Bookings: White Teeth

I’ve been reading Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. What I admire most about Zadie Smith’s writing is that she can make certain character traits that would otherwise come off didactic instead become endearing or funny (e.g. an extremely religous overbearing mother becomes equivalent to a birthmark or mole). Really enjoying this so far. 🙂

Bookings: Feb – March

Today I finally finished Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The thing about this book is that it’s deceptive in its “simplicity”–the language is fairly simple, each story (and the book itself actually) is short but it really does take you on a journey: it’s difficult to read in one sitting because there are so many details, so many fragments and so many ideas which it discusses–I felt like if I read it too fast I would forget a lot of the things worth remembering. So yeah. I took my precious time with this. It was worth it though. I finished it this afternoon and jeez. Calvino has this way of really fixating on a concept and being able to point out which parts are the most twisted–I really admire that. He’s able to take this thing which is supposedly “simple” (in this case, enumerating cities) and then he somehow performs a kind of verbal origami thing where he takes everything and folds it over and over and over and turns it inside out until you aren’t sure where you started or what you were thinking before you read it. Fak. I really really loved this. Sigh. Dog-eared to death.

I also finished The Mistress’s Daughter by AM Homes, who in my opinion is one of the best writers out there, today. Her stories are amazing–strange and real and an odd combination of viscerally painful and extremely contemplative (almost like there’s a hesitation to get attached, even if you are)–and so when I saw this in the 50% off table in Fully Booked, I had to get it. ( I have to thank my lovely boyfriend for fronting me the dough–thank you, Keav!)

This is her memoir. I don’t want to say anymore because really, it’s told so well I don’t think I could even attempt to “summarize” it. I’ve never found a piece of non-fiction so compelling. AM Homes (or well, AM Homes as far as I can tell from this book) has a mind that is both morbidly curious about people and extremely vulnerable. She, too is able to do wonders with her ability to fixate on something. Shit. So good. It’s funny that I finished this on the same day as Invisible Cities because this I sped through like nobody’s business–I just needed to know more, more, more. Fuck. If you like being caught off guard and having your heard torn to shreds, you’ll love this book. The crazy thing about it is that the thing which hurt me is that it ends on a hopeful note; it broke my heart that it didn’t end broken. Does that make sense? GAH. I still have a literary hang over from this. :< This was good. So, so good.Image

My resolution for this year is to read a variety of forms per month. I think it’s important to go out of your comfort zone (although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking your comfort zone, either–you like what you like) and explore new things–if not to find new things to like, then at least to know what you don’t like.

This month, I’m going to be reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (as recommended by my friend Ron) and Farther Away by Jonathan Strange Franzen (as recommended by my friend Trizha). I already read two essays from the latter and despite people always making fun of Franzen I stand by my opinion that I think he’s a decent writer and that even if his fiction is “conventional” or “straight forward”, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. SO, yes. I will probably have to alternate these though or read them for two weeks each because ain’t no way I’m lugging both to the office.

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I solemnly swore that I would buy myself a book (or five) every pay day. So this month I got the Susanna Clarke one (which I’ll talk more about in another blog post) AND this baby down here: Siri Hustvedt’s newest book, The Blazing World. I’ve been a huge fan of Siri Hustvedt’s since 2007 when I stole What I Loved from my sister. I find that she (Siri H. , not my sister hahaha) has this incredible ability to tie art, psychology, science, creepy dolls and fairytales together so well. Crazy! Although admittedly, I didn’t enjoy her last novel (Sorrows of an American) as much I’m still excited to read this!!! It’s about art and murder–I will tell ya’ll how it goes. Although it is likely I will finish this by mid-April pa.

(Side note: I think maybe I didn’t enjoy Sorrows of An American so much because well duh, it dealt mostly with the struggle of dealing with being American with euro/jewish roots–this was also touched on in What I Loved but only tangentially–and I have difficulty relating to things which “get to the point” so directly. Hrrrm. Strange. )

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So, there. That’s what’s on the reading list/book report (HAHA) for this/last month. 😀

Jan Reads 2014 (Post 1)

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I got these books either for Christmas/my birthday and have been reading them. Two of them are short story collections (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman & Moral Disorder) while one is a novel.

Here are my thoughts, etc. so far:

1.) Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

Excellent as usual. The thing I love (or one of the things I love) about Atwood is that the older she’s gotten, the better she’s gotten at writing about youth (and the imminent loss of it). This collection follows just one main character which I really like and which I feel sets it apart from a lot of her short story collections (or short story collections, in general).

I also love how she begins the book by introducing the main character as an old woman. Anyway. I don’t want to give too much away. This is one of my favorite Atwood books, so far. (Admittedly, I’ve only read a few–The Blind Assassin, Wilderness Tips, Betty {this is a short story, though} and Bluebeard’s Egg.)

2.) Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

I feel like I’ve read enough Murakami to last me a life time, to be honest–I was very into his work back during my early college days. I was hesitant to start this year with yet another Murakami book but I figured ah fuck it: if you genuinely enjoy something then why stop reading it just because you’ve read a lot of things like it before?

Also most of the books of Murakami’s that I’ve read are novels anyway so I don’t think my reading this is being too redundant. I really like it, so far–although (like my friend Trizha and I were talking about a few weeks ago) the thing about translated work is that a lot of the enjoyment factor comes from who/how the story is translated. I am partial to translations by Jay Rubin (Norwegian Wood, After Dark) and Alfred Birnbaum (A Wild Sheep Chase, Dance Dance Dance, Hard-boiled Wonderland & the End of the World) because they’re able to translate in a way that conveys meaning without sounding like a translation but also not sounding very western. I like that subtlety.

And it is this point which gives me a hard time re: which stories I like from this collection. The collection is comprised of very good stories but they aren’t translated by just one translator. Some were done by Jay Rubin, others by Philip Gabriel.

Take the first two stories, for instance: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and Birthday Girl. As a story–or as a story in theory, I feel like I would prefer the former because it deals with themes which I really like: the passing of time, the overlapping of time in memory; it’s also written (the structure, I mean) inwardly as opposed to something with a plot that moves forward.

However, I ended up enjoying the latter more even if it’s a little too straightforward (in that the delineations between past and present are very clear) for my taste in short stories and even if it it relies more heavily on mystery than I would usually prefer from Murakami (I say this because when Murakami employs mystery in his books he has a habit of either not resolving the mystery or resolving it in a manner that is so thumpingly calm, it drives me insane) because of how it was written/translated.

Now I’m going to contradict myself and pick a story translated by Philip Gabriel as my favorite, so far–I really enjoyed the story New York Mining Disaster, particularly how it talked about the death of friends, especially when you’re at an age where people are still supposedly beginning their adult lives.

3.) A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I’m not done with this, yet and so I can’t say much except that it’s very funny and that it’s enjoyable, so far. 🙂

Chasing Paper, Getting Nowhere

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It was only the other day that I realized this is the last time (probably) I’m going to be able to rely on the university library for entertainment. But I suppose that’s just one of the things you give up in order to be “done with school”. While I’m still mostly excited to be getting on with my life, part of me still feels nostalgic about school. Oddly enough, I don’t think it’s the people I’ll miss–because I’m sure I’ll still see them. I think I’ll be missing certain places the most, despite the fact that a lot of these places are places that have already changed anyway: the grassy gazebo area with stone tables and large trees, the amphitheater at night, the library.

To be honest, I’ve never borrowed more than three books at a time because I just can’t seem to be punctual re: the return date(s). But I decided to take a risk and binge on all the Donald Barthelme books they had out, plus a couple of books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.

These titles include 40 Stories, Not-Knowing, The Teachings of Don B.* and Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts all by Donald Barthelme, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood and Light In August by William Faulkner. I’m pretty deadset on finishing all of these before their due date(s) (December 13th) because a lot of these are pretty rare and I’m not sure I’ll get the chance to read them again if I don’t.

The thing is I really think it could change the world

One of the things that makes me the saddest is that I don’t think a lot of people like to read (anymore? that is, if they liked to read in the first place). I don’t mean to come off like a condescending grandmother, but it seems inevitable that that’s how people seem to take the suggestion to read: like you’re telling them to do something obsolete (like wear a cloth sanitary napkin or drive a horse carriage).

I read this Einstein quote at Handuraw Pizza the other day (there was a huge poster) and it said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” And it’s true. The way it’s been framed is extremely cheesy, but it is true. This is not to say that I don’t think knowledge is important–it is extremely important but I feel like knowledge is the result of imagination. We only know things via our ability to question what we’ve been taught and to be able to acknowledge that you aren’t the only person whose life matters. JK Rowling said it, John Green said, Oscar Wilde probably said something about it: imagination is empathy.

And I really think that it can change the world (yes, LOTR is also the closest thing to organized religion that I have/believe in but maybe that also helps my point): for instance, I “sprained” my back yesterday from carrying my laptop around; I was in a huge amount of discomfort but I still had to face the commute home. It was standing by the time I got onto the bus and the sideways rocking motion was making it difficult for me to balance because of the said injury. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, though so I just leaned against one of the chairs and closed my eyes. Then some guy stood up and looked at me and sort of nodded at his seat and said “Umupo ka na.” Aren’t doing nice things like that always an exercise in reading (reading people, in this case I guess: being able to tell when someone needs a seat)? I don’t mean to say people should be completely empathetic (no such thing–complete empathy would just mean you were that person) but that we should pay attention. And if there’s one thing that reading teaches you to do, it’s that. 🙂

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