The Week in Books #69

3/12 ✅

The week in books. And what a week! The Goldfinch dominated as I made my way through its nearly 800 pages in 6 days, then I managed to squeeze in a few more to round out the week with a new stack.

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Phew. Reading this in under a week feels like a real accomplishment! I shouldn’t complain about long books but they can be a slog to read sometimes, and The Goldfinch was pretty great though for me it did drag in parts. The characters were unique and memorable (Boris!) and I loved the story of the underground art world. I got really into it, actually, to the point where near the end I was ranting to Justin about the choices Theo was making. He was in the clear! But then he doubled down on his involvement and made everything so much worse! What a ride. Definitely lived up to the hype for me, even if I thought it didn’t need to be as long as it was.

Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity.

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

2. The Need by Helen Phillips. This is a strange little novel about motherhood that was actually a super accurate representation of the stress associated with being a mother. I read the blurb and was immediately sweaty about the thought of an intruder in my home and wasn’t sure I could actually read this without having a panic attack but I dove in anyhow and it was sooo much cooler than a random burglar/woman-as-victim narrative. Definitely worth checking out, Phillips has a really creepy cool style.

When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.

But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.

Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.

In The Need, Helen Phillips has created a subversive, speculative thriller that comes to life through blazing, arresting prose and gorgeous, haunting imagery. “Brilliant” (Entertainment Weekly), “grotesque and lovely” (The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice), and “wildly captivating” (O, The Oprah Magazine), The Need is a glorious celebration of the bizarre and beautiful nature of our everyday lives and “showcases an extraordinary writer at her electrifying best” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

3. Earthlings by Sayaka Murata. This was a lovely present from Justin for Christmas and I’m fiiiinally getting to it! I liked it so much that I read it in one sitting. By the end I was like ‘wtf did I just read’ but also it’s from a Japanese writer so I was totally expecting something bizarre and disturbing. Murata delivered bizarre and disturbing, for sure! All the cult-like chatter about the ‘factory’ and societal pressures to couple up and breed was actually pretty funny which was a nice balance to the paedophelia, murder and, yes, cannibalism. Loved it.

Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman was one of the most unusual and refreshing bestsellers of recent years, depicting the life of a thirty-six-year-old clerk in a Tokyo convenience store. Now, in Earthlings, Sayaka Murata pushes at the boundaries of our ideas of social conformity in this brilliantly imaginative, intense, and absolutely unforgettable novel.

As a child, Natsuki doesn’t fit in with her family. Her parents favor her sister, and her best friend is a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut, who talks to her. He tells her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia on a special quest to help her save the Earth. One summer, on vacation with her family and her cousin Yuu in her grandparents’ ramshackle wooden house in the mountains of Nagano, Natsuki decides that she must be an alien, which would explain why she can’t seem to fit inlike everyone else. Later, as a grown woman, living a quiet life with her asexual husband, Natsuki is still pursued by dark shadows from her childhood, and decides to flee the “baby factory” of society for good, searching for answers about the vast and frightening mysteries of the universe—answers only Natsuki has the power to uncover.

Dreamlike, sometimes shocking, and always strange and wonderful, Earthlings asks what it means to be happy in a stifling world, and cements Sayaka Murata’s status as a master chronicler of the outsider experience and our own uncanny universe.

4. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. This was a tough one for me; on the one hand it was an important book in its time (1975) and illustrates the struggles of women and girls in Chinese culture fairly well (to the best of my knowledge, at least). On the other hand, I didn’t find it that engaging and struggled to make it through the final story in the collection of five. I’m a bit unclear on whether it is a memoir or fiction… it says memoir but the first story was pretty fantastical and the dialogue in the rest of the stories felt very fictional. Parts of it were quite funny and the writing itself was fairly strong. I just wasn’t gaga about it.

In her award-winning book The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston created an entirely new form—an exhilarating blend of autobiography and mythology, of world and self, of hot rage and cool analysis. First published in 1976, it has become a classic in its innovative portrayal of multiple and intersecting identities—immigrant, female, Chinese, American.

As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.” The fierce and wily women warriors of her mother’s tales clash jarringly with the harsh reality of female oppression out of which they come. Kingston’s sense of self emerges in the mystifying gaps in these stories, which she learns to fill with stories of her own. A warrior of words, she forges fractured myths and memories into an incandescent whole, achieving a new understanding of her family’s past and her own present.

5. The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit and Other Stories by Sylvia Plath. I have never read any of Plath’s writing for children, so when this book popped up in the stories of Reasons to Live Books in Gibsons I had to buy it. Bonus is that I have a child to read it to now! Haha. This is a lovely little story about Max wanting the perfect suit. The second story about Mrs. Cherry’s kitchen is equally adorable and a poem about beds? Yes please. I can’t wait to read it with Mavis.

In the eponymous The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit, little Max Nix is on a quest to find the perfect suit he can go ice-fishing, cow-milking and town-walking in. There’s magic afoot in Mrs Cherry’s Kitchen and children will love to find their perfect Nighty-night little / Turn-out-the-light little Bed! in The Bed Book.

Small book addition this week, I found a copy of Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band at GIRO for 50 cents. I listened to the audiobook version of this a few years ago and thought it was great. The hard copy is a nice thing to have as it includes lots of pictures that you don’t see when you listen to the audio (obviously). Photos of Kim just chilling with Nick Cave and Iggy Pop, or chatting with Kurt Cobain at what looks like a casual mixer. No big deal.

Sonic Youth on the Simpsons, just ‘cause it was a good cameo

Well, it was a great week for books around here. This week I’m starting Empire of Wild, the other book Justin got me for Christmas. I’ve managed to read 39 books towards my goal of 104 for the year already! Wow. What is everyone else reading right now?

A quick recap:

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