#24 Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso

22244927Like my copy of Manguso’s 300 Arguments, nearly every page in this slim book is dog-eared; Ongoingness is full of passages I want to return to and sentences that bring on all the feels. In it, Manguso, an avid diarist, writes about the act of keeping a diary. For her, the diary is not only a record of life, but the proof of every day. In an attempt to live with complete awareness, to ward off death, she actively archives experience, builds a document that leaves a trace and pins down memory. This is not the diary itself, but a series of meditations on the act of writing daily, on the formation of identity and how it changes, on parenthood and aging, love and loss, and ultimately the ongoingness of time.

Manguso’s passages about being a new mother, nursing, and the body as vessel struck me at the core:

“In my experience nursing is waiting. The mother becomes the background against which the baby lives, becomes time.

I used to exist against the continuity of time. Then I became the baby’s continuity, a background of ongoing time for him to live against. I was the warmth and milk that was always there for him, the agent of comfort that was always there for him.

My body, my life, became the landscape of my son’s life. I am no longer merely a thing living in the world; I am a world.”

It’s so good.

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#23 Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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When Richard Mayhew’s boring life in London gets turned inside out for helping a young girl named Door escape the two frightful men pursuing her, he is forced to go underground, literally, to survive. Following Door and her entourage through the tunnels and stations of the London underground, through secret doors and across haunted bridges, as she runs from those who hunt her and searches for the reason her family was murdered, Richard meets Rat-Speakers, murderers, fancy soul-sucking women, Black Friars, fallen angels, sewer-dwellers, and an assortment of other folks who live outside, underneath, beyond the realm of normal.

As the Neverwhere narrative twists and turns, and inverts on itself, I was continually charmed by the quirkiness of the characters, the path of the plot, and the layers of text and subtext that Gaiman weaves throughout. A thoroughly fun and entertaining book…

#22 Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton

25664515This quick read by author/illustrator Leanne Shapton, one of the women behind Women in Clothes, is comprised of short, precise descriptions of exes and exes of exes, all accompanied by lovely black and white drawings. What struck me is that the things we remember about exes, and the things our partners remember about their exes, are sometimes quirky, irreverent, and odd, but deeply defining.

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#21 Slow Horses by Mick Herron

7929891 Slow Horses is the first book in a series by Mick Herron about MI5 agents who have been relegated, by bad choices they’ve made, the enemies they keep, or circumstances beyond their control, to the backwater of Slough House, an office for fallen/disgraced agents.

The characters are a motley crew, the plot a bit far-fetched, and the pace a little slow at the beginning, for my taste, for a mystery.

I didn’t love this book, but am intrigued enough by the characters and the snappy writing that I might read book two. I discovered this series via librarian Nancy Pearl over on NPR, who notes that the books get better as the series progresses.

#20 300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso

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So many dog-eared pages in this little book, so many bite-sized gems.

“The first beautiful songs you hear tend to stay beautiful because better than beauty, which is everywhere, is the memory of first discovering beauty.”

And.

“I don’t love writing; I love having a problem I believe I might someday write my way out of.”

And.

“I used to avoid people when I was afraid I loved them too much. Ten years, in one case. Then, after I had been married long enough that I was married even in my dreams, I became able to go to those people, to feel that desire, and to know that it would stay a feeling.”

And.

“Like a vase, a heart breaks once. After that, it just yields to its flaws.”

I loved this book so much I went out and bought Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of A Diary.

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#19 This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

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This is How You Lose Her is a vivid, visceral collection of stories by the author of The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao.  Many of the stories in this collection feature Yunior, a character Diaz introduced in Drown and, I’ve read, closely resembles the author himself. With Yunior, Diaz treats the reader like a confidant, divulging secrets and indiscretions, making inside jokes, taking us on a ride through lust and betrayal, a journey of the heart. We experience Yunior’s experiences first-hand, his sexual awakening and misconduct, his attempts to know women and his struggles to let them go, we are the voyeurs as the desires of his heart battle with the desires of his body.

Here’s what Leah Hager Cohen over at the New York Times writes: “In the new book, as previously, Díaz is almost too good for his own good. His prose style is so irresistible, so sheerly entertaining, it risks blinding readers to its larger offerings. Yet he weds form so ideally to content that instead of blinding us, it becomes the very lens through which we can see the joy and suffering of the signature Díaz subject: what it means to belong to a diaspora, to live out the possibilities and ambiguities of perpetual ­insider/outsider status.”

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#18 A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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This is the second in V.E. Schwab’s series about Kell, a youngish magician living in one of 4 Londons, who has the unique ability to travel and carry messages between them all, and Deliliah Bard, kick-ass pick-pocket and uniquely fun heroine.

These books are transporting, plot-driven, and just plain fun to read. Book #3 is already on my bedside table, waiting…

#17 A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

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When I was chatting with my friend Noelle’s husband about fantasy/sci-fi books (they’re his jam), he recommended I read Ursula Le Guin. A few days later I went to the bookstore and picked up the first in Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea. I think that had I been a 15 year-old boy and not a woman of 38, I would have connected with this book more than I did; Le Guin wrote it for a teenage audience and it does read like a YA book.

It’s the story of a young magician who, in an attempt to best his rival at magician school, unleashes a fearsome shadow into the world. In an attempt to escape the shadow he has called forth, he hones his powers, fights dragons, escapes the dangerous clutches of a beautiful queen, and embarks on an epic sea journey to the end of the world.

Though I didn’t love A Wizard of Earthsea, I’m interested in reading more Le Guin so I’m putting the next two Earthsea books and The Left Hand of Darkness on my to-read list.

#16 A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman

30212082As someone whose inevitable monthly mood swings impact not only myself but those around me, I was interested in reading Ayelet Waldman’s A Really Good Day. Part diary, part experiment, part drug history lesson, the book exposes Waldman’s ongoing battle with severe mood imbalances and details her experiences taking minuscule doses of LSD in an attempt to find balance in her life. In it, she candidly reveals her insights on microdosing, from the discovery of what it is to “microdose,” to finding a dealer, setting up a dosing calendar, tracking the results, all while researching the history and cultural conceptions/misconceptions of the drug.

Overall the read was a fairly interesting one, though I felt the book could have been edited down a good 100 pages; I found myself wanting more of Waldman’s personal life and less LSD history and cultural positioning.