A Book I Read, A Book I Dropped, and a Book I am Dying for You to Read

26 Apr

You can check out the first two books I’ve read this year here.

What I Read: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

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If you haven’t read anything by Murakami before, I suggest starting with his shorter fiction (you can start with his not-at-all-shabby number of New Yorker contributions)– his books often have long asides that are immensely enjoyable but don’t necessarily contribute to the narrative arc, and  his take on magic realism is what I imagine an LSD trip would feel like. In general I am not into anything even remotely fantastical, but Murakami’s command of readers is unmatched: he envelopes us in a world we can swallow, one where words and symbols are both plain and profound, then inverts it just enough to remind readers that he is in the driver’s seat–and we WILL be enjoying this ride.

Anyway, if The Interestings is about a group of childhood friends who stuck together through life even when they shouldn’t have, CTTAHYOP is a mediation on what happens when that group of friends is gone.We meet our protagonist in his mid-30s, an engineer with a lifelong self-prescription for colorlessness struggling to connect to a world of whose hues remain apparent-but-out-of-reach to him thanks to an abrupt and traumatic transition from the comfort of childhood to the confusion of early adulthood. Murakami gives us a few foils to Tsukuru, who guide him (and readers) through flashbacks and side stories in exploration of why he can never quite cross out of black and white Kansas to find the brilliant shades of Oz. If that synopsis is oblique, I’m glad– I love not knowing what Murakami’s books are “about” and just letting the familiar-yet-foreign world he creates unfold before me.

What I Dropped: Outline

I almost never don’t finish books–but when the pie chart of your time has only the teensiest sliver for leisure reading, there’s no time for words that don’t blow your hair back. I wanted so much to like this book: it’s about a British woman who goes to Greece to teach writing after a divorce… writing, Greece, and reinvention are pretty much my favorite themes. But the structure of the book made it difficult for me– the narrator actually has no narrative at all, rather she merely moves us from person to person as the characters she meets tell their stories rather than hers.

It is likely that I will go back and try this book again–the writing is compelling and there were some spot-on and hilarious depictions of Greeks–but I just never cared enough to keep moving through the book. Cusk was able to carry each story on its own, but failed to compel readers (or at least this reader) to continue from one to the next. Anyone read this? Should I keep going?

What I’m Dying For You to Read: Consequence: A Memoir

Holy moly. I’m about 1/2 way through this book right now and am not ready to wax poetic, so I’m just going to make the case for you to read this book so I can talk about it with you. On its face, Consequence is Eric Fair’s account of his time as an interrogator at Abu Graib–but truly, it is an indictment of the many, many systems that created conditions ripe for the abuse and horror of the prison. Fair takes his time getting there–as I said, I’m about half way through and we’ve only just gotten to Iraq– but no words are wasted. The writing is sparse and plain, and Fair moves us from his early childhood to his decision to deploy as a contractor to Iraq with only as much attention as a particular phase of life requires. He is objectively critical, and lays out events with only as much edification as he thinks is required to make a point. There are no tirades, no rants, no pontificating–just the facts as this conservative Christian man from Pennsylvania saw them. Most impressive is the way Fair does not shield himself from the light of his own investigation: he indicts himself and his own moments of cowardice just as searingly as his cavalier colleagues, indifferent supervisors, and clueless community members.

I’ll write again when I finish it. Please please let me know if you read this, too!

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