Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

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Had I ever felt the fatality of autumn like my bones did now, while I watched the pensive currents of foot traffic?

What Jay McInerney’s book, Big Lights, Big City, did to describe the 80s, is what Stephanie Danler’s book, Sweetbitter, does for the present. They both describe a world which was never mine: life in a big city, “blown out on cocaine”, random encounters of a sexual nature, going to work hungover. And yet somehow, I keep reading; it’s like trying not to watch a train wreck, you can’t pull away.

Tess comes to New York, only knowing the friend of a friend from whom she rents a bedroom, and finds a job in a prestigious Manhatten restaurant. She aspires to become a  waitress, for long before that she must learn the intricacies of this career: the opening of a wine bottle without ever turning the label away from the guest; fulfilling the call from the kitchen to “Pick up!” and carry seven plates to a table effortlessly; how to live a life which is a far distance from the Nine-to-Five regular  who has a set routine during normal daylight hours.

Intertwined in her story are characters such as Simone and Jake, with both of whom she is entranced. Simone’s studio apartment, without a couch, but filled with books and a tub within which one could nap, seems the height of luxury. Jake is the elusive bartender who gives off such charisma she knows she must ignore him if only she could. He secretly leaves her gilded figs in a little basket one day, leans in for a kiss another, and doesn’t seem to notice her presence the rest of the time. Yet each time he calls, “Behind you!” as the servers do with one another, she freezes, afraid yet longing for him to brush against her.

It brings me a world I never knew, to be sure, and even now am glad I didn’t have. But it certainly is captivating in its own raw sort of way.

Any Interest in a Read-Along of Captivity by György Spiró?

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Behold this book, Captivity, winner of the Aegon Literary Award, translated from Hungarian, and coming in at a mere 864 pages, it is not for the “subway reader.”

In fact, that term was brought to my attention by Vishy on Facebook tonight, who highlighted this gorgeous article: Ten Giant Translated Novels That Make a Mockery of Subway Reading. Included in the list is Haruki Murakami’s 1984 (love!) and Roberto Bolano’s 2666 (not so much), but I am woefully unaware of Hungarian authors.

So I wondered, with all of Captivity‘s accolades, and they are not a few, if anyone else would be interested in picking it up with me. VishyFrances? Claire?  Dorian? Tom? Juliana? Anyone?

We could start in January, or whenever you like. Tell me what you think.

Participants (thus far):

Vishy

Jessica

cirtnecce

Dorian

luvviealex

TJ

The (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel Arrives at Six Finalists, and Deserves a Heartfelt Thank You from Me

 

In the collage above, you can see the six books the (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel has determined are the best of all thirteen from the long list. Each one of us has at least one favorite represented in the collection; all of us agree that these are the novels which should ultimately be considered for the prize.

The best part of reading the Man Booker Prize long list for the last five weeks has been reading with these ladies: FrancesNicoleRebecca,  and Teresa. The five of us have read, and tweeted, and sent each other messages since the long list was announced on July 27. In the process, these fellow bibliophiles have broadened my horizons immeasurably.

I have discovered that I am an emotional reader, a reader who focuses on the book more with her heart than her head. And in the last week or so, I have grown to see that I need not bring my agenda to what I read, that I should read with an open mind rather than taking things personally. What an author has written is not necessarily accusatory; there is the possibility (!) that an author is writing to reflect our times. Our culture. Our morality. When I look at a book through a narrow lens made up of only  my beliefs, I am not doing the author, or myself, justice. I have shut out another one of the very reasons I love to read, which is to grow intellectually.

So I thank them, each one, for hearing my point of view nonjudgmentally, for openly discussing their interpretations, for each one contributing to a short list of six with which I wholeheartedly concur.

Now we just have to decide which one of these six should be declared the best, a decision that the official judges will also have to determine, by October 25, 2016.

My Thoughts on the Man Booker Prize Long List for 2016, Not What You Might Expect

man-booker-2016I come to the Man Booker Prize this year much like I come to the Presidential election in November: is this the best there is from which I must choose? While neither candidate of either party satisfies the criteria I am looking for in a leader, neither is there a book in the long list which satisfies the criteria I hold for an outstanding novel. (Only one comes even close.)

What makes an outstanding novel? That’s like describing what makes a truly delicious meal; you can hardly pinpoint the separate elements, but they all combine to make a memorable, unique experience.

For me, a prizeworthy novel has story. It has story which not only wraps me up in its intrigue, it brushes the facets of my own life. It causes me to say, “Oh! I know what that is, or at least I’ve felt that before.”

It has characters that breathe. Characters that feel so real it’s as though they’ve joined me in my living room. We could sit and have a chat together over a cup of tea, and even if we disagree, we have spoken to one other. (If only you were there for the tête-à-tête’s Anna Karenina and I have had.)

It has writing so beautiful I could weep. It has passages that make me pause in my reading to record them in my reading journal; it has quotes that I want to remember long after the novel is finished.

When I consider Man Booker winners in the past, I marvel at their permanence in my life. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of The Day (1989), Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997), Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (2013), Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to The Deep North (2014) and my personal favorite of all time, a book so meaningful to me that I’ve never written about it, A. S. Byatt’s Possession (1990), are all novels I keep on my shelves. I will take them with me if ever I should move.

What would I take with me from this year’s Man Booker short list? My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is the only one. And as the (Wo)Man Shadow Jury decided to come up with our personal top six for today, and then our top six as a panel tomorrow, I would add the following: The Many by Wyl Menmuir, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, The North Water by Ian McGuire, His Bloody Project by Graeme Burnet.

Yes, I can count. That’s only five. But, there isn’t another book I would add. As for what I believe will be on the official short list? Most certainly it will include Paul Beatty’s The Sellouthis accusations disguised as humor are well received in today’s political climate.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s verdict from the (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Jury, for not everyone agrees with the point of view I have expressed just now. Until then, I leave you with an apt quote from Madeleine Thien’s book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing:

Though, in general, anything universally praised is usually preposterous rubbish.

Here’s To a Long Weekend!

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Is there anything better than a clean house and two days off to enjoy it? I am reveling in the anticipation of a full-blown Autumn: crisp days, crisp apples, crisp leaves, and pumpkins.

I have laid down my Man Booker long list for the weekend; why do those things get so onerous? Madeleine Thien’s book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, just kept getting longer and longer the more I read. The WoMan Booker Shadow Jury largely agreed with me, those on Twitter anyway, and so last night I picked up A Gentleman in Moscow.

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Have you read Amor Towles before? He is known for Rules of Civility, but A Gentleman in Moscow was sent to me to review before it’s release on September 6, and I LOVE IT! I woke up excited to read for the first time in months! So, today will be the birthday party of a dear friend of mine, and nothing but A Gentleman In Moscow in between, full review to come as soon as I finish.

Finally, I posted a picture of these on social media, but because they’re so darn cute, here they are again:

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These are two origami bookmarks from an eight year old girl in my class. She made them last week and gave them to me, and they are far more interesting than any I’ve made myself. These kids…how I love my job of teaching.

So, may your weekend be filled with joy, with good books and interesting things to hold your place. I hope you have tomorrow, Labor Day, off too.

A New Devotional From Tyndale

Over the course of my life I have used countless devotionals along with my Bible reading every morning. I have read from Dietrich Bonhoffer’s writing, Streams in The Desert, and the Book of Common Prayer. I have even read from the Jesus Calling book (which I find awfully presumptive for speaking with Christ’s voice).

But, since the 365 Pocket Morning Prayers arrived for review from Tyndale, my husband and I have been reading one each morning. We are finding it the perfect way to start our day, as each page contains a brief, but meaningful, prayer followed by an applicable Bible verse. One need read only a page, and yet there is enough spiritual sustenance for the entire day.

The cover is a lovely, light blue, leather-like texture; the size is small enough to slip into a purse or a backpack. Yet the font is easily read, and I like how the accompanying scripture verse is in italics at the bottom of each prayer.

This would be a wonderful addition to your devotional time, or if you don’t carry out such a practice, this would be a good place to start. After reading each page, I find myself sustained and encouraged to begin the new day, a blessing I would hope for you, too.

How to Travel Without Seeing: Diapatches from the New Latin America, the latest novel by Andres Neuman

Only yesterday, How To Travel Without Seeing: Dispatches from the New Latin America by Andres Neuman was published.

You may recognize the author’s name from this book,

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Traveler of the Century, which was the winner of the Alfaguara Prize, a prestigious prize in Spain.

But, How to Travel Without Seeing: Dispatches from the New Latin America is the first work of nonfiction by Andrés Neuman, called “a kaleidoscopic, fast-paced tour of life, literature, and politics in Latin America.” (Restless Books)

A blurb from the back:

“Lamenting not having more time to get to know each of the nineteen countries he visits after winning the prestigious Premio Alfaguara, Andres Neuman begins to suspect that world travel consists mostly of “not seeing.” But then he realizes that the fleeting nature of his trip provides him with a unique opportunity: touring and comparing every country of Latin America in a single stroke. Neuman writes on the move, generating a kinetic work that is at once puckish and poetic, aphoristic and brimming with curiosity. Even so-called non-places-airports, hotels, taxis- are turned into powerful symbols full of meaning. A dual Argentine-Spanish citizen, he inclusively explores cultural identity and nationality, immigration and globalization, history and language, and turbulent current events. Above all, Neuman investigates the artistic lifeblood of Latin America, tackling with gusto not only literary heavyweights such as Bolano, Vargas, Llosa, Lorca, and Galeano, but also an emerging generation of authors and filmmakers whose impact is now making ripples worldwide.

Eye-opening and charmingly offbeat, How to Travel Without Seeing: Dispatches from the New Latin America is essential reading for anyone interested in the past, present, and future of the Americas.”

It is a book I am anxious to read myself, after completing the Man Booker long list this autumn.

 

 

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (Man Booker long list)

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We must take things as they really are, and not as we wish them to be. -Rudolph Virchow

Roderick Macrae, from a small hovel in Culduie, Scotland, confessed to his bloody project right from the start of this novel. He willingly took his flaughter from the croft he was tending and applied it to the head of the village constable, Lachlan Mackenzie. (He also did away with Lachlan’s daughter, Flora, and son, Donald.) But, after reading all that Lachlan’s tricky, manipulative, self appointed authority had done to Roderick’s family, I don’t much blame him.

Tensions between Roderick and Lachlan began when Roderick slaughtered a sheep of Lachlan’s, whose leg had become dislocated from being mired in the mud even though Roderick was supposed to be tending the sheep. Roderick’s father was charged 35 shillings for the loss of this sheep, a fee he could ill afford to pay. But Lachlan did not leave his anger when Roderick agreed to work for him in recompense.

He found one way after another to torment Roderick’s family, from impregnating his sister to re-allocating a portion of their land to a neighbor. There was no injustice he seemed incapable of executing on the Macrae family specifically, or the villagers in general. In fact, during the trial, members of the village testified that Lachlan wielded his power in order to advance his own interests.

The novel takes us through each stage of the crime, from every point of view, and in so doing examines the machinations of the law against the poor and uneducated defendant. The whole novel, to me, highlights power that has been put to ill use, from 1869 in which the novel is set, to today. Are our only choices to fight against unjust power with what is considered a crime, or must we simply accept it?

It is masterfully written, certainly beating The Sellout, and A Work Like Any Other in my opinion. (At this point, I am in favor of My Name is Lucy Barton and The Many, first and second, although I have five more books to read before I complete the long list.)

Back to School in a few Minutes

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Here is the reading corner where I’ll begin with a focus on the irreverent and wonderful Roald Dahl.

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A present from my friend, Carol, which is a ruler in gold, and my Japanese pencil cup. Which I think might be a vase.

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A banner of felt apples my husband bought me, above a Welcome Back sign in sheet. My favorite? “See you in church!”

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A Starbucks card from my parents, fully loaded!, in my Midori Traveler’s Notebook page for the day. (More on that later, love this system! Now I’m off to greet the children. Woot woot!)