Books I read this week: October and November catch up
Every year around this time I get behind on writing about the books I’m reading to the point that I just want to throw in the towel rather than catch up. So these are the books that I’ve read over the last two months with minimal commentary.
Don’t Point that Thing at Meby Kyril Bonfigliolli. I really wanted this to be like the Lucifer Box Novelsby Mark Gatiss. (Yes, that Mark Gatiss. Go read them, they’re amazing.) It was not. Entertaining, but not the madcap spy brilliance that I wanted it to be. That’s hardly it’s fault- it’s the story of an art heist and what happens afterward, and it’s solid for what it is, with some wry British humor.
I say, Charlie, really, what a filthy rotten idea; I mean, think of my wife.
“I never think of policemen’s wives, their beauty maddens me like wine.
The Miniaturistby Jessie Burton. I read this for book club, which I’m really glad about, because I was going back and forth on picking it up. It’s the story of a young woman who ends up in a marriage arranged by her mother and her future sister-in-law. Her new husband is rich but distracted, and her gives her a miniature model of their house as a wedding present. When she orders miniatures to fill the house, the pieces that come (and keep coming despite her instructions that they stop) are eerily prescient. Lots of dramatic things happen and secrets are revealed and it’s really quite good. It had its flaws (I would have liked more insight into the other people in the village) but I enjoyed it and it’s a good book for discussion.
When you have truly come to know a person, Nella-when you see beneath the sweeter gestures , the smiles-when you see the rage and the pitiful fear which each of us hide-then forgiveness if everything. We are in desperate need of it. And Marin is- not so forgiving.
A Visit from the Goon Squadby Jennifer Egan. I’ve been meaning to read this book for an incredibly long time. It’s gotten insanely good reviews and won all kinds of awards and there’s good reason. It’s the story of a group of friends over a number of years, and each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view. The writing is incredible and the characters are alive and tragic. One of the chapters is told in the form of a Powerpoint presentation, and you will either love it or loathe it, but I thought it was utterly masterful.
There’s a lot of swearing and a decent amount of sex (just a heads up to anyone sensitive to such), but it’s not gratuitous.
Letters to a Young Mormonby Adam S. Miller. This book is stunningly good. I want to send copies to all my friends. Each short chapter is an essay on a different subject- faith, repentance, sin, love, hunger, and they are insightful and excellent. Miller pulls in a lot of mindfulness philosophy into his writing, which really speaks to me. So much of this book is highlighted that it would almost be easier to pick something I didn’t highlight. I love hisÂ chapter on scriptures so much that I want to paint it on a giant canvas for my living room.
Get close to the scriptures. Do anything you can. God is in there. Moses told his people to put bits of scriptures in little boxes and, when praying, to tie one box to their arm and the other to their head. Strap the bible to your forehead. Wear the Book of Mormon on your sleeve. Sleep with your scriptures under your pillow. Tape Pharisees to you bathroom mirror. Underline everything. Pack your margins with notes. Read Paul out loud like poetry. Copy the Book of Mormon by hand. Read the bible backward one verse at a time. Tally their letters like numbers. Squeeze their verses like oranges. Know Isaiah by heart. Love Matthew like a brother. Sing the psalms as your prayers. Read them in Hebrew. Read them in Greek. Read them in Russian and Spanish and Japanese. Translate them all into English and back again.
His chapter on sex is fantastic, and what I want to read with my girls when the time comes to discuss such things.
Chastity is not a kind of perfection. You may have arrived in this world innocent, but chastity is something more. Chastity is not something you are born with and then break or lose, it is something that is made. It is something that must, with years of patient and compassionate effort, be cultivated and grown and gathered and sealed.
Wait to kiss and then kiss like you would like to kiss again tomorrow, not like you want to get all the kissing done, once and for all, today.
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davisby Lydia Davis is 749 pages of short story brilliance that took me 5 months to read. Some of the stories are 3 sentences long, some are pages, all are really quite something. Her sentences are brilliant.
She eats her potatoes as though she would make a revolution among them, as though they were the People.
Yet my confusion must be this: though her body is old, her capacity for betrayal is still young and fresh.
You learn about patience. You discover patience. Or you discover how patience extends up to a certain point and then it ends and impatience begins. Or rather, impatience was there all along, underneath a light, surface kind of patience , and at a certain point the light kind of patience wears away and all that’s left is impatience. Then the impatience grows.
Yes Pleaseby Amy Poehler. I love Amy Poehler. I think she is utterly fantastic. This is a great memoir, cleverly and honestly written. There’s quite a bit of swearing in it, which you should know going in. But there is also great insight and some excellent writing.
The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.
That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.
Your brain is not your friend when you need to apologize.
When I left SNL, I gave Seth a badge of courage, like Dorothy gives to the Cowardly Lion. The props department helped me make it. He kept it in his pocket during “Update” until he didn’t need it anymore. Now it sits on a box on his desk at Late Night.
I’ll admit, that last story made me tear up, it was so sweet.
Nanaby Delacorta is one of my favorite books ever, which I feel slightly guilty about since it’s a totally trashy French novel about a 40 something year old ex-driver for the mob and the 13 year old girl he falls in love with, and the havoc the two of them secretly wreak in her French village. Â I first read it in high school, and I typedÂ out the first couple chapters onto my computer because I wanted to own them. (It was a library book.)
It did not resemble a triumph of modern technology, but rather looked like a child’s toy left outside to rust. The depot seemed abandoned and a hobo jungle had taken root in a line of freight cars parked on a siding. A tin-roofed building slid slowly into view and the train wheels screeched to a stop, ungreased brakes squeaking. Serge Gorodish, the last passenger off the train, left the end car and walked the entire length of the platform toward the ugly cement station building.
Elements of Wit: Mastering the Art of Being Interestingby Benjamin Errett. I read this because I’m doing edits on my novel and I need to tap into a wittiness that isn’t flowing for me. This book didn’t necessarily help with that (I find that heavy doses of Dorothy Parker are best, really), but it’s an interesting book about how wit works and why.
I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point. Â – Cary Grant
So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Enduresby Maureen Corrigan is one of the best books I read all year. Her readings and insights of The Great Gatsby are cogent and articulate, and I just loved it.
The great theme running throughout all of Fitzgerald’s writing- and his life- is the nobility of the effort to keep one’s head above water despite the almost inevitable certainty of drowning.
That’s the whole burden of this novel- the loss of those illusions that give such color to the world so that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory.
The Great Gatsbyby F. Scott Fitzgerald. And of course I had to reread the book again with her insights in mind. It remains one of my top 3 books of all time.
Flora & UlyssesÂ by Kate DiCamillo. Z wanted this book and I had no idea what it was about. It is utterly adorable and I highly recommend it. It’s the story of a little girl who saves a squirrel from a vacuum cleaner, and the squirrel changes her life. That’s really all you need to know. It’s gorgeous.
The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventureby William Goldman. I also read this for book club, though I didn’t end up making it to the meeting, which is sad because I would have liked to have discussed it. It’s fun but not brilliantly amazing, but I think that’s because I’ve seen and know and love the movie, so none of it was a surprise. The movie is really the book come to life.
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Brideby Cary Elwes is what it looks like- Cary Elwes’ memoir about the making of The Princess Bride. He includes a ton of quotes from everyone involved in the movie, and it’s just a lovely book. There are some interesting things, like Wallace Shawn being terrified the whole time that he was going to get fired because he had been erroneously told that they really wanted Danny DeVito for the part. And all of the background about the epic sword fight between Wesley and Inigo is fascinating. Anyway, it’s a really good read.
Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiographyby Rob Lowe is really good. Like, surprisingly good. Some memoirs byÂ famous people read like someone else wrote them (and someone probably did) but this entire book is so chatty and casual and it really “sounds” like you think Rob Lowe would sound. Â This book covers his childhood, his work on The Outsiders,Â the debacle with Snow White at the Oscars, all the way through his time on The West Wing. He talks about his alcoholism and rehab, his wife and kids, and the worrisome side of growing up in a culture where adults let you do whatever you want. It’s really very good, and well written. He kept breaking the 13 year old in me’s brain talking about hanging out with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen as kids, making hand held movies.
Love Lifeby Rob Lowe is the follow up to Stories I Only Tell My Friends, and it’s not quite as good, but still quite good.
Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaksby Brad Dukes is utterly fascinating. Â It’s what it looks like- the “author” (compiler, I guess?) interviewed almost all the people involved with Twin Peaks and put together this account of everything that went down behind the scenes. There’s excellent stuff in here- gossip, yes (most people maintain that Agent Cooper and Audrey didn’t get together because Lara Flynn Boyle was dating Kyle MacLachlan and refused to allow it), but also lots of day to day stuff about how a tv show gets made. And how it spirals into disaster in a second season. If you’re a fan of Twin Peaks I HIGHLY recommend this one. (Sidenote- I would LOVE to see something like this done for Lost. )
The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (Twin Peaks)by Jennifer Lynch, on the other hand, I only recommend if you have a strong stomach. It’s very well written, but it’s heartbreaking and horrible. It’s the story of a sexually abused little girl- it does what it’s supposed to do while still fitting well into the Twin Peaks world.
Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger. I feel like Gail Carriger and I would be very good friends if we knew each other. She speaks my language, and I am the target market girl for her books. They are just perfection and I love them. In this one, Sephronia and her friends spend most of their time away from the dirigible assassin school (see why I love it??) in order to help Sidheag, granddaughter of the alpha werewolf of a pack in Scotland get back to her pack. It’s marvelous and I adore it beyond all reason.
If anyone saw Monique, a well-dressed woman of quality, dangling from the doorway, they apparently assumed everyone had difficulties in life and moved on.
I’m currently reading Bad Feminist: Essaysby Roxane Gay, and it is excellent. Really, so good. But I will write about it when I finish. Or, you know, a month or so later.
What are you reading?