This is my first dive into anything Helen Ellis, so I wasn’t riding a wave of pre-established affection. Ellis is an American Housewife (the title of one of her previous books), born in Alabama before relocating and settling in Manhattan. Southern Lady Code details her reflections on and rules of being a southerner in the elite, uppercrust world of upper Manhattan. While I smiled at a few of her comments (being a Texan who lived in Brooklyn for a few years), nothing caused me to laugh out loud. This might resonate better with an audience of similar peers, but it felt a bit too niche and out of the way for me.
For the first 40 pages or so of this novel, I found myself laughing often and thinking “I love this book!” but once I moved deeper into Dear Committee Members, it became increasing redundant. The book is written as a series of letters of recommendation from a tenured professor, sitting in an English department that has lost most of its funding and slowly losing support for most of its students. All of the faculty seem on the cusp of fleeing or trying to seize power. The narrator’s letters are centered around fellow faculty, previous and current students, and other academic staffers, with whom the letter writer has had romantic entanglements that are described with many details in his letters.
This book will probably only be appealing to graduate students and those who work in university systems as it lampoons many of the archaic and slightly toxic rituals and norms within academia. The jokes that made me laugh the most were strongly tied back to academia insider woes, so I don’t think this one-note book will be worth it to those outside of this strange world.
Additionally, the book includes a rather jarring suicide toward the end of the book, which the reader will likely be unprepared for since they’re only reading things from the narrator’s letters of recommendations who is also caught off guard by one of the characters dying by suicide. I did not like the inclusion of this plot point and think it could have been treated more delicately if the author thought it was essential to include.
Overall, I liked this book for 40 pages, then wished it was over, and strongly felt that the ending was unnecessary.Dear Committee Members and the world it represents further contributed to my very messy feelings about academia as a current graduate student and perhaps will be a source of solace for others in this world.
Publiation Date: 19 August 2014 by Doubleday. Format: Paperback.
I received Scaachi Koul’s debut in my great Christmas book haul of 2017 and I adored it! Koul is a news reporter at Buzzfeed and wrote an excellent essay about A Series of Unfortunate Events that put her on my radar (please read it here or this magnificent piece about Sufjan Stevens that I only found today if you want to get a taste of her style and the things that interest her). The point of view that shines through in her Buzzfeed essays is cranked up to 1000 in One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, a memoir of personal essays about the experiences she’s had so far.She sprinkles in some stories about growing up in Canada with Indian parents, going back to India and being othered because she’s “western”, but also not exactly fitting in within all western contexts either, a few college stories, and a gloss over adulthood and relationships.It was a quick read and gives a reader a glimpse into lots of different territories without wading in any of them too long. My favorite essay is titled “Aus-piss-ee-ous” and covers attending a cousin’s wedding ceremony in India and feeling out of place with the traditions and realizing that even her Indian relatives aren’t quite comfortable with the traditions either, but go along with it anyway. Koul’s book is excellent, very entertaining, and tonally felt like catching up with a friend over beers. I recommend!
Publication Date: 7 March 2017 by Picador. Format: Paperback.
My friend lent me this book, touting it as an advice column with Lemony Snicket realness (I’ve been in a Snicket binge recently) and it simply wasn’t that for me, nor have I ever found something that could fit that fantastic label. I had never read the advice column Ask Polly that this book is a collection of before reading this book. For me, How to Be a Person in the World is situated somewhere between my favorite advice book, Dear Sugar‘s Tiny Beautiful Things and The Best of Dear Coquette. While better than Dear Coquette, I found How to Be a Person in the World not nearly as memorable as Tiny Beautiful Things, which could be due to myriad reasons beyond the book: Maybe I’ve read too many of these advice column collections and they’ve lost their charm? Maybe it’s summer so I’m less contemplative of my head space because everything is sunny and just feels good? Maybe this was a jigsaw piece that doesn’t quite connect with my own puzzle of a heart?
That said, I underlined quotes that I enjoyed (and some are included at the end of this review) throughout reading, but none of them felt particularly revelatory and I didn’t feel “seen” when I stumbled across them. My favorite piece was the second to last entitled “Mourning Glory” about the death of a parent because of course it was. The first two quotes below are from that piece and are followed by other snazzy quotes that appear throughout the collection.
“When you lose someone very close to you, someone who makes up this essential part of your history and your future, your worldview shifts dramatically. You have a palpable feeling that everything and anything good can disappear at any time.” (p. 243)
“This is a beautiful, terrible time in your life that you’ll always remember. Don’t turn away from it. Don’t shut it down. Don’t get over it.” (p. 246)
“Being mildly depressed can fuck with your life on every level. It keeps you from feeling great at work or feeling exhilarated after a great yoga class. It turns you into someone who’s always peering into someone else’s windows, wondering why the people inside seem so passionate and happy and thrilled, wondering if they’re just simpleminded or stupid, wondering if they grew up in happier homes so they’re not damned to shuffle around in a haze of uncertainty the way that you are.” (p. 205-206)
“Letting the wrong ones show their true stripes is just as important as letting the right ones show their true strengths.” (p. 68)
“Dive into a bunch of stories about absorbing and leaning into disappointment and loss and melancholy as a way of moving through it.” (p. 116)
I’ve already blogged about my favorite work of fiction that I’ve read in 2015, but this is the best work of fiction I’ve read this year. By that I mean, while this isn’t the book that I enjoyed the most while I was reading it, it was the most well executed fiction piece that I’ve stumbled across this year.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a book that’s “written” by the narrator, a 15-year-old boy named Christopher who, while not explicitly stated, likely has a condition that falls along the autism spectrum. Christopher’s “book” documents a crime that happens in his neighborhood and his attempts to solve the crime, similarly to the mystery novels, such as Sherlock Holmes, that he enjoys. While Christopher documents what’s happening around him, the author brilliantly depicts how Christopher interacts with the world and some of the difficulties that he has as someone who functions differently than those without ASD. One of the most beautifully written parts of the book is when Christopher decides he wants to travel to a different part of town and must take the train and subway to do so, something that he has never done alone before. He, obviously, becomes completely overwhelmed by how crowded and confusing public transportation can be. Haddon captures these complex emotions so brilliantly! You really need to read it to see what I mean.
Since I don’t want to give away any of the plot, I’ll leave you with that very bare bones description of what occurs in the book and hope that you trust that it’s something that you should add to your TBR list immediately! While I recommend reading this in print form because there are visuals that enhance the story experience to be even more enjoyable, my friend also really enjoyed the audiobook version of this book when he was a child. I can’t imagine how it could exist as wonderfully in audiobook format, but my friend swears by it! Apparently The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the few books that manages to truly excel and is extremely memorable across all formats.
I’m considering going to see the play adaptation of this book on Broadway. Has anyone seen it performed before? Is it worth seeing for someone who enjoyed the book? I’m thinking I’ll probably go with my aforementioned friend who loved the audiobook.