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review 2017-06-11 23:05
The Outward Room - Millen Brand,Peter Cameron

Madness. Wholeness. Healing through the tiny details of a life lived among others who care for us, and the terrible fragility we all navigate. This is a classic. So much larger than can be contained within its pages.

 

THE OUTWARD ROOM is the best kind of philosophical book: one rooted in story, in character, and one in which the word 'philosophical' never appears, and yet it asks all the important questions, and does so brilliantly, in a mere 230 pages.

 

Reward yourself. Read this book.

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review 2017-06-10 20:26
Speak, Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov
Novels and Memoirs, 1941-1951: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight / Bend Sinister / Speak, Memory (Library of America #87) - Vladimir Nabokov,Brian Boyd

(Review for Speak, Memory only: four stars)

 

It was a pleasure to read Nabokov after so long. I forgot how easy it is to get carried along by the flow and particularities of his prose, sometimes to the point of losing the meaning of what's being expressed. Speak, Memory is a kind of memoir of Nabokov's childhood through his family's exile in Europe following the Russian Revolution. I learned (or was reminded of) a lot that sheds light on his writing, such as the fact that he had synesthesia (syllables and letters had colors). He read and wrote English before Russian but later lamented that his English skills did not match those in Russian (if only I read Russian!). At one point he states that once he used a detail of his life for his fiction, it felt like it was no longer his.

 

If you're familiar with Nabokov, you'll enjoy the passages detailing or referencing his passion for butterfly hunting. In fact my favorite line in the book concerns it: "America has shown even more of this morbid interest in my retiary activities than other countries have--perhaps because I was in my forties when I came there to live, and the older the man, the queerer he looks with a butterfly net in his hand." Lol, indeed.

 

I was less interested in some of the earlier chapters that focus on his extended family, but there were still fascinating stories to be had, and his prose is always worth it.

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review 2017-06-10 18:44
No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, translated by Donald Keene
No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai,Donald Keene

I’ll start this off with some content warnings. This book includes several suicide attempts (one successful), a main (POV) character who becomes an alcoholic and a drug addict and who is probably depressed, and several mentions of rape and child molestation. Most of these things aren’t described in much detail, but they’re there.

Almost all of this book is written as though it was the notebook of a man named Oba Yozo (I’m pretty sure that’s the original name order, with family name first, although I could be wrong). Yozo writes about his life from his early childhood days to what I’m assuming is near the end of his life. The book ends and begins with a chapter written from the perspective of someone who did not personally know Yozo but read his notebooks and met someone who did know him.

When Yozo was a very young child, he became convinced that he did not qualify as human. The thought that someone else might realize he wasn’t human so terrified him that he began to behave like a clown. If others were laughing at his antics and jokes, then they weren’t looking at him too closely. Unfortunately for him, he occasionally met individuals who seemed able to see beneath his clownish mask. Beginning in his college years, he was also taken aback by how attractive women seemed to find him.

Yozo seemed incapable of empathizing with others and could only view their words and actions in terms of how they directly related to him. This was especially driven home by the last few pages of the book, written from the perspective of a man who didn’t know Yozo. For the first time since the book began, a POV character was writing about people who weren’t Yozo as though they had thoughts and feelings of their own, and about the wider world and what was going on in it. It was like a breath of fresh air and really emphasized how isolated Yozo had been, even though he spoke to and interacted with more people in his portion of the book than the man at the end.

The beginning of the book worked best for me. Yozo was essentially trapped by his fears, worried about how others perceived him and what they might have been able to see in him. Because he couldn’t understand the thoughts and behaviors of those around him, he doubted the correctness of his own opinions and feelings - after all, if everyone else was human and he was not, who was he to contradict what others said or did? This was especially tragic when it led to him not telling anyone that one of the servants (or several) had molested him. Or at least I think that’s what happened - the author/translator was very vague, saying that he had been “corrupted” and that “to perpetrate such a thing on a small child is the ugliest, vilest, cruelest crime a human being can commit” (35).

Things started to fall apart during Yozo’s college years. Yozo’s father wanted him to become a civil servant, while Yozo wanted to study art. This devolved into Yozo skipping classes, drinking, hiring prostitutes, hanging out with Marxists, and occasionally working on his art. My patience with Yozo pretty much ran out, and it didn’t help that the book developed a very clear misogynistic thread. An example of one of this section's more off-putting quotes: at one point, Yozo said “I never could think of prostitutes as human or even as women” (63). Women, in particular, seemed drawn to his self-destructive orbit, and the result was misery for everyone involved.

Yozo continued his habit of believing others’ assessment of him. Sometimes this had a positive effect on Yozo, such as his brief period of contentment with his wife, a girl (really a girl - she was only 17 when he married her) who genuinely believed that he was a good person and that he would never lie to her. However, since Yozo seemed to gravitate towards people who looked down on him, his habit of accepting and believing whatever people said about him usually drew him further into his downward spiral. I’d say it was depressing, except Yozo was generally so detached from everything that the word seems too strong to be appropriate.

There’s a manga adaptation of this that I might read, just to get a different interpretation of the story. That said, I suspect the manga won’t work for me much more than this did. No Longer Human was well-written, but not my sort of book at all.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-06-03 22:39
To the Wedding - John Berger

A stunningly beautiful meditation on love and death told in multiple voices, like a choir. The sensual details are intoxicating, as is Berger's tenderness and hope for us frail humans, even in the face of a terrible, unchangeable fate. 

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review 2017-06-02 01:54
How To Survive a Summer/Nick White
How to Survive a Summer: A Novel - Nick White

A searing debut novel centering around a gay conversion camp in Mississippi, and a man's reckoning with the trauma he faced there as a teen.
Camp Levi—nestled in the Mississippi countryside—is designed to "cure" young teenage boys of their budding homosexuality. Will Dillard, a Midwestern graduate student, spent a summer at the camp as a teenager, and has since tried to erase that experience from his mind. But when a fellow student alerts him that a slasher movie based on the camp is being released, he is forced to confront his troubled history and possible culpability in the death of a fellow camper.
As past and present are woven together, Will recounts his "rehabilitation," eventually returning to the abandoned campgrounds to solve the mysteries of that pivotal summer, and to reclaim his story from those who have stolen it. With a masterful confluence of sensibility and place, How to Survive a Summer introduces an exciting new literary voice.

 

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did, but it was unfortunately juvenilely written and hard to slough through.

 

One character aptly assumes at one point that our narrator doesn't want to talk about his story because he may feel it's just another example of a gay boy growing up and getting out of a small town, moving from a rural area to a metropolitan area and not terribly worthy of sharing. This was the most poignant moment of the novel, because I think a lot of people do feel this way when they should know that their perspective is also important.

 

I don't know. I was so psyched for this book but it didn't captivate me or compel me. It wasn't as gruesome as promised, not that I wanted to see gruesome specifically, but I expected there to be more shock factor for how the book was sold. There was one character who was very fucked up and I think that this was much more the problem in the story than the idea of "stomping out the gay."

 

I feel like there could have been more. Will's current life is very strange and aimless and could have better been written into its own story. His relationships with a guy he's interested in and a friend who's more a mentor were both very strange and were described as more intimate than they really are.

 

I kept getting bored and wanting to give up. Ultimately, the ending was super unsatisfying also, and I was left in limbo wondering what I had just read. While I think this topic matter is important, I would have liked to see this story differently done in a manner that would be much more captivating. I felt like the title was false advertisement, honestly.

 

This was disappointing. If you're interested in the topic manner it might be worth your time, but it was far from the slamdunk I was hoping this would pull on my emotions.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

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