Monday, March 14, 2016

Letter to a Future Lover

Book 5 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from January 4 - 8

Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries by Ander Monson

Summary (via Goodreads)
Readers of physical books leave traces: marginalia, slips of paper, fingerprints, highlighting, inscriptions. All books have histories, and libraries are not just collections of books and databases but a medium of long-distance communication with other writers and readers.  Letter to a Future Lover collects several dozen brief pieces written in response to library ephemera--with “library” defined broadly, ranging from university institutions to friends’ shelves, from a seed library to a KGB prison library--and addressed to readers past, present, and future.

My Opinion
I went with 2 stars instead of 1 because I wrote it off and started skimming pretty early on so I didn't dedicate enough attention to it to deem it completely worthless.

I'm bummed because I had such high hopes for this book but it wasn't what I expected.  I thought it would be things found in library books and that sounded really interesting.  Some parts, like the political defacing in the margins of a book about homosexuality or the inscriptions in old books, were exactly what I wanted and I really enjoyed those.  But most of the book made me think of a coffee shop where he's reading and everyone around me is nodding and snapping and I'm completely lost.  I'm smart, I'm deep, I worked in a library, and I don't get this book.

I learned about errata cards, which I wasn't familiar with at all; are they no longer used since there are now book reprints and updated editions?  I also learned there are Braille editions of Playboy (articles only), which made me laugh.  Also, I learned that Betty Crocker was not an actual person but a character developed to respond to baking questions.  Her signature was a company secretary that won a contest, she was played by 13 different radio actresses, and her portrait was changed seven times.

Critiques about this book aside, I would absolutely read fiction by this author because he has a vivid writing style.  His memories of his hometown and the first library he visited were touching.  "Living here you come to understand the silence is not so silent: there are the sounds of creaking wood in blizzard wind and the sibilance of soft snow through pines on moonlit nights. That exact sound is what I miss the most: to be in the trees not far from home as snow drifts slowly down. Then there are the interior pleasures: a breath-catch from the one you love, or the dying fire and a reminder of your loneliness. Hold on to it, that loneliness, that aloneness. Use it as a fuel."

It just didn't work for me on this topic because I wanted more about the actual "stuff" and less "him".  It would get interesting but then he would ruin it with all of his 'blah blah blah' and run it into the ground.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Wondering if I put too much of myself in the world, whether this set of selves I offer you opens me up too far. I know I can't take it back - what I wrote, what I said. It exists in small ways on and between pages, in private collections and public collections, intentionally and not. It exceeds me, the myth I make (the myth readers construct of authors - what we believe about those who write the things we love), like how some perceive RealDolls or avatars, characters in games or books. An author is even better: she made this thing your brain tangles with. Is reading her work like knowing her? Like loving her? Of course, I don't know who holds me in their hands today, who gathers my brain in their own and rubs it, how long and what for."

"We have our bodies after all, and they belong somewhere, with someone else, if we're lucky. And if our minds find another's in passing, a stranger's a decade or a century along, well, maybe that's enough: a way to leave a trace of us, who we were or wanted to be, what we read and could imagine, what we did and what we left for you."

"Everything we've written, what we've read, what we've collected, what we've bookmarked on what pages, what notes we left pressed herein, what we have included, discarded, defaced, lost and then replaced, how it's filed and organized: it's all a carrier, a vector, an edifice of us."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Rocks

Book 4 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from January 2 - 8

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

Summary (via the book jacket)
Against the Mediterranean landscape of Mallorca's sea views and lush olive groves, The Rocks opens with a dramatic argument. It is 2005, and Lulu and Gerald, octogenarians who haven't spoken for more than fifty years despite having once been married and still living within a few miles of each other, finally confront the secret of their past. Whatever unspoken catastrophic event drove them apart so suddenly and absolutely as honeymooners back in 1948 has cast a long shadow over their lives and the shape of their future families. But before the secret can be revealed and misunderstandings at long last untangled, an accident occurs. Master storyteller Peter Nichols hooks the reader with this mystery, then chases its resolution backward through time and two overlapping romances with writing that balances soulful wisdom, self-knowing humor, and a genuine sense of longing.
The heartbeat of both the community and the book is "The Rocks", the small hotel opened by Lulu in the 1950s that has become an ongoing house party for natives and expats of a certain breed. Peter Nichols finds the language that perfectly captures a rarefied group of louche and complicated characters, with all their endearing flaws, who drink, eat, dance, and misbehave beside the sea. As Lulu and Gerald's love story unfurls in deliberate reverse, another, sweeter love emerges in its shadows. The Romeo and Juliet-like story that rises from the younger generation has everything to do with the failure of the elders before them. The Rocks is a bittersweet, intelligent, and romantic novel about how powerfully the truth, or mistruth, can be perceived, and how a misunderstanding can echo irreparably through generations. 

My Opinion
Well, this is embarrassing.  When I saw a review of this book I thought the author was the actor from Ally McBeal and he was branching into a second career the way actors seem to do.  But when I picked up the book and saw the author's photo I realized my mistake (the actor's name is Peter MacNicol...oops).  That's the great thing about random reading though - I never know how the books will wind up in my hands but there they are.  Now to get the actor's voice out of my head as I read and I'm ready for the book...

The beginning section of the book was compelling.  There were so many emotions to absorb and so many underlying things unsaid in each interaction I had to take breaks to soak it all in.  It painted a beautiful scene with lots of details.

Unfortunately, the format of the book going backward in time didn't work as well for me.  The next section, about 1983, didn't grab me at all; I didn't want to read pages of Luc messing with a script and person we know isn't going anywhere.  The section about 1970 was a little better because it explained some things and got back on pace but I had the same issues with this section as well.  Plus I missed Charlie as we moved back before he was born; he was my favorite character.

This sentence summed up parenting in a nutshell for me; her son asked "What do you think?" and then "he looked at her. And she was supposed to be wise."

A Few Quotes from the Book
"But now he'd lived here for decades, most of that time alone, a kilometer from the woman who kept him here, and hardly seen her in all that time."

"The longer he'd known her, the more of a mystery she had become to him. Over the past year, he'd come to realize that he had almost entirely invented the person he'd fallen in love with."

"Ithaca the Marvelous Journey by Gerald Rutledge. Except it was hardly that, was it? Mostly a wretched, storm-tossed misery, full of wrong turns and monsters. And some very nasty females."