2015

25 books
  • Escape Plans

    Teri Vlassopoulos

    Image of Escape Plans

    The rotating point-of-view structure in fiction has started to become somewhat of a literary trope to me, often unnecessary and even distracting. But I love how Teri uses it with purpose here. (This is another book where I have some friendly bias to acknowledge, having known Teri and her writing for many years.) I can see a lot of her experience in this book, from its settings in Toronto, Montreal, and Greece to its road trip interlude via Niagara Falls, but her characters inhabit those terrains with their own motivations.

    The three narrators are a fragmented family: a separated couple and their sole child. The timeline is anchored around the father Niko’s death; he chronicles his last months while...more

  • The Sonnets

    Ted Berrigan

    Image of The Sonnets (Penguin Poets)

    This book plays with repetition and deconstruction with many instances of the same lines being rearranged or placed in different contexts throughout the poems. I liked the concept, even if the poems I liked the most were the outliers that seemed to resist the collage treatment.

    XVII

    Each tree stands alone in stillness

    After many years still nothing

    The wind’s wish is the tree’s demand

    The tree stands still

    The wind walks up and down

    Scanning the long selves of the shore

    Her aimlessness is the pulse of the tree

    It beats in tiny blots

    Its patternless pattern of excitement

    Letters         birds         beggars         books

    ...more
  • M Train

    Patti Smith

    Image of M Train

    “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” As M Train opens, Patti Smith enters a dream set in an isolated landscape, trying to get the attention of a cowpoke, “vaguely handsome, intensely laconic.” He ignores her and claims her dream as his own before declaring, “The writer is a conductor.” The book proceeds through eighteen “stations,” rather than chapters, though its linearity remains dreamlike, touching on themes of solitude, grief, and the creative process. The cowpoke recurs, as does Smith’s habit of visiting the café across the street from her apartment to drink black coffee and follow her meandering thoughts.

    I closed my notebook and sat in the café thinking about real time. Is it time uninterrupted? Only the present

    ...more
  • Nights of Indigo Blue

    Theresa Varela

    Image of Nights of Indigo Blue

    I’ve been friends with Theresa since before her first novel Covering the Sun With My Hand, so a bit of partiality will be inevitable here. There are some similarities between the two books — both are set in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where Theresa grew up — but this one is a little different as it’s the first in a series of mystery novels centered around the character Daisy Muñoz. I don’t read many mysteries these days, but like Theresa I obsessively read Agatha Christie novels and other series when I was younger, so it was fun and a little nostalgic to return to reading that style of fiction.

    A good mystery hinges largely on strong plotting, and Nights of Indigo Blue has...more

  • Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

    Carrie Brownstein

    Image of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir

    In the summer I read Kim Gordon’s memoir, Girl in a Band, and struggled to write anything about it. The book is broad and scattered, attempting to establish Gordon’s roots as an artist while also covering basically every side project she took on while she was the bassist for Sonic Youth for twenty years. She seems to write the least about her experiences in the band, even insisting she doesn’t primarily consider herself a musician. Her approach felt emotionally distant, though she acknowledges that people tend to see her that way; yet then she delves into raw, gossipy detail on the dissolution of her marriage with Thurston Moore after he was unable to end an affair with another woman....more

  • Infinite Home

    Kathleen Alcott

    Image of Infinite Home: A Novel

    I suppose we are reaching peak Brooklyn when in the course of two months, I’ve read two recent ensemble novels based in Brooklyn brownstones. (The other one I skipped writing about.) The characters of Infinite Home are a disparate group who barely interact with each other for years, yet in the course of this story come to bond into a familial unit. It’s a breeze to read, the chapters bouncing quickly around the different apartments of the building, and Alcott manages to fill in everyone’s back story while moving the greater narrative forward. But for the most part the characters remained fictional personas to me. They are all affectedly flawed with too many contrived and even out-of-character moments — as when (spoiler)...more

  • My Brilliant Friend

    Elena Ferrante

    Image of My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One

    After reading A Little Life, I floundered about, starting and not finishing several books, getting to the end of one only by skimming through the last twenty pages. Some of them are surely good ones, I just wasn’t in the mood for them. As September neared and Ferrante fever grew in anticipation of the publication of the fourth and final book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, I borrowed a copy of #1 and thankfully fell under its spell. I needed something to break the trauma hex I was under.

    I’m writing this as I’m about 80% through the second book, so it’s hard to really just write about this one. I can already see why people have said...more

  • A Little Life

    Hanya Yanagihara

    Image of A Little Life: A Novel

    It’s hard writing about this book as it’s very engrossing and entertaining in some ways, but so devastating in others. At the beginning it appears to be a story about a group of four guys leaving college and commencing their adult lives in New York City, a pretty standard coming-of-age scenario. The narrative focuses on each friend in turn, revealing their upbringings, their artistic and scholarly talents, and their adolescent dreams, but when it lands on Jude, the narrative twists. His troubled early life is outlined hazily and suggestions of serious trauma (of all varieties) are clear from the beginning. Yet it takes nearly the whole novel to unlock them all.

    Hanya Yanagihara has referred to this book as a...more

  • Hammer Head

    Nina MacLaughlin

    Image of Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter

    Reading this immediately after Frank Bruni’s memoir, in which he is so open about his life, Nina MacLaughlin seems very guarded in comparison. She has some funny and touching stories to tell about leaving a career as a journalist to become a carpenter, responding to a Craiglist posting almost on a lark, but while she attempts to make clever literary statements by referencing other texts and going into the etymologies of terms, something seems off about her approach. At one point she criticizes an interview with Gabriel García Márquez in which he described writing being the same as carpentry, “With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood.”

    García Márquez admits a few sentences later

    ...more
  • Born Round

    Frank Bruni

    Image of Born Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite

    Frank Bruni is best known for the five years he spent as restaurant critic for The New York Times, but while this memoir is very food-focused, only a sliver of it is about his tenure in that position and funny stories of his challenges in dining incognito. Though he opens with the first phone call he received about the job, he quickly contextualizes the significance for him in considering the position by relating another phone call with a colleague who asks him bluntly, “Are you sure that you’re willing to sacrifice the good shape you’ve gotten into?” After a lifelong struggle with overeating and discomfort with his body size, Bruni had only recently found some balance while working as the...more

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