the stronger the voice of my punishing, silencing inner critic.

Things I want to write about: Richard Armitage and the levels of tension. The second trip to Love, Love, Love. The trip to NYC for Pilgrimage. The last two Pilgrimage posts. My recent insight about something I think Armitage is doing in his work. The appeal of Bagginshield. Some things I’ve been reading lately. My latest unpleasant encounter at the café. The fishing situation. The spring. The Richard Armitage fantasies I’m having at the moment.

In the end I want to get back to the primary purpose of the blog. I had just decided last night that I had to write something, anything, and then came the attack in Manchester and I let myself watch that.

And now it’s 1 a.m. and I have another job interview tomorrow.

I think what’s coming after that will be some short attempts to revive my flow. They won’t be well thought out or polished, just an attempt to get my writing flowing again.

So. Thanks for reading. I appreciate all the readers and your good wishes and I hope everyone is okay, jointly, and severally, and we all know where all our loved ones are sleeping tonight. I know on some level that’s self-serving; if my loved ones are okay, that means someone else’s are not. But I still hope we are all safe and sound.

If you’d like to remember Manchester families w/donation #richardarmitage

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Manchester Evening News has a JustGiving page.


•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: