Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On the Beginning of a 25th Year

Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all these scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compuslive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compusion tries to justify itself.
-"On Keeping a Notebook"
Joan Didion

This past December, I turned 25 (cue the horrifying music and thunder here). A few months before what turned out to be a pretty non-monumental date, I started freaking out a little. I think it had something to do with the fact that A) I was no longer in school which was scary and different, B) adult life began to set in with a real job and student loan payments, and C) I don't think that my 13 year old self ever really thought I'd turn 25. It seems so... old. So...cosmopolitan. Yet here I sit, a bona fide 25 year old in her roach-y, small apartment, far away from many of the people I love, writing about one of the few constants in my life since I was 13 years old--books.

In the light of turning the big 2-5, I copied a friends idea (thanks Cassie!! oh, and Liz too!) to make a list of 25 things I want to do while I'm 25. Ever since Cassie had the brilliant idea, more than a year ago, I'd been secretly stashing ideas in some back room of my brain of things I wanted to do while I was 25. Though my list does not quite hit the 25 mark (there are 17 goals--still not bad!), I spent a lot of time curating this list of things both big and small that I want to accomplish this year.

The reason I'm telling you this (besides the obvious fascination with talking about myself in print?) has to do with the fact that in addition to trying 5 new restaurants (done!), trying 25 new beers (well on my way!), find the perfect lip color (a girl can dream), get braces (booyah!), and write one letter a week (so much fun--I want to write about doing this at some point--it's so therapeutic!), one of my goals is to update my blog at least once a month. Last year I was so very terrible at it (read: I never updated) and I read so many good things that it seems like a waste. So, I'm getting back on the saddle, friends.

January has proven to be a big month for people looking for recommendations. I think with the new year and all, people want to read more, and rightly so! (As you may have seen in my last post, there have been some pretty fantastic things that have been coming out recently.) I'm always happy to make lists for anyone as long as they are willing to answer a few very simple questions, especially because it gives me a chance to sit down and go through several years worth of lists and to spend time thinking solely of books and the person for whom the list is being made. (On that note, if you're looking for something good to read or want a list or anything, never hesitate to email or comment!) In the spirit of a big month of several big lists, I thought it might be fun to reflect on my month of reading in much the same way that I compose one such list.

Although this month has not seen a great volume of books being read, the quality has been extraordinary. Some are lucky finds, while others have been longingly awaited, but all had something different and wonderful about them:

-The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern--Oh. My. God. I actually started reading this two days before the new year and thought I might have finished in 2011, but it wasn't meant to be. I actually picked this up on a sort of a whim. I'd had it in my library queue (which is usually a joke) and was waiting on it. Lots of early "top book picks" of 2011 had this book on it. But I think what drew me more was that it looked so different--not just the cover, either, but the premise and the writing. Luckily my roommate got it for Christmas, so she let me snatch it while she was reading something else. I was blown away. Clocking in around 500 pages, The Night Circus is actually a little hard to put into words. There is a magical element to the story, but I wouldn't call it magical realism and I wouldn't call it fantasy either. But that's kind of what I loved about it--it is uncategorizable. The premise of the book is that two older men agree to hold a competition in which they choose a pupil to whom they will train for a big duel although they are not told what form it will take. It ends up becoming the Night Circus which only opens at dusk and closes at dawn and contains magical tents, amazing characters, and the beautifully woven story of the competitors who make it real. My favorite part is that the book turned out not to be what I thought it was about the whole time (at least in my interpretation) and I love when things surprise you like that. I really don't want to give too much away, so just go pick it up for yourself!
If you liked Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or The Tiger's Wife, you'll particularly like this one!

-Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan--This is the second novel from the author of Commencement (which I haven't read but is on my nightstand because a friend said that it was better than this one!), and if I'm correct in my review-reading has similar under-tones as Commencement: female friendship/family, growing older, and a little smidge of Catholic guilt strewn on top. The story follows three women of three separate generations in one semi-dysfunctional family. The matriarch is the grandmother who has a dark secret following her, one of her daughters has never felt like she fit in and is still mourning the death of her father, and her daughter is faced with an unexpected pregnancy and subsequent end of a relationship. I liked the structure of the story (I love a non-linear telling) where each woman told alternating chapters and the character development. The end was a little bland, but overall, I enjoyed it.
Read this one if you liked Little Bee, The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow, The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok, or Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos.

-The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach--I had been waiting and waiting and waiting for this book since it came out in September of 2011. I put it on hold the day it came out and finally got it 4 months later, and it was worth the wait. One of the more highly anticipated novels of 2011, the book has a very interesting story behind its publication (there was an article in Vanity Fair that told about the 9 years spent writing and bidding to get his book published... I need to read it yet). The story follows a group of people all tied to the fictional Westish College located in Wisconsin including the president of the college, his recently returned daughter, and three members of the baseball team: a stunningly gifted shortstop, the teammate who plucked him from obscurity, and a brilliant scholarship student who gets involved with a risky affair. I love baseball, so this book held me there, but even if you aren't one for the sport, it's about more than baseball. It's about religion and dedication but not necessarily to a god or supernatural being, but rather about the religion we create for ourselves around an aspect of our lives and what happens when it's taken away from us. It's a novel about finding oneself in the midst of becoming something different than you expected. It's brilliant.
Did you like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Freedom by Jonathon Franzen, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann? Pick this one up!

-Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion--Compared with the others in this short list, this book is ancient, but no less fantastic. I read Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (which so affected me that I found myself crying in the airport last year) and was looking forward to her newest book Blue Nights (again... in my library queue) and came across this group of essays in the library catalog. Separated into three sections, Slouching Towards Bethlehem compiles some of Didion's greatest essays from the 1960s including the piece for which the book is named which chronicles the counterculture of the 1960s in Haight-Ashbury with brilliant clarity, "On Keeping a Notebook" which I actually read twice just to hear the words again and to be reaffirmed, and "Goodbye to All That" in which she looks back upon her time spent in New York City as a young, naive girl. I don't love all of Didion's work and won't even pretend to get all of it, but many of the essays still ring true today--about growing up and looking back and family and memory. A great book for a quick but engrossing read.
Pick this up if you like short stories or essay writing.

For right now, that's all I got. I hope to really keep on top of this an to update once a month at least. I'll keep you apprised of the progression of my 25 year goals and of what I'm reading as I fade into old age. :)

Next on the pile: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta which I just started and I have a feeling is really going to freak me out... but sometimes you need that.

Happy Reading,

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