March 2019


Last week I read There, There, by Tommy Orange, and listen to the marriage, by John Jay Osborn. And I can’t say that I loved either of them although both are well-written books that I would still recommend depending on what you’re looking for in a book.

I wanted to love There, There, and really it is a phenomenal book, it’s just also a very sad and unsatisfying book. I rarely think I should have read a book faster, but I had some trouble keeping track of all the characters and their relationships with each other and maybe you should just read this in like 1-2 sittings (as noted on the book jacket, this novel is “relentlessly paced” so I think you could pretty easily get through it in a day if you happen to have the leisure time). Essentially, this is the story of twelve Native Americans each attending the Big Oakland Powwow for various reasons (some are there to commit crimes, some to seek redemption, some to connect with their culture). We get lots of back story on most of the characters, which was really fascinating. I found the stories of Jacquie Redfeather and her half-sister Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield particularly fascinating — their story opens with them taking part as children in the Native American occupation of Alcatraz, which I knew pretty much nothing about. I found the ending of the novel unsatisfying, and I think anyone who likes things wrapped up in bows at the end of a book will as well — several characters are very much left hanging.

I also couldn’t help thinking about The Book Thief while reading the Prologue, which painful sets out the genocide committed by white settlers against Native Americans, another sort of holocaust.

listen to the marriage is a very different novel — whereas There, There ranges through decades and around the lives of twelve people, listen to the marriage is a sort of bottle novel. Almost everything in the entire novel happens via conversation inside the marriage counselor’s office. This is the story of Gretchen, Steve, and their marriage counselor Sandy, and how the three of them attempt to rebuild Gretchen and Steve’s marriage. This is another book that can’t be put down: there’s almost a sense that you’re trapped in the room with the three of them for the duration of the novel. Osborn (who wrote The Paper Chase!) kind of bashes you over the head with this concept, which I didn’t think was totally necessary:

“You and me, our story?” Gretchen said. “It’s what is going on right now, in this room. This is where it happens. This is what counts. If you’re not here, in the room, you don’t count.”

But at the same time, I did enjoy this book and thought it was a really interesting picture of marriage and counseling.

Currently reading: Still The Interestings, Men We Reap, and A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers (didn’t get much reading done this weekend sadly).

I think I’m kind of late to the party on this one since it’s already been made into a movie and apparently the movie came out like…six years ago?? Can one spoil a book that came out 13 years ago and has been around as a movie for more than 5?

Anyway, the book thief is a YA novel set before/during WWII in Hitler’s Germany, outside Munich. The characters are pretty much all German, which is interesting — I feel like maybe it’s the books I’ve read, but there seem to be SO MANY books about the brave and faultless British during WWII, but not so many about average Germans. Not that WWII is like, hurting for books written about it. But, it was interesting to see the story from the point of view of two tweens/teens in Germany who are sort of old enough to understand a bit of what’s going on, but young enough to not have much say.

The main character, Liesel, is the book thief and the novel opens with her being taken to live with foster parents because her parents are communists and although it is never stated, it is clear that the German state has decided her parents don’t get to have their kids any more because of their views. Liesel’s father has already been gone a long time. Tragedy strikes on the train ride to her foster home, which seems only right in any novel about the Holocaust – death was simply everywhere during that period.

Speaking of death, the novel is in fact narrated by Death, which is an interesting choice that sort of let’s the novel be both first and third person — we know what’s going on in everyone’s head, but we also get the angst from Death first hand. Yeah, Death is pretty angsty in this novel.

I hesitate to give away too much of the plot of the novel, honestly I read it in about a day a half, so you can definitely get through it pretty quickly. It’s really just a coming of age story about Liesel learning to deal with all the loss in her life. I felt like, maybe because it’s a YA novel, it sort bashes you over the head with the central idea — the power of words. Liesel learns to read over the course of the novel, and as one might expect she steals a number of books, and words change her life, but words are also how Hitler changed the world.

I didn’t LOVE this book, although maybe because it came highly recommended to me, my expectations were too high? It certainly is a fast read, not exactly a fun one (set during WWII in Hitler’s Germany will do that…) although not exactly not a fun one?

I’ve also finished Listen to the Marriage and There, There, so those posts are coming.

Currently reading: The Interestings, Men We Reap, and A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers

I did finish a few more books in February (not on pace to read 100 this year, but 7 in February wasn’t bad), but I’ve been bad about updating here. Perhaps because I didn’t really love any of them (strong endorsement to keep reading, I know!).

I did finally finish Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb. Unless you really love nature writing, you can probably skip this one. Unlike Spineless, there isn’t too much memoir here, the book is certainly based on his trips around the country and the UK meeting people working to help beavers, but it’s not his story. Really, the whole book reads like a series of articles profiling various “Beaver Believers” and telling you about their work.

Also, SPOILER, I did not find much in here about the surprising or secret life of beavers. I kind of assume that was the sexy subtitle that was supposed to just grab people’s attention? Beavers are pretty much what you thought they were – great engineers, with a tendency for some destruction that is displeasing to many in populated areas. I did learn about the importance of beavers — they are a keystone species, because their dams help store water and create healthy streams, their presence can both assist with droughts and support many other species.

I found the historical parts towards the beginning the most interesting, although rather depressing since it’s all about you know, people killing a ton of beavers so they could make warm hats. I will say I learned that beaver hats did not look at all the way I thought they might — people used beaver because of how dense their fur is and how well it keeps in warmth, they didn’t walk around with like a giant beaver on their heads. This makes much more sense, but still an impressive number of beavers were killed.

Current reading: Keep and eye out for discussion of Book Thief coming soon — still finishing up There, There. Not sure what’s up after that… I have quite a few stacks :/