I try to read for an hour every day. Easier some days than others — beach days, days at my folks’ house, and rainy winter days. In Vancouver, we get a lot of those. Now that winter has settled in, I’ve accumulated a stack of books to work through over these next cold, dark, damp months. Here’s what’s on my ‘bedside table’ at the moment (note: my apartment is too small for a bedside table. My beside table is a windowsill next to my bed):
I didn’t read as much fiction in 2013 as I did in 2011 or 2012. I read a few books related to branding and communications (like this one, which I loved) to help me in my job search, and I started a bunch of novel that I didn’t finish. Of all the books I did read all the way through, these were my favourites:
Given how unsettled I’ve been feeling, I probably did myself no favours by spending last week reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. The Fitzgeralds put my rootless existence to shame: I lost count of the number of times they moved around America, to Europe, around Europe, back to America, repeat, repeat, repeat. This takes its toll on Therese Ann Fowler’s fictionalized Zelda, whose marriage to Scott is tumultuous and often toxic.
My Summer of Reading isn’t going quite as strong as I had originally expected. These last weeks, I’ve barely been in Vancouver at all–I’ve been on the Island (Vancouver Island, for those of you who don’t live in coastal BC and/or know of one or more other islands) not once, not twice, but four times–hanging out with family and old friends, particularly my best friend who’s recently returned from China with her new babe, Finley. It’s been a blast catching up with K and getting to know wee Fin; needless to say, reading hasn’t been at the top of my priority list.
Now I’m at my parents’ place in the Okanagan, and have spent the last couple of days doing one of my favourite things to do at my parents’: reading in the yard. My biggest decisions these last days have been whether to read on the patio or down on the lawn, and what kind of cocktail I should bring with me. Life is hard.
Anyway, I thought I’d do a sequel to my Ode to Bookworms and curate another collection of photos. This time, reading al fresco:
As we’ve established, I’ll be sticking pretty close to home this summer, despite being a bit stir-crazy. My escapes will mainly be literary ones, which really isn’t so bad. I have a terrific reading chair to curl up in, and a nearby beach for when I want to do my reading al fresco. I did a lot of reading while I was in Melbourne, thanks in part to working part-time, to (initially) having no friends, and to my gig reviewing books for Artshub. Since I have a good deal of free time at the moment and am finding myself watching too much TV (Breaking Bad and The Americans. Hooked.), it seemed a good time to get started on one of my 36 by 36 tasks (#22).
So as some of you probably noticed, I took a rather long hiatus from blogging last year. There were a bunch of factors–being busy with school, hating the design of my blog, and not being entirely sure what kind of blog I wanted to write. I was also concentrating more on professional writing, which left little time/energy/motivation for recreational writing. I’ve always had a hard time putting my writing ‘out there,’ and so I’m thrilled to have finally mustered the courage to find writing opportunities outside my own little world.
So while I haven’t been writing here, I’ve been writing feature stories for uni writing classes, some of which I’ve been encouraged to publish. If I have a resolution for 2013, that’s it. (That and, you know, get my life in order.) Meanwhile, I’ve also been writing for two other sites.
First, there’s Eat With Me (read my post about this fantastic little start-up here). In addition to its event site, Eat With Me has a blog, which I’ve been writing since July. Here are a few posts to check out if you’re so inclined:
- How the Rest of the World Does Christmas
- Turning over a new leaf
- Eating Local: Not Quite as Virtuous as We Thought?
- Eating Local: Why it Matters
- It’s a Big, Delicious World Out There
- Sharing, Japanese Style
- All in the Presentation: 13 Ways to Make Your Food Like Art
- Questions of Food
So that’s the food, which, obviously, I love. And then there’s the books.
I’ve been reviewing books for Australian website artshub.com.au, which has been great if for no other reason than I get free books. It also means that I’ve been reading a lot, which is great because I hate to be one of those self-proclaimed avid readers who barely read. Here’s a few reviews of recent books I’ve enjoyed:
- The Heart Broke In by James Meek
- Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
- State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
- May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
- Canada by Richard Ford
- The Best Australian Essays 2012
And there’s more to come! I’ve just been assigned to review a republished collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald stories. Me! Reviewing Fitzgerald! Bananas.
That’s all for now…
A few years ago, Christopher Hitchens wrote an article for Vanity Fair called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” You can read it here, but allow me to give you a few gems from this seriously misguided (not to speak ill of the dead or anything) piece:
“Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men [with humour]. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift.”
“There are more terrible female comedians than there are terrible male comedians, but there are some impressive ladies out there. Most of them, though, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three”. Jewish humour, though, “is almost masculine by definition.”
“Precisely because humor is a sign of intelligence (and many women believe, or were taught by their mothers, that they become threatening to men if they appear too bright), it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny. They want them as an audience, not as rivals.”
If this last one is true (which I maintain it isn’t), I think I have little chance of ever finding a husband. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t want a guy who was threatened by smart and/or funny women.
Two women I adore who are neither “hefty”, “dykey” nor Jewish (and are in fact really lovely) are Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling, both of whom have written hilarious books in the last year or so. I read Tina’s (Bossypants) about a year ago, and I read Mindy’s (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns) recently–twice, actually.
Both Tina and Mindy (I feel like we’re on a first name basis now, since I’m pretty sure if we ever met we would be great friends) and their books are way too funny to try to talk about in my own words, so I give you some of Mindy’s, from her introductory Q&A with prospective readers:
Is this one of those guide books celebrities write for girls?
Oh hell no. I’m only marginally qualified to be giving advice at all. My body mass index is certainly not ideal, I frequently use my debit card to buy things that cost less than three dollars, because I never have cash on me, and my bedroom is so untidy it looks like vandals ransacked the Anthropologie Sale section. I’m kind of a mess. I did, however, fulfill a childhood dream of writing and acting in television and movies. Armed with that confidence, alongside a lifelong love of the sound of my own voice, yes, I’ve put some advice in this book.
However, you should know I disagree with a lot of traditional advice. For instance, they say the best revenge is living well. I say it’s acid in the face–who will love them now?
If Christopher Hitchens found this excerpt and/or the rest of this book anything less than very funny, this just confirms my belief that I would not have liked him very much at all.
And also a delightful photo of Tina, whom I would like to have at my hypothetical dinner party of 5 people living or dead. I would also very much like to have Mindy, but she’s a newer girl crush, and can I really fill two seats out of five with wicked awesome comediennes? Yes, perhaps I can.
Below is a review I wrote as an ‘audition’ to be a book reviewer for Australia’s Artshub. They have accepted me as a reviewer (hurray!), but this book is a little too old to publish a review of. So here it is. If this doesn’t come across, I highly recommend this book. I loved it.
A kleptomaniac, a has-been record producer, a schizophrenic journalist, a disgraced PR maven, and a washed-up Hollywood starlet are among the motley crew of characters you’ll meet in Jennifer Egan’s excellent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad.
The book, which Egan has said was influenced by Marcel Proust and HBO’s The Sopranos, reads more like a collection of short stories than a novel, consisting of titled chapters, each told from the perspective of a different character. The stories weave in and out of one another, with certain characters appearing throughout the book—for instance, you become intimately acquainted with troubled 35-year-old petty thief Sasha in the first chapter (getting to sit in on her therapy sessions), only to meet her again as the twenty-something assistant of record producer Benny Salazar, then as the friend of a disturbed gay NYU student, as the missing teenaged niece of an art historian (who is sent to Italy to retrieve her), and finally as the nagging mother of an unusually perceptive tween.
The use of multiple perspectives is a common narrative technique in both books and film—one that can work incredibly well or fall flat. Done poorly, this technique results in an incohesive narrative and half-sketched characters with whom you don’t get adequate time to get to know or understand. Done well, on the other hand, experiencing events through the eyes and consciousness of a character—and then seeing that character from someone else’s perspective—creates a deeper understanding of who the person is and how she fits into her world.
Egan uses this technique very, very well, which is no small feat, given the sheer number and diversity of personalities involved. To complicate matters further, she jumps back and forth through time (occasionally even giving us quick glimpses of what’s in store for the characters; the outlook is never good), alternately uses first, second, and third person; balances dark subject matter with lighter satire; and incorporates different media, including a satirical celebrity profile and an excerpt from Sasha’s daughter’s journal, which is entirely composed of Powerpoint slides.
Given all this, Goon Squad could have been a scattered, disjointed hodgepodge of a book, but it feels like nothing of the sort. Sex, drugs, music, and other pop culture are featured throughout the stories. If there’s a bigger theme running through them, it’s time, which is referred to on two occasions as a ‘goon’. The title of the book, then, seems to suggest that the passing of time is like being visited and roughed up by a group of thugs. For most of Goon Squad’s characters, time’s passing has indeed been unkind, if not violent, and there is a subtle theme of characters wondering how they got from there (success, talent, promise, opportunity) to here (shame, disgrace, alienation, failure). As Jocelyn, one of the young punk rockers we meet in 1979, says, “I got lost”.
Despite these themes, Goon Squad is not all dark. It is also profoundly touching, funny and endearingly strange, and it concludes on a surprisingly light note. The final scene is a comeback concert played by one of the book’s many musical talents, who has been thoroughly battered by the figurative goon squad. The concert is a monumental success, suggesting there’s hope that even those who have gotten lost might just find their way again.
Photo from Zachary Little.
It seems like the merits of bookworms (and particularly bookish girls) are suddenly getting recognized everywhere. Or at least people are suddenly posting links celebrating bookish ladies and their quirky charm on my Facebook wall. First, there was this blog post, which I mentioned a while back, posted on my wall by my aunt. Then there was this spoken word awesomeness, which a friend sent me, accompanied by the truly lovely message
“See? There are clearly guys that appreciate nerds who would rather stay in and read on a Friday night. Maybe spinsterhood isn’t in the cards for you after all.” (Thanks, Mike! Such a relief…)
and this recent gem, which another friend posted on my wall and which I have watched about seventeen times.
Nerdy boy, he’s so slow
Tuesday we started Foucault
He’s still stuck on the intro? He’s a no go.
Totally! Who hasn’t written off a boy because he doesn’t read good enough books? No? Just me?
Meanwhile, I have spent the last few months pinning photos of all kinds of bookish beauty. Check out the collection below.
When you take an English degree, you have to do a whole lot of reading you really, really don’t want to do. Depressing CanLit, Moby Dick (okay, if we’re being honest, I didn’t actually read Moby Dick, nor did most of the class, it would seem, judging from the panicked discussion immediately before the final exam), and loads of terribly dry, dense, inpenetrable literary theory. For a while after finishing at UVic, reading wasn’t enjoyable anymore; it felt like work. I’m back to being an avid reader—particularly since coming to Australia—but these days I want to read enjoyable books. Sometimes that means reading relatively fluffy material. No pink covers, mind you, but I’m over hard-going reading that’s all work and little or no reward.
Both are fictionalized accounts of real women who loved now-famous men: Ernest Hemingway and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I won’t go into too much detail on the plots here, as I hate when even the most fundamental details of books’ plots are given away. What I will tell you is that both books are respectably written and seemingly well researched and provide a very interesting perspective on people and historical periods that fascinate me (the interwar period in Paris in particular). If I ran into, say, Chris Douglas (one of the two favourite literature profs during my undergrad degree) and he asked me what I was reading, I wouldn’t feel an overwhelming urge to lie (“Uhhh…Cormac McCarthy, of course!”).
But at the same time, the books’ lack of intellectual challenge and focus on the somewhat obsessive, angst-ridden inner workings of women in love make them feel a little…fluffy.
What differentiates these books from chick lit is believable character development. These aren’t your stock chick lit characters who work in publishing in NYC, speak in an artificial manner, and lack any observable or believable flaws—they’re complicated, well-rounded, intelligent women who think and speak in a way that felt familiar and authentic to me.
As Hemingway’s buddy F. Scott Fitzgerald (who, along with his wife Zelda, makes an appearance in The Paris Wife) said:
Fitzgerald’s words are true of both these books. Recommend!
*I’m pretty sure Nancy Horan, Paula McLain, and the authors who wrote the rest of these recommended books would object to the products of their hard work being referred to as fluff, even intelligent fluff. I do use ‘fluff’ in the most affectionate and respectful way here. I have low tolerance for drivel, so the fact that I enjoyed and am recommending these books means something, right?