A Bad Gay and Other Stories: A Mini-Review of The Bone Clocks / Less

A Bad Gay and Other Stories: A Mini-Review of The Bone Clocks / Less

I finally finished The Bone Clocks. I kept putting it off to do other things; I’d read a chapter and fall down the rabbit hole for an hour, and then get distracted again. It’s not the book’s fault, I don’t think. I just couldn’t focus. Scratch that, maybe it’s the book’s fault. Just a little. It’s told in five sections, by four different points of view. Although David Mitchell is clearly intellectual and formidably well-read, the narration was random and rambling and I would catch myself wondering – what was the point of all this? Why should I care about this or that protagonist? What’s around the riverbend? He answers my questions in the last third. My only conclusion is that David Mitchell may written it while on an acid trip, because the shit that goes down is so bonkers, so weird, and so out there, I had to reread some sentences just to try and piece it all out in my head. That’s what happens when words like psychodecanter, neurobola, ingress, scansion, etc. are thrown at you out of nowhere like a barrage of psychic projectiles. It kind of reminds me of that Brampton video that went viral last week – just another a lovely summer day in a nice, quiet suburban neighbourhood, then a car comes careening in out of nowhere, smashing into everything like it’s a scene out of a Fast and the Furious franchise.

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Unlike The Bone Clocks, I had no problem finishing Less. It’s an easier read. If there’s any takeaway I have from it, it’s that Andrew Sean Greer is a masterful storyteller.

Nothing seems to go right for Arthur Less; absurdity is so much a part of his life story, it is his life story. It is, in parts, hilariously tragicomic. I laughed like a loon when he gets told to his face that the reason his work hasn’t been accepted into the gay canon is because he is a “bad gay” for focusing too much on the sads and never giving his protagonists a happy ending (“But Odysseus returns to Penelope!”). I also giggled at his dogged determination to get his VAT back, no matter what it takes, because he’s American, dammit all to hell.

I envy Greer his control. He repeats the use of certain words or phrases (“They are not kidding”, “An Evening With Arthur Less”, “Why?”) to add levity, and rein in the constant flashbacks and it’s like watching an expert puppeteer at work, tongue firmly embedded in cheek.

Not that I agree with how it all went down. I don’t feel the ending was deserved, but (here be spoilers!) that is probably because I have very little patience for aimlessly frivolous people who seem to think it’s okay to ask their friends to Save the Date, then go through with the whole kit-and-boodle, only to turn around after a scant twenty-four hours of being married and say, um, I don’t think I should have done this…? Yes, Britney Spears did it too, but she was drunk and in Vegas. In Less, it turns out to be an utterly premeditated, lousy, wasteful, overly dramatic attempt to get attention. It’s like Sally Rooney’s Normal People – if they had just talked it out, they would’ve been fine. Why do they never talk it out? Also, why do they always say what they don’t mean? I get that Arthur Less is emotionally scarred because he was unceremoniously dumped by the poet/genius/asshole he gave his youth to, which is why he pushes everyone who gets close to him away, but really, fifteen years of stewing in his own drama? Please.

Still, if the end goal was to give a gay protagonist a happy ending in order to get included in the gay canon, Mission Accomplished. I can almost hear Andrew Greer muttering “am I a good gay now?” to his critics. I will give him this: he is a very good gay. They were not kidding.

Body Talk: A Normal People Book Review

Body Talk: A Normal People Book Review

Today’s theme is “damaged,” brought to you by Sally Rooney’s Normal People (the book, not the TV show).

My good friend K says Normal People is an accurate portrayal of how relationships work. If this is how relationships work, it’s little wonder most of them go kaput.

Normal People is about a young man and a young woman who hook up in their final year of high school and go on to attend the same university together. They have sex the whole time. It’s the biggest thing that connects them, the sex. They both have inner demons: the man is working-class, obsessed with being accepted and incapable of (or unwilling to) admit how much he likes her; the woman is rich, so she has the luxury of not giving a shit, but her life would be better if her brother wasn’t a physically abusive dickbag. Something about sleeping with each other makes them feel normal, or whatever way they believe normal is supposed to feel, and so they sleep together a lot, because apparently, that is what normal people do.

Young, horny and damaged: they’re normal people. Normal people who internalize too much.

A lot of feelings left unsaid fall by the wayside. Even if they’ve convinced themselves in some twisted way that they are only ever really truly honest – with themselves and to each other – when they’re together, they’re so busy having sex, at the end of it all, they’re so exhausted, they’re unable to form more than a few sentences. So it becomes all about internalizing, which forms the on-off dynamic of their exhausting, drawn out relationship. It sounds convoluted, but it’s really very simple. If they could stop for a minute and make time for an actual, honest conversation, maybe then they wouldn’t be so fucked up. I spent a lot of time i internally screaming at these two to JUST TELL EACH OTHER HOW YOU FEEL, because guess what? People can’t read minds.

But no one wants to read about a perfectly normal relationship. It’s boring. People want drama. They want tears. They want hurt feelings, and slammed doors, and aggressive break-up sex, or aggressive make-up sex, and moments where the heroine decides she’ll just go ahead and let men treat her like dirt because it’s the only time she really thinks she can feel something. People want to read about broken people. It’s the new escapism. And it works, because it’s true – perfectly normal relationships are boring. Nothing happens. There is no conflict. And conflict is what makes a story worth reading.

I like conflict. I just don’t like it when a particular conflict can be avoided. A relationship works when people are honest with themselves and with each other. Do normal people not talk to each other anymore? Relationships can’t work if no one in it wants to talk about it. And bodies can only say so much. Great sex isn’t a bad way to get a relationship going. Sometimes, it really is all about the horizontal tango. It’s certainly a fun way to spend the first few months of being together. But people can’t just bone all the time, and sex can’t function as a substitute for honest communication. Great sex doesn’t fix everything.

Maybe to some it’s just more romantic to be troubled, to have issues, to be damaged. Sometimes I wonder if people have fallen in love with the idea of being damaged, being conflicted. It’s as if being such frees them from the burden of having to be actual individuals who are accountable for their own actions, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand how hard it is just to breathe, waaah, I’m the victim here, waaah. I’m not interested in assigning blame. I’m interested in: what are you going to do about your current circumstances? How are you going to fix it?

It’s why the character I would get along with the best in Normal People is Niall, the roommate. “Niall is a practical person,” the hero thinks. “He shows compassion in practical ways.” I like Niall. I like practical people. That’s just my version of normal.

What Books Did You Read in 2019?

What Books Did You Read in 2019?

I can’t believe it’s time for another one of these already. The year flew by so fast it nearly gave me whiplash, and it looks like this year may be more of the same. One blink and look, it’s mid-January!

In an effort to counteract the effects of too much TV, one of the things I set out to do in 2019 was to read more than I had the year beforeI like to think I did marginally better, even if I think I watched too much TV anyway. 

Still, reading is not everyone’s cup of tea; The Atlantic has an excellent article on why it affects some and not others. For me, reading is and always has been a form of escape, more so than TV, and a gift bestowed to me by both parents. My mother taught me how to read, and my father taught me how to enjoy it.  Because they had me very young, none of their peers had children I could grow up and play with. Whenever they would go out and socialize, it was up to me to find ways to amuse myself.  My favourite of their friends to visit were always the ones who had little libraries, because then I could just pick something, get lost in it and wait for my parents to finish having fun. It sort of turned me into an introvert (some may dispute this, but I really am quite shy) but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

And so, on to the list! As always, my choice of reading material doesn’t follow rhyme or reason but the following may hopefully give you ideas for what to read next. About 95% were all read and available from Overdrive, the digital arm of the Toronto Public Library. I also list my top five books unforgettable books of the year. They may not have been published in 2019, but they are ones I discovered and would definitely recommend. That’s the beauty of a great book, the really good ones never age! To get to them, scroll down to the standouts section.

“Classics”
Cosmos – Carl Sagan
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and Three Other Stories) / In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

Essays
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
Meaning and History: The Rizal Lectures – Ambeth R. Ocampo
Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant- Joel Golby
The Faraway Nearby – Rebecca Solnit
Best. Movie. Year. Ever. (How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen) – Brian Raftery

#CanLit
All Our Wrong Todays – Elan Mastai
The Gown – Jennifer Robson
Son of a Trickster – Eden Robinson
The Hungry Ghosts – Shyam Selvadurai

Historical Fiction
The Secret History – Stephanie Thornton
The Only Woman in the Room – Marie Benedict
Muse – Mary Novik
The Viscount Who Loved Me – Julia Quinn
The Lost Season of Love and Snow – Jennifer Laam

Non-Fiction
America’s Boy: The Marcoses and the Philippines – James Hamilton-Paterson
1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half – Stephen R. Bown
Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
The Lost City of the Monkey God – Douglas Preston
SPQR – Mary Beard
Imperial Woman – Pearl S. Buck
Girl, Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen
The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family – Mary S. Lovell
Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty – Diane Keaton
Jackie, Janet and Lee – J. Randy Taraborelli
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
Three Women – Lisa Taddeo

Now Lush TV Shows (and one Major Motion Picture)
The Mountain Between Us – Charles Martin
Codename Villanelle – Luke Jennings
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
A Discovery of Witches / Shadow of Night / The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness

I Don’t Care What You Say, Re-reads Count:
A Game of Thrones – George RR Martin
The Constant Princess – Philippa Gregory
The Hobbit / The Fellowship of the Ring / The Two Towers / The Return of the King – JRR Tolkien

Everything Else
The Light Between Worlds – Laura E. Weymouth
Aug 9 – Fog – Kathryn Scanlan
Gods Behaving Badly / The Table of Less Valued Knights – Marie Phillips

The 2019 Standouts
Educated – Tara Westover
What a whopper of a story this is. Tara Westover’s chronicle of a childhood spent homeschooled, raised on a farm with parents who felt the apocalypse could come any time is a hell of a memoir, and a great way to gain perspective – if you felt your childhood was horrible, you haven’t met Tara. It’s also a story of hope, and of how the love of learning can never really be stifled, a powerful reminder that dreams do come true if you want something badly enough and work hard enough to get it.

The Jaguar’s Children – John Vaillant
Although fictional, its protagonist finds himself in a very familiar, heart-wrenching position  – trapped inside an abandoned water tanker that is used to transport illegal immigrants over the Mexican border into the land of the free and the home of the brave, with a dying cellphone as his lifeline and only one number with an American country code. Told in stream of consciousness first-person, interspersed with a series of increasingly agitated text messages, The Jaguar’s Children is claustrophobic, terrifying and very difficult to put down and walk away from.

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
Like The Graveyard Book on drugs,  Lincoln in the Bardo reads as if DJ Earworm suddenly got literary and decided to do a mash-up of books, newspaper articles and quotable quotes. A re-imagination of events after death of Abraham Lincoln’s youngest son Willie, it’s an unusual book, and an acquired taste.  Reading the first few paragraphs may seem a bit strange, but the story comes to life as you settle into the rhythm and flow of George Saunders’ unique, award-winning experiment in prose.

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe – Laurence Bergreen
As a Filipino, Magellan is a byword for the discovery of the Philippines, and its subsequent conversion to Christianity. To some of us, Magellan is an interfering, unscrupulous intruder who got what was coming to him. To the Spanish, he was a fearless crusader and adventurer. To the world, he was the one who braved the unknown in search of riches and glory. Magellan’s legacy may be a polarizing one, but Laurence Bergreen’s story of how he conquered unknown seas to prove that the world was truly round is arresting, and an educational insight into the social and economic mores of the time.

On Writing – Stephen King
Part autobiography, part how-to, with zero pretensions, On Writing has earned its status as the unofficial go-to for aspiring writers.  I’d always read about it mentioned by writers I admired, and finally decided to take the plunge and read it myself. It’s accessible and non-patronizing, and incredibly humanizing, especially when one is confronted with the true body of Stephen King’s work, definitely something that should be re-read at least once a year, if only for the kick in the butt it administers. My 2019 takeaway? Adverbs are anathema!

What Books Did You Read in 2018?

What Books Did You Read in 2018?

Some people set goals for themselves, like reading fifty books a year. I don’t have a set number, but I would like to average more than three a month, which,  based off of my Overdrive history, was what 2018 was for me book-wise. This year, I want to read things more than I watch things –  a resolution that may be easier to say than to actually do, so crossing my fingers, knocking on at least two different types of wood and throwing a little salt over my left shoulder.

Anyway, here are all the books I finished last year. Because I have the same maxim for reading as well as eating – i.e. finish everything you put on your plate – I still feel guilty about not being able to finish a book. I am incapable of reading multiple books at any given time, preferring to finish one before picking up another. I’ve learned that life is too short, and if something fails to hold you in its grip a third of the way in, it’s best to just put it down very gently and move along.

As you will soon see, my choice of reading material doesn’t follow rhyme or reason, although I do have a weakness for books about historical figures, particularly royal ones. The following may hopefully give you ideas for what to read next, and I read them all through Overdrive, the digital arm of the Toronto Public Library. I do list three books that are an absolute punch to the gut – books I liked so much, I want the real thing on my bookshelf! To get to the  ones I would definitely recommend, skip to the standouts section.

Royal Pains
That Woman – Anne Sebba
Nicholas and Alexandra – Robert K. Massie
Catherine the Great – Robert K. Massie
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch – Sally Bedell Smith
The Hollow Crown – Dan Jones
The Shadow Queen – Rebecca Dean
Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart – John Guy

Guilty Pleasures
Upon a Wicked Time – Karren Ranney
The Bride and the Beast – Teresa Medeiros
Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann
Rich People Problems – Kevin Kwan
Queen of the North – Anne O’Brien

Now Major Motion Pictures (and one lush TV show)
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg
Molly’s Game – Molly Bloom

I don’t care what you say, I’ll still read kid things
The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge
Library of Souls – Ransom Riggs
The Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

Mythic Proportions
Norse Mythology– Neil Gaiman
The Song of Achilles – Madeleine Miller
The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks
Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History) – George R. R. Martin

Autobiographically Yours
Sick in the Head – Judd Apatow
Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher
Meaty – Samantha Irby

Everything Else
We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Mrs. Fletcher – Tom Perrotta
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Dutch Wife – Ellen Keith
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules – Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother – Danielle Teller

Maybe I’ll try again someday
Fear of Flying – Erica Jong
I couldn’t finish Fear of Flying, that seminal female-centric novel of the late 70’s.  There are moments when we as humans start flailing, but this one’s been in therapy since she was a teen, and is now conducting a flagrant affair right under her second husband’s (also a therapist) nose. Her paramour – who doesn’t bathe, calls her a c*nt, walks around in some weird Jesus-y man-dress and treats her like shit (which she kind of likes) is also a therapist. That’s as far as I got. Fear of Flying is erudite and intelligently written, but I found its heroine self-indulgent and tiresome.

2018 Standouts
Circe – Madeleine Miller
This had been floating around the edges of my social media feed as a hot read, and for good reason; Madeleine Miller is a Greek scholar who plucks a relatively obscure mythical figure from the background of the great Greek myths and gives her beautiful life. Read this if you need a little magic.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life – Samantha Irby
Oh the joys of finding a new favourite author in a used book store! I would normally never pick up a book featuring a bedraggled kitten on the cover, but something about this book just made me pick it up and boy am I glad I did. Samantha Irby is a descriptively hilarious tour-de-force, who lays her own life on an operating slab, vivisects herself and exposes all her gnarly insides to the world, tongue fully in cheek. Read this if you need a little humour.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou
If you think a story about Silicon Valley maneuvers is a boring premise, John Carreyrou is going to prove you oh so wrong. A book about former Silicon Valley darling Theranos and the people, events and broken promises behind the startup that imploded so spectacularly, this one was un-putdownable for me. Never mind why you need to read this, just do!

Reading Rainbow

It’s a good time to be a bookworm. Not that it’s ever a bad time to be a bookworm, but it used to be pricier for me because e-books hadn’t yet been invented, and I had to actually pay to read, because that was the price of being in a book club. (Php 10 for an Avon Romance!) Flash forward a decade or two, and it’s all just point, click and download.  Overdrive and the Toronto Public Library are the gifts that keep giving.

Weirdly, I wasn’t into the whole e-book thing at first – made the usual noises, nothing like the real thing, blah blah blah and crap. But the pros far outweighed the cons. Nightly ablutions + not skipping a chapter? Win. Reading in bed without a lamp? Win. Plus you can’t beat the price of free.

I’ve been tackling my book backlog these past couple of weeks because I needed a break from the Netflix glut and the internet is a minefield of possible GoT spoilers. Books have always been portals to other worlds, windows to peek through and watch glorious ladies in ballgowns sweeping past. Escapism at its best.

This is my idealized self-portrait.

This is me in real life.

So book reviews, the quick-fire edition:

Continue reading “Reading Rainbow”