Thursday, February 13, 2014

What I've Been Reading

When I accepted my first job in New York I had to make a decision on where to live. My best friend lived about a forty-five minute train ride from where my job was located and I had to decide whether to live closer to my work or closer to her. The best piece of advice anyone gave me before moving here was this: If your best friend is in town then you should live close to them. I took that advice and moved into the same neighborhood as my bestie and it was one of the best decisions I made. For the last four years, we've only been about a block away from each other, which makes it easy to spend time together. However, this means that every day my entire commute is almost two hours long. Yes, it can be crowded and annoying on some days but really, I am thankful for that time to myself. I get the majority of my reading done on my commute. I burn through books quickly, sometimes finishing three to four books a week. I've contemplated getting a Kindle or some such e-reader type thing but I just can't do it. I guess I'm somewhat of a purist when it comes to my books. The only thing that has changed is my preference for paperbacks over hardcovers for easy transport. The paperbacks get banged up from traveling with me day after day but I'm not precious when it comes to my books (as evidenced by the photos of my banged up paperbacks - mea culpa).

The last month I've read a few books that I felt were worth mentioning. The writing in all of these books is incredible and engaged me enough to never, ever be sleepy on the train ride back home after a long day of work. 

I'm a big fan of Murakami and was anxious to read this book. Even though it was published in late 2011 it took me a while to get to it, mainly because the book in its entirety is enormous. Carrying that tome around on a daily basis would be akin to having a brick in my bag. Thankfully I found a three volume version that splits the novel into three very manageable parts. The beginning of the book is a little slow but, as always, I appreciate the pace of Murakami's writing. He is detailed in the introductions to his characters and I quickly became engrossed in the story. So engrossed that once I completely missed my stop because I wasn't paying attention. (Side note: On the ride back an old Polish woman who lives in my neighborhood stopped me and remarked that the eyes on the cover of this book must by eyes and that she thought they were beautiful. That was a pretty nice moment.) Murakami's plot is, per usual, imaginative and intricate, but for some reason this particular story drew me in.

Full disclosure here - I haven't finished this book yet. I'm actually smack dab in the middle of this intriguing story but I am loving it thus far. When the plot was first described to me I had my doubts, but the person who recommended it me has excellent taste in books and I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. The story follows a family and their numerous dysfunctions (See what I mean! Doesn't sound too exciting, does it?). Franzen creates characters that on the surface appear ordinary and average, people that you pass on the street everyday and don't think twice about, but opens the reader up to the nuances and little bits of crazy that everyone has within them, or at least can recognize in a friend or family member. That's always what gets me with his books. I never remember the details of the plot but the characters always stand out and are sharp in my memory. 

If you read one new book this year, please do yourself a favor and read this one. This book is a collection of pieces from Strayed's advice column, Dear Sugar, that ran on The Rumpus for a number of years. The column became something of a phenomenon due to the honest, tender, kind and no bullshit advice. No one knew Strayed was Sugar until the book was published under her name. The letters that make up this collection cover all the big things - love, death, jealousy, grief, finding your way in life, etc. Upon finishing this book I thought to myself that this is the book I will give my children when they are in the throes of teenage angst, when my nieces and nephews are going off to college, when a friend is feeling uninspired or sad. It's that kind of book, and one that I think everyone should own. Reading this book made me feel like I was listening to a friend that loves you unconditionally but is not afraid to say the things that most people are afraid to say to you even though you need to hear it. At times, it made my heart feel like it was going to lift out of my chest from the loving nature of Strayed's responses, it inadvertently made me smile, and once it nearly made me start crying on a crowded train in the middle of a very busy commute home. Reading this book made me feel like I had been given a rare and precious gift that now has to be shared with everyone.

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