I’m doing Read Harder 2017. I would have read both of these books anyway, but it just so happens that they both work for Task 3 (read a book about books).
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch
Publisher/Year: Harper, 2011
What it is: After the sudden death of her older sister, a reeling Nina Sankovitch turns to books for solace. She and her sister frequently traded and discussed books, and on her forty-sixth birthday, Nina begins a literary journey and healing process: she’ll read one book a day for a year and write about every single one. This book is a memoir of that year.
Why I read it: Confession: I got this as an advance copy…6 years ago. I’d always been meaning to read it — when it came out, it was very popular in the book blogosphere — but I just never got around to it until this year.
What I thought: I read anywhere from 75-100 books a year depending on how hectic life gets. I think the most I ever read was 134. So I’m thoroughly impressed with anyone who can read more than that, and being able to read a book a day — and actually sticking with it — is just mind-blowing to me. The complete list at the end of the book is impressive. As for the book itself? It was just okay. She writes a lot about her family history, then ties in the books she read according to the theme of the chapter. It’s occasionally repetitive, and I would have liked more about the books themselves. She’s a lovely writer with beautiful sentences, but insight-wise, I wished she’d pushed it further. It all felt too tidy.
With its eye-catching cover, Helen Ellis’s latest book had me at first sight: I am such a sucker for book covers, and this one was impossible for me to ignore. Add in the fact that I’m also a sucker for weird characters, short stories, and bizarre scenarios, and it becomes pretty clear that this book and I were meant to be. I wasn’t familiar with Ellis’s work before this, but I’d say her work is in the same vein as Aimee Bender and Ramona Ausubel’s…if one were to replace the magical realism with deadpan humor.
The twelve stories in the collection are all about women who are OVER. IT. in one way or another.
In “The Wainscoting War,” two neighbors battle it out via email over the decor of their shared hallway. It’s new money vs. old money, and the facade of tolerant politeness quickly gives way to all out war. Refined people throwing shade are present throughout the book, parceled out in thinly veiled insults and acerbic witticisms.
Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem
Publisher/Year: Doubleday, 2015
What it is: A slim collection of quirky short stories.
Why I read it: I like short stories, and I also had the pleasure of hearing Lethem at a Literary Death Match a couple of years ago when he was promoting Dissident Gardens.
What I thought: This was actually my first time reading Lethem’s work. I usually love stories with surreal elements. I can see the appeal, and I love his writing style, but most of the stories in this collection just didn’t do it for me. My favorites were probably the title story, and “The King of Sentences,” about an author’s superfans who take things too far. Other stories, like “Pending Vegan,” had elements that I loved, but some stories were a chore to read and most were simply forgettable.
Sex Criminals: Vol 1 by Matt Fraction (Author) & Chip Zdarsky (Artist)
Publisher/Year: Image Comics, 2014
What it is: Suzie has a strange gift: she stops time whenever she has sex. When she hooks up with Jon after a party, they’re both in for a shock: both of them are still moving around post-climax. It turns out Jon has the same supernatural abilities as Suzie, but neither had ever met anyone like themselves before. And what’s a young time-stopping couple to do with this amazing gift of theirs? Rob banks, of course!
Why I read it: It sounded awesome.
What I thought: It was awesome, duh. I realize it’s not a book for everyone, but I loved the humor and the gorgeous artwork (check out some images after the jump) and the fact that there are Sex Police who smack people with dildos. Yeah. It’s that kind of story. Some of it’s a little hokey, but that just adds to the book’s charm. I kind of felt like a pervert requesting it at the library, but it was worth it.
I was ecstatic earlier this year when I first found out that Aimee Bender had a new release — of short stories, no less! — coming out this year. Even though Bender’s last book, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, left me feeling kind of meh, her short stories are a whole ‘nother ball game (I will stand by Willful Creatures forever and ever). I immediately pre-ordered her new book and resisted all urges to request an advance copy even though I really, really wanted to.
Psychological and fanciful, with her trademark elements of magical realism and a heavier-than-usual dose of fairy tale sensibilities, The Color Master was well worth the wait. The fifteen stories in this collection were every bit as bizarre and haunting and beautifully written as I’d hoped they’d be.
To give you a taste: the book opens with “Appleless.” The story is a little under three pages long, yet in that short span, Bender manages to transport you into a dreamlike apple orchard, where the people there are disturbed by the presence of a girl who doesn’t like apples. “Please, we pleaded, eat….It’s unsettling to meet people who don’t eat apples.” The truly unsettling part happens when they act on their obsession to get her to eat an apple. That story is followed by “The Red Ribbon,” which weaves in the old legend of the woman who refused to remove a velvet ribbon from around her neck lest her head fall off. There’s no unintentional decapitation in Bender’s story. Instead, there’s a woman who decides to fulfill her husband’s fantasy and make him pay her for sex. Unfortunately for him, she decides she likes it and keeps making him pay premium prices.
It’s so great to have Aimee Bender back.
I came across Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish kind of randomly. There was a DVR’d episode of The Colbert Report playing, and my ears perked up as soon as I heard Sarah Vowell talking about some fabulous new novel. David Rakoff, known for his essays, was unfortunately not there to promote his own book: he lost his battle to cancer last August shortly after finishing this book.
It’s a novel that spans the twentieth century, and it’s written entirely in rhyming couplets (anapestic tetrameter, to be exact). Each chapter features a different character, and by the end, Rakoff weaves the stories together; sometimes the connections are obvious, and sometimes the thread comes in the form of a passing reference. It’s inventive and fun to read, and although I did hit a few areas where the phrasing became awkward, I thought the book was fabulous, taking readers on a journey from the grimy turn of the century through the AIDS epidemic.
Here’s an example from the second wave feminist era: