April 6 2010
Changing my mind: occasional essays by Zadie Smith
I broke a rule I have for this book, and that is: don’t pay for library books, because library books are supposed to be free. But I was in the library and saw this in the New Releases section and it’s five dollars for a week to get New Releases and usually I just walk on by New Releases, like I don’t even want to be tempted but for some reason I saw this and thought, “Five dollars be damned! When in life can we get such instant gratification for only five dollars!” So I got it, and read it, and felt really stupid because Zadie Smith is very smart. I did not always, exactly, understand what she was talking about in these essays, many of which are about books and movies and art, which are things I have, like, opinions about, but not like Zadie Smith does. Her opinions have a lot more force to them somehow, possibly because she is so very smart, and has obviously done her homework. I enjoyed thinking about the different kinds of readers she delineates (when talking about Nabokov, none of whose work I have ever read) but I was unable to think which kind I personally am. I found her discussion of Greta Garbo really well thought out and intentional, but I’ve never seen a Greta Garbo movie so didn’t know really what to think. I did really dig her discussion of Zora Neale Hurston, whom I fell for at quite an early age (you know, summer-reading-list time) and whom I have not revisited for many years and who is not very well known in New Zealand if the library stacks are any indication., which will make reading Their Eyes Were Watching God a bit of a challenge I think. Anyway, I felt extremely stupid, ill-informed, and poorly read while reading these essays, but in a good way. Definitely worth the five dollars from New Releases (which I’m sure the author would be thrilled to know)—in fact it was six dollars because I was late returning it and there was a fee, but still, I regret nothing.
April 14, 2010
Jerusalem by Patrick Neate
This was structured in a way I always enjoy: several disparate stories and characters whose arcs all have, magically, something to do with each other and it all comes together in the end. Which, I just realized, is sort of what happens in Love, Actually, which I am not a huge fan of. Anyway, this was really well done and I liked all the details about imaginary myths from imaginary countries and being an aid worker and being the very rich son of a British MP who runs a company called Authenticity ™ and even the spy stuff and the celebrity-gawker stuff. This guy has written another book I think about the imaginary Zambawi and about one of the guys who appears in Jerusalem and I’m pretty curious to know more about that guy, so we’ll see if I get to learn more about him.
April 18, 2010
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
I read this on my bus trip to Te Kuiti, which I enjoyed very much even though it began at the unholy hour of 5:30 in the morning, just because (as this lists sad short length will attest) I don’t get much time to read lately it feels, and buses are very good for reading. I wish this books had itself been better for reading because my mom sent it to me for my birthday and I’d been quite interested to read it for a while and I was really looking forward to it, etc etc. It’s based, sort of, on something that apparently did happen: a Native American group tried to negotiate with the US government for white women to join their tribes and have children within the tribe, which would have counted descent through the mothers, in order to have some more influence in white America during the whole Manifest Destiny time (which, some would argue, we are still in the middle of). That didn’t happen but this story attempts to imagine that it did, apparently by employing every racial, ethnic, national, and gender stereotype ever created. You know. There’s a heroic rich white women who is put into an insane asylum by her very well-to-do-family because she has sex with a longshoreman or something, and she befriends a simple country girl who helps her escape gets her into this government program of going to live with the Cherokee people, and then there’s a ruined Southern belle from a plantation in Alabamy who tells her poodle named Fern Louise to make ti-ti, and a big buxom cow-like Swiss girl (with blond braids) who says things like “Yah, goot, I make bick babies!” and then also an escaped slave who has a deep contralto voice and a strength that no one can take away from her—when she marries into the tribe she decides that she’s going to be a hunter even though no other woman is and she also rides around with hammered brass anklets and bracelets and without a top, I am not even lying—and there are two saucy Irish twins who say “Oh gooooo on!” and are wanted for petty larceny. The Cherokee folks are all very dignified and very close to the land, you see, and the buffalo…yeah.
April 19, 2010
Extraordinary Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
I read this on the way back from Te Kuiti and I was kind of in a bad mood because of the other book. I’ve read some of Chevalier’s stuff before and it’s all been fne, and this was fine too. I got to learn about fossils, which I enjoyed, and the writing was very competent and straightforward and reasonable to read. The characters were well-rounded, in a deliberate way, and the story sort of did what it was supposed to do. It was fine.
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
Another birthday package book, and one I wish I was reading right now. I like this set of stories as much as I liked Pretty Monsters, which I read in January. Two of my favorite stories, “the Faery Handbag” and “The Library” were in this collection as well and it was so exciting when I knew I was going to get to read them again. These stories are very weird, man, like very weird—but their weird in the way that the world is weird, not randomly. Random stuff happens in some of them but again, it’s because the world is random—although I would argue that the worlds of these stories are pretty different than the one I live in and so the definitions of ‘weird’ and ‘random’ are pretty different as well. “The Library” (so good) explains it pretty well, referring to the title’s TV show, which may or may not be a TV show: “That’s the thing about The Library. Nobody knows for sure. Everyone who watches it wishes and hopes that it’s not just acting. That it’s magic, real magic.” That’s how I feel about Kelly Link, with her husbands and wives under rugs made of human hair, and her magical pajamas and dog-skin handbags, her all-night convenience store clientele made of mostly zombies. It’s probably not real but I secretly still hope it is—that’s how most of us feel about fairy tales, right?