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Monday, January 26, 2015

What I'm (Finished) Reading: Vol. 12

Over the past few months, I've started and stopped about ten books. I decided about a year ago to stop feeling guilty for not finishing books that I don't enjoy, so I'm open to suggestions for my next read. Here are the books that kept my attention long enough for me to finish.

Last November when I visited Arizona, my Kindle was dead before I even went through security, so I picked up Gone Girl in paperback. On my first full day home with my family, I apologized, explaining that I couldn't spend time with them because I had to finish my book. Having watched the movie a week prior, my parents were understanding and enjoyed laughing at my every gasp from the living room couch. I am so glad that I didn't see the movie until after reading the book and that I (for once) resisted the urge to read the plot summary on wikipedia. I've ruined many a book experience that way (I'm looking at you, A Casual Vacancy). Even if you have seen the movie, I urge you to pick up the book. Gillian Flynn can write. At my grandpa's suggestion, I placed a hold on Sharp Objects, and I hope it's as good.

via levoleague
via epublibre
After that, I had a serious dry spell when it came to reading until our road trip home after Christmas. I read Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant (in English -- I don't have the energy on road trips to read in late-19th century French) and although I didn't care for the plot or the characters, there was one funny moment that struck me as very stereotypically French.

At the same time, I downloaded The Green Mile and it became my "gym book." I only allowed myself to read it if I was on a treadmill, and if you can handle reading while walking and jogging, I highly recommend it. The suspense pushed me to walk that extra twenty minutes and made me actually want to go to the gym every day -- okay, every other day. But still, that's a lot for me. I still have never seen the movie and now it's definitely on my list. Have you seen it?

via Barnes and Noble

The last book I finished was Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger and my first moment of surprise came when I realized that Zooey is, in fact, male and short for Zachary. I like Salinger's writing style, particularly the way that he can pack description into very few words. Unfortunately, I didn't dog-ear any pages and can't support my opinion with textual evidence. You'll just have to take my word for it. ;)

What disturbed me, though, was how much I saw of my undergraduate self in Franny. She drips with pretension and I am thankful that I didn't read this when I was in my early twenties because it would have only affirmed my elitism. I would have beamed at just how cultured I was and how much I got what the characters were saying. Thankfully, I've since jumped off the ivory tower, and maybe now the simple life is my own brand of pretension, but who really cares. I'm happy to identify more with the mother Bessie than Franny or Zooey.

Alright, it pains me to not give some example of what I'm talking about. The English teacher in me is out. Here it goes.

First of all, I love this description at the beginning when Franny's boyfriend, Lane, is waiting for her at the train station. He tries to act cool and reserved and to "empty his face of all expression that might quite simply, perhaps even beautifully, reveal how he felt about the arriving person" but as soon as he sees her disembark, he blows it and "despite whatever it was he was trying to do with his face, his arm that shot up into the air was the whole truth." This part is a bit more telling than showing, but at least it isn't, "He wanted to seem cool but then he blew it by waving to her like a maniac." On a side note, that would make a funny into class warm-up -- make your students take great prose and transform it into something bland.

Then, when Franny is complaining to Zooey, she says, "It's everybody, I mean. Everything everybody does is so -- I don't know -- not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and -- sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much only in a different way." I definitely went through a stage where I trivialized the interests of others (à la "What does it even matter if we all just end up dead?"), but just ended up wasting a lot of time and energy that could have been spent toward enjoying and immersing myself in my hobbies. It reminds me of that feeling when you're a teenager where you think it's cool to declare everything as lame and laugh at people that are having a fuller life experience than you. Stupid, self-conscious, teenage angsty, former self.

Bessie says it best: "I don't know what good it is to know so much and be smart as whips and all if it doesn't make you happy."

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