The real question is, "What would Blair Waldorf do?"
On several occasions in the past few months, I’ve been kind of chided by people I respect and admire about all the “self-promotion” I do on this blog and social media. And it made me feel pretty ashamed, which made me think about this whole idea of shameless self-promotion, and how shameless it really is.
Here’s the thing. Yes, I’m being a big, annoying show off. But I’m not doing it for my ego, or because I assume everyone in the world wants to know what I thought about whatever book I read. I’m doing it on the off chance that somehow it will help me get somewhere one day. I know that to even get close to achieving my goals, I have to put in a lot of hard work first. And some of that hard work involves “selling myself”, as unnaturally as it might come to me. (more…)
“To start with, look at all the books.” From the very opening line of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, it’s clear that literature is going to be pretty important here. After all, it’s a novel about three Brown graduates as they navigate their first year out of university and into the “real world”, which all their critical theory has left them, ironically, pretty poorly equipped to navigate.
This is a book that plays at pulling apart ideas about love and marriage and all its complications, and it peppers the overlapping stories of the three protagonists Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell with references to all the texts we probably should have read at uni. It’s a love triangle story at its heart, but Eugenides is attempting something a little bit critical – enquiring whether “the marriage plot” is still a meaningful literary form, when marriage hardly seems a satisfying goal for these characters with such wild, youthful aspirations. As Eugenides told The Millions, “Instead of writing a marriage plot, I could deconstruct one and then put it back together, consistent with the religious, social, and sexual conventions prevailing today. I could write a novel that wasn’t a marriage plot but that, in a certain way, was; a novel that drew strongly from tradition without being at all averse to modernity.”
It was Kurt Cobain’s birthday earlier this week. He would have been 45, which kind of blows my little mind. And even though it should really have nothing to do with me at all, it makes me feel peculiarly, deeply sad.
Here’s the quasi-embarrassing thing. I have a beautiful black and white poster of Kurt framed on my wall. I think it’s just the most stunning, incredibly poignant picture – smoking and playing guitar, his hair greasy and tangled against a stubbly cheek. I see people notice it and politely pretend not to notice it when they walk into my living room, which I guess is nice. It’s nice not to have to explain how even though I’m not 16 anymore, there’s still something I find so beautiful and mesmerising about him. Even though I’m past that phase where rock music meant everything to me, listening to Nirvana still wrenches something inside my belly, reminds me of sadder times and gives me that peculiar, gloomy comfort. That line from Frances Farmer, “I miss the comfort of being sad,” makes perfect sense to me in moments like this.
It’s terribly uncool, but there’s still something about that angst that speaks to me, even though I was never a part of it at the right time. I was a generation too late, but I still feel, somehow, like I’m part of this huge group of people who have felt the same way, at some point. And I think that’s what makes Nirvana and Kurt’s whole legacy so enduring, and so important to so many people.
Super-cute Bookmarc card
Hey, so it’s Valentine’s Day. Look, I know how uncool it is to even have it on your radar, but given that I haunt so many American blogs, it’s hard not to be aware of the date.
The thing is, it’s always kind of assumed that, if you’re a girl, you’re either pathetically misty-eyed and crazy about the whole thing, or you’re alone and desperate and bitter about it, and also crazy. But really, most of us are kind of in between. Kind of indifferent, really. There’s all this Occupy Valentine’s Day stuff, which does kind of appeal to my cynical side, but I just don’t care enough about this day to even hate it.
And really, why would I hate it? Sure, it’s dorky and lame and “if you really love each other you don’t need a special day to remind you of it” and blah blah blah. But I’ve had a couple of really great Valentine’s Days in the past, with all that sweet romantic champagne and rose petals sort of thing. And it was nice.
Basically, I think the way this book came to be written is that Saramago thought, “Hey, what would happen if people couldn’t die?” And so this fictional country was created, where one day, on the first day of the new year, nobody died. If you’re a lover of Latin American fiction, and the various strains of magic realism that tend to go on throughout it, then the concept won’t be too difficult to accept. What’s interesting is the way this deathlessness so quickly becomes a terrible thing rather than a blessing. The character of Death (or death – she insists it is spelled with a lower case ‘d’) becomes a villain because she doesn’t kill. And when the story gradually morphs almost into the realm of the love story, it’s pretty beautiful and enthralling, despite the time it might take to grow on you at the beginning. (more…)
The complexities of sibling relationships and the bittersweet passage of time are at the heart of this charming little gem of a novella. Short, meandering, and told with Anna Gavalda’s characteristic lightness of touch, Breaking Away has a warmth and hilarity that belies the depth of emotion simmering beneath the surface. This is the latest of Gavalda’s works to be translated into English, and it can be easily devoured in one sitting – from the very first paragraph, the greater challenge would be to put it down.
Most of the story takes place during a car trip. Garance, her sister Lola, their brother Simon and his wife Carine are driving out of Paris to a cousin’s wedding in the country. Garance has the hilariously acerbic wit that makes many of Gavalda’s heroines (particularly those of her short fiction) so memorable, and she delights in winding up the already overwound Carine. But when she’s not busy mocking her sister-in-law, her thoughts meander throughout the past, reminiscing about her siblings, the childhood they shared and the paths their lives have taken. (more…)
Like a lot of people, I’m fascinated by the brain. I love reading about neuroscience and psychiatry, but I’ve never formally studied science beyond year 10 in high school – so it’s always exciting to find a book that covers interesting aspects of the field in a way that is accessible and engaging to someone like me.
In Phantoms in the Brain, neuroscientist VS Ramachandran (with the help of writer Sandra Blakeslee) weaves together the stories of some of his most interesting cases and the discoveries he has made about the “phantoms” that lurk inside the human mind. These phantoms are the things that cause the most absurd of disruptions, like being able to feel and even move a limb that has been amputated, or seeing cartoons in the middle of a giant blind spot, or becoming convinced that your parents are in fact imposters who just happen to look exactly like your real parents.
It’s these strange disorders that provide insights into the normal workings of a functioning mind – it’s when things go wrong that we can start to learn how things should be working. Amazingly, the entirely bizarre starts to sort of make sense, and even if his theories don’t necessarily explain everything (as no theory in neuroscience ever really can), or even turn out to be correct they are definitely thought provoking.