So I was actually totally lying last week when I said I hadn’t read any of the Morning News Tournament of Books 2019 books other than Washington Black and The Golden State… I think this slipped my mind because when I looked at the shortlist, none of the books I LOVED last year were on it. I’ve actually already read Call Me Zebra, The Overstory, and The Parking Lot Attendant. So, as it happens Census, by Jesse Ball, is the sixth book I’ve read from the short list, which I actually feel pretty good about. Am I going to get the other 12 read before the tournament starts? Um. Unlikely…

Okay, so. Census is a really interesting book. It’s a really different book. It’s a really weird book. Sometimes this totally works for me, see Fever Dream and Supernatural Enhancements. This didn’t really work for me. Somehow it took me forever to read, but I also feel like I wasn’t that into it so I definitely missed things. I think you really have to be willing to read this book slowly, and to be willing to read a book that will give you no answers.

Summarizing Census is rather difficult. But essentially, the plot is that a father is dying and he’s decided that the thing to do is join the census and travel with his son, who has Down Syndrome, conducting the census. But, the world that they are traveling in doesn’t exactly seem to be our world, it’s hard to say if it’s post apocalyptic or if it’s just different. But this guy isn’t like a US census worker. What he is, is never fully explained. The census is described a bit more, here’s a piece:

Not, where were your parents born – but, what is the meaning of a national boundary? When your parents crossed such a thing to come here – how did it change them? Why did they do it? Who were those people who left the place that they came from – fearful, hopeful, full of a joy long since extinguished, perhaps replaced with fresh joy, perhaps not – who were they, and how, in all the wild mystery of the earth and its citizens, could they  have come to be the people now crushed by age, waiting fitfully in the waters of death’s first sleep?

So… yeah. Not what I was thinking when I heard the dad conducts the census.

At the start of the book there’s a note from Ball that he had a younger brother with Down Syndrome who he loved, and who passed away, and he always wanted to write a book about him. Rather than write a typically book (ie, a grief memoir), he decided to write a “hollow” book (as he puts it) with his brother at the center. I like grief memoirs for the most part, I identify with grief memoirs, and so that’s probably my favorite thing about this book. But, to me the book did feel a bit hollow, and nothing really filled it up. There’s no world building here.

Some of the book is beautiful and thought provoking (okay most of it probably is, if you’re really willing to sit with this book):

As we drove that night, I told my son about the loneliness that sometimes afflicts people who are alone. Meanwhile, I explained, some other people are just as alone, but never become lonely. How can that be?

There is a lot of this type of musing. Some of it made me muse, some of it made me think WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN THIS BOOK??? So… basically if you like books that challenge you, books that are essentially the opposite of everything you find in typical book, you might like this one. I think I failed at reading Census. But part of me feels like it was very much me and not the book’s fault. At the same time, I won’t be recommending this to anyone.

I also read the exact opposite this week, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions. Which, being a historical sort of mystery novel (nothing that mysterious ever happens, but I guess crimes get solved), has a plot which completely lets you in. It’s the third book in Amy Stewart’s Constance Kopp series, which I have written about before.

Currently reading: Conversations with Friends.