Paris Review: Ten Things I Learned from Ursula K. Le Guin

There are very few artists whose passing could make me feel like Le Guin’s did. It was a heavy reminder that we really need people like her in the world now, still, and forever.

4. You can regret a decision you made in an earlier book and correct it in a later work. (This is a hard one in our unforgiving times, when your previous missteps are eternal and only a google away. But there is nothing shameful in becoming a better person, a wiser person. Done right, it’s pretty heroic.)

Read Karen Joy Fowler’s whole list here.

Vague recollections of books, pt 1

I get super ambitious about posting reviews of the books I’m reading. The whole time I’m reading I’m thinking of insights I would like to share, but of course I resent the idea that I should write them down in case I forget. Mind like a steel trap. When I finish the book, I don’t want to write a review just yet because I want to sit with the story awhile. And then a little later, when I have time and energy at the ready for it, I think, ‘I just read a whole book, I have to do homework now?’

So I’m basically left with a pile of books I can’t really remember specifics about, but I feel guilty giving them no attention at all. I’ve decided to embrace my failings instead of fighting them. Please enjoy the following list of books I kind of remember.

The Bishop’s Wife, by Mette Ivie Harrison

This was a surprising year for books because my friend Rebecka brought me as her +1 to a special-invite-only Random House warehouse sale. Rebecka and I went to publishing school together after our undergrads and although our entire class had to flee the post-recession publishing industry within a decade of graduation, she has enough remaining connection to that world to still be on the invite list. It’s a ‘buy as much as you can carry’ sort of situation – new paperbacks for a DOLLAR, hardcovers for five. And since I had the luxury of grabbing all sorts of things I know very little about, I grabbed this Mormon murder mystery.

The cover blurb calls it ‘an insider’s nuanced look at the workings of the Mormon church,’ which sounded great because I’ve been super curious to know more (than Big Love could tell me) about the Mormon church, but apparently not so curious that I’d go dig up something actually informative. What a compromise! An insider’s look, while I solve a mystery!

Outcome, based on general recollections: I was wrong, the book was awkward and predictable, there’s no way a big ol’ hunk of DNA evidence would just sit in an often-used shed that many years, and I am properly chastened and will find something dry and historically accurate on Mormons instead.

Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood

I was pleased to find this at the warehouse sale as well, but ended up disappointed. A retelling of The Tempest centered around a disgraced, exiled Artistic Director of a small-town theatre out for revenge, it was part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project so maybe it was kind of like homework for Margaret Atwood. It really felt like two concepts shoe-horned together and I spent the entire reading hoping for something that didn’t feel so strained to match a pre-existing narrative.

Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh

I loved almost all of this novel about a woman who lives with her alcoholic father and works in a juvenile prison. Her life is weird and disturbing and stalled and repetitive and deeply unmotivated, but internally straining towards escape and actualization all the same. A woman arrives at the prison who is much more passionate and powerful, unknowingly pushing the narrator out of her deep, deep rut. The whole thing is told from the main character’s point of view but many years later, without much in the way of apologies and with a long-range detachment that adds a lot.

Be My Baby, by Ronnie Spector with Vince Waldron

Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this one, it’s the book I finished most recently. But hey everybody, I need to dole out spoilers because everybody should know and you might not get around to it otherwise. Veronica Bennett was a super driven Harlem kid and natural star that the Beatles were dying to tour with and the Rolling Stones got tongue-tied around, until Phil Spector obsessed about her, built some hit records out of her, got possessive and married her while purposely tanking her career, then locked her in the house for a few years of psychologically abusive behavior not the least of which was making her watch Citizen Kane practically every day. Pause a moment to consider that.

This co-written book’s voice is kind of toneless which is too bad, but it’s still worth it – after all, not everybody makes it out to tell their story. Also, Ronnie has a baby in a toilet at seven months, by accident. This book is great, psych yourself up for it here.

The Circle, by Dave Eggers

I have a lot of friends who know I work online with mystery people all over the world, but don’t have a frame of reference for the differences between a lot of the big web software companies. A ton of those people told me to read this which is too bad because I hated it, it was just bonkers over the top and there were a ton of weird plot things I could not suspend belief for, and now I’m not sure how to reassure my friends that I’m not being subsumed into some global digital Silicon Valley borg.