PS from Paris — Marc Levy (2017)
As close to a pure romance as I am likely to read. Two disaffected characters: a writer hiding from his past success and an actress hiding from her current marital problems. The twist is amusing — the writer, an American living in Paris — is popular mostly in Korea, for what seem like inexplicable reasons. But there in lies the secret to that character’s path to redemption. Remember this is a romance and the guy needs to have an epiphany to make him worthy of the female character. Who is kind of not really worth being worthy of in my opinion. She’s just suffering from fame and all that. Kind of cute but the trajectory is inevitabl
* beach read *
Lincoln in the Bardo — George Saunders (2017)
A tale told entirely in dialogue among dead people and excerpts from both true and fictional accounts of the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.
You need to know The Bardo is before the book makes sense. In Tibetan lore it is the intermediate state between one life and the next. In which all sorts of odd things to happen to the “self” including illusions and delusions.
It seems that you can remain tied to the earth is you are willing to believe that you are “Sick” rather than dead. The characters in this particular grave yard are grotesque parodies of the earthly selves with physical characteristics that hint at their fulfilled and unfulfilled secret desires while alive.
Abraham Lincoln comes to visit his son Willie’s grave and seeks solace in the young beautiful corpse. Young Willie is trapped in the Bardo by his yearning to comfort his father. It’s kind of gruesome but made completely understandable. and then is
The format of the novel is experimental. There are two methods of moving the story forward: the dialog and internal dialog of the characters in the Bardo, and excerpts both actual and fictional from the accounts of the Lincoln’s presidency. Many of these accounts disagree with one another but serve to give a background against which you can measure the state of the President’s mind. And it’s his mind that in the end is the crucial turning point of the book. His hesitancy and grief become a beacon to the folks in the Bardo and they attempt to persuade him first to let his son go and then … is this spoiling the book? To say that the black residents of the black cemetery — next to the fenced white cemetery finally get their look in and influence Lincoln’s resolve re the Civil War and it’s causes and needed outcomes.
I’m not sure where this book’s reputation for difficultly is coming from. It’s complex and multilayered for sure. But difficult? No. Other than requiring that you actually pay attention to who is speaking and the motivations and past sins of the speakers. I suppose a lot of the difficulty comes from the nontraditional format. Dialog along side the excerpts defies traditions. It works just fine is you read it like play with the reviews interspersed. Some people are comparing this to Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s just not that difficult. Maybe I am “special” in that it only took me 10 or 15 pages to “get” the way the book is written.
* oh, just read it *
Trajectory — Richard Russo (2017)
Short stories by one of my favorite creators of characters. The middle story is a longish novella that I couldn’t manage to make my way through. Retired professor makes a mess of a class and his relationship with a “special” student and then goes to Italy where his brother does a bunco on him. That’s as far as I got. No idea what was actually up with the greasy brother didn’t care.
The other stories are classic Russo and worth your time. I especially liked Milton and Marcus — Hollywood follies are always good for laying open character. Though Russo is better at longer lengths were he can stretch out and take his time building his characters.
* waiting for the next novel *
Life A User’s Manual — George Perec (1978)
I’m lost. Utterly and all the time. Yet, I’m still enjoying reading this tale of a french apartment building and it’s occupants. It’s immense and is taking quite a while to get through. But I love how the pieces fit together like the jigsaw puzzles that are at the heart of one man’s story. Room by room and apartment by apartment there are lives and loves and a certain amount enmity. Lincoln in the Bardo has been compared to Joyce’s Ulysses. This is a much better match for that comparison. Both Perec and Joyce write circuitous novels that will leave you with many puzzles to solve.
* a book to be read more than once? *
The Moth Presents All These Wonders — Catherine Burns (2017)
A known franchise. The Moth series of events presents quick takes from people’s lives on themes such as “Pulling Focus: Tales of Insight” and “Into the Wild: Stories of Strange Lands” broadly interpreted. These are the small plates of the essay world and can be relied on for effective and effecting pieces.
* bite sized wonders *
American Originality Essays on Poetry — Louise Gluck (2017)
A handful of essays on various poets and other writers in the first two sections.(Including an essay on Buddenbrooks that nearly bored me to tears.) A section of 10 of her introductions to books in the Yale Younger Poets Series and then a short section that includes essays on the writing of poetry. For me this is mostly a book that illustrates how the academy talks about poetry. Useful in that way but not one that excites the poet in me. I did discover a couple of new to me poets through her introductions. Much here appeared in the Three Penny Review previously. TPR is one of those things. I ought to enjoy it when I read it, I rarely do.
* too much navel gazing American exceptionalism *
Fish Whistle — Daniel Pinkwater (1990)
Tiny little humorous essays that Pinkwater did for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” There are gems here and as in any collection of this many things a few clunkers. Sized just right for 10 minute reads. I was looking for a particular essay on reading and writing that had been recommended to me but it wasn’t in here. Still looking for Pinkwater on writing.
* NPR humor is strange *
All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists — Terry Gross (2005)
Terry Gross’s interviews on Fresh Air are well-known. These are mostly from the 90s and they do feel a bit dated. Who cares about Nicholas Cage anymore? Her infamous dust-up with Gene Simmons is included. It only confirms my opinion that the fellow is three bricks shy of a wall and just about a whole wall shy of humanity. Other subjects including several of the meritorious dead. Among them Johnny Cash and Maurice Sendak (that one is particularly enlightening) as well as living popular culture icons. My only real wish is that a couple of the interviews had gone on longer than they did. Often the topic gets changed just as an interesting insight is on the horizon. It’s also enlightening to see exactly how short a half hour interview is on the page.
* I’ll be looking for more up to date material *