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Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Free Time Delusion, and Book 16: The Round House

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I know in my last update, I promised more updates soon. And I fully intended to have more updates soon. I thought, I’ll be unemployed! I’ll be packing and moving and unpacking, but it’s not like I won’t still have tons and tons of free time compared to when I’m working, right? Right? I will have so much time, I figured, to read and blog and read more and it’ll be awesome.

Well. You may have noticed that that post was almost a month ago, and I clearly haven’t written anything on here since. So I have come to the conclusion that I was deluded.

My delusion, though, was not that I would have free time. Free time, I have. And I have free time because I look at the still-enormous pile of boxes in our new living room and think, no rush. I got the kitchen unpacked, which was the most important thing, because it sure felt like we went two or three weeks without eating vegetables. Books, well, I have enough unread books that I either didn’t really pack or have bought since I got down here that I’m not so pressed for reading material that I need to hurry up and figure out right now what I’m doing with all my 15 boxes of books. Where do they go? How do I organize them? This house has a bunch of built in bookshelves, so I have options. Do I separate by genre? Do I put all the books that make me look smart on the first floor where guests are more likely to be? Do I just put everything in one place and use other shelves for things that aren’t books? What do you put on a shelf besides books?

The struggle, as they say, is real.

So if I’ve been putting off unpacking, what have I been doing? Well, I’ve been reading, so I was at least right about that–I actually just started book 28, so I have some serious catching up to do, blog wise. I’ve been exploring. We now live on Cape Cod, which is just absolutely beautiful. We’re right near the beach, right near an adorable little downtown, we’ve got the best fish and chips joint right near us. We’ve got two cute local bookstores that I’ve explored and a few more that I haven’t yet (you know, because I’m still unemployed, and going into a cute local bookstore inevitably means buying at least two books). Since we got the kitchen mostly unpacked, I’ve been cooking, and enjoying our wonderful little kitchen with room for absolutely everything. I have always loved cooking, but a bad kitchen just ruins it.

And, well, this is where I feel kind of guilty, the space where I could–should–have been blogging. Because when I’m done with all that, I’m exhausted. I’ve been exploring and cooking and kind of unpacking, and it’s summer and it’s warm (not, thankfully, disgustingly hot) and humid and I want to turn my brain off. So, well, I discovered that we now have HBO, and I’ve been watching Game of Thrones, which I previously had only seen Season 1 of because I didn’t have HBO. I’ve read the books, and I love the books, and it’s been long enough that the fact that I read and loved the books isn’t ruining the show for me–I’m not really having any “oh my god it so did not happen like that” moments. (Well, okay, a few.) And then, watching Game of Thrones makes me want to have some epic swordfights of my own. So. I’ve been playing Zelda. To be specific, replaying Twilight Princess.

What? I like games.

And this last weekend, I was down with my mom pet-sitting at my aunt’s house. I love doing this, because we’ve been going to the same place for so long that there’s not a whole lot of new stuff to do, so we can sit around and relax and read and not feel guilty about it. I meant to blog while I was there, I did, but when I finished book 26 (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) and asked my mom which of the three books I brought with me I should read next, she selected Gone Girl, because she’d read it, and she figured I’d get through it while we were there, and she wanted to know what I thought. She was right–I got through it while I was there. Damn that book was hard to put down.

So now, here I am, finally convincing myself to use my free time to actually post an update.

Book 16: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

This was absolutely one of my favorite books I have ever read.

I feel I should qualify this. Most of my favorite books–I mean, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you maybe have a sense of the types of books I read. I love fantasy. I like science fiction quite a bit. The Harry Potter series, obviously. Anything by Neil Gaiman. A bunch of Terry Pratchett. Zelazny. Even the classics that I’ve loved have had elements of fantasy in them–The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula are my favorites. And Susan Cain’s Quiet deserves a place on the list–it’s a nonfiction book about the power of introverts, and reading it made me feel like I’m normal, which was oddly empowering.

So to be a work of literary fiction with pretty much no elements of the supernatural (I say pretty much because…well, we’ll get to that) and make it onto my “favorites ever” list, that’s saying a whole freakin’ lot.

I never even would have picked this up, not in a million years, if it hadn’t been a book club book. A woman gets attacked, coming of age, blah blah blah…no thank you. But it was a book club book, so I did pick it up. And I started reading it, and then I almost immediately put it back down and read something else and skipped that month’s book club meeting altogether. Because what I did not realize was that when the back cover said a woman was attacked, it meant raped. Not robbed at gunpoint, or knifed, or anything friendly like that. And this, honestly, is probably one of the reasons I read so much fantasy. Once you get into realistic literary fiction, you start having to deal with problems in your books that people have to deal with in real life. I’m much more the type of person who likes to pretend real-life problems don’t exist whenever I can. I ignore the news as much as I can because it’s just too depressing, and I’d prefer for my fiction to–okay, I can’t say “not be depressing,” because let’s face it: A whole lot of fantasy is pretty dark. But I prefer it to be dark and depressing in a way that, deep down, I know is not even remotely possible. As soon as something happens in a book about which I can say, oh, yes, something very similar happened to this friend of mine, I shut out emotionally. So rape is usually off the table, with, what is it now, 1 in 4 women having actually gone through it? Why should fiction have anything to do with the real world?

So, yeah. I almost put the book right back down and picked something less horrific. For example, this may be the perfect time to introduce myself to some Lovecraft.

Why didn’t I put it down? Well, there was the fact that it was a book club book, but it’s not like I hadn’t ever missed a meeting before. To be completely, totally, 100% honest, I kept going because I had already written it on The List. The List is something that I have in the very beginning of the Moleskine notebook that I’ve been taking all my reading notes in for the past year. It’s a two-page spread, and I numbered the first 50 lines of this two-page spread. For some reason, it wouldn’t have been okay with me to just number as I went. This way, I can more easily visualize my progress, which is great! But if I decide immediately, as I almost did with this book, that I’m not actually going to read it, then my whole list gets messed up. I have to cross it out and then cross out and re-write every single number after it. The whole page would just be a mess, and since that would have been unacceptable, I kept going.

And at first, it was okay. It was clearly very well-written, but I was too worried that I’d hate it to realize how good it was. But as I kept going, I realized that even though the book starts with a rape, and the events of the book take place because of the rape, it isn’t about the rape. It’s not a Rape Mystery, as I originally thought it might be. It’s not even about the woman who was raped. It’s about her 13 year old son.

When a mother is raped, what happens to her kid? In this case, he has to grow up. He has to grow up and face the real world and learn how to take care of himself fast, because his mother had PTSD and couldn’t help him.

One of the things that I loved about this book was that the age and gender of the narrator had absolutely nothing to do with the intended audience. This wasn’t a book about a middle-aged woman for middle-aged women, or a book about a 16 year old girl for teenage girls, or a book about a 13 year old boy for tween/teen boys. It’s a book about a 13 year old boy for adults, definitely not intended for or even appropriate for a 13 year old boy. I loved that it put me in shoes so completely different from my own, shoes that I could never even think I could wear, and forced me to wear the shoes and identify with the shoes and understand the shoes and think of the shoes as equal to my own. It challenged me and dared me in a way that I honestly can’t think of a time that I’ve been challenged in before. I was absolutely blown away. I threw it across the room when I finished it.

Every character in this book felt real. Each of them was three-dimensional and inherently flawed; every single one of them had been through shit. It takes place on a Native American reservation in the 1980’s, so even if characters hadn’t personally been through shit, they dealt with all kinds of prejudice from the outside world, and even the young boys were aware of that. (That’s another thing I liked. I don’t like when people dumb down teenagers, acting like they can’t pick up on anything. They do, and Erdrich knows that.) The teenage boys will remind you of the boys you knew as a teenager, and if you had the good fortune to be a teenage girl, you might be a little shocked at some of the stuff that apparently goes on in a 13 year old boy’s head.

Now, I promised earlier that I’d talk about the elements of the supernatural in this book. The time for that has come. As I mentioned, it takes place on a Native American reservation, and Native American mythology is, accordingly, very important to the story, albeit in a purely metaphorical sense. There’s no point where any supernatural characters actually show up, but learning some of the mythology ends up being incredibly important to Joe’s personal development. It helps him understand what’s going on, and it helps him understand himself a bit more.

This leads me to my Funny Story About This Book. As I mentioned previously, numerous times, this was a book club book. Now, at the beginning of each meeting of Book Club, someone would ask, “Did anyone not like this book?” It’s a good question. Not everyone’s the same, and it usually makes for some interesting conversation, debate, deeper understandings, etc. So we started this meeting with that same question. Did anyone not like this book? And two older women raised their hands, and when pressed for reasons, one of them simply said: “Well, does she always write about…you know…Native American…stuff?” She was clearly incredibly uncomfortable just being at this meeting, and any time someone mentioned another one of Erdrich’s books as being worth reading, the woman would ask, “Does that one have…Native American stuff?” As if we can’t all tell that she’s just a horrible, racist bigot. (The other woman who raised her hand seemed to agree at first about the “Native American” part, but eventually it seemed more like she just couldn’t get into the more mythological aspects, which is slightly more acceptable than the tone of voice Woman #1 said “stuff” in.) So an important lesson, dear readers, is that if you’re horribly racist and your book club reads a book that takes place on a Native American reservation, you should probably just not go to the meeting.

And thus concludes my write-up of book 16! Has anyone else read it? I’d love to hear what you thought. And if you haven’t, you really, really should.

Here’s what’s coming up soon!

17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

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