Books

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

I cried two times while reading The Year of Magical Thinking: first at the point when Joan Didion says “I needed to be alone so that he could come back. This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking” and then at the very end of the novel when she says “You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that. No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that” (Didion 33; 227). As someone who has never actually cried while reading a book before, the fact that I was suddenly crying actual tears while sitting a table in Emerson with my friends worriedly asking me what was wrong was quite a surprise. Why did this book have such an intense effect on me? An obvious answer would be the terribly sad subject matter; however, I have read plenty of sad books before without a similar result. What was it about this sad book in particular made that made it hit me so hard?

The difference here seems to be the way the memoir is structured, particularly how the narration expands and contracts like an accordion. She describes this expansive nature of her own thinking as the “vortex,” a sort of spiral she plummets down whenever something triggers a memory from the past. A clear example of how this vortex works is when her thinking about one of the books she had written sparks a spiral about her daughter, Quintana:

I had been writing that book when Quintana was three.

When Quintana was three.

There it was, the vortex.

Quintana at three. The night she had put a seed pod from the garden up her nose and I had driven her to Children’s Hospital. The pediatrician who specialized in seed pods had arrived in his dinner jeacket. The next night she had put another seed pod up her nose, wanting to the repeat the interesting adventure (Didion 110).

Here we see how one small detail triggers a connection with a memory, resulting in an opening up of the narrative to include this digressive departure from the main story she was telling. Yet at the same time, these memories also make up the main story. Through these winding paths of memory, Didion asserts the inevitable importance of the past and the seeming impossibility of entirely escaping or avoiding the mind’s reliance on the past in the midst of grief.

Perhaps the reason this memoir made me cry is not solely the narrative structure itself, but the way the narrative structure so closely reflects Didion’s thought processes and the inner workings of her mind in the midst of her grief. While reading those last few lines of the book and the last repeated words (“he did tell me that”) I could just feel the desperation, the yearning for a resolution or an answer that she could not find even in the process of writing this book. I have been fortunate enough to never have experienced such a loss or intense grief thus far in my life, but Didion’s writing made me fear that feeling immensely. Through this memoir’s accordion-like structure, Didion was able to convey as close to the feeling of grief as possible, considering the limitations of language that prevent it from ever being exactly expressed with absolute accuracy.

Thoughts on The Year of Magical ThinkingHave you ever read a memoir that has resonated deeply with you this way? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Advertisements
Books

BLEEDING EDGE by Thomas Pynchon | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

Often when talking about quantum theory in the context of literature we take note of language or structure that feels granular or quantized. Resembling the feel of particles, these quantized aspects of literature feel isolated from the rest of its context; however, the reader is still aware that these tiny elements are nevertheless part of the larger whole. I struggle to find a better way to articulate the experience of reading Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge. Each interaction between characters felt weighed down in detail: Pynchon would set up the scene with specific descriptions of venues, clothing, personalities, and atmospheres before launching into pages of sharp, fast-moving dialogue. Because the cast of characters in this novel is so large I often found myself confused, forgetting who exactly was married to who or who worked for which boss. This sense of constantly being one step behind also contributed to the quantized nature of the novel as the reader tries to determine how all of these seemingly independent scenes connect.

One example of a passage that feels particularly quantized is when Maxine is at a party and remembers partying when she was a teenager:

Not everybody benefits from a misspent youth. Teen contemporaries of Maxine’s got lost in the club toilets of the eighties, went in, never came out, some with luck grew too hip or not hip enough to appreciate the scene at all, others, like Maxine, went on only ot flash back to it now and then, epileptigogic lighting, Quaaludes for sale on the floor, outerborough hair statements… the Aqua Net fogs! The girl-hours lost sitting in front of mirrors! The strange disconnects between dance music and lyrics, “Copacabana,” “What a Fool Believes,” heartbreaking stories, even tragic, set to these strangely bouncy tunes… (Pynchon 308).

Not only does this passage show the density of the novel in terms of details, but it also reflects the specificity and obscurity of those details. The use of references that many readers may not understand creates a certain distance between the reader and the novel, since such a reader will not be able to fully understand the perspective of or point that a character is trying to make. This disconnect between reader and text reflects the levels of reality that the characters experience with their journeying through the Deep Web. I felt like I could never really go below the surface of this novel because there were so many details to wade through first. However, I would venture to say that this sense of layering was Pynchon’s goal in structuring the novel this way. From learning the inner workings of the Deep Web to grappling with life in New York City after 9/11, there are numerous instances of reality and illusion being blurred, many of which have to do with different levels of understanding one’s surroundings. By including a plethora of obscure references and creating a sense of disconnected quantization in the novel, Pynchon forces the reader to confront the feeling of not fully understanding reality–in this case, reality as we understand it in Maxine’s world.

Thoughts on Bleeding EdgeHave you ever read a book that feels granular or “quantized” in this way? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

BOOK OF ILLUSIONS by Paul Auster | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

While watching what is deemed to be Hector Mann’s last film known to the public, David remarks that “we are looking at him as he looks at himself, and in this eerie doubling of perspectives, we watch him confront the fact of his own annihilation. Double or nothing” (Auster 53). This latter phrase struck me as both interesting and important: interesting because it is strange to think of a human identity as being something that can be doubled or reduced to nothing, and important because of the implications of this very contradiction. One could read this statement as it appears to be most obviously written–something is either double or nothing–or, I would argue, one could read this as something being simultaneously double and nothing. Here is where we can see a connection with the basic tenets of quantum theory: conceptually we understand that light is both a particle and a wave, but it could also be observed as either/or depending on how it is measured.

Paul Auster’s novel The Book of Illusions is riddled with instances of “double or nothing,” from names and puns to women, fathers, and actions. For instance, Frieda Spelling also writes her name as Mrs. Hector Mann in her letters to David. Is she both of these identities? One of them? Neither? Furthermore, when David describes the multiple ways Hector portrayed himself to the media he remarks: “Put these contradictions together, and you wind up with nothing, the portrait of a man with so many personalities and family histories that he is reduced to a pile of fragments, a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces no longer connect” (Auster 83). This statement offers another way to look at the phrase “double or nothing,” for David seems to suggest that too much multiplicity can lead to a blurring or even loss of meaning. In other words, more than two options may lead to nothingness, to an ambiguous mess of possibilities too numerous to keep track of.

Perhaps this is Auster’s way of commenting on the seemingly arbitrariness of language: puns are intelligible when a word has two meanings, but what if it has more than two? What if a metaphor can be interpreted in multiple ways? Does it have multiple meanings? Or does it have no meaning at all, since it is left up to so much interpretation? These are the sort of questions and ideas that haunted my reading of The Book of Illusions, a novel that once again plays with themes and problems that quantum theory also endeavors to address.

Thoughts on The Book of IllusionsHave you ever read a book that plays with the multiplicity of language in a similar way? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

CITY OF GLASS by Paul Auster | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

Self-referentiality is a cornerstone of postmodernism; even so, I did not expect to find so many layers of it throughout Paul Auster’s City of Glass. The novel’s self-referential nature raises some interesting and important questions about narration, particularly regarding how to classify the narrator’s position in relation to the text. The beginning of the novel appears to be written from a third person perspective, as suggested by the very first sentence: “It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not” (Auster 7). While there are often references to some sort of plural collective (“As for Quinn, there is little that need detain us […] We know, for example, that he was thirty-five years old” (Auster 7)), the narration style nevertheless has the feel of a third person perspective, someone omnisciently looking on at these events as a mere observer.

Yet the narration takes an entirely different course at the end of the novel when the story itself is brought into the content of the novel. For instance, the narrator states that “the story grows obscure” because “the information has run out, and the events that follow this last sentence will never be known” (Auster 200-1). Even more startling is the sudden switch to first person at the novel’s conclusion when the narrator says: “I returned home from my trip to Africa in February, just hours before a snowstorm began to fall on New York. I called my friend Auster that evening, and he urged me to come over to see him as soon as I could” (Auster 201). Here we have a striking paradox: how can this narrator speak with his friend Auster if Auster is also the name of the person writing this novel? Is this switch from third person to first person really a switch, or has this unknown narrator been narrating in the first person all along?

In a way, it seems as though the author is poking fun at the reader’s instinctual expectations that a first person narrator automatically equates to the author himself in the absence of a clearly identified narrating protagonist. This paradox seems like a continuation of the name-play the author partakes in throughout the novel, from the Quinn/Max Work/William Wilson trio to the father/son duo of Peter Stillman. Perhaps the author also endeavors to break down the meaning of names, suggesting that names are not as significant as we believe them to be if the same name can refer to several different people. The Paul Auster that is a character in the novel may have absolutely no relation to the Paul Auster who wrote City of Glass; rather, they simply have the same name. Not only does language lose meaning here, but the position of the narrator becomes so tangled and muddled that it almost seems arbitrary.

Thoughts on City of Glass? Have you ever read a book with a similar paradox of names or layering of narration? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

THE CRYING OF LOT 49 by Thomas Pynchon | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

While reading The Crying of Lot 49 I was often a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of times Thomas Pynchon plays with language. From names of people (“Mucho” Maas, Dr. Hilarius, Mike Fallopian, etc.) to the names of cities (San Narcisco), acronyms, and Trystero itself, it seems as though hardly any words have just one meaning. Considering this novel’s haphazard, rambling writing style and its blurry timeline and structure, it is not surprising that Pynchon would also want to apply this same level of complexity and depth to the language he uses. As the paranoia sets in and the characters begin to break down, the meanings of the words used seems to multiply. This plethora of meanings did not quite hit me until reading the very last line of the novel: “Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49” (Pynchon 152). All along I wondered what the title was about: was someone crying? Where was lot 49? Did it have something to do with the used car lot that Mucho worked at? Yet the answer was somehow much simpler: it refers to the auction of a book or set of stamps. In this way, playing with words is a way of instilling a sort of “linguistic paranoia” in the reader, causing them to question the meaning of language the more they read and thereby mimicking the paranoia experienced by the characters.

It has occurred to me that sometimes authors may write books that are deliberately confusing, how sometimes a confused reader is precisely the result that the writer was hoping for. I think this deliberate confusion is exactly what Thomas Pynchon was trying to achieve in The Crying of Lot 49. I have many questions that were left unanswered (or perhaps the answer is there and I just was not able to see it): What ended up happening to Pierce’s will? Why did Pierce name Oedipa in his will to the first place? What kind of relationship did Oedipa and Pierce used to have? Why did Mucho suddenly lose his sense of identity towards the end of the novel? What is Trystero exactly? What is the difference between Trystero and Tristero? I feel as though Pynchon purposefully wrote this book to be confusing and muddled; otherwise, why bother to write something that readers could not firmly grasp? What point would he be making?

Thoughts on The Crying of Lot 49? Have you ever read a book a similar sense of “linguistic paranoia”? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

KILLING LINCOLN by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard | Review

10587120The anchor of The O’Reilly Factor recounts one of the most dramatic stories in American history—how one gunshot changed the country forever. In the spring of 1865, the bloody saga of America’s Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of increasingly harrowing battles. President Abraham Lincoln’s generous terms for Robert E. Lee’s surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln’s dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. But one man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased.”

{Goodreads.com}

Where/when did I read this book?: I listened to this audio book in the car on my hour commute to work this past winter break.

Why did I read this book?: My friend recently listened to this audio book and wanted to know my thoughts on it.

+ Writing style. I’m actually a bit conflicted about the writing style, but I figured I would highlight the positive aspects of it before explaining why it didn’t 100 percent work for me. Before the actual meat of this book begins, Bill O’Reilly explains that it is written like a thriller. What does a non-fiction book written in the style of a thriller look like? Present tense. Detailed imagery. Short chapters. Intense suspense. In this way, Killing Lincoln is unlike any non-fiction history book I’ve read before. The advantage of such an interesting writing style for this blended genre is that it makes for an incredibly engaging, gripping read. This is definitely a great book to pick up if you want to get more into history or non-fiction in general.

+ Details. I thought I was fairly familiar with the events surrounding the assassination of Lincoln before reading this book, but afterwards I realized that I had only known the basic details of what actually happened. I really enjoyed learning about all the details leading up to the assassination as well as the chaos of the aftermath. I also appreciate the attention given to the women involved in this event (although some of the descriptions of women were slightly problematic…). It’s interesting to read about the simultaneous timelines of Lincoln, Grant, Booth, and other people involved rather than just focusing on one perspective the entire time.

– Writing style. Unfortunately the writing style was a bit of a double-edged sword for me. While writing this book as if it were a novel certainly makes it more engaging and entertaining, I feel as though it also makes the information less credible. How can O’Reilly possibly know all of these tiny details about time, the weather, and people’s innermost thoughts? Reality isn’t a thriller novel, but O’Reilly certainly makes it appear otherwise. At times the sheer amount of rather irrelevant details was almost distracting. I don’t need to know that someone was “backlit by the sun” as they rode into battle–just tell me how Lincoln was assassinated!

– Pacing. Another frustrating aspect of this book was its rather slow pace. While providing several different perspectives on events makes the book more suspenseful, after a while it also makes the pacing feel incredibly slow. It doesn’t help that the first hour and a half or so of this audio book was just about Civil War battles with very little mention of Lincoln. Although this is useful background information to have, it definitely could have been summarized more briefly so that the actual plot of the book–the events leading up to Lincoln’s assassination–could finally start.

Killing Lincoln is certainly an interesting reading experience: I don’t think I’ve ever been so intrigued by the writing style of a nonfiction history book before. With that said, I have to say that I do prefer the more traditional ways of writing about these events. However, I would be interested in reading another of Bill O’Reilly’s books to see if this “thriller” style of writing history works better in the context of a different historical event.

What are your thoughts on Killing Lincoln? Which Bill O’Reilly book would you recommend that I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

FIRST FAMILY by Joseph J. Ellis | Review

“The Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of “Founding Brothers” and “His Excellency “brings America’s preeminent first couple to life in a moving and illuminating narrative that sweeps through the American Revolution and the republic’s tenuous early years. John and Abigail Adams left an indelible and remarkably preserved portrait of their lives together in their personal correspondence: both Adamses were prolific letter writers (although John conceded that Abigail was clearly the more gifted of the two), and over the years they exchanged more than twelve hundred letters. Joseph J. Ellis distills this unprecedented and unsurpassed record to give us an account both intimate and panoramic; part biography, part political history, and part love story.”

{Goodreads.com} 

When/where did I read this book? I listened to the audio book version of this book while commuting to work an hour each way. Since the audiobook is about eleven hours long, it took me about a week.

Why did I read this book? I’ve always been interested in Abigail Adams, but it can be tricky to find whole books written about women in history like that. When I saw that Ellis–one of my favorite historians–had written a book about the Adams marriage, I knew that I had to read it!

+ Focuses on Abigail. This book almost feels as though it focuses more on Abigail than on John, perhaps because she tended to write longer, more emotional letters whereas his were often just quick notes. Whatever the reason, I really liked the focus on Abigail!

+ Presents a Founding Father as a flawed person. I completely would have guessed that this book was written by a woman if I hadn’t known who the author was ahead before reading. It seems quiet biased against John, pointing out all the ways he prioritized fame, status, and political prestige over his duties as a husband and father. For instance, he went on and on about politics in a series of letters at one point, completely neglecting to ask how Abigail was doing as she gave birth to a dead child while he was away. I love how this book helps deconstruct our vision of the Founding Fathers as these heroic, flawless, moral gods that could do no wrong.

+ Spotlight on a marriage. At its core, this book revolves around the marriage between John and Abigail. Not many books focus on historical marriages, especially in the balanced, nuanced, thoughtful way that Ellis does in First Family. Before reading this book I had no idea that John and Abigail spent so much time apart–it’s remarkable that they were able to hold their marriage together throughout their entire lives.

+ Quotes. I’m a sucker for a good meaningful quote, and this book is brimming with them. In particular, I love Abigail’s words: “When he is wounded, I bleed” and “A woman may forgive the man she loves an indiscretion, but never a neglect.” Nothing better than a good quote!

Questions of subjectivity and credibility. It’s no secret that the reach of historians only extends so far. While dates and names can often be surmised from old belongings, newspapers, and letters, there’s one aspect of the past that historians will never be able to fully uncover: people’s innermost thoughts and emotions. One may point to a diary entry or personal letter written to a loved one as evidence of this inner dialogue, yet even those kinds of documents cannot always be trusted as being completely accurate. Ellis even describes this problem in First Family, pointing out the performance aspect of the letters Abigail and John wrote back and forth to each other while John was overseas on diplomatic duties. Apparently John insisted that Abigail make a copy of all of the letters she sent him in order to keep a record for posterity. John did the same–he was acutely aware that they were part of an important moment in American history that would be looked back on for years to come.

With this in mind, I found it a bit hypocritical that Ellis clearly relied on such subjective, posing documents in order to create such a detailed account of this marriage. I suppose that an aspect of history is making educated guesses, and so long as they are recognized as such up front I’m okay with it. However, at times it was difficult to distinguish hard fact from Ellis’ subjective best guesses. A clearer distinction between the two would have made this an even more powerful, striking read.

Joseph J. Ellis has a way of making frequently idealized historical figures feel so human, and his portrayal of John and Abigail Adams here is no exception. I would highly recommend this book (and the audio book version!) to anyone looking to learn more about Abigail Adams and her marriage with John. Without her, I would argue that John would never have become the successful man he was.

What are your thoughts on First Family? Have any recommendations for other books about Abigail Adams? Let me know in the comments section below!34

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

Thoughts on a Semester of Reading Roth

Everyone at my college is required to take a senior seminar in their major in order to graduate, and mine happened to be a class solely dedicated to reading the texts of Philip Roth. My professor decided to focus on Roth in light of the author unfortunately passing away in May of 2018. We were uniquely positioned, my professor impressed upon us, with the opportunity to look at the whole of an author’s bibliography before the publication of a definitive biography on Roth’s entire life. This sort of limbo period of waiting would allow us to come to our own conclusions about Roth’s bibliography before many critics of other writers did. Of course, there was no way we could possibly get around to reading and discussing all of Roth’s texts in a single semester; rather, my professor selected about a dozen for us to focus on.

It became clear from the very first class that our professor was incredibly enthusiastic and excited about the prospect of such a seminar. The rest of us, however, were not entirely convinced. We were supposed to spend an entire semester reading Roth’s thoughts on Jewish American identity in the latter half of the twentieth century, adultery, breasts, and penises?! (if you’ve read his infamous novel Portnoy’s Complaint, then you surely know what I mean by those last two points.) My classmates and I made a not-so-silent conclusion all on our own: we were going to wholeheartedly dislike this senior seminar.

Our hypothesis seemed to hold strong for a solid few weeks. We criticized how the few women characters were portrayed as mere one-dimensional lovers or mothers in Goodbye Columbus (1959), denounced his blatant, outrageous sexism in Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), and balked at his near sexual fantasy about a fictionalized version of Anne Frank in The Ghost Writer (1979). For a second I thought about simply not finishing The Counterlife (1986) because it saddened me to read about so much flagrant adultery with absolutely no regard for how it impacted wives or families–until we were introduced to the character of Maria. Maria is a wife and mother who chooses to have an affair with the narrator of The Counterlife, a woman who is unexpectedly portrayed as intelligent, independent, and capable of railing against an uneven power dynamic in their affair. She is calm, composed, and the complete opposite of Portnoy’s “Monkey.”

My fellow classmates and I didn’t know what to do with this sudden, uncharacteristically non-sexist portrayal of women from Roth. Was it intentional, a sign of Roth’s own personal growth and maturity? Or was it an outlier, one that we would never see again as we continued on our Rothian journey? Perplexed, we felt ourselves shift gears a bit as we read more and more of Roth’s work.

To my great astonishment, I found that I actually enjoyed myself. While the women characters in Roth’s novels were not always justly portrayed–and we were sure to bring these instances up at every open opportunity–he also wrote several women who we couldn’t help but applaud. There was Drenka in Sabbath’s Theater (1995), Faunia in The Human Stain (2000), Philip’s mother in The Plot Against America (2004)… it was almost as though Roth had just come to the realization that women characters could be written about with just as much complexity and depth as men. Although I would never go so far as to laud Roth for his impeccable portrayal of fictional women. I did become much more willing to engage in dialogue about these characters that did not solely involve my classmates and I frustratedly ranting about how it’s all just breasts and penises in Roth’s eyes.

Roth’s sexist struggles aside, I also found myself enjoying his work from the perspective of narrative structure. Reading so many Roth novels in chronological order helped me see the remarkable strides he made in terms of experimenting with how stories can be told. The conflicting, layered levels of The Counterlife and the alternative version of history depicted in The Plot Against America are far, far departures from the straightforward monologue that is Portnoy’s Complaint. I couldn’t help but admire his impressive attention to detail. One of my classmates researched the specific stamps mentioned in The Plot Against America and lo and behold, Roth’s descriptions perfectly align with the images found. There’s something to be said for a writer that pours this much thought, energy, time, research, and attention into his work, and I was captivated by Roth’s seemingly never-ending ability to do just that.

So where does this leave Roth and I? I must admit that I stand corrected, at least to an extent: I handed in my final senior seminar paper with a greater appreciation for Roth’s works than I ever thought possible months ago. Does he have significant faults as a writer? Absolutely. Yet when read chronologically, one can see that he tried to remedy these flaws over time. And isn’t that the most any of us can ask?

What are your thoughts on Philip Roth and his writing? Have you ever read an author’s works chronologically? Has a class ever changed your perception of a writer? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

MEN WITHOUT WOMEN by Haruki Murakami | Review

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.

{Goodreads.com} 

When did I read this book?: In one sitting on New Year’s Eve! So nice to end the reading year on such a high note.

Where did I read this book?: In a cozy bed–the most comfy reading location there is!

Why did I read this book?: A few of my friends and I always choose a book to read during breaks between semesters and this was our choice for our winter weeks off.

The main strengths of this short story collection can be summed up in three parts: the subject matter, Murakami’s writing style, and how he writes about the subject matter.

+ Subject matter. The title of the story collection implies a very intriguing topic in itself: What about men without women? Is this an advantage? A disadvantage? What struck me as ingenious about these stories is that none of the men are truly without women, for there are a plethora of women characters; rather, these men must go without the woman they truly desire to be with. Some are widowers, some were recently divorced, some cheat on their wives, and some discover that their wives have been cheating on them. These stories do not exude the feeling of celebration; instead, they read as a lament.

+ Writing. Since this collection was my introduction to Murakami, I had no idea what to expect from his writing style–particularly since I would be reading a translation from the original Japanese. I must admit that I’m a sucker for any writing style that for some reason clicks with me–it can completely alter my thoughts on a text–and this collection is no exception. From the first page I was captivated by the simple elegance of Murakami’s writing: not too flowery, not too choppy, not too languid, not too hurried. Personally, I feel as though writing style becomes even more important in short story collections. Apart from overarching themes or topics, the writing style is often the common thread that ties a collection together into a cohesive unit. Here Murakami strikes the perfect balance between changing his style slightly to fit the tone of each story while still maintaining the simplicity and elegance characteristic of his narrative voice.

How he writes about the subject matter. I was a bit hesitant to read this particular collection due to the nature of the subject matter. It’s fairly easy for discussions of failed or past relationships to get pretty ugly (as a semester of reading novels by Philip Roth has shown me), and reading those kinds of texts is never a good time. Reading about adultery always really bothers me, especially when it’s written about in a nonchalant way, as though the person having an affair has every right to do so. However, Murakami writes about this difficult subject matter with tact and emotion, always making the reader feel the weight and gravity of the situation. As a woman reading these stories I did not feel offended; in a strange, unexpected way, I almost felt understood.

The only major weakness of this collection that stuck out to me was the confusing nature of the story “Samsa in Love.” It seems as though another life form has entered the body of a young man for the first time, but it is unclear as to how or why this occurs. I’m sure this lack of clarity is the entire point of the story; however, it’s quite jarring to read after several stories that are fairly straightforward and clear. A bit more solidity from this story would have made it a more powerful, poignant read.

I honestly enjoyed Men Without Women a lot more than I expected to. This was my first book by Murakami, but it certainly won’t be my last!

What are your thoughts on Men Without Women? have any recommendations for what Murakami book I should read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

WHEN THE CURTAIN FALLS by Carrie Hope Fletcher | Review

Welcome to my first book review in MONTHS. I’ve decided to switch up the way I write my reviews, to let me know if you like this new format! 

In 1952 two young lovers meet, in secret, at the beautiful Southern C ross theatre in the very heart of London’s West End. Their relationship is made up of clandestine meetings and stolen moments because there is someone who will make them suffer if he discovers she is no longer ‘his’. But life in the theatre doesn’t always go according to plan and tragedy and heartache are waiting in the wings for all the players . . .

Almost seventy years later, a new production of When the Curtain Falls arrives at the theatre, bringing with it Oscar Bright and Olive Green and their budding romance. Very soon, though, strange things begin to happen and they learn about the ghost that’s haunted the theatre since 1952, a ghost who can only be seen on one night of the year. Except the ghost is appearing more often and seems hell bent on sabotaging Oscar and Olive. The young couple realise they need to right that wrong from years gone by, but can they save themselves before history repeats itself and tragedy strikes once more?

{Goodreads.com}

When did I read this book?: All in one day on December 13th. (This seems to be a trend for me with Carrie’s books…)

Where did I read this book?: In the library at Wheaton. It was towards the end of finals week but I was done with work and wasn’t leaving campus until that night. I didn’t want to just sit in my room alone all day, so I went to the library with my friends who were still working on finals and read while they typed away on their essays. Definitely felt strange being in a college library and reading something purely for fun! 

Why did I read this book?: A dear friend gave me this book for my birthday (the same friend with whom I saw Carrie perform live in London while abroad!) and I couldn’t wait to read it. Plus, her books are perfect for reading all in one huge chunk.

Pros: 

  • Although the romance was a little over-the-top for me at times, there were also moments where it felt incredibly real, particularly regarding how muddy and confusing dating can get. There was a nice balance between a classic “star-crossed lovers” type romance in the past plot line and a more nuanced, complicated, bittersweet romance in the present plot line.
  • Speaking of plot lines, I really enjoyed the intertwining stories of the old case and the new cast of the play that the novel revolves around. Discovering the parallels between them was really fun, and learning the details of the full back story made what was happening in the present plot line a lot more meaningful. I think this was a great way to add depth and intrigue to this novel’s main premise.
  • Perhaps my favorite thing about this novel is how real Olive’s emotions feel. I’m not usually one to cry while reading–watching movies is an entirely different story–but I actually found myself tearing up a few times while reading this novel. Carrie captures what it feels like to be let down time and time again by someone you thought cared about you. While it was immensely sad to read during certain scenes, it was also surprisingly reassuring; in a way, it’s nice to know that other people have felt the same way at some point in their lives.
  • Last but not least, I really loved how you could just feel that Carrie was in her element while writing this novel. As a professional actress on the West End, Carrie is no stranger to cast dynamics backstage, what it’s like to live based on a stage schedule, or the pressure of constantly being scrutinized by the public eye. When the Curtain Falls just exudes Carrie to me, and for this among many reasons I’d say that it is her best novel yet.

Cons: 

  • While I adored the story of this novel, the writing style was not quite my cup of tea. Some phrases and sentences sounded a little off, as though they could have benefited from another round of editing.
  • As much as I enjoyed the realistic aspects of the romance, there were nevertheless still parts that were a bit too “insta-love”-ish for me. Yet perhaps this is a problem not so much with Carrie’s novel but more so with the genre itself and what I was in the mood to read at the time. There’s only so much realism that can go into the development of a fictional relationship in a few hundred pages, so I suppose some element of this kind of portrayal may always exist. (Thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think about this topic!)

Overall:

Again, I would absolutely argue that When the Curtain Falls is Carrie Hope Fletcher’s best novel to date. From ghosts and dark theatre lore to modern celebrityhood, romance, and life on stage, this novel encompasses topics and twists that I never saw coming. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick but emotional, exciting read–especially if you’re already a fan of Carrie Hope Fletcher in general!

What are your thoughts on this novel or any of Carrie Hope Fletcher’s other books? Do you think that some degree of “insta-love” is inherent in fictional romance? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY