July Books

In New York I read The Makioka Sisters on L’s couch; I meet my new U.S. editor; I walk something like 10-20 miles a day; I go to a Korean spa, a stand-up comedy routine, a ‘Ninja Sushi’ restaurant in Manhattan. The Makioka Sisters is an epic Tolstoy-esque novel about four sisters in pre WWII Japan; at times it reminds me of Anne Tyler. At one point a marriage suitor is turned down due to his tendency of muttering to himself, a tendency L shares. I tell her, You would be rejected for marriage in pre WWII Japan, and she says, don’t I know it!

In Oregon I visit my older brother and I read Hillbilly Elegy on his couch. I complain about its conservative worldview. My dad and brother have an intense conversation about it. “What do these people want?” my dad keeps asking. “They can’t just cut down all the trees and shoot all the game. And rule of majority is the definition of democracy.” My brother tells us about the local highway that was adopted by the local self-armed group. It’s just like in colombia, he says. The Democrats are gonna need to arm themselves. Crazy talk, my dad says, crazy!

In Mexico I read Luiza Sauma’s Everything You Ever Wanted and Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends, both on my kindle, at night in the AirBnb. They are both very good books. It is good to be back in Mexico. There is a lot going on.

In Oregon, again, I re-read Terry Pratchett’s The Truth for something like the tenth time in my bedroom. I think it’s my favourite Discworld book after Feet of Clay and Men at Arms. Long live the free press! One of the swift fledglings nesting in the chimney falls down and gets stuck in the fireplace. I pick it up while wearing yellow kitchen gloves and throw it back up the chimney, as per the Audubon Society’s suggestions. It survives. All hail nature!

I read CJ Hauser’s Family of Origen on the flight back to England. It is a great Anne Tyler-esque family novel about sibling relationships. I teach two workshops for a summer school translation class. A panelist during one of the events talks about the rise of “influencers” in the Instagram book world, a world that is deeply mysterious to me, but if it’s something you enjoy, knock yourself out, I ain’t mad. I think about all the blogs I used to read in 2007-2010 (God, who was that guy doing American Studies at Yale? I was obsessed with him!), how they made me want to go back to school to study writing/literature. And now I guess you write reviews because people send you books for free/pay you to. What a dinosaur age.

The last book I read in July is John Williams’ Stoner, in one sitting in my UK bedroom while suffering from terrible jetlag. It’s the kind of book that’s been reviewed and raved about so much I was predisposed to disliking it, or to talk about what a jerk the main character is, but guess what? I loved it and it’s my favourite book I read that month. I love how it’s about a life that may seem like a failure, so pathetic and insignificant, and yet there’s also maybe a teeny tiny chance that it’s not so bad either. An unheroic, unimportant, unnoticed life, like most of ours.

“It hardly mattered to him that the book was forgotten and that it served no use; and the question of its worth at any time seemed almost trivial. He did not have the illusion that he would find himself there, in that fading print; and yet, he knew, a small part of him that he could not deny WAS there, and would be there.”

“He had an image locked somewhere within him like a shamed secret, an image that was ostensibly of a place but which was actually of himself. So it was himself that he was attempting to define as he worked on his study… It was himself that he was slowly shaping, it was himself that he was putting into a kind of order, it was himself that he was making possible.”

“Love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.”

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