Oh Goodness…

Oh goodness, it’s been a long time gone without writing.

Which is really a shame, because the whole time, I’ve been reading. And reading. And reading! Good books, bad books, interesting ones, disappointing ones. Although it’s not fair to boil down works into one adjective, just like it’s not fair to assign one adjective to a person and leave it at that. That’s why I really should be writing a post for each book I read.

This summer I worked at a literary agency. I spent my mornings reading query emails from writers hoping to be published. Even if I didn’t like all of their work, I respected them all tremendously. Writing a novel, no matter the apparent “quality,” is a real act of devotion and discipline. It’s a worthy endeavor. And so the least I can do is to write more frequently in this blog to encourage other people to read — because someone spent days holed inside, turned down plans, spun around and did years worth of somersaults in their minds, all to bring you a story. WHAT a world! I’m so happy to exist in a world where people tell stories just because they damn well don’t want to do anything else. That’s why though I love Bob Dylan and get it, I get why he won, I hope it’s the last time a songwriter wins. Writers don’t get enough pats on the back for thankless work, for lonely days.

I’m going to get into the books I’ve read in more detail in further blog posts, but some of the HIGHLIGHTS of the summer include:

  • Wise Children by Angela Carter, who is hands down the scariest smart witty wonderful woman writer and there must be some conspiracy against why EVERYONE doesn’t know about her, because everyone should.
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, which made me take hour-long lunch breaks just so I could get pulled back into the intoxicating paragraphs and larger-than-life characters. On my walk to work, I’d take a pit stop at a small community garden just so I could sneak in a few paragraphs. Yes, I was an addict for this book.
  • Happy City by Charles Montgomery, a book that explores how urban design impacts our general happiness and quality of life. This book made me furious about cars and urban sprawl, and terribly excited about the possibilities of more green cities that have public transportation, public space, and ways of bringing people together. I don’t read much nonfiction, but this book was so well-written and exhilarating that I blew through it like a novel. And, since I knew I was lEARNING something, it was almost more gratifying.
  • Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson, because I could read all of her books five times and still find sentences that make me swoon. Was reading this next to my boyfriend and he asked why I was smiling and I said sorry, this book will give away too many women secrets, you can never know. Which isn’t altogether true, of course, but this book made me angry and proud in the best way.

Okay, I realize these are all vague sum-ups that explain the reading experience instead of the actual book, but I’m really just using this post as a warm up for when I do my summer in review post.

Right now I’m reading An Unnecessary Woman by one of my favorite authors, Rabih Alammedine, and sometimes it makes me fall asleep and sometimes I really like it. But one of the best parts is that the protagonist, a woman who relies on literature more than food for sustenance, throws in great quotes. So I’ll end with the ending of an Edward Hirsch poem she loves that describes joy:

“My head is skylight / my heart is dawn.”

With that, I leave you. But I will be back tomorrow. Maybe I can be disciplined enough to make this a daily thing? Hm…let’s not get TOO ahead of ourselves, now.

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Kelly Link: The Best Speculative Fiction Out There (and she is “out there”)

The first time I read Kelly Link, I thought, oh–so this is the American answer to magical realism that I’d been looking for. None of her stories add up in ways that always make sense but they are always satisfying because they don’t go left or right, they go skyward. They make you think, goddamnit, and who the heck wants fiction that colors in the lines when you could have stories that get wonky and play with fairy tales?

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My first Kelly Link collection of short stories. I read it in Orlando, where weird things happen anyway. I feel like people discover her through recommendation, so here I am, recommending her.

When you don’t have to follow the rules of the world, you can talk about the world (and the same issues) in spectacular ways. Link is still discussing the same human condition as, say, Alice Munro, but through a much stranger vessel. That’s why I find reading her stories so captivating. They’re dripping with imagination. They’re not subtle in their wildness, but their brilliance will have you turning over the stories. They’re haunting. Read this one and weep.

“Charley looked like someone from a Greek play, Electra, or Cassandra. She looked like someone had just set her favorite city on fire.”

We read to understand the world, and to understand lives we’ll never have. But books don’t need a huge budget to stretch our imagination like movies do. They just need someone who can look in the corners of what might be possible, and then go live in that weird place for a while. When the author emerges, she’ll have brought a story that only her mind can produce. It’s a little hardened gem of the imagination, and it’s boundless.

A June of New, Dear Friends

I graduated college in May with a diploma in English and a big gaping hole in my life. What was I to do without my friends and my classes and my little routine? Or, should I say, my little life? The day after school ended, I did the only thing I knew to do: grabbed the nearest, epically-long novel I could find and dive right in.

I chose well. I chose a book that was unpleasant and electrifying and kept me coming back for more.  Hanya Yanagihara’s book A Little Life and its cast of vivid and true characters filled the void for a bit. It became a chore reading it, especially once I saw the book for what it was–not the story of four graduates heading out into the world, as it begins, but the psychological portrait of a person deprived from love and exposed to absurdly gruesome horrors at far too young an age.

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A good book stays with me. It blurs the lines between my life and its life. Every time I walk to work through the Garden district of Manhattan, I keep my eyes peeled for Caleb, tall, dark, and evil, whose apartment was in that area in the book.

But I finished it only a few days later. It turns out one mere novel wasn’t enough to satiate me! I needed more characters and buddies to populate my life for a bit. So, I went into an epically-long series: the mysterious and fantastic Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.

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thousands of pages of goodness

If Yanagihara’s tome is about male friendships in the modern age, Elena Ferrante’s series is about the enduring power of a female friendship in a much different time and place than my own. Elena and Lila, the two protagonists of Ferrante’s series, become friends in Naples in the 1950s. The story ends in the 2000s, after Lila disappears, and she always threatens to do. Elena defines her own identity based off of who she perceives Lila to be. Essentially, whatever Lila is (bold, dynamic, impulsive, manipulative), Elena is not. However, as we’ll see, their relationship is ever-growing and while they know each other so well, sometimes Elena is so busy projecting her insecurities onto Lila that she doesn’t see Lila for who and what she is.

Sounds pretty much like a normal relationship, right? That’s because Ferrante’s books do something extraordinary, that so many novels fail to do–and why so many novels fail. They describe reality. Ferrante’s characters make real decisions. They do not make choices that an author thinks would be convenient for a plot. Rather, as I moved along the path of Elena’s life, all of her actions fell into place. They built up and up, and her decisions impacted her personality and her personality impacted her decisions. Life!

Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines toward obscurity, not clarity. Elena Ferrante

I ended June with lots of new friends–and new friendships. There’s Jude and Willem, Elena and Lila. I graduated from college with so many good friends. I’m just starting out like the characters in A Little Life. But reading these books about enduring friendships, seeing them evolve over the decades, makes me excited to see how my own friendships will change in adult life. Is there anything more elastic, forgiving, and necessary than a relationship with a true friend?

 

 

“Just Walking Around” by John Ashbery

This one got me where the best poems get you. The first line reminded me of a Neruda poem I used to read in high school when I was feeling my most despairingly romantic. Ashbery’s rendered same awe for the individual in a metaphor of journeying towards another person, a person who is so much more than a name.

And isn’t that what all relationships are? A journey towards knowing another person, even if, realistically, you can never wholly know another person (unless they’re in a Virginia Woolf book)? Anyway, maybe he’s talking about knowing himself, or another, or whomever. Either way, this poem read like a stroll towards somewhere sweet and mysterious, a place and a not-place, a name and a not-name. A person?

Just Walking Around

What name do I have for you?
Certainly there is not name for you
In the sense that the stars have names
That somehow fit them. Just walking around,

An object of curiosity to some,
But you are too preoccupied
By the secret smudge in the back of your soul
To say much and wander around,

Smiling to yourself and others.
It gets to be kind of lonely
But at the same time off-putting.
Counterproductive, as you realize once again

That the longest way is the most efficient way,
The one that looped among islands, and
You always seemed to be traveling in a circle.
And now that the end is near

The segments of the trip swing open like an orange.
There is light in there and mystery and food.
Come see it.
Come not for me but it.
But if I am still there, grant that we may see each other.