Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Love, death, ghosts, and history. What a sad, funny, interesting and heart-squeezing novel.

From Wikipedia:

Many years ago, during a visit to Washington DC, my wife’s cousin pointed out to us a crypt on a hill and mentioned that, in 1862, while Abraham Lincoln was president, his beloved son, Willie, died, and was temporarily interred in that crypt, and that the grief-stricken Lincoln had, according to the newspapers of the day, entered the crypt “on several occasions” to hold the boy’s body. An image spontaneously leapt into my mind – a melding of the Lincoln Memorial and the Pietà. I carried that image around for the next 20-odd years, too scared to try something that seemed so profound, and then finally, in 2012, noticing that I wasn’t getting any younger, not wanting to be the guy whose own gravestone would read “Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt”, decided to take a run at it, in exploratory fashion, no commitments. My novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is the result of that attempt […].[10]

What must that feel like… to not only finally complete a project you’ve been thinking about for decades, but to also have it be so acclaimed?

I hope he feels proud, because it is great. I never would have though a book written in such a strange way could evoke such strong feelings, but it does. After a few pages of it, you don’t notice the strangeness as much. Or, you do, but it is no longer a hindrance. It blends into the feeling of it. The idea of dozens or hundreds of viewpoints coalescing into a single story of a single night.

I think anyone with an open mind could enjoy this book. The only people I’ve seen saying bad things about it are just complaining about the way it’s written, not what’s written.

The only minor complaint I had was how short it was. The 360 or so pages it claims would actually be probably half that, if each page were covered with words instead of having them spread out as it is formatted.

Read if you want something fresh and interesting and heartfelt!

Mystery on the side

I’m listening to another Nabokov novel, and no surprise, it’s great. This one is about a struggling businessman who also seems a bit mentally unstable, running across a vagrant who happens to look exactly like him.

The instant he sees this face, a plan sparks in his mind. You can tell, but, you don’t know what that plan is… and that is the mystery. Not how he is going to do something (he’s going to do it by using a look-alike in some way) but what he is going to do.

Since it’s Nabokov, I automatically suspect that this guy is way less smart than he thinks he is, and also that there is a lot going on between the lines. I’ve not yet discovered much, but it is fun searching for it.

Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

This is the epitome of genius. Nabokov must have some kind of freak literary gene that makes him so good with words. This is one of the few books I’ve wanted to start reading again the moment I reached the end. (I think Lolita was another…)

On the surface, Pale fire is a 999 line poem book-ended by an introduction and commentary by it’s editor and publisher. But between the lines, it is a hilarious journey into the mind of a delusional narcissist.

It’s hard to say much about this book other than it is brilliant, subtle, and such a wondrous feat that I sometimes wonder if Nabokov was not a plain old mortal human like the rest of us, but instead an incarnation of writing itself.

I feel lucky to be alive in a time when this book exists. Read it!

Starting at the action

I’m listening to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and the first sentence is him waking up as a giant insect. This is how stories should be told.

So many other writers, amateur or not, would write however many thousands of words about the day before it happened–but why waste time getting there? Since the story is about him as this creature, that’s where we start.

I love how to-the-point it is, with all aspects. Something to consider in my own writing…

Too many books for patience

I started listening to Remains of the Day by the new winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Kazuo Ishiguro. After 15 minutes of nothing happening, and multiple restarts cause I zoned out thinking about something else, I gave up and returned it.

I know I have criticized today’s people for having no patience, for wanting explosions on page one, for having no palate for subtlety… but, just because I don’t need something exploding on the first page doesn’t mean I can do without it being intriguing on the first page, or beautiful on the first page.

There are a million books out there, and thousands of best selling, highly rated, amazing ones that everyone should read in their lifetime. And I can’t read all of them. There just isn’t enough time.

No matter how many books I read, there will be life-changing, mind-expanding, soul-brightening novels I will never get to enjoy–never even be aware that I missed out on.

So if something isn’t grabbing me by the heart or mind or soul or throat after the first few pages, then I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to waste on it.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Reading this was a bit of a wake-up call to how vapid and soulless(hehe) vampire movies and books are today.

Dorian Gray, in a fit of youthful exuberance, trades his soul for endless youth, and gets more than he expected.

Not only does time not affect him in any noticeable way on the exterior, nothing seems to affect him in any way on the inside either. At the start, he frets that the death of his love, Sybil, is not affecting him as much as it should. Later, all his possessions and pleasures do nothing to make him feel complete. The vampires and immortal beings of modern storytelling have no drawbacks (sun doesn’t even hurt them!) making them boring and un intriguing.

This is a great story about how we obsess over youth and beauty at all costs, and an interesting look at the costs of a life without feeling or soul. What is it that causes aging, anyway, besides the scars of our experiences? If none of our experiences affected us, life would be an empty, perfect, shell…

Enjoyable and thoughtful read.

Old me

Or, younger me of earlier this year. Why did you write some of this stuff? Why have you left me to deal with it?