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Hello friends! I feel kind of liberated by this new reading round-up style of blogging I’ve adopted, but I also feel like a jerk because the whole reason I started writing about the books I read was to become a better writer by forcing myself to dissect and understand other peoples’ writing. Have I given up on that? Writing gets me down, because it is hard and lonely and often thankless and every time I am faced with a blank page I just know I’ll never have another idea, but, I mean, I shouldn’t give up trying to improve. I should go back to using this blog to procrastinate from my own fiction writing, at the very least. But, for now, the round-up persists.
Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor
This book was wild. It was so structurally and thematically unusual that I never really got a handle on what was going on. If I’d been reading it on a Kindle instead of on paper in my hands, I don’t think I would have known at any given point if I was at the beginning, middle or end of the story. And–weirdly enough–this isn’t a bad thing! It was exhilarating to read a book that felt unlike any other.
About a translator, Cantor’s writing on translation was incredible. There was a particular part of the book that discussed why the translation task at hand was impossible, why what the writer had done in Italian was so specific to the language it was composed in that it could not be reproduced, that blew my mind. I’ve been thinking about those passages for two months and probably will continue to do so.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
I was really into Claire Vaye Watkins’s first book, a story collection called Battleborn. Part of the reason I liked that book better than Watkins’s novel is that I like short stories better; another part of the reason is that they were told, as I remember, in more straightforward language. I thought she was a beautiful, thoughtful writer then, and I still do, but in Gold Fame Citrus, I was often very conscious of the writing as something separate from the story. This is a way, I think, of saying it felt overwritten, like she used too many words to say what needed to be said. The writing of the small child in the book, though, was really interesting–the baby was unique and her own entity. It was easy to see why she was both compelling and horrifying to the adults in the book. The experimental forays–an illustrated field guide, a few chapters that existed entirely separately from the main characters and action–didn’t entirely win me over. Despite finding this book extremely intense, sad and harrowing, because it is speculative–so different from what I write that it feels like a vacation–I feel compelled to recommend it as beach reading. You may hate me for that.
Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta
Here was an experimental structure I really liked. This book made use of all kinds of narrative tools like reproduced (fictional) blog posts on characters’ directorial careers that I thought worked really well. Part of the reason they did not feel gimmicky is that they allowed for all kinds of irony to play out. The reader knew more about the character writing the blog post than the theoretical readers of that blog post, but also less, because the reader never got to see the films being referenced. The women writing those blog posts were alternately withholding information, inventing stories and telling the truth–shaping their own narratives–but weren’t privy to other characters’ thoughts about them. Some of the movies referenced in the book were real and others weren’t. Some of the ways the several separate narratives converged were predicable–in a good way–and others weren’t. As the novel began to near its end, I found myself completely unable to imagine who of the many possible characters Spiotta was going to let have the last word. I swear to you that I gasped out loud when I found out.