March/April 2014: WHEN SPRING DOESN’T COME, YOU STAY INSIDE AND READ, WITH OCCASIONAL TEARS
- The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, bought new @Unnamable Books, Brooklyn, NY
- A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for The Restless and The Hopeful by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, bought new @ Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn NY
- Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, bought new @ Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn NY
- The Deep Whatsis by Peter Mattei, bought new @ The Golden Notebook, Woodstock, NY
- The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti @ Brooklyn Public Library
- The Dead Do Not Improve by Jay Caspian Kang @ Brooklyn Public Library
- I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon by Touré @ Brooklyn Public Library
- The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman @ Brooklyn Public Library
- The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
- The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman
- The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
- Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
- A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for The Restless and The Hopeful by Gideon Lewis-Kraus
- I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon by Touré
- The Dead Do Not Improve by Jay Caspian Kang
- The Deep Whatsis by Peter Mattei
On a still-cold morning in late April riding the 2 train to work, I angled my head down steeply enough to hide the tears from my fellow commuters as I finished Meg Wolitzer’s enthralling The Interestings. I read this 500+ page book everywhere so invested was I in the characters. And why wouldn’t I be; the book is a bold treatise on the dangers of nostalgia, and the way it clouds, and eventually robs ones ability to see. To be honest I was a touch embarrassed to be so affected by a tome so big and brassy where the story, like all guilty pleasures, is neither surprising nor complex. But the craft of adding subtle details to infuse heart over the course of the characters lifetime is sublime, and I was hooked early and deeply. It takes no time at all to find out what you’re in for, when on page four young Julie becomes enmeshed with the title group of characters, and the author tells you exactly how this drama will play out for our protagonist:
"…here she was now, planted in the corner of this unfamiliar, ironic world. Irony was new to her and tasted oddly good, like a previously unavailable summer fruit. Soon, she and the rest of them would be ironic much of the time, unable to answer an innocent question without giving their words a snide little adjustment. Fairly soon after that, the snideness would soften, the irony would be mixed in with seriousness, and the years would shorten and fly. Then it wouldn’t be long before they all found themselves shocked and sad to be fully grown into their thicker, finalized adult selves, with almost no chance for reinvention."
This is an old-fashioned storytelling, with simple but hard truths keenly observed, and I found it full of charms.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P has been rightly praised by just about everyone, and I will happily join the chorus, as it stands as a type of time capsule for what it’s like to be a young, white, heterosexual man in New York City in the early 21st century. As all those things myself once, to call this book accurate is a maligning disservice; the book instead is more like a channeling. What I mean by that is that in trying to select a quote to exemplify the type of dead-on passages about romantic blunders that fill the book, I simply couldn’t decide on one because whatever the selection, I imagined one of my old lovers reading it and wondering why I had picked the passage about us. The portrayals are that familiar, the paths that universal. In recommending it, I worry that people will learn more about me than is comfortable, and that is a true feat of writing.
My tears returned while I was reading Annihilation because it was utterly terrifying. Yes, at my most frightened, when I feel the connective threads that ground us to reality easing and coming undone, I find a tear or two snaking down my cheek. Vandermeer’s slight book has a simple premise: an expedition, the 12th such undertaking, into Area X, a mysteriously empty, Edenic landscape. But there is a tricky, malevolent air that permeates the entire story:
"The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to the swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats…All of this part of the country had been abandoned for decades, for reasons that are not easy to relate. Our expedition was the first to enter Area X for more than two years, and much of our predecessors equipment had rusted, their tents and sheds little more than husks. Looking out over than untroubled landscape, I do not believe that any of us could yet see the threat."
It’s a scary yarn well spun, the first of a trilogy, and I’ve already put in a request at the library for the next one.
Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t offer praise for the enchanting parable of The Good Thief, the playful Geoff-Dyer influenced wanderings captured in A Sense of Direction, and the occasional freaky tidbit conveyed in I Would Die 4 U(what is with the bath treatments Prince?). It’s been an absurdly long hot streak of the right books at the right time (save for the unpleasant The Deep Whatsis) and I am thankful for the eternal winter if only for giving me that time to read.