Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Sunday Book: Medley

Some books I've read recently that I haven't had the time, energy or inclination to post about properly:

  • A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness: One step closer to reading all of Patrick Ness's books. I read the non-illustrated edition of this children's book but it was still beautiful. Quiet, elegant and very sad. "Put simply, A Monster Calls is the tale of Conor O'Malley, a 13-year-old boy who is repeatedly visited by a monster while his mother is dying. Patrick Ness has taken an original story from the brilliant writer Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer at the age of 47 before completing her fifth novel, and weaved a haunting, gut-wrenching tale. "I felt as if I'd been handed a baton," Ness writes in a moving introduction. Conor is a troubled, isolated and frightened boy. The monster - part scary giant, part wild yew tree - tells the boy three stories. These bewildering parables knock Conor off balance but he is not terrified of the monster because he already fears and anticipates something worse. Something "beyond terrible". He knows he is watching his beloved mother die." (Telegraph
  • Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 - Elizabeth Winder: Well, this was a strange and unexpected book. It was a present, requested on the basis of the title, beautiful cover and probably a recommendation, and it was not at all what I was expecting. Plath was a student editor for the magazine Mademoiselle in the summer of 1953 and this book is concerned solely with that month. "Though Pain, Parties, Work does not ignore Plath’s emotional issues, Winder takes a meticulous, ebullient look at Plath’s life through a fairly unique lens—examining Plath’s youthful ambitions, her appreciation for beauty and her impeccable fashion sense." (Roxane Gay @ the Aesthete) Winder gives us all the material details of Plath's life, the lipsticks she wore, what she ate for breakfast, the size of her room at the Barbizon, and it is very atmospheric. It made complete sense when I found out that Winder was a poet; her vision of Sylvia and New York is intoxicating and her prose is neither narrative nor analytical. It is fun to see a lighter, brighter side of Plath but it is also frustrating - this is style over substance. "The very insubstantiality of Winder’s book points to a critical juncture of biography and celebrity which is both a hallmark of Plath studies and particular to 2013. [...] There’s more to Plath than product placement. Simply citing the kind of dress she wears, or the name of her shade of lipstick, doesn’t really give us great insights into her personality, let alone her work. And Winder not only doesn’t delve deeper into interpretation, she barely bothers with description; the products’ names are, apparently, enough to express a meaning already conferred upon them by the magicians on Madison Avenue." (Michelle Dean @ LARB)
  • Schroder: A Novel - Amity Gaige: "History always happens twice, Marx famously opined: first as tragedy, then as farce. Gaige reverses the trick, bending Nabokov’s extravagant farce toward quiet tragedy. Appropriating one of the least restrained novels in all of literature, she somehow creates from it an understated and emotionally unsettling tale." (Kathryn Schulz @ Vulture) Gaige's strange, humane take on Lolita makes for a very interesting book. Eric Kennedy, nee Erik Schroder, writes the text as a letter from jail, where he is awaiting trial for kidnapping his daughter. The voice Gaige crafts is totally committed, alternately charismatic and repulsive, and fascinating. 
  • Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef - Gabriella Hamilton: This book has so many proponents that it hardly needs me on side. Everyone who is interested in food, writes/blogs/whatever, has recommended it. There were plenty of things I liked about it but I didn't love it. Partially that's me, I have yet to find a memoir I wholeheartedly enjoy, but there are flaws too. Hamilton is wonderful at writing about food and her childhood and scrappy young adulthood are primed for narrative but her adult relationships and some of her attitudes soured me. "It’s a story of hungers specific and vague, conquered and unappeasable, and what it lacks in urgency (and even, on occasion, forthrightness) it makes up for in the shimmer of Hamilton’s best writing. [...] A more general anger and even disdain for other people’s vanities and inconsistencies flicker throughout the book. They undercut her likability as a narrator, though she’s redeemed time and again by her self-reliance, her industriousness and her observant, clever storytelling." (NYT) It probably is worth reading if you are as greedy as me but I dunno... it wasn't everything I hoped for.
  • Good Behaviour - Molly Keane: I did not like this book at all. Unpleasant people doing unpleasant thing. And not fun or exciting unpleasant just horrid, petty, early C20th nastiness. I understand why this may be a 'good book' but it wasn't for me.
  • The End of Everything - Megan Abbott: I read TEOE on the basis of Dare Me which I really liked. This earlier novel has plenty in common with it (teenage girls, suburban settings, a lingering sense of explosive threat) but it takes those to an even darker place. I found this book super stressful, I can't deal with child molestation, imagined, feared and actual, and the deep unknowing is tense and alarming. Thirteen year old Lizzie tries to make sense of the disappearance of her best friend / I have a minor panic attack. But, if you like being scared, and lots of people apparently do, I would definitely recommend this. It is smart, well constructed and properly unnerving. Also, Abbott writes The. Best. teenage girls. So good.
Read any of these? Have any recent favourites? Hit me up. I open to any and all recs. 

1 comment:

  1. More Patrick Ness? I love it. Most favourite book I've read lately has to be The Bookseller by Mark Pryor. Total detective thriller set in Paris but good nonetheless

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