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 Savage 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!
An interesting read. So interesting I dog-earred a page and couldn’t remember why the hell I had done so. Thankfully, the second dog-earred page I came to had notes and it was just over half the way through. That said, Auster’s New York Trilogy is a great read overall. The three short stories connect well thematically and continue with Auster’s usual themes of loss of identity, loss of sanity, and the questions of disguise.
Time plays a role as well and how our perception of an event can be skewed when we reflect on how much time was involved with it.
The idea of writer’s as ghosts, from the second story – aptly titled Ghosts – is wonderfully explored and explained.
The third story, The Locked Room, is my favourite of the three I think because it is direct and there was less work on my part as the reader to decipher what exactly was going on. There were more parts in this story that I could relate to as well, so that probably has something to do with it.
Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is beautiful. I have read many different reviews of this book some calling a masterpiece in subtle horror and others debunking that claim. All I can say is that, on the whole, this book is about the search for humanity. The idea of the human soul is explored and I love how Ishiguro relates the search for the soul directly to art. I’m not sure where – yes, I know I should probably research it – but I’ve heard that art in all its forms is the physical representation of the soul. This novel begs the questions, “What is the soul, and how can we prove its existence?” All the religious rhetoric and bullshit aside, the soul is simply the spark of life. Wherever this comes from I won’t hasten to guess and anyone who claims to know beyond a scientific explanation can do the long run off the short cliff, but I will say that Never Let Me Go examines the question(s) and takes up the conversation without making an ill-fated conclusion, because no conclusion is truly possible.
Ishiguro also captures emotion with precise perfection. I found myself feeling during the read. Those feelings were often mixed and like great art this book made me feel different things at the same time. It was an absolute beautiful bouquet of emotion.
Finally, this was one of those rare books that I didn’t want to end. Usually when a book is reaching its finale, things are wrapping up and the finish is welcome. When I approached the bottom of the penultimate page, I hope for another full one to follow. I was greeted with almost a quarter of a page and was grateful just for that.
Go and read this book. Now!
This collection of short stories is a slow build, but by the end I wanted more and more from each story. The shortest story, …Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, felt like it could have been the longest in that there was much more to explore, and I didn’t want it to end.
I felt that the overall theme of the collection was about loss, but to over explain I feel it was more like this: Nothing ends up like you thought it would but everything ends up like it should because that’s how it ended up. It is our ability to fill in the gaps between our expectations and reality – the one we create and the one created around us – that makes us who we are and determines our “happiness”, though happiness is fluid. In short, our happiness is determined by how much we fight accepting reality.
The book ends with one of the best descriptions of the fragility of life I have ever read. I won’t ruin it so you’ll just have to read!
This play was not what I expected but at the same time I can’t remember what I expected after reading it. It was far more explicit that what I would have expected and I enjoyed that because I feel it captures life, because life is explicit. I can’t remember what it was like in 1987 because I was seven but I assume this play was a bit risqué though not as much as I think it might have been.
McNally nails it overall but nails it right on its head near the midpoint and nestles inside the reader and audience member’s head with the dialogue and back and forth about “pardon my French”. Beauty job.
A side note: I watched the movie the next night and to say the least, it’s different. Some of what I read and pictured in the play holds up, but seeing as McNally also wrote the screenplay I wished he had keep more of the play to its form.
I want to see this produced on the stage!
April Preview: I’m going to finish The Savage Detectives and then read some other stuff. Not sure what yet.