There are few stories you have the pleasure to experience that you could inhabit indefinitely, and A Gentleman in Moscow was one of these all-encompassing literary worlds for me. The language, the structure of the book, where do I begin? A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who is sentenced to house arrest in 1920’s Russia for writing a subversive poem, or subversive as deemed by his prosecutors. He is confined to life in the Metropol, a luxury hotel in the center of Moscow, though he must give up his previously occupied ritzy suite for more cramped quarters on the hotel’s upper floor. Still, this fate seems better than death or banishment, and aside from the limitations of the hotel itself, life for the Count carries on in some semblance of normalcy. Within the Metropol he is free to do as he pleases. He dines at the hotel’s restaurants, makes use of any of its services (barbershop, seamstress), and is also free to interact with other hotel guests without limitations. While we don’t leave the hotel either, we get snippets of the larger Russian climate as it comes through the Metropol via an expanding cast of characters.
Last night Mr. Brain and I finally got around to watching the movie adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Room. I loved the book, marveled at the insight into Jack’s psyche, though as I read it some time ago, I had a lot of space between my reading and viewing experiences. Still, it’s not an easily forgotten story and I was very curious to see how it would play out as a movie. So much of the story is filtered through Jack, which is how the horror becomes almost palatable. If Room is the only world you know, it’s not so bad.
It should have been so easy to be happy.
I have a book hangover. I loved Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot. I mean, I really loved it, and I feel sort of cheated that I didn’t get to say goodbye to its cast of characters and wish them all well before having to return this book to the library. I didn’t anticipate that I would like this book so much, and I almost didn’t read it, but I am ever so grateful that I did. What Alice Forgot is sneakily thoughtful, and the question it sets out to answer is more profound than it first seems at the book’s beginning. What would it be like to confront your current life with your past self?
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m dipping my toes back into the world of fiction, and after seeing You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott floating around on other reading lists, I thought I’d give it a stab. I recently watched 30 for 30: The Price of Gold, which chronicles the attack on Nancy Kerrigan through the ever so unreliable voice of modern day Tonya Harding, so I suppose I was already in the mood for the underbelly of women’s individual competitive sports. You Will Know Me takes us into the Knox family, whose life revolves around 15 year old Devon’s pursuit of an elite gymnastics title, and implied step on her ultimate goal to make it onto the Olympics gymnastic team.
Historically, I have had a tendency to be a serial reader. I’ll read something long and hard, then find myself uninspired to pick up anything else. Similarly, I’ll blow through a series of something (a particular author, a general theme that sends me down a self-defined rabbit hole) only to find myself crashing into a wall. I don’t know if this is good or bad. Perhaps it’s neither, except that I would actually like to read more, and when I do find a good book and get lost in it, I very much relish the experience. Sometimes I think I put too many self-imposed restrictions on my reading, and maybe I just keep getting in my own way. Case in point, after reading Second Sex between the winter holidays and finding myself in my usual months long post opus reading slump, I decided to read…for fun (gasp).
“Shelley Hack jumps out of a Rolls-Royce and strides confidently down the streets of New York City in a kicky pantsuit, embodying all the freedom and confidence of the women’s movement with none of the baggy clothes or scowling.”
– We Were Feminists Once (Andi Zeisler)
I recently started reading Andi Ziesler’s We Were Feminists Once, and by “started reading” I mean I’ve almost finished the first chapter. But I encountered the quote above, and haven’t been able to move beyond the word “kicky”. I think I might want a kicky pantsuit! For clarification, the quote is describing an iconic ad for Charlie, a perfume by Revlon, and the first perfume to become a “blockbuster”. This ad is largely attributed to its commercial success. (Shelley Hack is the ad’s model.)
As I mentioned last week, I’ve been reading Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. Well, actually I finished it this past weekend – huzzah! The book was a fairly dense history of salt production and the political implications of it as a controlled government commodity, spanning ancient China to modern day America, but what I loved about it was that sprinkled into this history were some really, really interesting facts. It was part history, part science, part geology. In deeming it “dense” I don’t mean to suggest that it reads like a sterile textbook, quite the opposite! I’m as surprised as anyone that I was enraptured by a 400 page book on salt, which should say something about the book and its writer. Thanks, Mark!
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share some of the fun, fascinating notes I jotted down as I was reading. So, here it goes…
After a reading marathon over the holidays (as in Christmas, not April Fool’s Day), I have been in a bit, not a lot, of a reading slump. I tend to be a serial reader; I’ll take an author, series, genre, self-assigned thread, to the end of some imagined line and then I’ll hit a wall and need some time to recover. My brain shuts down for awhile, and nothing else can get in. I found myself engrossed with all things Tudor this past December, and since then? Reading…pfff. What is that even? Subtitle of this post: How Henry VIII Destroyed My Reading Life. Curse the patriarchy!