Review: Can’t and Won’t: Stories

Can't and Won't: Stories
Can’t and Won’t: Stories by Lydia Davis
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

These are very short stories. I did enjoy quite a few of them. They are wry, and humorous, and I like their style. They’re just too short to hold my attention, if that makes any sense.

My favorite (understanding that I did not read them all) is “The Bad Novel” (p. 25), which is about conscientiously carrying around a book you don’t really like, thinking you’ll get in a groove and enjoy it, but you don’t.

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Review: American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath

American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath
American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have read some of Plath’s work (poetry, Bell Jar, but not a lot and none of it recently. This book came my way and I thought I’d educate myself on this legendary New England writer.

I was a little taken aback in Rollyson’s Author’s Note, in which he disparages all Plath biographers that have come before. He also writes that this book is not for the Plath novice – He assumes a familiarity with her works and quotes from them very little. I almost stopped reading right there, thinking I might not be prepared for this text. Still, I thought I could get something out of it, and I did.

Are footnotes unfashionable now? I’m not an academic anymore, but it was weird to see so many quotes and no footnotes. There’s an index, and an extensive bibliography in the back, but direct quotes and assertions are not connected to their sources.

Also, Rollyson’s style is big, hyperbolic. I often felt like I couldn’t quite trust what he was telling his readers. The frequent typos and repetitions of certain themes (comparisons to Sontag and Monroe) and his odd and undeveloped assertion that rape wasn’t as big a deal for women in the 1950s than it is now (?!), that women could expect that kind of treatment from their dates, added to this unease. So, I now know a bunch more about Sylvia Plath but I don’t know how much of it to believe. I’d be interested to know if other readers have similar thoughts.

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Review: The Magicians

The Magicians
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book by the title alone. I had no idea what it was about or what to expect. Hadn’t read the blurb on the back.

By page 23, I was talking out loud to myself, saying “I love this book. I love this book!” I want to press it in to certain people’s hands, I want them to read it, so we can exclaim and share it and be happy all over again.

I like Quentin. I love how his adventure starts, how you think ‘oh no, a Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe wannabe,’ and then, it isn’t that.

If you waited for your Hogwarts letter and grew progressively despondent as the hours of your 11th birthday ticked by, rejoice! In America, it’s college. You’ll be recruited when you’re 17.

I love how Grossman puts together a sentence and what he chooses to say.

This is a lose-track-of-time-be-late-for-work book.

p.1 “Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.”

p.22 “The room filled with a collective rustling of paper, like a flock of birds taking off. Quentin recognized this motion. It was the motion of a bunch of high-powered type-A test killers getting down to their bloody work.”

p.24 grapefruit soda

p.26 “As a matter of fact, Quentin did like magic tricks. His interest in magic had started three years ago, partly inspired by his reading habits but mostly as a way of fattening up his extracurriculars with an activity that wouldn’t force him to interact with people.”

P.41 “he was experimenting cautiously with the idea of being happy.”

p.44 “You’ll be dealing with your equals for the first time in your life, and your betters. You won’t like it.”

So, I understand why so many people are mad at this book, why it received so many angry reviews. Part one is upbeat, enthusiastic, accelerating. The middle of the book has one spiky crescendo moment, when Quentin conjures up the omnivorous man with the branch obscuring his face (from an alternate dimension). Something awful happens, and the reader (and Quentin) are left with no follow up. There’s some boring coasting in this section. When this kind of thing happens to Ged in Earthsea, it sets in motion the quest that powers his entire meaningful life. Not in the Magicians. Quentin and his friends are aimless, gormless, and they drink too much. They don’t value what they have until it’s almost too late, or it overwhelms them.


Grossman makes 2 awesome points here. One for the real world: You have to do something with your life. Two, for the readers and dreamers: Can you imagine living agelessly as a king in your favorite fantasy realm – forever? It would have to warp you, hideously. (Really, man it would.)

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Review: I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star

I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star
I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star by Judy Greer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, I totally recognize Judy Greer and I know where I know her from — countless movies, in which she was very funny, and Arrested Development, in which she (and everyone else) was brilliant! What I did not realize is that she also voices one of the characters in Archer. These essays are mostly just kindhearted musings on her life and growing up. She comes across as a very nice person.

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Review: You Should Have Known

You Should Have Known
You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five stars for Korelitz for weaving this wholly believable and engrossing tale. I am utterly surprised by how much I enjoyed this read.

Grace is a New York therapist married to a New York pediatric oncologist. They have one son, who attends Grace’s old private elementary school. It used to be a deep thinking place of learning for the children of former labor organizers and communist sympathizers; now it’s one of the many hard-to-get-into schools for the competitive and very rich. Many things are not what they once were for Grace — She longs for the satisfying friendships she doesn’t seem to have anymore. She pines for a closer relationship with her father, and laments her inability to get close to her stepmother of nearly 20 years.

So, this book starts out looking like it might be a whiny tale of an over privileged white lady in the city who’s alienated. Who should care?

Well, it’s not that. Grace has written a book about how people reveal themselves for who they really are shortly after we meet them. They tell us, with words and gestures, how they think and feel about the world and the people around them. As people fall in love, feel strong attachment, and invest time in one another, we choose to hide from ourselves these truths. Ten years later, we end up in a therapist’s office, lamenting that our loved one is, in fact, who he or she revealed him or herself to be way back then.

There’s a murder in this book, but it’s not a mystery. We know who did it from the start. The fascination in the reading is how Grace comes to enlightenment, how she handles her enormous life changes, and how she parents her son. It’s about the choices we make and choosing again.

There were some bits that were particularly funny for me, and that was a weird disconnect in reading such a sad book. As a native New Yorker now living very close to where some of the story’s events take place, Grace’s astonishment that a public middle school could be on curricular par with a pricey prep school had me laughing. Also, her and Henry’s late-blooming love of ‘roots’ music and contradance tunes. And Northampton described as heaven for therapists. These are in-jokes in an un-jokey book. I liked them, but they felt out of place.

I definitely want to read Korelitz’ other book (Admission).

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