Library Roundup, Vol. 1

The library near where I live in Greenpoint is the BEST PLACE. The corroborating evidence of this fact lies in my overdue fine balance, which I think right now is hovering menacingly somewhere around $30, although it could easily be more. I’m too scared to check.

Here’s a selection of some of the standout books I read during this last month, mostly courtesy of Kings County.

As an ex-librarian myself, I should probably have a little more respect for the system, but I haven’t had the heart to return an incredible book by one of my favorite cartoonists (I stand by the word “cartoonist” forever, despite what other iterations of the job title are being thrown around at current), Jaime Hernandez, who, with his brother Gilbert Hernandez, has been giving comic (ha!) life to the fictional Chicano town of Hoppers, California since the 1980s. Its two central protagonists, Maggie and Hopey, are two sometimes-gay, sometimes-in-love, sometimes-not dream girls whom I love to see barrel over everyone in their paths.

Tons of gay decadence, done up Henry James-style, in Margaret Thatcher’s England. Beauty, both as an aesthetic and as a lifestyle, are celebrated endlessly in this novel, which won the Man Booker Prize and received plenty of other accolades in 2004. That central theme is put forth as frivolous, but, paradoxically, utterly essential to a life worth living. The sheer intellect in this book is overwhelming – Hollinghurst has to be some kind of genius polymath, because he can write expertly about topics ranging from literature, to antique furniture, to politics, to classical music. It’s wildly engaging and gorgeously done. Picture Edith Wharton’s characters as 1980s-era Brits and you’re halfway there – but throw in plenty of nasty sex scenes with Saudi heirs and backpage Lotharios, as well. Oo-er!

I’ve probably read Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City six times, if only because I always react differently to it. I just can’t tell if I love it, so I keep examining, parsing, and writing papers about it to try and get to the root of what’s so fascinating about it. I thought that reading another McInerney novel about Society and shallowness in New York might give me a little context, so I picked up 2006’s The Good Life. All it showed me was that I’m tired of reading about cool, apathetic New Yorkers (albeit ones that magically become better people in the wake of 9/11). I get my fill of people pantomiming that disaffected persona each day in person, and I think BLBC is the last word on it. Just because the characters are a little older doesn’t mean they’re saying anything newly profound, even if they’re volunteering close to the disaster site, as one central character does. The whole thing just seems to be one irritating sigh of, “God, life is so hard for the rich and privileged,” especially at the beginning and end of the story. Nope! NEXT!

I can’t talk about this book, mostly because I remember hearing people speak about it and how I initially wrote it off because of what they said. The plot didn’t appeal to me at all when I heard it summarized, but that’s because this novel isn’t about the plot. It’s about its beautiful characters and a city so lovingly rendered that it becomes something of a character itself. Read this! Read it! If you’re into David Mitchell-style connectivity, as I really, truly, am, read it even harder.

THIS MONTH’S AVERAGE-ASS BOOKS I READ THAT WERE ENJOYABLE, BUT NOT THAT DISTINCTIVE: A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore,  Half-Empty by David Rakoff, The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson, Extra Lives by Tom Bissell

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