Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, July 28, 2018

“You Think It, I’ll Say It” by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is one of those books I enjoyed so much that I read it too quickly and now I’m sad it’s over already.

It’s a book of ten short stories, only one of which has a male narrator. Each was basically about relationships (not all romantic), none of which were easy or stress-free—instead, they were so real and honest and full of quietly riveting conflict. The humiliation, the lust, the envy—it was never overblown or melodramatic, it was just fully human. I can’t think of any story in which there was a hero or a villain, characters I felt I was meant to love or hate—just people with both good and bad in them, people who made totally understandable mistakes, people who interacted in ways that made complete sense. People who couldn’t possibly have been made-up characters... but (I assume) they were. 

This is one of the only books of short stories I’ve ever finished reading with the ability of looking at the table of contents and remembering the gist of every story as I run my eye down their titles. It’s also (considering how many unread books remain in the world) added to a very short list of books I would pick up and reread again someday. I think I liked it even more than Rachel Cusk’s Outline, and I’d definitely be interested in reading more of this author’s work.

Bonus: look where I bought it! Fun experience that I highly recommend for any book-lover. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

“The Seas” by Samantha Hunt

The Seas is a nice short absorbing book, weird in an intriguing way. 

In a coastal town far to the north, a 19-yr-old girl lives with her mother and grandfather. Her father, who disappeared (or died?) eleven years ago, used to tell her she was a mermaid. And, for whatever reason, she’s just detached enough from reality that she believes him. Her best friend is Jude, a veteran of Iraq who is almost twice her age. It just so happens that she’s also in love with him. I don’t think I consciously noticed this as I read (probably because I was too engrossed in the story), but the book and its characters felt very real and believable, despite the fact that I didn’t especially identify with the narrator. 

I must admit I’m not even really sure what happened at the end. But I think I’m not supposed to be sure. It’s just odd, though—in the rest of the book, there were muddled and vague passages, but things eventually became clear (in a satisfying, not annoyingly or insultingly obvious way). The ending never really clarified itself and left me wondering. I’ve enjoyed ruminating about the possibilities.

An interesting side note: I finally got around to watching The Shape of Water recently (and really enjoyed it, too) and I think if I weren’t too lazy I could draw a lot of parallels between that movie and this book. Definitely not saying the two tell the same story but they certainly have some similar themes.  

Sunday, July 22, 2018

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera

Here’s a book that’s been on the periphery of my awareness seemingly forever without actually directly penetrating my consciousness. Which is to say I’d heard of the book (and the movie) but didn’t know anything about them. 

Now that I’ve read the book, I’m still not sure I know anything about it. I mean, I definitely got the surface plot. (Minimalist as it is... although I must admit I’m not sure where Franz came from. I can’t remember if I forgot his introduction, and thus his link to Tomas, or if the more tenuous link that I do remember—Sabina—is the only one. Anyway...) It's mainly the love story of Tomas and Tereza, told against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Prague during the late 1960s.

But the book is full of symbolism and philosophy and I’m not sure I grasped all the deeper layers. I bet this book is perfect for studying in English class. But most of the time I have to have the hidden meanings pointed out to me. 

In a way it reminded me of Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist (deceptively simple and full of quietly confident philosophical statements), but whereas I found Coelho’s statements often did not withstand scrutiny, I thought many of Kundera’s did. 

For example, Kundera states that “we all need someone to look at us,” thus he divides humanity into four types of people: 
  1. Those who “long for an infinite number of anonymous eyes” (fame)
  2. Those who “have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes” (esteem) 
  3. Those who “need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love” (love)
  4. Those who “live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present” (dreams)
Assuming this is true, which one are you? (I’m #3)

I’m interested in seeing the movie. So much of the book is internal—how did they externalize it??

Thursday, July 19, 2018

“The Art Book” (Phaidon)

I don’t think this is necessarily the type of book that’s meant to be read cover-to-cover. It’s kind of a coffee-table-style book (though my copy was a small paperback) and I think of those as books to flip through or dip into occasionally. However, perhaps due in large part to my completist tendencies, I really wanted to read it straight through, so that’s what I did (though admittedly I took my time with it—kind of like a book of short stories, the format is well-suited to picking it up and putting it down as time allows). Right down to the glossaries in the back!

The book has a one-page entry on 500 different artists, showing a representative work by each, with a few short paragraphs of facts about the artist’s life and style. It’s organized alphabetically by the artist’s name. It doesn’t include every artist I’ve ever beard of (no Henk Chabot, August Macke or Grandma Moses) but all the big ones are there (and lots I don’t remember hearing of before). 

Alphabetical order often resulted in an odd juxtaposition...

On the very next page, you would see this.

On one page, you would see this . . . 

I found myself wishing I could rearrange the book using a variety of different categories: by the date each work was created, by nationality of the artist, by artistic movement, etc. I don’t think I would have wanted to read an electronic version of this book... but it would have been convenient to have an electronic version I could restructure at will.  

Unfortunately I must admit I probably didn’t retain much of what I read here. It’s a broad (albeit shallow) wealth of art history which should have really enriched my knowledge of art, but I would probably fail a test based on this book. So I’ll just have to be glad I don’t have to take a test, and focus on the fact that I enjoyed reading it. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

“Paris in Stride: An Insider’s Walking Guide” by Jessie Kanelos Weiner & Sarah Moroz

This is a charming little book. I love it as a mere object, with its beautiful watercolor illustrations and the way it just feels good in my hand. I also loved reading through it. I think it would be a lovely book even if only to read and dream over, but it’s even nicer using it to plan.

The book is divided into seven main chapters, each proposing a walking route through one or two arrondissements (though it skips nearly a third of them; I don’t know Paris well enough to be sure of this, but I assume the features of the skipped ones are of less interest to a visitor than the ones in the book).

One quibble: the authors could easily have included the distance of each walking route. With the help of a Maps app I’m sure I can calculate the distances myself, but it would have been much simpler for me if the distances were part of each chapter. Alas, this is not one of those very specific guide books. It doesn’t give the dollar sign symbols to tell you how expensive restaurants are, or the hours of operation of the businesses, and the maps (as with all the other illustrations) are hand-drawn. It gives more of a general feeling of each place than a compendium of details. Which makes it much more fun to read through!

See how pretty?