Have been rather ambivalent about updating this blog, as I’ve been largely unmoved in what paltry reading I’ve done this March. In the past couple of weeks, there has been a limping parade of books-that-thought-they-could. I argue that I read them because they were the only ones that called to me, albeit feebly—in a, “Hey, you feeling unreaderly? Feed that dreadful feeling with me!”—from my curiously undemanding-of-late bookshelves. I could also argue that I read these books because I needed to read something—and though I would have loved to have had my soul lifted from my body and shaken willy-nilly, the increasingly-exhausted-with-life Sasha gives herself an awkward pat on the back for getting reading done, at least. Chin up, you.
[Just typing all that out makes my brain cringe.]
I’m fairly certain that Georges Simenon’s The Engagement got the worst of my readerly angst. When a month had passed and I hadn’t even made half the 130 pages—despite the occasional gems I’d come across—the gameplan was simply to bludgeon the novella into submission. It wasn’t so much a hate-read—although I had plenty reason to do so: Poor unfortunate soul with no agency to speak of has bad stuff happen to him—as a read to preserve my pride: I will not bow down, you slim book! (Ultimately—well, at a hundred pages, methinks, I just skimmed and bleeghk-ed my way to its sorry, wholly unsatisfying conclusion.) So: No, I don’t think Simenon and I get on very well—I mean, we could get along much better than this—and this is the second novel of his I’ve read and (gulp) there’s still two more of him in my shelves. Beats me what I’ll do with those two.
Then again, the Simenon was the only book I truly hated—or, you know, found near impossible to read and commit to (and let go of, for a time). At the start of the month, I strayed from my usual genres with Seroks by David Hontiveros and Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan—two different books and two different responses evoked, but at least neither was absolutely terrible. Hah.
The Hontiveros started out really promising for me, offering a confident world-building and rationale that I rarely see in this country’s speculative fiction (or whatever it’s called by the kids these days): It’s a world of clones, and what do third world countries do but offer clones of clones? I liked how it was gritty, still, and with just the touch of kitsch—a perfect tone to the roster of seroks templates based on the DNA of an action star, at different phases in his career. I liked how it was past ethical arguments, and just dove into the lives these sentient clones-of-clones could possibly lead. I was very excited for this–until it all sort of just fizzled out. Every chapter (or story?) began with a wonderful premise, lured you in with stories you could actually get behind and commit yourself to. But then every chapter (or story) let me hanging: They reached a plateau where anything could happen, and then they just ended. Every single time. Every chapter was an eventual letdown. All that potential unrealized for my poor disappointed nerd-heart.
The Alanguilan (a graphic novel) was bizarre, and I loved almost every attention-grabby panel of it. See: Chickens had, overnight, developed sentience. And so begins a long struggle to be recognized as human beings, with the same rights accorded to everyone else. We have chicken gangs and chicken political groups; chicken movie stars and chicken writers. Chickens everywhere! We even have inter-species coupling—whose logistics I’d rather not linger on right now. It’s a nice allegory about any faction fighting to be recognized—there are the usual macro-conflicts like friendships, and demanding to be treated decently against a spectrum of discrimination; and then there are existential dilemmas within every chicken. A particular sub-story I like concerns one of the original “turned”—bred as an elite fighting cock, what’s a chicken to do in this new world that demands an avoidance to our baser instincts? It’s a clever tale, and I like how it doesn’t acknowledge how silly the premise is. Chickens just got smarter, ya know, and this is their story. Deal with it. (Sadly, this is not the first time I have spoken so extensively of fowl.)
The one book I’m actually quite thankful for—and consider me surprised—is House of Holes by Nicholson Baker. I won’t even try speculating on its literary merit—or wondering why this “book of raunch” even exists—but, dammit, it’s been a while since I was so engaged with a book. Basically: I idly picked up Baker one late afternoon, then I found myself bringing it with me to a begrudgingly-eaten dinner, and then before midnight announced itself, I’d closed the book. I was just—oh god, I’m sorry—completely sucked in. It was bizarre and ridiculous and surreal and completely nonsensical; and I can’t remember reading a book that was so solidly irreverent toward sex. I laughed, I squick-ed, and I did a lot of grimacing—I also, imagine that, found myself pulling for the characters, as they implicated themselves in one ridiculous sexual caper after another. Sure, at the end of it, I had to blink dazedly at my walls, wondering what the hell happened to me—but I miss being so into a book, I miss reading a book that I just couldn’t let go of—couldn’t even think of not finishing before the day ended. Good times, Baker.
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And I don’t really know how to end this, except that I know—through articulating all this here, imagine—that there’s a deep restlessness in me, and the books I’m reading have suffered—or that I have suffered not-so-good books less ably. But I’m working on it: I finished reading Eros by Helmut Klausser over the weekend, started on How Should a Person Be? ny Sheila Heti and The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag. So, please: Consider me hopeful; cooperate, Universe.