Sunday, August 18, 2013

Easy come, easy go

Maybe the title of the post is just a bit off. Some of the books that I left behind on my recent trip weren't "easy" to come by, though most of them were picked up second-hand or as seconds in various bookstores. However, it is true that I parted with them easily enough (though possibly I should have left a post-it saying the books were being discarded -- it's just as likely that some are now languishing in lost and found offices, though I imagine eventually they'll be donated to libraries). In my current reading I have stuck to my plan to alternating between some stone-cold classics that I have never tackled before (Faulkner's Light in August this August and Proust by Sept.!) with books that I am just trying to clear out. For my recent vacation, I only took the latter. I brought 4 books and left them all behind (after reading them), and I actually picked up two more along the way and also left them behind. So mission accomplished. I'll just go into a few details.

I started with a book that combined Hanif Kureishi's Intimacy (a novella) and Midnight All Day (short stories). I didn't like it. I simply couldn't get past the idea that Kureshi simply detested all his characters, focusing obsessively on the fact that these couples were awful people who split up with no concern at all for their children. I honestly don't think writers should write stories where they detest all the characters in their stories. I also just don't think Kureshi really got the details about class correct in Intimacy. Of all the stories, basically only the small vignette about struggling to get chairs home from the store on the Tube ("Four Blue Chairs") was about a relatively normal couple. I also didn't completely dislike the title story. I wrapped this up on the plane from Vancouver to Toronto and left it at an airport gate.

John Nichols' The Empanada Brotherhood was slight but entertaining, as he relates his early life and career in Manhattan (right before he became a published author and his life changed). He hung out with a random bunch of South Americans at an empanada stand in Greenwich Village in the 60s. While my post-college career was quite different, I can relate to how I hung out with some odd characters, who might well have made an interesting story (if not quite a novel). While it was a little boring reading how pathetically in love he was with this flamenco dancer, I could relate a bit to that, given how I exhausted some of my friends with my stories of the young woman I was pursuing in Toronto in 1994. Appropriately enough, I finished this in Toronto and left it at a bagel place on Spadina.

I had a fair bit of time on buses to and from Stratford, Ont. so I read City of Marvels by Eduardo Mendoza. It has this weird mix where much of the novel is naturalistic (if maybe just a bit too much Ragged Dick with a twist) but then various saints and indeed the Devil come down and talk with the Mayor (of Barcelona) and the city fathers. I didn't really love it; I didn't really hate it. I managed to finish it on the plane from Toronto to Chicago and left it somewhere in O'Hare.

I actually was quite good in Stratford. Despite visiting a number of bookstores with seconded books, I only bought one (David Foster Wallace's The Pale King in hard cover). There were a couple that I probably would have gotten 10 or so years ago, but now will just read from the library.

Heading into the States, I started All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones. While this is probably the best book from a pure writing standpoint, I do find the stories very depressing. He also wrote Lost in the City, which was also super depressing. I was a little surprised that two stories depart from pure naturalism with one featuring the Devil. I'm not saying that a writer can't do whatever he or she wants, but this seemed a bit out of character. Maybe he is alluding to the idea that so many of the Black folks that moved to DC were really country folks and still had these traditions that meant a lot to them. Anyway, just as in Lost in the City, it seems that people have the choice to move closer to White folks and get ahead in life or to stay in the 'hood and suffer really poor life outcomes (and continue to make poor choices). He tries to reconcile these options a bit in "Root Doctor." Honestly, the only story that I would even claim that I enjoyed was "Adam Robinson acquires Grandparents and a Little Sister," though that also contains a lot of sorrow, as Adam is abandoned by his drug-using mother. It takes a while for his grandparents to track him down and rescue him from the foster home system. I was kind of put in mind of Spike Lee's Jungle Fever where the parents have to cope with the nightmare of their son being a hopeless junky. There are many such grandparents in urban neighborhoods that have to shoulder these unexpected burdens, though it would be too much to say that Adam was an unwanted burden. Where I have a bit of a hard time is that Edward Jones seems to focus obsessively on low-income Black folk who continually make poor choices, and he clearly considers those who move into White circles to be "uppity." So there's really no winning with him. I'm certainly done reading his work and won't be reading any more stories or novels, no matter how well he writes. I left this book with my mother-in-law in Chicago, though I warned her it was a bit depressing.

I wasn't as restrained at Powell's in Chicago and picked up a few books (most of which had to be shipped back to Vancouver). However, I did start reading The Wager by Machado de Assis (generally unknown in the States except for Epitaph for a Small Winner, which I own but haven't read, and perhaps Dom Casmurro, which I'll have to pick up some day). The Wager may also have come out as Counselor Aires's Memoirs and it appears to be the last book he published (so would qualify for my Last Works list). It is definitely an autumnal work, written in the form of a diary. The diarist is an older man who briefly considers courting a young widow, but then steps aside (really without her even knowing of his interest) in favour of a man much closer to her in age and outlook. It is fairly dry and awfully restrained. But it is short, which works in its favour. Somewhat surprisingly, Powell's was willing to buy it back from me, though they wouldn't take an art book (which I ended up donating to the Chicago Public Library).

The final book was one that I picked up in the Toronto Reference Library's book sale - Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner.  This is actually a Canadian book, and I am about to review it for my first book of the 7th Canada Reads Challenge, so I won't go into any details here, but I do here.  It was a fairly quick read, and I had wrapped it up before we got to O'Hare, though in the end I left it in Pearson once we made it to Toronto (en route to Vancouver).  While I probably should have started reading this academic book on mega-cities that I have promised to review, it was simply too difficult keeping the kids under control on the flight from Toronto to Vancouver, so I will just have to read it on the train to work now that vacation is over and I return to "real life" (blah).  Still, it was a good experiment that cleared out 6 books from the basement, so on my next trip, I will plan to bring a few other books that can be left behind.

1 comment:

  1. A great way to give away your extra or finished books is to join bookcrossing. you can register them, add labels that tell the finder that they are free to keep them. if they follow through and make a journal entry you can track the book's travels. I have been a member since 2005 and love to give away books. you can check out my page here