The Animators

This is a pretty ambitious book (also the author’s first novel). Maybe that’s why it took me so long to finish it–around three weeks or so; slow for me. It’s about friendship, it’s about art and the sufferings/decisions/sacrifices that come with making good art, it’s about being thrown out into the world kicking and screaming (maybe my cynical way of saying “coming of age”).

The two main characters are female animators who meet in art school. Animation is the art form that saves both of them from complicated pasts growing up in desolate Southern families. They can run but they can’t hide from their pasts; they simply take them and mine them for material–painful, of course.

Mel (short for “Melody”) and Sharon’s first successful animated film is about Mel’s mother, who comes to an inglorious end after being shanked in jail. Mel deals with her past by drinking, drugs and casual sex, and seems to find solace in her work, while Sharon uses her work to buffer herself from family and a hugely traumatic event involving her best friend from childhood’s father. It takes awhile for this beast of an event to show up in the book (thanks to the skill of the author) and to finally rear it’s ugly head.

I wondered why it took me so long to finish this book, and I think it’s because it was about so many big ticket life items, as above.

I’d recommend it, but only if you’re ready for a big, meaty book that might require some patience. The Animators is worth reading if you want to have characters who are probably not exactly like you enter your life while you’re reading it, and afterwards.

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Tyranny. Resisting it.

Am really looking forward to reading 41kBo7v4xaL._SX353_BO1,204,203,200_
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder.

A friend recommended this pocket-sized book, which I’m hoping will save my life. The American civilian part of my life, which is in danger of going as numb as a limb that hasn’t moved in an hour.

The book is all streamlined style: Smart formatting and type sizing, short chapters, nice paper. As any good writer or editor would know, it must’ve taken him ages to distill down to what he wanted to say.

 Thank goodness for Amazon Prime, and check back for more on this. I’m thinking it might be a grim read.


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Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys

This memoir by Viv Albertine was like a bag of potato chips. Eat some, they’re pretty tasty,51xH61SnhIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
right? Then go back for more, skip ahead to those crunchy ones you really like while you pass by the not-so-crunchy ones.

Not that she doesn’t have a lot of crunchy parts in this memoir. She’s played with The Slits, a British proto-punk band, had a career as a television and film director, and hung around with Sid Vicious and Joe Strummer in their early days.

Her band breaks up, she has a baby after innumerable painful fertility treatments, learns she has cancer while Baby (that’s how she refers to her daughter in the book) is only three months old. Vincent Gallo is obsessed with and pursues her. The band gets back together.

The more I slowed down and read individual pages of this memoir, the more I liked it. It’s not going to read like a novel, after all. I liked Kim Gordon’s memoir much better (“Girl in a Band”); it happens to be shorter as her voice is very to-the-point. But it’s great to hear the voices of female musicians.

Like a bag of potato chips, take one, go back to it, and maybe you’ll finish the whole bag.

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Spoiled by Caitlin Macy. Cringe-worthy stories. I liked “Red Coat,” a story about a newish stay-at-home wife who ends up stealing her young cleaning woman’s coat out of coat check at her local cafe, when it was published in The New Yorker. In the context of several other stories about the habits of upper class Manhattanites (“Christie,” “Annabel’s Mother” and “Spoiled,” the title story) though, well, ick!

I understand writing about social discomfort, class shame, plain old shame, but these were too confining for me. I’d rather read Mary Gaitskill if I want to be made uncomfortable. At least there’s more variety in her story collections.

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Women’s March Reading List

41r8yICXM-L._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis might be short as it’s late.

“Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit is extremely of-the-moment given current political events: women’s rights to make choices about their bodies are being threatened, and we have a new leader who’s made sexually harassing comments about women. Given also that we have a leader who’s proposed cabinet picks include only one woman, I don’t see a lot of respect here for femaleness and female agency.

In the book she is trenchantly serious but somehow manages to add a touch of humor, oh, wait, that is just the ridiculousness of the things she’s been told by men during her long career as a writer, historian and activist.

I promise to get back on the stick during the week with more reading choices. Too much excitement today with the marches going on. Rebecca Solnit’s book is truly powerful.

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Oddball narrators

One of these novels is narrated by a woman in a coma; the other, an unborn baby, child of warring parents. Meet “romance” and “anti-romance”.

414GqqVoVfL.jpg“Nutshell” is McEwan’s 16th book and “Je Suis La” is Avit’s first book, so it’s unsurprising that his characters are “rounder” (more fleshed out?). In “Nutshell,” they are an estranged husband and wife, and the husband’s drudge of a brother, who has entwined himself as the wife’s lover.The couple’s former, dilapidated home-the husband’s family’s homestead-is nearly a character itself in the book, with its trash-strewn hallways and knobbly banisters.

Somehow this all works, though it probably wouldn’t in lesser hands.This baby is not just a kicker; as a narrator he is thoughtful, observant and FUNNY! Who needs to think about themes with such clever narration. This novel is hilarious.

51cS3gkaS7L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgIn “I’m Still Here,” (“Je Suis La” in the original French) by Clelie Avit, Elsa, one of the narrators, has suffered a mountain climbing accident and has been in a coma for five months. While her family is grappling with the possibility of turning off her life support, she has slowly been regaining consciousness. Only problem: no one is aware of this as she hasn’t gained the ability to talk or move her muscles.

Thibault, the other narrator (great French name…) stumbles into her room after bringing his mother to visit his brother in the hospital. His brother has been hospitalized as the result of an auto accident (the brother was driving drunk; two young women were killed.) Thibault begins to fall for Elsa, all the while refusing to visit the brother, who’s responsible for two deaths. So, a clever narrative device, a woman who is gradually coming to life, and friends who reveal more about the woman through dialogue. McEwan’s been at it longer and is more skillful, but this is Avit’s first book…well done.

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Little Nothing

61tTCvA4ltL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_-1.jpg“Little Nothing” is the latest from Marisa Silver. I’d only read a collection of short stories (“Babe in Paradise”) by her before.

The novel follows Pavla, a shape-shifting girl (then woman, then wolf…thus the shape-shifting) and Danilo, her would-be lover; Pavla from birth.

The woman knows how to tell a good story, from Pavla’s birth in an unnamed Eastern European country to, well the end (don’t want to issue a spoiler). The shapeshifting made me think about identity and changing identities, and Danilo’s relationship with Pavla made physical identity so secondary to the real story here which is, in part, about the constancy of love. And that reminded me of a mom friend from a few years back (she moved back home to Ohio when Park Slope became really unaffordable). About her husband, she said “He’d still love me if I had a hole in middle of my face.”

Actually, what she said was “He wouldn’t even notice if I had a hole in the middle of my face.”, but that’s another story.

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