Report From the Interior by Paul Auster

Book CoverThe Hook
A skillfully written memoir can be as moving as any novel, but it can be hard to break away from the humdrum verse-chorus-verse of writing a coming-of-age trajectory. Not to be discouraged, Auster published Winter Journal in 2012, an account of his 63 years of existence explored through the prism of physical being – a record of scrapes, residences, romantic encounters and familial losses, challenging the literary status quo through his use of non-linear narrative and themes contemplating his descent into old age.

Report From the Interior is his companion piece to Winter Journal, and examines the ideas most formative in his intellect and work – another unconventional offering to the world of autobiography. This time the meditations focus on childhood heroes, academic grapplings, political turmoil, and his own foray into literature.

Tone
Report From the Interior is presented in four chapters in the second person. The prose is disjointed – memories can be triggered by a teacup or movie poster, world events or secret alphabets – all information is fair game in the molding of a young mind, and it’s fascinating to see the touchstones of memory fragment and intersect. Auster begins with a vast intake of influences and memories, and like a train gathering speed, feeds on more substantial kinds of fuel as we progress through the pages. This book is a bit like opening your junk drawer, you could find anything from silver dollars to an endless supply of rubber bands and ketchup packets – but it’s damn riveting stuff. He spends 40 pages recounting the “cinematic earthquake” of “I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang”, and shifts to receiving a package from his former wife, writer Lydia Davis – a photocopy of every letter he had written her during their time together. The final chapter is a photo album in which the author presents a gallery of those who have made an impression upon him – and not a single image of himself.

A Snapshot
“Your circumstances at the time were as follows: Midcentury America; mother and father; tricycles, bicycles, and wagons; radios and black-and-white televisions; standard-shift cars; two small apartments and a house in the suburbs; fragile health early on, then normal boyhood strength; public school; a family from the striving middle class; a town of fifteen thousand populated by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, all white except for a smattering of black people, but no Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims; a little sister and eight first cousins; comic books; Rootie Kazootie and Pinky Lee; “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”; Campbell’s Soup, Wonder bread, and canned peas; souped-up cars (hot rods) and cigarettes for twenty-three cents a pack; a little world inside the big world, which was the entire world for you back then, since the big world was not yet visible.”

Recommended For
Those open to exploring alternative forms of storytelling and memoir.

Final Say
This book will either leave you feeling challenged and inspired, or stuck at a family gathering where Great Uncle Paul has broken out the slide projector to relive his salad days at Columbia again. Take a chance, and let Auster’s interior worlds reflect your own.

You can grab Report From the Interior at the library today!

— Nicky

Advertisements

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

First ImpressionsBook Cover
Worst.  Person.  Ever.  is a fast-paced story of terrible things happening to a terrible person; brought to life by prose steeped in the witty energy of pop culture.  Coupland satires everything including junk food, nuclear testing and airport security.  His mockery may be too low-brow at times, but sometimes you just need to roll with it and watch the nonsense unfold.  And if you miss a brand name or song reference?  Coupland will explain it for you, using the handy book equivalent of Pop-Up Video.

The results?  Such offensive.  Much sex.  Many profanity.  Very laughing.  Wow.

Drive-By Summary
Raymond Gunt is a washed-up, lecherous, self-glorifying cameraman whose equally despicable ex-wife offers him a job shooting a Survivor-style TV show in Kiribati.  Bereft of friends and in need of a production assistant, Gunt recruits the help of Neal, a homeless person he attacked only hours prior.  The pair clink glasses at the airport and jet off – what could go wrong?  Their adventures are a sarcastic send-up of consumerism, celebrity and dignity, with Gunt finding himself going from bad to worse to unspeakably, cringingly appalling; all while entertaining delusions of being an unfairly-targeted-by-fate version of Jason Bourne with no personal responsibility.

My Favorite Character
If Gunt is the worst person ever, Neal is the best – hard-working and humble, his successes make Gunt’s failures just that much more infuriating.

Words to Live By
“Behind her desk sat Fiona, elfin, her pixie hair dyed a cruel black.  She cocked an eyebrow at me.  “Jesus, Raymond, I’ve seen rhesus monkeys that look hotter than you.”  She was busy piling caviar atop a Ritz cracker.

“Lovely to see you, too, dear.”

Her office was well-oiled leather and chiseled steel, a fine enough reflection of her method of handling daily life.  What was painfully evident was that Fi was minting money with her casting agency.  The joke was on me for having suggested that she give the casting gig a try.  She’s an expert at meeting people and figuring out instantly what their personal style of lying is and how to make it work for them.  What else if acting, if not that?

But you do need to know that Fi is a dreadful, dreadful, dreadful person.  She is monstrous.  She is the Anti-shag.  She is an atomic bomb of pain.  If you puncture her skin, a million baby spiders will explode from her body and devour you alive, pupating your remains, all the while making little squeaking noises that will taunt you while you die in excruciating agony.”

Recommended For
Fans of Max Barry, Chuck Palahniuk and The Cure.  If you cannot stomach the obscenities of South Park, despair of a Graham Linehan comedy or the puerile absurdity of a Jackass sketch, then this isn’t the book for you.

Final Say
This May, Coupland unveiled an eight foot tall statue of his head outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, which the public will be invited to contribute to by pressing their discarded chewing gum onto his fiberglass face.  If that isn’t enough to make you curious about an author, this is the only book that has sent me racing across the room to look up a YouTube URL.

You can pick up Worst. Person. Ever. at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Nicky

The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

The Childhood of JesusFirst Impressions
With deliberate sparseness, Coetzee concocts a dreamlike tale of a ridiculous mission in The Childhood of JesusSimón and David are newcomers to a vaguely socialist country where no one can recall their original birthdate, age or name.  They are issued new ones, along with free food, lodging, clothing and healthcare, although Simón soon tires of the bean paste and dry bread that passes as everyday fare.  To pass the time and buy a few luxuries Simón finds work as a stevedore, despite his lack of physical prowess.  No one else seems to remember or miss any trappings of private commerce, religion, desire, ambition or humor, increasing Simón’s frustrated attempts to navigate the society around him.

Drive-By Summary
The Childhood of Jesusis a dystopian novel…or is it?  Set in no particular time or place, the middle-aged Simón meets a young boy named David, and sets about trying to reunite him with his mother.  Both are without their memories, as are all citizens in the new country they now reside in.  Everyone amiably conforms to standards of bland acceptance, despite no threat of any rebels being punished by their benign and benevolent government, and the pair struggle to adapt to this bizarre, subdued world.  Can Simón locate David’s mother without any real memories or knowledge of her?

My Favorite Character
Simón is plagued by curiosity and yearning, but also a strange sort of passivity; making him a fascinating and contradictory character.

Words to Live By
Alvaro does not trade in irony.  Nor does Elena.  Elena is an intelligent woman but she does not see any doubleness in the world, any difference between the way things seem and the way things are.  An intelligent woman and an admirable woman too, who out of the most exiguous of materials – seamstressing, music lessons, household chores – has put together a new life, a life from which she claims – with justice? – that nothing is missing.  It is the same with Alvaro and the stevedores:  they have no secret yearnings he can detect, no hankerings after another kind of life.  Only he is the exception, the dissatisfied one, the misfit.  What is wrong with him?  Is it, as Elena says, just the old way of thinking and feeling that has not yet died in him, but kicks and shudders in its last throes?

Recommended For
Fans of Beckett, Don Quixote, and quiet contemplation on family, enlightenment and desire.

Final Say
The Childhood of Jesus is a quietly unsettling and muted read, where the absence of Coetzee’s usual rich lyricism acts as a relief picture, revealing starkly contrasting themes through his postmodern prose.  Peaks of emotional intensity are curiously built around Coetzee’s own passions for sports and animal rights.  However, the author leaves much to ponder:  Is David the child Jesus, and Simón Joseph?  Is this a fable, farce, or lecture that Coetzee is delivering?  This is a paradoxical and challenging book that will engage you long after you have finished reading it.

You can find The Childhood of Jesus at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Nicky

At Last by Edward St. Aubyn

At Last Book CoverFirst Impressions
The fifth and final installment in the Patrick Melrose novels, I opened this book bracing myself for the thrust of a saber of cutting wit, denouncing the glamor of the silver spoon set.  What black comedy would befall that languorous, drug-addled victim of abuse, Patrick Melrose, this time – and could it possibly include a chance of redemption?

Drive-by Summary
At Last opens at the funeral service for Eleanor Melrose, former socialite-turned philanthropist, and neglectful mother to Patrick.  Having allowed her tyrannical husband David to fritter away most of her fortune, Eleanor has bequeathed the last dregs of her estate to Seamus, a spiritual leader of dubious motives, disappointing her son once again.  Many of the characters are lost in their own fantasies and fixations, and At Last fixates on the psychological transformation of Patrick Melrose as he tries to move on after the death of his parents.

My Favorite Character
These novels drew me in with their first offering Never Mind, which largely tells the story from Patrick’s point of view as a child.  It is tempting to say that his son Robert is my favorite character in this book – his precociousness detects that the grown-ups who surround him are not quite all they pretend to be, and he isn’t afraid to say so.  However, it is in Patrick that our hopes lie – his excessive and prolonged coping mechanisms (drug abuse, alcoholism, adultery) make him an unlikable protagonist, yet he isn’t above hard work (slogging through law school when it dawns upon him that the well of his inheritance runneth dry) and staggers toward self-improvement, whether weaning himself off of hard drugs, or simply spending time with his children.  Will he at last fully live his life, or simply keep reacting to it?

Words to Live By
“One day he would live without superstition, but not yet.  He reached out and touched the head of the toad.  He felt some of the same awe he had felt as a child, but the resurgence of what he was about to lose gave the feeling a self-cancelling intensity.  The mad fusion of mythologies created an excess of meaning that might at any moment flip into a world with no meaning at all.  He drew away and, like someone returning to the familiar compromises of his city flat after a long exotic journey, recognized that he was a middle-aged man, sitting eccentrically in his muddy driveway in the middle of a thunderstorm, trying to communicate with a toad.  He got up stiffly and slouched back to the house, feeling realistically miserable, but still kicking the puddles in defiance of his useless maturity.”

Recommended For
Those who have ever grappled with the notion that parental units simply cannot comprehend.  

Final Say
St. Aubyn paints a searing picture of English old money.  Rife with sarcasm that even his most cruel dinner-party-characters would snicker at, there are enough moments of tenderness, justice and absurdity to ensure this is a page turner and a gripping piece of modern English literature.

You can find At Last and the rest of the series at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Nicky

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle Book CoverFirst Impressions
Enticing and progressive, the world of The Circle easily swept me up with its expansive setting and exploration of ideas.  Despite not having a lot of character development, I was pretty enamored of this book, and it is only fitting that I then review it online.

Drive-By Summary
Mae Holland is a young college graduate hired to work for the Circle – an elite, modern technology company intent on expanding their empire to consolidate all social media, finance and browser services.  Eager to please, Mae takes on increasing responsibilities ranging from training other employees to sending out a minimum quota of “Zings” – akin to broadcasting her every action via Facebook or Twitter.

When The Circle launches SeeChange, a groundbreaking personal security and surveillance service, it is adopted rapidly and without question – but at what point does the guarantee of security become worth the total sacrifice of privacy?

My Favorite Character
My favorite character is Eamon Bailey, one of the Three Wise Men who make up the Circle’s leadership team.  As the benevolent and smiling “human face” of the Circle, Eamon has an unwavering faith that their technological innovations will cure disease, oust corrupt politicians and put an end to child abductions.  A champion of transparency and information sharing,  Eamon personifies the notion that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

Words to Live By
““Okay.  So your second screen will continue to be the way you’ll stay in touch with your team.  That will be exclusively for Customer Experience [sic] business.  Your third screen is for your social participation, in the company Circle and your wider Circle.  Does that make sense?”

“It does.”

Mae watched Gina activate the screen, and felt a thrill.  She’d never had such an elaborate arrangement before.  Three screens for someone so low on the ladder!  Only at the Circle. ”

Recommended For
If you’ve ever wondered if you should curb your online presence, are interested in start-up culture, human connection and communication, or dystopian futures, read this book.  You will find this fast paced novel fascinating, even if it veers toward absurdist extremes.

Final Say
If you find your interest in internet culture and technology piqued, you may also want to check out a copy of The Boy Kings by Katherine Losse.  Published last year, The Boy Kings details Losse’s account of being hired as Facebook employee #51, and her experiences working for customer service in both a rapidly booming and male dominated workplace.

The Circle experienced some initial controversy as Losse accused Eggers of lifting parts of his new novel from her non-fictional work, but this was soon dampened by Eggers’ retort that he had not even heard of The Boy Kings, let alone read or stolen from it – a different kind of zing!  Eggers avoided touring any internet or tech companies or interviewing any of their employees while writing his novel, so I would recommend reading these in tandem.

The Circle is waiting for you at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Nicky