Eleanor & Park – not spoiler safe

When I mentioned I was listening to the audiobook of Eleanor and Park, a couple people wanted to know what I thought. I finished it tonight, so here are a few notes:

There is almost no emotional distance from the characters. The writing is so close-up that there doesn’t seem to be a point to trying to keep perspective. (This was also true in Fangirl, but it’s even more noticeable here where the characters are in high school instead of college.) I didn’t feel much support from the book for thoughts like, “What would Eleanor’s chances be with Child Protective Services in this time and place?” or “How is the omnipresent racism affecting Park and his family?” No, this book’s strength is its no-distance rush of feelings and romance. Very teenage, heart through a strainer, experiencing it all for the first time and can’t believe it’s happening!1!!1!

Given this, I would be okay with enjoying a runaway heated wish-fulfillment romance…except, it is Eleanor’s romance and book and transformation, but is presented as though it’s supposed to be Park’s too. The point of view alternates between Eleanor and Park, about 50/50. But Park’s family problems are piddly compared to Eleanor’s– arguing with his dad over eyeliner and driving a stick shift, big whoop. He just doesn’t have high stakes like she does, and mostly goes around being kind, cute, stable, and righteous. He has a few moments where he breaks out of being too good to be true– when he asks whether maybe Eleanor wrote horrible comments on her own books for some reason, and when he irrationally has hurt feelings about her falling asleep in the truck on their way to Uncle Deus Ex Machina– but he gets over these quickly and spontaneously, and goes back to Being There For Eleanor.

There’s something creepy about the story being presented as half Park’s, when the real story and point of view aren’t his– like the book is making him into a puppet. Eleanor’s racism and the book’s racism are continuous, because Eleanor’s viewpoint is the only one that’s really solid. So many embarrassing comparisons of food and skin color. The pair of Sassy Black Friends who seem to exist only in the gym and lunchroom are an example of racist stereotypes in the book itself, not just in the minds of the characters. So while Rowell is very talented at All The Feels, I wouldn’t recommend this book without caveats.

In the audio version, the reader for Park’s point of view reads Park’s mother with an accent that I found over the top, and reads Eleanor’s dialogue in a high, breathy, tentative voice that would have gotten on my nerves so fast if she really spoke like that. I liked the reader for Eleanor’s point of view.

I’d love to hear what you thought!

from yesterday’s four-minute diary

yesterday, Sunday:

  • Sunny and windy. I took myself for a walk around the neighborhood, because I get cabin fever if I don’t do a couple of miles. I wanted to listen to my current audiobook, Eleanor and Park, but when I walked into the wind it whistled in my ears, even with earband plus hat, and I couldn’t hear the narration at all. I’d turn around a walk a block or two with the wind at my back, listening just fine, and then try to sneak east again between gusts.
  • Sang and Evan had cleaned up the turkey carcass Thursday and plunked it into the big stockpot, where it simmered ever since. Midafternoon I turned the heat off so we could finish straining and freezing the stock in the evening…but then it was evening and we just turned the burner on again. Sang finally dealt with it tonight. That is some nice roasty concentrated stock there in the freezer.

currently reading: My Own Country, by Abraham Verghese. He’s one of the doctor/writers that Atul Gawande listed as inspiring his own writing career, and this memoir is about treating AIDS patients in small-town Tennessee in the late 1980s. I like it so far. I would have thought some of his wide-eyed straight-person reportage on gay culture would grate (his nervous first visit to the only local gay bar), but it doesn’t.

Kate, Emily, and Sabriel

I made Jean Little’s Kate my bedside book recently, then of course followed it up with Look Through My Window. They’re comfort books that I’ve read over and over. But this time I felt more on the outside of Kate than any other time I’d read it. The first note of the book, Kate finding herself enchanted with an eight-year-old soulmate when she herself is nearly in high school? It’s not a wrong note, but it’s not usual. It just is, without explanation even when we learn more about Susannah later.

The Kate+Emily friendship is the best, the best. I still love it so much, but I guess I don’t project myself into it quite as much as I used to. But I definitely still firmly believe that they will be friends when they are old, old ladies. (I was so happy and grateful that Jacqueline Woodson let us know at the end of Brown Girl Dreaming that she and Maria are still close friends!)

Look Through My Window has some very episodic chapters that, again, are just there without apology, like the one about Ann’s accident with the car. And Chapter 18 jumps into Kate’s point of view after 17 chapters of Emily. These things, they work, and it makes me want to keep that freedom and not have to press everything into a seamless narrative. But in previous readings I just went with it all. This time I noticed, and then went with it.

Now I’m reading Sabriel for the first time. It reminds me of reading The Dark Is Rising at twelve, a new world laid out for me and knowing there’s several books to be lived in it.

I made pumpkin muffins with chocolate chips. They are delicious.

 

The Eighth Day

Now reading: The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni

Yesterday I was looking forward to reading my book after work. I’d missed out on my usual bus reading time, because on Tuesday I drove to work for the first time since I started my job in 2008, so that Sang and I could go to the suburban Powell’s in the evening and see Atul Gawande. And yesterday we drove across town for breakfast with Sang’s parents, who were on their way home from a reunion, and then parked on campus again. Such decadence. Actually, driving to work was completely tedious, even with the radio. I am relieved that I’d actually much rather ride the bus (since it’s way cheaper and greener).

But yesterday I walked through the pouring rain to the Stott Center before six p.m. to get seats for Sang and me for Winona LaDuke’s talk at seven. Sang was tutoring until 6:45, so it was just me and my book and my notebook on our two little white plastic folding chairs.

The Eighth Day is about a boy who turns twelve and suddenly starts experiencing a day between Wednesday and Thursday. No one else is there, the first time this happens. AWESOME, right? I love extra-time tropes! Except, they are always ruined. Nicholson Baker’s Fermata, so icky. I remember liking Jane Louise Curry’s Parsley Sage, Rosemary, and Time, but it turns out it’s a  time travel book. Where is the book about a character stopping time and catching up on studying, getting a little extra rest and tidying up the house? It’s like that wouldn’t make a good story or something, sheesh.

Anyway, this one turns into an Arthurian thing, with descendants of Merlin and the Pendragon and others in various factions, and for some reason it’s a bit of a trudge. It felt weird to be reading a Merlin story in a hall full of Indigenous Studies and Sustainability people. I overheard greetings in Chinuk Wawa nearby!

I’m glad I went to hear Winona LaDuke. I look up to her for finding a way to live as an activist and a leader without giving up on doing the cool stuff that’s important to her, her way. Growing corn and teaching the kids at her grandkids’ school how to braid it, and also running for vice president. Last year she and other Anishinaabe and Lakota riders traced the routes of three proposed oil pipelines, on horseback. Sometimes I feel like being an activist consists of going to a lot more meetings, ugh, and it’s good to see that it can be much more. Sang said on the way home that she’d been worried it would be like two hours of listening to Mo from Dykes to Watch Out For… but it wasn’t at all.

Celebrity dinner party: Winona LaDuke, Eileen Myles, Sarah Schulman.

Critters

I’ve come to think of September as the month of critters, though I didn’t notice it til after Sang and I spent a September backpacking, and the camp critters saw us as their Last Hope after the summer car camping season was over. So far this year:

  • the Charming Little Roommate needed her flea stuff for the first time since spring.
  • the spiders are spinning across every path and doorway, and will spend the next weeks getting bigger and bigger.
  • yellow jackets come to investigate our lunches when we eat in the brick plaza on campus.
  • surprised a rat in the basement and ordered a trap for it, as Simone does not seem interested. (Of course, Sang thinks Simone brought it inside in the first place and then got bored and skipped off.)
  • Just got back from a face-off with Max the Horrible Cat. I had a broom, but brandishing it makes him engage and advance toward me, hissing. I went back to the house for the squirt bottle. I don’t really understand why a little water in the face is worse than the threat of being clobbered with a broom, but I’m grateful something dissuades him. He is the worst cat.

On the plus side, there’s a nice chorus of crickets tonight.

Rereading The President’s Daughter

I spent quite a lot of this weekend rereading Ellen Emerson White’s The President’s Daughter, the updated 2008 edition that has email and cell phones that are curiously underused. (The original, which I’ve never seen, was published in 1984. Hmm, liberal-fantasy presidency 15 years before West Wing?)

I took it with me to get the car’s oil changed. I read it on the porch with many glasses of ice water. (I read it in the bathroom.) I finished it tonight in the back yard, while Sang worked on a story and hummingbirds navigated the lilac boughs overhead. (I speculated that the small-even-for-a-hummingbird male might be this year’s nestling. “Is that why we keep having to duck?” Sang said. “Do they need a tiny DRIVER IN TRAINING plaque?”)

Oh, thorny teenage girls named Meg! Oh, large number of commas, and pets who get patted instead of petted. I love how friends and family play in this book: deadpan verbal jousting, with one taking up the other’s lead.

I first read this in 2009. (My note then: “Nice to read a book about a rich girl that’s not all glitz and shopping.”) But it’s this time around that so much of it reminds me of President Obama’s inauguration. Meg and her family spend a lot of time deciding what to wear–remember how it was a big deal that Malia and Sasha wore J Crew coats to the inauguration? And the first time Meg and her brothers tour the White House reminded me of the Obama girls talking about the Bush twins showing them around, and how nice they were.

But the Vaughns don’t get a new puppy.

It does make me wonder how this book would read to me if we’d had a Hillary Clinton presidency instead. More echoes? Maybe not, though, as Chelsea wasn’t a kid anymore in 2008.

I hadn’t really planned on reading the whole series again, necessarily, but now I know I’m going to.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

I’ve been doing a little cleaning tonight while Sang is at work teaching. The method I’m using is, “Step through the front door and see what first strikes you as messy.” Which turned out to be the stacks of books and papers and mail on the barstools. And one of the books was Ambelin Kwaymullina’s The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, which I want to tell you about before I put it back on the shelf. Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Indigenous author from Western Australia, and this book is the first in her four-book series of YA dystopian novels.

YA dystopia can go either way for me. Sometimes I open a book and see all those capitalized general nouns (the Illegals, the Citizens, the Balance) and just can’t get into it. But this one got me past that with a badass protagonist and her crew, kids with superpowers basically. Ashala’s tagline: “I walk among my enemies. But I carry my friends with me.” And the friends are varied and imperfect.

But what really set it apart for me is the structure of flashbacks and reveals. The flashbacks are in a different typeface, and flipping through, it looks like maybe a third of the book is flashback. I would come to a flashback section and kind of set my teeth to get through it. You know what I mean? I was willing to do it to fill in the information I needed, but I was anticipating an extra effort and less momentum because we were out of the main storyline. But every time, I would get completely sucked in and wasn’t on that secondary track in my head at all, plus I was reinterpreting what I’d already read.

I don’t follow the genre that closely, but it kinda seems like this one should be getting more attention. It’s the first of a four-book series, but didn’t end on a cliffhanger. The second book has been published in Australia. I hope Candlewick does the US edition of all four.

Not-Wednesday Reading Post

Reading now: Stagestruck, by Sarah Schulman.

I got the dreaded TOO MANY RENEWALS message on this one. I renew everything about once a week, so 100 renewals is a couple of years it’s been sitting on the library-book shelf. Like every other time I looked at it, I asked myself whether–although I love Sarah Schulman!–I wanted to read a whole book of her complaining how Rent ripped off her work.

The answer is yes, yes I do. She has so much heart. She is a truth-teller. And this book excerpts and recaps her theater reviews of the mid-90s and all the what it was like that has been her torch to carry.

In case Pagefever is wondering whether to read it… it does completely, completely dis Rent. But it’s some great Rent gossip, too. Make your call.

Just finished: Kill Switch, by Chris Lynch.

Wow, surprised how many terrible reviews this got on Goodreads! It’s YA, short and pretty violent. A boy about to go off to college is caring for his grandfather whose dementia is getting worse. Da is starting to say some pretty weird stuff about his job, which maybe wasn’t for the USDA after all? And some scary co-workers are coming around to check up on how much he’s talking.

If you like the family dynamics in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series and don’t mind the absence of the curses and magic part, you might like this. I did.

Waiting for: Dinny Gordon, Sophomore, by Anne Emery.

Because I just finished Dinny Gordon, Freshman, of course! These are malt-shop books from 1959 (Freshman) and 1961 (Sophomore) about a high-school girl getting excited about being an intellectual, and also navigating the social and dating scene. I loved the part where she spent her winter break in the library, all cozy and working on her Pompeii project!

After reading a couple of academic articles on the series, I’m thinking I’ll skip the Junior and Senior volumes, which sound like they have too much Bad Boyfriend material that I would just find frustrating.

If you like Betsy-Tacy or The Luckiest Girl, Dinny Gordon would probably suit you fine.

Current bus book: Dangerous, by Shannon Hale
Current bathroom book: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Current bedside book: Sport, by Louise Fitzhugh
Current audiobook: Fire, by Kristin Cashore (will it ever end?!)

Hmm, I’m starting to develop a theory of why I don’t seem to get much done from day to day.