Thursday, February 4, 2016

What I'm Reading

Rice Pudding Bear looks over my pile of [mostly] library books
1. Love Imagined: A Mixed Race Memoir, Sherry Quan Lee, 2014
A memoir about growing up in Scandinavian Minneapolis, the daughter of a Chinese American man and an African American/white mother who passes for white. 
Some interesting possibilities, but Lee's writing is so cumbersome, I kept editing it in my head.  
The book would be stronger if Lee'd followed Verlyn Klinkenborg's advice to write short sentences.

How 'bout if instead of, "How disassociated do we become from the beauty of who we are, based on myth?"
she'd written, "How does myth separate us from our beauty?"

VERDICT: Needs work. .

2. New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families, Colm Toibin, 2012
Deceptively cute title.
This reads as if it is [but nowhere says it is] a collection of previously published academic articles.
"If the heroine and the narrative itself are seeking completion in her marriage, then the journey there involves either the searching for figures outside the immediate family for support, of the breaking free from member of the family who seek to confine or dictate." 

VERDICT: Would shorter sentences help?

3. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015
I got the Large Print ed. from the library because there was a waiting list for the regular print, and my old eyes like it.

The fictional confession of a Communist Vietnamese mole who escapes the fall of Saigan and becomes a refugee in the USA,
it starts well:
  • "I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingy, I am also a man of two minds."
 Nice short sentences, Nguyen!
But the view from inside a man who is "able to see any issue from both sides" starts to feel featureless. 

I felt as if my head was inside a box, like this Japanese head furniture for private time with your electronics [links to article in the Economist]:

VERDICT: Not bad, but I skimmed the second half. Movie material?

4. Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last, Patience Bloom, 2014
Hated it.
Bloom edits romance novels for Harlequin, and I thought this might be an insider's view of the business, but no; she compares romance plots with her own love life. 
(Omg. Though I give it to her, she does have command of her sentences.) 

Finally, at forty-one, she finds true love.
Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing would approve of how she describes her happy married life,
"I love folding laundry when he brings it upstairs." 
 VERDICT: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

5. Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg, 2012
I already blogged about how VK is kind of pompous, but reading so much bad writing lately myself, I start to sympathize.
He teaches writing...imagine the manuscripts he's subjected to.

He could collaborate with Marie Kondo:
Please people! Fold your sentences and arrange them horizontally, by color.

Also, nostalgia is not your friend. 

6. I Remember Nothing, and Other Reflections, Nora Ephron, 2010 
This book wouldn't have been published in this era if Nora Ephron hadn't written the screenplays for When Harry Met Sally and Julie and Julia.
Not because it's bad––it's not––but because now you can read this pithy neurotic-but-knows-it self-reflection on a million blogs, for free.

I like Ephron's movies (except for You've Got Mail, which is the stupidest movie ever), and I liked these quick-reads. 
Of no importance, but a funny coincidence: I'd forgotten she had been married to Carl Bernstein, who I'd seen in person last year and portrayed in film two nights ago.
I was sad to see she this was her last book; she died in 2012, at seventy-one. 

VERDICT: Ideal for reading in the bathroom, where you don't want to take your electronics.

7. The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats & Ex-Countries, Jessa Crispin, 2015

I actually bought this book, new, the library line for it was so long, and I don't resent spending the money, which is saying something.
But I was a little disappointed that none of the essays were as good as the one that made me buy the book in the first place (thanks, Julia!):
Crispin's "St. Teresa and the Single Ladies" (NYT, 1-9-16):

I am not Catholic, and yet I find myself drawn to the women saints. There is something about them that I admire. Maybe it is simply the lengths to which they went to avoid marrying. When St. Catherine’s mother said her hair would surely attract a good suitor, she cut all of it off. When St. Lucia’s pursuer said she had lovely eyes, she cut them out and presented them to him.
What I really like about Crispin is that she writes about herself, like modern memoirists do, but uses her life and location as a take-off point to talk about other writers and other places, not as an end in themselves, like so many memoirists. 
What's missing: humor.
But I'll keep checking in sometimes at Crispin's blog Bookslut.

VERDICT: Worth reading. I'll lend you my copy.

8. All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found, Philip Connors, 2015
Connors wrote Fire Season about being a fire lookout in New Mexico. This is about what happened before: 
his brother committed suicide.  Also, 9/11.

As someone whose mother committed suicide, I'm wary about this sort of memoir––not sure why I even checked it out–– but he gets it right in sentences like this:
"I lurked in AA meetings in order to hear people talk honestly about terrible things."
Mr. Connors, you have got your socks in order.



Michael Leddy said...

"How does myth separate us from our beauty?" That's a perfect sentence. (Strong transitive verb, by the way.) I gave up on buying new non-fiction sight unseen because of the kind of prose you quoted.

I thought Marie Kondo wanted everyone to fold their stuff.

If you have the inclination, I'd like to read whatever you might have to say about You've Got Mail.

bink said...

I've been reading a lot of drab fiction lately--but nothing comprised of those dreadful on and on, run-on sentences of the sort that make you want to scream as if a monkey pulled your braids but it was really that nasty little snot Mich Walker who couldn't get sent to the principle's office fast enough to suit you, when you sat in the row behind Sally Mae in second grade at Our Lady of Good Lunch Catholic school.


Frex said...

MICHAEL: Thanks--I wish the author (or her editor--did she have an editor?)had untwisted her sentences.

I don't have much to say about You've Got Mail except,
How could main character fall in love with the man who destroys her independent bookstore?!?!?
And who lies to her about who he is while wooing her online?

BINK: I know what you were going for in writing that overlong sentence, but it's too good!

It's quite a trick to write truly garbled yet intriguing sentences. :)