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Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould
Feb18

Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould

I tried to write a quick post about this book, but instead I went down a rabbit hole. What I had intended to say was something along the lines of this: I spent two nights staying up way too late reading this book, in the end it was not justified. I was not moved by the character or her plight—or more specifically, by the way her plight was expressed. Instead I decided that, before writing my post, I would read some reviews of the book and see if anyone else agreed with me. But first I read the back cover of the book (always a mistake to read it first and, as usual, it gave away much of the plot). And then I focused on the 3 blurbs that were on the front and back cover, glowing reviews from well-known writers. On the cover was a quote from Stephanie Danler, the author of Sweetbitter, a book I quite liked. That is what probably originally motivated me to read the book, that and the fact that it’s (supposed to be) set in the music world (warm memories of reading and greatly enjoying Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – a much better book, read that one instead). I dunno – maybe these writers are friends of the author’s – the book I read doesn’t deserve the raves these writers gave it – sorry. But I was taken by something Danler said about the author – she called her “one of the most essential writers of the internet generation.” What exactly does that mean? I wondered. What is/who is the internet generation and why is Emily Gould essential to it, according to Stephanie Danler? So I decided to Google the author and learn more about her. And thus: rabbit hole. Emily Gould has a lot of cool things in her bio. She co-runs a publishing imprint called Emily Books. She is married to the author Keith Gessen. I read his novel A Terrible Country, about a Russian man who returns to Moscow after many years in the US and what his experience there kind of caught between two cultures is like. I taught the novel in my Hot Off the Press class and we had a great discussion about it. But Emily Gould is perhaps best known for an incident that happened when she was interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel who was, at that time, guest-hosting the Larry King show. Gould was then working for Gawker media, and oversaw something called the Gawker Stalker, in which people could post celebrity sightings. Kimmel and his guests excoriated her for running...

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Recent Reading: Lydia Millet & Ethan Hawke
Feb14

Recent Reading: Lydia Millet & Ethan Hawke

For my Hot Off the Press class, last week we discussed A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, chosen because this session we are reading prize winners or nominees, and this book was on a lot of “best of 2020” and award lists. I liked it very much and was surprised how many of the class participants did not enjoy the book. What I liked… The writing is excellent (we all agreed on that). The story is told from the point of view of a teenager and I think she did a great job with the voice; it was very convincing. (Although I can’t say I’m the best judge of authentic teenager speak these days!) The frame of the story is that a group of families rent a big old mansion (said to have been built and owned by “robber barons”) near a lake and the ocean somewhere in New England to spend the summer with their families. The parents are old college friends and haven’t all been together for a long time. They are artsy professionals. The kids all sleep upstairs in the attic and totally disdain their parents – in fact they won’t even admit to each other which ones of those embarrassing adults are in fact their particular parents. All goes wrong when a storm hits and, since this is climate change fiction, the storm changes the world. It’s actually many ongoing storms that devastate the eastern seaboard. The kids escape to a farm, leaving their parents behind. The book is a parable. It’s a devastating critique of people ignoring climate change. As the author said in a separate interview, she can’t understand why more people aren’t freaking out about the issue, and this is her call to arms. She herself has a master’s degree in environmental policy and works at the Center for Biological Diversity. Readers felt the parents were presented as too “extreme,” i.e. all bad – a bunch of uncaring, oblivious slugs. I guess my response to that is: unreliable narrator. The bible referred to in the title is a children’s bible that one of the young characters, the narrator’s younger brother Jack, is given by one of the parents and begins to read, well, religiously. His own take on the bible has to do with science and nature, and his interpretation of the book leads him to do things like collect the animals and bring them to safety before the flood. I enjoyed finding the many other biblical parallels in the story. Another Book I also just read Ethan Hawke’s new novel A Bright Ray of Darkness. The multi-talented Hawke tells the story...

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You Again by Debra Jo Immergut
Sep24

You Again by Debra Jo Immergut

I just finished reading You Again by Debra Jo Immergut and I enjoyed it very much. It was the kind of book that I couldn’t wait to get back to, that I stayed up way too late reading, and was late getting back from my lunch break because of, and then, after finishing it in a few days (eating it up, as it were), I felt sad to no longer be immersed in it. I can’t remember why I chose this book out of the huge pile of advance reader copies I had to winnow down when we moved out of our house. The colors of the cover caught my eye. And I thought maybe I remembered hearing that this author was the friend of another author I know, but now I can’t remember whom that might have been. But something about the plot description on the back of the book grabbed me (even though I really do try not to read back cover copy because it often gives too much away). All this factors made me hold on to the book and once I started to read it, within the first few pages, I was hooked. The book is mostly in a journal format written by Abby, the main character. It’s 2015 in NYC (it was time for a good NYC book!), and Abby and her husband Dennis have given up their promising art careers for workaday jobs to support the two teenage sons with whom they live in a Brooklyn brownstone in a not-quite gentrifying neighborhood. (Speaking of which, this book has a lot of characters driving places and parking in garages or, at the very least, easily finding parking spots, which is not something I ever experienced in NY!) The action is kicked off when Abby spies a girl on the street who looks exactly like herself 24 years ago, when she was a freewheeling NYC party girl and before the occurrence of some as yet undisclosed hazily recalled traumatic event. Back when she was still aspiring to be the promising and highly regarded artist she would become, and before she gave that part of herself up. Is this girl on the street the younger Abby? Is she even real? Are we experiencing some sort of rupture of the space-time continuum? All of those are the questions the book asks, and I do love a good time travel book! Debra Jo Immergut is a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and she has been the recipient of fellowships at respected places like the MacDowell Colony. This is her second novel and third book, the other...

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Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
Jul09

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

Mrs. Dalloway turns out to be a good choice of a book to read during a pandemic. Mrs. Dalloway, as is noted on page 2 of the book, has been ill (“…she was over fifty, and grown very white since her illness.”) She has had “the influenza,” and it has affected her heart. The book takes place in 1923, so it is likely that Mrs. Dalloway became ill during, and survived, the flu pandemic of 1918. In a recent article in The New Yorker, Evan Kindley writes about how the famous first line of the book – “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” – is being repurposed in social media for our current situation, as in “Mrs. Dalloway said she would make the mask herself,” or “Mrs. Dalloway said she would order from @Instacart herself.” (Read more HERE.) Pandemic references or not, Mrs. Dalloway is always a good choice of a book to read, for it never ceases to yield new insights, and Woolf’s prose never fails to astound (and often confound) with its brilliance. In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf gives us so much: her brilliant stream of consciousness writing, a portrait of post-war London in the midst of modernization, and the story of a 52-year-old woman trying to discern meaning in her life, while twinning this with the story of Septimus Warren Smith, a “shell-shocked” WWI veteran on the verge of madness. Clarissa Dalloway has begun the day by purchasing flowers for the fancy party she is hosting that evening, and throughout the course of the one day during which the book takes place, the chain of actions set off by this sunny June day weave their way through London’s streets and in and out of the consciousness of so may of the city’s denizens. I had scheduled a virtual class about the book as part of my Women’s Words series because: how can you teach a program on important writing by women without Woolf? I also scheduled the class as a challenge to myself: can I teach Woolf? Am I, as a teacher, ready to take this on? I think my students will tell you that that I ably guided them through a thoughtful and careful examination of the book. As one of them said the next day: “I think we did justice to Clarissa.” But, knowing Woolf as much and also as little as I do, I’m guessing we missed more than we found. Which means that Mrs. Dalloway will be ripe and ready for my next reading, whenever that may happen to...

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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Jul04

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X is a young adult book by Elizabeth Acevedo. I was first alerted to this book by our wonderful local author Laurie Halse Anderson who, before the book was even published, told us: keep an eye out for this book, it’s a big one and important! The book was published in 2018 and has won many awards, including a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and, from the American Library Association (ALA), the 2019 Youth Media Awards/Pura Belpré Award, for a Latina writer who best portrays the Latino experience for children, and the Michael Printz Award for best young adult literature.  It came out in paperback in April of this year. By way of a quick plot description: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. It is the debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo. (Read more on the author’s website HERE.) It took me a long time to get to the book, but I just finished it, and wow! Actually, I didn’t read the book. I listened to it. I got the audio version of the book from Libro.fm, an audiobook provider that serves independent bookstores (you know that Audible is owned by Amazon, right?). The audiobook also won an award from the ALA. It is read by the author, and I am so glad I got to hear the poetry of the book in her vibrant voice – it added so much to the experience for me, especially the parts in Spanish. It didn’t matter a bit that I didn’t understand those parts – they sound so beautiful in her voice! The whole book is a story about poetry told in poetic form, and it’s one of those examples of young adult books that are equally enjoyable to adults. To be given a look inside this Dominican-American family, and to experience what the main character Xiomara is feeling as she struggles with her mother, who wants her to be more involved with and more loyal to the Catholic Church, and meanwhile Xiomara is burning up inside with her passion for poetry (and an emerging love interest as well). I’m in a writers group with eleven people, and some of the members are poets. For years we’ve been reading their work and those of us who feel less comfortable with poetry have been learning to read it and to understand it, and to appreciate its nuance and its flexibility as a form. Reading this book taught me why and how poetry is so powerful, and how some people...

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The Book of V by Anna Solomon
Jul01

The Book of V by Anna Solomon

The Book of Esther is part of the Hebrew Bible. If you are familiar with the tale, then you know all about beautiful Queen Esther, who is chosen by the King in a contest after he banishes his first queen, Vashti. Vashti’s offense was that she refused to appear when the king commanded her to parade before him and his drunken revelers wearing her crown (one presumes he meant only her crown). Esther goes on to save the Jewish people and vanquish the bad guys. It’s a partly-goofy and partly-brutal story that is reenacted every year in the Jewish holiday of Purim, when little girls love to dress up as Queen Esther. If you know this story before you read The Book of V by Anna Solomon, then you have a leg up on Esther’s story as it is retold here in multiple ways and eras, and if you have a feminist slant, then you will already know that generations of feminist readers, going back to Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the 1890s, have asked: what happened to Vashti? Many have lamented the quick disappearance of this queen who stood up for herself. Anna Solomon is out to remedy that. Solomon’s story is in three interwoven parts. She goes back to the time of the original biblical tale for her own retelling and re-envisioning of the story of the Jews in Persia, introduces us to Vivian (Vee) Kent, a senator’s wife in the 1970s, and we also follow Lily Rubenstein, a stay-at-home mom in contemporary Brooklyn. Solomon moves back and forth between the stories masterfully, and the way she weaves in details that tie each piece to the other is just terrific. It’s a beautifully written book and a compelling story, with much fodder for discussion. And that’s all I’m going to give away! (Interested in reading this book? Purchase a copy from my online bookshop...

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