Book Review: The Little Friend

Book Review #21 – The Little Friend (Donna Tartt)

*****

Wow. What a book. I can’t even think of what to say. This was a book I read, frequently, but also thought about reading when I wasn’t reading it. The only book I can compare it to is Light in August by Faulkner. There is a similarity — the gothic Southerness, the focus on race and class relations, the loss of innocence, the sense of individual people making logistically sound choices but getting caught up into a chaotic world. It’s a book about a 12-year old avenging her brother’s murder but it’s so far beyond that. Nothing much happens but also everything happens.

Donna Tartt, like Jeffery Eugenides, has written three books. Like Jeffery Eugenides, one has won the Pulitzer Prize. But unlike him, she has published each book ten years apart. Each one constructs a completely realistic and surreal world, and each one lets you go so deep into that world that it’s a struggle to let go.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

Book Review #2O – A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)

**

I really thought I’d love this book. I have been reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s blog which is amazing. I love hearing her perspective on small moments, news events, and appreciate the value she provides as both a wonderful writer and someone older, who has an interesting perspective and view of the world. A Wizard of Earthsea is arguably her best known book. Written for children (or young adults might be more accurate), I found it really complex. Maybe it just wasn’t what I was expecting. The plot was almost hesitant, and I often found myself confused and having to go back a few pages to pick up the lost thread. I was curious about the book and how it would end, but couldn’t really get into it.

Giving up on Happiness

Recently, all of my life advice has included some variation of, “You’ll never be happy.” I increasingly think this is true, not just for me, but for everyone.

Happiness at its root is essentially a neuro-chemical reaction. Your brain shifts its chemical makeup slightly due to whatever reason and your mind interprets those feelings as happiness. Almost by definition, your brain will adapt to whatever that first stimuli was, and re-change the chemical processes to remove the additional dopamine.

What does this mean?

You basically can’t sustain happiness. You can live a meaningful life in many ways, but you can’t shift your life to ensure feelings of happiness are foremost in your mind. Being happy, by itself, almost causes a shift that will eventually reverse and be experienced as unhappiness.

Since realizing this (and most credit is due to my MBSR class), I care a lot less about my mood at any given moment. I still notice and acknowledge it, but now I try to accept it regardless of whatever it is. I don’t feel guilty for being upset or strive to channel happiness. Instead, I let myself accept what is actually present which, ironically, often leaves me happier because I’m not trying to force something onto my circumstances.

Book Review: The Marriage Plot

Book Review #19 – The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides)

**

Jeffrey Eugenides has published three books: The Virgin Suicides (adapted into a movie directed by Sofia Coppola), Middlesex (a Pulitzer Prize winner), and The Marriage Plot. I have read all three. The Virgin Suicides, which I read in my teens, I thought terrible and completely unrelateable. Middlesex, I found completely moving and phenomenal, and the Marriage Plot. What do I think about the Marriage Plot? It is a book I have seen – at the library, at the bookstore – many times, picked it up, read the back cover, and placed it back down. I do honestly believe it’s not worth reading. The characters are flat, the plot is absurd and slow-moving — there is just a completely vapid nothingness. It almost reminded me of Revolutionary Road in terms of how much of a novel you can craft around unlikable flat characters who can’t seem to learn how to be better people.

Book Review: The Glass Castle

Book Review #18 – The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)

***

The Glass Castle, a memoir, shares Jeannette Wall’s experience growing up with her parents. Her parents who in many basic ways flat out refused to care for their children. Refused to get or keep jobs, refused to get or keep food, refused to get or keep clothes. Her whole childhood is on the move, from one dump of a house to the next, until they buy a place in West Virginia with no heat or running water. Where all the kids poop into a bucket that someone buries in the backyard. Where there are so many leaks, kids put tarps up over their bed. Where there is no food and the kids eat out of the cafeteria trashcan. Walls manages to portray all of this, and also all of the love and nourishment that did exist inside the house. Eventually, the three older children moved to NYC and had successful careers (Walls herself went to Barnard and became a writer). The book raises a lot of questions about family ties, burdens, and obligations — what do we owe to our children? What do children of misguided (and abusive) but loving parents, owe them? What do siblings of such trauma owe to each other?

Book Review: Dear Ijeawele

Book Review #17 – Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

***

I hesitated over whether to review this book. I wasn’t sure if it was a book. It’s an adapted email from a friend classified by Wikipedia as “an epistolary form manifesto” whatever that needs. It is 15 suggestions on how to raise a daughter with feminist values. It’s a book meant to engaged deeply with but having no children and no book club, I struggled to do so. I wished I could convene a women’s group and meet each week to discuss one of the lessons.

Book Review: Goodbye, Things

Book Review #16 – Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism (Fumio Sasaki)

*

This is a dumb book. Basically a list of how/why you should become a minimalist which is fine but examples include a globetrotter who doesn’t seem to carry any clothes in his backpack (I am so confused by how this works. What underwear does he wear while his other pair is drying…?) and the author, himself, who uses the same dish cloth to dry his hands, wash his body and…dry his dishes. Yeesh.