Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffeneggar

"CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays."

"HENRY: All my pleasures are homey ones: armchair splendor, the sedate excitements of domesticity. All I ask for are humble delights…I love meandering through the stacks at the library after the patrons have gone home, lightly touching the spines of the books. These are the things that can pierce me with longing when I am displaced from them by Time’s whim. And Clare, always Clare. Clare in the morning, sleepy and crumple-faced…Clare reading, with her hair hanging over the back of the chair…Clare’s low voice is in my ear often. I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow."

“I’ve been wanting to tell you: I feel so different. I just…feel so connected to you. And I think that it holds me here, in the present. Being physically connected the way that we are, it’s kind of rewiring my brain.”

The podcast Books on theNightstand episode 231 addressed the idea of unlikeable characters prompted by the now infamous quote by Claire Messud (“Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Hamlet? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”)

One of the hosts brought up that her teenage daughter is reading quite a bit of young adult novels that have strong romantic storylines. The girl exclaimed that she felt ruined by all the perfect men in her books. That is how I feel about The Time Traveler’s Wife. I have read it so many times the different experiences have blurred together and I can’t actually remember when I read it the first time, but it was published my senior year of high school so undoubtedly it was at a very impressionable young age. It is the book I am guilty of handing off to boyfriends and then obsessively reading over their shoulders to see where they are and watch their face for their reactions. I can pick it up at any page and drop it with complete satisfaction and delight because I know the story so well, but I love it so much.

Henry DeTamble: the dashing time traveler librarian
Clare: the gorgeous artist who is the love of Henry's life
Gomez and Charisse: the friends who invent games like Modern Capitalist MindFuck
Mrs. Kim aka Kimy, the sassysweet woman who unofficially runs the “Philanthropic Society for the Support of Wayward DeTambles”
Dr. Kendrick: philosopher geneticist

The whole cast is completely charming. Like your best friends in real life, they are flawed, but they are so great that you must love them because of and in spite of their flaws. The romance of Henry and Clare and the chemistry of everyone else is perfection. It would really just be a book about awesome people doing normal things if it weren't for the time travel. As a sci-fi and science nerd, I have no problem with time travel being a part of the book’s universe (hellooooo Dr. Who), and this novel does it particularly well. AN makes it a scientific plausibility (thus Dr. Kendrick) and works with our disbelief by making sure every time traveling moment is tightly written with no holes that would make it less believable. 

Ultimately, the novel presents a world where you get to live with your time traveling boyfriend by your side, and you get the assurance of making the right choice in life and love. The knowledge that somewhere in the future is a self that Henry can report is doing just fine. The ability to visit and revisit awesome moments in the past. The beautiful opportunity to see, touch, and talk to people who have died. The chance to comfort and advise the younger selves of the people you love. (On the flip side, you also miss the opportunity of taking a chance, taking a crazy leap of faith, you know in advance that you will have very difficult times in life, you will visit and revisit the worst moments in the past, and you will have the nightmare of seeing, touching, and talking to people who have died knowing damn well that they are no longer alive, and you have the nightmare of seeing your younger self do stupid things over and over and over again, in spite of whatever you said. All of these are presented in the book as well, but I am an optimist and a romantic like AN is, so I choose to revel in the comfort of the goodness).

The only thing I dislike about this book is that AN’s other work has not lived up to the expectation that it sets. It’s hard to settle for the okayness of her other novel when I know that this book is out there, and sometimes I worry that it will be hard to settle for the okayness of reality when I know there is a time traveler out there. 

PS: Oh my god in looking for an image for this book I found the new movie-tie-in cover. Bleck!!!! Books on the Nighstand did an episode about that too, and I felt indifferent until I saw the movie tie in cover for The Time Traveler's Wife. Both the actors are gorgeous, but  holy fuck you need to leave that cover alone for the love of Whitman. 

PPS: The irony of making fun of my mom fairly frequently for her preferred choice of reading (paperback time traveling romance novels - you know they're time traveling because there's an hourglass logo on them) while loving this book is not lost on me. Ugh, I hate turning into my mother. Incidentally, she hated this book. 

18: Juliet, Naked - Nick Hornby

“Hahahahahahahahahaha. I told you he was overrated. Now go and listen to everything MORRISSEY has ever sung, you muppets.”

“Nobody grew up or got bigger; no landmark occasions were commemorated, because there were none. Duncan and Annie just got slowly older, and a little fatter…Annie had single friends who’d never had kids, but their holiday photos, usually taken in exotic locations, were never boring – or rather, they didn’t feature the same two people over and over again, quite often wearing the same T-shirts and sunglasses, quite often sitting by the same swimming pool in the same hotel on the Amalfi coast.”

“The fact is, some of these myths are so colorful hat they have deterred me from re-entering the world; it seems to me that people were having more fun with me gone than they could ever have if I was around.”

With Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby proves that he can write about music in a world where only hipsters have record players, music stores are going extinct, and the internet takes up most of our lives (if you’re curious if he can write about a world without music at all, I highly recommend you check out A Long Way Down). Juliet, Naked, follows the above-quoted couple Annie and Duncan who are stuck. Their lives are agonizingly boring and at times frustrating to read; frustrating mostly because I see parts of myself that I dislike and parts of my friends that I dislike and when our lives are kind of boring we complain lots but can’t change anything because a lot of the time life is kind of boring – that’s why I read books to pretend that I have had a lot more interesting experiences than I have had. The frustration is what makes the bulk of the book – versions of Annie and Duncan are all over real life which makes them entirely real and sympathetic.

Annie has settled for Duncan, an ok bloke who is obsessed with Tucker Crowe, a musician who wrote one of the greatest albums of all time and then disappeared in the middle of a tour. He is obsessive, creepy, and sometimes lawbreaking in his need to analyze and re-analyze everything that is known about Tucker Crowe. The Internet has saved Duncan from being a weirdo though, because through it he can join message boards and converge with other weirdos and find a sense of family, community, and purpose that don’t exist in his real life. 

On the other side of the narrative voice is Annie who longs to have a richer life, but continually chooses to settle into whatever is safe and easy. The tension between her and Duncan rises and rises until Juliet, Naked (the acoustic version of Crowe’s famous album Juliet) arrives on their doorstep. Duncan writes a glowing review while Annie writes a tepid one…and Tucker Crowe sends her an e-mail.

The novel is multi-genre with shifting narratives which are two ways an author can easily win me over. Interspersed with the regular narrative perspectives of Annie, Duncan, and Tucker are e-mail exchanges and message board conversations, and Hornby hits the right voice for all of these – we don’t e-mail the way we talk and we don’t message board the way we e-mail. 

The ending is ambiguous, which is why I have been sitting on this review for about a week – I liked it, but I don’t know how I feel about it if that makes any sense. I just don't expect that sort of ending from the typical poplit novel, and I'm not sure if I want it. After my final day of sitting-on-the-review I have determined that with our new world we need new literature that captures it. We need books about message board communities, e-mail flirtations, long distance relationships, and artists who did one great thing and disappeared much to the disappointment of their fans, and because we don't have much of them, I'll accept this book as a successful endeavor. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

17: Franny and Zooey - J. D. Salinger

“The rest, with very little exaggeration, was books. Meant-to-be-picked-up books. Permanently-left-behind books. Uncertain-what-to-do-with books. But books, books."

“I’m to write and tell you that you have your Whole Life Before You and that it’s Criminal if you don’t go after your Ph.D….you dirty little bookworm”

 “I don’t know what good it is to know so much and be smart as whips and all if it doesn't make you happy.”

It is rare that I close a book with the satisfaction of having just read something lovely, and I would have never guessed that Mr. J. D. Salinger would bring this moment to me. My only experience with JDS is The Catcher in the Rye which I read shortly after high school and felt that I needed to have read it five years earlier to feel any of the reverence that every guy I knew who read it between the ages of 13 and 17 seemed to feel about it.

In the great tradition of dirty little bookworms everywhere, I picked up this book because a cute guy liked it I will be teaching American lit next year and am incredibly passionate about my subject.

First and only complaint: Little Brown, the original publisher of the iconic rainbow striped JDS books has apparently started a new trade paperback imprint called Back Bay Books which has decided to redo the cover meaning my JDS spines no longer match. I know I am not the only freak about this, and it's annoying, especially because Catcher in the Rye is also on its own planet when it comes to its new jacket.

The rest: this book was lovely and you should read it. It’s a quick read that has the cutest sentimental moment ever (it involves a child and a puppy omgawd it's a little kid and a little puppy what more do you want in life you heartless bastard?) intermixed with hilarious dry humor and criticisms of the academic system and certain kinds of religious people. If you are at all booky, educated, or quirky, you too will long to be a member of the Glass family and long to be taught under Seymour and Buddy so that you too can have a nervous breakdown at college – which is really all this book is about when you ignore the humor, charm, and writing. Part of the beauty is that it really is that simple – a girl has a breakdown – but JDS makes it so much more interesting than that. As someone who grew up in a household where buying books was forbidden, I am completely enchanted by the idea of a family growing up where bookshelves line bedrooms.

Redbubble.com has the best literary Tshirts of all time, by the way.