Some stuff I read on public transportation

Y’all, I wish I could teleport. If I had back the two hours a day I currently spend getting to and from work, I would be the awesomest book blogger instead of the very lamest. I have been going back and forth and forth and back to work and to visit friends-and-relations, and these are good times to read but it is not the funnest reading time because I’m slightly on edge from being in transit (trains are very peaceful and pleasant, but buses and subways are not). And I would like to be using that time to catch up on blog reading and writing because I love you guys.

Anyway, here are some of the books I read on public transportation and forgot to write up as full posts:

Woman, Natalie Angier – Finally. I have tried reading Woman several times and been utterly put off by Natalie Angier’s writing style, which is close to unbearably florid and precious at times. I feel fine about, for instance, my Fallopian tubes. I do not need to see them compared to beautiful beautiful flowers:

The tubes are exquisite, soft and rosy and slim as pens, tipped like a feather duster with a bell of fronds, called fimbriae…To me they look like sea anemones, flowers of flesh, the petals throbbing to the cadence of blood.

Gag. And, throbbing is a word you should use as little as possible because it’s gross.. However, as noted by many other book bloggers, Woman contains lots of good information about women’s biology, sexuality, evolution, and so forth, and it’s worth reading for that reason. You just might have to give yourself some time to adjust to Natalie Angier’s love-letter-to-an-ovary-style writing. I reiterate that I am a sex-positive girl who does not have a problem with any part of her body, but I nevertheless think that Natalie Angier’s imagery can be a trifle overblown. It was distracting. Moar science, less flourishing.

The Uses of Enchantment, Heidi Julavits – As often happens when I want Book B by a certain author and am forced by circumstances to get Book A instead, I was disappointed. (I wanted to read The Vanishers.) The Uses of Enchantment is about a girl called Mary who may or may not have been kidnapped and raped as a teenager and had a book written about how she was indeed not kidnapped and raped but was just a liar, and now many years later, she’s back in town for her mother’s funeral. Eh, it was fine, I guess. I wanted the plot to be twistier, the reveals to be more interesting, the sister relationships to feel more like actual sisters. Heidi Julavits uses one of my favorite literary techniques, an unreliable narrator, to utterly boring effect.

Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby – Juliet, Naked is about a woman called Annie who breaks up with her boyfriend Duncan who is obsessed with a musician Tucker Crowe who has not produced any new music since 1989 or something; Annie and Tucker Crowe happen to strike up a correspondence, and events proceed from there. Again, fine. If Nick Hornby were a woman no one would give him two seconds of their time, but I suppose that is not Nick Hornby’s fault. As much as I want to like him, his books leave me feeling vaguely unfulfilled, like below-average vegetarian sushi.

Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him, Danielle Ganek – An artist dies on the night of his first big show, a show in which the primary piece is a picture of his niece Lulu as a little girl. That piece, entitled “Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him”, becomes the subject of great interest in the New York art world, and we see all this unfold through the eyes of gallery girl and unsuccessful painter Mia McMurray. The book is interesting in its use of ekphrasis — I love me some ekphrasis — and for its depiction of the New York art world.

Nightingale Wood, Stella Gibbon – Stella Gibbon! Would do business with her again. Cold Comfort Farm never quite altogether does it for me, which I’ve always chalked up to having seen the extremely faithful movie before reading the book. But in fact I think it’s that Stella Gibbon is very close to, but not exactly, the author for me. I enjoyed Nightingale Wood while not taking pure pleasure in it the way I do when reading, say, Elinor Lipman. Matters ended well for everyone, but none of the characters was nice enough for me to be enthusiastic about his or her marital or professional success.

So that’s it! I now consider myself all caught on all the things. Probably by the time this post posts, I’ll be behind again, but what can you do? I am a bad blogger and I have not been good in ages. I wish I didn’t have to commute. If I could teleport I’d never have to commute to work ever again, and that would be amazing.

23 thoughts on “Some stuff I read on public transportation

  1. I liked the parts about identity (how Tucker’s neighbor was popularly assumed to be him) and how biography influences art in Juliet, Naked. Early on, I was positively gleeful when the clueless fan assumed an autobiographical basis for all the songs, but, you know, this is probably just because of where I work and that I just had to read way too big a stack of papers and fully a third of them were about the Philomela myth because some prof at my institution thinks it explains everything in literature. I read one book by Hornby before that one and it was forgettable. I had low expectations going in.

    • Those are really really solid points about the book but were not enough to salvage it for me. I felt like all the things I found interesting were…handled uninterestingly.

      What was the other Hornby book you read? (My expectations were low too. :/)

      • Slam–I looked it up because I didn’t even remember the title. I did like the movie High Fidelity, but that may be mostly because of John Cusack.

  2. I actually really liked Juliet, Naked, the only Nick Hornby book I’ve ever read. (Or, technically, listened to) Perhaps it’s because I myself have been obsessed with a 14-year defunct band for forever. :D

  3. When you wrote: “You just might have to give yourself some time to adjust to Natalie Angier’s love-letter-to-an-ovary-style writing”, I had to laugh. Thanks for being so honest.

    Don’t worry about being a bad blogger. I’m one too. If I didn’t have school, I would probably be much better at it. ;-)

  4. Love your comment about “below-average vegetarian sushi.” That could be quintessentially unfulfilling. Well put.

    That being said, I did like High Fidelity (movie adaptation is quite good) and About a Boy was okay, but I actually liked the movie better! I also read How to be Good which has left no impression on me whatsoever.

  5. Commutes suck! I have a two-hour commute to and from work as well, except in my case I have to drive and can’t spend my time usefully reading books. I suppose I could listen to audiobooks, but I can’t stand having noise in my car. No distractions, or my early-morning driving skills are seriously impaired.

    You put your finger on my feelings about Stella Gibbons and Nightingale Wood, exactly. She is almost-but-not-quite the kind of writer I like, and I just don’t like any of her characters much at all. All the same, Nightingale Wood is probably my favorite Stella Gibbons I’ve read so far.

  6. I would say an iPad is the answer, except someone would probably swipe it on the subway. Subways are so unfortunate in that regard. The only one of these books that interests me is Lulu Meets God – do you think it is for me? Also, completely agree about Nick Hornby – he is chick-lit, and crummy chick-lit at that. But he is a guy, so nobody ever says it.

  7. That description of the fallopian tubes had me giggling and slighty rolling my eyes at the same time, which will be quite an image for you. I also dislike the use of the word “throbbing” in literature, and am sad to report that I am going to have to read a book for book club soon that is going to be full on throbby, so I am not happy. All of these books sound like the just missed the mark, except for the Gibbons book. I also would love to teleport, but that would cause problems because I listen to audiobooks when I commute, and then I would have to find another time to fit them in! Great mini-reviews today!

  8. Flowers of flesh! Ha ha ha! Isn’t that a book by V.C. Andrews? Ha ha! I agree about Nick Hornby’s fiction (I wanted it to be deeper and more interesting), but I did enjoy his Polysyllabic Spree pretty well. Watching someone enjoy books is kind of my bag.

    p.s. You’re not a bad blogger. You’re a very good blogger. Just one who’s low on time right now.

  9. If you are looking for the twistiest of plots, then The Vanishers is definitely the book for you! It was so insane that half the time I didn’t know what was really going on, which made for an interesting time when I had to write it up for a professional review.

    I liked, but did not love, Cold Comfort Farm, but have always wanted to try Nightingale Wood to see whether my lukewarm response to CCF was my fault or Gibbons’.

  10. Whoa, Natalie Angier. Just, whoa. Throbbing to the cadence of blood? I can’t help but think about Angier writing that sentence without giggling. Or even thinking that sentence in her mind and then going, “Oh! That’s PERFECT! Exactly the right phrase to get across my point.” So interesting how her mind must be so vastly different than mine.

    I hate boring unreliable narrators. Though I can’t say that I’ve really met one before, that I can recall. Glad you read it, though, for the sake of quality sushi simile. (On a tangent, I am going to see Jiro Dreams of Sushi tomorrow.)

    Glad to know you are pro-sex.

  11. Aw, I really like Nick Hornby’s books. For me, they’re exactly perfect when I’m looking for light and amusing but reasonably insightful contemporary stories about relationships. They’re very good examples of that exact thing, and I like his characters. BUT I totally agree with you that his work would be put on the chick lit table if he were a woman.

    And I’m shuddering at that Angier quote. I’ve had that book sort of vaguely on my list, but I’m not sure I could take that kind of language. I have something of an adversarial relationship with my Fallopian tubes and ovaries–the throbbing petals image mostly makes me think of throbbing pain. So probably not the book for me.

  12. It’s a great thing to commute by train. I count my blessing for being able to read while I commute. I agree with you about Juliet, Naked. It’s “like below-average vegetarian sushi.” lol :D it turned me off from reading anything by Nick Hornby.

  13. I wish you could teleport – then you could come over and finish off my book sorting for me. :) But in the meantime, I will enjoy your reviews. I seriously enjoyed your comment about Nick Hornby being below-average vegetarian sushi – LOL! That is so perfectly true. And I keep meaning to read another Stella Gibbons book, and have Westwood lined up to go. Must get to it soon.

  14. “love-letter-to-an-ovary-style writing” – ha ha.

    I feel similar about Nick Hornby, although vegetarian sushi is too sophisticated. I would say toast with jam.

  15. Ugh, if I had a two-hour commute every day, I wouldn’t get very much blogging done, either! I have a hard enough time staying on top of the blogging I do now. We’re smart people. Maybe if we all worked together we could figure out how to build you a teleporter!

  16. I can’t get behind flowery writing – and it doesn’t really matter what it’s about really, but wow with that example.

    Also, I spend two hours a day commuting too (though I have to drive to work) and it has taken a toll on my blogging and blog commenting. I am moving in a month to be closer to my job (should be a half hour a day total – yay) and I’m very happy about that.

  17. I have found commutes to be entirely ineffective for catching up on reading. My bus-rides and train-rides always fall in that uncomfortable “30 minutes” zone, which is too long to simply stand and bide my time, but too short to start reading conveniently. Even when the commute is long, I tend to opt for music catch-up instead. I tip my hat!

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