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.
Admittedly, I went into The Girl on the Train with very high hopes. Pegged as “the next Gone Girl,” I had expected this book to be a cleverly-crafted, beautifully succinct story filled with twists, turns and double-crosses. What I got was a story that started out with promise, but fizzled out somewhere near the end, where it appeared the author had set up too many loose ends to tie together.
Here’s the premise: Rachel, a relatively recent divorcee and alcoholic, takes the train to London from her home in the suburbs every morning and every evening. The train is slow, and often stops at a signal near the house where she used to live with her ex-husband. Over time, she sees the same couple in a neighboring house, a couple she nicknames Jess and Jason. She spends a lot of time making up stories about them — until, one day, the woman disappears.
This is engaging, right? An unreliable narrator, a little voyeurism, a woman whose past is slowly unveiled to the reader in snippets and bits, in a way that reflects Rachel’s own distracted and compromised state of mind. Paula Hawkins does a great job showing us the terror and shame that can come with hiding an addiction that can steal parts of your mind, your memory, your sense of self.
Corey has already reviewed this book here, but I couldn’t help but add my two cents. For those of you who missed that review, the basic plot line is that genetic researcher Don Tillman decides he needs a wife (or “female life partner”), and goes about finding a woman in the most logical way possible — a questionnaire designed to find a woman free of what he considers to be critical flaws.
Of course, that doesn’t work out as he expects, and he finds himself spending a lot of time with a woman named Rosie, who upends his life. This works out exactly the way you’d expect. The story is smart, funny, charming and ultimately eminently enjoyable. It’s a lemon sorbet of a book — a great palate cleanser for me, who just came off of the longest series ever. No one dies. Well, actually, two people do, but “off-screen.” No one is murdered. There are no arranged marriages. Mostly. It was very soothing.
But as lovely as the story was, I found myself ruminating on the challenges of depicting a character with Asperger’s in a sympathetic light, without making the reader pity the character. Don is undiagnosed, but the reader is supposed to deduce that Don is on that spectrum based on his similarity to a group of children who have been diagnosed. He builds his life around a rigid structure, designed to maximize logic, minimize emotion, increase cognitive ability and decrease the possibility of his ever being overwhelmed by emotion.
Overall, I think Simsion does a great job of this. I never really felt as though, even in the book’s funniest moments, I was laughing at Don. Or maybe I was, but I was laughing with love, if that makes sense. (more…)