I suppose it’s not surprising that someone let Chris Harrison write a book. The diminutive all-American host of The Bachelor and Bachelorette has participated in some 29 seasons of televised romantic Hunger Games, during which time he’s perfected the art of soberly watching men and women choose their future fiancees via a series of melodramatic flower handouts. It doesn’t much matter whether the bachelor/ette is bubbly or reserved, smart or dim-witted, good at juggling two-dozen potential significant others or hilariously ill-equipped. Regardless, Harrison is there, be-suited and poker-faced, his benignly sympathetic countenance a cross between the earnest enthusiasm of Carson Daly hosting The Voice and the thinly veiled smugness of Alex Trebek on Jeopardy. Harrison has no qualms about proclaiming each season of The Bachelor “the most controversial ever,” and is a master at addressing “Bachelor Nation” without smirking. One might even think he believes in it all: the frenzied, tumbling romances; the grand proclamations; the too-soon engagements. At the very least, Harrison knows one thing about love: It sells. Continue reading
Every single person in The Dinner, Herman Koch’s 300-page bottle episode of a psychological thriller, is just the absolute worst.
Set in Amsterdam (the book is translated from its original Dutch), The Dinner is about two couples who go to a fancy dinner together to discuss a pressing matter involving their respective children. Paul Lohman, attending the evening’s festivities with his wife Claire, is a former teacher with a petulant attitude and an impatient streak, both of which he exercises freely against his brother Serge, who, along with his wife Babette, makes up the rest of the dinner party. Serge’s burgeoning candidacy for Netherlands prime minister is but one of many things about him that irks the shit out of Paul. Continue reading
Sometimes I discover writers whose brains I’d love to poke around in, whose ideas are either so different from mine or so inherently unique that to read something of theirs is like tiptoeing into another universe. If I had to be honest, I’d say these are the authors to whom I generally gravitate—my love of reading started as an escape (from family drama, from friend drama, from my longtime and sometimes overwhelming discomfort in my own skin), and so I’m drawn to books whose perspectives are desperately unfamiliar. I want to be taken somewhere. I want to miss my subway stop and stay up late and cancel brunch plans because of a book. (Despite the obnoxious literary backlash against Stephen King, my SK fondness comes from his ability to inspire such intense fleeting obsessions). Continue reading
In the precious reading time afforded by my daily commute, the world is often ending. Sometimes its Armageddon by plague (The Stand, The Dog Stars, Blindness); sometimes by zombies or vampires (World War Z, Warm Bodies, The Strain); sometimes by nature (The Age of Miracles). Every so often the end comes by way of nuclear war (A Canticle for Leibowitz), or global destitution (Ready Player One), or deadly sightings of something or someone as-yet unidentified (Bird Box). The method doesn’t matter; what does is the universal consensus among the fiction-writing community that shit is going to hit the fan at some point, and that humans are not emotionally prepared for that cleanup.
Despite a heretofore limitless appetite for end-of-the-world novels, I went into Station Eleven—which served six dutiful months un-cracked on my nightstand—feeling a bit burned out on the genre. What could Emily St. John Mandel say that so many others hadn’t already? What point could she make that would separate Station Eleven from the dozens of post-apocalyptic books that have come before, whose conclusions can be summed up in a few tweets: Fate is fickle; people are inherently bad, or inherently good, depending on the author. Humanity is resilient. These notions—sometimes mixed in with bits of zombie and/or vampire lore—are the main tenets of fiction’s collective Hot Take on the end of the world. Winter Is Coming, and people will do anything for a coat. Continue reading
The Amazon reviews on Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees are a mixed bag, and fairly so: It’s a beautiful, fascinating and imaginative book—that can at times be highly unpleasant to read.
TPITT is, most immediately, an imagined memoir from doctor Norton Perina—the story is loosely based on IRL doctor D. Carleton Gajdusek—who in his 20’s stumbles upon a lost tribe on a remote Micronesian island. A portion of this tribe, who come to be known as “the dreamers,” suffer from a unique affliction that allows their bodies to stop aging while their minds continue to. Centuries old, while physically middle-aged and mentally childlike, the dreamers prove a career-making discovery for Perina, who goes on to become hugely famous and to adopt dozens of the tribe’s offspring. And yet Perina’s memoir is filtered through a second party, Ronald Kuboderia, a former lab assistant (the NYT review, perfectly, describes him as “Smithers to Perina’s Mr. Burns”) who we discover has asked Perina to write said memoir from prison, where Perina is serving time for pedophilia charges. Like I said: unpleasant. Continue reading
It would be almost be worth my (hypothetical) husband having an affair—maybe worth going through life with a name reminiscent of both “awful” and “offal”—if it meant I could go on to write a book as spectacular as Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation.
A slim treatise on the maturation of a marriage, DOS is so compact as to be easily mistaken for simplistic. There is a husband and there is a wife, who are for all intents and purposes normal. They argue over groceries, money, chores. They have a daughter. They go to therapy (referred to as the “Little Theater of Hurt Feelings”). But don’t be fooled. DOS’s nameless female lead, who refers to herself as I, she or the wife depending on where in the couple’s emotional timeline we are, is one of the most interesting narrators I’ve stumbled across in recent memory. And the book’s unique format—short bursts of text that run the gamut from anecdotes to literary quotes to philosophical musings—belies its sophistication. The otherwise humdrum resonates on a much deeper level here.
For a book with an actual dragon, The Buried Giant is pretty chill.
Axl and Beatrice—”perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them”—are an elderly married couple in post-Arthurian Britain, or rather a version of that time and place in which no one can remember anything for more than a few hours. Inspired by vague memories of their son, A&B set off to another village to find him and, as is wont to happen when one goes on journeys in post-Arthurian Britain, are confronted by a series of characters and challenges along the way (including but not limited to: a warrior, a knight, a dragon and a bunch of creepy old ladies). As they travel across land belonging to both Saxons and Britons—formerly warring factions since turned peaceful neighbors—Axl and Beatrice reflect on their lives together and vie to discover things forgotten.
In the Quest genre, TBG follows familiar patterns: misunderstood characters travel from their homes in pursuit of [insert maguffin here], and through a series of distracting but meaningful encounters discover truths that change their perception of themselves, reality or both. These journeys—see: Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland—are of course stand-ins for life itself, whose maguffin is a mix of happiness and meaning and whose distracting but influential encounters are hard to spot amid all the wearables and Bud Light ads. Seriously, if I saw Gollum reading a newspaper on the subway at rush hour I’m not sure I would bat an eye, let alone absorb a life lesson. Continue reading