Giving up

Okay, I can’t do it, I’ve read too many books and not reviewed them and then I can’t remember anything about them. So whatever. I’m doing little bitty ones here. I’m declaring bloggy bankruptcy and giving myself a clean slate. Have to. Here are a series of cranky little reviewlets.

Mr. Fox, Helen Oyeyemi

Liked it a lot! I went to see Helen Oyeyemi talk at McNally Jackson, and she said that writing Mr. Fox was just fun, that she was just enjoying every minute of writing it. It shows when you’re reading the book. Mr. Fox plays with ideas of inspiration and violence against women and writing and imagination and Bluebeard stories. It’s a little weird and confusing but a lot funny and clever. Helen Oyeyemi remains one of my favorite young writers. As before I can’t wait to see what she does next. White Is for Witching remains my favorite of her four books because it involves a haunted house and I love a haunted house.

An Episode of Sparrows, Rumer Godden

Little street urchins try to make a garden in a Blitz-wrecked London. My mother loves this book, and I liked it, certainly, but it was awfully sad. The ending is hopeful, but not quite hopeful enough to make up for how extraordinarily sad it was in the meantime. Maybe upon successive rereadings I will love it better.

A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore

My coworker said that Lorrie Moore writes the best women characters he’s ever encountered. Better than Alice Walker (he said). Y’all know it’s never a good idea to read a new book in a combative mood. I read A Gate at the Stairs with skeptical eyes but I have to say? I didn’t think the women characters were that great. They didn’t feel real at all, and neither did the men, and the whole thing just, eh, I didn’t like it. I thought it was going to focus more on the experience of being in college, so there was also that expectations gap that’s an enjoyment-killer.

Hopscotch, Julio Cortazar

Argh. I loved the idea of this book. There are 55 basic chapters and 99 “expendable” chapters. The author says you can read the 55 chapters in order and dispense with the 99, or you can read in an order he suggests that hopscotches between the regular chapters and the expendable ones. The idea is that you’ll have quite a different book if you read straight through, compared to if you jump around. Per usual, experimental fiction loses me by not giving a crap about plot. I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool it would be if a plot-minded author had done this same thing. If Barbara Vine had done it, say. If the expendable chapters had cast a new light on the events of the regular chapters. That would have been amazing. But that wasn’t what happened. I just got fed up and started wanting to punch the characters, and I couldn’t stop reading because I borrowed the book from a coworker (the one who thinks Lorrie Moore is better than Alice Walker OBVIOUS NONSENSE) and I wanted to be able to say something nice about it when I returned it because I hate it when someone asks to borrow a book from me and I lend them the book in spite of strong inclinations against lending my books and then they give it back without reading it. So I staggered on becoming more and more resentful, and by the second half of the book — which actually was significantly better and more interesting! — I was too fed up to enjoy the good things about the book.

And I hate reading books in translation. Sorry. I just do.

The end! Clean slate! Clean slate going into the New Year. I am going to be awesome at writing posts this year. YOU WILL SEE.

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21 thoughts on “Giving up

  1. Oh- Rumer Godden! I have An Episode of Sparrows on my shelf and tried reading it twice but just got bored with the first few chapters. I’m assuming the children make an appearance later on? You’ve encouraged me to try it again- it sounds quite good! (in spite of being sad)

  2. This is good – it feels very cleansing! Let’s process those reviews! And I completely agree – when someone lends me a book I agonise over loving it, because I so want to say a nice thing when I give it back.

  3. You still did a better job than me on reviewing Hopscotch. My review read: ” It’s an amazing book! You can read it page by page or according to the code from the back of the book or even according to your own system and it will never make sense! “

  4. Mini reviews are okay! Sometimes I like reading mini reviews better than full-length ones. To me, they say more about how the reviewer really felt.

    Also: amen to clean slates! When I hit my two-year anniversary, I finally faced up to the fact that I had been a terrible blogger for way too long. I decided to stop beating myself up for not posting regularly and not reading and commenting on other people’s blogs (since clearly that wasn’t getting me anywhere). I gave myself a clean slate – a new blog layout, and I marked everything in my Google reader as “read.” So far, having a clean slate is working!

    Don’t worry about 2012, dear Jenny. You will be awesome.

  5. I’m going to do tiny reviews next week, it’s going to be awesome and freeing.

    Lorrie Moore does write great female characters in ‘Who Will Run the Frog Hospital’ by the way, but I know exactly what you mean about ‘better than Walker’ type conversations. My response would be along the lines of Oh you think so do you? Well what do you know?

  6. I loved Moore’s Self Help, and it really helped get me through a difficult time in my life, which is why I try to reread it every couple of years. Not sure about her others though. I also LOVED Mr. Fox! It was a really weird little book, and for the first half, I had no idea what was going on, but later, I became entranced. When you really start to think about it in retrospect, it gets weirder! Great mini-reviews today, and I am glad you have a clean slate now šŸ™‚

  7. I had the same reaction to A Gate at the Stairs, while, like Jodi, I liked Who Will Run the Frog Hospital. She writes about Middle America like an East Coaster.

    And guess what? That title is in my 1 1/2 years’ backlog of unwritten, never-to-be-written mini-reviews. I think. It’s hard even to remember now.

    It’s great to hear good things about Mr. Fox, even though I’m a bit less devoted to Ms Oyeyemi’s stylin’s. I took it out of the library a couple of days after making my start on Letters from a Lost Generation, Read a Jane Hamilton first because Mr Fox looked difficult, but I am going to go start it now. This minute. -Bye.

  8. I despised A Gate at the Stairs… I really didn’t think anything was all that well-written! I have heard lots of good things about Mr. Fox and I think my library has it, so hopefully will read it before the year is out.

  9. I commiserate about book-reviewing pressure. Hell, I never feel compelled to review books – which is why I turned down the offer to take part in Amazon Vine, I like my freedom too much to feel obligated to write something.

  10. Yeah, I also have this problem and I think I’ll be resolving it in the same way, one post with a bunch of short reviews. Hopefully no one will notice that I don’t actually remember too many details about the stories.
    Hopscotch does sound like a really cool concept for a book and I’m tempted to give it a try even though your review makes me think that I might not like it any better than you.

  11. Clean slates FTW! I should maybe do this with the stuff I sort of want to talk about but don’t really want to, like, expend energy on. Except I already wrote almost-full-sized reviews for most of those books and they’re just sitting around in my 2011reviews.doc file, waiting for me to post them, so it’d be a reallllly long post if I stuck ’em all together. It’d be nice to get them out of the way, though, so I can start talking about stuff I read yesterday. I kind of miss talking about stuff I read yesterday.

  12. I loved A Gate at the Stairs. But it was a surprise to me–I hadn’t read anything about it before I plunged in–and I’m a female academic and a mother, which may actually be prerequisites for enjoying it.

  13. Jenny, you scared the crap out of me with that title?! While your blog was loading, I kept wondering what is it that you were giving up. For a minute, I thought it was your blog. Thank God that wasn’t it. šŸ™‚

    I agree. Your co-worker is an idiot.

  14. I read Birds of America and I think I suffered from overblown expectations, too. I found her writing zippy but distanced, and I prefer zippy, zingy writing to have a lot of heart to it. And yes, as trapunto says, she does write about Middle America like an East coaster. However! There were two genuinely great stories in there, so I left the door open. Maybe the Frog Hospital another time.

  15. I, too, need to declare bloggy bankruptcy. I have a TON of 2011 books to review. I think I’ll resort to a series of mini reviews like this, if I get the time. In the meantime, I’m just keeping up with my 2012 reviews.

    And I loved your cranky tone. šŸ™‚ I tend to react the same way to experimental fiction.

  16. I agree that your reviewlets were way fun to read. Meanwhile, I have yet to read anything by Helen Oyeyemi but the more I read about her work, the more I feel like I should. (Though at the moment I’m doing the TBR Double Dare challenge, so any books I don’t currently own are waiting ’til April 1st – eep!)

  17. I’m still digging out from under my pile of read-but-never-reviewed books of 2011. I like the reviewlets! Bummed to hear about Hopscotch, though. I’m so intrigued by the premise of this book, and I don’t mind plot-less novels, but I’m hesitant at the idea of “expendable” chapters that don’t really change the experience or understanding of the novel itself. Maybe someday.

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