Anonymous asked:

Hello, I apologize for the out of the blue message but could you please recommend me a book? I really liked To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher In The Rye but I can't quite seem to get into Never Let Me Go. I would prefer if it on less that 300 pages. I realized I've never spent much time reading anything other than academic books and I'd like to change that. You seem to read a lot so I thought maybe you could help me out, I would really appreciate it.

hey!  sorry for the slow reply, but i had to mull over this one for a bit because it’s been over a decade since i read to kill a mockingbird and i admit i wasn’t too personally keen on the catcher in the rye (i opine that i read it too late in life; if i’d read it as a late adolescent, i think i would have taken more away from it than i did).  it’s also been a while since i’ve read a few of the listed titles, too, (one reason for the lack of personal blurbs), but they’re all books that sat with me over the years, and these are the titles that came to mind as i mulled over to kill a mockingbird and the catcher in the rye.  they should all be less than or just over 300 pages, and it’s a mix of things — novels, non-fiction, plays.

-  the bell jar, sylvia plath

-  the glass menagerie and a streetcar named desire, tennessee williams

-  i know why the caged bird sings, maya angelou

-  the color purple, alice walker

-  the diving bell and the butterfly, jean dominique bauby

-  the sense of an ending, julian barnes

-  the guest, hwang sok-young

-  i’ll be there, shin kyung-sook

… ok this list feels both really obvious and really arbitrary … X:  my apologies for that!  i hope it helps a little, though!  (:

and thanks for the Q!  you’ve definitely encouraged me to pick up more from maya angelou and to get my butt into gear and finally read toni morrison!

There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight. It takes forty-one seconds to climb a ladder three stories tall. It’s not easy to imagine the year 3012, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. We have new capabilities now — strange powers we’re still getting used to. The mountains are a message from Aldrag the Wyrm-Father. Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.

Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Midorikawa grudgingly shook his head. “Talent can be a nice thing to have sometimes. You look good, attract attention, and if you’re lucky, you make some money. Women flock to you. In that sense, having talent’s preferable to having none. But talent only functions when it’s supported by a tough, unyielding physical and mental focus. All it takes is one screw in your brain to come loose and fall off, or some connection in your body to break down, and your concentration vanishes, like the dew at dawn. A simple toothache, or stiff shoulders, and you can’t play the piano well. It’s true. I’ve actually experienced it. A single cavity, one aching shoulder, and the beautiful vision and sound I hoped to convey goes out the window. The human body’s that fragile. It’s a complex system that can be damaged by something very trivial, and in most cases once it’s damaged, it can’t easily be restored. A cavity or stiff shoulder you can get over, but there are a lot of things you can’t get past. If talent’s the foundation you rely on, and yet it’s so unreliable that you have no idea what’s going to happen to it the next minute, what meaning does it have?”

"Talent might be ephemeral," Haida replied, "and there aren’t many people who can sustain it their whole lives. But talent makes a huge spiritual leap possible. It’s an almost universal, independent phenomenon that transcends the individual."

Midorikawa pondered that for a while before replying. “Mozart and Schubert died young, but their music lives on forever. Is that what you mean?”

"That would be one example."

"That kind of talent is always the exception. Most people like that have to pay a price for their genius — through accepting foreshortened lives and untimely deaths. They strike a bargain, putting their lives on the line. Whether that bargain’s with God or the devil, I wouldn’t know."

Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

in california until the 26th, and i’ve been here a few days now, and, as usual, it’s been a pretty packed few days, lots of driving, lots of catching up, lots of eating.   it’s been awesome, but i’m thinking i ought to slow it down next week and do more reading and work on my book because my plan had been to try to finish it by the end of the month.  i just couldn’t say no to a ticket out to california, though, not when apartment-hunting and moving (oh, i moved; did i mention that here?) and edan lepucki’s california all combined together to make me miss california intensely, like more than i’ve ever missed california since moving out to new york.

i miss my bookstores, though.  i’ll never be able to leave new york simply for all the amazing, wonderful bookstores, all within an arm’s reach.

(acceptance is only 18 days away!  i have it on preorder at greenlight, so i can go pick it up on pub day!)  (september 2!)

anyway.  it’s disgustingly hot (it hit 102 today).  it’s awesome seeing old friends and family.  i missed driving (as usual).  i got a perm on tuesday (first one in twenty years), but i think i washed it out because i shampooed my hair too soon (oops) (not really) (idk still not a fan of perms).  i actually haven’t read the new murakami yet.  LA has the best korean food.

(also i dreamt last night that i’d gone to a farmer’s market and found a yellow melon and was super excited for it, but then i woke up and realized it was a dream and was sad.  yellow melon!  where can i find them here …???)

let us take a minute just to marvel over how beautiful this book is.  what incredible work from chip kidd; i can’t stop petting it.
i was supposed to go to a midnight murakami event in brooklyn last night, but i chose to forgo it for a last minute trip out to california.  i was sad to miss out on midnight murakami, but that’s all right — i get two weeks of family and friends (and korean food/tacos/in n out) in california and was able to pick up a copy of colorless tsukuru tazaki today!
this book is just so pretty.  the type is gorgeous, too — all of it is such a feast for the eyes, and it makes me thrill inside, seeing a book get such wonderful love.  and the opening passage is wonderful, too, so i just had to type it up (obviously) before i slipped off to bed with colorless tsukuru tazaki!  good night, all!

1
From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.  He turned twenty during this time, but this special watershed — becoming an adult — meant nothing.  Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution, and even now he couldn’t say why he hadn’t taken this final step.  Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw egg.
Perhaps he didn’t commit suicide then because he couldn’t conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death.  But method was beside the point.  If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn’t have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life.  For better or for worse, though, there was no such door nearby.
I really should have died then, Tsukuru often told himself.  Then this world, the one in the hear and now, wouldn’t exist.  It was a captivating, bewitching thought.  The present world wouldn’t exist, and reality would no longer be real.  As far as this world was concerned, he would simply no longer exist — just as this world would no longer exist for him.
At the same time, Tsukuru couldn’t fathom why he had reached this point, where he was teetering over the precipice.  There was an actual event that had led him to this palce — this he knew all too well — but why should death have such a hold over him, enveloping him in its embrace for nearly half a year?  Envelop — the word expressed it precisely.  Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, Tsukuru had fallen into the bowels of death, one untold day after another, lost in a dark, stagnant world.
It was as if he were sleepwalking through life, as if he had already died but not yet noticed it.  When the sun rose, so would Tsukuru — he’d brush his teeth, throw on whatever clothes were at hand, ride the train to college, and take notes in class.  Like a person in a storm desperately grasping at a lamppost, he clung to this daily routine.  He only spoke to people when necessary, and after school, he woudl return to his solitary apartment, sit on the floor, lean back against the wall, and ponder death and the failures of his life.  Before him lay a huge, dark abyss that ran straight through to the earth’s core.  All he could see was a thick cloud of nothingness swirling around him; all he could hear was a profound silence squeezing his eardrums.
When he wasn’t thinking about death, his mind was blank.  It wasn’t hard to keep from thinking.  He didn’t read any newspapers, didn’t listen to music, and had no sexual desire to speak of.  Events occurring in the outside world were, to him, inconsequential.  When he grew tired of his room, he wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood or went to the station, where he sat on a bench and watched the trains arriving and departing, over and over again.
He took a shower every morning, shampooed his hair well, and did the laundry twice a week.  Cleanliness was another one of his pillars:  laundry, bathing, and teeth brushing.  He barely noticed what he ate.  He had lunch at the college cafeteria, but other than that, he hardly consumed a decent meal.  When he felt hungry he stopped by the local supermarket and bought an apple or some vegetables.  Sometimes he ate plain bread, washing it down with milk straight from the carton.  When it was time to sleep, he’d gulp down a glass of whiskey as if it were a dose of medicine.  Luckily he wasn’t much of a drinker, and a small dose of alcohol was all it took to send him off to sleep.  He never dreamed.  But even if he had dreamed, even if dreamlike images arose from the edges of his mind, they would have found nowhere to perch on the slippery slopes of his consciousness, instead quickly sliding off, down into the voice.
- Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

let us take a minute just to marvel over how beautiful this book is.  what incredible work from chip kidd; i can’t stop petting it.

i was supposed to go to a midnight murakami event in brooklyn last night, but i chose to forgo it for a last minute trip out to california.  i was sad to miss out on midnight murakami, but that’s all right — i get two weeks of family and friends (and korean food/tacos/in n out) in california and was able to pick up a copy of colorless tsukuru tazaki today!

this book is just so pretty.  the type is gorgeous, too — all of it is such a feast for the eyes, and it makes me thrill inside, seeing a book get such wonderful love.  and the opening passage is wonderful, too, so i just had to type it up (obviously) before i slipped off to bed with colorless tsukuru tazaki!  good night, all!

1

From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.  He turned twenty during this time, but this special watershed — becoming an adult — meant nothing.  Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution, and even now he couldn’t say why he hadn’t taken this final step.  Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw egg.

Perhaps he didn’t commit suicide then because he couldn’t conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death.  But method was beside the point.  If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn’t have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life.  For better or for worse, though, there was no such door nearby.

I really should have died then, Tsukuru often told himself.  Then this world, the one in the hear and now, wouldn’t exist.  It was a captivating, bewitching thought.  The present world wouldn’t exist, and reality would no longer be real.  As far as this world was concerned, he would simply no longer exist — just as this world would no longer exist for him.

At the same time, Tsukuru couldn’t fathom why he had reached this point, where he was teetering over the precipice.  There was an actual event that had led him to this palce — this he knew all too well — but why should death have such a hold over him, enveloping him in its embrace for nearly half a year?  Envelop — the word expressed it precisely.  Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, Tsukuru had fallen into the bowels of death, one untold day after another, lost in a dark, stagnant world.

It was as if he were sleepwalking through life, as if he had already died but not yet noticed it.  When the sun rose, so would Tsukuru — he’d brush his teeth, throw on whatever clothes were at hand, ride the train to college, and take notes in class.  Like a person in a storm desperately grasping at a lamppost, he clung to this daily routine.  He only spoke to people when necessary, and after school, he woudl return to his solitary apartment, sit on the floor, lean back against the wall, and ponder death and the failures of his life.  Before him lay a huge, dark abyss that ran straight through to the earth’s core.  All he could see was a thick cloud of nothingness swirling around him; all he could hear was a profound silence squeezing his eardrums.

When he wasn’t thinking about death, his mind was blank.  It wasn’t hard to keep from thinking.  He didn’t read any newspapers, didn’t listen to music, and had no sexual desire to speak of.  Events occurring in the outside world were, to him, inconsequential.  When he grew tired of his room, he wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood or went to the station, where he sat on a bench and watched the trains arriving and departing, over and over again.

He took a shower every morning, shampooed his hair well, and did the laundry twice a week.  Cleanliness was another one of his pillars:  laundry, bathing, and teeth brushing.  He barely noticed what he ate.  He had lunch at the college cafeteria, but other than that, he hardly consumed a decent meal.  When he felt hungry he stopped by the local supermarket and bought an apple or some vegetables.  Sometimes he ate plain bread, washing it down with milk straight from the carton.  When it was time to sleep, he’d gulp down a glass of whiskey as if it were a dose of medicine.  Luckily he wasn’t much of a drinker, and a small dose of alcohol was all it took to send him off to sleep.  He never dreamed.  But even if he had dreamed, even if dreamlike images arose from the edges of his mind, they would have found nowhere to perch on the slippery slopes of his consciousness, instead quickly sliding off, down into the voice.

- Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

seven books i’d recommend to an aspiring writer (but, really, in general, to anyone) (by request on instagram):
this is a weird list for me to think up, mostly because i feel like there’s something very personal about the books/writing we’re drawn to — and, by that, i mean that we’re drawn to different tones, nuances, narratives, themes, even styles that respond to our own unique experiences and preferences, and there are so many great books out there that speak to those differences.
it goes without saying that this is a list that’s entirely personal to me, given the type of writing i personally aspire to and the themes that attract me.  they aren’t really books about writing because i don’t find those personally useful/inspirational, but these are seven books that i find myself coming back to over and over again, especially when i could use some encouragement as a writer.  (:
01.  still writing, dani shapiro.this is the only book on/about writing i’ve ever read.  i appreciated it a lot, too — i stumbled across this book in a very timely moment when i was feeling discouraged because i was struggling in my own writing.  i basically read this book thinking, YES!  i agree! the whole time and immediately recommended it to my illustrator friend because a lot of the things shapiro says were things my friend and i had been talking about over the last few months.  
shapiro doesn’t try to romanticize or glamorize the writing life (to be honest, i don’t know how anyone could.  there’s nothing romantic or glamorous about it at all, “it” being the work itself, showing up everyday and sitting at your desk and trying to bleed words onto the page), but she talks about it honestly and openly, even when she’s discussing something like envy.  i appreciated her frankness and that this book gave me a little kick in the butt and got me to stop moping and get back to writing …
02.  the unabridged journals, sylvia plath.the first time i read plath’s journals, i’d find myself spazzing out over how much i related to her.  her internal struggles about being a writer and a woman and, oftentimes, a woman writer are laid out so bare on the page, and, to me at least, plath has always seemed so eminently relatable.  it doesn’t hurt that i enjoy her writing, too, because there’s a rawness to it, even if there is a voyeuristic feeling to delving into her personal thoughts and records of her life.  at the same time, though, it really is that rawness that i respond to, that humanness that makes her ultimately sympathetic and real.
03.  the english patient, michael ondaatje.ondaatje’s prose in the english patient — it’s hard to find words to do it credit.  his words drip off the page, and there’s this liquid sensuality to them that wraps you up and doesn’t let you go — and it’s very languid, too, very smooth and rich but not overwhelming or smothering.  the story is haunting, too, with the specter of war looming over them, and the language just serves the narrative and the settings so well.  it’s so beautiful — read it out loud; the words roll off your tongue like lovely morsels.
04.  the history of love, nicole krauss.if we’re talking aspirational prose, i automatically think of nicole krauss because she writes about loss in the most exquisite ways.  the last few pages of the history of love wring my heart — even now, just thinking about them, my eyes sting — and there’s so much heart in her writing, so much raw sensitivity and fragility, not of the weak sort but in the sense of the human body being a fragile, breakable but beautiful, living thing.  
i also highly recommend her debut novel, man walks into a room.  it’s not as stylized as the history of love, but it’s still beautifully written — and, again, the ways krauss writes about loss — i can’t get enough of it.
05.  never let me go, kazuo ishiguro.there is no book i have read more than i have read never let me go — in fact, i just finished reading it for the second time this calendar year, and i’m sure i’ll read it at least once more before 2014 is up.  there’s a beautiful thread of unease running under this entire book, and it pulls tighter and tighter as you get near the end, until you’re just unravelled yourself.
ishiguro does first-person so well — i’ve probably said this before, but i think that, while there are many writers who are good at first person, there are few writers who are great at first person, and ishiguro is one of those few.  he inhabits voice with such ease, so there’s a beautiful naturalness to kathy h’s voice, and that just unravels you more …
06.  anna karenina, leo tolstoy.i really should pick up the pevear/volokhonsky translation of this.  in my opinion, there’s just no reason not to read anna karenina — it’s engaging; it’s a fascinating portrait of russia in the late nineteenth century; and, okay, i will concede that not everyone will be as in love with nineteenth century russia as i am, but tolstoy gets a lot into anna karenina, delving into themes like jealousy and passion and happiness and marriage but does so by telling a story through these characters in a very realistic portrait of an actual world. 
and it’s fun!  i think it’s fun.  there’s such an opulence to this world that there’s a seduction to it.  it’s basically tolstoy’s fault that i’m fascinated by nineteenth century russia.
the other russian novel i’d recommend is dostoevsky’s the brothers karamazov.
07.  the corrections, jonathan franzen.i can’t not put a franzen on here.  when i reread the corrections earlier this year, the main thought going through my head was basically, these are real, fleshed-out people occupying a real, fleshed-out world, which honestly negates any kind of argument about likability or whatnot.  and my thing with franzen is that he makes it all read so easy.  the effort of his prose isn’t on the page; you don’t read him and think, wow, this guy is trying so hard to do something; and i admire that ease because we know the effort that does go into these books, not only his but any good book, the writing, rewriting, editing, again and again and again until it’s just right.  and, sometimes, you can see that laboriousness dragging down the writing, but not so in the corrections.
*
and here’s a bonus thrown in:  the opening passage to enduring love by ian mcewan.  the whole book is brilliant and one of my favorites by mcewan, but that opening passage in particular is awesome.  i typed it up here, so now y’all have no excuse not to read it.  then go get the book and read it.

seven books i’d recommend to an aspiring writer (but, really, in general, to anyone) (by request on instagram):

this is a weird list for me to think up, mostly because i feel like there’s something very personal about the books/writing we’re drawn to — and, by that, i mean that we’re drawn to different tones, nuances, narratives, themes, even styles that respond to our own unique experiences and preferences, and there are so many great books out there that speak to those differences.

it goes without saying that this is a list that’s entirely personal to me, given the type of writing i personally aspire to and the themes that attract me.  they aren’t really books about writing because i don’t find those personally useful/inspirational, but these are seven books that i find myself coming back to over and over again, especially when i could use some encouragement as a writer.  (:

01.  still writing, dani shapiro.
this is the only book on/about writing i’ve ever read.  i appreciated it a lot, too — i stumbled across this book in a very timely moment when i was feeling discouraged because i was struggling in my own writing.  i basically read this book thinking, YES!  i agree! the whole time and immediately recommended it to my illustrator friend because a lot of the things shapiro says were things my friend and i had been talking about over the last few months.  

shapiro doesn’t try to romanticize or glamorize the writing life (to be honest, i don’t know how anyone could.  there’s nothing romantic or glamorous about it at all, “it” being the work itself, showing up everyday and sitting at your desk and trying to bleed words onto the page), but she talks about it honestly and openly, even when she’s discussing something like envy.  i appreciated her frankness and that this book gave me a little kick in the butt and got me to stop moping and get back to writing …

02.  the unabridged journals, sylvia plath.
the first time i read plath’s journals, i’d find myself spazzing out over how much i related to her.  her internal struggles about being a writer and a woman and, oftentimes, a woman writer are laid out so bare on the page, and, to me at least, plath has always seemed so eminently relatable.  it doesn’t hurt that i enjoy her writing, too, because there’s a rawness to it, even if there is a voyeuristic feeling to delving into her personal thoughts and records of her life.  at the same time, though, it really is that rawness that i respond to, that humanness that makes her ultimately sympathetic and real.

03.  the english patient, michael ondaatje.
ondaatje’s prose in the english patient — it’s hard to find words to do it credit.  his words drip off the page, and there’s this liquid sensuality to them that wraps you up and doesn’t let you go — and it’s very languid, too, very smooth and rich but not overwhelming or smothering.  the story is haunting, too, with the specter of war looming over them, and the language just serves the narrative and the settings so well.  it’s so beautiful — read it out loud; the words roll off your tongue like lovely morsels.

04.  the history of love, nicole krauss.
if we’re talking aspirational prose, i automatically think of nicole krauss because she writes about loss in the most exquisite ways.  the last few pages of the history of love wring my heart — even now, just thinking about them, my eyes sting — and there’s so much heart in her writing, so much raw sensitivity and fragility, not of the weak sort but in the sense of the human body being a fragile, breakable but beautiful, living thing.  

i also highly recommend her debut novel, man walks into a room.  it’s not as stylized as the history of love, but it’s still beautifully written — and, again, the ways krauss writes about loss — i can’t get enough of it.

05.  never let me go, kazuo ishiguro.
there is no book i have read more than i have read never let me go — in fact, i just finished reading it for the second time this calendar year, and i’m sure i’ll read it at least once more before 2014 is up.  there’s a beautiful thread of unease running under this entire book, and it pulls tighter and tighter as you get near the end, until you’re just unravelled yourself.

ishiguro does first-person so well — i’ve probably said this before, but i think that, while there are many writers who are good at first person, there are few writers who are great at first person, and ishiguro is one of those few.  he inhabits voice with such ease, so there’s a beautiful naturalness to kathy h’s voice, and that just unravels you more …

06.  anna karenina, leo tolstoy.
i really should pick up the pevear/volokhonsky translation of this.  in my opinion, there’s just no reason not to read anna karenina — it’s engaging; it’s a fascinating portrait of russia in the late nineteenth century; and, okay, i will concede that not everyone will be as in love with nineteenth century russia as i am, but tolstoy gets a lot into anna karenina, delving into themes like jealousy and passion and happiness and marriage but does so by telling a story through these characters in a very realistic portrait of an actual world. 

and it’s fun!  i think it’s fun.  there’s such an opulence to this world that there’s a seduction to it.  it’s basically tolstoy’s fault that i’m fascinated by nineteenth century russia.

the other russian novel i’d recommend is dostoevsky’s the brothers karamazov.

07.  the corrections, jonathan franzen.
i can’t not put a franzen on here.  when i reread the corrections earlier this year, the main thought going through my head was basically, these are real, fleshed-out people occupying a real, fleshed-out world, which honestly negates any kind of argument about likability or whatnot.  and my thing with franzen is that he makes it all read so easy.  the effort of his prose isn’t on the page; you don’t read him and think, wow, this guy is trying so hard to do something; and i admire that ease because we know the effort that does go into these books, not only his but any good book, the writing, rewriting, editing, again and again and again until it’s just right.  and, sometimes, you can see that laboriousness dragging down the writing, but not so in the corrections.

*

and here’s a bonus thrown in:  the opening passage to enduring love by ian mcewan.  the whole book is brilliant and one of my favorites by mcewan, but that opening passage in particular is awesome.  i typed it up here, so now y’all have no excuse not to read it.  then go get the book and read it.