08 January 2011

So Much Depends On the Weather

Listening to: The best cover of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros' "Home" ever. I already was in love with the original, having included it in my summer mix tape, but this version by Jorge Narvaez and his daughter is just off the charts loveable.

Usually I'm immune to the charms of children but after hearing Alexa's earnest singing and watching her killer facial expressions, I want one for myself! At the 1:47 minute mark she asks, "One day I'm gonna whistle?" Slays me every time. I've been listening to this thing on repeat and have it as a MP3 if you need to do the same. I better get cranking on the ukulele practice if I want this in my future. I'll have to borrow someone's kid though.

I've been trying to figure out what books I read last year. My memory fails me though and I can only remember a handful. Somewhere inside I'm scared that maybe I only read like seven and that's why I can't remember. That low number seems impossible but I really can't recall. Between moving around a lot and trying to pack light, I didn't have much room for books but I must have read something right?

Another relevant question is what did I actually start and finish? I know I read most of Atmospheric Disturbances (Rivka Galchen), The Russian Debutante's Handbook (Gary Shyteyngart), and A Fairly Honourable Defeat (Iris Murdoch) but I can't recall the endings so that probably means I stopped somewhere. I've found this past year that if I didn't get through something in a few shots, I tended to leave it behind unfinished. Mostly I only completed books that I was able to consume quickly -- such as auto-biographical graphic novels. I know, totally weak. Due to the absurd state of my reading affairs, I think I need to bring back my Stuff I've Been Reading posts, or at least keep a Google Docs reading diary. Still, some book related highlights of 2010.

While visiting my younger cousins in upstate New York, I dug through their bookshelves for reading material. One that caught my eye was Three Junes, by Julia Glass. After ripping through it in a few hours and feeling like I just had a profound experience -- I kept writing down quotes -- I went online to do some author research. Some reviews called Glass' writing overwrought, with a sappiness that rivaled Nicholas Sparks (although Three Junes did win the 2002 National Book Award). The Yale Review of Books mentioned that the cover looked "like a painting by Thomas Kinkade." Ew.

Aghast at how quickly I was pulled into the emotional journey of the McLeod family, I had a flash of embarassment and felt duped. But immediately afterward I wanted to rise to Three Junes' defense because it was damn good, even if it was sappier than Sparks. So this book was my 2010 version of Time Traveler's Wife. Read it for a weeping good time.
"Sometime in our acquaintance, I had forgotten that I was not a part of Mal's mainstream life, that he had chosen to keep me drifting along on my separate, obscure little tributary. I had forgotten that I was hardly his only source of help or companionship. I was a neighbor, a valet, a pet-sitter. I felt humbled and insulted."
-Three Junes-
Book recommendations from friends tend to be more fraught with danger than movie recommends -- if only due to time committment. You have to vet the person before you can trust their opinion, although I'll gladly take anyone's recommends for favorite books and such. That's fun because you can tell a lot about a person by their favorites.

This year I finally read City of Thieves (David Benioff), which Lilly had recommended a while back and literally for me as we stood in line. I should have listened to her then because City of Thieves is absolutely great and I'm a fool for not having read it sooner. Benioff also writes and adapts screenplays -- including his own book for The 25th Hour -- and is the son of a former head of Goldman Sachs, as well as married to a movie starlet. Here's an interview with him so you can see David in all his curly haired glory.

A San Francisco book club friend and fellow writer told me to read Patricia Wrede's young adult fantasy series, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. She lent me the box set and I read all four in like two days because the writing was hilarious and the characters super charming. The type of fantasy books I read growing up weren't like this -- more swords and fighting -- so I missed out on these clever classics. If I could write like this I could well, totally be successful and retire.

Very recently, another friend lent me Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood (Michael Lewis). I'd read most of Lewis' other stuff before but hadn't even heard of Home Game, which is about his adventures in fatherhood. Apparently it's based off of a column he's been writing for Slate since 2002. Home Game is great and everyone should read it, not just prospective fathers. And guess who Lewis is married to? Ex-MTV VJ Tabitha Soren! What a surprising and delightful pairing right? Oh man, is 2011 the year of kids for me? I'm reading about them, gushing over them on Youtube, what is happening? Is my heart molting?

High up on my "to read" list was Super Sad Love Story, Shteyngart's latest. (Tangent: I'm trying to get my non-existent New York book club to read it but it's been impossibly hard to start one out here, like two months and still no first meeting.) But on a flight over winter break, I started reading Absurdistan and the way Shteyngart characterized the black girlfriend put me off so much that I needed to put him on time out. I know Shteyngart's writing is highly satirical but I can't stomach this one. It's a good thing he's semi-foreign otherwise this caricature might have me slinging a particular R-word at him.
"There are a lot of stereotypes here and plenty of intellectually incorrect exercises in racial and group determinism. Shteyngart, via Misha, thinks in peoples, not just individuals. He jokes in peoples, too, and not only about Jews and Russians, as his heritage entitles him to, but about Muslims, Germans, Brooklynites and every other in-group he can outrage. One envies his sense of entitlement to biases, and his frank understanding of the fact that such crude distinctions make the world go round. Especially these days, when they're not supposed to. When, ostensibly, we're all United Nations blue."
-NY Times review of Absurdistan (2006)-
So that's it. My pathetic year in reading. The books from 2010 that I need to read soon include the biggies, Freedom and A Visit From the Goon Squad, neither of which are avoidable because most book stores are plastered with them and they're both on every "best of" list. There's also some big talk among my friends of choosing one novel and then submitting book reports to each other, for grades no less, after we're done. I am enthusiastic about this plan.