Recent Reads

Tl;dr: Apparently I actually like the canon?

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson: This was a pretty fun frothy page turner. I especially appreciate it that Johnson respects her characters — Isabel is a vapid self-absorbed 20-something girl, who is not particularly conflicted and is having a wonderful time, and normally an author would “wink wink” about what an awful dumb slut she is all the way through the book, but Johnson likes her and writes her as Isabel actually sees herself. It’s very rare that I read a book featuring a young woman where the author doesn’t transparently despise young women in general (sometimes without realizing they do) and this was therefore really refreshing to read. I liked watching Isabel traipse blithely through the wreckage of the lives of everyone around her being all, “why are you so upset about this” and learning about a humanitarian conflict and just thinking it’s a really sexy backdrop for men to display their intellectualism. The plot twists are beyond silly, but the dialogue and the characters are witty.

Should you read it? If you’re looking for a beach read that’s a bit more clever than most.


The Penal Colony and Other Stories by Franz Kafka: I’m too stupid and impatient for most of Kafka, but I love The Metamorphosis and A Hunger Artist and see them in a new way every time I read them. In the Penal Colony is also great. Last time I read The Metamorphosis, I thought it was hilarious and this time I expected to laugh and was instead like, “oh god, this is one of the most deeply sad things I’ve ever read.” Which is quite illuminating about reading things at different life stages and so on.

Should you read it? At least the ones I mention above, but make the effort to seek out a good translation. I have always just read the ones by the Muirs, and those aren’t supposed to be very good.


Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee: This was terribly written, so I learned a lot from it. I had well over 500 pages to ask myself why it was so terrible and there are many reasons, but I think the main one is that Lee not only tells instead of shows, but everything she shows is exactly the opposite of what she keeps telling us it is. Like I still don’t even know who her protagonist is despite having spent all this time with her. Everyone including the omniscient narrator spends the whole book saying that Casey is funny and adaptable and scrappy and a real game sport, but meanwhile, Casey seems for all the world like a dour, alienated, completely passive stick in the mud. This isn’t limited to Casey — everyone describes each other in terms that do not at all match what we see from these people. The dialogue reads as if it were written by an alien — “witty” banter is painfully flat, jokes and profanity read like bad translations, arguments blow up out of seemingly nothing and are about who knows what, people who don’t seem to have any connection at all suddenly profess to have been deeply attached for years. It’s just…bizarre. I’m willing to concede that some of this might be language difficulty, but maybe just don’t write in English then? The whole thing was so weird. I can say that I found the clothing descriptions enjoyable.

Should you read it? No.


The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe: These were ok. Working class British men in the 50s had a hard time, I guess.

Should you read it? Nah.


Just Enough Liebling by A.J. Liebling: I have this book because it was $.75. Liebling was pretty witty, even if he had zero interest in fully half the human race, but then these were written back in the 50s when America was great and women didn’t exist yet. I enjoyed the war stuff and the food stuff and the stuff about the Longs, but I skipped all the boxing stuff, and I don’t care about that Stinko guy, life’s too short.

Should you read it? Nah.


Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger: These actually hold up and are really good. I know we’re all supposed to have outgrown them by now, but I’ll always love Salinger and Sylvia Plath and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. I feel like angsty authors who appeal strongly to teenagers get dismissed out of hand — they’re both really great writers! I mean, ok, they’re both hit-or-miss writers, but when they’re good, they’re very good.

Should you read it? If you’re reading this blog, I’d put the chances at about 90% that you read all of Salinger in high school.


The Sacred Hoop by Paula Gunn Allen: This is really dry, academic writing. I wanted to find it interesting, but mostly I just wanted to get through it.

Should you read it? No.


The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence: I owe D.H. Lawrence an apology. I had dismissed him as yet more misogynist canon trash because I had to read Sons & Lovers in high school, and Sons & Lovers is super misogynist. But I’m glad I finally gave him this second chance, because I really enjoyed The Rainbow. Yes, the writing verges on purple — a lot of it is beautiful, but he does this repetitive incantatory thing that I think is just the lacking of an authoritative editor.

But URSULA! Ursula is a feminist hero. Why didn’t we read this in high school??? I mean, in 11th grade, I had a pretty awesome woman lit teacher in high school who had us read a ton of feminist classics, but they were canon classics, so it was seriously nine books in a row where a woman had an affair and then killed herself. Like, that was all that a woman who was centralized in a narrative could possibly do to be interesting. Fall in love with some other dumb man and then kill herself. You know who NEVER would have killed herself over having to be married or some dude? URSULA.

Then the next year, I had an arrogant liberal dude who could barely disguise his condescension toward all the girls in the class and who I’m sure is now a perfect specimen of a Bernie bro, and he had us read a ton of white men and Things Fall Apart. And it was exhausting, it really was, and why didn’t he just have us read The Rainbow instead of Sons & Lovers? It was STILL by a white man in the approved canon so it wouldn’t even have required him to challenge his assumption that white men have always just happened to be the most perceptive recorders of human experience (“human” experience being the white male experience), but we would have had URSULA!

That would have made such a massive difference to me in 12th grade. I can’t even explain. My lit class was actually segregated by gender — all the guys sat on one side of the classroom and all the girls on the other (plus my friend George who I under-appreciated possibly but who also was a devotee of the Eternal Canon). I was alienated and unhappy at the time and literature was one way I could zoom out from what I thought was always going to be a narrow world, so it actually did really matter to me, but the literature I was exposed to was itself pretty fucking narrow so I wasn’t able to zoom out very far. I don’t know, I feel now that if I had only read this instead of Sons & Lovers, it might have changed everything! But probably not.

Should you read it? I mean, you don’t have time, it’s hella long. But yes.


One More Year by Sana Krasikov: These were ok. Ukrainian immigrants waiting.

Should you read it? Nah.


The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes: I don’t care about this sexist violent old asshole, and increasingly, I don’t care about books about revolutions. “Oh, the new raping murdering men at first had different reasons than the old raping murdering men, but then they became corrupted and had the same reasons as the old raping murdering men after all!” Who gives a fuck, let’s not have any of them! Plus, this is translated, so I can’t even tell if the prose is what it’s supposed to be.

Should you read it? No.


Miracles Inc. by T.J. Forrester: This was really bad. I’m honestly surprised it was published.

Should you read it? No.


Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy: Like most story collections, these were very solid and enjoyable enough, and I already don’t remember a single one of them and will never think about any of them ever again.

Should you read it? No.


The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck: My first thought was, oh great, more war shit. And indeed, it was. But there’s not much fiction about contemporary wars, which is actually interesting, because a lot of military seem to go into MFA programs, but they mostly tend to write more about the lives of veterans than about war. It was certainly harrowing.

Should you read it? I don’t know enough about what it’s like serving in Somalia to know if this book is good or bad, to be honest. The writing is decent. But overall, probably not? Do you enjoy curling up with a horrifying nightmare of an evening? I feel like that’s a niche not many people occupy.


Dinosaur In a Haystack by Stephen Jay Gould: I’m extremely jealous of Stephen Gould’s life. If I could do mine over again, I would want his. Imagine how satisfying it must feel to leave behind a body of work like he did, and to know at the end of your life that you had gotten to be curious and interested the entire way through, and on top of that, had really done something. In addition to his main work and all the students he influenced, he also wrote over 300 excellent and interesting essays on something that mattered to him, like nearly every week! And that was just as a sideline. Plus he had two families, hobbies, and a loft in Soho. And that was all by the age of 60! Meanwhile, at the end of my whole entire life (which will probably be fucking long), I’m going to have a bunch of shitty diaries, one fairly entertaining play that was never produced and that anyway has a crap third act, this blog, and maybe a kid if my eggs don’t all die first. I hate myself.

….This maybe got too revealing for a book review.

Should you read it? Read anything and everything by Gould, but definitely read The Mismeasure of Man, everyone should read it. Although, ignore the parts about the Morton skulls, which Gould was either wrong about or intentionally misconstrued.


A Passage to India by E.M. Forster: I have found a new problematic fave, as if I needed more of those. This novel is kind of racist, but in an interesting way, because the point of the novel was anti-colonialism and criticizing the British for being racist. But because it was written of its time and by a British dude, it also is sometimes racist. It also has some good women characters, but is just base level misogynist — like at one point, the narrator says that all the men would have gotten along just fine, except that there were British women there, and they insisted that everyone maintain their racism in the name of social propriety. And the whole plot hinges on a hysterical false rape accusation. Which.

But Forster was obviously trying to draw fully realized characters across the board, and he does a much better job on the whole than a lot of contemporary writers who should know better. Also, the writing is fantastic, and the book absolutely had me in stitches the whole way through — just crying laughing. Forster does blundering social interactions, pride maneuvers, and wounded pettiness so well.

I read some criticism of this book, and I think people really misinterpret the ending. I do not believe that Forster was saying that Fielding and Aziz could not be true friends because of their race or cultural differences. He clearly was saying that Fielding was a participant in and beneficiary of the colonization of Aziz’s country and so they could never truly be friends given that context. They both tried to forget, ignore, and forgive it, but that was of course impossible.

Should you read it? Yes. Although if we want to read novels about India, we should primarily seek out those by Indian authors.


Kissing in Manhattan by David Schickler: This book was garbage. It’s completely misogynist, and not even in an interesting way. It’s misogynist the way a resentful teenage boy who can’t get laid and just thinks women are giant walking vaginas is misogynist. I really felt like I was reading a short story effort by some red pill or incel dude who thought he was being sweet. The characters are thin, the writing is awful, and everything in it is ripped off from some other writer who did it better or with more intelligence. It’s like fan fiction from someone who is too stupid to understand what he’s a fan of except on the most surface level. The main character is just Christian Gray. Like a less well developed version of Christian Gray! Didn’t think that was possible? It is!

I so loathed this book that I say now that anyone who actually likes it in any way is a stupid person. There can be no two correct opinions about this.

Should you read it? No, and should you ever meet anyone who mentions having enjoyed it, make the sign of the cross and back away from them slowly.

9 Comments

  1. FINALLY I can comment on something “literary-ish” here! I read Alan Sillitoe in college and I’m sure loved it because of my Anglophilia, and I’m sure I called Saturday Night and Sunday morning one of my favorite books back then. I don’t know if I ever read this, but I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to resist around when I was training for the London Marathon. Get it?!??!?!??!!???!????!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. > It’s like fan fiction from someone who is too stupid to understand what he’s a fan of except on the most surface level
    DAMN 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now I kind of feel like I want to read it. In the same way I read 50 shades of gray and twilight.

      Like

      1. What? No! What?

        Like

        1. Look I’m sorry, maybe you wrote that wrong.

          Like

        2. Amazon says it’s “Hilarious, sexy, and deeply tender” and I mean, that sounds nice.

          Like

  3. “If you’re reading this blog, I’d put the chances at about 90% that you read all of Salinger in high school.”

    I feel personally attacked.

    Liked by 1 person

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