Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

bearbeitet2.PNGI never allow myself to have too many ambitions about reading complete shortlists (or even longlists) for literary prizes, but I do quite like to know about them to then randomly stumble across one or another of the nominated books on my next library trip.

I’ve just talked about how much I like reading books I don’t really know anything about – it’s something I really miss, being a child in a library full of books I’d never heard of and checking them out based on description or even cover because what, really, did I have to lose?

So I went to my favourite library last week looking for a new audiobook to get lost in. I got four, but that’s a story for another day. The one that excited me by far the most, and the one I’m here to talk about, is Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
Apparently (and I only saw this after listening to it), this audiobook has in itself gotten quite a lot of attention because of its all-star-cast of 166 narrators (!), giving each source and character a distinct voice.

Lincoln in the Bardo is based on two main factual ideas: on the one hand the death of Willie Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, amidst the American Civil War (which hands down, I know nothing about…) and the tale that he apparently spent at least one night in the graveyard grieving for his son; on the other hand the concept of “bardo” which originates in Buddhism, where it describes the transitional state between death and rebirth. Combining these, Saunders has concocted a tale of grief and spiritual existence after death, a tale of Abraham Lincoln not alone in the nightly graveyard, but rather surrounded by spirits unwilling to move on to the afterlife, while unable to communicate with the living – his son Willie one of them.

What makes the first novel of the acclaimed short story writer so special is the writing, which is unlike anything I have ever read. The story is told from different character’s points of view, in a way that reminisces of a play rather than a novel of changing narrators, with narration strands disrupting and correcting each other – a style that works remarkably in the audiobook form.
This basic narration style is disrupted by quotes from numerous historical sources, weaving a factual basis for the fabulist story unfolding in the cemetery.

Listening to this, very oddly, felt like a guilty pleasure for how much I loved it? Not something I expected when approaching (*takes on snotty literary critic voice*) a book nominated for the Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious book prizes in existence. But I actually think Saunders has managed to strike a fragile balance with Lincoln in the Bardo: experimental writing of (in my humble opinion) actual literary merit, which I wouldn’t mind writing an essay on, which at the same time is highly readable, at times even indulgent.

The style is unusual, of course, and takes a minute or two to get used to, with the author giving you no hints or orientation in the first few chapters as to what the hell is going on, and without formal introduction of any of the characters, but once you get it, I found it a beautiful way of combining source material, dialogue and stream of consciousness. The closest I could probably come to defining it is a collective stream of consciousness, with distinct voices and styles all coming together in one coherent story thread, albeit a multifaceted one.

The most obvious theme around which all else seems to center for me is letting go, be it Abraham Lincoln letting go of his lost son or the dead letting go of their existence on earth by acknowledging their own death. The book looks at how we take the legacy of departed loved ones on with us, which is why I think I might like it even more once I’m old enough to have an understanding of grief and losing someone (is it weird that I have an inofficial post-loss TBR in my mind? Like, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter? Nevermind.)

Saunders also quite cleverly builds this narrative into the historical background, seemingly building a firm foundation for his story by quoting several sources, just to immediately undermine his own efforts, making you question the reliability of contemporary accounts by having them contradict each other on questions as whether the moon shone one particular night, making you subsequently question all historical description and to some extent preparing you for the unreliability of subjective narrative voices.

He also touches on the pressures the raging war put onto the president, and paints a delicate emotional picture of losing your own son while daily receiving death tolls from the war front, complimented by the accounts of soldier’s mothers who talk about losing their sons to what they seem to coin Lincoln’s war.

I could go on for hours, but I think you get the picture. It’s a fantastically clever, tender and beautiful book which I didn’t expect to even read and ended up loving a lot. If you can get your hands on the audio narration especially, I’d say give it a go – just maybe have a look at the physical book first and make yourself familiar with how the text is laid out so you don’t get completely lost, as seems to happen to a lot of people…

That being said, I might get myself a print copy to reread at some point, because I’ve heard it’s a very different experience yet, and I’m so up for more time in the bardo.

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“begat” or: Some thoughts on reviewing books

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So I mentioned begat by Felix Culpepper in my recent bookhaul and even linked you to my goodreads review, so I genuinely thought I was done talking about it. Turns out my brain isn’t ready to let the whole thing go quite yet.

I have been thinking about my relationship with reviewing books, prompted by this particular experience. Little backstory in case you’re one of the very few people in the universe who haven’t read my last blogpost. *awkward silence*
I went to London recently, and went bookshopping, including a trip to a indie bookstore I’ve never been to before. They had an uncorrected proof copy of this little novella called begat, a sign proclaiming it ‘the first satire novel for Trump-era America’ or something of that general disposition and prompted you to take one and have a read.

I really like books, you might have noticed, and I spend a lot of my time engaging with them. I find reviewing and criticism to be incredibly valuable parts of how we meet literature and I will time and time again force myself to write as many reviews as I can.

All this chasing the rather vague concept of good literature. Like what even?

I’m very much amenable to influence. If someone I respect a lot tells me a book is badly written, I find it hard to completely convince myself of anything otherwise. It’s something I’m working on, but for me, it means I never one hundred percent trust my own judgement – of course I go into a book expecting a certain level of writing, and I regularly wonder if subconsciously I make a book what I expect it to be.

That’s why I like to challenge myself to reading books I don’t know anything about. Literal blank pages. (Well not literal blank pages. I like my books to come with text, I’m conservative with that.) I’m not even allowed to have heard anything about the author. That way, I have to confront the bare writing completely unclouded by previous judgement. Which is something I want to be able to do.

Finding fascinating books that nobody has even mentioned is hard though. If you’re an absolute nobody comme moi who doesn’t get flooded with proof copies, interesting blank canvases can be hard to come by. Which is why I didn’t think twice to have a try at reading this one and being one of the first people to make my opinion heard. Because it’s really fucking exciting.

While, as I discuss in my review, the book itself didn’t overly impress me, it already feels weirdly important to me. I wouldn’t normally keep a two star-read, but I might have to hold on to this one to reread in a few years, reminisce about being a naive seventeen-year-old and reading this in a stuffy, rumbling tube train, jotting down mental notes on the narrator voice and the Frankenstein references. Teaching myself literary analysis. Constructing a professional review for a handful of people to ever see on goodreads.

That, I suppose, makes this my unprofessional thoughts on begat. Which are bordering on the ridiculous – consider this: I wanted a book to objectively review without any circumstances swaying my opinion. And yet here I am scribbling one of the most unobjective rambly posts of them all to tell you how profusely important writing a small goodreads review was to me. Maybe I’m just not a very objective human being?

Favourite London bookshops (+sneaky bookhaul)

So I went on a little trip, not nearly long enough to once again excuse my absence from the internet, but more than sufficient to go on an extended bookshop crawl. As the cool kids do.
I was planning on just doing a bookhaul to ease myself back, but I ended up digressing into bookshop gushing just too much to not rename the entire project. So here goes nothing: all of the beautiful bookshops I always come back to when going to London, plus the (very few) books I acquired.

Chain Bookshops

Just going to squeeze these in at the beginning: While I really try to be a good human and buy my books at indie shops, sometimes I’m a chain bookshop-special offer-victim and so it happened with the first few on my list…

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1984 / Animal Farm / Down and Out in Paris and London; all by George Orwell

So this is neither original nor news, but I do love me some Orwell. I’ve read both 1984 (review!) and Animal Farm, but didn’t own either and could not resist these completely gorgeous editions. Down and Out in Paris and London is apparently an autobiographical piece about Orwell living on the streets of – now, you’ll never guess which cities. Don’t let me spoil it for you.

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

So this one’s gotten a spot of hype? Famously including our bookseller at Waterstone’s who couldn’t contain her excitement over my buying it. It’s a historical fiction set in Victorian Essex featuring, as far as I can gather, atmosphere and myth and feminism, so I’m sold.

The London Review Bookshop

The London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury might just be my favourite physical space in the universe. It’s two levels of extremely well-chosen and sorted books of all varieties, a little cafe to get your obligatory cake intake and some of the most competent booksellers I know. They’re lovely as well, and whenever I’m in London, I try to get a few books there to let them know how much I appreciate their existence. These ones for example.

Bodies of Light and Signs for Lost Children; both by Sarah Moss

I’ll confess myself obsessed. Sarah Moss is magically talented, mindblowingly clever and quite possibly one of my favourite writers. So I had to get my hands on more, obviously.

These two seem to follow the same cast of characters, are set in Victorian England with a detour to Japan and loosely connected to her fabolous novel Night Waking which I’ve just read and lost my heart and ability to love other books to, but let’s be real, Moss could write about microbiology or ancient sculptural art and I would be the first to pay good money.

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Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

Seeing this book in other people’s hands online I’d always assumed it to be a deliciously rubbery-matte paperback when it is, physical contact revealed, a gorgeous little hardback. That aside, I’m overly excited about the content as well.
You’re looking at a fictionalized version of the life of Margaret Cavendish, a 17th-century British duchess who wrote and published fiction, poetry and philosophy books at a time when women were supposed to, well, not write. From what I’ve seen of it, it appears to be written deliciously beautiful, almost bordering the prose poetry and it just appealed to me in a way that made it jump up my wishlist without much further research. Very excited for it.

Housmans Bookshop

So, the people at Housmans near King’s Cross blurb themselves Radical booksellers, which is something I can get behind… They have a massive non-fiction section sorted into areas of left-wing politics such as feminism, race relations, peace, anarchism, marxism, socialism and global relations. They also have lots of pamphlets, magazines and random little publications from smaller presses, as well as – and I appreciate this a lot – zines! The basement is split into a bargain room of £1 second hand books as well as a small, but select choice of fiction, poetry and art books. I’m rambling now, suffice to say, it’s literal paradise, you’ll come across books you never knew you needed and you’ll want them right there.

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begat by Felix Culpepper

So here we have another thing about Housmans I love: they had a table of indie-published fiction, and on there was this, an uncorrected proof copy of a novella, free to take and have a look at. Which, being a wannabe book reviewer and always trying to challenge myself, I decided to do. I have already read it and written an in-depth review on goodreads in case you care, but let’s just say I didn’t love it.

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The Rise of the Right by Simon Winlow, Steve Hall and James Treadwell

Finally, a piece of non-fiction and one I really wanted to look out for while in London, as it comes highly recommended by Sophie and just sounded SO good. It’s very niche, I suppose, and something I’ll have to concentrate on as I don’t know too much about British politics, and I might end up trying to pair it with Owen Jones’ The Establishment as that sounds like a lovely intense combination, dunnit?

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Yet more non-fiction: Things that can and cannot be said by John Cusack and Arundhati Roy, who apparently put it together from interviews and essays, all prompted by a conversation with Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg, looking at society and power structures and big stuff like that? It sounds exceedingly interesting…

Any Amount of Books

So this one gets talked about a lot, but I’ll join the party. Any Amount of Books is a fucking magnificent second hand bookshop on Charing Cross Road who sell books in great condition for really fair prices. Especially since they’ll always give you spontaneous discount if you buy several books. They also have a shelf of recent hardback releases for second hand prices, which is particularly exciting.

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Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss

So I’ve been trying to ease myself into reading essays this year and find myself massively enjoying them (other than last year – but we don’t talk about that…), specifically if I concentrate on social justice issues. Also, this is so embarassingly shallow, but I’m head over heels in love with the Fitzcarraldo editions and got to the point where I just couldn’t justify not buying one anymore.

Enter Notes from No Man’s Land, from what I can gather, essays focusing on race relations – a one-line blurb that will forever sell me.

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In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming is one I probably wouldn’t have picked up if I hadn’t stumbled across it in prostine condition here, but I quite like the sound of it. I’m really into Latinamerican and Caribbean literature right now, and this one’s set on Barbados, following a young boy on the brink of adulthood, the island around him shaped by crumbling colonialism, and it seems to be semi-autobiographical as well, so that sounds brilliant.

Foyles

Foyles, also on Charing Cross Road, isn’t a well-kept secret either, but it’s such a wonderful place to be. Several storeys of literally every book ever (not true), shelves you can get lost in and once again, a place to rest with some coffee and cake. Good stuff.

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Things we lost in the fire by Mariana Enriquez is a translated short story collection from Argentina, set in the murky backstreets of Buenos Aires and apparently playing with classic ghost story tropes, turning them around on their heads, adding a seasoning of magical realism with eerie Shirley Jackson vibes, so that’s that.

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Last one, guys, last one. This is, funnily enough, also my currently reading, and I’m completely in love… The Secret History by Donna Tartt has been on my mental wishlist forever, and would probably have remained a someday, maybe if I hadn’t spotted this breathtaking edition well-concealed amidst all the classic black ones. Well, now I’ve got it and was so excited I couldn’t wait a day to start it. I probably should listen to my mental wishlist more.

So there we are. A modest little selection *cough* which I’ve been saving up for, just to clarify, so that’ll last me a while as far as book buying goes. Onto the fun part, I say.

Consent Awakening.

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Of all the many things still wrong in Western societies, public attitude to sexual consent is something that manages to disproportionately shock me everytime.
I cannot believe that in the year 2017, the concept of marital rape is still denied by some people; that laws like this one in North Carolina still exist and that there are people who think that joking about non-consensual sex is ‘just boy talk’.

So although I’d like to believe the following is common sense, here’s the definition I like to keep in mind: if someone involved did not explicitly consent, you’re having non-consensual sex.
It’s not that hard, is it? Feels like the kind of thing you could teach every kid without much strain. Maybe, like, mention it in sex ed? Well, I don’t know about where you’re from, but where I go to school, nobody taught me the basics of rape or not-rape.

Which is what I believe desperately needs to happen. Until that is mandatory, though, can we please at least try not to glorify rape??
Cause yes, that’s something that happened. In 10th grade German class, our curriculum includes reading the 19th century play ‘Frühlings Erwachen’ (‘Spring Awakening’) by Frank Wedekind.
Now, don’t get me wrong. That’s a great play and I massively enjoyed studying it. It shows the sexual awakening of a group of teenagers in late 19th century Germany and very openly critizises the sexual education and taboos of its time. We talked in detail about how that lack of open conversation caused the tragic results shown in the play, and most of the discussions we had in class were liberal and brilliant.

Which is why the following shocked me so much. In our final exam, we were given a scene in which two of the characters have sex, initiated by the male character who has managed to educate himself quite well, while the female character is simply clueless. She excessively protests the act, but is ignored by him.
Asked in our exam to judge whether the scene portrays a rape situation, I relativised this definition with circumstances, but insisted that sexual relations in which one partner protests verbally cannot be called anything else, even if she ‘did want it too’.

I got detracted points for an interpretation mistake. Given hints in other scenes that she did enjoy and want it too, I was supposed to classify the scene as consensual. Which the rest of my course did.

This is not me whining about a grade. I have discussed that intensely with the respective teacher; the only thing we could agree on being that we disagree.
This is me telling you how fifteen people went out of that German class having learned that no can also mean I secretly want this just as much, don’t you mind my protesting. That’s shit, man.

I genuinely believe that a critical approach to literature cannot just consist of contextualising it historically and socially to explain character’s behaviour. Keeping in mind problematic attitudes on sexuality and gender in many renowned classics, we have to keep applying contemporary thought and not excuse everything as ‘of its time’.

Our norms and morals aren’t a thing taught from textbooks in one specific class. They have to be the framework of everything we’re taught – which is why revolutionising the way we talk about sex has to happen in biology class, but it cannot stop there!

Doubleplusungood – 1984 by George Orwell

I do regularly write for my school newspaper, and recently I drew up an article on 1984 by George Orwell. To cure my blogging slump, I’ve now translated that article into English with some minor changes and decided to share it with you. Do enjoy.

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The Second World War had just ended when in 1949, George Orwell published his last novel. In a world crumbling of post-war-atmosphere and a dawning Cold War, Orwell tried a look at the year 1984, distant future to him. Considering the world around him, it’s no wonder that got rather pessimistic.

In his worldwide renowned dystopia, Orwell conjures a world separated into three superstates instead of numerous smaller ones; Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. The three are constantly at war, a war whose fronts and alliances are as changeable as it’s goal is unclear.

Through the eyes of his protagonist Winston Smith, Orwell describes life in Oceania, the allegory of a totalitarian state. Every aspect of everyday life is meticulously controlled by “The Party”, lead by the mysterious “Big Brother”.

This Big Brother and the regularly cited sentence “big brother is watching you” have found their way not only into reality television, but also political debates.

After all, Orwell confronts the reader with the perfect surveillance state. Omnipresent, so-called telescreens watch the civilians at all times, from waking up to going to bed, while sleeping, eating, dressing, working and even spending their scarce freetime. Even critical thoughts concerning the political system are condemned as crimes (“crimethink”) and the Party is working at establishing a new language (“Newspeak”), that makes them literally impossible.

Winston, employed at the “Ministry of Truth”, describes his surroundings with mild disgust, but also the knowledge of absolute powerlessness. Only slowly does he find ways of silent resistance, for example by documenting the actual course of events in a diary. And then, he meets Julia, with whom he starts an affair. Bolder and bolder they try to find niches in a system of absolute control.

Orwell’s novel isn’t comfortable. It’s captivating, but also aggrieving, so terrifying the society he creates, so total the powerlessness of the individual.

Still, “1984” is more than worth the read. Not only is it gripping to the last page, it also palpably illustrates, why it is so important to defend freedom and privacy against pretended safety in times of terrorism and mass data collection. Because total surveillance would be disastrous for all of us. Or, to say it in Newspeak, doubleplusungood.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards – Kristopher Jansma

This is an incredibly hard one to review. The more time passes since my reading of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, the less I like it…?

Let’s start with a brief synopsis, because this is not one all over the book community. In fact, I’ve only seen Olive from bookolive talk about it, but she just sold it so damn well that, on coming across it at my local library, I couldn’t help my curiosity.

This novel follows an unnamed narrator and his quest to write a novel while maintaining relationships of some sorts with his best friend Julian McGann and his crush-hookup-maybe-slightly-manic-pixie-dreamgirl-but-also-friend-I-suppose-does-anyone-actually-like-her Evelyn. It jumps place a lot as the narrator travels around the world, always tormented by the absence of his literary success (or literally anything that would merit his life, as he just floats through abscure countries earning his living, drinking and not letting go of the two single-most pretentious people ever to enter a book, Julian and Evelyn).

It’s weird, but you’ll quickly see that plot isn’t really the dealbreaker here anyways. What this is marketed as really effectively is

1) brilliant literary writing and
2) a tour-de-force of unreliable narration.

So let’s talk about those.

1) The writing. I went into this the way I always do when I expect a book to be exquisitely written: ready to savor every syllable. And I wouldn’t say that was completely misplaced, because Jansma without a doubt put a lot of thought into the word-composing.
It’s just not a brilliant success in moments where I can literally feel him yield a sentence in form. There’s loads of bits where I forgot his presence and genuinely liked the writing, but when I didn’t, it really pissed me off.

Still I was ready to label it fairly well-written until I read the very last few pages, which just felt crude and badly crafted and really pulled down my impression of the entire thing. Also, I’m not sure how much of that is conscious but whenever there’s excerpts of what the characters in the novel have written (yes, I know, talking about it twists your perception) it’s just shit. Like hands down complete rubbish.

2) The unreliable narrator-ism. I WAS SO DISAPPOINTED BY THIS.
Everyone just kept talking about the narrator’s constant lies and blending fiction and fact and I was so ready to have my mind messed with by him. He just didn’t.
Yes, the way he creates fiction was fascinating to put into relation with what you’re told and what is implied, but I wanted moments of complete mind-blown-overwhelmed-being and just kept waiting.

So yes, this didn’t give me everything I wanted from it. Or really, anything I wanted from it. Still, I wouldn’t say it was terrible or I dragged through it. I just kept waiting for more, and maybe that made me miss the brilliant implications, but I just thought it was an okay-done super weird (in a fun-there’s jungles and palaces and ice and drugs and Russian fishing huts in it-way) but slightly overambitious novel composition with a shit ending. Not really bad, because great bits, but not great either, because really bad bits.

Reading Bingo 2017

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So, you might’ve noticed there’s no post of Reading Resolutions or big plans for the year beside my (very chill) TBR. That’s because, while I love challenging myself, all I want this year’s reading to be is enjoyable and pressure-free.
I’ve got a lot of stuff going on in school right now, and there’s just more than enough pressure happening without me contributing to it further. And while I massively enjoyed #bustlereads last year, especially in November it stressed me out a lot because not only did I want to finish all tasks, but I wanted to do it in time for bookmas and loads of reviews.
While that kind of pressure might work for some, it doesn’t for me and makes reading, my literal favourite thing to do, a task I have to force myself to.

That’s why I didn’t want to do any fancy reading challenges for 2017. Until I wrote my wrap-up post for bustlereads and realised how many great books I discovered by doing it. So I decided, to keep it stressfree, to make my own reading challenge just for myself. Enter Reading Bingo 2017.

I called it that because in my reading diary, I drew a bingo field to mark my finished challenges in, inspired by the Diversity Bingo currently making its rounds on the internet. Here, however, I’ll only give you the prompts I ended up using.
I’m basically trying to challenge myself a bit to not fall asleep in my comfort zone, but very much adjusted all the tasks to fit my interests and what I’d like to personally achieve. Some may seem ridiculous, but I really feel this will just serve as a reminder to not get too comfortable, without stressing myself too much, because reading is my comfort place after all and I really need it right now.

Reading Bingo 2017 challenges:

x  Read a Shakespeare Play: The Tempest – William Shakespeare

o  Read a Collection of Poetry.

x  Read a Hyped Book You Wouldn’t Normally Read: The Power – Naomi Alderman

x  Read a Book in French: Le Petit Prince – Antoine de Saint-Éxupery

x  Reread a Book: Franny & Zooey – J.D. Salinger

x  Read a Collection of Short Stories: You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down – Alice Walker

x  Read a Book by John Steinbeck: East of Eden – John Steinbeck

o  Read a Book Set In An African Country. (obviously #ownvoices)

o  Read a Book Set In An Asian Country. (again, definitely #ownvoices)

x  Read a Book You’ve Never Heard Of: begat – Felix Culpepper (read here and here)

x  Read a Collection of Essays: Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay

o  Reread a Book You’ve Read in 2017.

x  Read a Book Over 500 pages: Middlemarch – George Eliot

x  Read a Book That Intimidates You: Dubliners – James Joyce

x  Read a Play NOT by Shakespeare: Nathan the Wise – Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

o  Read a Man Booker Winner.

o  Read a Non-Fiction by Someone You Don’t Agree With.

I’ll try to, once again, do reviews on as many as possible and document my progress on the blog. I hope you’re as excited as I am about this, because I honestly think it’s exactly right for me right now…

Merken

Merken

GONE: The Last Days of The New Yorker – Renata Adler

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Well, look. If it isn’t me getting my shit together and actually doing reviews throughout the year, not just panicking for the last twenty days. Fun, isn’t it?

We’ve gathered here today to talk about Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker by Renata Adler. I’ll quickly give you my reasons for picking this up, to help you understand my opinions:
I really like The New Yorker. I’ve actually never bought a copy, because I’m a broke student and it’s really overly expensive in Germany, but I enjoy the articles I can read online and what is uploaded to Instagram, and I definitely feel the special position it still holds for a lot of people in the realm of magazine publications.
In addition, I’m also generally extremely interested in journalism and media and love reading about the industry.

So, when I randomly came across this book in my library, having never heard of it, I just picked it up on a whim, ready to be surprised.

What I wanted from this was a piece of the magazine’s history told by someone who was there and knows how to write a good piece of non-fiction, because that has obviously been Renata Adler’s job for years. Maybe some analysis on why, as she obviously states, the magazine is slowly dying.
I got a bit of both. But prevalently, this was a mix of Adler writing her autobiography and getting even with literally everyone that’s ever worked for The New Yorker.

While she does start with some general reflections on how the magazine got to the special position it once held in the publishing world, and how it lost that again, she quickly gets into pages over pages of (about equally in-depth) analysis of books some of her colleagues have written on the magazine, showing up all the aspects in which they are obviously blatantly wrong and bad writing in addition.

This opening then leads into an endless array of personal anecdotes, all resulting to a few simple truths:
Renata Adler is the epitome of the adamant, competent journalist. She could have left The New Yorker numerous times for easier positions at other publications. But, mostly, she didn’t. Because Renata is loyal, she’s steadfast, she’s got ideals.
That’s why everyone that doesn’t get completely roasted in this book gave a lot on her opinion. Of course, she was always ready to produce some brilliant advice.
She was friends with some really famous writers. They really valued her opinion, too.
Everyone in journalism is really fake. You’ll never know if they actually like you. Renata Adler, of course, sees right through it.
Editors are absolute assholes. They just love to annoy writers.
The New Yorker was better in the past. As was, of course, everything.

So yes, I really don’t think you need to read this book. It has some interesting things I didn’t know about publishing and The New Yorker in particular, and other than a lot of other reviewers, I actually enjoy Adler’s writing style.
Hadn’t I grown to not particularly like her, I might’ve been inclined to pick up some of her less personal texts, because I definitely think she’s a good writer. Still, having made my way through Gone, I really don’t want to spend any more time in her head right now…

books i want to read in 2017.

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Today, quite a chunk into this year already, I present to you the books I really want to get to this year, just because they excite me a lot. Still, I don’t think anyone’s surprised to hear I haven’t picked up one of them so far… let’s hope I make this the year of actually reading books I think could be new favourites. Because everything else is just plain ridiculous, right?

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The Establishment by Owen Jones. This is a non-fiction book by Owen Jones, british Journalist occasionally to be found in the Guardian, and apparently he writes about what he defines as the British political establishment and how they’ve affected recent events in the UK. (Not that recent though. It was written and published in that wonderful ancient  world where we didn’t have Brexit…). I have an embarissingly bad understanding of British politics, but this sounds like a wonderful book and I love Owen Jones’ reporting on YouTube, so that’s good.

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The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss. So yeah, I haven’t read this yet. I don’t know what I’ve been doing this year, but I’m so picking this up like this month because I’m so looking forward to reading this. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past twelve months, this is a novel about a teenage girl just collapsing in school and whatever family dynamics follow, it’s supposed to deal with grief and the writing is apparently spectacular. I can’t wait.

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Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. I’ve read half of Dead Souls over a year ago now and absolutely loved it, but for some reason put it down and just forgot to read on. I’ve been looking forward to restarting it ever since I noticed it, and it’s definitely happening this year. It’s a wonderfully funny, weirdly twisted book and the intentions of the main character (who is buying up dead souls, peasants who’ve died, to be recorded as working for him) are a mystery that definitely keeps you hooked, which makes it even weirder I ever put it down.

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Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I know relatively little about this and want to keep it that way, but I do know that it’s about a married couple and feeling stuck in a life situation, and apparently it’s written quite brilliantly and absolutely affecting, so that should be good. Also, gorgeous cover, right?

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the accidental by Ali Smith. I’ve read one Ali Smith-novel this year and really enjoyed her writing style, so when I found this in a second-hand store in Dublin for real cheap I just thought I’d get it. It’s the book of hers I’ve heard mentioned most, and the premise sounds fascinating: stranger coming into a family holiday home and just starting to live there, being questioned by none of the inhabitants because they all assume she knows someone…

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Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy by Gabriella Coleman. Yet another non-fiction, and this one’s on Anonymous which absolutely fascinates me. Also, this is relevant for that ever present massive paper I’m writing for my leaving level exams… so yep, definitely gonna get to that.

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Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. I just cannot wait to try some Kurt Vonnegut, I feel like I’m going to really enjoy his writing. This is the one I randomly picked up to try, because I wanted to be a special little snowflake and not start with Slaughter-house Five.

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Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.This has all the makings for a new favourite of mine, it’s loosely based on Jane Eyre, set in the Caribbean, and supposed to be written very beautifully and special. Quite excited.

So there you go, some books that’ll hopefully make some appearances on this blog over the next few months, because my not picking up books I’m super.excited about is getting ridiculous. Wish me luck.

best books of 2016.

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Finally, the post we’ve all been waiting for. The absolute climax of great literature, without further ado: my favourite books I’ve read in 2016. I have them roughly sorted by how much I love them, leading up to my favourite book of the year…

While this is the absolute best of the best, I wouldn’t want to not at least mention the books that almost made this list, and probably would have had I had a less amazing reading year: honorary mentions include Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Room by the wonderful Emma Donoghue and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.

And now, into the one’s that made it. Drumroll and excited atmosphere please.

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Arcadia by Iain Pears. Just a huge, epic time travel parallel universe spy love adventure story of worldbuilding and slowly interweaving, this is. Intrigued yet?
Not at all, what I’d normally read but absolutely wonderful and a total escape from reality. I read this during a summer holiday trip and had so much time to just get lost and appreciate the slow building and the gorgeous story.

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The Group by Mary McCarthy. This is set in 1930s New York and follows a handful of recent university graduates struggle with settling down and finding their space in life. It’s a bit the Bell Jar really, not quite as well written but quite as feminist.
I loved the frankness and I loved the ambition to portray more than one experience, and while not all narrators were equally strong, I still enjoyed it a lot.

 

Atonement by Ian McEwan. This one was quite early in the year, but I can still evoke the feeling of not being able to put this down and having my mind blown by the way it wrapped up. There’s a lot of gruesome war stuff going down in this novel, and yet WWII is at best a backdrop, it feels like a side narrative the characters can’t help but go down, quite fitting really, having the war just cut into their lives and the previously built up drama. And there is a lot of non-war drama in this. And gorgeous language. And that freakin’ ENDING.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. I realise I spend way too much time talking about this book, but it’s just so me. It’s a memoir set in Iran and talking about a feminist book club, linking politics and literature. It’s absolutely gorgeous in every conceivable way, except it’s merciless spoiling of classic books perhaps, and I can’t wait to read more about Iran. Also, I reviewed it here.

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The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger. I do just love me some Salinger. While I’m pretty sure I prefer the Glass-family books of his, Catcher in the Rye is a classic for a reason and I just love his writing. This novel has such a distinct voice and Holden is a wonderfully unreliable narrator, it just makes me happy and fuzzy with Salinger-nostalgia already. And it hasn’t even been a year.

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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Very big book. Very very great book. This is a gigantic, ambitious, engrossing novel set in New York during World War II and following two cousins creating a comic superhero. It’s brilliant and beautifully written, it’s about creating to cope and coping to create and I loved it so much.

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The virgin suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. This must be one of the most deliciously written books I remember reading this year, and while the themes and the story didn’t blow me away AS much as other books on this list, boy did the language make up for that. Every single sentence was a pleasure and it’s one of those books mockingly floating around your brain when you try to put words into sentences, but also sparking a wonderful ambition of wanting to handle language the way Eugenides can.

So, let’s get into my favourite four and also the books I couldn’t possibly rank anymore. They’re all works of brilliance alike.

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To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Without a spark of doubt up there in my favourite books of all time. I just reread it and genuinely think it’ll just keep getting better and better. I could really feel how every chapter, every sentence, every word was important and in the right place, and the voice and the setting just make me so happy (in a not-romanticising-a-shit-time-full-of-racists-way!), as do the characters, as does the pacing and the writing. So. damn. good.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Again, can’t wait to reread this (very likely this year), it made me read all of the old classics and yet it stands undefeated in its brilliance. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed this, again, literally everything felt right. The story was so well-constructed, the writing was beautiful and the gothic elements made it all the better. Such a wonderful classic.

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Franny and Zooey by J.D.Salinger. Definitely my favourite Salinger so far. His writing, especially when stripped of Holden Caulfield’s incessant swearing, just makes me so happy right now. I love the Glass-family setting, the themes in this (especially in Franny. God, that’s one brilliant story.), and yes, I freakin’ love Salinger.

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Now, I said I can’t rank, and yet looking back on my 2016-self, this was (and is) probably my absolute number one book I’ve loved this year. I just can’t get over anything this novel did, it’s so heartbreaking with great stuff on gender and mental health and writing, it once again has that mid-20th-century-East-Coast-setting that I can’t seem to get over (refer to Franny & Zooey, Kavalier & Clay, Catcher in the Rye and The Group for confirmation of secret obsession), writing that felt tailored to my taste and just some brilliant novel-doing.

So there you go. Quite classics-heavy, I’m aware, but that just reflects my reading choices this year, really, and maybe the fact that books and authors are in the literary canon for a reason… To an even better reading year 2017, and if everything falls apart, to rereading this list a million times.