I spent the last two weeks traveling on business, which meant that I was too exhausted at the end of the day to put two words together for a post, but I got LOTS of reading done in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms and lobbies. While I will spare you descriptions of the many in-flight magazines and celebrity tabloids I read during the enforced no-electronics portions of my flights, here are quick summaries of the books that kept me sane as I criss-crossed the country:
The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides
This was fine, I guess? I was interested in all the characters and I wanted to find out what happened, so it was compelling reading. On the other hand, it was really long and nothing much actually happened and there was almost no resolution of any sort and just because I was interested in the characters didn’t mean I liked them. In fact, pretty much everyone in the book was extremely unpleasant or shallow, so it was a bit like watching a very long, slow train wreck as these characters messed up their lives over and over. I had initially written here that I wanted to warn people about an unflattering portrayal of a character with a mental illness, but all of the characters were portrayed in unflattering ways so the manic depressive actually came out pretty well, comparatively speaking. I loved The Virgin Suicides, so Eugenides has credit in the bank with me, but while The Virgin Suicides felt airy and impressionistic, this dense, heavy, weighty novel feels like it was written by someone else entirely. English majors might like it though, since it seems to feature a lot of inside jokes about literary criticism.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Remember how back in the 1970s a French guy strung a tightrope between the two World Trade Center towers and walked back and forth between the buildings, a hundred floors up with no safety net? This novel describes what was happening in the lives of a number of New York residents on that day, and how they were all connected to the wire walker and to each other. Although it does feature the walker (in real life, his name was Philippe Petit and you can watch an amazing documentary about his walk called Man on Wire), the story isn’t really about him at all. It’s really about New York, and America, in the 1970s–Vietnam, crime in the cities, race, immigration, and how all these things play out in the life a few individuals. As a general rule, I don’t like books that follow multiple characters connected only by the thinnest of threads. However, in this book each character is beautiful and heart-breaking and I found that they all looped together in really satisfying ways. Sad, but lovely.
The Thrift Book by India Knight
I think I’ve explained here before that I want India Knight to be my best friend, so I adored this book, even though it is basically just a list of fairly obvious ways to save money. You know, cook at home, make Christmas presents, grow your own herbs, don’t be fooled by fancy skin creams. Knight puts a fun spin on it by focusing not on getting out of debt or being as cheap as possible, but by talking about all the ways her strategies make you feel (to sound English about it) posher and more glamorous by not trying to hard or getting caught up spending on foolish thing. Plus, she’s funny. At one point she refers to playing Scrabble online as her “ongoing Alzheimer’s prevention project,” which is exactly how I think of Words with Friends. However, if you are not trying to befriend or become India Knight, it’s probably not necessary to read this.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Really fun, and absolutely perfect airplane reading. A sci-fi story that manages to be both a puzzle/treasure hunt and a celebration of 80s pop culture. I think is truly aimed at folks a few years older than I am who spent much more time in video arcades, but I loved it and was so absorbed I was able to read it in even the loudest terminals and restaurants.
I am very interested in Ready Player One but I’m a little concerned that I won’t necessary get all the references, since I was doing the whole hippy commune thing for a lot of the 80s, and it took me a little while to get back into general culture. (How’s that for a teaser, for all of you who don’t actually know me?)
Also, I have a small issue with The Thrift Book because every year I decide to save money by making presents, and every year the materials end up costing far more than I would have spent on a purchase present, so that ends up being a huge money sink for me.
However, it might be a similar thing to where people keep talking about how much I could save by getting furniture at IKEA, and I think, “IKEA costs far more than Goodwill, where I currently get my furniture.” Perhaps India Knight spends far more on presents than I ordinarily would, so making them is a savings. (In Comfort & Joy, the narrator buys a cat figurine for a gift that she mentions is more than she intended to spent, but which made me choke at the cost.)
You’re so up on today’s pop culture that I always forget about the commune! I think you’d really like Ready Player One, even if you miss some references. Plus, it’s a really fast read so it’s not a huge investment, either way.
And India Knight clearly has a very specific audience in mind for The Thrift Book–well-off, urban, preferably London-resident, folks who need to scale back an already nice lifestyle. She very rarely talks about the financial necessities that would lead someone to economize, but focuses mostly on how doing some things for yourself can be fun and less vulgar and also maybe a little bit cheaper. If you’re not internet-stalking her like I am, you should totally pass. The descriptions of how to save money when throwing cocktail parties will just aggravate you.
it’s funny because i have 2 of these books currently sitting by my bedside waiting to be read (marriage plot and ready player one) but instead i have been reading that said teenagers-with-cancer book by the will grayson author.
Ooh, I want to hear about the teenagers-with-cancer book! I just read a review of it in Entertainment Weekly, I think, and it sounded good. Care to write up a little review? You could be our first guest post!
Heh. Cara is certainly welcome to write a review and submit a guest post, but that teenagers-with-cancer book is The Fault in Out Stars, which I reviewed back in February.
Oops, how embarrassing of me! I need to go back and reread your review, then, too.