Being social + review of A Little Life

I was all social on Friday and went for drinks with other immigrants. Also realized that facebook had decided that I didn’t want to see the updates of one of them (my fave!) for well over a year, so when she said “I’m omw, just have to feed the baby”, I went “….what?”. Thanks FB…

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Anyway, I also finished a book this weekend. I think it was a “briefly noted” in the New Yorker that made pick it up. Plus it is written by a woman, which (as you might know) is a criterion for me this year.

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The first few chapters I thought it’d be a book about male friendship, but I was wrong. The story does cover friendship, but also love, abuse, sexual violence etc.

The New Yorker says that “the most moving parts of “A Little Life” are not its most brutal but its tenderest ones, moments when Jude receives kindness and support from his friends.” (here is the full review), and obviously I agree.

The section I’m carrying with me from it though, is this one:

As you got older, you realized that the qualities you valued in the people you slept with or dated weren’t necessarily the ones you wanted to live with, or be with, or plod through your days with. If you were smart, and if you were lucky, you learned this and accepted this. You figured out what was most important to you and you looked for it, and you learned to be realistic. They all chose differently: Roman had chosen beauty, sweetness, pliability; Malcolm, he thought, had chosen reliability, and competence (Sophie was intimidatingly efficient), and aesthetic compatibility. And he? He had chosen friendship. Conversation. Kindness. Intelligence. /…/ Now, though, as an almost-forty-eight-year-old, he saw people’s relationships as reflections of their keenest yet most inarticulable desires, their hopes and insecurities taking shape physically, in the form of another person. Now he looked at couples–in restaurants, on the street, at parties–and wondered: Why are you together? What did you identify as essential to you? What’s missing in you that you want someone else to provide? He now viewed a successful relationship as one in which both people had recognized the best of what the other person had to offer, and had chosen to value it as well. (p. 567-568)

Not sure I agree (it’s a bit cynical even for me?), but the thought stuck with me. And I guess I don’t think she’s WRONG either.

A Little Life – so sad, and kinda gross, but also well written and depicting beautiful friendships. If you like that kind of things and big books (I really need to get myself one of these bags), you might want to give it a go.

Dragons and shit

My best friend growing up loved fantasy, which she then also tried to get me to read. Halfway into my first David Eddings’ book, I was already certain that it was not for me. I was like 11 and I don’t even remember which book it was, but that I went like “…dragons? seriously?” and stopped. Then, a few years later (2-3?), one of my uncles suggested I should read The Fellowship of the Ring. Now, I don’t enjoy scary things, and it was even worse back then… so let’s just say I didn’t finish that one either.

So, with these two incidents in mind, I went the next 15 (ish) years firmly saying that “I read everything but fantasy”. My old librarian crush had suggested Game of Thrones in 2005, but I was like “meh”. Until my brother in law looked at me seriously (in 2012! I’m slow, ok) and said I really should give it a try. I did, and realized that fantasy doesn’t have to be bad. It’s still not the genre I read most from, but at least it’s there. Despite the dragons and shit.

Then earlier this year, I saw a woman in the train who read a good-looking book. And since this is how I roll, I googled the book, and found this:

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Obviously the next step was to order and read the little brick (1200 pages). And MAN. I mean I enjoyed GoT, for sure, but this stuff’s just my jam (I’m sorry, I swear I’ll never say that again, it’s from here). There aren’t any dragons in it (plus points), but weird magicky stuff, lots of complicated story lines that weave together, fighting (meh) and intrigues. Sadly only the first 2 parts (part 2 – 1400 pages) are out, so now it’s back to playing the waiting game. Let’s hope Brandon Sanderson is worse at that game than George RR Martin.

So. Any more fantasy recommendations?

A Bookstore Employee’s Recommendations

Normally I like to just browse bookstores. Employees trying to help are more of a nuisance that I’d rather skip. However. Last time I was in Sweden I really wanted to bring some books (in Swedish), but the stores in the airport didn’t carry anything from my wish list. So I did something drastic and very atypical for me, and asked an employee of the Pocket Shop for advise. (And just so we’re clear, “pocket” is what swedes call a paperback.)

These are the 3 books she made sound good enough to buy:

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Now I’ve read them all and thought I’d do a short review on both the books and a summary of how this specific bookstore employee at Arlanda airport did.

Khaled Hosseini’s “And the Mountains Echoed
It really took me a while to get into this. The first few chapters didn’t “speak” to me, and I really did consider stopping. But then. It picked up! And I really enjoyed it, and wanted to see how the stories would be tied together. It’s a not very uplifting story about an Afghan family who are so poor that they sell one of their children, since they can’t afford to support them.

Jennifer Clement’s “Prayers for the Stolen
Well, this was depressing reading. I mean, well written, but damn. Clement spent years interviewing Mexican women, and this is their story told as one. Ladydi lives in the countryside. They have a hole in the backyard where she is supposed to hide whenever a car approaches, so that the cartels who steal pretty girls won’t find her.

Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend
This is the book I was the most reluctant about because I have heard SO MUCH about Elena Ferrante that I had concluded she could never live up to the hype.
And, of course, I was wrong. I loved it. It’s a story about two girls growing up in one of the poorer parts of Naples after the second world war. So female friendship, fantastic writing and short chapters. What’s not to like? Now I’ll just have to order the next part of this to see how it goes.

So, all in all, the recommendations were fine. Ferrante’s book was my favorite by far, but all books were worth finishing and left some impression on me. (Plus, 3 more countries for my yearly challenge!)

 

Top Ten Tuesday

It’s Tuesday and time for another  The Broke and the Bookish TTT!

May 2: Cover Theme Freebie: literally anyyyything about covers….top ten covers that scream Spring, ten books with ice cream on the cover, ten books with blue covers, etc. etc. THIS ONE COULD BE REALLY FUN and I can’t wait to see how creative your lists are!

My choice of which book to buy is quite often completely based on the cover (cliche sayings be damned). For this TTT, I picked 10 of my favorite covers. It’s difficult to say which ones I really thought were initially pretty, and which are pretty cause I also really liked the book (as I noticed that all my picks are books I like…). In the end, I guess that doesn’t matter.

Hello Kitty Must Die

wp-1488398446675.jpgAt one point I was taking advanced courses at Uni, thinking I’d go for an MA (obviously I didn’t, I have 0 follow-through). One of the optional books in the literature course was Hello Kitty Must Die. I didn’t read it (think I opted for Wetlands instead?), but did buy it. And now, years later, I figured I should finally read it.

Fiona Yu is a 28-year old lawyer who still lives at home, since her (Chinese) parents think the only acceptable reason to move out is to marry (a Chinese man). To achieve this, her dad sets her up on dates, with the advice to “wear lipstick”.

I would guess this is a book you love or hate. The language is pretty explicit at some points (I mean, it’s nowhere near Wetlands, but still), and this is how it starts off:

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One thing leads to the next and Fi is off to see a hymen-restoration surgeon, who turns out to be her childhood friend Sean. So far so good, and it might almost be a raunchy chick lit. But it’s not. I won’t reveal too much, but will instead show some favorite sections from the book. If these appeal to you, you should just read it. It’s only 250 pages with 1,5 space lining, so it can be finished in a day if you commit.

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“I hate children.
Even when I was one myself, I hated all the other kids.” (156)

“No thank you.
‘Fiona doesn’t mean that,’ said my father. He laughed nervously and said, ‘Don’t listen to her. She says no when she means yes.’
The classic defense of rapists.” (160)

The Girls

This is some sort of review, so if you’re worried about spoilers I’d advise you to stop reading here and go do something else.

This book was pretty hyped in the media I consume. So much so that I was hesitant to read it, fully expecting to be disappointed. However, I eventually gave in and bought it, and now… I’ve read it.

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Evie is the narrator, and the book jumps between present time (not specified exactly when that is) and the 60:es, when she  was a teenager who happened to kind of join a Manson-like cult.

The jumping back and forth is done well and is actually not confusing, and the language is delightful. While Cline covers the leader-figure and explains his appeal, the main point of the story are – as the title shows – the girls and their relationships.

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“If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into.” – on being a (teenage) woman.

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There is no secret in the book, the “big event” is revealed straight from the start, and yet it’s so well written that it’s interesting until the end. Not due to cliffhangers or curiosity about who does what, just… to see what Evie actually went through as a teenage daughter of two divorced parents. .

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And one of my favorites: “How Linda must have believed, as beautiful people do, that there was a solution, that she would be saved.” (Also reminds me of that storyline in 30 rock where John Hamm is Tina Fey’s incredibly stupid – but pretty – boyfriend.)

If you want to read a proper review, I suggest the one from The New Yorker – here.

Feminist Friday

Since I’m trying to mainly read  books written by women this year, I’ve started paying attention to the gender of the author when buying books. And it may NOT come as a surprise, it’s quite appalling how disproportionate it is.

So, for today’s FF I thought I’d do gender check at my local bookstore. I pass Leiden train station every work day, and the AKO store there has a table with English books, so this was my sample group:

And how did they fare? Out of 63 books, 40 are written by men and 23 by women. This is not something I’ve paid much attention before, but it seems fair (?) to assume that this is not abnormal. Hopefully this’ll be a recurring check here, which might allow me to draw some conclusions.

How does it look in your local bookstore?