It’s that faithful time again. I’ve finally completed the next twenty books of two-thousand-and-eleven and I’ve capsized the boat of my bookshelf and emptied them onto my floor to take a stronger look and give you the most intimate details of my relationship with that book. It’s been a long time comin’; between family gatherings, holidays with food that makes you sleepy (most vegetables make me dreamy, so in essence I want to sleep, or just lay there with my eyes open, staring at the clouds and guessing at their shapes. Mostly I just see Abraham Lincoln).
So, as always, I’ve torn apart, stared into the heart of, and developed crushes on about one-hundred book characters in the last two months and I want to share with you my not-so-scientific findings of what my heart and brain both agree to read.
1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan’s name is too long for me to fit all five stars and because the fifth one goes to the next line, I’m just going to be completely and utterly OCD and leave it simply at four (even though he deserves five). His books will appear two more times in this list (including the book that made me turn to Vegetarianism) and I am pretty much obsessed with him. If he wasn’t married to Nicole (who writes drawn out novels that don’t make connections between plot lines until the bitter end), I might have tried to scoop him up. Completely ignoring the fact that he’s Jewish and I’m Catholic and that he possibly has a facial mole (which for some reason I can’t get over….I’m not molist or anything, I just would need time with the thing).
Anyhow, this book is everything magical about September 11th. I know that it’s a devastating day in US History and will probably be discussed in eighth grade textbooks for the next millennium, but this book makes it so different from a day filled with smoke, and humans, like you and me, flinging themselves out of seventy story windows to die from pavement rather than fire.
This book is told in the perspective of a young boy, Oskar, who has lost his dad in the September 11th attacks. Oskar finds a key in a vase, and goes on a secret mission to find everyone with the last name of Black in NY which is the name on the envelope where he found the key. He’s quirky, inspiring, innocent, and thoughtful. He’s like the nerd you always wanted to be friends with in elementary school, who had that awesome My Little Pony lunch-box, only you finally got that seat at the cool table and it was too early in your life to realize it’s cooler to be uncool, and to just be smokin’ hot.
I may or may not have cried till there was snot creeping at the corner of my mouth, and then laughed until I spit all over my cat. This book will run you the whole emotional gambit and it will be worth every cent, or gas for the trip to the library that you have. My favorite way that I’ve seen this book described is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is Jonathan Safran Foer’s love letter to New York City,” and I could not agree more. (Plus, no one calls him “Foer” in reviews because they’re not sure if they should put
“Safran” as well, so they just put the entire, fill-up-all-the-scantron-bubbles name).
- “Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living”
- “I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.”
- “Humans are the only animal that blushes, laughs, has religion, wages war, and kisses with lips. So in a way, the more you kiss with lips, the more human you are. And the more you wage war.”
- “We need enormous pockets, pockets big enough for our families and our friends, and even the people who aren’t on our lists, people we’ve never met but still want to protect. We need pockets for boroughs and for cities, a pocket that could hold the universe.”
2. The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood
This is a retelling, sort of, of The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus. It’s in a collection of books where modern authors take myths and turn them into modern novellas. I really like Margaret Atwood, the cover popped out at me at the library, and I decided why not, you’re a pocket-sized novel I could take a bite out of for an evening. And, I did just that.
Now, I’m kind of a freak when it comes to Greek Mythology, like I’m obsessive. I really think I was Cassandra in another life (thus the name now) and that my name can tell you a lot about me by just googling. It’s like people who are obsessed with horoscopes except a sort of reincarnation, with less rope sandals and just as much maiden-esque hair. So, that said, I’m a bit bias. Atwood did this novella so well, she even had the Greek Chorus (which were the thirteen maidens who ended up dying because of their supposed gossip over Odysseus’ grand adventures) and Penelope comes off as such a strong and cunning individual rather than the way she is portrayed in history as the faithful, and do-whatever-my-husband-asks, doting wife.
Atwood is a known feminist (as am I) and I think she did Penelope a favor, and I choose to believe Atwood’s bra-burning version of the tale rather than the all-men chorus of Greek Writer’s who alluded to Penelope or wrote about her. It is time a woman author, and a woman character had a voice equivalent to their powers and Atwood does just that. This book can be read in two hours, literally. So, pull out your dusty rocking chair, covered in pollen from the last few weeks, and put on some bug spray and dive into an evening of Greek myth and romance where the female winds up on her white steed and controls her house, and her many suitors.
- “Who is to say that prayers have any effect? On the other hand, who is to say they don’t? I picture the gods, diddling around on Olympus, wallowing in the nectar and ambrosia and the aroma of burning bones and fat, mischievous as a pack of ten-year-olds with a sick cat to play with and a lot of time on their hands. ‘Which prayer shall we answer today?’ they ask one another. ‘Let’s cast the dice! Hope for this one, despair for that one, and while we’re at it, let’s destroy the life of that woman over there by having sex with her in the form of a crayfish!’ I think they pull a lot of their pranks because they’re bored.”
- “Then sail, my fine lady, on the billowing wave -
The water below is as dark as the grave,
And maybe you’ll sink in your little blue boat -
It’s hope, and hope only, that keeps us afloat”
- “You don’t need water to feel like you’re drowning, do you?”
- “So much of the language of love was like that: you devoured someone with your eyes, you drank in the sight of him, you swallowed him whole. Love was substance, broken down and beating through your bloodstream.”
- “Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”
- “Shame should be reserved for the things we choose to do, not the circumstances that life puts on us.”
- “They were both going to the big country where there were more psychiatrists than anywhere else in the world. We could just as well say more swimming pools, more Nobel prizewinners, more strategic bombers, more apple pies, more computers, more natural parks, more libraries, more cheerleaders, more serial killers, more newspapers, more raccoons, many of many more things, because it was the country of More. No doubt because the people who lived there had left their own countries precisely because they wanted more, especially more freedom.”
- “I am here. I am hot./My short skirt is a liberation/ flag in the woman’s army./ I declare these streets, any street,/my vagina’s country.”
- ”The emotions of men, however, were of a different order. They were pesky annoyances, small dust devils at her feet. Her knack for causing heartbreak was innate, but her vitality often made people forgive her romantic misdeeds.”
- “If you occasionally wonder how I know about some of the events I describe in this book, I don’t. I have found that–just as in real life–imagination sometimes has to stand in for experience.”
- “nonsequiter, n. – This is what it sounds like when doves cry.”
- “corrode, v. – I spend all this time building a relationship. Then one night I left the window open, and it started to rust.”
- “Ubiquitous, adj. - When it’s going well, the fact of it is everywhere. It’s there in the song that shuffles into your ears. It’s there in the book you’re reading. It’s there on the shelves of the store as you reach for a towel and forget about the towel. It’s there as you open the door. As you stare off into the subway, it’s what you’re looking at. You wear it on the inside of your hat. It lines your pockets. It’s the temperature.
The hitch, of course, it that when it’s going badly, it’s in all the same places.”