april 2011 reading

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte — The Ask is supposed to be this hilarious novel about an aging Gen-Xer trying to fight his way back into his disappointing job doing fundraising for a school in Manhattan he calls Mediocre University. The writing is clever, and I enjoyed the descriptions of the place the protagonist lives in college, The House of Drinking and Smoking, but I can’t say I actually enjoyed the book, which seemed to challenge my willing suspension of disbelief without doing enough to reward it.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard — The mystery book discussion book for this month. Everyone else loved it; I was bored to tears by it, although it did help out my insomnia several nights running.

The Mother Knot by Kathryn Harrison — A very slim, nearly throwaway volume by Kathryn Harrison (whom I adore) about coming to terms with her mother. A lot of people looked down on The Kiss as writing-as-therapy, but it’s much too artful a book for that. This one feels a little more like that, but if you like Harrison, it’s worth the hour it’ll take to read it.

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud — This is in some ways two books — a satirical look at the lives of socially privileged not-quite-so-young people in Manhattan in 2001 and a book about 9/11. But the second book wouldn’t exist without the first. The first is hilarious, at least if you like novel of manners sorts of books, but what I particularly liked about the second book was the way it showed how major traumatic events derail everyone’s lives in unexpected ways, and how some of those are ways they can never talk about because the tragedy of them pales next to the tragedy of the main event, and so you are left numb twice over, and you feel worse when everyone assumes your numbness is the same as everyone else’s.

I also read lots of poems, especially by Aliki Barnstone and Robert Pinsky, whom I had the great pleasure of hearing read on April 23.

2 thoughts on “april 2011 reading”

  1. Yours is the first review of “The Emperor’s Children” that has actually made me want to read it.

    I thought “The Ask” was all right, but it left me with the same question most modern lit fic leaves me with: do all adult men really masturbate all the time? And why do they love to write about it so?

  2. “Do all adult men really masturbate all the time? And why do they love to write about it so?”

    All I can say is that Philip Roth has a lot to answer for. Let me know if you end up trying The Emperor’s Children!

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