mini-review · stuff I read

Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

33844793Summary from Goodreads:
The first collection of short fiction from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides’s bestselling novels have shown that he is an astute observer of the crises of adolescence, sexual identity, self-discovery, family love, and what it means to be an American in our times. The stories in Fresh Complaint continue that tradition. Ranging from the reproductive antics of ‘Baster’ to the wry, moving account of a young traveler’s search for enlightenment in ‘Air Mail’ (selected by Annie Proulx for The Best American Short Stories, 1997), this collection presents characters in the midst of personal and national crises. We meet a failed poet who, envious of other people’s wealth during the real-estate bubble, becomes an embezzler; a clavichordist whose dreams of art collapse under the obligations of marriage and fatherhood; and, in ‘Bronze,’ a sexually confused college freshman whose encounter with a stranger on a train leads to a revelation about his past and his future. Narratively compelling, beautifully written, and packed with a density of ideas that belie their fluid grace, Fresh Complaint proves Eugenides to be a master of the short form as well as the long.

I loved Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex but Fresh Complaint was a pretty “eh, it’s fine” story collection. These stories were written over nearly 30 years and it shows. The best story in the collection is “Air Mail”, the worst is probably “Fresh Complaint”. In between, just a batch stories about aging, ego and sexual customs, middle aged guys trying to make it with women, and a clavichordist trying to outrun the debt collectors. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters or plots. Eugenides’s novels are better.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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mini-review · stuff I read

Browse: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings

32018793Summary from Goodreads:
Edited and introduced by the writer and critic Henry Hitchings, these fearless, passionate, inquiring essays by award-winning international writers celebrate one of our most essential, but endangered, institutions: the bookshop. From Denmark to Egypt, from the USA to China, Browse brings together some of the world’s leading authors to investigate bookshops both in general and in particular – the myriad pleasures, puzzles and possibilities they disclose.

The fifteen essays reflect their authors’ own inimitable style – romantic, elegant, bold, argumentative, poetic or whimsical – as they ask probing questions about the significance, the cultural and social (even political) function as well as the physical qualities of the institution, and examine our very personal relationship to it.

Contributors include:

Alaa Al Aswany (Egypt)
Stefano Benni (Italy)
Michael Dirda (USA)
Daniel Kehlmann (Germany)
Andrey Kurkov (Ukraine)
Yiyun Li (China)
Pankaj Mishra (India)
Dorthe Nors (Denmark)
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya)
Elif Shafak (Turkey)
Ian Sansom (UK)
Iain Sinclair (UK)
Ali Smith (UK)
Saša Stanišic (Germany/Bosnia)
Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia)

Browse is a collection of essays by writers musing on their love of bookshops, usually a bookshop in particular. Some are funny, some sweet, some moving, and a few are a bit eye-roll inducing. There’s a lot of “Dead Tree Books Rah Rah Bewail Changing Culture Popular Literature is The Devil” sentiment that got under my skin at times. I’m a little generous with this book because almost every writer celebrated something I love: the joy of an interrupted bookstore browse. I still enjoy that activity greatly, no matter my usual store or a new one.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.