31 March 2015

Heidi Julavits' Book of Days

I thought I would enjoy this book, and I was delighted to be right.

Julavits decided to try keeping a diary again after a hiatus of many years, during which she credited her childhood diary as critical in forming her writing. When Julavits (the co-editor of The Believer) starts again, she does so self-consciously, stylishly, always with a subtext. Entries skip around throughout two years, during which Julavits and her family spend the summer in Maine (where she grew up), the winter in New York and brief spells in Europe for fellowships. At no time is the author unaware that what she is writing will be shared; in a way, she revels in it.

The experience of reading this book is like reading a blog, the juicy kind unafraid to share secrets or confess. (The best kind; most blogs, this one included, are too cautious these days.) Like reading an incautious blog the sense of identification with the author is probably out of proportion, but at the risk of danger, I did "feel like I knew" Julavits over the course of this book. Of course I knew she was playing with that form and its strategic self-revelations, just like in every blog (shock, shock, horror, horror). Yet the game was enjoyable.

One advantage to the diaristic memoir as a form is that it is allowed to skirt a very common criticism of memoirs these days -- that is, that they aren't eventful enough or describing important moments in life. That "nothing happens" in them. THE FOLDED CLOCK does not catch Julavits at a highly eventful time in her life, but then again, who knows what times in her life will turn out to be truly eventful at the outset? In a way, this form takes the pressure off.

Pop culture sidebar: In THE FOLDED CLOCK Julavits reveals herself to be a substantial "Bachelor"/"Bachelorette" fan (also a fan of antique shopping, swimming and gossip more generally). Since this upcoming season of "The Bachelorette" will be the first to co-star two women, clearly Julavits and Jennifer Weiner will have to co-live-tweet the season -- perhaps with commentary about how they are both New England summer-ers, maybe some mutual hand-wringing about the overburdened expectations placed on female protagonists these days.

30 March 2015

Tournament of Books 2015 match commentary

  • I wish I had more confidently broadcast my picks at the beginning of the tourney because I could have called this one. I really had a feeling. 
  • (Unlike my March Madness bracket...) 
  • That said, today's Zombie Round review is a travesty and if the reviewer clearly disliked both books that much, perhaps he should have recused himself. (Nicole Cliffe's weighing of STATION ELEVEN vs A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS was much more evenhanded, although since I haven't read the latter I'm not sure whether she was right.) 
  • My favorite essays in the series were from J. Courtney Sullivan and Tayari Jones. I thought the judging panel was extremely strong this year, today notwithstanding, and these were two great examples. 
  • I was sorry to see DEPT OF SPECULATION not go any further than the first round. Otherwise, I more or less agree with the first-round judgments made, although due to book availability I wasn't able to read through the whole tournament. 
  • Does anyone else wish The Morning News would do a similar nonfiction bracket in the fall? Just putting it out there. They could call it the Nonfiction World Series. 
  • Wait till everyone figures out Emily St John Mandel's backlist. There will be rejoicing throughout all the land (or, there should be).