20 December 2011

YA break!

So I'm in the midst of my first December working retail at Grand Central Terminal--this week, leading up to Christmas and Chanukah, is proving to be a doozy. Luckily, there's young adult literature to smooth over the rough spots.

Withering Tights, Louise Rennison: By the hilarious author of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, which I really must read the rest of, WT starts off a new series with a bang! This one centers of Tallulah Casey's misadventures at a quirky-to-say-the-least performing arts school on the Yorkshire moors. Plenty of adolescent romance, humiliation, and sarcasm for all! And I loved that Tallulah realizes her true talent lies in comedy--since some still contend that women can't be funny (hello, the late Christopher Hitchens!), it's nice to see a different attitude pitched to young'uns.

Everybody Sees the Ants, A.S. King: Purchased on the strength of King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz, one of my favorite books of last year. Wasn't disappointed--Ants is a mix of raw and witty, with an otherworldly undercurrent. Its narrator, Lucky Linderman, has been mercilessly bullied by Nader McMillan since he was seven. Eight years later, he's lost faith entirely in the world of adults to protect him: not his distant father, not his obsessive mother, certainly not the school administrators and therapists concerned more with his joke-y proposal to do a social studies project surveying students with the question, "If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you choose?" His sole trusted authority figure is that of his grandfather and namesake--and that only happens in dreams, where he tries time and time again to rescue him from a Vietnamese prison camp. This mission, given to him by his beloved grandmother on her deathbed, blurs the line between fantasy and reality, as Lucky brings back objects from the dreamworld into his real, miserable life. The book is funny and haunting by turns, at a level rarely reached in soi disant adult literary fiction.

Darker Still, Leanna Renee Hieber: Finished off my streak with a good old-fashioned YAP break. Hieber's debut is a Dorian Gray-ish teen paranormal romance, wherein mute New Yorker Natalie Stewart falls in love with Lord Denbury, imprisoned by sinister forces inside a portrait, against the backdrop of 1880 Manhattan and the still-new Metropolitan Museum of Art. I liked but didn't love it--I wish that everything hadn't been just as it seemed, the bewitched lord righteous, his bewitcher so blandly evil. I need a little ambiguity in my heroes and villains.

19 December 2011

The Possessed (Elif Batuman) . . . and a wee Christmas-y Gogol!

Missed the last meeting of the Russian year of the WORD Classics Book Group due to dumb ol' stupid ol' fun-ruining illness, but I did read the book, and it was indeed a fitting cap to the Tolstoy-Dostoevsky-Gogol experience. Elif Batuman's The Possessed is a joyous journey through the lives and peculiarities of people of all nations who find devote themselves to Russian literature. Batuman is an unapologetic member of their ranks, having almost accidentally found herself a Stanford graduate student in comparative literature.

But though she's got a wonderful analytical mind, her prose evades even a whiff of academic density. The long essay that (in three parts) forms the backbone of the collection, "Summer in Samarkand," details her experiences ostensibly learning Uzbek in that still-exotic city--it's a laugh-out-loud funny culture-shock story, a historical introduction to the complexities of Central Asia (as she learned later, "Uzbek" was not even a defined ethnicity or language until the Soviets decided it was in the early twentieth century), and a guide to a literary tradition largely unknown (and honestly somewhat nebulous) outside of the region. Her writing's lovely, witty, smart--even if you've never read a word of those daunting Russians, I highly recommend the book.

I also read, in the spirit of the season, a wee New Directions paperback edition of Gogol's novella, "The Night Before Christmas," a decidedly un-Moore-ish romp featuring the devil, guilty husbands hiding in sacks, and caroling for sausages. It's a fun, frisky folktale, and just cemented my opinion: Gogol is totes my favorite Russian writer!

18 December 2011

Broken Glass Park (Alina Bronsky)

(Ugh, so many apologies for the involuntary hiatus. Was laid low for nearly two weeks by an illness whose main symptom was constant, debilitating fatigue. GUESS HOW FUN THIS MADE DECEMBER RETAIL. Am now almost recovered, whether from a persistent virus or anemia, I'm not sure.)

Broken Glass Park was Russian-born German author Alina Bronsky's first novel, and while it's not the black-comic masterpiece that is The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, it shares with that book an unforgettable, fully realized, fully habitable voice. Here, it's teenage Sascha Naimann, a Russian immigrant to Germany struggling to deal with her mother's violent death at the hands of her stepfather. She's filled with helpless rage and guilt--but she's also smart as a whip and fiercely protective of those she loves, notably her half-brother and -sister, who've lost not only their mother but the father who shot her. A confrontation with the editor of a newspaper that published a supportive interview the killer leads to a relationship with him and his son that shifts unsettlingly between familial and romantic. Bronsky writes Sascha's raw, conflicting emotion, her simultaneously jaded and naive view of the world, and her understandably dark sense of humor with the ease that only comes with great talent--the kind that makes me want to learn German so I can see how much more amazing it is in the original. But since that continues not to happen? Much thanks to Tim Mohr and Europa Editions for bringing Ms. Bronsky into my world! (And thanks to the Europa Challenge blog for giving me still more incentive to keep reading this terrific publisher.)
Creative Commons License
Muse at Highway Speeds by http://museathighwayspeeds.blogspot.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.