This spring I’ve been devoting a fair amount of my energy to creative pursuits (mostly sketching), somewhat to the detriment of my reading time. (Also, I’m moving again, which makes me even more tired than usual and seems to eat up most of my dedicated reading time.)
I’ve also been restraining myself when it comes to loading up on inter-library loan books, usually a weakness of mine, so I don’t have piles of tantalizing, unread, judgmental library books hanging around the house.
All the same, even without such temptations, there are a few books I simply was not able to finish over the past few months for one reason or another. So what didn’t I read this spring? Here are the highlights:
The Rabbit Back Literature Society
by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
This one came highly recommended and I had to wait months for it to come it at the library, so I was extra-disappointed to return it to the library unfinished. I found the writing to be listless (translation problems, I hope), the plot jumpy with gaping holes of time and logic (to the point where I vaguely wondered it if was supposed to be a surreal novel, but eventually decided not), and the characters strangely un-compelling. It had a lot of promising elements going for it, but I just couldn’t engage.
Carnet de Voyage
by Craig Thompson
A+ for the aesthetics of this graphic travelogue, but my appreciation for the physicality of the book was not enough to boost me through Craig Thompson’s tale of his wanderings in Europe. (more…)
The only thing I could feel when I finished Kimberly Rae Miller’s Coming Clean was a sense of profound gratitude and awe. Really and truly, this brought home to me the resilience of children and humans in general in a way that books about outright abuse and violence often don’t.
Miller’s work, which was released to much fanfare, is a memoir about her childhood as the offspring of a hoarder. She describes in great detail how her father collected papers, electronics, odds and ends, surrounded himself with news and information in a way that, if all of this information had been electronic, might have been a precursor to the Internet. As it was, it just created a ton of clutter. To the point where Kim felt, sometimes, like she was living in a dumpster.
The memoir is quite short, but packed full of experiences; Kim recounts moving from an apartment to a house to another house to college, recounting each time her attempts to try to make her parents shape up and her parents’ further decline into hoarding. She has dogs that died because of her father’s hoarding.
This is pretty much my worst nightmare. (more…)
Five years ago, I sat on a train heading northward feeling both exhilarated and somewhat terrified. I had just quit my job, my very first job out of college, and was speeding homeward through upstate New York for a visit with family before departing for England and graduate school. I had a full day’s train journey ahead of me and a pile of books beside me.
When I booked the ticket, the slow pace of train travel seemed like the perfect way to disconnect from the rush of Manhattan and the last-minute tying up of loose ends attendant upon leaving a job. Now, as the tracks disappeared ahead and behind me, I was mired in swirling thoughts, worries, and hopes. I was excited, mostly, for the next step in my carefully-plotted-since-college Life Plan to begin. But that excitement was mixed with the trepidation that comes with any next step: what would it be like? Would I like it as much as I imagined I would? Would it all be worth leaving my life in New York behind?
In this state of mind, I pulled Lev Grossman’s The Magicians out of my satchel. I wanted — no, I needed — to get away, even for just a few hours, from the looping thoughts in my own head. I needed an escape and I was hoping The Magicians would get me there. So, ignoring the large woman in the seat next to me who noisily chomped away on various foodstuffs for the entirety of our voyage, I opened the book and quietly disappeared into another world. (more…)
I grew up with a book in my hand, quite literally. One of the largest battles I can ever remember fighting with my mother was whether or not I should be allowed to read at the table during meals — one I eventually lost when it came to the dinner table, but it was determined that I could be allowed to read when eating more casual meals at the kitchen table.
This was only a notable battle because I read everywhere else. On the bus, in the car, after school, while doing chores. If I wasn’t reading, I was outside pretending to be Laura from Little House on the Prairie or Julie from Julie of the Wolves. One time, my mom caught me reading huddled by my nightlight wayyy after my bedtime (I figured they would see the light from a flashlight). Thankfully, she didn’t have the heart to ground me. I think she knew that, like Harper Lee’s Scout Finch, I never really loved to read, I just needed it like most people need to breathe.
Which is why this article on Book Riot about how much time is time enough to read baffled me. What do you mean, enough time to read? First, there can never be enough time, a point on which the author and I can agree. But the idea of not even starting to read because you only have five minutes would never even enter my mind. Five minutes here, five minutes there and five minutes while you’re letting the dog out is 15 minutes, and that’s enough time for a chapter.
In a bittersweet turn of events, I am leaving Nantucket, and moving back to western New York, in the coming weeks. Over my last year here, I’ve discovered that Nantucket is a gloriously literate place, with an entire festival devoted to books, little nooks offering free or low-cost books at almost every turn, fabulous independent bookstores, and the best public library I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.
So, as letter of farewell to a place I have truly loved, here’s an ode to all that is good and book-related on Nantucket:
Let’s start at the very beginning: bookstores. Nantucket has been notoriously successful at preventing the incursion of chain stores, so it should come as no surprise that Nantucket Island boasts not one, but two excellent independent bookstores: Mitchell’s Book Corner (54 Main Street) and Nantucket Bookworks (25 Broad Street). Both have their perks and idiosyncrasies (and I personally prefer Bookworks), but both are havens. (more…)
A school district in Coeur d’Alene, a town in northern Idaho, is currently considering removing Of Mice and Men from its ninth grade curriculum. Members of the curriculum review committee have cited several reasons: the book contains profanity, the plot is “too dark,” and the book is “neither a quality story nor a page turner.”
Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that the most vocal review board member, Mary Jo Finney, is challenging the status of an American classic without any apparent literary credentials. She’s a taxpayer, a mom, and a school board member, and she has a right to express her opinion. Mostly, she seems to feel that teenagers should not be exposed to crudity and forced to read profanities out loud in class. (Also, one assumes she finds the dead cheating wife distasteful, though this is never mentioned.)
She’s not alone. Concerned parents in the Highland Park Independent School District in Texas made national news last year when they tried to remove seven books from the curriculum for similar reasons. Among those banned were Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, which depicts alcoholism and homelessness, and The Art of Racing in the Rain, which contains a brief sex scene as viewed by a dog. A conservative parent will argue that these things threaten “family values” — as contemporary fiction often does. Parents, understandably, may not want their children exposed to these things in a classroom.