Stuff I’ve Been Reading While I Disappeared from the Glittery World of the Intarwebz

It’s definitely an improvement: I’m guilty about abandoning this blog for fewer hours in a day. The usual excuses: Work’s been crazier than ever, I like sleeping, I like reading, I am lazy, blah and blah. Still, though, I owe it to my O.C. tendencies to kick-start this blog with a moratorium of the books I shouldn’t ignore. So. For posterity’s sake, and in the glorious spirit of lazy book-talk, here’s some of what I’ve been reading:


With The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, I was, not strangely, a little late to the party—the blogosphere was all a-flutter who wants. But it took a while for me to develop this current inclination for science-y books, especially science-y books that concern people—real, complex people. And this one’s one of the best, even one of my favorite books.

I mean, a book that has you keening in outrage every couple of pages or so—that’s got to be a favorite, right? A book that makes you wish you could go back in time and change opinions, even social structures. Or, at least, slap some sense—or a modicum of decency—into the people in this book. Oh, some are pure evil, yes—but, sadly, most are just working within a given, with no reason for them to be incite change, or even think about whether something’s wrong with the status quo.

Again, impotent outrage. The most annoying thing, too, is knowing that however grr I am reading all this now, I might not have batted an eye years and years and years ago, if I were there. But that’s all, still, the self-righteous side of me.

* * *

From the introduction to The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle: The story of Holmes and Watson is one of developing closeness between two men. “This has led to some interpretations of the stories as portraying a homosexual relationship. But these overlook the fact that closeness and love, in a non-sexual form, can demonstrably exist between two men.” And so, just so we’re clear: Yes, I come here for the bromance.

In Memoirs, our Holmes is jarringly fallible—a sharp contrast to the previous stories I read. The mistakes we makes based on the erroneous assumptions he makes stem from his inability to understand human folly. [It’s not strange that a lot of the stories here revolve around lurve and its various, glorious messes.] At a story’s close, Holmes quite pensive:

‘What is the meaning of it, Watson?’ said Holmes, solemnly, as he laid down the paper. ‘What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must lend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is a great standing perennial problem to which human reason is far from an answer as ever.’

And by “human reason,” he means, himself. Haha. Aherm. This is a Holmes who isn’t always right. Is it safe to assume that Holmes, in his trouble understanding human motive (it’s ineffable emotions and impulses), is at his most human yet?<

This is also a Holmes who can be beaten. Here, in Memoirs, Holmes comes face to face with the fabled Dr. Moriarty—the Napoleon of crime . . . the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undirected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. I am tempted to go all dorky with this story, with dissecting Moriarty, with trying to understand why I like this despite the fact that it is a poorly constructed story. Bah.

* * *

Anna Campbell is one of my favorite writers. As I write this, I’ve only read three of her novels, but I’m hella sure. [The first novel of hers I read was Captive of Sin.] This is what I wrote in my notebook [after I wept] after I read Untouched:

  • A romance that truly delivers and more, one that exceeds expectations. This is a HEA well-deserved. This is love passionate, angsty, overwrought. So freaking awesome.
  • Vulnerability and angst give plenty of room for the growth of the leads, both individually and with their relationship. We have two damaged but infuisisiedly [I cannot read my own handwriting, okay?] strong leads here—Matthew, consigned to madness by a greedy uncle, and Grace, a widow who once suffered through her impetuousness and has since pretty much lived the past decade in guilt and misery. Both very very strong characters.
  • Campbell! Your sex scenes! These should be in a primer on how to write sex scenes that further both plot and romance and character development. They were so necessary, so exquisitely done. For the reader, it was an easing of the good-lord-heavy tension the author set up. For the leads, well, even though the lovemaking only fueled their passion, you get the feeling that these people can breathe again, my goodness. Particularly, the tenuousness of their imprisonment (their circumstances!) but their roles within the act. Here, they fumble. There is room for awkwardness, for mistakes. I am crying.
  • The language is spot-on, the mood right—so dark and angst-ridden without being overbearing: just compelling. This is poignant. Quite difficult to read at times because of the pain [gahk], but you soldier on: you believe in the narrative power, in the inevitability of that happy ending—there’s got to be a happy ending!
  • This is good storytelling, no doubt. Oh my goodness, is it so typical of me to love the angst so much because it allows for so much poignancy, so much tenderness?

Excuse my breathlessness, haha. After that, I read her Tempt the Devil—the inebriation must account for the fact that I can’t find my notes on that one. Still, I liked it. I know I did. I also remember that it wasn’t as Sasha-shattering as Untouched was, but I so very much appreciated the risks Campbell took in adopting a courtesan-heroine and a cold, cold, yummy widower (and occasional jerk) as hero.

I have one last Campbell in my shelves—My Reckless Surrender—and I am saving that for a rainy day. [Dear bookstores, please indulge me, please, and restock her books, please?]

* * *

Yes, that is dirt on the spine of the primed-canvas-white An Object of Beauty [Steve Martin]. I removed the as-white dust jacket; sacrifices still had to be made. Ya know, this one’s actually one of the most pretty books I’ve ever held—its lay-out, its structure, the colored plates snuggled inside the text. Yeah, I’ve already heard the pun of this book being, literally, an object of beauty, blah blah. Aherm. From paltry notes:

  • Lacey Yeager, its heroine, is just so damned fascinating. Impressive and so hateable. But you can’t pin her down: You cheer for her, and yet her slyness disgusts you. This novel is, essentially, the ascent (and downfall) of Lacey. It’s a familiar trajectory, one that’s almost trope. Like Victorian-era, proto-feminist heroines. Or, like Emma Bovary. And, well, like Sidney Sheldon’s, too, while we’re here.
  • This art world talk is all so chillingly familiar. The boredom, the repetitions, the pretentiousness, the naïveté, the posturing, the occasional glimmer of truth and wonder. Even the people are familiar. I, um, enjoyed it?
  • I like this book a lot. Hell, the content naturally interests me, and the only time the author makes himself known is when the reader deliberately draws back to think, “Okay, wow, how’d you figure all this out?” Seriously, between the simple heartbreak of Shopgirl and this insider-y, darker-motivations kind of novel, Steve Martin really scares me.

* * *

This month seems to have me taking a second taste of previously-loved authors. This is just my second John Green (what is wrong with me?), and, no, An Abundance of Katherines is not as good as Looking for Alaska, but it’s one fun, affective book.

I mean, Colin Singleton has been dumped for the 19th time by a girl named Katherine. That’s always fun to read about. Sigh. Reading John Green has the uncanny ability to make me feel really, really young and just a little bit dorky. It also makes me go all giggly and squeal-y, and occasionally groan-y because of the mathematics. I love you, John Green, in a non-creep way.

I was reading this in the company of a friend, and I told her, “Ya know, reading John Green, you wish you were one of the people he wrote about. That you’re life’s all good, if a little better, when you find yourself a character in a John Green novel.”

* * *

For some comic relief: Obsession, by Gloria Vanderbilt. Architect extraordinaire dies, leaving his wife grief-stricken. And she comes across a stash of letters that reveal, ooh, a double life.

Oh my gawd, this was so bad. So very bad it was cringe-y comedic gold. So very pretentious and absurd—if this is how the upper echelons of society get their erotic juju on, hahahahahaha. Smarmy-breathless earnest dirty talk that sounds so affected—ZOMG it’s la Judith Krantz at her high-roller kitschiest. But at least Krantz makes me feel that she’s self-awarely campy, compared to this one. This one was just so bad, and not in an ironic way. Oh, lordy, it’s like reading mud with glitter thrown over it

* * *

Stitches, by David Small. I read this while waiting for my ride to work. I picked it idly, although I’ve heard so much praise about it already. Mostly from my housemates, who’d angle their heads toward the shelf, and demand that I read it, that I read it immediately.

I got around to it, obviously. Stitches is a memoir in, um, graphic/illustrationz form[?], which is an awesome way to tell a story. I read it in one, tension-filled hour of the simplest art, of outrage-inspiring revelations, of poignancy. Also, more outrage. I mean, the story Small tells is deceptively simple. That is, yes, it’s hellish, but it’s presented without fanfare. Augh, this was so goddamned devastating, okay? Good fucking morning to you, too, Sasha.<

he purity of the author’s remembering shocks me. Even makes me apprehensive for his welfare right about this minute. Stitches, though, reminds me, that you must tell the story that matters most to you in the best way you can—in the medium you can call your own, in the medium that will allow you to do so.

* * *

Ms. Hempel Chronicles, by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum. How I loved this book, and how I adore Ms. Hempel. She’s so affective and real and strange and lovely and normal and more than a little awkward. I love her so much, it’s creepy.

Also, I’m impressed with Bnum’s ease with the form: the individual stories, how they each reveal a truth about Ms. Hempel, her past, her future, the people around her—her students, her co-faculty, her family. But, also, Bynum’s awareness to establish a grand narrative of Ms. Hempel’s life, if in patches: the stories aren’t conventional neat episodes. Instead, they read like necessary revelations: like you’ve stepped into a precise moment of Ms. Hempel’s life, equal parts mundane and life-defining. This one is, as Jonathan Franzen himself writes, pure pleasure.


And that’s about it. I’ve still got a lot of backlog to go through. But at the moment, this will do nicely. I’ll see you again soon, Oh Puir Neglected Blog, once I surface from the paperwork and the stationery and the housework and—ew—life.

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7 comments

  1. Ooh, jealous that you have been reading and intrigued by your diverse choices!! I have the Steve Martin on my wishlist and the Henrietta Lacks (because it seems like a book one should read). But, my brain is not in the right mode to read either. Blagh.

  2. I have been meaning to read An Abundance of Katherines for awhile now–it’s been over a year since I bought the book! The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was one of my favorite books of 2010.

  3. So glad you enjoyed the Steve Martin! It was the first book of his that I read but I was totally blown away by it… I am now REALLY excited to try Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company.

    I just picked up a copy of Ms. Hempel’s Chronicles at a local bookstore closing so I’m so happy to see that you enjoyed it so much!

  4. Dammit. So I have to get Stitches now? Haha I spy it, with my little eye, a lot. And I’ve been ignoring it… but now, I do not think I will be able to.

  5. I am so glad to hear the HeLa is AWESOME as I just picked up a used copy of it! Also been intrigued by John Green. May have to give his books a try.

  6. […]  #09, #10, #11 and #14 discussed in “General mutterings on prose, boredom, and credible love, or: Reuniting with my romance novels, v.02.”  #17 and #19 to #26 all quite flakily talked about in “Stuff I’ve been reading while I disappeared from the glittery world of the intarwebz.” […]

  7. […] math—see The Solitude of Prime Numbers, which reminded me that there is poetry in math, and also An Abundance of Katherines, which reminded me that certain mathematical shiznit can hold the answers, although sometimes, […]

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