this was a very satisfying distraction:
1. favourite childhood book?
i loved the anne of green gables books … but then i learned of the emily of new moon books when i was older, and i love those better. (teddy!!!)
2. what are you reading right now?
madeleine l’engle’s walking on water, jonathan franzen’s the kraus project, krys lee’s drifting house, banana yoshimoto’s hardboiled and hard luck, and c.s. lewis’ surprised by joy. i have to have at least 5 books going at the same time, so i can hop around as my mood flips.
3. what books do you have on request at the library?
sad to say i do not have a library card, but, you know, this is actually a good thing because i’m terrible at keeping due dates. also, i like owning books; i’m possessive that way.
4. bad book habit?
erm, i err on the side of taking too much care of my books? i don’t fold corners or crease spines, although i do mark passages i like with a pencil. although i guess i’ve gotten less anal retentive in recent years. i always have a book with me, and i carry giant tote bags, so my books have been getting more wear, which is nice — i’ve grown to like that slightly worn look.
5. what do you currently have checked out at the library?
see number 3.
6. do you have an e-reader?
i have an ipad and her name is zöe but i basically use her only to browse flipboard and watch movie trailers.
7. do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
see number 2.
8. have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
9. least favourite book you read this year (so far)?
haruki murakami’s hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world. i couldn’t stand it and only finished it because it was for book club.
10. favourite book you’ve read this year?
meg wolitzer’s the interestings. have you read it yet? no? please do.
11. how often do you read out of your comfort zone?
i don’t know how i would define “comfort zone.” i know the style of writing i like and the kinds of stories i like, and i guess that could be a comfort zone because i don’t deliberately try to read from different genres or such. i don’t really see a reason to. i do try to be deliberate with being more balanced in the books i read, specifically by reading more women and more korean authors in general.
12. what is your reading comfort zone?
"they" call the genre "literary fiction." so "literary fiction" and the classics.
13. can you read on the bus?
i have horrible motion sickness. i can read on trains and planes, though, granted that turbulence is not a thing, but i can’t read on buses or cars — it’s hard even to be a passenger in buses and cars, so it’s a good thing i love driving.
14. favourite place to read?
at my desk, in bed, on the subway.
15. what is your policy on book lending?
i’ll lend you books, ok, but i want them back in the exact condition i’ve leant them to you.
16. do you ever dog-ear books?
no, that’s why post-its were invented.
17. do you ever write in the margins of your books?
yes. in pencil. usually in a scrawl i can’t read.
18. not even with text books?
you should’ve seen the hate i wrote in my casebooks.
19. what is your favourite language to read in?
english. because my korean isn’t fluent enough for reading literature. although that doesn’t stop be from buying korean literature in korean on a semi-regular basis. (one day soon, i’ll buy kim young-ha’s memories of a murderer.)
20. what makes you love a book?
good writing. i need a good narrative and fleshed-out characters, but it’s the writing itself that really gets me.
21. what will inspire you to recommend a book?
if it gets me in the heart and in the gut. the interestings got me in both my heart and gut. so did michael ondaatje’s the english patient. (ondaatje’s writing in the english patient also just shredded my heart; his language is so fucking spectacular and heart-breaking.)
22. favourite genre?
see number 12.
23. genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?
erm. sometimes i wish i liked non-fiction more? sometimes, i wish there were more creative non-fiction that was interesting.
24. favourite biography?
ugh. i am so not a biography person. that said, i’ll read pretty much everything written about sylvia plath. (i have a shelf for sylvia plath literature alone.)
25. have you ever read a self-help book?
i have better ways to waste my time.
26. favourite cookbook?
deb perelman’s smitten kitchen cookbook. also, love her blog. hilariously, i’ve cooked from her blog several times but have yet to cook something from her cookbook. it’s too pretty to get dirty in my kitchen!
27. most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
meh do not like this question; skip.
28. favourite reading snack?
coffee (obviously) and a cheddar scone. cheddar scones are great. especially if they also have scallions and bacon. i’ve really got to start baking them myself.
29. name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
hm. strangely enough, i can actually count several examples of the reverse happening, where i thought i’d hate a book because of hype but ended up loving it instead … like ian mcewan’s atonement and jonathan franzen’s freedom. (ok i can’t say i loved freedom, but i found it a lot more compelling and thought-provoking than i expected. the corrections, though — now, that’s my franzen book.)
30. how often do you agree with critics about a book?
i very rarely read anything critical about books. when i’ve finished a book, i go searching for author interviews, though.
31. how do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
just be honest. bad writing is bad writing.
32. if you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
russian. i want to read tolstoy and dostoevsky not-in-translation, damnit!
33. most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
most intimidating book i’ve started/tried to read? proust’s in search of lost time.
34. most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
james joyce’s ulysses. i feel like part of the intimidation is pure hype, though. also i’m too lazy to pick this up.
35. favourite poet?
hands down, t.s. eliot. pfft, i make it sound like i actually read a whole lot of poetry. i don’t. but i still love t.s. eliot.
36. how many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
when i was in university, i had at least 15 books checked out at any given time, most of them scholarly works or academic texts that were too expensive for me to buy. sobs. i miss university resources.
37. how often have you returned a book to the library unread?
pretty much most of the time. but i also usually returned them after i’d made copies of relevant chapters/essays.
38. favourite fictional character?
i always hate these questions; skip.
39. favourite fictional villain?
40. books you’re most likely to bring on vacation?
books i’m most likely not to read on vacation. like proust and dostoevsky. pfft. luckily, i’ve got some of my favourites already on zöe (like kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go, david eagleman’s sum, michael ondaatje’s the english patient, sylvia plath’s unabridged journals, and john berger’s and our faces, my heart, brief as photos, tobias wolff’s old school, and charlotte brontë’s jane eyre) or there’s a bookstore to be found, so i end up with something satisfying to read.
41. the longest you’ve gone without reading.
never? i have periods of reading intensely (usually january-february and autumn), but i’m always reading at least a little all the time.
42. name a book that you could/would not finish.
i couldn’t do this before — if i started a book, i had to finish it — but now i don’t bother forcing myself to read something that doesn’t compel me. like david mitchell’s cloud atlas. i’m sorry, but, wow, i can’t get into it. and gabriel garcia marquez’s one hundred years of solitude. i might get reamed for this, but, oh man, i read about fifty pages of it and was bored to death. and i was reading it while working at a law office, so i honestly couldn’t get more bored than i already was.
43. what distracts you easily when you’re reading?
when i’m in a book, i’m in a book, aka don’t talk to me. one of my biggest peeves ever = people talking to me when i’m reading. just don’t. i guarantee you aren’t as interesting as my book.
44. favourite film adaptation of a novel?
i love joe wright’s adaptation of pride and prejudice.
45. most disappointing film adaptation?
this can go on forever, so let’s not start.
46. the most money you’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
we aren’t going there, nope.
47. how often do you skim a book before reading it?
never? what’s to be gained by this? (also, i hate spoilers.)
48. what would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
if the book holds me at arm’s length.
49. do you like to keep your books organised?
yup, by publisher then by author. it doesn’t mean my books stay organised like this, though, but that’s my system!
50. do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
keep them, duh.
51. are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
david foster wallace’s infinite jest. i don’t know why. (haha life’s funny, though — i’ve recently become good friends with this girl who’s a huge wallace fan, and i happen to be a huge franzen fan, and i’ve never read wallace, and she’s never read franzen, but we sit and talk about them quite often.)
52. name a book that made you angry.
ayn rand’s the fountainhead pissed me off the whole way through.
53. a book you didn’t expect to like but did?
i honestly walked into atonement thinking it would be whatever. instead, it ended up being the book that ended my dry spell and reignited my love for literature — that and daphne du maurier’s rebecca.
54. a book that you expected to like but didn’t?
i thought i’d like tea obreht’s the tiger’s wife a whole lot more than i actually did. love her prose, though, but the book itself was a little too unsure of itself for me.
55. favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
everything? i only read books i enjoy reading, so it’s all guilt-free pleasure reading for me.
apparently, 2013 is the year i read banana yoshimoto. so far, i’ve read kitchen, goodbye tsugumi, the lake, n.p., and lizard, and i’m reading hardboiled & hard luck now. after this, i’ll only have asleep and amrita left, and then i’ll have read all her books — at least, all her books that have been translated into english.
… might as well obtain asleep and amrita and officially make 2013 the year i read banana yoshimoto!
today was one of those days i should’ve just stayed home.
i like clinton hill — i do — but, oh, man, is it a pain to get to manhattan or what.
thanks to the G and A/C being slow as usual and the F doing … i don’t even know what, i missed a book club meeting i was looking forward to (i finished the book, too! even though i didn’t like it much! and in two days no less!), so, to make up for that, i decided to cobble together Qs from the EW book quiz because, well, why not.
what was your favorite book as a child?
i always loved charlotte brontë’s jane eyre. still do.
what is your favorite book that you read for school?
camus’ the fall — i owe my twelfth grade AP lit teacher a lot, actually. she’s the one who introduced me to camus and beckett and sartre and ibsen and albee, and i will always think of her fondly for it. a lot of my classmates didn’t like her because she was really old and kind of slow, but she was a smart lady, and she taught me how to think differently about literature. she’s one of a handful of teachers who left a lasting impact.
what’s a book that really cemented you as a writer?
uh … i don’t know? i can say that ian mcewan’s atonement and daphne du maurier’s rebecca were the two books that made me fall back in love with literature after i’d gone through a dry spell my first two years at university, so maybe they, in a sense, cemented me as a writer? i don’t know? what does this question even mean?
is there a book you’ve read over and over again?
i read kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go at least twice every year. i usually also read ian mcewan’s on chesil beach and nicole krauss’ man walks into a room at least once a year. when i hit a rough spot writing, those are the three books i always turn to for encouragement.
what’s a classic that you’re embarrassed to say you’ve never read?
i’ve never read chekhov. there. i’ve said it. now to go pick up something by chekhov tomorrow …
what’s a book you’ve pretended to have read?
hmm. i used to do this; now i don’t care — there are so many good books out there; it’s impossible for anyone to have read them all; so who cares if you haven’t read a specific book? i mean, as long as you’re reading good books …!
what’s a book you consider grossly overrated?
jane austen’s pride and prejudice. haaaa, ok, i have an irrational dislike of that book. i do love joe wright’s adaptation of it, though!
what’s a recent book you wish you had written?
generally speaking, any good serious novel because i am not a novelist — i am a writer of short stories.
what’s a movie adaptation of a book that you loved?
i surprisingly loved the adaptations to both ian mcewan’s atonement and kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go. i loved the cinematography and staging and costuming of joe wright’s adaptation of tolstoy’s anna karenina, but i wasn’t too keen on the script.
(also, i love keira knightley.)
what was an illicit book that you had to read in secret as a kid?
all i read as a kid were the classics, so i didn’t read anything in secret. i felt a sort of guilty pleasure while reading madame bovary, though, but i think i was in late middle school when i picked that up, so does that count?
what’s a book that people might be surprised to learn that you loved?
huh. i don’t know. i loved gregory maguire’s wicked? that’s not that surprising, though … or is it? i mean, i haven’t read the wizard of oz and only saw the movie very recently (like, in the last 2 months) for the first time (and was confirmed in my suspicion that i wouldn’t like dorothy), but i loved elphaba. and fiyero!
if there were only one genre you could read for the rest of your life, what would it be?
uhm literary fiction? considering that the bulk of my reading falls under “literary fiction” (to be honest, i don’t even know that means), i’d say i’m pretty safe saying that …
what was the last book that made you laugh out loud, and what was the last one that made you cry?
i’m laughing a lot while reading jonathan franzen’s the kraus project, and i cried while reading meg wolitzer’s the interestings. this passage particularly got to me. (also, if you haven’t read the interestings yet, what’s stopping you?)
what is a book you would kill a bug with?
ayn rand’s the fountainhead. i’d kill all the bugs with that book.
: Hi there, hope fall quarter/semester is going well for you. If you don't mind, I would love to hear your thoughts Murakami's new short in the New Yorker.
hey! sorry for taking so long to reply to this — it takes me a while to get to things …
i finally read the story, and i really enjoyed it — i only started reading his short stories in the last two years or so and am finding that i generally enjoy them immensely. ”samsa in love” didn’t read like a typical murakami story, though — it seemed kind of warmer? i don’t know; i tend to think that murakami’s stories have a sort of coldness to them; but “samsa in love” had warmer tones.
i gotta say — i loved how it ended. those last four paragaphs are wonderful, i think, and i think he so wonderfully captured this sense of falling in love. and i particularly liked this — “yet had he been a fish or a sunflower, and not a human being, he might never have experienced this emotion. so he felt.” — because i feel like murakami’s making a mini-study of what it means to be human with this story but in a sort of tangential way? or in a very basic, fundamental way? like, i liked how he discovered things, whether his surroundings or his body or how to walk or what hunger felt like (loved that — “if he didn’t find food, and quickly, his starving belly would consume his own flesh, and he would cease to exist”), and, in all the obvious ways, i was tickled over how murakami took kafka’s story and inverted it neatly. makes me want to go back and read the metamorphosis again and do a closer reading of both!
how about you? thoughts? i hope i made sense … i read the story once and am typing initial thoughts off a first-read … :3
also, “if you think of someone enough, you’re sure to meet them again” — what a murakami line!
the first chapter of the history of love is just sosososo good.
recent reads + current (or intended) reads.
nicole krauss, man walks into a room
this remains one of my favourite books and is still my favourite by her. man walks into a room is krauss’ debut novel, yet her writing is assured and confident but humbly so — the novel doesn’t carry the insecurities you might find lurking under other debut novels — and i just love that it’s a book about memories and self and how those two intersect in questions about identity. this is one of my favourite quotes from it. this is another. this is one of my favourite passages. gah, basically, i love this book, everything about it — the story it tells, the characters it shares, the words in which its written — and i love how human it is, how relatable samson is even if his experience is one entirely foreign to me, how full of love it is.
alice munro, hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage
favourite stories were “family furnishings,” “nettles,” and “what is remembered.” i also really liked “queenie,” except the ending felt really abrupt and incomplete. munro is less about her writing itself technically than she is about this mood/tone she captures, and she does such an excellent job of creating a whole, lived-in world in the frame of a short story. her portrayals of life and marriage are so real but almost in a way that i, at this moment in my life, find rather undesirable as a reading experience — munro doesn’t try to create a veneer over the realities of marriage in her stories (and i think this distinction is important — that these are the realities of marriage in her stories) — but you know how it’s pretty much universally accepted that munro is not only a fantastic writer but also a brilliant short story writer? yeah, that’s all entirely warranted; her stories are compelling and told well; but i do stick to my brief comment before about how i find her stories in first-person more powerful.
haruki murakami, south of the border, west of the sun
ah, murakami, i can’t stay away. as i was reading this, i wrote in the margin, “this does feel more solid and less other worldly than, say, norwegian wood or 1q84,” and it really did. murakami’s tone is the same as ever (he’s so consistent in that aspect), but south of the border, west of the sun felt very grounded, very much a story of this world and only this world, even if there were hints of murakami’s usual surrealism. i’m still a little unsure as to how i feel about the story; there are strong elements of justification (or, if not justification, then mere acceptance) for hajime’s decisions to cheat on, first, his girlfriend and, then, his wife; and i guess i was put off by the ease with which these justifications (which were pretty much nothing more than physical desire) were given.
however, a passage i absolutely loved when yukiko (hajime’s wife) asks him if he’s leaving her — hajime says,
yukiko, i love you very much. i loved you from the first day i met you, and i still feel the same. if i hadn’t met you, my life would have been unbearable. for that i am grateful beyond words. yet here i am, hurting you. because i’m a selfish, hopeless, worthless human being. for no apparent reason, i hurt the people around me and end up hurting myself. ruining someone else’s life and my own. not because i like to. but that’s how it ends up.
this is such a great summation of what it means to be human, i think. we don’t mean to hurt people or do wrong, but it can’t be helped because we’re human. we’re imperfect and sinful and selfish, hopeless, worthless, &c, and the most we can do is the best we can — all we can do is try and recognize that we will fail, but, then, we get up and try again — so, in the end, i did appreciate hajime’s struggle throughout the novel and how he came out from it.
(current [or intended] reads: a re-read of the tiger’s wife because, even i found this very flawed when i first read it when it was published, i like obreht’s writing, and i liked the story of the deathless man + a re-read of the comfort of strangers, which i loved when i read it years ago + ariel’s gift because birthday letters is the only poetry collection i absolutely love and, well, my obsession with sylvia plath is still going strong. let’s see what other books distract me from these, though.)
2012 in literary review
hoping to make this an annual thing; it helps me not only read more but also to read more thoughtfully. 2011’s review is here.
Favorite Overall: Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton
Ah, Joseph Anton — I don’t think I’ve outwardly emoted as much as I did whilst reading Joseph Anton. It made me laugh, made me cry, made me sigh, and it made me long for community, specifically a literary community, but generally a community of mutual support. It made me believe in humanity again, surprising, maybe, considering the context of the memoir, but I loved how this community of friends and authors stepped up to support Rushdie even though the threat of death was very real, even though, no, they didn’t really have to do so. Also, I just loved the members of the security team; some of the ways in which they sought to help Rushdie out, especially where his kid was concerned, made me cry.
Rushdie does this whole community and network of people and support full justice in Joseph Anton, I think, gives it the credit it more-than-deserves, and Joseph Anton is a very personal book that didn’t feel too heavily personal. I’d say that was most likely because it was written in the third person, and I found that enhanced my enjoyment because the telling helped the memoir. On one level, the third person actually made it more enjoyable because it created a distance between the teller and the telling, which I think was important in a story like this. (Or this could also just be me because I personally actually don’t enjoy memoirs that much and generally find them more indulgent narratives than not, except in the case of truly extraordinary circumstances.)
Joseph Anton, though, isn’t simply a story about an extraordinary circumstances — it’s also a well-told one. I actually haven’t read Rushdie before, although I’ve intended to, and I loved his wit and his frank writing as well as his assurance and confidence and intelligence. In person, he’s a very self-composed, very competent person (I saw him at the New Yorker Festival in conversation with David Remnick), and that sense of self comes across in the pages of Joseph Anton, in which, yes, he does sometimes go on the defense and justify why he did some of the things he did but does so in an entirely unapologetic way. I also don’t remember thinking that Rushdie was trying to gloss over the mistakes he made in those years recorded in Joseph Anton or that he tried to paint himself as this glowingly heroic figure, and it was this sense of an attempt at normalcy, this sense of humanity, that drew out these strong emotions and made me laugh and cry and sigh in ways I haven’t really when reading other books and certainly never have when reading other memoirs.
Favorite Book-In-Translation: Shin Kyung-sook, Please Look After Mom
Please Look After Mom is a great glimpse into Korean motherhood/nationhood. It captures so amazingly the strength of Korean women as well as the culture of post-war Korea, and I was so impressed by the novel overall that the slightly lackluster ending was entirely forgivable. (I thought that the novel could only end the way it did, but I would have gone for something less … fanciful?) It’s not a novel you can read on the surface level, though; I think it’s more crucial in Please Look After Mom than it might be in other novels to consider why the characters act and react the way they do in a cultural/social (in this way, in post-war Korean culture) context (and I hate that word).
I actually remember thinking that many of the elements of Please Look After Mom might be lost or misunderstood by those unfamiliar with Korean culture. Take this review for example — this reviewer reads the book on a surface level, and I actually cringed when I first read this review when I was Googling reviews after finishing the novel because the reviewer just didn’t get it and didn’t even seem to try to get it. This other review, though, I found to be more thoughtful and, also, more respectful, and it kind of explains what I mean when I say that Please Look After Mom can’t be read on a surface level better than I can put it.
Also, I picked up Please Look After Mom and started reading it in its original Korean and loved the writing, at least on the first page because that’s as far as I got in the bookstore (had), but I’m planning on picking it up in Korean as well as more of Shin’s work. I know she has another novel currently being translated by Knopf and slated for publication in spring, so I’m excited for that!
Most Spectacular in Terms of Voice: Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
I’ve said this before, but I will most likely continue to say this because Ishiguro’s ability to inhabit a voice is absolutely brilliant. I started reading The Remains of the Day in Japan and finished it off in New York City, and I was pretty much in awe through and through because, regardless of how I feel about Ishiguro’s other novels, I have yet to find myself blurring his narrators because they tend to be so complete and so fully embodied. (Novel-wise, I was pretty ambivalent towards When We Were Orphans and A Pale View of Hills.)
The Remains of the Day is Ishiguro in fine form, and it’s really this compact, rather sedate, and collected novel. I’ve always admired Ishiguro’s “plainer” prose, and I describe it as “plainer” because he’s not really a fancy, elaborate writer, but I love that really, love how restrained his writing reads but how his prose is still very full and complete and rounded. I admire it, actually, that sparseness, and it serves him well in The Remains of the Day because of the nature of Stevens (the narrator) as this collected, self-possessed butler.
Favorite Collection of Essays, Which is Really a Cheat Category Because I Very Rarely Read Collections of Essays: Jonathan Franzen, Farther Away
I honestly didn’t expect to love Farther Away as much as I did (I liked How to be Alone, but I wasn’t jumping all over it like I was with Farther Away), but I did. Admittedly, I think the collection started off very strong but faltered near the end — I was very lukewarm towards the last few essays and thought they could either have been placed closer to the beginning of the collection or omitted altogether because Farther Away would have been no worse off with the omission really. The essay about Alice Munro in particular had me scratching my head, and I’d say that was my least favorite in the collection because I couldn’t quite get a handle on his tone — he sounded both genuine and also somewhat sarcastic. On the other hand, I enjoyed his book reviews very much even if I’d never read the books he was reviewing, and all his essays about birds and the threats they face bummed me out, but I suppose that was partly the point because ignorance is bliss but awareness is not. His general cantankerousness never ceases to amuse me, though, especially when it comes to technology, and, all in all, well, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and am looking to pick up How to be Alone again.
I love Franzen — I’ve never been shy in loudly stating so — and his grasp of language makes me so happy. He makes his writing read so effortlessly, which makes me imagine how much he must deliberate over every single word, and I appreciate that he makes it read so easily because that’s a skill in and of itself — and one I really do admire fully because I find that to be incredibly hard to do.
Most Disappointing: Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth
Oh, how sad this makes me! Sweet Tooth was ….. mmm, how should I say this.
Immediately after I’d finished it, I’d thought, Hmm, okay, maybe the ending kind of negates my more hesitant feelings towards the rest of the novel, but, the more i thought about, the more I came to the conclusion that, no, it kind of really didn’t. The thing is that the weakest part of the novel is the voice — I wasn’t once convinced of Serena’s voice, found it rather distancing and lacking — so, when the ending came around, I thought it was McEwan’s way of subverting a weakness, like he’d been aware of where the novel might not be so successful and had come up with this little twist to render it all right. I think, though, that it might have worked better had Serena’s voice been more convincing, more earnest, more believable, but I was always aware that This Is McEwan’s Voice, and that just placed more distance between me and the novel.
Pity. I was hoping for something mind-blowing to follow the beautifully written ennui that was Solar.
Faithful rereads: Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, and Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach, both reread twice this year. Also reread Sum (David Eagleman) and The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje) once.
Reading Theme: North Korea
I had a bloody awesome time reading book after book about North Korea. Admittedly, the craze sort of petered out after I finished Nothing to Envy, but I’ve still got a book I’m working through and a few more I want to pick up in the near future, but, for now, I think the theme has read itself out. It was fascinating, too, because I had all these preconceptions about North Korea and, in connection, North Koreans, and I think the most important thing that came from my reading craze is the humanization of North Koreans because, even If I never intended to, I found myself realizing that I’d been dehumanizing them and rendering them into these stick figure characterizations based off general blanket statements/horror stories.
I really want to say more — a lot more — about this (and have wanted to for a while), but my books are back home in NYC, and I also still have things I’m ruminating over, so we’ll just have to come back to this in the future.
Most Needed in Terms of Healing: Tobias Wolff, Old School
I started reading Old School in Furano after I’d cried my eyes out from acute loneliness in my hostel. I was roughly a week into Japan, and the first three days in Tokyo had been rough, and, even though Sapporo and Asahikawa had been loads better, once I got to my hostel in Furano in the drizzle of a late afternoon, I think the strain of the first week of backpacking alone in a foreign country just slammed into me like a sledgehammer.
My only solution, obviously, was to pick up a book, and I only had Zöe (my iPad), but Old School was one of the books I’d purchased before hopping on my plane to Japan — and, seriously, it was exactly what I needed at that moment in time.
Old School is amazing — how could it not be? It’s funny, heart-warming, and earnest, but, more importantly, it’s about literature. It’s about authors and books and how these authors and books played a role in one man’s life, and it was just the book I needed in that moment, and it helped me get my head back together, to rearrange my itinerary so I could stay in Hokkaido longer because Hokkaido did amazing things for my heart, too. It got me back in the proper headspace where I could think creatively again, and there are those books that are amazing not only in and of themselves but also in how they bring you together and patch you back together because of their amazingness — and Old School happened to be that book this year, and I pounced on it when I found a copy at Housing Works in September, so I’ve got a hard paper copy I can hold and pet, too!
Most I-WIsh-I-Hadn’t-Bothered: Erin Morgernstern, The Night Circus
This was such a waste of time, sorry to say. I was fond of the characters, and I did love the world, but, oh, the novel itself simply did not do its fantastic elements justice. The writing itself was cliche and much too literal (I understand the need to describe fantastical worlds as that in The Night Circus, but there’s being descriptive and then there’s literally using words to describe things), and the main story itself was anticlimactic and, frankly, not all that interesting in execution, which was really regrettable because it could have been awesome.
In my initial recap of The Night Circus, I wrote:
it was just too preoccupied with itself to bother to create the emotional/narrative connections required to get there.
I think that’s still a pretty accurate summation of how I felt about The Night Circus. The writing was too shallow to create anything substantial, and, to be honest, I just didn’t feel like Morgernstern really cared to create a deeper narrative beyond what the world she created intrinsically offered.
The Book That Made Me Reassess My Feelings Toward the Author: Murakami Haruki, Norwegian Wood
I’ve had a soft spot for Murakami for years, and, yes, although my fondness for Murakami hasn’t waned much, my opinions of him and his writing have changed since 1Q84.
I reread Norwegian Wood earlier this year, and it kind of extended all the thoughts 1Q84 had raised regarding Murakami (that had then been carried further by After Dark, which I read after Norwegian Wood). Murakami is great at capturing and conveying a mood, and it’s pretty much always a mood of loneliness/aloneness. The “always” there isn’t meant to be a bad thing actually because Murakami writes loneliness incredibly well, but reading Murakami can sometimes be a narrowing experience because I’ve come to the conclusion that Murakami speaks well to certain moments in your life, which are recurring. This isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think, but something that I think is rather inevitable when an author writes so particularly well about a specific theme.
I don’t know. This little blurb is a little odd because, although I’m starting to see Murakami in a different light, I’m honestly no less fond of him. But maybe I’m also a little less in awe of him? Or maybe that’s also not the proper way to phrase it. Murakami, though, continues to speak to a very specific part of me, and I suppose I’ve become more aware of how sterile his novels can feel and how that isn’t necessarily a preferable thing for me, but I’ll still continue to be anticipate his next books and still pick him up when I’m in that space where I just need what Murakami can offer because only Murakami can do what Murakami does — and, yes, any author worth his/her clout will be unique in that way, but Murakami somehow elevates that by being a niche upon himself — and I really don’t think any of this is making any sense now, so I think I’ll stop and try to make better sense of it on a later date.
Most Could-Have-Been-Awesome: Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son
The Orphan Master’s Son had potential; Johnson has potential; and, despite feeling let down by The Orphan Master’s Son, I’ll definitely be checking out Johnson’s next book because Johnson is a good writer.
The thing is that I feel like a story like The Orphan Master’s Son might have been better served in the hands of a more experienced novelist — that is, I would have loved to see what Johnson could have done with it after he had one or two novels under his belt because it was a big novel set in a specific world, and I do commend Johnson for his ambition. (But we’ve seen the term “ambition” bandied about enough with 1Q84 and whether or not ambition is sufficient for praise.)
I had two problems with The Orphan Master’s Son. The first was with the voice (or multiple voices) — for one, I didn’t really find multiple voices necessary, and, for another, I spent half of the first part of the novel thinking that it was written in the first person (and thought that, you know, maybe it would have been more interesting in the first person?). The multiple voices also were problematic in that the voices weren’t distinct enough, except for the voice of the propaganda, which was effectively executed but oftentimes felt unnecessarily lengthy. The second problem was that the majority of the conflict/tension seemed to be sourced from the setting/situation of the novel instead of being provided for by the narrative — this, actually, was a big problem because, while, yes, the narrative wasn’t lacking in conflict, it wasn’t necessarily being driven by the desirable sort of conflict that leaves you flipping the pages in suspense.
Basically, I read The Orphan Master’s Son in one day because I knew that, if I stopped, I wouldn’t pick it up again, but I didn’t not enjoy it while I was reading even though i didn’t necessarily find it all that compelling. To be honest, story-wise, I wonder if that might have been purely because it is set in North Korea, but, in conclusion, I did like Johnson’s writing enough to keep him on my radar.
Most Significant Accomplishment: Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way
Oh, hell yes. After years of making it a New Year’s Resolution to read Proust goddamnit, I’ve finally picked up Proust and read him. Or, at the time of this posting, am reading him. And, you know, Swann’s Way is beautiful — the language is ornate and fluid and, yes, twisted up to the point that it’s really easy to get lost in — but it’s wonderful and masterful, and, ah, I’m so happy to be reading it, not only in a sense of personal accomplishment but also simply as a reader/writer who loves word and language and …. yeah. It’s the perfect book with which to bid adieu to 2012 and welcome 2013.
And Reading Goals for 2013:
- read more Proust!!!!!
- reread Anna Karenina.
- maybe, uh, get going on my Literary Wall of Shame.
- speaking of the above, read Nabokov. For shame. Seriously.
- read more. like, a whole lot more.
this is what my winter break will look like.
(ah, i ought/want to get going on my 2012 reading summary, but my reading journal is in nyc. maybe i’ll go through this blog and try to remember what i’ve read over the year, or maybe i’ll wait until i’m back in nyc the second week of january … we’ll see! the plan is to wrap up the 2012 reading year with proust, though, which has me tickled because i’ve made it a new year’s resolution to read proust for quite a few years now ….!)
all my life i’ve had two loves (three, if you count new york city): books and music. music gets my heart ticking, but words anchor me to something more real than reality — and i’m sitting here at my desk, crim book open before me, highlighter tucked into its pages, reading the english patient instead because these words so carefully, lovingly, obsessively chosen and assembled and crafted mean more to me than culpability ever can.
i started reading leaving the atocha station last night when i thought i was losing my mind because of crim. lerner writes very much like he’s speaking; the narrative flows very naturally and fluidly; and i’m thinking i should try reading this one out loud because it reads like it should be.