Tag Archives: 5 Kafkas

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. (2009)

A genius baby is born to a Maine family with an alcoholic mother and a cocaine-addict older son, but the kicker is that the baby knows that a stray comet’s going to destroy the world in 2010.  The novel goes in wildly varied directions from here using different narrators and styles, with no two sections alike and plenty of black humor.  The second-person sections take some getting used to but add an otherworldly flair that becomes essential plot-wise, resulting in a thoughtful meditation on what it means to enjoy life and find meaning in the face of tragedy.

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No One Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July (2007)

I loved this book.  I loved how its stories are meaningful but also speckled with Miranda July’s dry humor (“As with the whole-grain bread, Carl did not initially leap into the idea with enthusiasm”) that stops them from ever being too pretentious.  I love that these stories are about relationships that don’t always work.  I love that July’s characters undergo real emotional turmoil.  I love how there are things about these stories I don’t understand, and that I’m OK with that.  Finally, I love that this paperback comes in five different colors and that mine happens to be orange.

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami (2008)

Every day, Japanese author Haruki Murakami writes and runs, each on a set schedule with set goals.  Most of this essay collection is ostensibly about running, but when Murakami talks about the discipline involved with marathon training he’s also talking about the discipline involved with writing, so that reading about his stretches and his Hokkaido ultramarathon provides insight into a disciplined creative mind.  He also recounts his transition from jazz club-owning twentysomething to focused writer, and the entire book forms a quiet, unpretentious reflection on what it means to pursue a skill—even if you don’t like sports.

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The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (1988)

An aging butler in 1950s Britain goes on a road trip and reflects on the glory days of the British aristocracy that turn out to be not so glorious.  This novel works so incredibly because of its narrator, who speaks in a voice that’s both dignified and easy to read, reeking of unreliability and dry humor as he encounters the common folk.  Greater stakes, however, lie in its backstory of what democracy really means and how an entire working class could trade their independence for service to the upper classes—who are prone to more than a few shortcomings.

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Election, by Tom Perrotta (1998)

A high school presidential election pits a goody two-shoes overachiever against a clueless jock and his rebellious younger sister, with one teacher viewing the race as a microcosm of who gets ahead in life and why.  Election shows how much these contests seem to matter in the moment but afterwards feel trite—it explores rivalries based on jealousy, social class, love, popularity, and the glory of the spotlight.  The novel’s rapid switches between narrators (often in mid-scene) are among the most effective I’ve ever read, and keep the novel constantly moving.  Read this even if you’ve seen the movie.

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Nijigahara Holograph, by Inio Asano (2006)

Children speak of a monster in the drainage tunnel behind their elementary school while one of them sleeps in a coma; as adults, their paths cross in mysterious ways, and there are butterflies.

Nijigahara Holograph feels obliquely perplexing until it reaches its gut-wrenching conclusion, though on a second skim-through the connections felt clearer, revealing this to be a meticulously crafted manga that tells a powerful story.  The climactic reveal left me feeling uncharacteristically drained and somewhat disturbed—I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but that a manga can exert this kind of power means a lot.

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The Best of McSweeney’s, Edited by Dave Eggers & Jordan Bass (2013)

This 600-page tome from the McSweeney’s journal packs a hard punch—not just because of how much they’ve crammed inside, but because the writing is straight-up good.  There’s a comics section, a play starring three cavemen, an account of a NASCAR weekend by a man who knows nothing about racing, a list of facts about Spokane, Washington, two stories based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notebooks, and a scattering of 20-minute fiction.  Extra points go to the fine design: the dustjacket folds out into a poster and the bonus materials include a box of postcards and colorful booklets.

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The Flowers of Evil (Vol. 1-11), by Shuzo Oshimi (2012-2014)

Kasuga, a shy middle-schooler obsessed with Baudelaire, impulsively steals his crush’s gym clothes only to be spotted by the class outcast and labeled a pervert, but is he really a pervert, or just looking to form a normal relationship?  Powerful stories never fail to make you care about their characters, and Oshimi pulls this off incredibly—his explorations of courtship, friendship, surviving adolescence, and fitting in capture his characters at their most vulnerable.  The series’ driving question is whether Kasuga will cave in to the adult world like a shitbug or find his own path—whatever that might mean.

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Four Major Plays, Volume II, by Henrik Ibsen (1881-1896)

Prior to this I’d only read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, and while these four plays are less significant, they built off of the other Ibsen I’d read while covering more thematic ground.  Ibsen was a progressive decades ahead of his time, and today these plays seem more relevant than ever, covering environmental protection, the place of women in society, the dangers of populism, parents wielding control over children, and choosing money over love.  I enjoyed the denser John Gabriel Borkman much less due to its heavy exposition, but maybe also because I haven’t gotten old yet.

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Ghosts 

An Enemy of the People  

The Lady From the Sea  

John Gabriel Borkman  

Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses, by David Lodge (1975)

Two English professors, one American and one British, join their universities’ annual exchange program to escape disconcerting ruts in their respective countries.  Lodge’s west-coast America is torn amidst the uproar of 1960s counterculture, while his small-town industrial Britain is chilly, polite, and exaggeratedly tame.  By showing each world from the other country’s POV, Lodge creates a witty and poignant commentary on academic and social life on two continents.  The novel itself also takes different forms in each of its six sections (letters, a screenplay, etc.), a cool twist on the relationship between fiction and reality.

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Where I Got It

Bought from a used bookstore in Columbus, Ohio this past summer.  I’d been meaning to read this book for literally ten years, after a former coworker recommended David Lodge to me in 2006.  WHY OH WHY DIDN’T I LISTEN TO HIM SOONER? I enjoyed this book too damned much to have gone without it for so long.

More

2015 Review in The Guardian

Rules for “Humiliation,” a reading game Lodge invented for the novel

Rose of No Man’s Land by Michelle Tea (2005)

Fourteen-year-old Trisha has a hypochondriac mother, a sister who wants to be on The Real World, and not much else.  Her new job at a teenybopper mall store leads her to Rose, a rebel who smokes and otherwise does what she wants, and together they set out on a late-night adventure through the sprawl of northeastern Massachusetts.  Tea’s writing hums with crazy energy, sharp observations, and madcap scenes that leave you racing.  This is a book about when everything was exciting and meant something, a book for those of us who play by our own rules.  Read it.

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Where I Got It:

Christmas gift from a friend who was like, “I’ve got a book for you.”

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Michelle Tea’s website

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari (with Eric Klinenberg, 2015)

Dick pics. Waiting exactly two hours before responding to a flirty text.  Swiping through Tinder while at an actual bar because the people there aren’t quite good enough.  Aziz Ansari reveals string after string of sharp, relatable truths about 21st century phone-based dating and how today’s young adults struggle through a new period of emerging adulthood in their quests for the perfect soulmate.  The book smartly blends sociological research, jokes about rappers, insights into the dating scenes in Japan and Buenos Aires, and actual, useful advice for navigating the ever-changing world of modern romance.  Well played, Aziz.

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5-kafkas

Where I Got It

Bought online this September ago after telling myself for months that I was finally going to read the damned thing.

More

Aziz Ansari essay, Everything You Thought You Knew About L-O-V-E is Wrong

Eric Klinenberg’s website