Thursday, January 4, 2018

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Cover of memoir Priestdaddy by author Patricia Lockwood
by Patricia Lockwood
Riverhead Books, May 2017
336 pages

This book. Is so. Funny heartbreaking beautiful. It is about family, warts and all. It's about religion, and being female, and writing, and poetry, and memory, and growing up, and going home. It's about love, and all the good and all the pain that can bring.

Priestdaddy is technically a memoir, but if you're looking for a straightforward, average memoir, this is not that. You had better be prepared to let Lockwood take you on her journey in her way, because she's not going to conform to your expectations. The writing is spectacular, unsettling, and bursting out at the seams. She spirals into digressions with the virtuosity of a scatting jazz vocalist, like she's galloping through the English language with her hands white-knuckled on the reigns, leaving this reader breathless and slightly disoriented and utterly thrilled. Sometimes she writes like her father, the titular priest, plays guitar: with gratuitous effusion in a way that almost (but not quite) makes sense.

Lockwood's family has an astonishing number of warts. They are eccentric in a way that is so astounding, sometimes shocking, that it's almost hard to believe - Lockwood is a standard-bearer for the adage that "truth is stranger than fiction" because I'm pretty sure some of the things she writes about would be considered too outrageous to be allowed in a novel. Nothing escapes her sideways gaze; the gaze is both pointed and compassionate. Sometimes she is full of anger. But she also loves expansively, if in complicated ways.

This whole book is complicated. It's funny and erudite and full of light and sometimes she's talking about things that are crass or horrible. She writes about her childhood in ways that the memories come across as both sharp and slightly unreal, as childhood memories often do. She indulges extravagantly in hyperbole, such that sometimes you're not sure when to take her seriously, and then she will reach right into your chest cavity and grab hold of your beating heart with a furious concision and you take everything absolutely seriously and feel sick. And then in the next paragraph you will love the people in her life, because she obviously does, and she is holding them tenderly so that you do too.

I know this is not a book for everyone; if you are easily offended by coarse language or bodily functions or any whiff of blasphemy, you will probably not make it past the first chapter. Likewise if you can't handle chronological jumping, digressions, or someone poking and prodding at language just to see what she can make it do. But I loved it, and I can't stop talking about it or thinking about it, and I am delighted at the feeling that Patricia Lockwood is just getting started.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, translated by Julie Wark

English cover of Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles from Penguin Books (image from Goodreads)
Love in Lowercase
by Francesc Miralles, trans. Julie Wark
Penguin Books, 2016; original publication 2006
224 pages

I first heard about this book at the end of librarian Annie Spence's Dear Fahrenheit 451, which I could basically have read and called it work time. It's full of library shop talk, but anyone who loves books as objects would find something to enjoy about Spence's book. At the end, Spence puts together a series of reading suggestions - basically readers' advisory in book form, and I decided to try a couple of the books that she recommended.

I decided to try Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, which has been described as a "Rosie Project-esqe" read. I wouldn't know, because I haven't read The Rosie Project, but lots of people seemed to like it, and Spence talked about how books, language, stories, and culture play a large role in Love in Lowercase, on top of it being a romance. Usually my sort of thing. Once started, though, this had more of a Paulo Coehlo-esque feeling for me, which - not my sort of thing. But there was enough to it, and it read easily enough, for me to keep going, and it's not very long.

It is a romance, but unlike my usual feelings about romance in books (which can be boiled down to "more please") I hardly cared what happened to this one. At the most it was a catalyst to get Simon, bachelor professor of German at a university in Barcelona, to get out of his comfortable routine. It was one of those insta-love (though with a small twist) things that seem so far-fetched that it stretches even my incredibly stretchy suspension of disbelief, and Gabriela doesn't quite get fleshed out enough to make sense, though - as I think about it, I suspect that's at least a little on purpose, because Simon doesn't know her at all either, despite being wildly in love with her. She puts up with it very well.

More interesting to me was Simon himself, on his own. As the book begins he's a very crabby young-ish man who has a comfortable life: he's a professor, who teaches his classes, feeds himself, occasionally goes out for a drink or a walk on his own, likes classical music and film, and generally has a very low opinion of the rest of humanity. But at the same time, he misses human connection, and he almost knows it; he spends New Year's Eve panicking about his own mortality, but he doesn't seem to realize that what's missing is relationships that mean something to him. Enter the cat.

Simon doesn't like cats, of course; he thinks they're dirty, but out of some sort of soft, human impulse, he puts a saucer of milk out for an orange tabby that shows up at his door on New Year's Day, and suddenly things start to happen. Coincidence leads to coincidence, plus Simon actually starts trying, after finding himself drawn into relationships with both his elderly upstairs neighbour and the vet who gives Mishima the cat his vaccinations. His most fascinating interactions come in the form of Valdemar, a physicist-turned-fugitive author who may or may not be experiencing a serious break from reality.

A warning for those of you who find unresolved endings frustrating: this is not the book for you. But it does leave the reader feeling like Simon's life is at least going to be quite a lot more interesting, and like he has the tools now to actually have friendships and relationships, as awkward as they're going to be while he's still learning. And by the end of the book I was glad of that; I didn't love this book, but I liked it, and enough that I can see myself picking up Miralles' book Wabi-Sabi, which also involves cats and relationships and will likely be a mildly entertaining and fast read.

Friday, January 6, 2017

a boatload of cookbooks

Books completed this week: 
  • none
Books I'm currently reading:
  • if on a winter's night a traveller by Italo Calvino (moved this to my work-break-book)
  • Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patten, and Sheila Heen
  • Ranma 1/2 Vols 5-6 by Rumiko Takahashi
  • Soul Music by Terry Pratchett (my January Pratchett - good so far)
Books that made it into the house this week:
  • a boatload of cookbooks
Picture books we like and must read multiple times this week:
  • I am Josephine (and I am a Living Thing) by Jan Thornhill, illus. Jacqui Lee
  • One Some Many by Marthe Jocelyn, illus. Tom Slaughter (we've had this for ages, but smallfry has recently realized she can read it by herself and so has been reading it to us; remains one of my favourites)

Not much to say, other than that I continue to find a bunch of things to do other than read things I enjoy reading. I don't even know why. It's stressing me out a bit because I think of myself as a reader, but I hardly spend any time reading lately. I'm not even listening to audiobooks. After my rocket-like start last year, I was hoping for better this year. But there's still time...

Friday, December 30, 2016

maybe I will, maybe I won't

Let's see what happens if I try something new.

Books completed this week: 
  • Ranma 1/2 Vols. 3-4 by Rumiko Takahashi (graphic novel, reread, very enjoyable)

Books I'm currently reading:
  • if on a winter's night a traveller by Italo Calvino, trans. William Weaver (fiction, I'm enjoying it, but it's not going as fast as I thought it might when I started)
  • Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patten, and Sheila Heen (nonfiction, professional development, very useful)
  • Ranma 1/2 Vols. 5-6 by Rumiko Takahashi

Books that made it into the house this week:
  • Ghost Month by Ed Lin (this is one of those books I was super excited to get and as soon as I held it in my hand I wasn't sure I wanted to read it right now... such is the curse of the librarian)
  • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (this was the Christmas gift of choice in the family - there were four separate copies, including mine, given to immediate family members)
  • A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age by Daniel Levitin (given to fishy, not me, but it's on my to-read list so I'll probably do that sometime too.)

So the Calvino. I'm enjoying it, and it delighted me especially in the first seven to ten pages. A book written in the second person that can delight me is a rare beast indeed. But for whatever reason it's not grabbing me, in that I'm not desperate to get back to it, which I find I have to be these days in order to read at any speed. There are so many other things calling for my attention that I have to be hooked by a book, really hooked, in order to finish it within the three week library lending period. I need to want to read that book to the exclusion of everything else, and that alone seems to give me the kind of focus I need. The exception to this is nonfiction, which can generally be picked up and put down whenever, as long as it's non-narrative, so a few minutes here and there can be stolen out of a day to make a little progress.

The Calvino has a narrative. I'm just not as wrapped up in it yet as I need to be. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Long Awaited Reads Month

So, I did this, or my own version of it. I have so much to choose from, with books that I own that I want to read. I have a shelf full of them. I need to weed it. I'm in a weeding mood. I've historically been extremely reluctant to weed my own shelves, though, so we'll see how that goes.

But the thing is, on those shelves are a number of things that I keep putting off because for whatever reason, something else always seems more pressing. January, as Long Awaited Reads Month (thanks to Ana and Iris) was the perfect time to forget more pressing and just go with what I knew I could love.

Here's how I did:

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
A Sand County Almanac and Essays from Round River by Aldo Leopold
Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill
Terrier by Tamora Peirce

That doesn't count me starting Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, which I abandoned around page 70 for the third time in my life because ffs, Walter Hartright. And I also read Susan Dennard's Truthwitch, which can't be a LAR because it was released this month, except that it kind of felt like the book I've been waiting for so I'm going to count it for a half point.

That's 4.5 books. In one month. That's amazing for me these days. It turns out reading books that fit like a comfortable pair of jeans helps me read more. And when I read more, I feel better about myself. So even though I have been as sick as possible without hospitalization this month - still coughing up goo and feeling exhausted five weeks in - I can't count this month as a total wash; I read some wonderful, wonderful books.

I'll do little mini reviews because that's as much as I'm up to at this moment, but I may have more to say about each of these books as time goes on.

Men at Arms: It's been a long time since I read a Discworld book. Too long, really. Plus it's a Night Watch novel, and I love the Night Watch. I read it in two days and it was the perfect way to start my reading year. Amazing how relevant Pratchett seems to be, no matter when he wrote the book.

A Sand County Almanac: Putting my thoughts together on this one is going to be hard. Good thing I took notes. It was brilliant, the best thing I've read this month, and that's saying something. It was also the longest awaited of the long awaited books. I think I first heard of it when I was doing my undergrad and that is longer ago than I care to admit. It's surprisingly easy to read, given how dense it gets sometimes; the Almanac section is beautiful but regrettably short, the essays from Round River are deep and thought-provoking. Another book that is startlingly, and sadly, as relevant now as it was when it was written... which was the 1940s.

Disco for the Departed: I can't believe how long it took me to get to this. I've had it home from the library at least four or five times, and never made it past the first couple of pages before it was due, entirely because of reading other things. Wonderful to be back in 1970s Laos with Dr. Siri. I'll go anywhere with Dr. Siri. One of my favourite characters of all time. Cotterill's writing remains just stellar and the characterization excellent.

Terrier: Oh Tamora Pierce. If Robin McKinley started my life-long love of fantasy, Tamora Pierce's Alanna cemented it. But I haven't read much of her since that series, and Terrier has kind of called to me, since it was published. The first time I tried to read it I stumbled on some of the formatting stuff - different fonts for different prologue journals and I didn't like the fonts, which is a stupid reason not to read a book - but once I got past that this time I was in for good. Beka Cooper is fantastic and Pierce's sense of place, and use of language (oh my stars the slang) is everything I love. This is essentially a police procedural set in a fantasy world, exactly my catnip, and all tangled up in a coming-of-age story. Will be reading Bloodhound, hopefully won't take me until next January to get to it.

I'll save ranting about how much I loved Truthwitch for later. I hope. I had meant to write up my thoughts on Almanac two weeks ago, which is not a great sign. I'll get to it! And this is technically the end of Long Awaited Reads Month for me, but... that's not going to stop me from sticking to things that will feel good to read. I need it right now, at least until my lungs stop pretending they belong to my grandfather.