NYTBR 12 January 2014: Self Will Not Read Any Review That Describes a Main Character as “Beleaguered”

Even though self suspended her subscription to the NYTBR, she still has a pile of back issues to get through.

Perusing the 15 January 2014 issue, self sees that NYTBR editors have not lost any of their interest in Russia or its writers:  There are reviews of a new novel by Lara Vapnyar (partly about a Soviet youth camp), as well as a translation of Michael Shishkin (famous in Russia).

In the By the Book interview, Sue Monk Kidd named the following as “books with spiritual themes”:  Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson; The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver; The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy; and Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton. Asked which books “we all should read before dying,” she responds with:  Night, by Elie Wiesel, What is God? by Jacob Needham, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Self finds herself skipping over several reviews, for several reasons, one of them being that when a reviewer describes a novel’s main character as “beleaguered,” self quickly loses interest.  Also, right now, self has no interest in reading books about “ornery old men” who drink and smoke themselves “to death” because she doesn’t consider either of these activities even remotely tempting.

She is interested in the books Sue Monk Kidd is “reading these days”:  Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, Dear Life, by Alice Munro, Sister Mother Husband Dog, by Delia Ephron, and Edith Wharton’s Three Novels of New York:  The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence.

Self loves discovering new women writers, and this issue of the NYTBR introduces her to Elizabeth Spencer (“Spencer’s great gift is her ability to take ordinariness and turn it inside out, to find focus in a muddle.”)

She also loves Diane Johnson, who happens to have written a memoir (Flyover Lives: A Memoir).

Having come — finally! — to the end of this post, self realizes that blogging about The New York Times Book Review is an exceedingly intricate and time-consuming activity, because it involves making a list, and a list involves — naturally — exclusion, which then causes her Catholic guilt to rear its annoying head.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

About the End of Self’s New York Times Book Review Subscription

Self still has a huge backlog of NYTBR issues to go through.  She pulled them out of her hopelessly muddled “Pile of Stuff” and started to go through them.  The very first one she started to read was the January 5, 2014 issue.

Front page review of Chang-rae Lee’s science fiction novel, On Such a Full Sea.

Watching a talented writer take a risk is one of the pleasures of devoted reading, and On Such a Full Sea provides all that and more.  It’s a wonderful addition not only to Chang-rae Lee’s body of work but to the ranks of “serious” writers venturing into the realm of dystopian fantasy.

Lost self at “dystopian,” everyone’s favorite catch-all one-word description for the Apocalyptic Future, now swarming the world on hundreds of reviews of the film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The NYTBR, 16 June 2013

Congratulations to the following writers/contributors, who made this issue of the NYTBR worth reading (Although self is still canceling her subscription):

Elaine Blair * Jeannette Walls *  Donovan Hohn * Justin Cronin *

Elaine Blair’s review of What Do Women Want?  Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, by Daniel Bergner was the title page review.  Blair’s review made self want to read Bergner’s previous book, The Other Side of Desire.  See, it is so interesting that a man is responsible for doing all this research into female desire.  Self fully expected that a woman scientist would produce the first comprehensive look at this fascinating topic.  But then, why can’t it be a man?  Men, after all, are just as affected by feminine desire as women are!  Onward.

The “By the Book” interview is a good one.  It’s with memoirist Jeannette Walls (There was one time the “By the Book” interviewee was Amanda Knox, she who was jailed in Italy for several years after being convicted of the murder of her roommate.  What on earth the NYTBR thought they were doing when they interviewed Amanda Knox about her favorite books is still a profound mystery to self)

Jeannette Walls’ favorite book “of all time” is The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene.

Recently, she was impressed by A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout, a memoir about Lindhout’s time spent “kidnapped in Somalia.”  In addition, Walls recommends the following memoirs:  In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White; The Memory Palace, by Mira Bartok; Denial, by Jessica Stern; A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah; An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison; Chanel Bonfire, by Wendy Lawless; The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks; After Visiting Friends, by Michael Haimey; The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison (Self has read this one; it’s about Harrison’s affair with her father); My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor; Couldn’t Keep It to Myself:  Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution, edited by Wally Lamb.

The book that “had the greatest impact on” Walls when she was growing up was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Donovan Hohn reviewed The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox.  It is wonderful to read that the “gentleman archaeologist who led the excavation at Knossos” on the island of Crete brought along for sustenance “two dozen tins of ox tongue, 12 plum puddings and a Union Jack.”  Hohn also brings up the term “hash marks” which then leads self to wonder how far we have come, from markings on an ancient tomb in Crete to Twitter.

Finally, there is Justin Cronin, who reviews “the world’s first 9/11 werewolf book,” Red Moon, by Benjamin Percy.  Here we are in a world where “lycans” (werewolves, for you non-initiates or total ignoramuses) are confined to a reservation on a “discouraging patch of permafrost in northern Scandinavia, currently under American military occupation to safeguard its valuable training resources.”  A majority of Americans goes about their business peaceably under “mandated medication — a mind-dulling silver-infused concoction wittily named Volpexx.” Sold!  How soon can self get her hands on this book?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The NYTBR: 22 December 2013

Boring, OK?  Boring.

Self is cutting off her subscription.

There is only one review she enjoyed reading:  the one by Stacey D’Erasmo, on The Apartment, a short novel (193 pages) by Greg Baxter.

Stay tuned.

Bookends/ The Joy of a Quiet Afternoon

Two days since Thanksgiving ended.  Though self had no one over, the clatter in her head can be quite deafening, a clatter the sole other occupant in this house is always happy to add to.  Every day brings a new spurt of instructions, whether it’s when to mail bills or covering windows with cardboard.  Mother-in-law said it best:  “My son is such a character.”

Now he has stepped out, without any prior warning: A friend of his from Ateneo, Randy, came over.  Self imagined both would want to watch the games.  But suddenly, after she’d bought all manner of chips and snacks and drinks and ham and what-have-you, she arrived to find the two men preparing to go out.  What is self going to do with all this food?  She’ll send it home with Randy, probably.  It’s either that or scarf on chips for days on end.

Anyhoo, after self watered a bit, she settled down in the tiny room she calls her “Office.”  This has all her memorabilia, all her saved literary magazines, all her knick-knacks.  Through the French doors, she can look right into the backyard:

The View From Self's "Office": What a Gorgeous Day!

The View From Self’s “Office”: What a Gorgeous Day!

These bookends were from a consignment store in San Carlos, whose name is eluding self.  It's on Laurel Street.

These bookends were from a consignment store in San Carlos, whose name is eluding self. It’s on Laurel Street.

The Rabbit keeps her literary magazines upright.  One Story faces out.

The Rabbit keeps her literary magazines upright. One Story faces out.

Now self settles down to tackle a huge pile of back issues of The New York Times Book Review.  There’s a “Let’s Read About Sex” issue, and the October 20, 2013 issue, which has more than the usual number of “Women’s Literature” reviews.  Self is bored reading about sex in the staid NYTBR.  It would be much more fun reading books about sex if she were reading something like Rolling Stone.  So she goes for the October 20, 2013 issue.

A short story collection by T. C. Boyle is reviewed in this issue.  Self really loves T. C. Boyle so she is happy to read the review (and would read anything by him, regardless of whether the review was good or bad).  There’s a review of a novel about the forty-ish Bridget Jones, and a review of a Scandinavian novel in which a traumatized woman is plagued by the conviction that her husband is guilty of a heinous crime (Don’cha just love those traumatized women in Scandinavian novels who are so . . . so noir-ishly fragile in temperament!  After all, there can never be another Lisbeth Salander.  That’s over.  That’s done.  Now it’s back to the Scandinavian women of an Ingmar Bergman movie)

Of the four crime novels reviewed by Marilyn Stasio in this issue (Sunday, October 20, 2013), two are set in Florence.  How absolutely fabulous!  That’s Florence, Italy, in case you were wondering.  The third is set in Manhattan (It’s by Jeffery Deaver, who writes about Manhattan like nobody’s business).  And the last one is set in a small town in Connecticut — but in 1956.  Self likely won’t get to the Connecticut novel, as she is easily confused by mysteries that happen in the recent past (Mysteries about the way, waaaaay past are much easier on her nerves.  At least, everything’s different, not like the ones set in the 1950s, where self keeps forgetting the decade and then wonders why she is so confused)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Awesome Book Titles: The NYTBR of 15 September 2013

The Pile of Stuff is humongous!  Actually humongous!

There are issues of The New York Times Book Review dating as far back as September!

But self cannot bring herself to end her subscription, which she’s kept up for over a decade.

Anyhoo, she is as usual very short on time, so she does a quick browse-through of aforementioned issue of the NYTBR, and is so excited to discover (from reading the “By the Book” interview with Richard Dawkins) that he recommends a book called Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, because self absolutely needs to have guidance in this area.  And Dawkins recommends another book that self thinks would really help her in her social interactions:  Avoid Boring People, by the eminent Nobel-Prizewinning molecular biologist James D. Watson.

Dawkins also mentions that he has not interest in reading Pride and Prejudice because “I can’t get excited about who is going to marry whom, and how rich they are.”  But self IS greatly interested in the topic, so she adds Pride and Prejudice to her reading list (She read it decades ago; it’s definitely time for a re-read!)

This issue of The NYTBR also has a funny story about Gary Kamiya, and it turns out he is a pack rat, just like self.  His new book has a fabulous title:  Cool Gray City of Love:  49 Views of San Francisco.

This issue’s Fabulous Author Photo (There’s always at least one, in every issue) belongs to Chinelo Okparanta.  Kudos for not only having a Fabulous Author Photo, but for actually being exotic, Ms. Okparanta!  She migrated to America from Nigeria at the age of 10, and the first part of her book, Happiness, Like Water: Stories — the “more powerful” part, according to reviewer Ligaya Mishan — is set in Nigeria.

There is also another fabulously titled book:  an essay collection called Sister Mother Husband Dog (Etc.) by one of the fabulous Ephrons (Nora passed away recently, but thank goodness she had writing offspring like Delia Ephron to perpetuate the legacy).

At the very back of the issue is a section called “The Shortlist,” and here are four International Thrillers, which includes The Kill List, Frederick Forsyth’s latest, and Masaryk Station, which sounds like it ought to be by Martin Cruz Smith but is actually written by David Downing.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Currents: What Self Is Interested in Reading Now (19 October 2013)

  • a translation from the French by a writer whose name self encountered for the first time only a few hours ago:  Daniel Arsand.  The novel is Lovers.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
  • Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (perhaps self’s favorite book of her childhood. Other than The Hobbit)
  • a book about the terrible things that happened in a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina:  Five Days at Memorial, by Katy Butler
  • a story collection by Tom Barbash:  Stay Up With Me
  • a memoir, by Amanda Lindhout, of what happened after she was kidnapped and held for ransom in Somalia:  A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
  • A Thousand Pardons, a new novel from Jonathan Dee (Malcolm Gladwell recommended it in the By the Book interview)
  • Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis:  The Impossible Profession
  • James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity
  • Tim Parks’s 2011 memoir, Teach Us to Sit Still

(The list is made up of books reviewed in the September 8, 2013 and October 6, 2013 issues of The New York Times Book Review.)

Self is still on The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  Sometime in the near future, she’s going to switch gears.  She’s just added Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum, to her reading list.  Let’s just hope she doesn’t wind up reading them during the Christmas holidays: it might result in the blog developing a rather schizophrenic feel.  Especially if she starts interspersing images of holiday festivity with images of human cruelty.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.

Nicholson Baker on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog via NYTBR

Bottom of p. 4, The New York Times Book Review of Sunday, 25 August 2013:

“Quotable”

I look on the Internet, and there’s a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t seem any different to me than it felt like when I used to go to a newsstand and there was Elle magazine and professional-wrestling magazines and highbrow magazines, men’s fashion, women’s fashion, comics, just that . . .  blast of everythingness that comes at you.  Well, that’s what comes out of the computer screen now.  It’s very similar in its . . .  texture to what the newsstand, let’s say, at Harvard Square felt like back in the day.

–  Nicholson Baker, on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog

Reflections, Prompted By Sunday, 11 August 2013 Issue of The New York Times Book Review

The review of Dossier K., Imre Kertesz’s latest book and his first nonfiction, is by Martin Riker, an English professor at Washington University in St. Louis.  His review begins:

Two of the great pessimistic proclamations of 20th-century literature —  Adorno’s “To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric” and Beckett’s “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” —  have at least one thing in common.  They both address the inadequacy of language to articulate reality.

At the end Read the rest of this entry »

Awesome Quote of The Last Tuesday of August 2013

It’s been a while since self has quoted anything from the grand, old New York Times Book Review.  These days, she tends to quote more from The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

But — hello?  Will wonders never cease?  Here she is, at the tail end of summer, ready to quote from The New York Times Book Review of Sunday, 11 August 2013.

The quote is from documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (He made The Thin Blue Line), and it comes to us courtesy of Tania James, in her review of Nikita Lalwani’s “powerful second novel,” The Village.

Morris, according to Ms. James, calls “the claims of cinéma vérité —  the style of documentary that privileges direct and unobtrusive observation — ‘spurious.’ “

She quotes Morris saying:  “Style does not guarantee truth.  The use of available light and a handheld camera does not mean that what you are doing is any more truthful than anything else.  Truth is a pursuit, it’s a quest.”

You’re so right, Errol!  She’ll be using your quote in her future creative writing classes, for sure!

Stay tuned.

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