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I just spent a week on the beach and so, of course, arrived in Mexico armed with seven books. The first one I pulled out was the one I’ve been recognizing in the hands of many subway riders over the last few months: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I’d been reluctant to read it for a while because I conflated it with Chris Beha’s What Ever Happened to Sophie Wilder? because of the semi-similar titles and the fact that, I think, they came out around the same time. When it clicked that they were different books, I purchased it just in time for the trip.
It was truly the ideal beach read. Lots of reviews of this book mention it being laugh-out-loud funny and although I never laughed out loud (do I ever? I only remember once, in To Kill a Mockingbird, at the line: “Pass the damn ham.”) I was entertained totally and completely throughout the entire book. It starts off with the dead-on, progressive-school report card (the grades one can achieve at the Galer School are Surpasses Excellence, Achieves Excellence, or Working Toward Excellence) for an eighth grader named Bee, the sort-of narrator of the novel. I say “sort-of narrator” because while some of the book is in Bee’s voice, most of it is not, and is instead a compilation of emails, letters, Artforum articles, intervention-transcriptions, and other kinds of written ephemera. I was a little worried for a while that the form was going to wind up being arbitrary, but even before Semple revealed why it wasn’t, I’d given up that fear to the fun of the book. There was a reason for all of it and although it was a little far-fetched, it worked well-enough to justify the invention. Read the rest of this entry »
You may notice that there was an uncharacteristically gap between my last post and this one. I was reading Americanah during most of that time–it is super long–but I was reading slowly. It’s been a busy few weeks!
At the beginning of that time, I went to an event put on by the Aspen Institute featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I saw her speak once before and I recommend it if you have the opportunity. She’s charming, hilarious and crazy-smart. There are a few talking points she hits in most of the interviews and articles that I’ve heard and read, such as not having been black until she moved to the United States, that I think are really important to contemplate.
When I read Adichie’s last novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, I was obsessed with it–the story, the structure, the writing, the surprises, the devastating plot turns, and creative “reveal” at the end. I was prepared to feel the same way about this novel, but I actually didn’t, in the end. I keep writing sentences about why and none of them are quite accurate. I wanted it to be more focused, but in many ways it was extremely focused. Perhaps it was that it was thematically focused but hit some of the same or similar points more times than I felt like it needed to–not harder, but too often or for too long. Read the rest of this entry »