Wrapped Up in Books.

I’m many things, but a New Years resolutionist I am most certainly not.  That said, I am trying to be a bit more positive-minded, as opposed to my regular the-glass-isn’t-just-half-empty-but-also-about-to-fall-off-the-table-and-smash-into-a-million-pieces-on-the-floor mentality.  So rather than lamenting how I spent barely any time last year on writing posts, I’m instead going to focus on the fact that I spent a good amount reading books. And since I know there’s no way I’d be able to write proper-length posts on all of them, but I’ll give some simple summaries of each, along with my opinions.  Since I started recording what I read last year in April, that’s where I’ll begin.  I’ll keep writing these bookish posts and finish with the last book I read this month.

April

  • Winston had just died, and all I wanted to do when I got back to Boston from New York was reread the beautifully-written novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, about the titular geisha’s life before, during and after World War II.  I found the following apropos passage on grief, which I then emailed to my mother: “Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.”
  • Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way by Ruth Reichl has been renamed For You, Mom. Finally for paperback, which is not unusual but still something that surprises me.  Something else that surprises me is that I don’t remember much of this memoir.  This is incredibly odd for me, as I have a remarkable memory.  I’m sure the writing is fantastic, as Ms. Reichl’s always is.
  • I do remember The Report by Jessica Francis Kane quite clearly, as I am fascinated by World War II and found this debut novel about a tragedy in the Bethnal Green tube station/air raid shelter to be ridiculously and enviously well-written.
  • A Polish emigrant and a New York adolescent are the sad and cynical narrators of Nicole Krauss‘s The History of Love.  Strange as it is to say, I didn’t care either way about the plot, but since I loved Leo the Pole so much, I managed to overlook everything else.
  • I’ve been obsessed with Suzanne Collins‘s Hunger Games trilogy for a while, and reread The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay for the first time in April.  It held up.
  • While I did enjoy Lynn Barber’s memoir An Education — which was made into the multi-nominated film with a star-making performance by Carey Mulligan — I wonder if part of the reason why I flew through it was because it was so short or because I was on a plane en route to Asia and therefore trapped.  Regardless, Ms. Barber is a perfectly fine writer who recounts her life in the heyday of 1960s England in a refreshing, straightforward way.
  • Ugh, I did not like An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray, a hardback book club read that I lugged from Massachusetts to Manila, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong and back again.  Protagonist Charles Hythloday plays at being a nobly-born country aristocrat outside Dublin; when he’s forced to eke out a living, it was no surprise to me that this insipid loon struggles to find a place for himself in troubled modern-day Ireland.  There’s another storyline involving explosives and actresses, but I can’t be bothered to go into it.
  • Another novel I brought along on my Asia trip was The Missing by Tim Gautreaux, which set me down a path of kidnapping, violence and crime — in my readings, that is.  Mr. Gautreaux’s book is the truly compelling story not just of abduction, but also of redemption and revenge.  Oh, and there are riverboats.
  • I finished reading Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America (by Les Standiford with Det. Sgt. Joe Matthews) in Siem Reap, and that night in my hotel room I used the dodgy Internet connection to Wikipedia Adam Walsh’s 1981 kidnapping.  From there I read about Ottis Toole, Henry Lee Lucas, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and pretty much every other serial killer I could think of until I was too freaked out to open the door for room service.
Wrapped Up in Books” by Belle + Sebastian.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

If you haven’t read any of The Hunger Games trilogy yet, I envy you.  This means you can go out to your local bookstore to purchase it and its sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay, and read all three in one fell swoop.  I don’t normally tell people what I think they should do, but I’m telling you this is what you should do.  I know I should be telling you wait a couple of days and buy Freedom by Jonathan Franzen instead, but who are we kidding?  I’ll read that sucker next year, when it’s in paperback and the waiting list at the library has dwindled.  I’m sorry, Mr. Franzen, I think you have a lovely reading voice and your writing is incredibly clever, but The Hunger Games can’t wait.

Mockingjay picks up a month after Catching Fire‘s cliffhanger ending; protagonist Katniss is living in the believed-obliterated District Thirteen, is coerced into becoming the face of Panem’s revolution, and learns that, as in the Hunger Games, she’s trapped.  Once again, she must figure out not only how she is going to survive, but also how she’s going to ensure the survival of the people she loves.  Devastatingly — and realistically — she doesn’t fully succeed.

And that’s part of the reason why I like Suzanne Collins: the woman is a mercenary.  She slices through her cast of characters, killing them off in what is not at all a flippant way.  Every death serves a purpose, and each one is a surprise.  Actually, the entire storyline is a surprise, and Ms. Collins’ ability to tell a captivating story is undeniably enviable.  You try writing a trilogy that’s both sentimental and graphically gruesome, all the while subtly threading through commentary on warfare, reality television and the media, politics, fashion, family values and sex, and then throw in some of the twistiest plot shifts ever.  When you’re done, get back to me.

In all honesty, I can’t write anything more about Mockingjay aside promising that it’s a ridiculously good read.  It’s just not fair to those who haven’t read it.  There are far too many reviews out there that, in my opinion, give away insane amounts of information.  (Putting the words “spoiler alert” or similar in the text is useless and stupid, by the way.)  So please, stop reading reviews right now — in fact, stop reading this post!  Pick up a copy of the book and read that, and then we can talk.