Books Read in January, a Recap

The Girl on the Fridge (Etgar Keret)

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It was a good, fast, neat clean read. It reminded me a lot of Kafka; that is, a 21st-century Kafka who listens to MGMT and wears lots of bright colors. I like how only one of the stories in this collection are more than 4 pages long. My favorites are “The Real Winner of the Preliminary Games,” the title story, “Cheerful Colors,” “So Good,” “The Summer of ’76”. Some of the stories are a little cutesy (“The Night the Buses Died,” “Monkey Say, Monkey Do”) and read a little too much like they sprouted from a “What-If” exercise in a writing workshop, but overall none of them were annoying. Other stories are disturbing (“Vacuum Seal”), some are just plain WTF weird (“Not Human Beings,” which totally explodes in the last page into hardcore social commentary on Israelis-Arab relations ). I never got the feeling like Keret was trying to show off how clever he is, even at his most experimental (“Alternative,” “Cramps”). Overall these stories remind me of the 2-4 page summaries I write in my journal sometimes when I’m trying to remember what I dreamed last night, due to that trippy, surreal, brief quality. My Abandonment (Peter Rock)

Liked this one too, a good solid read. Attacked it in one sitting, one rainy afternoon. Written by a former creative writing professor of mine. It was pretty fun reading a book in which I recognized the majority of the settings–Forest Park, Goose Hollow, downtown Portland. Reminded me of “Into the Wild”. Google-fu in search of the original Oregonian articles describing the true-life story on which this novel is based instead led me to this interesting interview that definitely made me rethink of a couple of things I thought about the book, especially conceiving it as a YA novel. I also liked his comments about writing, especially about the “practice” novels. This interview also made me curious to read more in the Pete Rock canon, since apparently there is overlap with characters in different novels. How very Onettian! Super Sad True Love Story (Gary Shteyngart)

I liked this book. Reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut. Didn’t find the love story totally credible though, and Eunice (the main female character) never felt as fully developed to me as Lenny (the main male character). Even though I understand the purpose of her character and personality, she still rankled me a little bit, kind of like the brother’s slave-like girlfriend in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Still, can’t complain too much. The book reminded me of Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad lots of commentary on the overuse of technology here. Twit, twit, twittering away. I liked how the characters were obsessed with using their “apparati” (what a great word) and ranking their own and others’ “fuckability” scales. Totally credible. My mom loved reading the summary inside the bookjacket; she laughed aloud with glee as she read the sentences about the Chinese creditors seizing America. I definitely thought the ending of this book would be a lot more apocalyptic than it actually was. Still, this is a book that seeks to both entertain and to provide relevant social commentary, a satire in the best sense of the term. So yeah, like I said before, can’t complain too much. I looked forward to reading this every time I picked it up, which also says a lot. I was definitely upset when I misplaced it for two weeks (especially since it’s my sister’s Xmas present copy!!), and thrilled when I found it again (in my backpack–who’d have thought, especially when I’d emptied it and shaken everything out various times?) Wittgenstein’s Mistress (David Markson)

This is the kind of book where I enjoyed its ideas more than the actual act of reading it. In fact, the more days that pass after having finished this book, the more I like it, even though I really didn’t enjoy the physical act of reading it too much. Snuggled under blankets in the guest bed of my grandmother’s house, I had to force myself to turn off The Dark Knight or Cupcake Wars so that I could tackle another 20-40 pages of declarative sentences about Homer and German philosophers. The idea of “enjoying” is a funny one, especially when used in reference to avant-garde, experimental fiction. Can you “enjoy” Beckett, or do you just appreciate the experience? I know for a fact that I enjoyed DFW’s “Girl With Curious Hair” (and DFW was apparently a HUGE fan of Markson!) so I guess I’m not a completely hopeless case…!

I definitely feel like I don’t know enough about Wittgenstein to fullyappreciate this novel. I do love that quote of his that was used throughout Respiracion articificial: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” So I guess one of the big themes in this book is Language, and How Do We Use It, and How Is It Possible to Communicate. This question of communication is made especially complicated in the novel, considering that the narrator is the only person left in the world. As far as this genre of girl-left-alone-in-post-apocalyptic-world goes, Z for Zachariah still takes the cake for me, but this book is really not trying to be a post-apocalyptic novel at all. Instead it’s interested in exploring big ideas about Language, which here seem to be very deeply related to culture. Basically all that Kate (the main narrator) seems capable of talking about anymore is about Books, and Art, and Philosophers. Her son and lovers are briefly mentioned, but forget about knowing exactly what happened to them. Or what was going on when she was “mad,” as she calls it. Is she still mad? Is that what this whole book is supposed to reprent, the stream of consciousness ramblings of a madwoman?

……………. this book really should have its own post, maybe. Let me just say that I really love the first sentence, and have found myself repeating it to the myself, under my breath, during unexpected moments throughout my day: “In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.” I don’t know, this whole novel feels like a sort of message in the street for me. A message in the sand. Maybe that’s all that culture and art is, messages in the sand that will eventually be swept away. Oh, my. A Heart So White (Javier Marias)

My first Javier Marias book, a Spanish author oh so critically accalimed in the literary blogging sphere. I sure wish I had read this in Spanish, but I’m so lazy about going to my alma mater’s library (the easiest and most convenient place for me to get books in Spanish, since the Multnomah County library’s system is pretty lacking). Wow, I liked this book a lot. It was pretty intense. It had lots of great underlying themes and motifs. I loved how the narrator and his wife were translators for a living. “Translators”–there’s just so much you can do with that, as a metaphor. Translators as interpreters, as manipulators of language, as filters, etc. The first chapter, describing a suicide (the central mystery around which the book rotates), is one of the most captivating openings I’ve ever read. I really like Javier Maria’s structuring of the book: every chapter doesn’t seem like it would be connected to the one that came before, but believe me, they are. An anecdote about listening to a couple’s fight through the thin hotel walls in Cuba is connected to a crippled woman’s search for love via personal ads in New York. It felt very honest and true to life for me. I also really liked how Marias never really tried to judge, explain or analyze any of his characters. It feels like a very “classic novel” stance, in the sense that the novel is purely there to Depict and Observe, not to Moralize or Prosethylize. Marias and the wonderful Umberto Eco have a very interesting conversation discussing this conception of the novel as something that must deliver a “message” in this interesting interview. I am definitely going to read more of Marias in the future. Maybe that way I will get through writing a review without accidentally writing his name every single time as “Javier Bardem” (another top-ranked favorite Spanish man of mine!).

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2 Comments

Filed under books, contemporary, Javier Marias, review

2 responses to “Books Read in January, a Recap

  1. bythefirelight

    Nice summary. I don’t know how I missed the Keret book. I like his work quite a bit and have been reading him a lot lately. I have to try the Marias too. But I need something short the thought of the Your Face Tomorrow books in Spanish, which I have lying around the house, is just too much of a time commitment.

    • julikins

      Thank you! Keret is great… Definitely read “A Heart So White,” that’s the one Marias book I keep hearing everyone throw around as his best. I’m trying to decide which of his to read next… I agree that short sounds better. That’s the one thing that kind of sucks about reading in Spanish, it definitely is more of a time commitment than reading in English (at least for me!) because it’s a lot harder to just zip through…

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