29 December 2009


New resolution-type project: I'm rereading some of my absolute favorite books from elementary school. My co-worker Steph is close enough to my age, and was as relentlessly bookish a child, that we have a lot of touchstones in common, and talking about with her has made me hungry to re-experience them. Not to say that I never read anything dubious in my youth: I shan't be rereading any of the 50+ Baby-Sitters Club novels I devoured, despite the enormous pleasure I garnered from them the first time, and my attempt to get back into the Nancy Drew books a while back imparted the rueful knowledge that the writing wasn't exactly, well, good. But hell, I never ate sugary cereal or watched Saturday morning cartoons: compared to those, reading mountains of innocuous pulp was pretty harmless.

First up, Norton Juster's incredible The Phantom Tollbooth. I think this book, more than any other, introduced me to and created my passion for metaphor. The concepts I read about here first--Short Shrift, the Awful Dynne, the Dodecahedron and the Doldrums--that I can't think of without imagining Juster's personifications! The marvelous similes (the tastes of letters, the sights of sounds, particularly the handclaps of clean white paper)! Middle-Earth and Narnia and Hogwarts are quite all right, but I would say I'd rather live in the Kingdom of Wisdom, were it not for the knowledge that it's already where I spend my days.

Pynchon, Pynchonesque.

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon: Pynchon is, I think, one of those polarizing, love-him-or-hate-him authors, also tainted by an overserious and undercritical male following. Me, I love his work to absolute bits, ever since reading V. in eighth grade (though both then and in my rereading ten years later, I skipped the excruciatingly detailed nose job scene entirely).

The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem: Epic coming-of-age novel (like everyone feels their coming-of-age to be) set in 70s Brooklyn, during the morphing of Gowanus into Boerum Hill. Apparently Lethem's another divisive novelist--this book in particular, to judge by Goodreads reviews, is either THE BEST EVER or A PIECE OF SHIT. "Pretension" was a common and frankly baffling accusation. I have to assume these detractors' pop- and high-culture experiences differ widely from Lethem's own and his characters'; to me, writing from within what's comfortable for you can never be pretentious, and The Fortress of Solitude reads with the confidence of comfort. One commentor complained that there were too many adjectives and similes in his prose; to me, this is saying, "Yeah, those descriptions were way too vivid! I hated knowing what the sights and sounds and smells of the narrative were! And figurative language just confuses me!" Perhaps Lethem's just firmly in my bailiwick, with his adorable sweater vest (when he read at WORD in November) and comparisons to Pynchon? And yeah, I got a kick out of knowing, down to the block, where the book takes place.


Once a Witch, Carolyn MacCullough: Pretty good. About a girl from a family of witches who has no power of her own (or does she?). Family secrets, burgeoning romance, and a fantastic climactic setpiece in Grand Central Station.

Lips Touch: Three Times, Laini Taylor: Far and away the best of the lot, in spite of the aggressively stupid title. It's three novellas, loosely centering on the motif of a life-changing kiss. The language is amazing, and the three entirely separate fantasy worlds she creates are richly detailed. For instance, in the center story, "Spicy Little Curses Such as These," is set in India during the Raj, and begins with the daily meeting, over tea, between an elderly widow and a demon, wherein she pleads with him for the souls of children. And that's just the premise. Plus, each story is preceded by a brief, wordless illustrated narrative, depicting a peripheral scene from the story. Its significance only becomes clear as you read on.

Ash, Malinda Lo: Ehn. It's billed as a YA lesbian retelling of Cinderella, and it is that. I mean, the Cinderella stand-in falls in love with and ends up with a woman. Beyond that, the characterization is flat, and the romance as sterile and take-my-word-for-it as too many heternormative teen reads. Gay girls deserve better.
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