family

Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus is a novel in three parts, a very common and standard thing with regard to form and execution. It is a story of adolescence and a trouble family, a story where a father’s religious zeal and hypocrisy. It’s a story about abuse and familial schism. None of these things are especially uncommon, but this story is set in postcolonial Nigeria and depicts an Igbo family defined by their father’s abusive imitations and worship of all things European. This is, needless to say, a hard break from the kind of “novel of ideas” that are so often the first things that come to mind when one hears of this narrative arc.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel isn’t worth reading on account of its novelty –Purple Hibiscus is objectively well-written and possess one of the most engaging narratives I’ve encountered since the thematically pulpy but equally prose-driven The Twelve trilogy. The further into this book you get, the more invested you become. That’s almost always the goal of good novel-length fiction, but it’s hard to pull of as completely as Adichie has here.

A bit of time has passed between my reading of this novel and my writing of this reading log, as I try to do. The neurological digestion of Adichie’s characters and narratives, her prose and her ideas, has produced nothing but further positive descriptions. The novel is a bit slow to start, but that’s all a part of the things’s intrinsic pacing, and only adds to my appreciation. This is a fantastic book, and I intend to seek out more of Adichie’s writing as soon as I can -check out her Amazon Single “We Should All Be Feminists” for a quick and easy-reading essay on her own experiences with the label.

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Swamplandia!

So this is a book that got a lot of buzz a few years back. It took me a while to get to it. It took me a while to get through it. I probably took a break from this book four or five times, often for longer than a month. It’s a bit on the longer side, but much so than many other books that took far less time and featured far fewer interruptions.

Russel’s prose writing chops are more than up to the task she sets herself, and the narrative arc provides plenty of juicy plot and well-executed character development. Nonetheless, this book doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The somewhat fantastical narrative voice means the reader isn’t really sure what the rules of this universe are until the very end of the book, and the conclusion doesn’t mitigate, resolve, or make worthwhile this awkwardness. The shifting perspectives -first person for one character, a close third for another, and perhaps an omniscient third?- are far too similar in voice for their intended effect. It all gets far too messy.

There is some impressive prose writing on display here, and Russel has created a fascinating collection of characters, but the execution, for me, falls flat. I don’t regret reading this book, but I’m not going to go back to it, and I’m not likely to recommend it. I’d certainly be interested in reading other work by the author, however.

bone -Yrsa Daley-Ward

My fiancee found this particular collection on Amazon, and recommended it highly. I’ve been reading a lot more contemporary poetry in the last few years, but it’s still very much unfamiliar ground for me. bone is an independently published collection of poetry, available both in print and at a very attractive price as a Kindle Edition (which is how we read it). Almost all self/”independently”-published poetry collections are very bad, but bone is clearly one of those exceptions that prove the rule.

Yrsa Daley-Ward’s poetry is both lyrical and highly narrative, reminiscent in effect, if not in style, of Raymond Carver’s story-poems. These poems are autobiographical, and together they function not only as verse but as memoir. They are very, very good, and they hit you like something with some serious kinetic density. Much like reading Cormac McCarthy, I had to stop and sit for a while after many of these individual poems, and again after finishing the collections and feeling their collective weight.

While there is no doubt an interesting conversation to be had about Amazon, about publishing in general and the self-publishing of poems in particular, I don’t want to talk about that right now. However this collection made it out into the world, it did, and it’s fantastic -this has become my new all-time favorite collection of contemporary poetry. I tried to contact Yrsa Daley-Ward to express my feelings of admiration and to inquire as to where I could obtain here previously published short story collection, (out of print and unavailable) but she only seems to be available on Twitter. Maybe this means I’ll have to take the plunge and Tweet myself.

Recommendation: Go buy it, go read it! Fucking hell, these poems are good.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MNSONQE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Dave Eggers’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and another incarnation of my cynical misanthropy

I didn’t like this book. I found it irritating, twee, and everything wrong with the post-Wallace obsession over authenticity. I became irritated multiple times while reading it. This does not mean it is not a good book.

For the longest time I was innately distrustful of the whole “it’s fine, it’s just not for me” , critical response. If something is shitty, I thought, we should not hesitate to call it shitty. Not that we should dedicate our time and effort to prostilitizing its shittyness, but if somebody brings up, say, the band Pavement, I would be dishonest if I were to say anything other than “Pavement is not a very good band”. This now seems to be an overly binary paradigm. There’s all kinds of shit that I’m not going to care for that is objectively good, but isn’t accessible to me because of my cultural experiences, or because the context in which a particular piece of art functions is a context I am somehow removed from, or any other number of reasons. Sometimes something is good in an objective way that I can objectively see, but I still don’t care for it, or even dislike it intensely. Like this book.

Eggers is a very good writer. I think that’s the only thing that kept me reading -the conceit of the book is completely uninteresting to me, and its affects are legitimately off-putting, but the voice (although occasionally irritating) is redemptive. The rather varied nature of the work is a strong asset here as well; the different sections kept things moving along and prevented any of his stylistic elements from going stale. It’s a damn impressive bit of work, and I’m sure the diverse passages will pull in different people in different ways.

Recommendation: Try it. Give it at least 50 or 60 pages from the actual start of the narrative. If it doesn’t do anything, at least give it a skim and see if any fishhooks stick into your brain

A River Runs Through It and USFS 1919

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I read these two novellas back-to-back, in an anthology that also featured the wonderfully named short story “Logging and Pimping and ‘Your Pal, Jim’”. A River Runs Through It is far and away Maclean’s best-known work, and deservedly so. Maclean is a master at opening up the interior lives of strong, silent men, self-reliant individualists whose communication with the ones they love (or hate) all happens beneath the level of language. A River Runs Through It is the perfection of this revelation, a powerful story about family, nature, and the fellowship of men. The prose is beautiful and studied, the work of a man with a lifetime of reading and experience behind him. The story moves along like the kind of fishing it depicts, smooth and languid, even in moments of great tension and resolution. The last paragraph is one of the greatest closers in 20th century literature.

USFS 1919 is a great read, but it lacks the emotional resonance and sense of importance in Maclean’s more famous work. The plot is compelling, but moves forward at a stilted pace, sometimes feeling drawn out and other times rushing through. The relationships here are undefined and unimportant, taking a backseat to an admittedly good story about the adventures of a young boy coming into his own identity working among men.

This is the part where I get all angsty-white-guy. I love A River Runs Through It. I’m gonna try to get my dad to read it (he worked in Montana as a lumberjack, we used to fish together, etc.) I’m gonna read it again. It isn’t my world (I grew up in Southern California playing lead guitar in metal/post-hardcore bands) but it’s a world I’m familiar with, that I’ve looked into and visited on more than one occasion. This shit resonates with me. Should I feel guilty about that? Am I robbing myself of the diversity of human experience by reading books by and about White, heterosexual North American males and their identity as such, a subject I’m already pretty familiar with out of my own biography? Or is reading Maclean and Carver (and Johns Steinbeck, Gardner and Updike, John is a white-guy name) something I can appreciate on a deeper level, as it’s something that comes out of my own experience to a degree that other work doesn’t? I’m still feeling some lingering guilt over the fact that half of the books I read last year were written by straight, White American men. I don’t have an answer here; I’m honestly trying to figure things out.

Recommendation (regarding the book, not free-floating First-world angst): definitely read A River Runs Through It, and keep going if you dig it.

Reading Log: Paul Harding’s Tinkers

 

Tinkers
by Paul Harding
Powells.com

 

Tinkers is a short book, but it was hard to get through. One might be tempted to call the prose purple if it weren’t so wonderful and evocative; dense and elaborate figurative language and metaphors that shift and distort. It’s all done masterfully, with sentences wrought like Edwardian iron fences. The point-of-view shifts, the tense shifts, and glimpses within glimpses within glimpses offer different meanings on all three levels. It’s beautiful to read, but laborious. I found myself only picking it up when I was energized and in good spirits and choosing something else to read if I were tired or distracted in any way.

The heaviness of the book isn’t indicative of any failings, of course. It’s a fantastic piece of work and Paul Harding deserves every bit of success and praise that’s come his way through this book. It shows the innermost parts of the lives of ordinary people in a beautiful way, weaving together sensory images and evoking the wonder of a mind in an untethered state of pure remembrance, filling the gaps with judicious use of the omniscient.

Any complaints I have about the Tinkers are too nebulous to give any credible voice to. I feel like there is something too laborious in the prose, that the elevated perspective gives the book some reach that exceeds its grasp, but I can’t find any distinct examples. Another reading is definitely required before I can either make any substantiated criticism or give this book a place in my top 100. Nonetheless, I’m thrilled I picked it up and read it, slowly and deliberately, and I’ll recommend it unreservedly.

Recommendation: Read it, and then explain to me why I can’t make up my mind about how much I like this book.

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