Half Read

Now that February is more than half over, it seems the theme is finishing books that I started months or years ago. In most cases, the books were not finished because the library disappeared them from my kindle–sometimes as I was reading. Paper addicts would probably see this as a sign of dead tree superiority, after all, librarians don’t have the time to swing by your house and snatch books out of your hands. However, I compared the amount spent on books in 2009 (pre-kindle) and the amount spent in 2014 (kindle + library), and the actual number is too embarrassingly large to post here, even though no one except my future self will read this. Future Self, don’t be too hard on Past Self! She didn’t know. But, to be completely honest, I did know. Every time I move, I lose a library (and I move a lot).

My description of Ready Player One as a collection of pop culture references attempting to be prose, and now that I’ve made it from 20% to 100%, it’s that plus sexist nerd wish-fulfillment. My Cousin Rachel is so good, but it’s the kind of writing that makes me feel bad about being a bad writer, which must be the reason I didn’t finish it before. Playback is definitely the weakest of the Marlowe novels–a first draft written in grief and alcohol.

An elderly woman on the train was offended by The Possibility of an Island–I can be a little oblivious when reading, so I hadn’t noticed that she’d got out her reading glasses and was staring at my screen until she started to complain. Too much pussy for 7 in the morning, so I put it away, and by the afternoon, it had returned to the library. It’s going to take me years to find out how the smug & annoying “comedian” becomes a smug & annoying clone–I started reading it in 2013. A friend had sent it to me because I’d loved The Map and the Territory, but I was too busy studying Japanese and writing about DI Lestrade to read it. And, the real problem is that it was a book. An actual paper book. They’re not only bulky, but it’s far too easy to leave paper books on the train, on the bus, in a taxi, etc. I left it in all those places, and then when it was time to leave Japan, it stayed on the bookshelf next to Nancy Mitford and a volume of Gintama.


January Reading

The Seventh Function of Language – Laurent Binet

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz (reread)

Cheddar: a journey to the heart of America’s most iconic cheese – David Edgar

The Book of Revelation – Rupert Thomson

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

Hunger – Roxane Gay

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series (1-3, 5-9) – Louise Penny

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Anita Loos (reread)

The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler (reread)

The Little Sister – Raymond Chandler (reread)

Eve’s Hollywood – Eve Babitz

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

A Question of Upbringing – Anthony Powell

Other than rereading A Dance to the Music of Time, one volume a month, I don’t have any definite reading goals this year–fewer rereads? More translated fiction? No translated fiction? (too late for that) More nonfiction? The problem is that the moment I decide on a reading challenge and organize a list of books to read, then it feels like homework, and all I want to do is read Waugh.

Reading goal: this year I’ll read some books I haven’t read before.

This year might be like 2016 when the first book I read ended up being my favourite. In 2016, January started with Renata Adler’s Speedboat, and I ended up rereading it before the year ended. I started The Seventh Function of Language at the end of December, put it down, mildly disappointed because it wasn’t a campus comedy about Barthes solving mysteries, picked it up again on the first, and happily raced through it. It’s basically a violent and trashy airport novel for people who carry their lunches to work in LRB tote bags, and I love it.

Pumpkin Pumpkin Pumpkin (autumn is coming)

Every day this week, I’ve been getting Fancy Expensive Coffee because Fancy Expensive Coffee is to Williamsburg what takoyaki is to Osaka: everywhere and delicious. Today, in a budget-minded moment, I stepped into Dunkin Doughnuts and was dismayed by all of the signs promising Pumpkin and Fall. Summer is over and I didn’t… How can summer be over? Did it even begin?

This site was supposed to have two purposes, (1) exchange letters, and (2) reading/watching notes, mostly reading because I don’t watch very many things. The Golden Age is television is passing without much notice from me. I don’t know why tumblr worked better for my reading lists than trying to use this + Goodreads, but it did. Unfortunately, tumblr was such a lonely experience that it wasn’t worth keeping it just to track my books. Now, I’m going to try something different – an actual notebook. It would probably work better if I incorporated it into my planner or writing notebook, but I picked up something cheap and purple at the going-out-of-business sale at a stationery store, and I want to feel like I didn’t waste my money (I did).

What I would like to do is collect some prompts for those times when I don’t particularly feel anything about a book. It’s easy when a book is terrible or brilliant, but there are so many books out there that exist just to keep the reader from having to look at anyone on the train.

the curse of the raven boys

Every time I feel like going online to complain about The Raven Boys, my internet goes out. I got halfway through the book, logged in to wordpress to write about why I wouldn’t be finishing it, and then the internet went out for almost two days. I ended up finishing it, went over to goodreads to give it one star, and then the internet went out for the entire weekend. Earlier, I came here, a crowded Starbucks, logged into goodreads, and got a blank screen. As I hit ctrl-r, I heard waves of discontent roll over the tables. No internet. I picked up my coffee and left.

This post is a bit of a test. If I can get to the end, maybe my internet bad luck will break and I will be able to discuss why The Raven Boys is both incompetently written, baffling, and maybe a little racist..

Yesterday I saw an old friend and we walked around the city and and ate Japanese food and went to an escape room, which was something I became vaguely aware of after Sherlock S4 because that last (not-good) episode kept getting compared to an escape room and apparently everyone except me had been to one at some point. Working out the puzzles was fun, but I’m clumsy with locks, getting things in and out of a lock at the gym is always a struggle, so entering the codes correctly was a little bit difficult.

Outside there was a poster advertising the film Valerian, and it took me a moment to figure out what it was advertising because the leads looked so sulky and grim that I thought it might be an adaptation of The Turn of the Screw set in space. The last time I thought about Valerian was 10 years ago when a French woman tried to slap me because I said that Fujiko was better than Laureline.

Context: We were well into the second hour of a very expensive nomihodai and we’d been trying to drink our money’s worth in whisky cocktails. It was more than a little awkward because I hadn’t realised it would only be the two of us and I am not exactly the greatest conversationalist, and then for some reason, she ordered shots, which were not included in the nomihodai, but the bartender served because why not. However, tequila reduces my natural shyness, so when her (more than slightly racist) monologue about the terribleness of Japan turned to manga, I stopped smiling and nodding and I objected strongly to her description of Valérian and Laureline as better than anything Japan had to offer. “Laureline is nothing more than a cut-rate Fujiko,” I said. In case she hadn’t understood, “A bargain basement Fujiko,” I added.

“You say that again, I slap you,” she said, and I think it was supposed to be playful, but it came across as super intense, so I started to discreetly edge away (we’d been sitting next to each other on the banquette), but a drunk’s version of discreet is anything but, so I edged myself on to the floor.

She leaned over me, “Some people, they say I look like Laureline.”

“Naaaawwwww,” I said, and started giggling. She harumphed and ordered another round of cocktails, and then when they came, she drank them both. What I’d meant was, you don’t have red hair.

Anyway, now that I think about it, Fujiko/Laureline would be an amazing crossover pairing. And Henry James in Space would be super amazing.

That stroll down memory lane took up my internet time, so now I can’t complain about the book I read today, Virginia Heffernan’s Magic and Loss: the Internet as Art. I agreed with some of its points about the value of the internet, but overall it was so silly and poorly written that I started to question my own beliefs.

Lyric poetry has always been short. That’s why it’s not, for example, epic.

I think that is supposed to be a joke, but it is almost impossible to tell.

I confess to taking gross liberties with traditional books, savoring the rule breaking, skipping forewords, concordances, and boring chapters, while lavishing prurient attention on jacket copy, dedications, and acknowledgments.

Oh, you rebel!

It’s no surprise that the Harry Potter generation, who grew up on serial fantasy fiction set in the labyrinthine hallways of a magic school—as well as on suspenseful literary television like Lost, which is built on cliffhangers, errors, and indirection—have taken to the disorienting pagination of the Kindle and the lost-in-the-funhouse narrative that thrives in ereader form. These are books that defy the miserable school essay format: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. They are filled with fake-outs and unfulfilled promises. The best Kindle books serialize easily and pulse with suspense that drives the reader emotionally (rather than rationally) through the maze. There are mistakes, redundancies, false starts, red herrings, loose and dead ends. Purity. The Goldfinch. Fifty Shades of Gray. Gone Girl.

Those are all straightforward narratives, I mean, if she thinks they are exceptionally twisty, someone should buy her a copy of Armadale or Lady Audley’s Secret. Additionally, one would think that in a book about the internet, a mention of the internet origins of Fifty Shades wouldn’t be out of place. There’s nothing “lost-in-the-funhouse”, assuming that’s a reference to Barth, about any of those books.

And I can’t even get into the last chapter, which drops the technology theme and rambles on about undergraduate grudges. If I hadn’t been so close to the end, I would’ve given up and gone back to The Raven Boys, which is the last book I dropped (at chapter 4).

Next on my summer reading, either Joshua Cohen’s The Book of Numbers or Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock. After that, I should be back to Harry Potter – I’m #6 on the waiting list now for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

winds of winter

I finished A Dance with Dragons a week ago. The only part that surprised me was that “Young Griff” was still alive at the end of the book, and that Queen Selyse hadn’t pushed Shireen and Patches into one of Melisandre’s fires. It seemed that Val was foreshadowing an unpleasant end for the poor girl. As I expected, Jon Snow was killed. Will Melisandre bring him back, or will he come back with blue eyes, as a special-snowflake wight who can control his urge to murder people? The existence of Coldhands shows that it’s possible, but it’s unlikely because Jon will need to go south of the Wall for plot reasons. My friend J,  who is only watching the HBO series, told me that Jon is already back in S6, but she refused to tell me if it was via Melisandre, the Others, or if he somehow managed to survive being stabbed a lot.

V: So, is he alive-alive, or is he like Lady Stoneheart?
J: Who’s Lady Stoneheart?
V: Catelyn comes back and kills a lot of Freys.
J: That doesn’t happen in the show.
V: Do a lot of Freys get killed? They need to go… How are there six seasons? I thought each book was a season.
J: I don’t know.

If there are six season, there must be six books out, right? I tend to scroll past things I’m not into, but I had some vague memory of a year ago, a couple of years ago, seeing a Metafilter thread about the release of The Winds of Winter.  It wasn’t listed on the library’s Overdrive site, which is where I get 90% of my reading, so I stopped by the library to see if I could get a paper copy.

The librarian didn’t see The Winds of Winter listed in the computer, so she called over another librarian. Librarian #2 was hella confused by my request, and then she patiently explained that The Winds of Winter had not been published yet and that fans had been waiting a very long time.

Watching the series is next, but for some reason sitting down and watching a lengthy television series always seems so intimidating and time-consuming. It almost feels like an obligation–must watch Game of Thrones before the three months of HBO Go expires!

“And why, my wife asked, "Are you making this trip?”

“Because things are getting me down.”

“Things are always getting you down. I don’t believe it for a moment.”

“Masaoka Shiki, 35; Ozaki Kōyō, 36; Saitō Ryoku’u, 37; Kunikada Doppo, 37; Nagatsuka Takashi, 26; Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, 35; Kamura Isota, 36.”

“What do you mean by all that?”

“The age at which they all died. All the same age. Me too, I’m just about reaching that age. For an author, this is the most important time of his life.”

“The time when things get him down?”

“What are you talking about? Spare me your jokes. You know very well what I mean. I won’t say anymore about it. If I do, it’ll only sound pretentious. So—I’m going on a trip!”

Perhaps because I have lived such a feckless life up till now, it strikes me as pretentious to explain my feelings (it is also a rather hackneyed literary device), so I won’t add anything more.

Osamu Dazai, Return to Tsugaru (trans. James Westerhoven)


“Portia,” he mentioned coldly, “is the ideal Roman wife.”

She was not Laurie’s ideal at all; indulging in a moment of sentiment, he fished in his pocket diary and got out a photograph of Irina Baronova in her costume for Choreartium. While not committing himself to being actually in love, Laurie had a serial fantasy about her, thinly disguised as the plot of a novel he was some day going to write.

– Mary Renault, The Charioteer (1953)