Books read (all or part of) this week:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
Eat My Heart Out by Zoe Pilger
Young Skins: Stories by Colin Barrett
A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison
The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
This week was full-steam ahead on the Indies Introduce panel reads – and luckily, nothing was outright terrible. Hooray!
Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris: destined to do well in independent bookstores without the help of this program, just simply because it’s a comedic memoir about grammar and writing. Norris has been a copy editor at the New Yorker for 35 years – her book is a mix of that experience and her proclivity for proper grammar usage. I’ve been finding it a bit disjointed, if well-written – if that makes any sense. I want a little more New Yorker and a little less of the grammar lessons, which come off a bit dry and elitist. But she is very funny.
Eat My Heart Out by Zoe Pilger: I read way more of this than I both wanted to and expected myself to – nearly 200 pages. There is something compelling about the conniving, lying, oddball protagonist that I couldn’t stop reading. It’s a bit of a novel about nothing – this girl is just floating from pub to pub, crap job to crap job, toying with everyone she interacts with, not really getting anywhere. It stuck me as a bit of a Bret Easton Ellis/F. Scott Fitzgerald/something grittier & meaner mash-up. Every time I thought I’d had enough, a one-liner would cross the page that gave me pause or some scene would make me laugh out loud. “She reeked of a celebrity-endorsed perfume. She was square like a tank but had a smiley face.” I don’t know, I’m positive that the rest of the panel will vote it out, but I think I’ll finish it either way. (Here’s a great review of it from the UK’s Guardian.)
Young Skins by Colin Barrett: definitely the best book I’ve read yet for this panel and certainly the one most in my own wheelhouse. These short stories set in & around the small Irish town of Glanbeigh, County Mayo are just small glimpses, vignettes of the lives of some of the younger class of residents. A bit of grit clings to each story, each sentence – maybe a hint of an outburst, a drinking binge, a fight, a spat over a girl. Yet they didn’t strike me as overtly dark stories, even if they are a bit mournful at times or introspective, at the least. “I am young, and the young do not number many here, but it is fair to say we have the run of the place.” I thought they were just brilliant – infused with life and realism and characters that stick in your craw, even if you’re with them for only 20 pages. (This also just won the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award – a pretty prestigious literary award. This dude’s going places, trust me.)
A Small Indiscretion: another that I’ve read more of than I expected to – I was trying to hold myself to the 50 page limit, just for a cursory assessment, but I kept going past 100 yesterday morning on the couch. Annie Black, mother of three, has shattered her marriage based on the title’s “small indiscretion,” but it seems to be far more complex and has tendrils reaching 20 years into her past. Told in a confessional, story-telling style to her eldest son, who lies in a coma after a car crash – which is somehow related, but I’m not sure how yet. It’s good – the prose isn’t blowing me away, but I keep reading because I want to find out how all the pieces come together.
The Upstairs Wife by Rafia Zakaria: I’ve only read about 50 pages of this and while it’s not my normal cup of tea, it’s definitely has the heft of an “important” book – and one that I’m glad to have read what I’ve read of. It’s a mix of Zakaria’s personal (& family) memoir and the history of Pakistan – which is a fascinating history in and of itself, following Partition from India after the Brits relinquished control in 1947. Zakaria’s family relocated from Bombay to Karachi along with the other millions of India’s Muslims in the decade after Partition and the book is a mix of their story and the story of their new homeland – including the violent, conservative state it has become in recent years. I feel like I’d be a jerk if I put it down.
And… it’s Tony Doerr Week this week! Of course you’ve marked your calendars, but just as a quick reminder: this Wednesday the 30th at 7:30pm, Warwick’s in La Jolla. A riveting, fascinating discussion between The Author and The Catapult Operator. An evening that will change your life.