“Merely the noblest of distractions.”

“Merely the noblest of distractions.”

“For myself,” Marcel Proust writes, “I only feel myself live and think in a room where everything is the creation and the language of lives profoundly different from my own, of a taste the opposite of mine, where I can rediscover nothing of my conscious thought, where my imagination is exhilarated by feeling itself plunged into the heart of the non-self.” I feel immensely giddy that I am allowed a more literal interpretation: I am in the mad throes of love with my room. The good books are better, and the blows are softened when I’m with the books that don’t like me so much. I’m savoring every moment I have in this room, and I’m looking forward to the days and nights-into-days of reading that it will host. Sure: The detritus will find a way to rise, inch across my desk and on the floor; the books will ever so surely contrive a disarray; Real Life will intrude and I’ll be too weary to even try to stop it. But—and, yes, almost a chant of mine now—I will keep reading, I will immerse myself in what Proust rather earnestly dubs as “merely the noblest of distractions”—for as long as the floors gleam, for as long as I have a clear view of every book in the room, for as long as that red chair will hold me. And even after, of course—of course. [Continue reading.]

Last year’s comebacks

Last year’s comebacks

I got caught in a lot of hype last year, mostly of the for-the-comeback variety: Good authors who’d taken their sweet time coming out with a new book, good authors who’ve just kept on writing but managed to hit the sweeter spot this time around. I have this notion about myself that I steer clear of hype, because it’s just the publishing world lying to me, but this is obviously flawed thinking. And so I like to console myself that the comeback-hype is the better kind of hype to fall prey to—one that has basis, plus the odds are with you because you know that it’s worked for you before? It’s more infectious, too: The hype was more of the bookish internet slaying everyone with a celebratory cheer: Marisha Pessl had a new book, Donna Tartt had a new book, J.K. Rowling kicked everyone’s asses and proved she still had a good book under her belt, Stephen King wouldn’t fucking relent and just kept getting better. [Continue reading.]

Self-help as curation

Self-help as curation

It's the curation I was curious about; someone had to wade through all those case studies and psychiatric treatises (or whatever they're called) and fashion them into a mini-manual on, say, how to steal another man's wife. Brett Kahr fit the bill, I found out. Life Lessons from Freud is tidy and clever, offering enough of brain hurt from Freud's writings, with Kahr's voice confidently (chummily, intelligently, and never condescendingly) steering the reader through it all. [Continue reading.]

Calamitous

Calamitous

There remains shame in bewailing one’s difficulty with reading—never mind that stepping into books has always been a salve, a sanctuary for my sanity, my exhausted-with-feeling soul—more so the overwhelming gladness that a semblance of a reading life has returned, in light of all that’s happened. This is the shift, I suppose, when one belongs to a nation in mourning: Everything shall be [must be] held against that light. [Continue reading.]

Quid pro quos

Quid pro quos

Important things are always at stake in NOS4A2. That’s what makes it so damned brave and satisfying, and truly horrifying. Beyond the creepy children trapped in Christmasland, more than Charlie Manx’s vendetta against Vic McQueen and the pocket of horror he’d built for himself in Christmasland, more than his sidekick who stretches the boundaries of what true inhumanity could signify, more than the fact that this book never ever pulled any punches with its oh so very damaged heroine—the disquiet and utter terror one finds in NOS4A2 is the truth that you will always have something to lose, no matter how firmly you’ve convinced yourself that nothing good has remained in you, of you, for you. [Continue reading.]

Three notes on Galbraith

Three notes on Galbraith

I had not realized I was looking for proof (the kind I could attest to) of J.K. Rowling’s hand in The Cuckoo’s Calling—published (and I daresay written) under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith—until I found it. There it was, something familiar, a reassurance. Once I’d found it, I let what semblance of a literary hunt there was in my head, and fully threw myself into Robert Galbraith’s vastly confident story. (At the back of my mind, though, there remained with every turn of the page: Pride for what Rowling had accomplished, pride at the pride she must have felt when something came to life once again under her hand.) [Continue reading.]

Redundancy, as love story

Redundancy, as love story

The draw of The Thorn and the Blossom—helpfully subtitled, “A Two-Sided Love Story”—is its physicality. The cover—that is, the box/case—is strikingly lush (and I have a barely-curbed fondness for floral, as my linen can attest to); the book itself is in an accordion-fold binding, all the better to tell the mirrored stories; Scott McKowen has four illustrations simulating woodcut prints, all the better to evoke the medieval-tale overtones that the novel tries so very hard to push forward. That is: Theodora Goss’ novel is foremost an object, a very beautiful one—and that's it. [Continue reading.]

Working with the cliché

Working with the cliché

I welcomed The Rosie Project because it knew it was working with a cliché, and it dug within that cliché for some human adorababbleness. It knew the limitations set by the trope, and had fun with it anyway—in the process delivering a completely absorbing book about an absolutely fascinating man trying to figure out this Human Interaction business. The Rosie Project is, essentially, a cliché that worked well. It makes one thankful for clichés, really, and for authors who know what to do with them. Augh. Goddammit, I really enjoyed reading this goddamned book. [Continue reading.]