The Goldfinch and Me

the goldfinch

Last night, sometime during the hour before midnight, I sat propped up in my bed with tears streaming down my face as I finished the last page of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. My eyes had welled up intermittently while reading the last 20 pages or so, but as I faced the absolute end of the book – one of the most beautiful and affecting endings I’ve ever read, I think – there was nothing stopping me from truly crying. I was sad to leave the world that I’d been completely immersed in for the past few days, yet ecstatically happy that I’d been able to be immersed in that world at all.

I’ll need a while to think about this book before I really write about it. However, I didn’t want to let another moment pass before giving it my full endorsement here. I’m only a recent convert to the “cult of Donna Tartt”. Reading her first novel, The Secret History, was one of the most entertaining and intellectually satisfying experiences I had this year. I’ll say the same for reading The Goldfinch, but with much more emphasis. It was one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had…ever.

This morning, I told a friend that I’d finished the book and he asked if he could borrow it. Yes, I said, of course. But I couldn’t help but acknowledge how sad it would make me to give the book away, to let it be in another person’s possession. To let another person have their own experience with The Goldfinch. Yet, there are so many people who have already read or will read the book. I’ll encounter and engage with their opinions and interpretations of the novel eventually, I’m sure. For a little while longer, though, I just want it to be me and The Goldfinch, alone together.

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Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (and Whether or Not You Should Read Them, Too), Part Three

I wrote some mini-reviews of the books I had read in January, February and March a few months ago. And then I wrote some more about the books I read in April, May and June. So, here’s the third edition, covering the months of July, August and September.

Did any of you read anything great this year that I should read and review in the next one? I’m looking for suggestions!

July, August, September Books

JULY

A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement by Anthony Powell (1951-1955)

What’s it about?

In this first volume of this twelve-novel cycle, the narrator, Nick Jenkins, navigates public school and early adulthood in Britain. His story is intertwined with those of schoolmates Templer, Stringham and Widmerpool.

Did I like this book?

I found this book difficult to get into at first – it can be kind of boring – but started enjoying it more as I got to the second novel in the volume. By the time I finished it, I was ready to move on to the second volume but…I had other books I’d planned to read this summer, so it will have to wait.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you like a challenge, go for it. Also, I would recommend this to anyone who is into early- to mid-twentieth century English society. (I assume that you are if you’re reading this blog post.)

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (2012)

What’s it about?

This is Caitlin Moran’s memoir/feminist manifesto.

Did I like this book?

Yes! I read it while I was in San Francisco and I absolutely flew through it. There are a few bits I would complain about, of course, but I found Moran’s personal essays to be very funny and unsurprisingly full of very good advice.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes! It is magnificent and every woman should read it. (Because there are too many women who are not “women”. You know?) Men should read this, too. Maybe more than women.

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg (2013)

What’s it about?

A Chicago family is affected by their mother’s obesity.

Did I like this book?

Yes. I was actually kind of surprised. I had read a lot about this book right after it came out and didn’t think I would pick it up, until someone loaned me a copy. I thought it was funny and devastating and a very interesting portrait of modern family dynamics.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you’re a literary fiction fan, sure. (If you haven’t read it already.) I’m not sure it’s a book I’ll be raving about in years to come, but it was good and worth a few days of my reading time.

AUGUST

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence (2013)

What’s it about?

A boy, who happens to be the son of fortune teller, gets hit by a meteorite and lives. He makes unlikely friends, goes on an adventure, etc.

Did I like this book?

Nope! There are a lot of reasons for this. I hated the voice. I was not a fan of the prose. And most of all, I thought the story and characters leaned much too heavily on the work of other authors and familiar coming of age tropes. I mean, there are parts of the book that are basically essays about Kurt Vonnegut novels. Also, I think one of the characters was wholly lifted from About a Boy.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

No. See above.

In the Woods by Tana French (2007)

What’s it about?

Dublin Murder Squad detective Rob Ryan gets the chance to investigate the disappearances of his childhood friends when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods where he last saw his friends.

Did I like this book?

Yes. Just as well-done and suspenseful as The Likeness. Rob wasn’t as likeable a narrator as Cassie, who appears in this book as his partner. However, I thought that the story was compelling and just the right amount of crazy.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. I think Tana French’s novels are lovely distractions from heavy reading, but are literary enough to satisfy the snobs among us. (I consider myself a snob, I guess.)

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (2011)

What’s it about?

Jon Ronson sort of accidentally investigates psychopaths: who they are and how we diagnose and treat them.

Did I like this book?

I did. I thought the individual stories Ronson tells and the storytelling in general were interesting, though I did struggle to figure out how a few of the chapters fit under the umbrella of the book’s premise.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yeah. I mean, everyone wants to know more about psychopaths! And this book is especially good if you want to constantly wonder if your friends, family members or self are psychopaths all the time.

Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin (2011)

What’s it about?

The author moves to Paris with his wife for a job at an advertising firm. Hilarity ensues.

Did I like this book?

I think I loved it? Now that I think about it, there wasn’t anything particularly special about it. But it ended up being one of those books I wish went on for longer, which is something kind of special. It was just funny and charming and, for me, relatable, since I was in Paris during the same time as the author.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you like personal essays and travel memoirs, definitely read this. Also, if you’re an American who has spent any significant amount of time in Paris, definitely read this.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (2013)

What’s it about?

This is a medieval fantasy starring a musically gifted, unusually talented teenage girl. The story features murder and dragons that take human form.

Did I like this book?

Eh. I found myself liking it toward the end, but I just wasn’t into the world, which surprises me because medieval fantasy worlds are my jam. It’s not that it wasn’t well-planned. I just think it would have captured my attention more if I had read it as a kid rather than as an adult. (Though, I am saying this as an adult who is totally into young adult fiction so that’s probably not true.) Also, I didn’t like the main character that much. That was a pretty huge problem.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Unless you’re a big YA fan who has been meaning to read this, I wouldn’t go out of my way to pick this up.

SEPTEMBER

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

What’s it about?

It almost doesn’t matter. This book is about so many things. But it’s mostly about this dude who gets tangled up in a group of sweetly, intelligently alternative Classics majors who turn out to have a dark side.

Did I like this book?

Oh my God. I was so obsessed with this book while I was reading it that the whole experience feels like it wasn’t real. And I was so sad as I was nearing the end of it, it felt like I was losing a friend. Those, by the way, are my two favorite feelings to have about books.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. The prose is wonderful, the story is batshit crazy, it takes place on a college campus and there are characters who speak Latin (and also write their diaries in Latin). And, again, the story is crazy.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989)

What’s it about?

A family of carnival freaks. I don’t think I need to say any more.

Did I like this book?

This book is one of my all-time favorites. I just finished rereading it for the first time since college.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

A very emphatic yes. The writing is spectacular, as is the Binewski family’s carnival world. This book is almost as old as I am and everything it has to say about society and humanity is still relevant. If you read this book and don’t like it, please tell me. You’ll be the first person I know who hasn’t liked it. (Full disclosure: I know three other people who have read it).

Reading Week: Secret Histories

I’ve been ambivalent about writing about what I read here because a part of me feels like there isn’t a huge audience who wants to read about what I read, while another part of me feels like there isn’t a huge audience who wants to hear about what I read IRL (so why not just write about it and find some other people to talk about it with IRL?). But, after reading this piece by Adam Gopnik, Why Teach English?”, about why we have and need to have English majors, I realized I’m writing about (and should write about) what I read because I like it and want to share it. SO, here’s a little more of me sharing what I’ve been reading…

200 pages into The Secret History and I am now a convert to “The Cult of Donna Tartt”. I started it on Sunday and since then, I’ve wondered how I’ve never read this book before probably 100 times. Obviously, it has all of the things I would ever want in a novel, including a college campus setting, a murder mystery, and lots of Classical Studies discussions. I’m not nearly finished yet, so we’ll see if this lives up to my expectations. I’ve been enjoying this reading experience a lot more than my experience reading Seraphina, which I finished over the weekend. For a young adult fantasy novel that heavily features dragons, I was not as engaged as I thought I would be. However, by the end I was a little attached to the main character so I wouldn’t rule out reading the sequel when it’s published.

In terms of nonfiction, I read a lot of profiles this week. Here they are, in the order I read them, I guess:

– There was the New York Times profile of Mandy Patinkin from last week’s magazine. Thankfully, it included my favorite Mandy Patinkin story. (“During a Broadway concert, to highlight the troubles in the Middle East, he ended the show by propping Israeli and Palestinian flags on a table and singing the Israeli national anthem in Hebrew, followed by an angry version of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific.” Then the flags were knocked on their sides while the pianist slammed the keys to sound like an explosion. Patinkin followed that with “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods.”)

– Then I reread the New Yorker profile of Dr. Oz after that horrific accident on 6th Avenue. (In case you didn’t hear about it, he helped the victim of the accident.) I had forgotten how much he and his wife discuss reiki in this piece.

– I also read the New York Times profile of Li Na from the magazine this weekend because I was way excited about the start of the US Open and I was halfheartedly doing work at a coffee shop and needed a big distraction.

– And this wasn’t really a profile, but it kind of was, but there was an interesting piece called “Cooking with Daniel” in the New Yorker a few weeks ago that I just got around to reading. Bill Buford cooked three “classic” French dishes with Daniel Boulud. Boulud’s personal history, the history behind the dishes and the writing are all fantastic.

I also have been working my way through Stereogum’s ranking of every single Neil Young album. There are a lot of them and, yeah, some of them are shit. But I definitely identify with the author when he says, “I am, and shall always be, a Neil Young apologist.”