Category Archives: books

Night Film. Jeeze.

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I finished Night Film, Marisha Pessl’s second book last night. I loved her debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and had high hopes for this. I’m feeling very meh about it. If I think about it too hard, I get really frustrated with it. If I take it on a  surface level it was fairly entertaining for vast swathes. I really don’t understand how this book was marketed as a literary thriller (whatever that is). It’s pure page-turning junk food. Which is completely fine – unless you start thinking about. There is SO MUCH exposition in the dialogue, each revelatory scene feels like a repeat of the last one. If you gloss over the italics (so frigging many italics), which I have a pretty high tolerance for, the writing style in some parts of the book is pretty good. The atmosphere is pretty great. Loved the first 200 pages, and about a 40 page chunk near the end. Ending was a let down.

I am trying to pin point why Special Topics in Calamity Physics was so much better, and beyond having a better story, better characters, and being generally better written, I think Pessl was far more invested in the character of Blue Van Meer than in her middle-aged male protagonist of Night Film. Debut novels that I’ve loved by female authors recently  (Curtis Sittenfeld: Prep, Marisha Pessl: Special Topics) have a closer connection to their adolescent narrators. They aren’t so far removed from those awkward years themselves. Not that you have to write about young women when you’re a young woman (hello, Zadie Smith), but maybe it comes more naturally? Anyway, I would recommend this book for a fun read if you don’t mind length, and a bit of weak writing – it’s 600 pages. But hey, millions of people (myself shamefully included) read all 2000-odd pages of the Twilight Saga, which is literally RIDDLED with errors and lousy writing, so in comparison to that, this is a genius work.

Writing again…

Well, what do you know, I’m working on some stuff. A suggestion, from an artist-in-residence at an art school I went to in 2005, made to me Jan 20th, 2008, is finally bearing fruit. My Donna Tartt-ish pace with be the death of me.

Better than late than never, I suppose.

 

Reading until my eyes fall out…

Night Film by Marisha Pessl just came in to the library and I snatched it up like a greedy little piggy. Also delving in, simultaneously, to Andrew Solomon’s the Noonday Demon (loved his Far From the Tree), and Mary Roach’s Bonk. If only I could always balance one funny non-fic, one serious non-fic, and one hotly anticipated novel. There aren’t enough hours in the day or square footage on my night stand.

I will be back with more GG updates soon, but you just KNOW Rory would stop everything for Night Film too.

A mini review…

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I just finished Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. It’s the second book by her that I’ve read recently; earlier in the summer I read We Need to Talk About Kevin. That book is incredible, precisely observational and sharp as a tack. And what a character, Eva Khatchadourian. In Big Brother, we get some of that same sharply observed detail, some of that character building, but ultimately, an unwieldy ending that almost derails the book. It almost seems like Shriver gets 80% of the way in, can’t figure out how to steer it to the end and so cops out. It’s too bad. Very interesting book, otherwise.

Reading the summer away…

I’ve been avoiding the heat by reading in air conditioned places; reading on the beach; reading beside lakes; reading on the shady part of my deck.

Now I have a stack of books lined up for fall, and you will hear about them soon…

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Read an amazing book…

and then procrastinated writing about it until the very last day when I had to take it back to the library because I’m awful.

Ta-nehisi Coates, my role-model in writing, my best friend in my imagination, had this to say about the Brad Paisley/ LL Cool J collaboration, so astute I hooted out loud:

One of the problems with the idea that America needs a “Conversation On Race” is that it presumes that “America” has something intelligent to say about race. All you need do is look at how American history is taught in this country to realize that that is basically impossible.

Eula Biss, a white (although she complicates this in her book) writer, wrote a book called Notes From No Man’s Land: American Essays, in 2010 and it is extraordinary. Reviewing this book in Salon, Kyle Minor writes,

Eula Biss’ “Notes From No Man’s Land” is the most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the 21st century. If it has not taken up residence in the popular imagination of readers in the same way Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” did in the late 1960s, perhaps it is because we live in a time in which it is more difficult for books to assert themselves with great cultural force in the way they once did, or perhaps because Biss, unlike Didion, has yet to receive the strong support of the systems of power that bring great books to the attention of a broad readership.

I would also argue this book hasn’t received the attention it deserves because it is a prickly and uncomfortable book about race. Ta-nehisi has always been incredible on the subject of why this “conversation on race” is so rarely done right:

I have had conversations with very well-educated people who, with a straight face, have told me that there are Black Confederates. If you ask a very well educated person how the GI Bill exacerbated the wealth gap, or how New Deal housing policy helped create the ghetto they very likely will not know. And they do not know, not because they are ignorant, stupid, or immoral, they do not know because they are part of country that has decided that “not knowing” is in its interest. There’s no room for any sort of serious conversation when the basic facts of history are not accessible.

Eula Biss, in an interview about revising the essays in this book in 2008:

I was revising this collection during Obama’s campaign and I remember feeling dismay at one point because the national conversation about race in that moment felt so misguided, so atrophied, so impoverished. Almost everything I heard about race on the news was silly or stupid and so I began to worry that my book assumed some basic understandings that just didn’t exist in this country yet.

In one of her great essays, Biss describes teaching a class at the University of Iowa while working on her master’s degree:

Racism, I would discover during my first semester teaching at Iowa, does not exist. At least not in Iowa. Not in the minds of the twenty three tall, healthy, blond students to whom I was supposed to teach rhetoric…. Sexism does not exist either, at least not any more. My students considered my interest in these subjects very antiquated. These things, they informed me, with exasperation, had already been resolved a long time ago, during the sixties.

This book is so rare and so uncomfortable because it is tackling a subject most people refuse to acknowledge even exists, or refuse to acknowledge as complex. I need to buy this book, and re-read it, and stew in it, and write longer on it soon. But please read it, if you want to be challenged, and amazed, and floored.

Amazing debuts….

There is a debate raging about women author’s share of hype/reviews/buzz/critical attention. They may be under-represented in hype, but in terms of quality, women novelists are currently winning the gender battle. I’ve read three debut novels recently by women that are absolutely incredible:

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth is about a lesbian teenager sent to a re-education “pray the gay away” camp. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are heartbreaking – it’s all fabulous.

I recently re-read Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! which I have raved about before. So dark yet somehow light and airy.

I’m currently reading The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff, her 2008 debut and so far I’m blown away.

Also, The Antagonist by Lynn Coady (not her debut) was without a doubt the best novel of the last five years. She’s brilliant and tragically underrated.