Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Random Book Talk

Dear Jenny,

Here are some random book-ish thoughts I have had lately, in no particularly order (although, for whatever reason, I have chosen to number them...)

1. Thanks for recommending Americanah to me -- I'm listening to the aBook right now. The story is great and the narrator is fantastic. Win! (BTW, that's a Goodreads link and the reviews are an interesting mix. This 1 star review at the very top right now is especially fascinating. I see her point, but I totally don't feel that way when reading the book at all.)

2. Big news: I recently abandoned a book! I was listening to it, it wasn't that interesting, my loan was expiring and... I let it go. I am so proud of myself -- this is my first ever intentionally abandoned book. Aaaand... I have abandoned it so successfully, I cannot even remember what it was! (And I'm not going to try... go away!) Aren't you proud of me?

 3. I'm curious... how do you and/or other middle school teachers feel about this latest shocker-book, Tampa? I feel like I am seeing it everywhere and it just sounds revolting. The topic could be interesting but the over-the-top graphic sex descriptions sound atrocious. Have you read it? Know anyone who has? (And, when I heard about this book, I thought, "Please, please, please do not be in the Tournament of Books this year...") Bonus (semi-related) question: Have you ever read Lolita? And bonus (totally related) news topic... a teacher near Tampa was recently found guilty of similar actions. (Ugh.)

 4. Speaking of the ToB... as the year comes to a close, I feel more and more like, "Eep! I should be figuring out what might be in the ToB this year! Eep!" Last year, I happened to have read several of the books before it came around (seriously -- a coincidence). But if I have not pre-loaded for it, I won't be able to keep pace like I did last year... I've been following the talk on the Rooster! Goodreads group, but that hasn't been all that helpful... seems like most people are talking up books they've liked, but there are a lot of books getting thrown out there. I know there are big prizes coming up which should help pare down the list, but the outliers... oof. I am nervous.

 5. Also ToB related... every time I hear the name "David Foster Wallace," I think, "Drink!" That's a powerful Pavlovian response there. ;)

 6. I completely spaced on reading my TBR book for September (!!!) and now my final list of books are all long ones... I have a feeling it's going to be page-count-for-the-rest-of-the-year for me. (Ha -- looking back on that post, it was just about 1 year ago [Sept 21, 2012] and I had far more books/pages to read to complete the year. Sooo... I'm still ahead of where I was last year at this time!)

7. I have just realized I never posted my completed review of my August book. Crap. Okay. Gotta finish that too. Sooo... how are you doing on your TBR list?



  1. K,

    That review is kind of shitty. I don't know. The white privilege just drips right off of it. I loved the novel, mostly because it felt so narratively different than the things I usually read. I mean, I thought that was the whole point: people drift in and out of your life, especially when you're an immigrant. And then you return home, and you repeat that same pattern. I thought it was fascinating and funny. In particular, the whole braiding scene on the front end was *hilarious*. I read it when Janine was here, and the conversations I heard between her and my neighbor Charlette were right out of that book. Charlette even said, "You know, we can always send you to the Africans." Maybe it's not as funny or poignant if you don't know how present race is in the lives of black people in America. I'm glad you're enjoying it!

    I LOVE that you abandoned a book! I love that you can't even remember its name. I find it freeing. I probably don't even do it as often as I should, but when it's time, it's time!

    You know, I have heard about Tampa. You mentioned in an email doing a read along of it, but the more I think about it, the more I think it's a bad idea. Let's pick a novel we both really *want* to read, rather than one that sounds so unrepentantly trashy and awful. I like trashy books, mostly in the form of romances set in England around 1800, but this just doesn't even sound like it has much literary merit. As a teacher, I also find the teacher/student angle to be absolutely repellent in a way I cannot even begin to describe. I actually don't even think I can do it. I'd rather read I'd read Lolita again---have you read it? It's amazing, despite it's horrifically upsetting topic. If we were going to go down that road together, I'd totally rather read Lolita.

    I'm still reading, but jammed up on basically THE MOST DEPRESSING BOOK EVER, which is Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. I'm about halfway through. I can really only read 30 or 50 pages at a time before feeling overwhelmed. So, it's been slow. I am also a little worried about making it through, but figure Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks always save me in the end.

    I'm going to put my TOB thoughts in a different comment.

  2. Okay, 2014 Tournament of Books predictions....

    There are several auto-bids that seem to always end up in the tournament, specifically the winners of the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. So keep an eye on those prizes, which are awarded in the next few months. I think the Booker Prize goes first.

    However, there are lots of literary prizes out there, and last year in the comments I suggested that they pull from a different set. The former Orange Prize is now the Women's Prize for fiction often gets a nod. I'd like to see them throw in the winner of the Man Asian prize.

    They usually try to go for a pretty even male/female split in authors. It also seems that they are less likely to include authors who have formerly won, maybe to spread the love? However, I think they're going to bend over backwards to include a more diverse, multi-ethnic group of writers this year. Last year was a pretty white crowd, and I think they'll want to even it out, and I think there's a lot of really good stuff to pull from.

    I think Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is a sure thing.
    Either Americanah or We Need New Names will make it in, too.
    Life After Life by Kate Atkinson got the right kind of buzz and seems like a sure thing.
    I don't see how they leave out Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon, but I could be wrong. They like at least one literary heavy hitter, and this seems like the one---9/11 technothriller seems right up the alley of the TOB.

    Oddball Predictions
    I think Doctor Sleep by Stephen King has a good shot. They usually include at least one big, bestseller. And the sequel to The Shining seems like it could make it in. The thing working against it is that it's a sequel, but it feels like a good year for King to make it in.

    A liltte indie book that's gotten some really good reviews is The Virgins, which I bought a copy of on the strength of the New York Times book review. They usually pull at least one book out of nowhere, though, so it's going to be something no one has heard of.

    The Cuckoo's Calling seems like it has an outside chance of getting in. You can't put a Harry Potter book in, and the Casual Vacancy is awful, so why not put in this book? It has buzz and a famous author and weird circumstances. Seems possible.

    Usually, they throw in an arty book (think Building Stories or Nox), a humorous or comic novel (Where'd You go Bernadette), and maybe a mystery/YA/underrepresented genre. I don't really have strong contenders for those spots.


    PS. Tampa might pull a draw. It just might. Ugh.

  3. Americanah -- I have laughed a *lot* when listening to this book. This morning, I actually made a bookmark that said, "Hilarious comments on books." It was Shan (sp? It's Blaine's sister) at a party saying, "You can't even read American fiction to get a sense of how actual life is lived these days. You read American fiction to learn about dysfunctional white folk doing things that are weird to normal white folks." About 10 novels popped into my head *immediately* that fit that bill.

    As for that review, I was amazed that her reading was so completely different from my own. Seriously -- I was like, "Whoa. Is this the same book?" Especially the "unlikability" of Ifemelu (which Shan also addresses: "If a character is not familiar, then that character becomes 'unbelievable.'" I am *certain* I have fallen into that trap myself.) But I *can* see the reviewer's point... and maybe that's the whole "Unfamiliar character = unrelatable" issue shining through. For me, it has not been true in this book (I really like Ifemelu, flaws and all -- she is super straightforward and I like it.) (Of course, that is a trait that I can relate to!) You know I passed/failed the "White Privilege Quiz" (depending on how you look at it -- Ifemelu sarcastically congratulates anyone who "passed") so I probably cannot accurately gauge someone else's WP-filled review. Heh.

    Tampa: When I first heard about this book, I thought, "Oh... Jenny is going to *hate* this." Because it's a *teacher*. Even if you could past the grody storyline, I think the teacher thing would just be too repellent. Soo... there ya have it. I have never read Lolita. I'm pretty grossed out by the topic, but I'd give it a shot. I listen to a podcast called Literary Disco (I think I told you about it) and they read Tampa in a recent episode and pretty much trashed it. They completely dismantle any talk of a "modern day role-reveral Lolita" as well. It sounds like what really kills Tampa is the over-the-top super graphic sex descriptions throughout (which, as far as I understand it, is avoided in Lolita -- correct?)

    I am enjoying my current TBR book so far (Little, Big) -- I just haven't been making much time lately to read. After this, I have 3 to go. I will probably eliminate my two longest then, which are Hunchback of Notre Dame and Don't Know Much About History (also rejected last year... think I will ever read this book? Maybe it should be my first TBR book of 2014!) As of today, there are 85 days left in the year. If I read 17 pages per day, I'll finish them up on time. So manageable!

  4. Thanks for the ToB guidance! I've been wanting to read Lowland and Life After Life, so those are on my list already. Bleeding Edge and Doctor Sleep have also been on my radar... when I read the description of Bleeding Edge, I thought, "This would be a good aBook." Until I read the reviews and everyone *hates* the narrator. Not one single review says, "Oh, it's not so bad." Not one -- people are absolutely *outraged* by this narrator and calling for it to be re-recorded with a different narrator! I have never seen a narrator get panned so completely. Check it out. However, I have heard great things about Doctor Sleep, so that looks like an upcoming aBook for me.

    Have you read The Cuckoo's Calling? I still feel so burned by The Casual Vacancy.

    I've read a few YA books this year (I love the library!) and by far my favorite was Eleanor & Park, which I have also seen mentioned a few times in the Rooster group. Have you read it? The characters are just... so real. I loved that book, especially the descriptions of their families and home lives. It's pretty great... I wonder if it's got a chance. I feel like there would just be a little too much "Yes! So great!" talk for a good ToB discussion, but maybe the recent censorship brouhaha could ratchet up the meatiness of a discussion.

    Tampa... it's getting a lot of press and it is *sure* to fire up the commentariat. Ugh. (I am not kidding... as *soon* as I heard about that book, I thought, "This motherfucker is going to be in the ToB.")

  5. This diligent book blogger went through the list of comments at the end of last year's ToB and compiled a list of every book that the commentariat mentioned as potentials for 2014.

    (Besides that list, that's a good blog-- I could learn a thing or two about book reviews from reading hers. The only trouble I have with reading book blogs is... my TBR pile grows exponentially! :) )

  6. Oh, of those that the book blogger listed, I have read The Sound of Things Falling. It might get a nod. It's Latin American while being firmly NOT magical realism, so that's interesting. In fact the author spent a lot of time talking about how he's not into magical realism at all.

    I liked it. There's a whole thing where the narrator is turning 40 that really hit home. Hah.

    PS. My Dad is here. I see your other posts and will reply to you tomorrow. I feel like I'm doing the rude daughter thing on line...the old people really hate that.

  7. HA! In defense of "old people," I don't think *anyone* likes the feeling of being ignored in favor of a computer. ;) No rush on the replies!

  8. They just announced the Booker Prize winner---and it's 800+ pages! I can't decide if that will make it a sure thing or a "no way". I don't know if they've ever included a book that long in the TOB.

    Anyways, it's called The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I guess the upside its that it would be a nice, long aBook!

  9. Wasn't 1Q84 over 900? And I thought that doorstop Jonathan Strange was in the ToB too. So I don't think length will hold it back... it'll just make for a loooot of complaining. :)

  10. Ha! I just went back and looked it up. Funny -- they also used the word "doorstop" to describe these books... but I meant it because JS was almost unreadable and would make a better doorstop than a book...

    Here's what they said, in a comment that *basically* says "Being a doorstop gets you through the first round..."

    All of the following were the longest books of their given year:

    2005: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Susanna Clarke (800 pages)
    2006: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (656 pages)
    2007: Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon (1,085 pages)
    2008: Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (720 pages)
    2009: Shadow Country by Peter Mathiessen (917 pages)—I’d previously identified 2666 as the doorstop of the 2009 tourney, but Mathiessen has Bolaño beat by five pages.
    2010: Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel (560 pages)
    2011: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (576 pages)
    2010: Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel (560 pages)
    2011: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (576 pages)

    You can read the full comment here -- note that in 2009, there were apparently *2* books over 900 pages! Ugh. If that happens, I cannot do it. I'll check out the aBook for this one... I do love a long aBook!

  11. Well, there you go! I had forgotten about 1Q84! And it sounds like there have been some others, so I say queue it up!

  12. Something else that is funny about that post I linked to... I just read a bunch of the comments because I had not read 1Q84 at the time and now that I have (blech) I wanted to see if anyone else complained about the Boobs and Pubes issue (no one did! I'm the only person in the world bothered by this?!) aaaand... I realized it is on that *very* post that you first suggested the DFW drinking game! Wow. It's an historic moment there!