After she left, no one knows how wretched I felt, how deep the abyss. How could they? I can barely recall it myself. How much did I suffer? How much pain did I go through? I wish there was a machine that could accurately measure sadness, and display it in numbers that you could record. And it would be great if that machine could fit in the palm of your hand. I think of this every time I measure the air in my tires.
I prefer novels to short stories, but this week I was in the mood for short stories. I've seen a few positive reviews of Murakami's new collection, Men Without Women, so I decided to make it my next read. This collection was published in Japan in 2014, but not translated to English until 2017 (many of the stories appeared in The New Yorker before 2017). I have some experience (though not extensive) with Murakami's magical realism: I read Norwegian Wood and Wild Sheep Chase. I loved both books.
The first thing to know about this collection is that it is not uplifting. I would not advise reading Men Without Women if you're going through personal heartbreak (unless you're one of those people who wants to wallow in external sadness during episodes of intense, personal sadness). Most of these stories are downright depressing. Murakami describes the emotional lives of men who have lost a woman (to death or another man). Generally, this process of uncoupling leads Murakami's characters to illness, depression, loneliness, etc. In the story "An Independent Organ," the main character actually dies from a broken heart. From what I can tell, Goodreads folks who rate this one or two stars tend to see the male characters here as "soft" and "wallowing." If you are one of those people with no patience for post-heartbreak angst, you probably shouldn't read this. Or maybe you should.
While it makes sense to be choosy about when you dip into this collection, it is absolutely worth reading at some point. I love Murakami's writing. As in most of his books, there's a healthy dose of magic and mystery in the form of strange forest creatures, disappearing cats, and bizarre relationships. Though very sad, the collection is also deeply insightful. Highly recommend.
Why We Run has been on my bookshelf for years. I "borrowed it" from my grandmother and haven't returned it to Maine. I picked it up this week because I've been contemplating a return to racing (my last race was Twin Cities Marathon in October 2017). I've had some much needed time away from running, but I've been slowly returning to the sport.
I have entire shelves packed with running books, and Why We Run is nowhere near my favorite. That said, I like parts of it. Heinrich is a professor in the biology department at the University of Vermont. He knows a lot about animals and a lot about running. The last two chapters of the book describe Heinrich's training for the 100 km National Championships (he ran up to 140 miles per week). This part of the book is exciting and beautifully written. Overall though, Why We Run feels like an outdated take on the sport (especially in relation to women in competition). It was published almost 20 years ago (Heinrich was 60 at the time). In a section describing why men are better suited to fast running than women, Heinrich writes: "When women do run as fast and far as men (as many can), they likely do so at a reproductive cost. They must lose so much body fat that ovulation ceases."
There's a lot wrong with this statement. While it's fair to say that many female runners struggle with amenorrhea / female athlete triad, it is not fair to say that women can only be fast "at a reproductive cost." It's just false. If you run 100 miles per week and take in enough calories (that's a lot of calories), you will continue to get your period and likely beat many male athletes. Many of America's fastest women get a regular period. Amenorrhea is not a sign of fitness or speed (**you don't need to stop getting your period to be fast**). There's also plenty of evidence that male marathoners tend to have decreased sperm counts due to lower levels of testosterone. Generally, endurance running tends to reduce semen quality. Men sometimes get fast "at a reproductive cost." Heinrich doesn't mention it.
There are other lines like this throughout the book that bother me. I blame this on the fact that the book was written 20 years ago, by a 60 year old man. There's another piece of this book that I struggled with though: long, dense sections (with many diagrams) describing the anatomy of birds and insects. I understand why these pieces are included. Perhaps I was just not in the mood. Biology majors / insect lovers will enjoy this section more.
If you're a runner, this is worth reading. You'll really enjoy parts of it (maybe just skip to the last two chapters). I don't feel at all confident that non-runners will enjoy this book. Perhaps one of you will prove me wrong.
Most people live their entire lives with their clothes on, and even if they wanted to, couldn't take them off. Then there are those who cannot put them on. They are the ones who live their lives not just as people but as examples of people. They are destined to expose every part of themselves, so the rest of us can know what it means to be a human.
I read this book for two reasons; (1) Roxane Gay liked it, and (2) I wanted to read Heti's older stuff before buying her new book, Motherhood. Published in 2012, How Should a Person Be? defies traditional categorization. Part fiction and part autobiography, the layout of the book resembles the layout of Zinzi Clemmons' novel, What We Lose. How Should a Person Be? is an amalgam of numbered lists, surprising one liners, essayettes, and more traditional narrative.
In just over 300 pages, Heti follows a person's "search for meaning" in the Toronto art world. The main character, a white woman in her twenties named Sheila, wants nothing more than to be "important" in the world. Through art, she hopes to "do something meaningful" and become as famous as possible. Sheila wants to be one of those "Important Artists." Unfortunately, there's nothing interesting enough about Sheila (or her work) to vault her to the level of fame she so ardently seeks. She's mad about it.
Some Goodreads people hate this book. I can understand why, I guess. The book chronicles the life of a white woman with money trying to "find meaning" in the world. It's a whole bunch of navel-gazing. That's the point though-- Heti is examining our generation's narcissism. I didn't have it in me to hate this book. While the main character is often lacking in intrigue, Heti serves up plenty of it in the creative construction of the book. How Should a Person Be? is for women, about women, written by a woman. This pans out on Goodreads: women seem more likely than men to rate it 4 or 5 stars. Fine then. I'm okay with that. I look forward to reading Heti's newest book, Motherhood, later this week.
Hello from Hancock Point. I haven't done much reading this week because it has been running/ swimming/ hiking/ kayaking weather. Today I saw a seal and a bald eagle on the far side of Bean Island. In between wild life sightings, I finished Senna's most recent novel, New People. First reaction: this book is very different from her earlier (and most famous) novel, Caucasia. Though there are similarities in topic (both focus on the lives of biracial American women), these are entirely different novels. Unlike Caucasia, New People is unconventional and strange (parts of it are almost fantastical and disturbing). I struggled with the first hundred pages before settling into the strange plot.
New People follows Maria, a biracial woman who passes as white, as she prepares for her marriage to college boyfriend, Khalil (also biracial). Senna describes the beautiful couple as the "King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom." They have degrees from Stanford, well paid jobs, and a brownstone in Brooklyn. They hope to name their children Thelonious, Quincy, or Indigo and host dinner parties where "all the guests will be witty and shining in shea butter." They're even featured in a documentary called "New People," which follows men and women "blurring the boundaries of race." Early in the novel, we learn that Maria is infatuated with another man, a black poet (we never learn his name or read his poetry). Maria concocts an obsessive romance in her head and stalks the poet. She finds his address, breaks into his apartment building, and watches him from the fire escape. She even babysits for a family in his building. This is a strange read, though I'm glad I picked it up after Caucasia. Senna is talented and I look forward to reading more of her stuff.
I'm on my way to Maine from Minneapolis, with a stop in New York (the day there are direct flights MSP -->BGR will be a happy day). This late night flight is made better by the fact that I have a row to myself and a large can of Surly.
A few weeks ago, I came across a used copy of Caucasia at Magers & Quinn for $7.99. A few Goodreads folks rated it highly, so I grabbed it. I didn't quite realize how famous this book was when I bought it. Danzy Senna, who is from Boston (Brookline HS grad!), now works as an English professor at USC. She is the daughter of two Boston based writers: Fanny Howe (white, poet) and Carl Senna (black, journalist). Senna's book is a coming of age story, focused on the experience of a biracial girl, Birdie Lee. The novel, set primarily in Boston, takes place in the 1970's. Senna focuses on Birdie's relationship with her older sister, Cole. Though Birdie and Cole are sisters, Birdie looks like her white mother (and passes as white throughout most of the novel), while Cole resembles her black father. They are assigned to separate public schools ("in the name of diversity") and stared at by kids in the neighborhood. When underground political activity drives the parents apart, Birdie and Cole are separated. Birdie is raised to pass as a white girl in New Hampshire, while Cole grows up in California, identifying as black.
This is a short review because I'm out of time on this flight, but this book is 100% worth picking up (especially if you're from Boston). I'm hoping to read Senna's new book this week.