Elif Batuman is a grad student in Russian literature, and these essays are about her adventures. Aside from some dense portions related to the actual Russian literature, this book moves, due in no small part to Batuman’s dry, quick-witted humor that pokes fun at everyone from the Uzbek landlord who feeds her from an ant-covered jam jar to the elderly professor who literally shits his pants. The real gems, however, are Batuman’s introduction on why she avoided creative writing (reminiscent of her essay “Get a Real Degree”) and her reflections on grad student obsessions—both pointed commentaries on academia.
An aloof college student falls in love with his best friend, a wannabe writer beatnik—the only catch is that she’s also in love with a businesswoman seventeen years older than her. Sumire’s an outgoing, speaks-her-mind girl in classic Murakami fashion (she reminded me of Midori in Norwegian Wood) who gives life to much of the novel, which Murakami tells in short spurts between section breaks. While a lot of Murakami’s subject matter feels familiar, the story’s compactness keeps it moving, with the ending evoking an uncertain stillness that makes the whole novel seem more whole.
I like David Sedaris’s writing because it’s funny, easy to read, and poignant, and most things I like satisfy at least two of these. His latest collection is mostly essays with a few fiction monologues thrown in (the best of which, “I Brake for Traditional Marriage,” features a disoriented right-winger who murders his family and wants to grow a mustache like Yosemite Sam’s), but I enjoyed it slightly less than his earlier work because most of the essays (about, say, losing your passport or picking up highway trash) feel less zany. It still earns a solid four Kafkas, though.
Where I Got It
Christmas Gift, 2015.
David Sedaris’s Website
David Sedaris Reads 50 Shades of Grey (video)