Drawing inspiration from Nick Hornby’s column in The Believer I have taken up the cause to post my own musings about the books I have and will read during each of the coming months until I get a cease and desist or I get bored. So here goes!
Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart
So I just finished Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. Some would – I would be one of them – argue that I finished this book far to late after its 2010 publishing date. I tried reading it when the 2011 Trade Paperback Edition was published (my preferred format for books) but I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages. Why? I guess past Jeff wasn’t feeling it. Anyway, I picked it back up just before Christmas of last year and it took me over a month to finish. Quite a bit of time for me to read a novel I will admit and I think it was because I kept asking myself, “what’s the point?” The title is right up my alley. Super sad true love stories are what I could eat for breakfast if emotions were edible, but I can’t specifically put my finger on what held me back. The writing is great, the story is great, the only thing I can think is the setting. I love New York, but I had some problems with this alternative universe and I think that is actually a positive thing about the novel. The characters and the devolved culture that Shteyngart has created are epic in their ignorance and in the ignorance of their failings. The protagonist, Lenny Abramov, knows he – to be blunt – sucks, but he only sucks when juxtaposed to the society and culture he lives in. I know he is trying to find his place in the world of the novel, but why he loves Eunice Park is beyond my understanding, except for the first two words of the title, super and sad. Demographics are played perfectly here and Shteyngart nails it when he placed a 39 year-old, actual book loving Lenny in a world taken over by iterations of smartphones, social media and the superficiality and egoism associated with both. For this reason I would recommend the novel. I don’t know how to end this post so I’ll leave it at that.
And yup, that’s it for January. I’d say that’s super sad for a writer, so if you thought that then we are on the same page and no need to scold me in the comments section.
The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby
This is first collection of Hornby’s essays from The Believer (links above) about the books he purchased and the books he read each month. The collection starts in September of 2003 and follows to November 2004. It is the first in the series of books that gather his monthly columns from the magazine and I can say, without doubt, I will be purchasing and enjoying the others. My musings are as follows:
As a huge Hornby fan, this book is legend for me. It provided insight into what one of my favourite writers enjoys and what he loathes – in the case of the latter, at first specifically, then in general – about books, stories and writing in general.
I love his delineation between “readers’ writers” and “writers’ writers” on page 132 and I can say that I agree that I fit in with the former as both a writer and a reader. And so does he! Alright. I will definitely try to keep the “fanperson” stuff to a minimum, as well as the comparisons between the two of us because he is Nick Hornby and I am Jeff Kerr.
Hornby absolutely loves books. And poetry. And books about both.
His ideas about “traditional versus alternative” books, with reference to Richard Dawkins’ ideas about therapies in the same vein, are culturally relevant and speak to how groupthink and the love of literature can impact a novel.
Page 75: “But there comes a point in the writing process when a novelist – any novelist, even a great one – has to accept that what he is doing is keeping one end of the book away from the other, filling up pages, in the hope that these pages will move, provoke and entertain reader.” Brilliant.
Reading about how he feels himself a “passive reader” who generally believes the narrator of a story until an unneeded detail is brought into focus and it drags him from the page is something I can definitely relate to. Similar to this idea is his view of sequels or “heroes” who reappear in stories on page 105, an example being Winston Smith from Orwell’s 1984. If Orwell had written the fabricated 1987 as a sequel to 1984 then 1987 negates 1984 as a novel altogether because the events could be summed up in 1987 as a precursor to the more important events of that novel as 1987 would be the more important story. The argument also extends to when a character refers to something happening in their past as the “worst thing” that ever happened to them. Hornby stops and says, “(H)ang on a moment. The worst night of your life was three years ago? So what am I reading about now? The fourth-worst night of your life?” Well played Nick!
Finally, I think the “reason” I was meant to read this book at this time comes at the end in an excerpt from A Life In Letters by Anton Chekhov. While I disagree with his views on cats and “beggars”, this one excerpt felt as though it was written specifically to me. Yes, that is my narcissism ramming its way through your screen. My focus here though is not Chekhov’s beckoning but more the reflection of the reader on the works they read. I find that with everything I read and finish – stress on the latter – there is always a time and life specific reason I stayed the course with the work. When I say reason, I don’t mean something fatalistic, because that reason isn’t an unchanging, empirical piece of data. It changes and evolves with every read. Ten years from now Chekhov’s excerpt might mean nothing, or simply be something I remember relating to the decade previous. But finding meaning and reason behind the time I spend doing anything is always comforting, especially when it occurs at the same time that I am or have just enjoyed the experience. We have covered the narcissism portion of this piece and just now we covered the OCD part. Regardless, I think the ability to reflect and immediately recognize how something we have done impacts us is a sign we are in tune with our life in its entirety and that feels good. At least for this moment. Because as with every read and experience, the game and life are always changing and that might not be the case. Or maybe I just love me some Hornby because his writing allows me to easily relate to myself and my life. Or maybe nothing like that at all.
One last thing. On page 136, he ends a sentence with a preposition and that made me feel good too. Damnit! “Too” is an adverb!
March 2015 Preview:
Just started The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster and abandoned The Savages Detectives by Roberto Bolano before that, BUT Bolano is still on the table for March. Other than that? Check in next month and watch me get sued by The Believer!