The World According to Garp – 4/5 Stars
I am trying to figure out books from the late 1970s and early 1980s, because it’s like the first time that authors really wanted to dig into sexual politics in some ways that are interesting, definitely alarming, but also handled with a kind of lack of care, or certainly a different context.
This book was a huge hit when it came out and won several awards. It’s generally very good, but there’s a weird weird weird scene in the very middle of it that made me want to quit. It’s about sexual violence, but it’s handled with such a kind of weird absurdity that I couldn’t process it at first and then kind of let it blur by and since it wasn’t revisited, I just went with it. And all this is additionally strange because this is a 40th anniversary edition, so it’s a reprint, a brand new audiobook reader and new entries. It’s not weird that the book explores sexuality in a different way than we’re talking about now, but it is weird that it was reprinted without question. Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Sophie’s Choice, which also has some bizarre sexuality in it too.
Anyway, this book is about a man growing up with a famous feminist (radical according to the movie, but rather mild here, but certainly ahead of her time) mother. He goes to a private school, almost becomes a college wrestler, writes a few novels, and gets married. And then like every husband/wife in the 1970s and 80s novels, there’s a series of affairs. The writing is mostly charming and good, but there’s a clear since of tension or caught-between an older time period and a newer one.
Cadillac Jack – 3/5
This is another 1980s book that has some weird sexuality to it. Because it’s comedy, everything is handled with a kind of irony and laughter to it, but because it’s not actually very funny, it’s mostly just upsetting. I can’t figure out how I am supposed to treat the narrator, and because I am not 100% dissimilar to the narrator, or at least my younger self, I am obviously a little uncomfortable by him.
This book is about an antiques dealer with a kind of sixth sense about it all moving to Washington DC and getting immediately involved in the scene there of reporters, politicians, connected people in DC. He begins seeing a woman who owns a series of shops and is very connected whose fascination and repulsion of him is based in his outsider status.
This book has a common trope in it that marks how different my life is from a lot of peoples — actually two tropes. One, the notion of someone being engaged to someone but still sleeping with other people and even dating them as a matter of course. I clearly have a different sensibility about it. Because marriage is so much more de-emphasized in my life (I am married) as a rule, and people are waiting more and more, marriage actually seems like it’s regained a kind of status in my mind. It’s weird how my bohemian liberal middle class lifestyle actually has led me to a much more conservative view on marriage in my life. Because I didn’t waste away in loveless marriages when I was younger, I have a weird old timey notion of them (at least in terms of the commitment). So a book that treats marriages as fungible and permeable are strange to me. Second trope, the young mother. I know there are lots of young single mothers in the world. But at least in my circles, it’s considerably rarer. Marriages with kids ending in divorce are just generally less common to me than they clearly would have been if I had been born earlier. It’s weird, because my parents’ marriage was a second for both of them, and I have half sisters, but I earnestly believe that all my siblings won’t ever get divorced. Maybe it’s naive, but I have a feeling.
Anyway, this book is strange.
Texasville – 4/5 Stars
Texasville shares a lot of the same characteristics as Cadillac Jack and I imagine that has to do with its similar set of characters, tone, features, plot even, and time period. But the clearest and biggest difference, especially born out by the comment McMurtry has made in his memoir writing is that he liked and cared about Texasville and didn’t like or care about Cadillac Jack.
So for a lot of people The Last Picture Show was a movie. And a very good one. I don’t think I could actually make the compelling argument that it was a better book than a movie, because honestly, it might not have been. It’s possible the movie is better than the book. The book is ragged and raw and goofy in some ways that movie decides to be serious. The pain that Duane and Jacy and Sonny experience is treated as real and hurtful and serious. But in the book, and I think if you were to apply this kind of distance in your own life, minus whatever trauma you might have experienced the pain is mitigated a little over time based on how ridiculous it is to feel something so strongly, when you know it just wasn’t that serious. There’s a scene in The Last Picture Show where Sonny and Jacy get married and her parent drive out and get her and force the marriage to end and GOOD FOR THEM. Becuase teenagers should NOT get married. NO MATTER WHAT. So for all of that pain and drama, felt strongly, but no more serious than anybody’s, we come upon Dunae, married with four kids and a millionaire (with debt) from oil and he and his wife trading off acknowledged affairs 34 years later. And we have Sonny, hampered all his life by his one bout with glory. And we have Jacy, a returned and slightly disgraced movie queen. Well the result is of course funny. And it’s a little sad, but it’s also perfectly ok, because really, why wouldn’t it be?
This novel feels a lot like the third Rabbit Angstrom novel by John Updike. There’s a lot of weird sexual energy as middle age looks to give way to old age, and there’s some flailing about that, but there’s also some real acceptance that life is for living.
Christmas Eve 2014 – 1/5 Stars
So this was a radioplay kind of thing given away with my Audible account, and it’s a play-like portrayal of a Christmas ceasefire between British and German troops in 1914. I forget, and don’t really care to look up, whether or not this is an historically accurate event, but this play was pretty schlocky. I don’t discount remotely whatsoever what frontline soldiers do or do not feel about being frontline soldiers, whether that’s the angrily embitterment of a Siegfried Sassoon, the mythmaking of Robert Graves, or the stark reality of Vera Brittain. But I do hate when a not particularly strong writer (or writing effort) turns it into meaningless and dangerous saccharine nonsense. WWI does not have immediate lessons that were learned from and improved upon. War is hell and hope is not something I care to play around with for something like this. Anything that uses the humanity earned by soldiers in order to create a kind of enlightenment understanding war is horrifying to me.
Anyway, I wasn’t annoyed by this in any specific way because while it’s bad, it’s also not original. It’s nothing but tired cliches over and over and over trying to pretend to say something meaningful. And since right not WWI is mostly known through a violent video game and no longer through the multitude of poetry and novels that came out of it, it’s a fitting but frustrating sense of where we are now.
Why Read Moby Dick? 4/5
Sigh. So this is not the book I read but I can’t get Amazon to recognize this. Anyway! This is a really nice book that crystallizes a lot of the argument I have with people. I won’t defend very many books, and especially won’t defend books against claims of “_______” but I will go to bat for Moby Dick. Moby Dick is quite simply the best book produced by an American writer ever. It’s incredibly beautiful and weird and funny and savage and perfect and raw and every other good thing you can imagine. I don’t care if you like it, though you certainly should, but your criticisms against it are either invalid, wrongheaded, naive, ignorant, or part of the appeal.
So to have Philbrick really lay out the case for reading the book, perfecto.
It basically boils down to this. I don’t care if you think it’s boring. A) It’s not. and B) Get over yourself.
If you don’t like it, fine, but don’t pretend you’ve figured something out that millions of other people haven’t. It’s an amazing book, and if you can’t reckon with that, so be it, but that’s on you.
Are You There God, It’s me Margaret? 5/5 Stars
I’ve never been a teenage girl. However, I have been a teacher for 15 years and so while I sympathize with and appreciate Margaret’s teacher in this book I think that had I ever been a teenage girl, I would really appreciate that this book exists. Margaret is a wonderful character because she’s raw and flawed and confused and mean and kind and selfish and thoughtful all rolled into one, like everybody, and she’s laying it all out there for us. She doesn’t learn every lesson that she could from her experiences from this book, but she does live her life the best she can and make the same mistakes many of us made, including being mean and cruel and shallow and vulnerable. I think also her grappling with religion lends a voice to a question that a lot of people dealt with, and her parent, god bless them, in their petulant anti-religion occupy that really valuable space of being iconoclasts in a world that hates iconoclasts, and show how being right, doesn’t always mean being happy and regarded.
Silver Screen Fiend – 3/5 Stars
This is a perfectly ok book, with a really bad premise. Patton Oswalt was never addicted to film. He was obsessed and selfish regarding film, he was an asshole about it, and he was depressed and used film as a lifeline, but to borrow the language of addiction is both selfish and boring.
Also, the result of this book is that I want to watch more movies, not less.
I will admit that at a younger age that Oswalt I got obsessed with films in a way that mirrors a lot of his journey here, and almost took me to film school. I backed off that incredibly half-baked dream, but I spent the last two years of high school visiting every library in my hometown with a copy of the AFI’s top 400 movie list to see everything I possibly could, only to show up in college and learn that there were “foreign” films too.
This is an interesting love affair with films that will NOT hold up given the number of Louis CK, Bill Cosby, and Roman Polanski references in this book “before we all knew” ie before Patton finally came around to the shittiness of his friends and idols. Honestly this book would be way better if it were fleshed out and excised all material related to being a comic. It’s good because of the films discussion he makes and bad for everything outside of this.
Moo – 3/5 Stars
This is a charming book about a girl moving to Maine partially as her idea and partially against her wishes. In this book, a family realizes that the father’s job of being a journalist will not hold up long term and they decide, on a whim, to move to Maine. While there, they become “friends” with a crazy Italian (I think, I can’t remember) woman and her cow. This cow becomes a focal point of their life as the girl and her brother help to “show” the cow.
Sharon Creech is interesting because I tend to enjoy her books, but also feel them to be quite empty in a lot of their focus.
For Everyone – 4/5 Stars
Jason Reynolds wrote a long poem about inspiration and focus as a way to guide his younger self. This performance, read by the author, is a solid audiobook, and I think a great lesson for kids. As a teacher, I am often caught between the idea that kids need to be not limited in their dreams and focus. But at the same time, I also have to deal with reality. I have zero problem putting a little reality into the lives of kids who think they’re going to “make the league” in basketball and football, but they’re not getting recruited and their team is bad. And also, refocusing the idea that a scholarship or a preferred spot on a non-scholarship team is also a really good thing that they can turn into something more meaningful. Jason Reynolds does a great job in refocusing a lot of the discussion over these kinds of dreams of “reach for the stars” blah blah blah….I am a high school teacher. If I ever reached for the stars, being a high school teacher ain’t the stars. And more people need to understand that a good job and a life of integrity is not only great, but preferable in a lot of ways. This poem suggests way to refocus that energy into the effort, but not the results.
Lu – 4/5 Stars
This is the final? or latest book from the track series. Track is a great series and the first two books Ghost and Patina were excellent novels giving voice to Black adolescents. If looking at the cover makes you think this is different, it’s not. Lu is albino and dreams of having a younger brother. He’s on the same track team as Sunny, Ghost, and Patina, and he’s being moved to hurdles, which scares him, because Hurdles are scary, but he’s also learning that adult life is more and more complicated than he ever thought.
Sunny – 4/5 Stars
Sunny is also part of the Track series. Sunny lost his mother the day he was born and feels caught by the acknowledgment that his birthday is also the anniversary of his mother’s death. Now it’s just him and his dad, and his dad refuses to acknowledge that Sunny’s desires might differ from his own. For the most part, not by much, but enough for Sunny to feel that tension. Sunny gets exposed to the world of dance, and in wanting to be a dancer, he loses his taste for middle-distances running. Luckily, Coach decides that maybe throwing discus is the way to account for this loss. Regardless, Sunny is a wonderfully weird kid and this book really shows that. Sunny plays with language and of all the book in this series, this is the most well realized, in terms of voice.