Shoplifting from American Apparel is part of Melville House Publishing’s “Contemporary Novellas” series. I believe the point of the series is to provide a place for writers to publish short works, longer than what would fit into the usual short fiction outlets. The novella is a complelling format: long enough that the author can stretch out a little and expand on the characters, but short enough to read in a sitting or two. That’s a nice change of pace in between big, complicated books.
Tao Lin’s entry in the series is a collection of brief moments in the life of Sam, a writer who seems to drift around thinking about writing and interacting with whomever happens to be around in the backyards, bars and parties he attends. The writing is crisp and short, and there’s very little plot beyond Sam and where he goes. But at 112 printed pages, I wouldn’t expect a grand plot anyway.
There’s a lot of product placement in the novella, and I suspect that the commercialization of our lives is part of the point Lin is making. At one point Sam started thinking about what his life might be like if he were to really work hard on his writing:
Loneliness and depression would be defeated with a king-size bed, an expensive stereo system, a drum set, a bike, an unlimited supply of organic produce and coconuts, and maybe calmly playing an online role-playing game.
This idea doesn’t get very far, though, and the next scene is largely about the sound a “Synergy” brand kombucha makes when dropped on the ground. I think part of the message here is not that much really happens in real life, and we don’t really know what the moments are that are going to be really meaningful at the time they happen (either that or our lives are basically filled with moments that aren't meaningful).
Anyway, it was a fun read. I like the style and the way Sam moves through his world, but it makes me wonder how Lin would handle a longer format. I wouldn’t want to have read much more than the length of this book at least not without something actually happening.
Sputnik Sweetheart is a book about loneliness. There are three main characters, including the narrator who is in love with one of the women in the story. She is in love with the other woman in the story, who can no longer love at all after losing half of herself atop a ferris wheel in Switzerland. If that sounds strange, well, it’s Murakami.
It’s a short book, slow moving, but very captivating. Cats appear and disappear, and there’s even a dog or two. But loneliness is the primary emotion. This section reminds me of a Buffy episode where a girl actually does disappear because no one pays any attention to her:
But past a certain point nobody talked to me anymore. No one. Not my husband, my child, my friends . . . no one. Like there was nothing left in the world to talk about. Sometimes I feel like my body’s turning invisible, like you can see right through me.
Good book. Maybe not Murakami’s best, but very enjoyable.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the third book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. If you’ve read and enjoyed the previous two books, you will enjoy this one as well. Like the others, once you get into it, it is difficult to put the book down.
It’s not great literature, and there are hard to overlook flaws (anytime an interesting woman appears, there is a good chance the main character will eventually sleep with her), but it sure was fun to read. I’m looking forward to watching the movie.
This was the first book I read electronically, on an iPad and iPhone. I didn’t think I’d like this as much as I did, and will likely read a lot of books this way in the future. The only limiting factor for me is that most electronic books include Digital “Rights” Management (DRM) encryption, which means that it is a real hassle (and is probably even illegal in the U.S.) to convert these books into formats that can be read on different sorts of eBook readers. I don’t like the idea of buying something that I can only read on a particular device or software package because the support for that system could easily disappear in the future. Plus, if you buy books from multiple different sources, you have to have a different reader for each of them. For now, I will probably only purchase books using formats without DRM, or with DRM that is easily circumvented (like the Kindle format, for example).
I’d read a few gushing blurbs about The Passage, Justin Cronin’s long novel (the first in a trilogy, apparently), when it came out last year, but I wasn’t particulary excited about reading “The Stand meets The Road plus vampires.”
But, there it was in the new paperback section of the bookstore last weekend, so I picked it up. I’m glad I did. It really is a great literary summer read: great writing, propulsive plot, lots of thrilling moments. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book. Lots of hair-raising moments like this one:
Wolgast could stand it no more. “What’s over?”Lear lifted his face; his eyes were full of tears.“Everything.”
If you’re looking for something both well written and exciting to read this summer, check it out.
Another monster book from McSweeney’s. This time around it’s a wide ranging historical montage of America around the turn of the last century when we were fighting wars in Cuba and the Philippines, and reconstruction was giving way to Jim Crow in the South.
The book has several main characters and dozens of minor ones, all struggling to make it in a society that is very much against them getting ahead. Several are forced into joining the Army to fight first the Spanish and then the native population in the Philippines, others work back-breaking jobs and rarely come out ahead.
It’s a great portrayal of racism, classism, and imperialism in America, and it’s sad to realize that more than one hundred years on from the story, we’re still struggling with the same issues.
I enjoy historical fiction, so I really liked the book. It’s also gorgeous, with a rich gold-leaf embossed cover and sewn binding. If you’re thinking of reading it, I’d get the hardcover. It’s heavy (and expensive), but instead of a mass market “hardcover,” you’re getting a real book the way they used to be made.