Sunday, August 9, 2015

I live in the library

Not really. I just read a lot. I have a lot of downtime while feeding this little hungry monster baby, and we don't have a TV... so here are some very brief reviews of about half the things I've read in the last three months. (The other half are junky crime novels not really worth reviewing.)

Dan Savage, The Kid - Love and sex columnist Dan Savage describes the process of two gay dads (himself and his partner Terry) going through with an open adoption in the late 1990s. Very funny, slightly dated (this was the late 1990s, after all). Their insecurities and worries about societal judgement do not come to pass. Every parent, regardless of gender or orientation, can relate to this one! Spoiler: Kid turns out just fine.

Claudia Rankine, Citizen - I read this about a year after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and as the Sandra Bland case erupted into the media, so this book really hit home. The hard-hitting ?poems? in this book by Pomona College professor, poet and playwright Rankine make it clear that racism isn't just the distant evil of lynchings and Klans, but the everyday lived experience of so many people. Racism by neglect, if you will. Racism by assumption or ignorance or simply failing to stand up for what's right. It's a real thing.

Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone - So there's this girl in the Ozarks. Acts as mum and dad and older sister to her two younger brothers. Her deadbeat meth-cooking dad goes missing one day so she goes off in midwinter to find him and drag him home lest they lose the house to the bail bondsman. As I was reading this I thought "this would make a great movie". And so it did.

Mark Kurlansky, The Food of a Younger Land - Once upon a time, during the Great Depression, the US government actually paid writers and artists to go out and create stuff. Can you imagine?! Among those projects was one to chronicle the nation's culinary habits and traditions.
Kurlansky digs up the old project archives from the Works Progress Administration, containing everything from squirrel stew recipes to New York luncheonette slang ("one on a pillow" is a hamburger, "bellywash" is soup, "Southern swine" is Virginia ham). I thought this one was going to be great, because I really liked Kurlansky's 'Cod', but it turned out to be largely lists and essays lifted from the WPA's archives - I was expecting more commentary. Still, a pretty fascinating peek at actual American cuisine before industrial food took over. Also useful if you need a good recipe for squirrel stew.

Dennis Lehane, Live By Night - I thought I should read a quintessential Boston writer. You might know Lehane from Mystic River and Shutter Island and Gone, Baby, Gone. Well, Live By Night is all of Lehane's strengths at once: Boston and Prohibition and dangerous women and gangster double-crossing. Great read. There's a sequel!

Wednesday Martin, Primates of Park Avenue - Perhaps you've heard of the 'wife bonus' - the lump sum doled out to the stay-at-home wives of high-powered Manhattan executive types based on that year's bonus. Perhaps you were outraged or you couldn't care less about the nontroversy (rich people do things that are totally removed from the everyday lives of ordinary people - wait, what?). This memoir is the source of that 'wife bonus' rumour. Too bad so much of it is factually inaccurate, because it's pretty entertaining - she should've just written it as fiction. Caveat (no spoilers): it should come with a @(#%&* trigger warning for new mums.

Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road - This is one of those depressing 1950s repressed-adults-caught-between-duty-and-ambition novels, in the illustrious tradition of Madame Bovary, Hedda Gabler, and Death of a Salesman. But it's good. But depressing. But good.

Phil Klay, Redeployment - Back in 2004 I took a creative writing class with Phil, who was a couple of years ahead of me at the time. Back then, he was already a pretty darn good fiction writer. Then after graduation he signed on with the Marines and went to Anbar as a public affairs officer and came back and got his MFA and became a great writer and this collection of short stories about modern warfare rather deservedly won the National Book Award last year (and what have you done with your life, GCA?).
My favourites in this collection were the longest ('Prayer in the Furnace') and shortest pieces ('OIF' - read in full here). Especially the latter. If you're a civilian, the military jargon cluttering this story is complete alphabet soup that you don't understand - but you don't have to understand anything until the last sentence when everything becomes crystal clear. That last sentence though. That last sentence.

Apparently it is Almost All White Almost All Male Reading Quarter 2015, I guess? I shall work on this.


  1. I live in the library, too! So much so that one day I walked in and the librarians were like, "Was your brother in here earlier today? Because we saw this kid and he looked just like you". Yes, it was my brother, who had just moved to the neighborhood.

    1. Too cute! I haven't lived here long enough for the librarians to recognise me quite yet, but I'm sure that day is coming.

  2. Oh those hours that you have to spend trying to satisfy the appetites of a mini-dictator. At least you've found something to do to productively fill them.