"The book I'm looking for,' says the blurred figure, who holds out a volume similar to yours, 'is the one that gives the sense of the world after the end of the world, the sense that the world is the end of everything that there is in the world, that the only thing there is in the world is the end of the world."
- Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - List of Top Best Mosts

Top Best Books

Most Book Actually Written This YearDept. of Speculation by Jenny Offil

There's a special power that the small novel has. Like the mythical Big Novel, there's a sort of audacity related to it's size, in this case for a writer to wipe her hands together after fewer than 200 pages and say, All done!

For me, 2013 was dominated by one Big Book (Infinite Jest) and one meaty one (Independence Day). Looking back, 2014 was my year of the small novel. I read Renata Adler's Speedboat (interesting, but couldn't get my hooks in), Julian Barnes' Sense of an Ending (exciting, sad), Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold (too mythical), Justin Torres' We the Animals (beautiful, forgettable).

But the best of these was Jenny Offil's Dept of Speculation.  It's written in small, paragraph- or sentence-long chunks, describing the dissolution and eventual reconciliation of a marriage. It's a great. And like many small books, it's highly poetic, by which I mean that it takes power from it's spareness, that the individual pieces are given as much meaning as the whole, that it faces several directions at once, and that it invites its reader to do some work.

This is the other way in which small novels are like Big Books--the good ones ask us to do our homework. They leave things unsaid and aren't afraid to leave space for the reader to jam in the texture of her own life.   

Top Whimsical Class WarfareThe Collected Works of P.G. Wodehouse

I've tried to read Wodehouse once or twice before, but it never stuck. But in 2014, I picked up one of his works on Audible for a road-trip, and within the next few months five novels and story collections had breezed by.

Wodehouse wrote 90 books in his life, but the most famous fall into two series: Jeeves and Wooster, about a silly, wealthy young man and his brilliant valet; and Blandings Castle, which revolve around the titular locale and the amiable elderly aristocrat who runs it. The stories all take place in a non-specific inter-war period. They concern the idle-rich of England, and although the jokes are often at the expense of the characters, it's clear that Wodehouse has nothing but affection for them. Bertie Wooster may be an idiot, but he's the most likable idiot in the world. He's the hero of his stories, not Jeeves. The series is gentle. The stakes are low (a missing pig; an accidental engagement). The solutions are neat.

Because I was simultaneously watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, I came to see these two canons as sort of political opposites to one another. Just as TNG creates a perfect universe out of liberal ideals--one forward-looking, anti-capitalist, meritocratic, government-sponsored, peace-loving, science-centered; one where a reoccurring storyline involves the characters flying to a new planet and literally trying to find the best way to respect the culture there--Wodhouse creates a thoroughly conservative utopia. Wodehouse's world is one that doesn't change, is patriotic, is domestic; one that values tradition; one where the aristocracy is gentle and well-meaning and harmless. 

And just as TNG is a fantasy future that no one will ever see, Wodehouse represents (as Evelyn Waugh noted) a past that never quite existed. But both have value anyway, in their articulation of a utopia, the way that that is comforting and thoughtful. 

Most Non-FictionNotes of a Native Son by James Baldwin and American Prometheus by  Martin J. Sherwin and Kai Bird

I only read two non-fiction books this year, and they're both worth mentioning. I read Baldwin for the obvious reasons: that this was a year where we talked about race a lot, and where the experience of black people became a (deservedly) regular political subject. Notes of a Native Son almost lives up to its reputation. The title essay is one of the best I've ever read by miles and miles. Everyone should read it. Other highlights include "Harlem Ghetto" and "Equal in Paris." But some of the others are more forgettable, and the essays of Part One are particularly weak. And it's also hard sometimes to see the freshness of the work; today, Baldwin's influence reaches to just about every contemporary essayist or journalist. The best writers about race today (Ta Nehasi Coates) borrow in huge ways from his work, and sometimes improve on it. But that's the way of the essay, a form aimed at educating as much as creating beauty, and so inherently tied to the affectations and peculiarities of communication and persuasion in it's time. 

American Prometheus, the definitive biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, took more than the length of the year to read. Actually, I'm not quite done yet. But I read the bulk of it in 2014. I kind of don't know what to say about a biography or about a history book. I don't read many. But this one lingers.  Oppenheimer was a fascinating character--simultaneously strange and awkward and totally compelling and charismatic to everyone around him--and the story of the development and use of the bomb is captivating. 

Best Most Television That Isn't Mad Men

Most SadLaughsReview, "Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes"

For my money, the "best" TV of every year since 2007 has been Mad Men. Even in 2011, between seasons 4 and 5, when Mad Men was off the air for a whole year amid bitter contract disputes, Mad Men was still somehow the best television of the year. 2014 was no different. The show pulled no punches. It explored, in its slow, poignant way, the ways in which life doesn't just change or become unfamiliar, but actually finds replacements for us--new technology, new cities, fresh faces, new ways of living and thinking. We'll enter the final half season of the series reminded, appropriately, that there are no permanent fixtures in life and that our projected futures are not guaranteed. 

But lists should be surprising. So I want to give my Top Best to the single funniest and saddest episode of television this year: "Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes," from the single-season Comedy Central show Review

The show is mockumentary-style and revolves around a man--Forrest MacNeil--who is sent requests to review real-world experiences for his television show, Review. These requests begin as basically benign ("Stealing") but quickly escalate to activities that disrupt the stability of his outside life ("Addiction," "Racism," and, in this episode, "Divorce"). As you might guess from the title, this episode involves our hero eating  "an upsetting number of pancakes" both before and after divorcing his wife. It's the third episode of the series, and the one that begins to set the tone for the insane, dark lengths that Forrest will go for the sake of the show's experiment. 

Good comedy has teeth, and "Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes" takes Forrest headlong through ordinary physical pain, and then devastating emotional pain. But it doesn't rescue him with the final request of the episode, or even use the set up to lavish in his misery. Instead, it uses another instance of physical pain to bring a kind of deliverance for Forrest, a petty victory in a series of substantial losses. And it's really, really funny. "These pancakes couldn't kill me, because I was already dead."

Most Hours Spent Sitting on the Couch in the Only Life I'll Ever HaveStar Trek: The Next Generation and Gilmore Girls

Each of us gets one life, and the only thing that waits for us at the end of it is the hungry wolf of oblivion. In 2014, a tiny sliver in my brief flash of awareness between two eternities of darkness, I came home from work each day, opened a beer, turned on Netflix, and slammed back every episode of Star Trek: TNG (133 hours) and the first four seasons of Gilmore Girls (74 hours). Meanwhile, I got older and older and inched closer and closer to the finish line on my one and only trip around this Earth.  B+.

Top Most Songs I Listed to on Repeat Too Many Times

Songs for which I Owe my Fiancee the Most Apologies for Playing Them Ad Nauseam 

Kendrick Lamar - i (Live on SNL)

2012 was Kendrick Lamar's year. His album that year, Good Kidd m.A.A.d. City, was enormously positively reviewed and cemented his place in the American musical cannon, for both critics and casual listeners. It was a serious, strange, and dark album, one which told a story about being a young man in Compton.

And the first song released off his as-yet-unreleased new album, "i," is a poppy, upbeat tune about finding positivity and overcoming hard times. It samples the jangling guitars from the Isley Brothers. I love the song. But there's no way around its seeming departure from his previous album: it's radio-friendly, with a simple, positive, and utterly universal message, whose hook repeats throughout the track, "I love myself."

In November, he took to the SNL stage to perform the new single.

Although he's backed by a large band and several back-up singers, he's alone in the center of the stage, in a purple wash. His hair is set half-loose. His eyes are black, completely black, thanks to large scleral contacts. As the song begins, Lamar stamps his foot and spits, punctuated by percussion, "Dedicated to my homies in the penn--hit me!" and sets the tone for this performance, explicitly politicizing and racial-izing the song's otherwise milquetoast message. Here, between the chorus he chants, "When you're lookin' at me, tell me what do you see? / put a bullet in the back of head of the police?" 

He's reminding us that this song about finding self-love in depression is political, that his experiences of depression or loneliness or self-doubt are in part informed by a life in Compton--by poverty, racism.

His voice strains, his dance is herky-jerky and shuffling. There's a barely-controlled energy in his twitching, and it gives the song much-needed teeth.

La Roux - Sexotheque
Future Islands - Seasons
Ryn Weaver - OctaHate

Best Podcast Shows (Not Serial) with Links to Mostly Random Episodes

Slate Culture Gabfest 
          Gild This 
          Wolfie is My Safe Word
Slate Political Gabfest
My Brother My Brother and Me
          Glass Shark
          Yogi The Stareater
Very Bad Wizards
          Free Willie
          Killer Robots

Most Video Games

Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze
Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag
Gone Home

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013 Reading

I read 34 books in 2013. They added up to 6989 pages of text and 129 hours and 3 minutes of audio. One book every 10.74 days. Nineteen pages and 21 minutes of book per day. Most of the books were written by women. Almost all were written within the last 20 years. I read slightly more fiction than non-fiction, and almost no poetry. I got an Audible account in 2013, so I also listened to big handful of audiobooks.

In 2012, I read 36 books. But none of them was Infinite Jest, so I'll still chalk up this year as an improvement.

More importantly, of those 36 books from 2012, 29 (81%) were written by men. Noticing that, I promised myself I would be more mindful of the gender of the authors whose books I read. Success!

The best book I read this year was Independence Day by Richard Ford.

So long 2013.

(Books by decade. Click to enlarge.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Independence Day by Richard Ford

My guess is that Real Estate has some strong (if also mixed) significance to a lot of Americans, particularly those around my age, who grew up roughly concurrent with the housing bubble, or those from one of the parts of the country that was changed most by the explosive development.

Both of my parents' have worked at least tangential to the real estate industry. On Sundays, we used to visit model homes just for fun, critiquing the interior design choices and picking out rooms. (I would still enjoy it if my more urban and environmentally-minded partner didn't find tract housing sort of reprehensible.) I'm at a point in my life now where home ownership is, for the first time, a possibility.

So I'm well-poised to find a story about a real-estate agent pretty compelling.

Independence Day is the second in a series of three novels about Frank Bascombe, a one-time sportswriter, now real-estate agent in the fictional Haddam, New Jersey. Frank is divorced, with two children: a troubled teenage son and a younger daughter. Another son died long before the events of this novel. He's divorced, and his wife has remarried, though he lives alone. He's in the middle of what he calls The Existence Period, a sort of float-with-the-tide attitude characterized by a willful avoidance of his own emotional needs.

Over several days leading up to the fourth of July, Frank shows some homes to a couple from Vermont, checks in on a rental property of his own, visits his girlfriend, and then picks up his son for a road trip to the basketball and baseball halls of fame. And that is, basically, the plot.

Suburban middle class white life is a well worn subject of fiction, and it tends to follow a few predictable paths. The first and most obvious is to use the 'burbs as a subject for satire, an object with which to poke fun at our materialism, small-mindedness, cultural sterility, and conformity.

The second is some ways the first's opposite: to treat domesticity as deeply meaningful, and elevate the sorts of everyday activities of most of our lives (cf. Toni Morrison's directive to "mystify the familiar"). I'm sure you know what I'm talking about here--stories where backyard trees will glisten with dew and the wind will billow sheets on the clothesline. Much will be implied.

But Independence Day charts a middle path, and tries to paint everyday life neither larger nor smaller than it actually is. It doesn't denigrate our boring lives, but it also doesn't pretend as though they're more meaningful than they are. This is one of things I found most admirable and also impressive about the book. Frank's life is modest and a little alienated, and the book doesn't treat modesty as a either a sin or a virtue.

It does this on the sentence level. Where another writer might be ironic or poetic, Ford is chatty, almost rambling. Which isn't to say that the writing is plain. The sentences are fabulous. It's maybe overly aphoristic, but the advice and adages are particular to the character, and you get into the rhythm so that it doesn't matter much. Here's a representative sample taken more-or-less at random:

"My own view is that the realty dreads (which is what the Markhams have, pure and simple) originate not in actual house buying, which could just as easily be one of life's most hopeful optional experiences; or even in the fear of losing money, which is not unique to realty; but in the cold, unwelcome, built-in-America realization that we're just like the other shmo, wishing his wishes, lusting his stunted lusts, quaking over his idiot frights and fantasies, all of us popped out from the same unchinkable mold. And as we come nearer the moment of closing--when the deal's sealed and written down in a book in the courthouse--what we sense is that we're being tucked even deeper, more anonymously, into the weave of culture, and it's even less likely we'll make it to Kitzbuhel. What we all want, of course, is all out best options left open as long a possible; we want not to have taken any obvious turns, but also not to have misread the correct turn the way some other boy-o would."

I should just let that stand on its own. But notice not only the content (which seems pretty solid to me), but also how long and careful those sentences are. In his Paris Review interview from around the time Independence Day was published, Ford described his writing like this,

"Sometimes I’ll write a sentence that sets up an opportunity for say, a direct object or predicate adjective and I won’t have a clue what the word is except that I know what I don’t want—the conventional word: the night grew dark. I don’t want dark. I might, though, want a word that has four syllables and a long a sound in it. Maybe it’ll mean dark, or maybe it’ll take a new direction. I’ll have some kind of inchoate metrical model in my mind." 

And I think you can see that approach in the quoted section above. It's careful but also casual and approachable. It stays interesting by introducing variation to the structural level, rather than the word-choice level.

I really like it.

This is an earnest book. It's only occasionally ironic. I can see a few things about Frank that he can't see about himself, but not many. The book and character are good-faith representations.

Towards the very end of the book, Frank begins to move towards permanence. He even predicts an upcoming "Permanence Period" to mirror his Existence Period.

"...that long, stretching-out time when my dreams would have mystery like any ordinary person's; when whatever I do or say, who I marry, how my kids turn out, becomes what the world -- if it makes note at all -- knows of me."

But I don't know if I think he will change much. He's haunted by the death of his son. He still seems to love his ex-wife. His son (the living one), who has plans to come and stay with Frank in Haddam, may shake him out of his ego and funk, if only out of necessity, but who knows.

There is, at least, a third book where I could find out.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Winter Morning Walks by Ted Kooser - B+

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan - C+ 
Aslan's first book is one of my favorite non-fiction works. But the organizing insight here, that the two things we know about the historical Jesus are that he was Jewish and that he was crucified (and therefore executed for political reasons), can't sustain interest for a whole book, and is probably a little stale to a lot of interested readers anyway.

One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling by Hanan Al-Shaykh - C+
Mythological / fairy-tale / oral-story type writing. Not my style.

Thirst by Mary Oliver - C
Honestly, sometimes I love Oliver to death, but this book was her at her worst, her most cloying and saccharine. Some of these poems were like bad parodies of an Oliver poem. 

Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield - A

Come, Thief by Jane Hirshfield - A

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx - B
The more famous stories in this collection (Half Skinned Steer and The Mud Below) didn't impress me too much, and I was really disappointed by Brokeback Mountain, the movie version of which is probably in my top 15. But even those three were solid enough, and some of the others--A Lonely Coast, in particular--were great.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting - B-
Super gross, but very readable.

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead - A-

Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Bachelor - B+
The content in this book is too life changing. He does an admirable job of translating the Eastern jargon and claptrap of Buddhism for a secular, Western audience, making a case for ejecting the supernatural elements of the religion and embracing the Dharma practice alone. But the practice is too real and scary and hard soooo...

The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch - A
Second time reading this. Still great! 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

It's not easy to separate a thing from its hype, from its physical and cultural packaging. Pour cheap wine into a fancy bottle and slap on a hefty price tag? Sommeliers swoon. Switch the labels on Pepsi and Coke? Even experts can't tell the difference. Tell an art critic that some scribbles by an orangutan are the work of an up-and-coming abstract painter? She'll praise the sophistication of the line work.

The above makes some people uneasy. They think it means that we're all shallow liars, eager to impress or fit in. But to me it only means that our sensory and aesthetic experiences are more broad than we imagine. We are actually tasting the label on a bottle of wine and the story of its cultivation as much as we are tasting its ingredients. When we drink a Coca-Cola, part of that taste--not just the experience of drinking it, but also the actual taste--comes from a hundred years of advertising and Americana.  Our appreciation of a work of art is informed by the story of Art, and the story of particular artists.

Which is all to say that it's hard to know when this book, which is sometimes too long and occasionally kind of a mess, is genuinely great, and when as a reader I'm only sort of projecting greatness onto it through the filter of its (and its author's) cultural status.

Well, who cares? "Authenticity" is a red herring. There are no bad reasons for enjoying something. And I really, really enjoyed this book. As in, really really. As in, reference-to-the-title-of-this-blog enjoyed it.

The plot of the novel, so much as it has one, is made up of three largely separate threads:
  1. The Enfield Tennis Academy, an ultra-elite school/camp that prepares tennis prodigies for The Show (professional play). ETA was founded by James O. Incandenza, ex-optics-expert-and-avant-garde-filmmaker whose children, esp the middle child Hal, constitute the narrative focus of these sections. 
  2. The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, a halfway house in Boston. The newly-recovering live-in staff-member Don Gately and the veiled Joelle van Dyne anchor these sections. 
  3. Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents, a wheel-chaired Quebecois separatist/terrorist group, who are searching for a copy of Infinite Jest (aka "The Entertainment," or the samidzat), a fatal art film by J.O. Incandenza which is so entertaining that it turns viewers brains to a kind of mush as they watch it repeatedly to the exclusion of other activities. 
Chronology is divided into "Subsidized Time," which is exactly what it sounds like (e.g., The Year of the Whopper, The Year of the Trial-Sized Dove Bar, etc), and seems to me mostly a clever way for DFW to keep the story feeling both vaguely contemporary and a-historical.

The events take place in a combined superstate of America, Mexico and Canada called the Organization of North American Nations, or O.N.A.N. While reading, I wrote off the name as a gag, and a sort of childish one, but now I'm realizing that it may be more important than I had noticed from the weeds, that there is something masturbatory not just about the at-least-semi-self-indulgent book itself, but also about the characters, who are moved by strong emotional forces that simulate connection but who are ultimately isolated, and about the world too, which is built on a foundation of pleasure and rote style without substance.

The book is big. 1079 pages. Tall and extremely dense pages. Paragraphs and even sentences that go on for pages without break. Medical, mechanical, mathematical jargon. 92 pages of endnotes, some of which are as long as a serious short story.

And its difficult. Or difficult-ish, anyway.

Reading IJ is like training for a marathon; its a lifestyle choice. And some significant part of the experience is contained in its size and in its difficulty. While it would probably be fairly easy to curate the course of a marathon to include only the best and most beautiful and most interesting stretches, doing so kind of defeats the purpose. You want not only to run the marathon, you want to have run it, you want to be a person who is capable of running it. IJ is like that at least a little bit. Part of the reason people read this book is to prove to themselves that they could, and to become the kind of person who has read it.

But so, the content.

It's a book about addiction and recovery, as you would guess. It's a book about entertainment, and parents and their children, and greatness and mediocrity. It's about the things to which we devote ourselves. And in a big way it's about loneliness. Not just because so many characters are depressed, attempt or commit (or just imagine) suicide. There's something lonely about its zany structure, too. It's a book about existing in a busy, exciting, at times overwhelming sensory experience, surrounded by the sounds and images of people, and feeling alone. And though the stories are intertwined in lateral, out-of-the-corner-of-your-eye ways, and though they gain momentum in the final third and seem to be moving towards a convergence... they never actually meet in the middle. The book ends abruptly, a blank spot on the map where the roads ought to make an intersection.

Something else worth saying about its structure: for all its gimmicks and winking, the book is actually fairly friendly for long stretches at a time. Most of the times when I found myself frustrated and ready to skim, a new section would begin that I couldn't help but read. And the best sections of this book are some of the best literature I've ever read, full stop. Perfectly crafted on the sentence-level and dripping with charity and understanding towards others.

I'll read this again, 4 sure.
I don't know if it's worth saying anything about the Writer. The autobiographical elements of the novel are all over the place (drug addiction, tennis, etymology, genius, depression, suicide). But its hard to know where the appropriate or helpful line is there. So, let's do two things. First, it's worth mentioning the Writer if just in regards to the creation of the thing, how impressive it is, not just for its size but also for its power and vivacity and ambition. There's no understating the energy and time and obsession and love required to make a thing like this. It's humbling and inspiring and sort of gives you a good feeling about what humans can do in the way that only serious art and lit can.

Second, here's a line from a poem Mary Karr,--memoirist, poet, and one-time-girlfriend of DFW--wrote a year after his suicide:
"I just wanted to say ha-ha, despite
           your best efforts you are every second
alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in,
     each set of lungs, those rosy implanted wings, pink balloons.
          We sigh you out into air and watch you rise like rain."

Also: I like making graphs, so here's a little behind-the-scenes magic for the superfans.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Non-Fiction Auiobooks

Since I last updated, I've been making my way slowly through something big. I think I should be done in the next month or so, and will have a long update then.

In the meantime, I've been listening to some nonfiction audiobooks. All three are about, in some way, infiltrating private groups of passionate people. My thoughts:

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

There's something inherently interesting about liminal belief systems, those groups in the fuzzy border between cultural status as a "cult" and as an established "religion." It's part of the reason for all my fascination with Mormonism. After all, even the mountains of our religious landscape today must have begun more modestly, and who's to say that some weird contemporary niche group won't take hold and resonate more broadly going forward? Most religious practices and histories can sounds strange to outsiders.

All that said, Scientology is bonkers.

I went into this without much knowledge about the organization outside of that South Park sketch, but basically expecting to leave with some sympathy for it. That's what usually happens when you get to know something better. Not so here, not even with Wright's even-handed approach. There's just no way out of the fact that Scientology as an organization is abusive, myopic, aggressive, and greedy, that L. Ron Hubbard was a conman and David Miscavage is borderline psychopath.

Very great book, though!

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin

The rarefied and secretive culture of Supreme Court, not to mention its proximity to and influence on our lives, makes for a good book subject. And Jeffrey Toobin is a perfect non-fiction writer: clear, entertaining, brief. I've gone to his New Yorker summaries every time the Supreme Court has done anything newsworthy over the last couple years.

This book is a history of the Court in very recent history, going back only 30 years or so. It chronicles the changes in the court, mostly making a case that its become increasingly partisan, and even more particularly increasingly conservative. He was, himself, more partisan than I had expected, and it took me a while to get used to it. But once you settle into his perspective, the book is incredibly readable.

The profiles of the individual judges alone are worth the effort.

I'm not sure how much of a better understanding I have of the political machinations behind the Court's appointments, but I have a better sense of the chronology. And I have a favorite Justice!

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

What a beautiful little book, almost ruined by a terrible audio book narrator.The author follows one particular Orchid enthusiast in south Florida who is on trial for stealing plant material from protected swampland, and uses his story as a anchor onto which she ties chapters about the history of orchid cultivation and crime, the biology of the plants, the story of the region's ingenious peoples,  etc etc. It's a story about passion and obsession, and the narrator commits the only cardinal sin in literature: she is arch and judgmental and condescends towards her subjects.

It's a real shame, because the words don't seem to really be written this way. They're great words! I remember in particular, Susan Orlean described the air around the swamp as thick and drapey like wet velvet curtains. What a baller metaphor! It's not a joke or a complaint, just a good sensory description. But the narrator hams up her delivery like a community theater actor describing having eaten a bug. "The air was THICK and DRAPEY like WET VELVET. BLEECH!" She didn't really say "bleech," but still.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Annoyed But Still Pretty Positive Book Reviews

The first half of this memoir about being cyber-harassed is terrifying and unputdownable. Then it gets boring. Lasdun is a professional fiction writer, and he writes like someone who knows his way around a sentence. Which... is just not super helpful for a tense thriller about feeling unsafe and helpless? And then at the end he takes a trip to Israel?

I love me some Agatha Christie. This is a good one. What is there to say? You know if you want to read this kind of book. I give it Four Agathas up out of five.

Super-great feminist sci-fi. If I hadn't gone to a very religious middle school I would've half-read it like ten years ago for class and never even appreciated how very good it is.

Strout wrote one of my all-time favorite books, Olive Kitteridge. This book is about two brothers who are lawyers from Maine, and their sad nephew accidentally commits a hate crime against Somali immigrants during Ramadan. It's not as good as Kitteridge, but that's just because it's a novel (whereas Kitteridge was a series of connected stories), and all novels are sloppy and imperfect compared to short stories. But it's still very, very good, and its pretty cool that Strout tackled subject matter that was probably outside her comfort zone.

What a weird book! A sort of morality tale slash coming of age story slash lives of the rich and famous episode. Some people like this better that The Great Gatsby, which is... I mean, who cares obviously, and this book is fine, but it's also kind of all over the place. It feels like an artifact to me, more than anything else. It feels like it's not for me.