Posts filed under ‘Musings and Essays’
It’s that time of year again: what topped our list in 2016? And what did we absolutely despise? Check out Kate and Corey’s picks for their best (and worst!) reads of 2016:
Best Library Loot
Corey: Definitely A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé. It was one of those serendipitous library reads that you magically happen upon and turn out to be incredible. I was so lucky to find this one in the stacks this year!
Kate: Hmm. Probably A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was not a book of short stories by a recovered alcoholic that hopscotched all across the Southwest. Just wonderful.
“Hey, I didn’t know that!” Award for Best Nonfiction Read
Kate: Can I take a second to brag about the fact that I really tried to branch out into nonfiction this year? And still, somehow, only read a few. But Cooked by Michael Pollan was the best of them, probably, filled with compelling stories and facts about the food we cook and how we eat it.
Corey: Rebecca Trainster’s All the Single Ladies was so chock-a-block full of “hey, I didn’t know that!” moments, I think I irritated pretty much everyone I ever happened to be reading this book next to; I couldn’t stop myself from shouting out tidbits and marveling at Trainster’s research.
Kate: The Likeness by Tana French. Shades of Donna Tartt and Kate Atkinson. Plus, it takes place at Trinity and just outside Dublin, so I got to feel all nostalgic.
Corey: I only reread one book this year — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — and it was, as usual, a total delight. (more…)
At the risk of stating the obvious, we here at Literary Transgressions haven’t been posting lately. Our apologies, dear readers. This lapse is for a variety of personal reasons — as well as the utterly miserable current political climate in the states — but it’s also for the simple reason that I just have not been reading.
This is a truly unusual situation for me; I always read. I read before work. I read after work. I’ve read through subway commutes standing up with no pole in sight. I read walking home. I’ve read on bumpy ferry rides and turbulence-filled Cessna journeys. I read in 100+-degree weather, stopping briefly to take cold showers. I’ve read through depression, I’ve read through joy, and I’ve read even when I didn’t really feel like it, but did so anyway.
But now, suddenly, I’m not reading. I haven’t finished a book in months. I’ve barely even started a book in weeks. There’s something in the air, a feeling of just too much, that means I haven’t been able to pick up a book.
Normally, books are a refuge and an inspiration for me. But, as 2016 draws to a close, I just can’t. I can’t muster the energy or the hope to crack open a book.
I have high hopes that I will return to my readerly ways in 2017. I love reading (again, the obvious!) and, with a snowy winter forecast by the Farmer’s Almanac, I anticipate lots of snowed-in, cozy afternoons with hot chocolate, buttered graham crackers, my warm little dog, and a good book.
But until I muster up the ability to put one foot in front of the bookish other, I just wanted to check in with all of you. How are you holding up, dear readers? Have you been avoiding literary escape? Or have you dived in more passionately?
Here’s to a brighter 2017 — and stay tuned for our annual “Year in Reading” post next week! Despite this time of non-reading, Kate and I did read some great stuff earlier in the year.
After raiding the library recently, I found a couple of quick-but-good reads. What have you been reading lately? Share in the comments!
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
Synopsis: Sailor Twain – illustrations + tarot + librarians
Short Thoughts: Terrific first outing from Erika Swyler!
Balancing a bookish mystery on modern-day Long Island with a traveling carnival in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, The Book of Speculation is well-crafted and entertaining to read. Swyler veers into soap opera territory in the final fourth of the book, but all the threads still come together neatly by the end with minimal melodrama.
My only complaint was that the shadowy book dealer who kicks off the whole thing never really gels — he could have been a more interesting and/or more sinister figure, but instead floats in and out of the story without any particular point.
More serious reviews: NPR and Publisher’s Weekly
On Writing by Stephen King
Synopsis: Strunk & White + memoir + advice – formality
Short Thoughts: Would you believe I’ve never read anything by Stephen King? This is my first and, although I know none of his other books are like it, it made me want to read more Stephen King. Equally personable and helpful, On Writing is a great examination of where that writing itch comes from and how to hone your own.
More serious reviews: The Guardian and The A.V. Club
The first time I stumbled on a piece of creepypasta, I had no idea what it was. A friend had posted a link to it on Facebook, and since this particular friend always posts interesting things, I clicked through and read it.
I can’t even remember what it was about, now. Maybe a dead girlfriend haunting a teenager. It definitely involved doctored photos, and it was written in an unusual style that contributed to my confusion. I’m pretty sure it was on r/No Sleep, a sub Reddit forum where people tell creepy stories and other readers engage actively with the poster. The story evolved over a series of posts, after which the original poster suddenly disappeared, causing an interesting tension with the readers.
Then there was the time I discovered Slenderman. If you’re not familiar, I believe the general understanding is that Slenderman is a made-up character based on a series of doctored photos that show a preternaturally tall, gangly figure in the shadows, luring children into his clutches. The thing is, though Slenderman isn’t real, he is in the minds of at least two teenagers, who said they were inspired by him to perform real-life murders.
These are only two examples of creepypasta, a viral fiction form that lives on the Internet and is inseparable from it. I know this doesn’t sound literary, but hear me out. (more…)
Lucy Knisley is known for her confessional, thoughtful, and fearless graphic novels. From her very first one (French Milk), she has illuminated each phase of her life with watercolor, grace, and humor. She’s written about everything from discovering your place in the world, caring for elderly relatives, making delicious food, and finding your ideal partner.
Her latest is called Something New and, in it, Knisley tackles a doozy: the modern American wedding. She does this in her usual way: with insight, history, and a serious deep-dive into the personal. She approaches the “industrial marriage complex” from the wide angle of society, but manages to inflect her exploration with her own personal experiences.
Both Kate and Corey read Something New this summer and, while they both love Lucy Knisley’s work but have fairly different perspectives on weddings, they decided to have a chat about it.
Corey: Weddings are such a personal topic — people seem to get anxious even when talking about hypothetical, future weddings — so I hope we’re still friends after this.
Kate: Um, of course we will be! But I agree, there’s so much emotion and stress inherent in weddings and marriage and wedding planning, which I think is why this book strikes such a chord. Knisley doesn’t try to paint a wedding as this wonderful, beautiful, perfect day — it’s a day that symbolizes a couple’s commitment to each other that, as so many things in life are, is inherently flawed.
Corey: Absolutely. But I think Knisley’s book is truly exceptional at capturing the best about weddings: the bringing together of everyone you love to celebrate love. The day after her wedding, as Knisley ponders the event, she is struck by how lovely and how important it was to gather everyone together in this way. Most often, you will never again have those people in a room together. I’d never thought about weddings that way!
Kate: Yes! I think she did a great job of unpicking all of the stuff that comes along with weddings and making it clear that it was the people there that were ultimately most important. (more…)
Well, we’re about halfway through summer (already? Already!), so we thought we’d check in on our 2016 summer reading list and see how things have played out. Share your summer in reading so far in the comments section!
Summer Traditions & Rereads:
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (reread) — I think readers of a certain age are conditioned to read Harry Potter books mid-summer. The books were always released to much fanfare at the end of July when they first came out, so as the temperatures skyrocket, I like to reach for a cool drink of J. K. Rowling’s books. I reread the first book and it was just as transportive, funny, and full of hijinks as I remembered. For some reason, I was particularly struck by Rowling’s invention of Quidditch this time around — who just invents a sport wholecloth like that? And how is it so easily understandable right away? Her creativity and ability to make strange things seem normal still blow me away, even 17 years later. (CFB)
Classics (Old and New):
Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton — This is set a lot later than most of Wharton’s books: 1927, the heart of the Jazz Age. It was an interesting study of the hypocrisy that Wharton saw during this age, which does seem fairly modern, in a lot of ways. One of the main characters goes from guru to guru seeking release from her stress, trying yoga and something akin to therapy to help herself deal with the trials of everyday life. However, as is typical for Wharton, the novel ends bleakly, without hope and instead with an exposure of the rotten foundation underneath the gilded surface. (KW)
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton — We seem to be on an Edith kick this summer! I picked this one up somewhat randomly and was treated to a bevy of Edith’s deeply flawed characters, frequently doing awful things to each other. Mostly, the book was interesting for the extreme lengths Wharton goes to with her plot and characters to make her point: namely, that the choices for women longing for independence at the turn of the century were plain old terrible. (CFB)
The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles — Truth be told, I started reading The Odyssey in my old copy from high school, a Barnes and Noble classic with a high Victorian prose translation by Samuel Butler. It didn’t ring true, so I went out and got the Fagles translation (newish, from 1996). This was an excellent decision since Fagles’ version preserves the poetry as well as the immediacy of the language. I’m about halfway through right now and I am really loving it! Also, something about nautical misadventures on the Mediterranean seems like an appropriate thing to read during this drought-filled, hot summer. (CFB) (more…)
I have finally gotten back to creative writing. Nothing huge, just some fooling around, but the mere act of writing has become so all-encompassing that I can think about little else these days. While copying and pasting at work, I’m working out a plot line in my head. Chatting with friends, I’m bursting with sitcom ideas, some of them good, some of them silly.
And, whenever I can sneak away and write upstairs for a few hours, my husband invariably comes in and asks what I’m doing, occasionally trying to read over my shoulder. I’m sure he totally appreciates me slamming my laptop shut and throwing myself at him, yelling, “STOP LOOKING IF I TELL YOU I’LL NEVER FINISH.”
(Does anyone else find this? That talking about what you’re writing destroys some sort of fragile magic that you’re weaving? Talking about writing doesn’t do it, but talking specifics somehow sucks the life out of everything that I’m doing.)
Anyway, so while I have been reading, the reading I’ve been doing has been so different. (more…)