The Japanese Lover — Isabel Allende

The sto­ry of a Pol­ish refugee girl and her uncle’s Japan­ese gar­den­er’s son who fall in love, are sep­a­rat­ed, then  meet and sep­a­rate repeat­ed­ly over the course of  life time. We learn the sto­ry of their romance as the girl, now in her old age, slow­ly reveals the romance to her young immi­grant care­giv­er and her patient but per­sis­tent grand­son. It’s a vast sto­ry with all of the ter­rors of the mod­ern world in it. Nazis, the Japan­ese intern­ment, the chaos in mod­ern Balka­ns, child abuse, and on and on, but it’s all so good-natured that you don’t real­ly feel any of the hor­ror you ought to. As much as you’ll like that char­ac­ters you won’t feel any deep emo­tion­al tie to them. The sto­ry is epic in scope but it nev­er quite grabs you by the scruff of your neck like so many of Allen­de’s sto­ries do.

*Like­able char­ac­ters, no great dra­ma in spite of the settings.*

The Girl in the Spider’s Web — David Lagercrantz

I decid­ed to read this in spite of all the con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing it’s writ­ing. (There were estate issues fol­low­ing the death of Stieg Lars­son. The right to pub­lish new books in the series has been the sub­ject of ugly lawsuits.)

I prob­a­bly should­n’t have both­ered. It’s flat. All of the dan­ger to our favorite pro­tag­o­nists (and I love both Blomquist and Salan­der) is nar­rat­ed rather than shown. And the twin sis­ter’s sur­prise appear­ance at the end? What the fuck?

It’s orig­i­nal­ly is Swedish of course. So I can’t tell how much of the awk­ward writ­ing is in the orig­i­nal and how much is in the trans­la­tion. But there are so many missed oppor­tu­ni­ties for depth. The rela­tion­ship between Lis­beth and the savant boy in particular.
I fin­ished it quick­ly. But I prob­a­bly won’t pick up anoth­er book in the series. And for what it’s worth I think the Swedish movies/TV series does the best job of por­tray­ing the characters.

* The book is not near­ly as inter­est­ing as con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing it’s publication. *

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim — David Sedaris

Clas­sic Sedaris. Not his fun­ni­est but hey, dys­func­tion­al fam­i­lies are only par­tic­u­lar­ly fun­ny if you come from one. Even then the sto­ries don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly stick with you. I can’t pick out a favorite because — well I don’t remem­ber any of them.

* Why did noth­ing stick with me? *

Radiance — Cathrynne Valente

So glad that I gave this book two chances. (I lis­tened to it last month.) The sec­ond time through I was final­ly able to fol­low the many char­ac­ters and con­vo­lut­ed time line. Can I just say right here that if I need the lit­tle dates that you put at the head of the chap­ter to fol­low the shift­ing time peri­ods in your book you’ve got a writ­ing prob­lem. I should be able to tell from the first three sen­tences in a chap­ter who’s talk­ing and at what point in the story.

That said, Valen­te’s deep dive into the world of cin­e­ma or rather what it would look like in her wild­ly improb­a­ble but appeal­ing alter­nate uni­verse is a lot of fun and filled with love­ly prose touch­es. Just take it slow­ly and don’t feel stu­pid if you have to look back to the begin­ning of the chap­ter to fig­ure out where in the sto­ry you are.

* Valente returns to lyric but read­able prose *

Loitering — Charles D’Ambrosio

I do not want my essays about lit­er­a­ture quite so com­min­gled with the tragedies of the writer. In fact it bores me. Yes, if your broth­er com­mit­ted sui­cide you will have a dif­fer­ent take on a lot of Salinger than if you had­n’t had the expe­ri­ence. And yes, there is prob­a­bly see sort of essay in that but not one so plain­ly try­ing to dis­guise itself as aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly accept­able lit­er­ary criticism.

DAmbro­sio is high­ly praised but I found myself skim­ming and then out­right skip­ping. Salinger is for teenagers — sorry.

* Not sure what all the fuss is about. But then again I did­n’t real­ly get DFW either. *

The Partly Cloudy Patriot — Sarah Vowell

The title riffs on a Thomas Paine quote refer­ring sum­mer sol­diers and sun­shine patri­ots. Vow­ell takes on the inci­dences and char­ac­ters of Amer­i­can His­to­ry with insight and offers a rea­soned (if prop­er­ly biased — more on that lat­er) view of the present polit­i­cal and social cli­mate. I say prop­er­ly biased because any­one who does not have an opin­ion on what his­to­ry is try­ing to tell us as we look back on it isn’t read­ing hon­est­ly. His­to­ry isn’t dry facts and the unan­a­lyzed rota­tion of heads of state. Nor is it the sim­plis­ti­cal­ly glossed patri­ot­ic ver­sion that we are giv­en like so much pab­u­lum in grade school. SV is no sun­shine patri­ot. Nor is she so slav­ish­ly ded­i­cat­ed to the nation that she can­not see the dark­ness of the clouds that some­times cov­er our sun. She sees into both the good and bad that arise from each episode that she examines.

I par­tic­u­lar­ly liked her pieces about the above Paine quote and the very short and point­ed Rosa Parks C’est Moi (no you ain’t.) Also State of the Union which reads like a list poem.

* A charm­ing guide to Amer­i­can idiosyncrasies. *

Nothing in Reserve — Jack Lewis

I know Jack, he’s my writ­ing part­ner on what is a major project at the moment. As is com­mon with writ­ers who work togeth­er we know too much about each oth­er. Here are many things that I have sensed rum­blings of but nev­er had put into words for me. Some­times it’s a fright­en­ing place, the inside of Jack­’s head, but it’s also a place filled with life and hope.

* A war nar­ra­tive that isn’t real­ly about war. *

I Was Promised There Would be Cake — Sloane Crosley

I have a soft spot for these com­ing of age — the age being 25 or so — essays. They take place dur­ing the sec­ond great rein­ven­tion of the self. (The first being some­where in high school when you real­ize that your par­ents don’t get the final word on who you are.)
The essays are pret­ty pre­dictable. At least if you are a mid­dle class, col­lege edu­cat­ed straight woman. No, I’ve nev­er been the unin­ten­tion­al maid-of-honor at a long-lost high school friend’s wed­ding. Though there was that one grade school friend who includ­ed me in her wed­ding because we had recent­ly recon­nect­ed by acci­dent and were still explor­ing a nos­tal­gic con­nec­tion. It all came to noth­ing in the end. We were both still geeks but the focus of our geek­ing had diverged to the point where we had lit­tle to say to each oth­er, and a friend­ship can­not sur­vive on nos­tal­gia alone.

There are moments of pure light here. The descrip­tion of the Chris­t­ian sum­mer camp that her Jew­ish par­ents inad­ver­tent­ly sent her to as a clus­ter­fuck of rit­u­al send me slam­ming back in time to when I sat in a din­ing hall with all of my friends singing both hymns and the gross­ly mor­bid “The Great Ship Titanic”

In oth­er essays she locks her­self out of two apart­ments in a sin­gle day (the haz­ards of mov­ing), vol­un­teers at the But­ter­fly exhib­it in the Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry (brief and unsuc­cess­ful) and deals, not well, with a pas­sive aggres­sive mon­ster of a first boss.
She is both what I was and what I want­ed to be when I was 25. Though would­n’t it be nice to see essays from  some­one who isn’t col­lege edu­cat­ed and work­ing publishing?

* an all day nos­tal­gia suck­er for mid­dle class women of a cer­tain age *

Pulphead — John Jeremiah Sullivan

Lots of music here. Also some his­to­ry and crit­i­cism. The star­ring piece is the first piece. A tale of rock and roll, fun­da­men­tal­ism and a big RV, as Sul­li­van vis­its the largest Chris­t­ian music fes­ti­val in the USA, nay the whole world — Cre­ation Fes­ti­val. A mega-church ver­sion of a rock fes­ti­val with Chris­t­ian Rock bands and tens of thou­sands of young Christ-loving fans. Sul­li­van’s take on the whole thing — while start­ing with an assump­tion of glib irrel­e­vance to the world at large becomes nuanced and empa­thet­ic as he meets var­i­ous con­cert goers and band members.

* Par­tic­u­lar­ly good if you like mod­ern music and obscure cor­ners of literature. *

I haven’t got any­thing writ­ten yet about the one book I lis­tened to in Feb­ru­ary, but con­sid­er­ing it’s the 3rd of April. Per­haps I’d bet­ter just get this out…