One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories

B. J. Novak's debut book is a collection of short stories can best be described as charmingly well-written. Titled One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, Novak's collection contains over 60 short stories and poems, with premises like a rematch between the tortoise and the hare or Confucius at home or a comedy central roast of Nelson Mandela. The titles are lovely - "the Pleasure of Being Right" or "The Vague Restaurant Critic" or "Kindness Among Cakes" - and I loved how the lengths of the stories and poems varied. Novak, known for his work on The Office, is a "a gifted observer of the human condition and a very funny writer capable of winning that rare thing: unselfconsciousness, insuppressible laughter" (The Washington Post, from the inside cover). One great poem, only three lines, titles "If you Love Something":
If you love something, let it go.
If you don't love something, definitely let it go.
Basically, just drop everything, who cares.
The stories, however, were my favorites. The emotional depth always surprises me in short stories (no matter how many I read), and this collection was no difference. There was true heart in all of them. As the NYT Book Review writes, "beneath the hilarious, high-concept set pieces and satires here beats a surprisingly tender heart." I encourage you, even if you don't get the book (which I totally think you should), to read or listen to excerpts on NPR. Charming, loving, funny, well-written, and absurd at times, Novak's One More Thing should definitely be on your reading list. Rating: ★★★★★


The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

I discovered Gabrielle Zevin's charming The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in the second-hand bookshop in Hanover as I procrastinated studying for my winter term finals. As an avid fan of small bookstores, this novel was light, quick and loving. One reviewer writes, "Do you fantasize about owning such a place, preferably a jumble of rooms encouraging browsers to meander all afternoon, ideally located in a quaint New England town? Gabrielle Zevin has written this novel for you." And that definitely is one of my fantasies. A. J. Fikry's wife dies in a surprise automobile accident, leaving him to run their bookstore on a small New England island. As he drinks himself into disrepair, his rare book is stolen (one that he could have sold to save his bookstore from bankruptcy) and a two year old is left for him to raise, with a note saying:
To the Owner of this Bookstore:
This is Maya. She is twenty-five months old. She is VERY SMART, exceptionally verbal for her age, and a sweet, good girl. I want her to grow up to be a reader. I want her to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about those kinds of things. I love her very much, but I can no longer take care of her. The father cannot be in her life, and I do not have a family that can help. I am desparate.
Maya's Mother 
And so unfolds the story. It was a quick read (I must admit I read it in one sitting) and I really enjoyed it. Nothing special, but sometimes you just need a solid story about books (I know I do). I don't really have much to review besides I loved that each chapter started with a note from A. J. to Maya about an important short story. I now have the desire to look up and read these stories. A quote from Zevin, about how she describes her characters... "I thought as a strategy it would be really interesting to describe people in terms of what they read and how they read.. I think you can do a lot, like describing people with their physical characteristics, things like that, but to me I've always found it to be a much more informative question to ask somebody what they read." A charming and heartwarming literary story. Rating:★★★★

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James's third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, tells the story of Jamaica from December 1976 to March 1991. "It is a story worth telling, and a story about Jamaica that doesn’t only take place in Jamaica." (from The Guardian's review). The story is not brief, it is an impressive work, clocking in at just under 700 pages. And there are many more than seven deaths. I was enraptured from the first line:
Dead people never stop talking. Maybe because death is not death at all, just a detention after school. You know where you're coming from and you're always returning from it. You know where you're going though you nevr seem to get there and you're just dead. Dead. It sounds final but its a word missing an ing...
 The main plot focuses on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. Marley is never referred to by name, only as "The Singer." And he provides the center of the story. But he's not just it. Marley is the starting point for a greater web of dynamics, as the NYT review describes: it is a "multilayered, choral inquiry into Jamaican politics and poverty, into race and class, and into the volatile relationship between the United States and the Caribbean." (X) The book began with a cast of characters, divided by location, which correlated with gang affiliation, and I did find myself constantly referring to this list as the book continued on. James divides his novel into five parts, "Original Rockers," "Ambush in the Night," "Shadow Dancin'," "White Lines / Kids in America" and "Sound Boy Killing," each a different day. There is a multitude of different narrators, which frustrated me at first, but I grew to love. Each character has a distinct voice and differing narration style. I learned so much about Jamaican history and Marlon James's writing was exquisite. I have a long list of quotes on my phone that I hoped to write in this review, but I will end with three, from very different characters:
The first, a poetic narration from gang member "Bam-Bam" who has been hopped up on coke to kill:
I run fast to you, to see you, to put you down but
But Josey beat me to the bang
Bam Bam, wife dead
And your brethren
And your sistren
And anybody that play guitar
I hear the bam bam bam bam on the ground
And reach up and push my feet
Echo in my head, bam bam
Blood rushing beat bam bam
Bomboclaat fuckery, I wanted to shoot you first
Nobody goin' forget the man that shoot you
The second, a reminiscence on the attempted peace treaty between the JLP and the PNP by Josey Wales, head enforcer, don of Copenhagen City (James's fictional Jamaican ghetto) and leader of the Storm Posse:
Peace can't happen when too much to gain in war. And who want peace anyway when all that mean is that you still poor? You can lead a man to peace all you want. You can fly out the singer and make him sing for money to build a new toilet in the ghetto. You can go wind your waste in Rae Town or in Jungle and par with man who only last year kill your brother. But a man can only move so far... 
The third, from Nina Burgess, the main female character (I won't spoil you with her description):
I hate politics. I hate that just because I live here I'm supposed to live politics. And there's nothing you can do. If you don't live politics, politics will live you.
I loved this book. Truly. I read the whole thing in less than a day, and even though I felt it got long at times, by the end I realized that those long times were necessary for the total story. So I would definitely recommend if you're looking for a longer novel. I look forward to reading Marlon James's other works, The Book of Night Women and John Crow's Devil. My apologies for the long review (a long review for a long book?) Rating: ★★★★(★)


The Post Office Girl

The Post Office Girl is one of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's most acclaimed novels.
“Time to leave now, get out of this room, go somewhere, anywhere; sharpen this feeling of happiness and freedom, stretch your limbs, fill your eyes, be awake, wider awake, vividly awake in every sense and every pore.”
The novel tells the story of Christine, who spends her days working in a post office in a lonely Austrian town following World War I. To sum up more eloquently than I can: "One afternoon, as she is dozing among the official forms and stamps, a telegraph arrives addressed to her. It is from her rich aunt, who lives in America and writes requesting that Christine join her and her husband in a Swiss Alpine resort. After a dizzying train ride, Christine finds herself at the top of the world, enjoying a life of privilege that she had never imagined. But Christine’s aunt drops her as abruptly as she picked her up, and soon the young woman is back at the provincial post office, consumed with disappointment and bitterness." (X) Another review describes the story as "Cinderella meets Bonnie and Clyde in Zweig’s haunting and hard-as-nails novel, completed during the 1930s, as he was driven by the Nazis into exile, but left unpublished at the time of his death." I was utterly engrossed in Zweig's writing when I began to read. Zweig was inspiration for one of my favorite films, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and my grandmother bought this book for me over the summer. I did not pick it up until winter break, after returning from Israel. While in Israel, I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem. While on a tour, our guide stopped briefly at a display of Jewish authors and intellectuals. Zweig was among them. He left his native Austria in the 1930s and fled to England, then America and Brazil. He later committed suicide at age 60 in 1942. Zweig kept popping up in my life, so I felt compelled to read his stories. And what magnificent stories they were. The Post Office Girl was a wonderful start and introduction to Zweig. It gives you a sense of the social impact of the first World War, and the immense wealth gap. I adored the novel (and his other works, hopefully which I'll write about soon) (going to try to post more often...) Highly recommend, especially if you've never heard of Zweig before. Rating: ★★★★★


Wild is the story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman who decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is over a thousand miles, and Cheryl set out to do it alone. I loved every moment of this book. I had seen the movie (2014's Wild) in the fall and fell in love with the soundtrack. My favorite moment was Simon & Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)"  playing as Cheryl (played by Reese Witherspoon) finished her hike and crossed the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon at the end of the PCT. Anyway, having this soundtrack on repeat (and rewatching the movie) convinced me it was time to finally read the memoir it was based off of. And I read it in one sitting. Cheryl Strayed writes beautifully and makes you feel like you're on the trail with her. The memoir opens in the middle of her hike, as she hurls one of her hiking boots off the side of the mountain. It interweaves her life throughout, her relationship with her mother, her struggles with heroin, her divorce... the book was wonderfully crafted. Cheryl wrote an advice column for years, and one of my favorite quotes from this column (thanks to a great article from Vulture)
“I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
This memoir sums up this idea: no regrets on the life you could've had. It is an important concept, and she writes about all the decisions she has made (some bad, some good) led her to where she is now. She reads various books on the trail, and the quotes and reflections interspersed throughout make you want to go on a self-discovery journey of your own (although I probably wouldn't last a day in the wilderness). My favorite, from Emily Dickenson:
If your Nerve, deny you --
Go above your Nerve --
Cheryl did just that. Rating: ★★★★★