Things to Read - What I've Been Reading (End of Winter 2013 Edition)

Travels in Siberia
- I feel as if I can hear Dan sigh every time I start reading a travel book, as he knows that it will cause me to spend hours online researching expensive vacations to distant destinations (hey, in my defense, everyone needs a hobby). So I'm sure he's breathing a little easier knowing that Ian Frazier's memoir/travelog/history lesson/love letter to a country convinced me that I have NO DESIRE to travel to Siberia (at least not Russian Siberia). The book reads well and contains tons of fascinating stories, tidbits, and facts. But despite Ian Frazier's fascination with the place, Russia sounds pretty awful - roads full of trash (as in trash EVERYWHERE), end-of-the-line towns where everyone must wait for a train (the road ends) that contain no schedules and no public bathrooms (how does this even work? do I even want to know?), bribes as part of daily life (Frazier literally has to BRIBE his way onto his return flight to America), people that use airport bathrooms to wash their dishes, poverty, cities coated in pollution so thick that it "desertifies" everything near, etc. No thanks, when it comes to Russia, I'll stick with Chekov and Dostoyevsky, no need to see the real thing (though it would be fun to drive across a lake that becomes a highway in winter). Postscript - Frazier always travels by car, maybe the train would make it better? (this video makes me hope so).

- So when all the bigshots published their "best of" lists for 2012 (and I LOVE a "best of" list), almost everyone put Lauren Groff's Arcadia at the top of the list (if only due to alphabetical order). I had read that the book centers around a fictional hippie commune in the 1960s, which is true. But the book is so much more than this (and only half of the story takes place in the commune), it's really a book about love and family and how our younger years shape us. Or more simply, as one character at the end puts it (don't worry, no plot spoilers here) - "freedom or community, community or freedom. One must decide the way one wants to live." I really really loved it, in a raw way that I'm still trying to digest and process. Arcadia is narrated in the first-person through the character of Bit, told by looking at his life through 4 main periods - on the commune at age 5, on the commune as a young teenager, in NYC as a young professor and father, and, finally, in various places as Bit reaches middle age. Throughout each section, Groff gives enough detail that you truly feel you know this person, all of which makes it hard as a reader to face each section's end - when you're whisked away again, through long stretches of years, to glimpse Bit at a new portion of his life. By the end, I kept hoping for a final chapter, not because the book necessitated one, but because I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye.

The Newlyweds - Nine years ago, Nell Freudenberger wrote a short story collection, Lucky Girls, that remains one of my favorite books ever. Spot on. So I've followed her career for awhile now. Her 2007 novel, the Dissident, was sort of non-stellar, despite interesting ideas (about art and cultural identity) nothing really came together and after awhile reading it became a chore. Luckily, Freudenberger has bounced back with her newest novel, The Newlyweds, about the marriage of a woman from Bangladesh and a man from Rochester, NY who met through the internet. And the surprises and disillusions that come with getting to know someone intimately. The characters seem real and interesting, and the plot contains enough mystery to make it both an easy-read and a page turner. A good read (though still not as good as Lucky Girls).

Steve Jobs - One of my friends told me that while reading this book her hatred for Jobs pinnacled to the point where she almost threw multiple Apple products (including a computer) out the window. I thought she was being dramatic (even though she's one of the least dramatic people I know), then I read it. Jobs' disregard for anyone's feelings, his complete abandonment of his first daughter, and his overwhelming narcissism make him just seem like a Disney villian. But that's just the first half of the book. Eventually, I grew to (somewhat grudgingly) respect some of Jobs' accomplishments, esp. when he returned to Apple (after being ousted as their CEO). He did have amazing drive and ambition. And as I sit here on my IMac with my Ipad and Iphone beside me, I'll willingly admit that he made good products with easy interfaces. But I still don't like him. Regarding the book, Isaacson does a great job moving the story forward while portraying a complex, driven man.

1 comment:

  1. These all sound so interesting! I was an exchange student in Russia in 89 and also in 93; the second time I actually had to come home halfway through because I just couldn't stand to be there, it was SO awful (to me). I considered it to be a huge failure at the time (I was a Russian major) but now I look back and I think it was amazing I could stay as long as I did...my husband spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan and I cannot BELIEVE he did that! PC actually pulled out of that country due to violent extremism... I hope the Russians can figure something out. It is such a sad situation.



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