If on a Winter's Night a Traveller

I think I can safely say that Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller was the weirdest book I have ever read. It's a story about a reader trying to read a book called If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. There are twenty-two chapters, and every odd chapter is about you, the reader, and your process of reading and every even chapter is the start of another book. The book begins like this, to give you a taste of Calvino's style:

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room...
And it takes some time getting used to; second person narration is always strange. Calvino ruminates on books and reading ("but how to establish the exact moment in which a story begins?") and readers vs. editors and the whole story itself was... It is #69 on the list of the Telegraph's 100 novels you should read, described as "international book fraud is exposed in this playful postmodernist puzzle." Interspersed with the story of the Reader trying to find a complete edition of If on a Winter's Night a Traveller are ten different genres of story. Each of these excerpts offers a different look into the opinions of the Reader (not you, the reader, but the Reader (the protagonist of the story) - confusing!) I think the best way for me to end this review is to copy a review of an Amazon customer -
Read chapter 1. Finished chapter 1. Began chapter 2. Scratched my head. Finished chapter 2. Began chapter 3. Began laughing at the game Calvino was playing with me. And wondering what he was going to do to me next. I would never have guessed all the different roads I would go down as I read this book. You'll fall in love. You'll pull your hair out. You'll throw the book across the room. And then you'll go pick it up again. Any attempts to describe this book any better than this will either not be well-understood or will ruin the effect of discovering it for yourself. If you are prepared to put aside your standard concepts of literary narrative and explore a new experiment, this book is definitely for you.
Definitely worth the read. Rating: ★★★★


Fates and Furies

Wow. I read this entire novel on the train home from the Lake District, and I was gobsmacked. That seems like the only appropriate word for my reactions on Lauren Groff's novel Fates and Furies. I borrowed the book from my library on my kindle on a whim, without really reading a synopsis or any reviews. I just thought the title looked interesting and it was marked a finalist for the 2015 national book award (this list also steered me in the right direction with Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles). Another advantage to reading this book on my kindle was that I was entirely shocked when I thought I reached the end of the novel and clicked on progress to learn I was only halfway through. Fates and Furies is the story of Fate through the eyes of the husband, Lotto, and Fury through the eyes of the wife, Mathile. When I reached the end of Lotto's narration, I thought the story had ended... oh, was I wrong (this is not spoiling anything, have no fear). There was a lot I loved about this novel, but I think my favorite was the bracketed asides of the narrator, who gives an omnipresent perspective. For example, Chapter 2 begins (again, I promise I won't spoil you):
 A unity, marriage, made of discrete parts. Lotto was loud and full of light; Mathilde, quiet, watchful. Easy to believe that his was the better half, the one that set the tone. It’s true that everything he’d lived so far had steadily built toward Mathilde. That if his life had not prepared him for the moment she walked in, there would have been no them. The drizzle thickened to drops. They hurried across the last stretch of beach. [Suspend them there, in the mind’s eye: skinny, young, coming through dark toward warmth, flying over the cold sand and stone. We will return to them. For now, he’s the one we can’t look away from. He is the shining one.]
In an interview, Groff speaks of these bracketed asides and how she originally intended the novel to be split into two. The asides were what linked them together and allowed some glimpse into the "truth" of what was happening. The NYT Book review writes, "If you approach Fates and Furies without great expectations, you’re much likelier to appreciate it for the bumpy but alluring effort that it is, and even for its touch of evil." The story is this mix of raw emotion and suspense and wives of playwrights and Greek tragedy/comedy and I don't quite have the words to describe it and I also don't want to tell you more because I think you should be absorbed in the story on your own [go read it without googling the plot]. Rating: ★★★★★


What to Read on a Plane

Hello! Thought I would do five short reviews of some good reads for travel (ideally a plane ride, but a train ride is also wonderful). Send me your current favorite books, because I have a lot of travel upcoming... Without further ado, here are five books I've read in the past year or two (spanning many genres) that are perfect for those long waits in an airport or for when you can't sleep on a redeye or when your train is barreling through some countryside:
  1. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (nonfiction, humor, essays): described as a "hilarious, thoughtful, and in-depth exploration of the pleasures and perils of modern romance," comedian Aziz Ansari (of Parks & Recreation fame, his new TV show Master of None was actually released today on Netflix) decides to combine surprisingly extensive research (it was co-written with a social scientist) with funny anecdotes to look at dating in the modern age. 
  2. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (fantasy, magic): tells the story of a world below London, following the life of an ordinary man who falls through the cracks. A fun fantasy story that has become a "touchstone of urban fantasy" and keeps you intrigued start to finish.
  3. A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn (fiction, realistic-ish, Jew-ish): three stories intertwine across centuries, all focused on memory. I don't want to spoil anything, but the story opens with "what happens to days that disappear?" and follows a software developer's application that records everything in your life, a professor who travels to Cairo in the 1800s, and parts of the story of Maimonides. Sounds super disjointed but wonderfully woven together. 
  4. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (crime, thriller, mystery): the first in a series about private investigator Cormoran Strike who investigates the suicide of a supermodel. Fun fact: Galbraith is the pseudonym for famed Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. Riveting and I didn't see the plot twist coming at all...A solid crime novel. 
  5. Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro (short stories-ish): novel divided into what felt like short stories, but really snippets of the protagonist's life. Centers on a theme of "womanhood" (the title gives that away) and was a really interesting look into a teenage girl growing up and trying to make sense of her place in the world, of her body, her sexuality, and her life. 
Happy travels & happy reading & if you're ever in London, check out Daunt Books (a travel bookstore where books are organized by geography and its absolutely lovely)!