How to Cure a Bibliomaniac: Best Of

OMG WHAT DID SHE CHOOSE, THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING YOU

OMG WHAT DID SHE CHOOSE, THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING YOU

Gosh, it’s an interesting experience to look back through what you’ve read in a year!

And remember the pleasures of the great books and, admittedly, the tedium of the less-amazing books.

To be sure, not one of the titles I read was a bad book, but the blazing light of the best as listed here really testify as to why I embarked upon this project in the first place – to teach myself that any book you’re not enjoying is not worth forcing yourself to finish. When you read a book you’re loving, you’re really enjoying, you know it.

And you know what? These books were overall quite serious books. One I finished sobbing like a bereft child. But they didn’t drag, and they didn’t depress. They just glowed. They make you realise life’s too short to read anything second-best. So from now on, I’m only finishing stuff I love. Hell, I’m only starting stuff I love. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to read smart books or hard books. But they have to be great.

So without further ado, the best books I read this past 52 weeks:

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I’m not going to rank them, it’s too close a call. Trust me, and read them all.

(If you won’t trust me, at least trust Dr Seuss)

 
031Honorable mention:

On Beauty – Zadie Smith (radiant, absorbing)

To be honest, this was just as good as the others, but I didn’t have a copy of it any more because I decided to pass that one on so it could brighten other people’s lives. So it didn’t get in the group photo.

Stay tuned! Before this project officially closes, one more post to come… The Aftermath

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The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 6: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer, 2005)

Books remaining: 20. Weeks remaining to read them: 40 (argh! Get a move on, lassie. Actually, I blame Umberto Eco). 

“Hilarious!” he said. “It is! I never heard from her again! Oh, well! So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to leave the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!”

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer (COVER)

Oskar’s Dad, Thomas, died in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Nearly two years later, Oskar, his mum and his grandma are trying to work out how to live without Thomas.

Oskar finds that his dad left behind a mystery. And he decides he must solve it, no matter how long that might take.

 

 

From a giant, lovely tangle of words emerges the inner world of Oskar, one of the best-rendered children I have come across in a work of literature. I’m reminded of Arundhati Roy’s classic The God of Small Things, Michael Cunningham’s Flesh and Blood and, more recently, Emma Donoghue’s Room.

Oscar's business card.

Hire this boy.

 

But Oskar is very much his own self, and is quite capable of standing alone, as his business card attests.

 

 

 

 

 

Oskar meets many people on his quest, which takes him across the whole of New York. He sees and hears the private stories of these people’s own losses, obsessions and inexplicable commitments.

My boots were so heavy I was glad there was a column underneath us. How could such a lonely person have been living so close to me my whole life? If I had known, I would have gone up to keep him company. Or I would have made some jewelry for him. Or told him hilarious jokes. Or given him a private tambourine concert. 

It made me start to wonder whether there were other people so lonely so close. I thought about “Eleanor Rigby”. It’s true, where do they all come from? And where do they all belong?

Safran uses special effects: illustration, some inventive punctuation and conversational styles, and other visual devices that rather defy description. But none of it feels contrived, pretentious or pointless. It feels like I am getting a closer look into Oskar’s world and the way he processes information. And the way he processes loss.

Because above all, this is a story about grief – grief, and the guilt that slinks in alongside it. It is about the people left behind, trying to make a new space for loves that will last forever, but that have changed into something invisible. It is about how we try to hold on and how we have to let go.

“Looking for it let me stay close to him for a little while longer.” “But won’t you always be close to him?” I knew the truth. “No.”

This book is 341 pages long. By 305 I was weeping like a baby. I kept it up until the last page, and then for a few more minutes after that. Any book that makes that happen, and still not get called depressing, is special. This book is a heady jumble of ideas, it is funny and illuminating. It charms and puzzles and delights.
I felt as though it understood me and helped me understand myself. It will make your eyes hot and your throat tight. It will remind you of everyone you ever lost. But it’s worth it.

Keep or not? I’ll keep it for the moment, but only so that I can give it to someone who is interested.

Postscript: The Ministry and I tried to watch the film of this a year or two ago. We found it disappointingly mediocre and turned it off after half an hour. I might have another burl at it now, though, not because I think I’ll like it better, but it’s fun watching stories you’ve read come to life, even if they don’t do it the way you wanted.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here.

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 3: Flesh and Blood (Michael Cunningham,1995)

Flesh and Blood - Michael Cunningham

Flesh and Blood – Michael Cunningham

Books read: 3/26. Weeks remaining: 48

 

Her name was Magda, like one of the Gabor sisters. Constantine lost himself in her the way a coin gets lost through a storm drain. With Magda he felt himself falling and then shining up from the darkness, a prize, hidden and hard to reach.   

 

 

 

 

Michael Cunningham is the crazy-gifted author of The Hours, which the 2002 movie was based on, and Specimen Days, the altogether more peculiar but stunning novel that I read at university, no doubt for a postmodern literature unit.

At the risk of devolving into boring uni-speak, I would call this thoroughly modernist and thus very different from The Hours and Specimen Days, though I picked it up based on how good these were.

And possibly because I have a fetish for these worn orange Penguin spines.

And possibly because I have a fetish for these worn orange Penguin spines.

This is closer in style to Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, though it came out six years earlier… a fat, glorious American family saga to curl up with, spanning the multiple generations that live between 1935 and 2035.

Constantine, a Greek migrant, works to achieve the American dream for his wife, Mary, and three children; but one by one, they reject everything he has tried to give.

What had happened? Someone like Billy, a man so well provided for, should be devouring the world. He should be striding through his life, able as a horse, smart as a wolf, squeezing the rich meek blood out of women’s hearts. When Mary’d given birth to a son, Constantine had imagined himself taking handfuls of the future and stuffing them in his mouth. Daughters, even the best of them, disappeared into the lives of men. But a son carried you. His pleasures included you; you lived in your skin and you lived in his as well.

Constantine and Mary do not understand their children or the pathways they choose. Susan, Billy and Zoe struggle to leave their never-quite-happy family home behind, but cannot altogether succeed. They and their own children carry its burdens everywhere they go.

She looked at the man in the wig, who stood like a crazy goddess of propriety and delusion, his sharp face jutting out from between the silver curtains of his wig and piles of colored bracelets winking on his arms. Zoe thought of Alice on the far side of the looking glass, an innocent and sensible girl. What Alice brought to Wonderland was her calm good sense, her Englishness. She saved herself by being correct, by listening seriously to talking animals and crazy people.

The 100-year structure gives a steady, driving force that anchors the dreamy delicacy of Cunningham’s prose, the sense of meanings breathing beneath ordinary things. He articulates the consciousness of all human beings, lonely inside their own skins and experiencing the world in ways they cannot describe to others:

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Cunningham’s is the kind of writing I love most, the kind that must send would-be novelists into fits of despair and self-doubt. This is both a compulsive read and an exhilarating one: it’s soul-food.

It will take some self-control to move on to D, without just picking up the next Cunningham book on my shelf (A Home at the End of the World, in case you were wondering). But… what’s this? My friend Sturdy has just dropped off Robert Galbraith’s Silkworm! Perhaps an interlude is in order…

Keep it or let it go? Going to keep this one, and try to foist it upon loved ones one by one.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac here.