Do you like to cry? Have you been feeling too good about your life? Well, do I have the book for you! Seriously though, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara will stick with you for a long time. It’s a massive, dark, and elegant novel that follows a four men who meet in a expensive college. Haitain artist J.B. spoiled by his family, mixed-race Malcolm on his way to being an architect, kind-hearted actor Willem, and beautiful Jude, a brilliant lawyer who is also a cutter. But as you get lulled into reading about their 20s and 30s, the book’s focus shifts to Jude, and the many horrible things that happened to him during his childhood and who has kept all of it buried as deep as he can. Yanagihara reveals it all very slowly, nor does she do it gratuitously. Jude’s suffering feels real and it’s the love of those he lets in as close as he can that keeps him alive.
I struggled to write about A Little Life. It’s like I’m reporting on my friends. I suffered with them, I wept with them, and I felt the glimpses of happiness.
Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City
is a classic of true crime, covering the remarkable transformations of Chicago and the world with the 1893 World’s Fair … and also the appearance and capture of America’s first modern serial killer.
The fair witnessed wide deployment of the floating-slab foundation that allowed skyscrapers to exist, a critical demonstration of the benefits of lighting with AC power, the invention of the Ferris Wheel, the novelty of the zipper, the prize-winning Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, development of a police force dedicated to prevention of crime… and also identity theft, fraud, and murder made easy by the increasing anonymity of the huge city. Without the close supervision of family and village, psychopaths could manipulate merchants and vendors, borrow without credit checks, buy without paying, and of course practice seduction, bigamy, and murder on an immense scale.
So, the book really covers both the wonders and horrors of the close of the 19th century. It’s incredibly engaging and clearly has an immense following for a reason.
With Boston’s Olympic bid in the spotlight, it is also interesting to note how the city of Chicago was almost unanimous in its desire for the fair, and how much of the argument was over which part of the city would be allowed to host more of it. In Boston, we’re fighting to keep it out, or at least keep parts of it away from our neighborhoods. A big event like this was a point of pride for Chicagoans in the 1890s. 2015 Boston seems to have a totally different attitude in mind.
As I mentioned in my last post some weeks ago, I’m now a sales rep for Penguin books selling to independent bookstores in New England. I’ve got a car, a laptop, a shitload of galleys, and I drive around visiting my accounts talking about the next season’s books. Or at least that’s the idea. Except I live in New England, more specifically in Cambridge, MA, across the river from Boston. We’ve gotten over 70 inches of snow in the last and are expecting more this coming week. We’ve run out of places to put that flaky menace and after a while, it just gets tiring (or maybe that’s just February). Suffice it to say, I’ve had to reschedule a lot of appointments and juggle my schedule. No big deal. (A photo of my street for perspective.)
So far when I am able to do sales calls, I have a great time. I love nothing more than talking about books with other book lovers. And Penguin publishes some great stuff. I’m reading more variety than I normally would so I can confidently talk about the titles to buyers. All in all I’m digging this new job, no pun intended.
I just finished reading Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, a book about his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, which works to overturn wrongful convictions. And it is both the most important book I have read in ages. It made me cry more than anything I’ve read in months. And it was the most expensive, in that it made me immediately pull out my wallet and make a substantial donation to EJI.
Well, not quite immediately. First I checked Charity Navigator, which gives it perfect scores on accountability and transparency.
Then I gave them some money.
You should too.
Rachel has seen something from her window on the commuter train that she thinks might be related to a crime that may have been committed one night when… well, she can’t quite remember, but she’s pretty sure something awful happened. And now a girl is missing, and if only she hadn’t been blackout drunk that night she might be able to help. But the police don’t believe her, and she barely believes herself.
The Girl on the Train is a thriller you could read all at once, late at night. But it’s also a trip inside the emotional cores of people in varying kinds of crisis, and a beautiful illustration of the fallibility of human memory.
I suggest that you not read it while drunk on the commuter rail, though. That might hit a little too close to home.
I read a few books over the last few days that were the sort that when you finish the book, you wonder why picked it up and bothered finishing it in the first place. I feel very ‘meh’ about them and don’t even want to review any of them. They weren’t bad but didn’t wow me either.
I thought one would be a English comedy of manners, but it was way more serious than that. One of the main characters has been raped by her brother and is now pregnant. How is that comedy of manners? I thought maybe I misread the description, but no, just reread it and it even says “comedy of manners” on the back. And the book I’m reading now is the third in a series that has been goings steadily downhill since the original, but I’m reading it anyway. I need to re-energize my reading. But how to do so?
I couldn’t resist the hype (or her charming Twitter personality) and have been reading Roxanne Gay’s recent essay collection Bad Feminist. One piece in particular about likable versus unlikeable female characters made me think about reading Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing. In that novel the protagonist Elyria flees her husband and her unfulfilling life with a one-way ticket to New Zealand. She’s not completely unlikeable, but it is hard to like her, if you know what I mean. Elyria is that friend that has bottomed out, the one you feel guilty for not listening to or helping because she’s just a bear to be around. She drags you down. We’ve all had friends like. And we’ve all been that person, too, which is why I felt some empathy for her. Elyria has gone beyond your standard depression into a area if emptiness. She hitch-hikes her way around New Zealand, ignoring the advice of everyone who tells her not to do it. You get the sense that she’s hitch-hiking not for the danger, but because making plans would require her to interact with people, something she’s loath to do.
Why is she fleeing her life, you might ask? There’s back story about her adopted sister killing herself, her lacking-maternal-skills-mother, and a less than compelling husband. You might start feeling a tug in your gut as you read about Elyria’s emptiness, yet the Lacey’s sentences sparkle on the page. It takes a certain skill to write a convincing character like Elyria.
As for Roxanne Gay’s collection, I’ll just say, we’re lucky to have her and her wisdom.