Sunday, March 15, 2015

Completed: The Virgins


I read this book so fast I didn't even have time to write a preview post. Which is probably fine, because I only have the vaguest memories of why I bought this book. I'm pretty sure probably read this good review of it, and I'm even more sure it "felt" like it might be a ToB candidate. Alas.

The truth is, I read this one yesterday in a sort of mid-March panic. I mean, the reading part wasn't panicked. That was a fantastic feeling. After a solid 10 days of work deadlines of one kind or another, it was awesome to just lay (lie?) in bed with a book. I even cheated and took a nap. It was fantastic.

The panic part was about book selection----I was thinking I'd try and squeeze in another ToB book, but the ones that are left are pretty big. I guess I'm going to try and tackle The Bone Clocks next, but I'm ambivalent about it. Even though people I respect in the commentariat are telling me to read it, I still feel David Mitchelled out. Maybe I'll take in on vacation with me next week.

Then, I realized that our next "common" read is April, and I didn't want to get behind here. So I looked over my list (do you ever look over the list and wonder what the hell you were thinking? Hah!) and decided this would be a good one to read.

The Virgins is a prep school story, one set in the 1979-1980 school year at a boarding school in New Hampshire. The narrator, Bruce Bennett-Jones is telling the year long saga of the couple Aviva (a Jewish girl from the Chicago suburbs) and Seung (a Korean American boy from Jersey).

It's clear the author was going for a sort of Gatsby-esque vibe, only creepier. And although mid-novel, I'm not sure it worked, I think there is something sort of illuminating about it. After all, when you think about it, Nick Carraway is kind of a creeper. But Gatsby's saga is so, I don't know, breathtaking that Nick fades into the background. But the more you think about Nick, the more you wonder what he was doing watching over Gatsby and Daisy so carefully. He claims he was swept into it by Gatsby himself, but was he?

In this novel, there's no wondering. Bruce is obsessed with Aviva, and his creation of their story is clearly just that...created. He openly admits to creating the relationship out of bits and pieces of information along with whatever story he is telling himself to make his own behavior more acceptable. And trust me, there's plenty of bad behavior on his part. Bruce is a yucky little person, and I didn't enjoy his point of view. For that alone, I have to give the author credit. I disliked the narrator, but was curious about to read more about his creation of Aviva and Seung.

The novel starts in the fall and follows the couple through the school year and into the tragic events of spring, with the death of Seung. (This is given away by the fact that the narrator reveals it pretty early in the book, and also by the fact that his voice is pronounced "sang." Here's a new working theory I have for books: If the author makes the point of having their name be pronounced as the past tense of a common verb, you know they're toast. Anyhoo.) There was, more than anything else in this book, a lot of angsty teenage romantic fumbling. I would not recommend you listen to the aBook. Lol.

This was not a book I loved or hated. Meh. I promise to come back in a few months if it turns out I think about it all the time.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Kelly's Book 3.15: The Last Lovely City

Dear Jenny,

Well this is another book I picked up entirely because of its cover. So, you know, shallow reader over here. (I will say this: I do then read the back and the first page to see if the book is interesting to me -- I won't just blindly pick up a book and buy it based entirely on its cover!)

Not sure if you can really tell in this post, but that's the Palace of Fine Arts there. So, you know, this book had my number. Heh.

I can't remember when I bought it, but it was published in 1999 and I think it might have been in my first year or so of living in CA. So... 2000 or 2001? Ooof. I also have a feeling that I have begun reading it, but I remember nothing about it (you know, 14-15 years later...)

It's a collection of short stories and I would say... Present-day Kelly probably would not have bought it. I think I maybe... don't like short stories. I can't put my finger on it, but it's looking that way for me. I guess 2015 will prove whether or not that's true, because at least 3 other books on my TBR list are collections of short stories and/or essays. (It's somewhat telling that these books have remained unread on my shelf, right?)

Mostly, I chose to read this book in March because it's short and I know I'm going to be super distracted keeping up with the Tournament of Books!


Completed: The Imperfectionists

Dear Jenny,

I finished this book in February and it's already March! Dangit -- already I'm slipppping. Grr. Oh, well. I'm here now.

Well, my judgment-by-font totally paid off, cause I really enjoyed this book. But here's my problem: I liked it so much, I burned through it. So now I'm all, "Wait, what happened?" Fortunately, I did mark some pages, so lemme flip on through and see what I wanted to tell you... ah, yes.

The structure is very interesting -- the book covers the 50+ year story of a Rome-based newspaper by intertwining the history of the paper with seemingly disparate accounts from present-day people who are related to the paper in some way.

Ugh. I'm not doing a great job of describing this. I feel like I need to make a diagram. Let me try again. Basically, each chapter tells a short story about a totally different current-day character who is somehow related to the paper. Interspersed between those chapters is the history of the paper from its founding in 1953 right up to 2007. We never get any of the current-day characters twice, but we sometimes see them from someone else's perspective in another story. So two things happen as you read:
  1. You slowly put together how the current-day characters are related ("Oh -- that's the best friend from that other story!")
  2. You get the backstory that catches up to the current-day characters, so they come into play in the chronological story as you get there.
At first, I thought this would be annoying, because the current-day stories are so disjointed that it's basically a collection of short stories (some of them are kind of far away from the paper -- one is about a reader of the paper) (Although she does turn out to be also tangentially related to the paper itself...) (And her story is pretty nutso and really enjoyable) and because we never hear from that same character's perspective again, it's kind of difficult to really get into those characters.

Buuuut...  the chronological history-telling that is interwoven between those stories and is zooming from the past through on to today ends up bringing everything together as the story goes on. There is some seriously good story-weaving magic going on with this book.

Having said all of that... the paper's story itself is fine, but not terribly memorable (all I've got is "It's a paper in Rome.") Many of the characters are interesting, but I didn't get super-attached (I wished I could have heard more from some of them). However, that gorgeous story-telling structure was enough to keep me interested and plowing through it.

A few of the stories have a sort of "No WAY!" twist ending that caused me to either try to predict a crazy ending for the others *or* be disappointed when the stories were super-straight.  It feels a little like the author thought of the "twist" stories first, and then had to fill in the rest to make a full book. But it's forgivable because of the structure and the characters. Writing this, I want to re-read it to see more connections that I probably missed the first time.

I've been intentionally not spoiler-y because it's a book I would recommend, I think you would enjoy, and I know you would burn right through. So if you're interested in it, I'll lend it to you (maybe during the summer, when you might have some time to read!) If you're not, ask me some questions and I'll spoil away in the comments. Heh.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Kelly's TBP 1.15: Cover

[Long-post warning here: in the process of writing this, I found a bunch of cool links to articles and interviews. I know you're super busy right now, so don't read this one until you have a bit of time to relax and enjoy it...]

Dear Jenny,

Oooh! I'm doing it! It's February March (well, I started this in February...) and I have already perused one book from my TBP list! Interestingly, it's the most recent addition, Cover by Peter Mendelsund (thanks for the Christmas gift!) I guess it's gotta be fresh to grab my attention? Maybe.

The cover of Cover. Heh.
I tried to capture the coolness of this cover, but I'm not sure I got it -- the images of the red book are printed directly on the front, spine, and back and then the dustjacket is a clear overlay with the title and author name printed on it. It's a nice effect. (Which is good for a book cover of a book about... book covers!)

Sooo... when you gave this to me, I didn't realize/understand that it's a retrospective of one cover artist's work. (A mid-career retrospective, at that -- he's only been doing it for 11 years!) I guess I thought it was about different book covers by different people. But it's not -- it's one super prolific designer. Who... got into this gig as a second career after being a professional musician for over a decade. Whoa. ("What am I doing with my life?" is a quick flashing thought there, I gotta admit. And then I remember... paying bills. Oh yeah.)

Anywho... I really enjoyed this book. I especially loved the fact that it shows many "rejected" book cover designs and it really breaks down the process of book cover design in a way that makes me think even more about book covers than I did before (didn't think that was possible).

The first part of the design process is about reading, as shown in this pull quote from the introduction by Tom McCarthy, who's book, C is one of the covers in Cover:
I found this great interview with Mendelsund and McCarthy with a far more detailed explanation of the book cover design process (that's a good read, if you've got some time.) (And a good "scan," if you don't!) 

Arguably, Mendelsund's most well-known work is the cover of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo:
I really enjoyed seeing earlier/rejected versions of the book, including one with that original (super harsh!) title, before they decided to change it for an American audience:

I actually prefer the more subdued color in the bottom right version and it sort of sounds like Mendelsund did, as well, but... the bright colors won out.

He also designed the other two books in the series, including The Girl Who Played With Fire:

Which was created from an actual photocopy of his daughter's hair:

Cool, right? (Aaand... what a cool claim to fame for that girl.)

This double-page spread is fantastic -- showing all rejected covers for one book:

And here's a great demonstration of the iterative process -- look how many covers he goes through for this book:

Ultimately, he didn't use any of these and, most noticeably, changed from that serif font to a sans serif one: here's the final hardcover version. And the paperback, which is the same image, but with some color.

While I was looking for that final version (it's not in the book, which I found odd), I discovered a really cool five minute video interviewing a bunch of different cover designers who describe their process for design (including All That Is).

He's done a lot of covers I have never seen before. Outside of the Stieg Larsson books, I think this one is the most recognizable to me -- I've never read this book, but I really like this cover:

And finally... you do have a copy of this edition of Ulysses, right? Because this design is inspired -- love the YES:

And, in fact, he discusses that design it in this interview, as well as his dislike for The Great Gatsby cover, which I also dislike. Mostly because people say that the eyes are those of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, but I don't think they are -- where are the glasses, people?! Instead, I've always thought that the eyes were Daisy's, as described in this passage:
Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs, and so I drew up the girl beside me, tightening my arms. [81] [emphasis mine]
(Interested in this discussion? Here's an article about it.) Taken as Daisy's eyes -- not Eckleburg's -- I am fine with the design. But the Eckleburg interpretation is annoying to me. Just put a green light on the cover of the damned thing and be done with it.

Aaand... I gotta wrap this up! I could go on and on about this book, but the final verdict is: Good stuff! Thank you so much for giving it to me -- a worthy perusal.