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Friday, November 9, 2012

Dear Abby: Page Turners

I have not written about what I have been reading in a while, and I've been asked for an update.

The truth is, I have been reading fewer books lately. My warped little brain decided to set up a home-schooling effort, if you will. I make the assignments, do the work, and give the grades. Kind of an awesome way to go to school.

My well-articulated goal has been to "get smarter." Because when I go to motivational speakers or listen to Suze Orman, I pay attention when they repeat ad nauseum to be specific and precise about your goals so as to ensure their successful achievement.

In my quest for "getting smarter," I have embarked upon the following:

  • I subscribed to The New Yorker (because I learned that all my smart friends read it).
  • I subscribed to Vanity Fair (because I learned that all my smart cousins read it).
  • I subscribed to the New York Times (because I learned that Katie Couric reads it and I still have an inexplicably passionate girl crush on her).
The Times subscription I opted for was just the Sunday paper and unlimited digital access. The New Yorker also only comes once a week, and Vanity Fair arrives once a month. Still, with the Sunday Times weighing more than both of my children combined and The New Yorker being a big fan of unlimited word counts and miniscule print, it's all I can do to keep up.

Plus, I've done some tweaking of my book learnin' too. In the days of old, I read mostly fiction, and it was usually of the contemporary variety. Which was all well and good, but when people started debating classic Russian fiction and I couldn't even spell "Dostoevsky," I just started feeling badly about myself.

So now my book-ing follows a pattern:

  • Non-fiction (of any variety, including my favorite...memoirs!);
  • Classic fiction; and then, finally,
  • Contemporary fiction.
My most recent tour through that trio included:

Don't Get Too Comfortable, by David Rakoff. I am ashamed to admit that I only heard of Rakoff after he died (in August of this year), a loss people lamented on Twitter. Rakoff is an essayist who I would compare to another David: David Sedaris. The Rakoff version is a slightly-watered down humorist of the Sedaris version. Where Sedaris is at his best when he is at his most outrageous, I found Rakoff to be at his best when he was at his most (subtly) caustic. This particular collection of essays takes a look at our general self-absorption and self-importance, but does so from entirely unexpected angles. For example, one essay is about joining a tour of a Brooklyn park hosted by a food forager, and another is about a juice fast Rakoff participates in for 30 days. The essays are spectacularly written, ingeniously nuanced, and very easy to tear through.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Yes, that Lolita. The book about the dude that falls in love with his teenaged step-daughter. Another admission: much of this book just grossed me out. I mean, I don't typically consider child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, remotely in the realm of "entertainment," "education," or "edification." But if there's a reason this book is a classic, I'd wager to say that it's because you somehow stomach the horror of the subject-matter thanks to the glory of the writing. I've never before felt like I was swimming through words, but somehow Vladimir (whose native tongue was Russian) manages to do submerge the reader in a current of (English) words that carries you along from chapter to chapter. I'd recommend this book if you can let literary value overtake actual storyline. Don't feel badly if you can't.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Yes, that Gone Girl. The one you've probably already read and the one I just finished because I'm always behind the curve. This book is pretty exceptional. It's divided into three sections, and I'd say the first section is by far the best. It is there that Flynn sets the stage: she describes Nick and Amy's early relationship, which led to their marriage, which led to them hating each other. She tells the story through Nick's first-person accounts and Amy's diary entries, and it's enthralling. Flynn's telling is so authentic and so not-cliche that you feel like you're reading a Dateline NBC Friday night special. Once the stage is set, Flynn lets loose. It is not a spoiler to tell you that Amy disappears, Nick is suspected of her murder, and every crime novel or Nancy Grace broadcast you've seen plays out in stereotypical format. Here, the book degenerates a tad, just because of, well, the stereotypes. But then it takes a turn back to the original as you start to see what really happened. That reality, while original, is also a bit in fantasy land. So while it's still a good, gripping read, it doesn't enjoy the same uncanny insights as the first section of the book. All told, though, this is a must read. If you aren't already on the bandwagon, jump on.

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  1. Loved Gone Girl! Crazy bithches really make for a great page turner!!!

  2. Just downloaded gone girl to the kindle!!!

  3. Loved every bit of Gone Girl until the very end, which I found to be a HUGE let down. I found it almost trite compared to the rest of the book. But, in my opinion, Amy is one of the best characters created in recent fly-off-the-shelf fiction. Currently trudging through book one of Game of Thrones, and I really don't know if I can do it.

  4. What about Fifty Shades of Grey? OMG I read that and was like Fifty Shades of Red!