Crudo // Olivia Laing

Crudo is the book I didn’t know I needed.  Highly experimental and introspective, the novel’s entirety is spent inside the head of forty-year-old writer Kathy, who is meant to be the persona of established American novelist Kathy Acker (1947-1997), as she faces the ever-changing world around her: her individual world, as she gets married and ends her life as a single woman, and the political world, suffering from the repercussions of Trump and Brexit.  Crudo is the kind of book you could read in one sitting and revisit time and time again without bother.


From the jacket:

Kathy is a writer.  Kathy is getting married.  It’s the summer of 2017 and the whole world is falling apart.  Fast-paced and frantic, Crudo unfolds in real time from the full-throttle perspective of a commitment-phobic artist who might be Kathy Acker.

From a Tuscan hotel for the super-rich to a Brexit-paralyzed United Kingdom, Kathy spends the first summer of her forties adjusting to the idea of a lifelong commitment.  But it’s not only Kathy who’s changing.  Fascism is on the rise, truth is dead, the planet is heating up, and Trump is tweeting the world ever-closer to nuclear war.  How do you make art, let alone a life, when one rogue tweet could end it all?


At just 130 pages, Crudo is barely a novel; it’s a steam-of-conscious sprint through one woman’s contemporary point-of-view.  As a young American, it was interesting and eye-opening to read from a British perspective on the current political climate.  Though Crudo is a work of fiction, it read very true-to-life, touching on topics like global warming, Brexit, and North Korean politics, while very much focusing on Trump and the “Fake News” era.  Sure, sometimes the commentary and the context went a bit over my head, but there were also times when Laing’s (or “Acker’s”) words just clicked, and I completely related to the message she portrayed.  Those are the moments that made this book work for me, despite my small struggle with the inaccessibility of the experimental prose.


“Everyone talked about politics all the time but no one knew what was happening.”

-Olivia Laing, Crudo


Brief, thought-provoking, and a bit bizarre, Olivia Laing’s Crudo succeeds in capturing the current social and political climate unlike any other written work today.  It’s claustrophobic with originality and teeming with voice, and perfect for fans of experimental stream-of-consciousness narratives or thought-provoking fiction that reads like nonfiction.

Thank you to W. W. Norton for my copy of Crudo by Olivia Laing.  All thoughts are my own.

Find this book on Goodreads.

New York City Book Haul

I spent a total of eight days in New York, but somehow managed to acquire nine books, which may or may not be a new record for me…  I will say that four of these were given to me by publishers, and the three I purchased at the Strand were all $7-8 each, so my bank account is happy even though my bedroom has been taken over by books.  What else is new?  As you can see, this was quite the stack to fly home with!

From Harper Business

90s Bitch by Allison Yarrow
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

From Strand Book Store

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

From Catapult

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

From McNally Jackson

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

From Books Are Magic

New People by Danzy Senna

A little bit more about my adventures: On Monday, I visited the Harper Business imprint at HarperCollins and the Henry Holt & Co. imprint at Macmillan before making a trip to The Strand to get lost in the stacks.  Tuesday I met with some amazing people from St. Martin’s Press and Farrar, Straus & Giroux, both imprints at Macmillan, as well as the team at Catapult/Soft Skull Press, and attended a dinner the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.  I began Wednesday with a trip to Three Lives & Company, which was just three blocks away from my West Village apartment, and went to a work lunch at an amazing Thai restaurant.  Afterwards, I walked to SoHo’s McNally Jackson for some quality browsing time.  Thursday was very much a non-bookish day, in which I saw the Statue of Liberty and went shopping, but Friday I went down to Brooklyn for Emma Straub’s Books Are Magic, which ended up being my favorite bookshop of the trip.  The weekend was spent bopping around the city with my family before flying home Sunday night (only to begin classes the next day… yikes!).

I’ve already picked up My Year of Rest and Relaxation, because I just couldn’t wait, but what do you think I should read next?  I’d love to hear from you!

xx,
Hannah

Current Reads: August 19, 2018

Right now, I’m on an eight-hour train ride to New York, where I’ll be for the next week.  Monday-Thursday I’ll be finishing up my publishing internship, meeting with editors, agents, and other industry professionals, and wandering around the city to get a feel for that NYC lifestyle I crave so much.  Then, Friday-Sunday I’ll be spending time with my family for my cousin’s christening and sightseeing at all the popular tourist destinations.  (I’m beyond grateful the planning worked out so perfectly, though I would have loved to make two trips to the city.)

I shared my first Current Reads a month ago, when I felt I was juggling a handful of books for many different projects.  I’m sharing this one, now, with the same reasons, though this time I have the added pressure of required reading for class.  I thought I’d share my current reads with you, since, let’s be honest, I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment.

As a mood reader, it’s always difficult to try to decide which books to bring on a trip, but I decided pretty easily on packing these titles.  First up, Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson, which I bought for the sole purpose of reading on the train.  I thought it’d be nice to travel with an essay collection, something that’s easy to dip in and out of among the hustle and bustle.

I’m also bringing along Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which has been on my nightstand since April, so it’s about time I’ve gotten around to it!  I’m always hesitant to read books that are over-hyped or popular because I’m afraid I won’t like it as much as everyone else, which is why I put Pachinko off for so long.

Last but not least, I have the latest edition of Tin House, because who doesn’t love a good literary magazine?  The Paris Review and Granta are my favorites, and I’ve never read a physical copy of Tin House, but their online content never fails to disappoint (plus, I could spend the entire ride admiring the cover art).

After this week’s meetings, my internship is officially over!  The whole experience felt so surreal, knowing that my dream of working in publishing is actually attainable.  When it comes to working in the book industry, it’s all about who you know and what internships you’ve done, so having one internship under my belt gives me some confidence that I could actually end up having my dream job someday.  During my time at the literary agency, I read two fiction manuscripts and a handful of queries, while also working on an awards database.

For the first time ever, I’m falling behind on ARCs.  I just finished Three Things About Elsie and Crudo by Olivia Laing (September 11), which were both sent to me fairly recently, and I’ve started A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua (August 14), but I have yet to read Ohio by Stephen Markley (August 21).  I’m ecstatic for all of these, but the last few weeks have been jam-packed with other responsibilities, and I’ve had to set ARCs on the back burner.  Hopefully I can finish these up in September before midterm week hits.

Classes start up again the day after I get back from the city, and while I’m sure I’ll be exhausted from my trip, I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things.  I’m taking an online music/film class, a Management class for my minor, and three English classes: Criticism, Writing About Literature, and Young Adult Literature.  The first two are pretty basic requirements, but YA Lit seems like a pretty fun elective course.  I just got the reading list a few days ago, and it contains classics like The Outsiders and The Catcher in the Rye, but also more contemporary titles like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and The Hate U Give.  Either way, I’m thrilled to get back into the semester’s routine.

What are you currently reading?

xx,
Hannah

Three Things About Elsie // Joanna Cannon

Thank you to Scribner, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for an early review copy of Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon, which was published August 7, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

“There are three things you should know about Elsie.  The first thing is that she’s my best friend.  The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.  And the third thing… might take a bit more explaining.”

Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly.  As she waits to be rescued, she thinks about her friend Elsie and wonders if a terrible secret from their past is about to come to light.  If the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?


When Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for the Women’s Prize, I read review after review but never gathered any intention of reading it.  Then, I decided to request it from Scribner on a complete whim because I have no self control, at least when it comes to books.  The result of my momentary weakness was a quirky, heartwarming story about growing old, being young, and the tough questions we must ask ourselves as we age.

Three Things About Elsie has a little bit of everything.  There’s a little romance, a little mystery, and a little suspense, but at its center is the sweet friendship between Florence, the main character, and Elsie, her childhood best friend.  The pair have a special relationship; they know each other better than anyone else, and I imagined them as those cute little old ladies I see while I’m out grocery shopping.  They were hysterical together, and I enjoyed reading about the unique bond they shared with one another.

Beyond Florence’s relationship with Elsie is her role as an unreliable narrator.  I have a growing admiration towards unreliable narration, so I fell in love with that aspect of Three Things About Elsie. While reading about Florence’s mishaps, I wondered if someone was actually setting her up for misfortune or if she was just losing her marbles. I believe Cannon intended for her audience to question Flo’s sanity, just like she intended for it to be a page-turning mystery.

Though I found a lot to admire with the characters of Three Things About Elsie, I found it too predictable when it came to plot, and unfortunately that ruined it for me.  The “surprise” ending was all too obvious, and something I’d assumed from the start.  I’m sure it would’ve been less predictable if I didn’t read so much, but it made me lose interest around the halfway point.  I enjoyed the quirky characters and the unreliable narration, but the awkward writing style and predictability made this one a miss for me.

Find this book on Goodreads.

Young Adult Shelf: We Are Okay + Turtles All The Way Down

Occasionally, when I’m trapped in a reading slump, I’ll make a trip to the library and peruse the young adult fiction shelves for an easy read or two.  Sometimes I’ll go for the authors I loved as a high schooler, but this time I chose two titles that were heavily talked about in the fall and winter of last year: Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay and John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down.

Generally, I’ve found that it’s difficult for me to write full-length reviews on teen novels, so I’ve decided to start a new feature, Young Adult Shelf, where I’ll discuss the YA books I’ve recently read through mini reviews.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

We Are Okay is young adult at its finest.  It’s no surprise that Nina LaCour’s latest won the 2018 Printz Award, a prize that I follow along with closely every year.  We Are Okay is a quiet reflection on grief, loss, and, perhaps most prominently, friendship.  It’s a slow-paced, character-driven novel, and it was refreshing to read about a character so much like myself.  Like me, Marin is a young undergrad and English major at a large upstate New York university, and, like me, she feels alone despite being constantly surrounded by family, friends, and familiar faces.  Her feelings of loneliness and isolation are only amplified by the novel’s setting, a desolate, snowy campus during winter break.  It’s truly astonishing how brilliant and beautiful LaCour’s writing is.  I wish I could make We Are Okay required reading for everyone, or at least every college freshman.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

I’ve read all four of Green’s previous novels, starting with the heartbreaking The Fault in Our Stars, and moving through the others rapidly: I loved the adventure and mystery of Paper Towns, I feared I didn’t “get” Looking for Alaska, and I fell in love the highly underrated An Abundance of Katherines, which seemed to be everyone’s least favorite but mine.  When Turtles All The Way Down was announced, I rolled my eyes.  I knew (or thought I knew) it would follow the same “recipe” as Green’s previous works: the manic pixie dream girl, the angsty teenage boy and his 2-3 equally awkward friends, and some kind of cross-country quest.  In the past, I’ve disagreed with Green’s over-conscious prose, his try-hard, too-quotable metaphors, but Turtles takes a step back from his usual style, and puts forth an honest, searing tale of a teen with anxiety disorder and OCD in a world that’s not all too understanding.

In short, Turtles All The Way Down is about mental illness.  It expertly captures the angst and anxiety that comes with being not only a teenager, but also a person in the world.  Turtles really illustrates how hard it is to be a teenager struggling with mental health, and how that can affect every area of life, from education to relationships.  The book also discusses the role of parents in a kid’s life, specifically the idea that not all parents are adequate, and sometimes the best role models aren’t related to a child by blood.  Overall, I enjoyed Turtles All The Way Down, and if I had to pick, I’d say it’s a new favorite John Green book.

What did you think of these two books?  Are there any young adult novels you’d recommend for me?  I’d love to hear from you!

xx,
Hannah

Sweetbitter // Stephanie Danler

I had every intention of saving Sweetbitter to read on my trip to New York in a few weeks, but I just couldn’t wait any longer.  This book, Stephanie Danler’s debut, was an instant hit two summers ago, and its recent development into a Starz series re-inspired my interest.  I devoured Sweetbitter just like one would devour a meal at the Union Square Café: slowly, savoring every minute, while still impatiently craving the rest.


“You will develop a palate.”

-Stephanie Danler, Sweetbitter


From the jacket:

Shot from a mundane, provincial past, Tess comes to New York in the stifling summer of 2006.  Alone, knowing no one, living in a rented room in Williamsburg, she manages to land a job as a “backwaiter” at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant.  This begins the year we spend with Tess as she starts to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing, and privileged life she has chosen, as well as the remorseless and luminous city around her.  What follows is her education: in oysters, Champagne, the appellations of Burgundy, friendship, cocaine, lust, love, and dive bars.  As her appetites awaken- for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, belonging- we see her helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle.  With an orphan’s ardor she latches onto Simone, a senior server at the restaurant who has lived in ways Tess only dreams of, and against the warnings of her coworkers she falls under the spell of Jake, the elusive, tatted up, achingly beautiful bartender.  These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s most exhilarating and painful lesson of all.


If I struggled with any aspect of this book, it was Tess, our whiny narrator.  Sweetbitter is categorized as a “coming-of-age” novel, but by the end, I had a hard time believing Tess had truly matured into an adult.  The so-called “romance” between Tess and Jake frustrated me immensely.  At one point, Jake told Tess to wipe off her lipstick because she looked like a clown, and I just sat back and wondered why she would put up with a guy like that.  If you know me, you know I don’t really give a crap about being in a relationship, so Tess’s desperation to be with Jake that badly irked me.  I think Tess was supposed to come of age by realizing how silly it is for her to tolerate the constant shit that Simone and Jake give her, but even in the last few pages, Tess still felt immature and whiny.  I’m not sure she learned anything from her post-grad identity crisis.  I wanted to see her grow more, but she was too busy worrying about what other people thought of her, and drinking too much to try to forget about it.


“She belonged to herself only.  She had edges, boundaries, tastes, definition down to her eyelashes.  And when she walked it was clear she knew where she was going.”

-Stephanie Danler, Sweetbitter


I think Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter is the kind of book where it really matters when in your life you read it.  In all honesty, if I wasn’t a nineteen-year-old dreaming of life in New York, I don’t think I would’ve liked it as much as I did.  I also enjoyed all of the commentary on the quirks of the service industry, and the exploration of the special bond restaurant co-workers share with one another.  I worked in a fast-casual restaurant for my first year of college, nothing fancy like Tess’s job but closer to a Panera Bread, but still the kitchen environment was entirely similar, and I loved reading Danler’s take on a world I had experienced myself.  Parts of Sweetbitter had me cracking up and reminiscing about my own days cleaning fridges and dropping food in front of everyone, so I really felt for Tess, her struggles, and her insecurities in a way I’m not sure someone who hadn’t once worked in a restaurant would understand.

Danler’s fiction is somewhat experimental in that MFA-writing way, but it’s dripping with talent and I’m curious to see what she does next.  Though Sweetbitter, like any piece of writing, wasn’t perfect, I wholeheartedly enjoyed my time reading it.

Find this book on Goodreads.

On My Nightstand: August 2018

As a full-time student, I rarely have time for reading during the fall and spring semesters, so I always try to read as much as possible during the summer.  My unread pile is endlessly growing so I’m really trying to hold back when it comes to buying books, but I was lucky enough to come across hardcovers of The Sport of Kings, Moonglow, and Commonwealth for just five bucks each, and I just couldn’t refuse!  Here are all the books I got in July that I’m hoping to get to this month before classes start up again.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

This one is absolutely massive, but with its hefty size comes even more praise.  It was shortlisted for the 2017 Women’s Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer the same year, but I hadn’t really heard of it until a few months ago when I was caught up in all the Women’s Prize talk.  It’s an American epic seemingly about horse-racing, but really about racism, power, and justice, and it’s my favorite type of book: a chunker that follows multiple perspectives over a period of time.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

I haven’t read any Chabon (yet!), but I’ve been dying to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay since I got it back in January.  It’s categorized as literary fiction but it’s based on stories Chabon’s grandfather told him while on his deathbed, so I’ve heard it reads like a memoir, which I love.  This seems like the kind of book you’d want to lose yourself in on a snuggly December morning, so I think I might hold off for a while, or at least until I get around to Kavalier and Clay.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I’ve been meaning to read Patchett’s latest since it came out two years ago, when I read the first chapter and was immediately sucked in.  The opening sentence hooked me: “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”  How could you not want to read further?

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

I have to be honest, I wasn’t planning on reading The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.  As I followed along with the 2018 Women’s Prize, for which this book was shortlisted, I read a lot of reviews but was never intrigued enough to want to pick it up myself, especially since I’m not crazy about historical fiction.  Then I came across an ARC at work and I couldn’t walk away without it!  It reminds me of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which I checked out of the library ages ago and didn’t end up finishing, so hopefully I’ll have better luck with The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.

Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson

Every time I read an excerpt from Tonight I’m Someone Else, I’m absolutely blown away.  I’ve watched so many livestreams of her readings on Instagram (thanks @belletrist!), and heard enough praise from Emma Roberts that I finally caved and bought myself a copy.  Also, I’m interning for Hodson’s agent this summer, which means this was basically a work expense (or, at least that’s what I told myself).  I’m planning on losing myself in Tonight I’m Someone Else while traveling to New York later this month, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Have you read any of these titles?  What reads are you planning on getting to this month?  Let me know!

xx,
Hannah