January 2004

So I'm on this campaign of self-improvement. I'm reading Lectures on Literature by Vladimir Nabokov, and the novels about which he writes. The idea is that since I've never studied literature, and have always been a voracious and passionate, but hardly critical, reader, this will teach me how to "read like a writer." That last sentence is meant to be read in a loud and pompous voice. But I'm also reading plenty of other stuff, otherwise I'd go mad! Cloud Atlas by David Mitchelll This is a truly marvelous novel by a young Brit. It's six interlocking tales, kind of spiraling in and out of one another. Blue Shoe by Anne LaMott There's a bit in this book where the mother is horrified that her son has only just mentioned a massive homework assignment late the night before it's due. He says something like, "Oh chill out. It's not a big deal. Where do we keep our cheesecloth and dowels?" I laughed at that for a good five minutes. The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler This novel traces an entire marriage - and entire lifetime. Beautiful. But my god. Depressing as hell. The Lucky Ones by Rachel Cusk These short stories are lovely, but I have a bone to pick. This is not a novel. Just because a group of short stories happen to share some characters you cannot just call them a novel. Novels have an overarching plot - a narrative. A theme and a thematic structure. STOP CALLING SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS NOVELS. Goddamn it.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert Yes, I'll admit it. I have not read this before, and I only read it because Vlad assigned it. But holy shit. The way he built these characters one layer at a time.

Mansfied Park by Jane Austen I'm very grateful to Vlad for starting me with something I've read before and loved. I learned a tremendous amount about how to construct a sentence - how to bury irony, for example - from reading this novel under his tutelage. I still loath Fanny Price, though. Little milksop. The Wife by Meg Wolitzer This novel is about the wife of a famous writer. Hmm. I wonder why I bought it. It was tremendous fun to read, but I didn't like the ending. I thought the dramatic surprise sold the novel short. The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate A lovely novel about complicated, sad and lonely people. American Woman by Susan Choi This book is remarkable. Beautifully written and devastating. I think it might be a Pulitzer finalist... or, dare I say, winner. Brick Lane by Monica Ali Terrific novel about a woman from Bangladesh brought to London and married off to a much older man. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon This book is fun, although a bit too long for a rather slender premise, but the translation is pretty awful. I slogged through it, though, mostly because we were on a truly horrible vacation - Club Med Ixtapa (what were we thinking???) - and it was the only book I had left. Your Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon Chaon is a terrific writer. Spare and elegant. I loved this book.