First Monday Book Day: July

Talking to Ourselves by Andres Neuman is a short novel from the Argentinian author that I read last month.  I had read the first novel of his to be translated (Traveler of the Century) a few years ago and that was a huge 600 page novel of ideas.  This book is very much the opposite of that, it is short and immediate and has a significant impact.

There are three narrators; Lito, the child, Elena, the mother, and Mario, the father who is dying of cancer, but hiding that fact from his son.  All three of the characters are hiding things but the father's illness and approaching death shadows the book throughout.  Father and son embark on a cross country trip that for the father is a last chance to create a memory, and for Lito is his first chance to truly enter his father's adult world.  All three narrative arcs continue to dance around each other always approaching, but never do they actually connect and find common ground.

It's a book about family and grief and illness.  Each of the three narrators is so fully realized and observed by Neuman that the book comes together very well.  Neuman has become one of those authors that I will follow and read whatever comes out from him next (a story collection is coming in October, I hear - consider me excited).

That was one of my favorite books I've read in the first half of the year. Hopefully, you all have had similarly great reading experiences this month and we can while away the next few days discussing them.

56 thoughts on “First Monday Book Day: July”

  1. Here's something fun from the book world. First, you must know that an author's death is no impediment to the continuation of his bestselling series. Which leads me to this: Hachette Australia is looking for a woman to donate her back for a "tatvertising" campaign for the fourth book in the Millennium Series*.

    *a.k.a. the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series

    1. This is a bit eerie ... the book I'm currently reading is "The Girl Who Played with Fire" ... Finished "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" last week.

  2. I'm about half way through R. Scott Bakker's The Warrior-Prophet, book 2 in his Prince of Nothing series. Engrossing, literate fantasy stuff.

    Every chapter begins with little faux quotes from "literature" within his imagined universe. Did Frank Herbert invent this device in Dune or are there earlier precedents?

  3. I'm just about finished with David Carr's Night of the Gun. It's interesting in that he has all these memories of his drugged fueled days but then goes back and interviews those who were involved. Some of his memories didn't (surprise) match up with the reality of what others told him. Other than that a pretty straight "I was a monster, I got better, now I'm successful" memoir. Pulls no punches. Doesn't preach. If you were around Minneapolis in mid- to late-80's you will recognize many of the characters/locals he writes about.

  4. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I guess I’d have to classify it as a self-help book, but the term makes me cringe. So why did I pick this up? Within the last six months, I read Wild, saw the movie, and started listening to the Dear Sugar podcast. What interests me is Strayed’s point of view. She’s been through some extremely difficult things in her life (sexual abuse, alcoholic father, mother’s death from cancer as she was finishing college) and while she spent a good number of her formative years in Minnesota, she has a distinctly un-Minnesotan perspective on speaking honestly and openly about whatever the issue at hand may be. She writes with empathy and compassion, and she’s skilled at getting to the essence of what the letter writers are asking. I found some of the questions and answers more compelling than others, but the best of them were fantastic. (See one example here--note, it's explicit.) I am always curious about how other people look at and think about the world, and this book gave me an interesting lens through which to look at things.

  5. Anyone looking for a quick entertaining read, give Starship Titanic a whirl. Written by Monty Pythoner Terry Jones from a game storyline by Douglas Adams.

  6. I read two books lately: Maximum Bob from Elmore Leonard and Ender's Game

    Maximum Bob: A very Leonard-y book. Swift, yet thoughtful storytelling with engaging characters. An appearance by the Crowe family, for those familiar with "Justified". I recommend it as a nice vacation read.

    Ender's Game: The favorite book of the little brother, and I can see why. I really, really enjoyed this book. The character of Ender resonated with me on a few levels. His feeling of being outcast from those around him, and the anger and sadness it causes. Fearing/Hating parts of himself. Obviously, I didn't have the fate of the world on my shoulders at 9, but I did put an insane amount of pressure on myself, and burnt out as a result. I saw the most of myself in Ender when he was on his raft in Greensboro. Reading it was actually a little hard at times. I think it's a very good book, but I'll probably never read it again.

    1. Now read Ender's Shadow -- the same story retold from Bean's perspective (written years later by Card).

        1. I liked both Ender's Shadow and Speaker for the Dead.

          Ender's Shadow Spoiler SelectShow
    2. The Michael Rappaport "Crowe" was the single worst thing about Justified. Who thought that was a good idea?!

      1. Oh Gawd yes. As soon as I heard he was cast at all, I was disappointed. I CANNOT stand him as an actor.

    1. A line cook at one of the restaurants I worked at had a whole panel of characters from the rumpus in Where the Wild Things Are. I'd consider something from Saint George and the Dragon, Drummer Hoff or Fables ... off the top of my head non-Caldecott: Wind in the Willows.

      1. Nice! I don't have any tattoos, but I do like the idea of drawing inspiration from a picture book.

        1. An ex of mine had a tree from some children's book on her leg (not The Giving Tree*), but I forget which. That and about 20 other tattoos.

          *Speaking of, in reading that book to the boy, my feelings on it have become a whole lot more muddied. I'd be interesting in hearing everyone else's interpretation on it. I don't really see the book as having such a positive message anymore, and really wonder what SS's motivations were for writing.

          1. I'm trying to figure out what other famous kidlit tree it could be. There's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but that's a novel, not a picture book.

            WRT The Giving Tree, I'll confess that when my mother-in-law gave it to the boys as a gift, I cringed. I have some deep ambivalence about it. Check out this post from a blogger I enjoy. She's a librarian who did a poll to determine the top 100 picture books, so the post is part of that series.

            1. And check out this comment on the post:

              Once upon a time, I loved The Giving Tree. I gave it to my boyfriend, and wrote the inscription, “May you never grow up.” Dear Reader, he married me. Years later, he had a second adolescence and tried to take all my branches and my apples and sail far away, and I was not happy.

              When I moved into my latest home, now divorced, I broke in the new fireplace with a ceremonial burning of The Giving Tree.

              I am happy.

            2. A Dr. Seuss tree (à la Green Eggs and Ham ... not The Lorax) could be fun, but I think you'd remember if it was that.

              RE The Giving Tree, I remember being really impressed by it as a child and in hindsight, also feeling a sense of disquietude. Now, I don't know (though I get the same feelings) - as your blogger mentioned, I think that a metaphor for parenthood is accurate, but I don't know a ton about SS, so subversion could be accurate too. Either way, I don't think it's something I'm excited for Kernel to be reading any time soon.

              1. I didn't like it as a kid and our library had a huge decoration of it that someone made with felt leaves.
                I don't think I'd like it now.
                If I want to read something depressing, I'll read this.

            3. I never liked The Giving Tree. I never really liked Shel Silverstein though. I've changed my mind on him in general now, and enjoy reading his poems to my kids sometimes. I kind of like the darkness he brings.

          2. When I was 12 or so, I saw someone in Wisconsin Dells with a Giving Tree tattoo covering his entire back, and thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I still love tattoos on others, but have never felt attached enough to any image to want to have one myself.

            As for The Giving Tree itself, I loved it as a kid, but maybe less so as an adult reading it to my own kids. I still like it, but it doesn't seem to click as much as it once did. Maybe that's the difference between seeing myself as the kid, versus seeing myself as a tree. Thinking of how the perspective difference changes my feelings toward the book makes me appreciate it a bit more, since maybe that's the whole point of the book after all.

            1. See, I remember liking it just fine as a child, but going back, I find myself... "disturbed", I guess might be the word, by the message. Yes, sure, there's a message of love throughout, etc, but is that the standard? A lot of people say it's about parenthood and what we sacrifice for our children. Okay. I love my child unconditionally for sure, and would do so much for him, but with that love comes instilling values. Just because he's unhappy or needs something, I'm to just hand it over with a smile on my face*? What kind of child would I be creating?

              I don't know, but what I can say for sure is I definitely now understand why this book is somewhat controversial.

              * heh, hopefully not a smile like the one on the back of the book

              1. The tree being a "she" only adds to my disquietude (to borrow a word). There's a difference between giving unconditional love and being a doormat stump.

        2. Reading Seuss's Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, this is full of good ideas.
          I'll never get a tattoo, but if I do and it's from a book, this is the book. (Boynton would be too cute for a tattoo*.)

          Big image tattoo:
          Mr. Bix's Borfin (p 18-19). It goes shlump every night.

          Arm-band or ankle-band:
          The wamel-strap with the loose faddle (p 23). Just a strap and the loose button.
          The Brothers Ba-zoo (p 36-37): the beard of one brother is the hair of the next. Would need to be adapted, because it's got perspective in the book.

          Words or text in a foriegn language (like Chinese or Elfish):
          The Jivvanese text (p 30-31), especially in teal. Bonus: completely illegible to any Irish ducks.

          Little things:
          Falkenberg's 17th radish (p 41). With or without worm.
          The sock in the Kaverns of Krock (p 44). With or without cat.
          The rusty tin hanger (p 46). Include the line it's hanging from to make it a bracelet/anklet.

          * SelectShow
          1. Oh, there are some good Wanda Gág ideas that aren't cats. I do love the scenery in the cat book though.

            1. That one's also good.
              We borrowed a copy of that from the library that had glow-in-the-dark pants.
              I don't remember all of the pictures, but that one where's he picking stuff from some trees, 6th in the link, is great. If, sadly, pantsless.

              1. Glow-in-the-dark pants! We have it with mere ordinary pants as part of a compilation of several Seuss stories, and the jalapeno loves it.

                That book brings to mind a phrase that hj might recognize from long ago: "But who will hold my pants?"

  7. Slowly traipsing through Joseph Kanon's Leaving Berlin (post-war spy drama in the rubble of Berlin). Not as crisp as his Istanbul Passage, which I really liked.

    Will go back to the partially read Against The Day after this, but did get bogged down on that one.

    1. Where did you get bogged down? It took me just over a year to finish Against The Day but I was very very glad I did, and in retrospect things really clicked for me a while after I finished... kind of weird, but in a strange way the book made a lot more sense months after it was done than it did while I was reading it or just after I had finished it. To the point where it's probably now my favorite book, and I'm looking forward to reading it again someday.

      But I also got very bogged down in it several times.

        1. I don't recall if that particular part was slow going for me or not, but the Traverse story line just gets clearer and clearer as the book goes on. Indeed, if you are where I think you are, before long you'll hit the point where, for me at least, the Traverses really drove the rest of the book forward. Not always, and there was still slow going, but I had very specific things to hope for the Traverse characters, and strong emotional reactions as that storyline continued to develop.

  8. I listened to The 12 Tribes Of Hattie on my commute this past month. It was a series of 12 different stories, focusing on 12 different perspectives, all of whom were family members. The stories happened over a span of 50+ years. I suppose Hattie was the protagonist, though that might be a generous reading. The 12 stories were pretty much the most relentless series of awful things you could imagine. The book opens with infants dying and goes downhill from there. Affairs, poverty, war, rape of a minor, really severe mental illness... you got it all, and then some. There was some beautiful prose, and I'm really glad I picked this one up. It was a great book for me to open myself up to other perspectives - I've not read a ton of books by African American women, and what I have read, I haven't enjoyed. So it was quite nice to be able to truly appreciate something from that perspective, and I think it left quite an impact on me, though I wouldn't say I exactly "liked" it (tough to like something that's so relentless, and lacks a true protagonist to root for through the hard stuff). A worthy read though.

  9. Vonnegut reads for June:

    Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions.

    When I first read Vonnegut (high school and college years, of course), I remember thinking how very weird his books and plots and style were (this was always a positive thing for me). One thing that I've come to realize throughout this re-read is that most of his books are not that. I like them still, and I am enjoying my time going through them again, but it's a different appreciation that I have of him more as a writer than as a stylist.

    Anyway, both of those books are good. I still love the artist's description of The temptation of St. Anthony in Breakfast, that whole scene in the hotel bar is one that I always remember. Slaughterhouse is still pretty great. As I read his previous novels, I noticed little instances of Dresden peeking through the narratives, so I could see him working himself up to this book. It was nice to have the payoff.

    In July, I'm reading Slapstick which I remember not being terribly impressed by the first time around.

    1. I read Breakfast of Champions a few months ago. I loved, LOVED his definition of things (like Vietnam is "a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes"). Note to Spooky, I still would love to see you run Baldrick's Dictionary as a challenge. Not a big fan of the meta stuff at the ending.

  10. I read The End of Baseball by local author Peter Schilling. It's about what would have happened if Bill Veeck had bought the Philadelphia A's in 1944 and stacked them with Negro League stars. Thunks were not as hunky-dory as I feared as Schilling did a great job capturing the struggles that the individual players would have encountered. A very enjoyable read.

    Once I got to the beach last week, I flew through the last two-thirds of One Hundred of Solitude. Once I became comfortable with the prose, it was a beautiful read. Incredibly dense with so many characters sharing names and a difficult timeline, but some amazing storytelling.

    On a completely opposite end, I'm flying through The Monster of Venice about the unsolved case of a serial killer in the 1980s and the many, many different tracks the investigation took.

  11. I just finished The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu today. I picked it up at the suggestion of whoever mentioned it a couple months ago on this site (DG?) It was an okay read, but I thought it suffered too much from telling, and not enough showing. The book covers a long swath of time, and has some very interesting and engrossing little stories that make up this huge epic. Very much on the long side (took me about 40 days to finish). But it was different enough from other fantasy type fiction to hold my interest.

    1. Cool. I'm glad you liked it. The oral saga kind of storytelling clicked for me, but it is very different (and focuses on telling more than showing for sure).

      1. My favorite passages:

        Actual Spoiler SelectShow

        Overall, I liked it for the most part. I would probably benefit from a second read through, but that won't be anytime soon. I'm excited for more in that realm, possibly expanding to other lands.

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