mini-review · stuff I read

Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader by Vivian Gornick

45892264Summary from Goodreads:
One of our most beloved writers reassess the electrifying works of literature that have shaped her life

I sometimes think I was born reading . . . I can’t remember the time when I didn’t have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me.

Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader is Vivian Gornick’s celebration of passionate reading, of returning again and again to the books that have shaped her at crucial points in her life. In nine essays that traverse literary criticism, memoir, and biography, one of our most celebrated critics writes about the importance of reading–and re-reading–as life progresses. Gornick finds herself in contradictory characters within D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, assesses womanhood in Colette’s The Vagabond and The Shackle, and considers the veracity of memory in Marguerite Duras’s The Lover. She revisits Great War novels by J. L. Carr and Pat Barker, uncovers the psychological complexity of Elizabeth Bowen’s prose, and soaks in Natalia Ginzburg, “a writer whose work has often made me love life more.” After adopting two cats, whose erratic behavior she finds vexing, she discovers Doris Lessing’s Particularly Cats.

Guided by Gornick’s trademark verve and insight, Unfinished Business is a masterful appreciation of literature’s power to illuminate our lives from a peerless writer and thinker who “still read[s] to feel the power of Life with a capital L.”

Unfinished Business is fine. I found it kind of hard to really get into the author’s narration of re-reading the specific books she chose to discuss. I have only read one of them – LJ Carr’s A Month in the Country – and others were very unfamiliar to me. It could be generational. Based on events Gornick talks about in her life she’s approximately my parents’ age. Books that I read and found to be touchstones that I return to are definitely not the same books that they found meaningful for them. I also didn’t get a sense, from this book, the breadth of Gornick’s taste in reading. The writing was quite nice, though, very readable.

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

stuff I read

A Delicate Aggression: Savagery and Survival in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop by David O. Dowling

41154985._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A vibrant history of the renowned and often controversial Iowa Writers’ Workshop and its celebrated alumni and faculty

As the world’s preeminent creative writing program, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop has produced an astonishing number of distinguished writers and poets since its establishment in 1936. Its alumni and faculty include twenty-eight Pulitzer Prize winners, six U.S. poet laureates, and numerous National Book Award winners. This volume follows the program from its rise to prominence in the early 1940s under director Paul Engle, who promoted the “workshop” method of classroom peer criticism.

Meant to simulate the rigors of editorial and critical scrutiny in the publishing industry, this educational style created an environment of both competition and community, cooperation and rivalry. Focusing on some of the exceptional authors who have participated in the program—such as Flannery O’Connor, Dylan Thomas, Kurt Vonnegut, Jane Smiley, Sandra Cisneros, T. C. Boyle, and Marilynne Robinson—David Dowling examines how the Iowa Writers’ Workshop has shaped professional authorship, publishing industries, and the course of American literature.

A Delicate Aggression is an interesting read, but a very slow one and one that I feel wasn’t terribly cohesive in the end. I appreciate that Dowling comes from outside the Workshop (I can throw a stone from my office – ok, fine, I would need a slingshot from the roof of my wing of the hospital – and hit Dey House across the river, so this is all very local to me) but the way he chose to spotlight particular individuals during different directors’ tenures didn’t give me a good picture of the Workshop over time, how it changed or stayed the same. My major takeaways were:

  • the Workshop method is WOW, abusive and resistant to experimentation or change
  • it was a hella boys club plus booze, which I think most of us already knew.

I think a reader would need to know about the history of the Workshop already to understand this book, so it isn’t a good entry point.

There were also some obvious people missing although I’m not sure if some authors declined to participate in the interviews or how many declined. Alexander Chee has written about his time at IWW a bit so should have been a good inclusion during the Conroy era and if we’re going to talk about IWW graduates who write successful popular novels with romantic elements, Elin Hilderbrand was suspiciously absent from this narrative, particularly when the last two chapters are about Anthony Swofford and Ayana Mathis.

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book by Courtney Maum

46065066Summary from Goodreads:
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about publishing but were too afraid to ask is right here in this funny, candid guide by acclaimed author Courtney Maum. Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book has over 150 contributors from all walks of the industry, including international bestselling authors Anthony Doerr, Roxane Gay, Garth Greenwell, Lisa Ko, R. O. Kwon, Rebecca Makkai, and Ottessa Moshfegh, alongside cult favorites Sarah Gerard, Melissa Febos, Mitchell S. Jackson, and Mira Jacob. Agents, film scouts, film producers, translators, disability and minority activists, and power agents and editors also weigh in, offering advice and sharing intimate anecdotes about even the most taboo topics in the industry. Their wisdom will help aspiring authors find a foothold in the publishing world and navigate the challenges of life before and after publication with sanity and grace.

Are MFA programs worth the time and money? How do people actually sit down and finish a novel? Did you get a good advance? What do you do when you feel envious of other writers? And why the heck aren’t your friends saying anything about your book? Covering questions ranging from the logistical to the existential (and everything in between), Before and After the Book Deal is the definitive guide for anyone who has ever wanted to know what it’s really like to be an author.

Before and After the Book Deal is a comprehensive explanation of the publishing process all the way from “so you want to be a writer” to “do I have to publish a second book”. The soup-to-nuts guide to publishing, if you will. Maum includes examples of personal experience and advice from many writers, editors, publicists, and agents to provide a larger scope of advice. This isn’t a book of Rules About Publishing You Must Follow To Get Published Or Else. Some pointers are pretty common-sense reminders, like, don’t be a jerk to other people then expect them to help you. In many instances Maum provides information about points where an author may need to make a decision – MFA or no MFA? Self-publish or traditional publisher? Get an agent or go it alone? To teach or not to teach? – without saying one choice is right or better than an other because it all depends on what an author wants from their career.

A good read, too, for anyone who just wants to know more about the process from a writer’s perspective. Plus, Maum is pretty funny.

Before and After the Book Deal is out today, January 7!

Dear FTC: Thanks to Catapult for the galley – I had requested the digital galley on Edelweiss and then a paper copy magically showed up at the store for me from Jen Kovitz. ❤

mini-review · stuff I read

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List by James Mustich

37588678._SX318_Summary from Goodreads:
Celebrate the pleasure of reading and the thrill of discovering new titles in an extraordinary book that’s as compulsively readable, entertaining, surprising, and enlightening as the 1,000-plus titles it recommends.

Covering fiction, poetry, science and science fiction, memoir, travel writing, biography, children’s books, history, and more, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die ranges across cultures and through time to offer an eclectic collection of works that each deserve to come with the recommendation, You have to read this. But it’s not a proscriptive list of the “great works”—rather, it’s a celebration of the glorious mosaic that is our literary heritage.

Flip it open to any page and be transfixed by a fresh take on a very favorite book. Or come across a title you always meant to read and never got around to. Or, like browsing in the best kind of bookshop, stumble on a completely unknown author and work, and feel that tingle of discovery. There are classics, of course, and unexpected treasures, too. Lists to help pick and choose, like Offbeat Escapes, or A Long Climb, but What a View. And its alphabetical arrangement by author assures that surprises await on almost every turn of the page, with Cormac McCarthy and The Road next to Robert McCloskey and Make Way for Ducklings, Alice Walker next to Izaac Walton.

There are nuts and bolts, too—best editions to read, other books by the author, “if you like this, you’ll like that” recommendations , and an interesting endnote of adaptations where appropriate. Add it all up, and in fact there are more than six thousand titles by nearly four thousand authors mentioned—a life-changing list for a lifetime of reading.

I picked up 1000 Books to Read Before You Die last year, intending to make a spreadsheet to get actual stats on the books included, but that didn’t happen. I actually started the Excel file and can’t find it. So, meh. By eye, the list is pretty wide-ranging, actually, with regards to genre and gender (though definitely needed more genre parity and the list does lean toward items written in English). A few surprises. It’ll definitely boost your TBR.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

stuff I read

The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon by Dana Schwartz, illustrated by Jason Adam Katzenstein

43884181._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Narrated by the voice of a once-in-a-generation Twitter account @GuyInYourMFA: a handbook for the wannabe literary elite and those who laugh at them—all illustrated by a New Yorker cartoonist.

Who better than that unjustifiably overconfident guy in your MFA to mansplain the most important (aka white male) writers of western literature? You can’t miss him: riding the L, writing furiously in his Moleskine notebook, or defying the wind by hand-rolling a cigarette outside a Williamsburg coffeeshop. He’s read Infinite Jest 9 1/2 times—have you?

From Shakespeare’s greatest mystery (how could a working-class man without access to an MFA program be so prolific?) to the true meaning of Kafkaesque (you know you’ve made it when you have an adjective named for you) to an appropriately minimalist dissertation on Raymond Carver that segues effortlessly into a devastating critique of a New Yorker rejection letter (”serious believability issues”), this guide is at once profound and practical.

Use a Venn diagram to test your knowledge of which Jonathan—Franzen, Lethem, or Safran Foer—hates Twitter and lives in Brooklyn. (Trick question: all 3!) Practice slyly responding to an invitation to discuss Bartleby the Scrivener with “I would prefer not to.” Sneer at chick-lit and drink Mojitos like Hemingway (not like middle-aged divorcées!). And as did Nabokov (originator of the emoticon), find the Pale Fire within.

So instead of politely nodding next time you encounter said person at a housewarming party in Brooklyn, you can hand them this book and tell them to roll up their sleeves and cigarettes, and get to writing the next great American novel.

Much parody, very satire. (Y’all, if you don’t understand what the @guyinmyMFA twitter account is about you won’t understand this book.)

If you’re looking for a funny, dry, keeps-nothing-precious snark-guide for a booklover, this is it. The illustrations are a hoot, too.

The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon is out today, November 5.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss during 24in48 in July.

mini-review · stuff I read

Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books by Nina Freudenberger and Sadie Stein, photographs by Shade Degges

44641671Summary from Goodreads:
A visual delight and an inspiration for every bibliophile with a growing home library, this dream-and-drool design book features some of the most jaw-dropping book collections of homeowners around the world.

Interior designer Nina Freudenberger, New Yorker writer Sadie Stein, and Architectural Digest photographer Shade Degges give readers a peek at the private libraries and bookshelves of passionate readers all over the world, including Larry McMurtry, Silvia Whitman of Shakespeare and Co., Gay and Nan Talese, and Emma Straub. Throughout, gorgeous photographs of rooms with rare collections, floor-to-ceiling shelves, and stacks upon stacks of books inspire readers to live better with their own collections.

Bibliostyle is a gorgeously assembled and edited book of drool-worthy pictures of personal libraries of artists, writers, and editors (the only photographs I did not like were the ones of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s multiple, overflowing cups/ashtrays of cigarette butts, yeccchhh, gag-inducing). Aspirational book collecting at its best since each of these collections are working collections: books that are read and shared rather than shelved solely as objects or decoration. Shout-out to all those books stacked everywhere other than shelves. Your owners are my people.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro by Christine Féret-Fleury

43263671Summary from Goodreads:
In the vein of Amelie and The Little Paris Bookshop, a modern fairytale about a French woman whose life is turned upside down when she meets a reclusive bookseller and his young daughter.

Juliette leads a perfectly ordinary life in Paris, working a slow office job, dating a string of not-quite-right men, and fighting off melancholy. The only bright spots in her day are her metro rides across the city and the stories she dreams up about the strangers reading books across from her: the old lady, the math student, the amateur ornithologist, the woman in love, the girl who always tears up at page 247.

One morning, avoiding the office for as long as she can, Juliette finds herself on a new block, in front of a rusty gate wedged open with a book. Unable to resist, Juliette walks through, into the bizarre and enchanting lives of Soliman and his young daughter, Zaide. Before she realizes entirely what is happening, Juliette agrees to become a passeur, Soliman’s name for the booksellers he hires to take stacks of used books out of his store and into the world, using their imagination and intuition to match books with readers. Suddenly, Juliette’s daydreaming becomes her reality, and when Soliman asks her to move in to their store to take care of Zaide while he goes away, she has to decide if she is ready to throw herself headfirst into this new life.

Big-hearted, funny, and gloriously zany, The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is a delayed coming-of-age story about a young woman who dares to change her life, and a celebration of the power of books to unite us all.

I was reading along, enjoying the plotless-finding-yourself-through-books storyline of The Girl Who Reads on the Métro AND THEN there was an Epilogue….with a POINT OF VIEW CHANGE. For some reason, totally unearned and unnecessary, the POV switched from a close third to a first person and UGH. I hates it Precious. Three stars.

(Also, this is translated from the French, but I can’t figure out the translator is so I guess it’s the author. The translation is fine.)

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

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

Austentatious: The Evolving World of Jane Austen Fans by Holly Luetkenhaus and Zoe Weinstein

cfacdfe7-e9a7-45da-a4ee-119630f54791Summary from Goodreads:
The amount of fan-generated content about Jane Austen and her novels has long surpassed the author’s original canon. Adaptations like Clueless, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen’s Fight Club, and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries have given Austen fans priceless opportunities to enjoy the classic texts anew, and continue to bring new and younger fans into the fold. Now, through online culture, the amount and type of fan-created works has exponentially multiplied in recent years. Fans write stories, create art, make videos, and craft memes, all in homage to one of the most celebrated authors of all time.

This book explores online fan spaces in search of “Janeites” all over the world to discover what fans are making, how fans are sharing their work, and why it matters that so many women and nonbinary individuals find a haven not only in Jane Austen, but also in Jane Austen fandom. In relatable chapters based on firsthand experience, the authors explore how Austen fandom has and continues to build communities around women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Whether Janeites are shrewdly picking up on the latent sexual tension between women in Emma or casting people of color in leading roles, Luetkenhaus and Weinstein argue that Austen fans are particularly adept at marrying fantasy and feminism.

New book about Jane Austen and fan culture? Where and when? *grin* This is very much my jam.

Austentatious is a fun yet academic examination of Austen fan culture, from fanon, online communities, and shipping to book-to-screen adaptations and queer representation. I really appreciated Chapter 2 about the adaptation of Austen’s Emma into the movie Clueless (total Betty!), which probably shows my age. There are good chapters near the end about Austen and LGBTQ+ themes/ships which provided some interesting perspectives about how the canon novels can be interpreted and how they are adapted via shipping. The book is a little short, with only nine chapters, so I would have liked a few more chapters poking into more crevices.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.