Salinger

IMG_3887Salinger, by David Shields and Shane Salerno; 2013

This biography was very compelling in its subject, but it stops there for me. Before reading Salinger I didn’t know much about J.D. Salinger other than the obvious stuff – i.e. hermitage. I didn’t know he fought in WWII, that he was a ladies man, or that devoted a large part of his life to studying Zen Buddhism. I read Catcher and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” only once each in high school, so all of this was new to me. Writer David Shields and director Shane Salerno researched material and conducted over 200 interviews for Salinger for over 10 years. What results is a kind of oral history of the writer’s life from those who knew him, or at least, knew about him.

My main grievance with Salinger is that it felt VERY Hollywood infected, which is ironic on so many levels. It’s the “official book” of the “acclaimed” documentary directed by Salerno. What makes Jake Gyllenhaal a reputable commentator on Salinger, I would like to know? What really killed me about this was that so many of the interviewees kept making the point that Salinger was probably smart for rejecting fame, and that the people who seek fame are actually the crazy ones. I can’t say I disagree, but the point hardly holds when it’s coming from, say, Edward Norton. To me, it seemed like this biography was fame-seeking, which didn’t sit right with me at all. Lining up a couple hundred voices in 700 pages made this biography a whole lot more like a tell-all than a critical look at a writer’s life.

Apart from that, I did find the format to be problematic, and I felt that it led to some pretty serious authority problems within the text. Rather than evaluating the evidence they present, Shields and Salerno simply insert themselves into the text among their witnesses. S&S, as well as many of their interviewees, make assertions about Salinger’s state of mind and his relationship to his art. The format sets the precedent that anything said about Salinger carries authority of truth. BIG PROBLEM. It doesn’t have an index, and its endnotes are incomplete. As I was reading and began to notice these things, I had a mounting distrust towards the entire text. Salerno and Shields also take a lot of liberties with Salinger’s psychological state and then conclude with a strange bullet list of their “argument” at the end. This would’ve been more okay with me if S&S had crafted an actual narrative with analysis.

By the time I got to the end, I just felt sad. There is an unfocused argument throughout the second half of the book that claims that Salinger was calculating about his image as a recluse. Even if this is true, the writer obviously wanted control over his own privacy, and so many people fought him on that. Overall, I didn’t dislike this book as much as the presentation of material and format of the text bothered me. It was compelling and it wasn’t a daunting read, despite its size. In any case, I was interested enough in Salinger’s life after reading this to decide to go back and read Nine Stories, Catcher in the Rye, and Franny and Zooey in the hopes that I will have a better understanding and appreciation of these stories.

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This Too Shall Pass: a novel

I won an advance reader’s edition of Milena Busquets This Too Shall Pass on Goodreads last month and it arrived in the mail on Friday. Since Jonas kept me inside all weekend, I figured yesterday I could sit down and read the nicely sized novel (it’s only 169 pages). I am just going to go ahead and say that I think this book was probably beautiful in it’s original language (Spanish), but that it loses a lot in translation. I would recommend reading this book in the original, if at all possible. The Spanish newspaper, La Vanguardia, describes the book: “Ultimately, the novel is the search for the right words to express a complex and intricate mother-daughter love.” I would completely agree, and since this is a novel focusing on putting complex emotions into words, it is not one that easily lends itself to translation. I felt very close to being moved during numerous passages of this short novel, but ultimately, I wasn’t.

-A

Not That Kind of Girl

Lena Dunham; 2014

I’ll start with two small prefaces.

  1. I don’t have strong feelings about Dunham one way or another. I watched a season and a half of Girls, at first enthusiastically, and then a lot less so. I admire everything that she has accomplished as a young writer. I do see why so many people seem to find her unbearable. Personally, I think she’s young, has talent, and still has a lot to figure out. I’m giving her a pass. It’s difficult for me to be too critical of someone who puts it all out there.
  2. I read a lot of reviews on Goodreads for NTKOG before sitting down to write this, and I have a small bone to pick. Dunham can’t help who are parents are or where she comes from. Just because she’s privileged doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be allowed to write or create. I read a lot of reviews on Goodreads that implied that she hasn’t “suffered” enough to have a leg to stand on when it comes to writing. I don’t think this is fair. She obviously has talent, and she’s unapologetic for it, which is probably where she gets herself into trouble.

Okay.

I didn’t have a visceral reaction to this book like so many reviewers seemed to, although I can certainly understand the grounds for these reactions. There are definitely parts of NTKOG that made me cringe (and not in the intentional way that she wants, like with the sex scenes in Girls). I gave credit to Dunham that Girls was self-indulgent because she was trying to prove a point. I still believe this is true, but now I’m really narrowing my eyes at her, because this book is self-indulgent as hell. It’s a memoir, which is tricky because I guess memoirs are self-indulgent by nature. She also cops to her self-centeredness several times, but does that really make it any better? If the self-absorbedness led to advice or a lesson (like, don’t so self-absorbed), that would be one thing. But when it comes to advice or wisdom, Not That Kind of Girl doesn’t have any.

I was surprised and disappointed to see that there were so many essays about BOYS. Here’s a young woman who has accomplished so much in her life before the age of thirty, and she devoted probably 70% of her memoir to writing about her attraction to the wrong kind of guy. I don’t care about reading about every single relationship or non-relationship or sexual exploit that Dunham has ever experienced in her entire life. I want to read about her writing process, what it’s like to have to take command of a writer’s room, actually developing Girls, etc. It’s hard to believe a woman who calls herself a feminist when most of her book is about men. And, actually, writing about that stuff makes her exactly that kind of girl.

I am Malala

Wow. I have so much to say about this book. Malala is so amazing. The value of education is one of the most underrated in our world. A fact that Malala likes to use is that around the world, there are 57 million children not in primary school. That’s insane.

While most of Malala’s story centers around her fight for education and the unrest in her native Pakistan, a lot of this memoir is also about the natural beauty of the Swat Valley, where Malala grew up. I cannot imagine wanted to return to the place where I was shot in the head as an innocent 15 year old girl. Malala wants to do just that. In the end of I am Malala, she writes, “Over the last year, I have seen many other places, but my valley remains to me the most beautiful place in the world. I don’t know when I will see it again, but I know that I will. I wonder what happened to the mango seed I planted in our garden at Ramadan. I wonder if anyone is watering it so that one day future generations of daughters and sons can enjoy its fruit” (313). The Swat Valley must be beautiful and an incredible place to live if Malala wants to return so badly. I wish I felt that way about any of the places I have ever lived in!

Malala and her father are now two of my biggest role models. I almost cried when I read this passage from the book: “My father was convinced the Taliban would hunt him down and kill him, but he again refused security from the police. ‘If you go around with a lot of security the Taliban will use Kalashnikovs or suicide bombers and more people will be killed.’ he said. ‘At least I’ll be killed alone'” (233).

Now I’m going to have to see the documentary made about Malala, He Named Me Malala, directed by Academy Award Winner Davis Guggenheim. I am also going to do a ton of research on her charity, as that would be an amazing place to work! If you are curious about Malala and want to learn more about her and her fund, go to her website.

 

-A

 

Stephen King Round-Up: Carrie & ‘Salem’s Lot

In my latest Stephen King kick I read his first and second novels: Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot. There is A LOT to be said for King’s early work. I think this  is general knowledge/understanding, but I just want to reiterate it here. The Shining is probably still my favorite King, but only because ‘Salem’s Lot was legitimately too terrifying for me to probably ever read again.

Sometimes I get bogged down when I read a Stephen King book, but I tore through Carrie in a day and a half. I appreciated the compactness of Carrie, mainly because I feel like King books are typically too detail-heavy for my taste. The story moved at a brisk pace with a good amount of chills. Even though I had seen the movie and had a general idea of what was going to happen, the book was still engaging. I think the trickiest part about this book was that I was torn between feeling bad for Carrie and the horror of what she was doing on prom night. Honestly, I think what I loved most about this was knowing that this was King’s first published book. Reading it and knowing what its publication was going to lead to was really cool.

‘Salem’s Lot is scary for real. I thought that Pet Sematary was the worst (i.e.: scariest) Stephen King book out there, but ohmygod I finished ‘Salem’s Lot last night and you better believe that I was up listening for bumps in the night. Usually when I read a Stephen King book I’m like okay that was fun but whatever, I’m good. NOT THIS TIME. ‘Salem’s Lot is about a vampire who destroys a town from the inside out. From the outside looking in, Jerusalem’s Lot seems to be a quaint town, full of wholesome inhabitants and happy families. But King lets the reader in to the hidden darkness that we don’t always see about our friends, families, and neighbors. Out of all of the Stephen King books that I’ve read, I felt that this was definitely one of his stronger pieces of writing stylistically. It’s better developed than Carrie, and a lot more gripping. ‘Salem’s Lot has a sinister, slow build of dread. Finishing the book left me feeling extremely uneasy. You’ll never look at your bedroom window the same way again.

-M

Congo

Congo, Michael Crichton

I love Michael Crichton, but OMG Congo was ridiculous. I have a genuinely active fear of primates, so picking up this book at all was probably my first mistake. From the back cover description, I thought I was in for a thriller about a Bigfoot-esque character. It’s not. So to the other people out there who have been scarred by Planet of the Apes, go no further.

Things this book has:

  • Talking gorillas
  • Gorillas drinking martinis
  • Sinister Japanese businessmen
  • Laser guns
  • Blue diamonds
  • Volcanoes
  • Hippos
  • Skydiving
  • Killer gorillas
  • A hot air balloon seemingly conjured out of nowhere
  • A lost city in the jungle called Zinj

I think that says it all, really.

Compared to Jurassic Park, Congo is a lot heavier on the nerdy stuff – a lot about satellites and supercomputers and other things that didn’t interest me. The really fun part about this was the wildly inaccurate predictions about the future of computing. I laughed out loud many, many times. I can’t deny that this was fun to read, but go in with low expectations.

The Hours

The Hours, Michael Cunningham; 2000

I tried to be responsible and read Mrs. Dalloway before  I read The Hours, but I was just too excited about The Hours because I had seen the movie and I couldn’t get past the halfway mark of Mrs. Dalloway. SO, I just read The Hours. I don’t think it’s required to read Mrs. D before the The Hours. From the 100 pages I read of Mrs. D I understood the general gist and parallels between the two. Although now that I’ve finished The Hours, I am certainly more tempted to return to Mrs. D. ANYWAY –

The Hours is haunted by Mrs. Dalloway – appropriately, because its theme is the haunting of present lives by memories, literature, and missed futures. Michael Cunningham’s novel follows the lives of three women over the course of a single day in their lives. We meet Clarissa – nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway by her friends – on a June morning in New York City in the 1990’s. Clarissa needs to buy flowers for a party she is giving for a close friend. Laura Brown is a housewife in 1949 in Los Angeles, who reads Mrs. Dalloway as she attempts to escape from an airless life. Finally, Cunningham offers a fictional version of Virginia Woolf, who is living outside of London and setting out to write Mrs. Dalloway in 1923, which at this point is still titled “The Hours”.

The intersections of these lives was sort of ruined for me because I’d seen the movie a few years ago. But if you’re coming to it fresh, the intersection comes with beauty and surprise. Woolf’s spirit surprisingly emerges as a presence more about living than dying. What I loved most about this is that The Hours makes the reader believe in the possibility of a commonality in literature, that is has the possibility to show people how to live. This is a slim, Pulitzer Prize winning wonder.

What lives undimmed in Clarissa’s mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and it’s perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.