The Neapolitan Novels

For the first time, in a very long time, I inhaled a set of novels. The last time I did this was right after graduation in 2012 when I read Game of Thrones. Within three weeks I was done with the entire series and anxiously awaiting Spring 2013, one of the first dates I remember as a supposed release of The Winds of Winter. This never transpired and I’ve given up hope of that book every becoming a reality. That aside, I was late to the game in getting around to reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, and OMG. They were amazing. I would finish one book and then head over to Bookman’s for the next one. I ended up having to order The Story of a New Name because I couldn’t find it where it should have been. It ended up being part of their summer beach reads display at the front of the store and went home that day with a copy of Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall.

I was just so happy I didn’t have to wait for the next book in the series! They are basically the ultimate bildungsroman and it was amazing to follow the lives of Lenu and Line from grade school to old age. The books meant so much to me and really resonated with me. Elena struggling to keep up with her studies and her relationships with her friends in the neighborhood, contrasted with the people she meets at school reminded me of the difficulties of being a first generation college student. Essentially, you have no idea what you’re doing and there isn’t really anyone to go to for advice.  I just really loved Lenu so much. She tried so hard to be good and do her best and not be undone by the feelings of inadequacy that Lina would impose on her. Her climb out of the neighborhood to published author was reminiscent of the “American Dream” that centered on education being a means of social mobility, which doesn’t seem to really exist anymore (yay! student loans!). So much of that also depended on luck and Lenu having someone in her life to guide her.

I also really loved Lina even though she scared me. Her need to constantly be moving from one thing to another to as a means of maintaining control preventing the boundaries of her fragile reality from dissolving felt too familiar. Lina’s intensity was so captivating that it’s easy to see why Lenu was drawn to her despite how harrowing the friendship could be. All of these books were so good and I wish I had taken notes while reading them. I’ll probably have to go back and reread theme eventually. They covered so much beyond the tenuous relationship between Lenu, Line, and their environments. They served as a primer for Italian politics, feminism, and cultural legacy and environment. I’m just in awe of what Ferrante was able to accomplish.

My brain and recollections of the books are a little scrambly. I let too much time lapse between reading them and writing them out of fear. Anything I write feels so feeble in comparison but I suppose the key is to not compare myself because that is just ridiculous. I’m also at the tail end of a weight cut and as my coach would say, I have weight cutting brain. I zoned out during class yesterday was I was supposed to be leading our break clap. I’m competing in the Las Vegas Open on Friday and it’s my first IBJJF tournament. I’m excited to try a bigger tournament despite not having the best time competing locally this year but it feels like less pressure because of the anonymity. Usually I’m a nervous wreck at this point before competing but I feel right now. This might be a result of not really having had the time to think about it. I’ve been working so hard to be prepared for this tournament. I started dieting earlier than I did for the Cope Bella and have been smarter about it. I’ve also been running more and we have a new coach who is phenomenal. He’s breathed new life into the program and his game is the opposite of Chris’s but also complimentary. I’ll have updates about the tournament approximately two months from now. JK! I’m hoping to update sooner and also go over Legends of the Fall.

The Neapolitan Novels

Palette Cleanser – Fire in the Blood

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After finally deciding to give up on the- book-with-the-bad-writing-that-will-not-be-named I needed something to wash out the disappointment and frustration. I decided to reread one of my favorite books. Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a rereading bend and that’s what I had been up to before starting the bad book. At the end of last year I reread The Shadow of the Wind and Harry Potter 1-3. I plan on going over these eventually.

I know that it can be considered silly to reread books, especially when there are so many books out there that I haven’t read and will probably never read but there is comfort in revisiting a beloved book. It’s like catching up with old friends. I tend to get very attached to my stories. Rereads also offer us an opportunity to see how we’ve grown. It’s possible to read one book when you’re young and come back to it years later and get something totally different out of it. For example, I’m sure if i reread The Awakening today I would feel very different about it than I did when I was 20. I didn’t understand her motivations but with almost ten years and a trail of failed relationships between I could probably understand it a little more.

Anyhow, the book I reread was Irene Nemirovsky’s Fire In The Blood.I first read it when I was 18 and it was fun to see the parts that I underlined and how despite growing so much since then, I still felt the same about those parts. The story takes place in a rural village in France during the interwar years and is told from the perspective of Silvio, a prodigal son of the village just returned after several years away. It consists primarily of his observations of his relatives and his recollections of his life when he was at that age and you and in love. I feel like this story is too hard to talk about without wholly giving it away but in a sense, it is also a reread for Silvio. He looks at his relative, Colette – recently married, and a young widow in the village, Brigitte, and is reminded of his youth and passions. One of the parts that I underlined on my initial read comes after Silvio has an argument with Colette and reflects:

When you’re twenty, love is like a fever, it makes you almost delirious. When it’s over you can hardly remember how it happened . . . Fire in the blood, how quickly it burns itself out. Faced with this blaze of dreams and desires, I felt so old, so cold, so wise. . .

One theme that does come up in the book is the choice between a complacent happiness that leads to material security and choosing that feverish and reckless love. At this point in life, I’m at a midway point between twenty and Silvio’s forty-some years and I can see where he might feel so old faced with that type of love but I also still understand it. As troublesome and dangerous as that type of love can be, I still think it is worth the blaze because to me, being with someone without that spark does not seem worth the time. Even Silvio despite, his weariness agrees, “I’m undoubtedly wrong to generalize; there are people who are sensible at twenty, but i’ll take the recklessness of my youth over their restraint any days.” Me, too Silvio, me too!

I’m starting to ramble and wish I had the time to write about this book as soon I finished it. I just did not have the time. This is the first weekend I’ve had without any other obligations outside of me, to do anything. It has been great. I want to read more of Nemirovsky’s works.  Especially since this one is one my favorites and means so much to me and it’s a miracle that this book even exists. It existed only as a partial text until the rest of the manuscript was found in a suitcase by one of her daughters. Irene Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz in 1942.

BJJ: I’m competing the next two upcoming weekends. As usual I’m nervous and I’m moving down a weight class into what has turned out to be a way more competitive bracket for one tournament. Usually there are 3-4 women in the bracket but next weekend’s has 8! I’m excited for the challenge and to eat afterwards.

Palette Cleanser – Fire in the Blood

Emergency Contact

20181202_215658.jpgI took a break from slogging my way though nonfiction and a bunch of other things, like writing (!), and read Emergency Contact Mary H.K. Choi. This was prompted by my need to read something that was  1. just going to be fun and also bring me some joy from the frustration I’d been experiencing at the gym (note: I read this over the summer when things were still bad, more on later) and 2. This passage that I saw posted somewhere on Twitter right after it came out.

Continue reading “Emergency Contact”

Emergency Contact

The Goldfinch

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I recently finished reading Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch.  The book follows the life of Theo Decker as he reflects on the event that changed the course of his life and the fallout from the choice that was made immediately afterwards. While reading this book, I learned a new word, bildungsroman, which is a coming of age story that follows the protagonist from childhood to adulthood. I only learned this because I got a little impatient while reading and wanted to see what happened at the end. This is probably one of my worst habits and I really can’t help it. I even did this while reading the last Harry Potter book. I’m a monster, I know.

Anyhow, back to The Goldfinch!  The story was a little slow moving and meandering and the longest book I’ve read in a while at 771 pages but I really enjoyed it! I also liked it a lot better than the last Donna Tart book I read, The Secret History, which wasn’t bad but it was just weird and a little a creepy.  A fact that was further bolstered by one of my best friends having gone to Bennington College, the school that Hampden College seems to be based on.  Alright, alright, back to The Goldfinch for reals. The story opens with Theo at what is the end of story, looking back at the linchpin that leads to that moment.  The even that sets everything in motion is a terrorist attack the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, shortly after the 9/11. Theo’s mother is killed in the attack and he walks away with a rare surviving painting by Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt. The painting is the titular goldfinch and throughout the story serves as a token that links Theo to the memory of his mother.

After the accident Theo is taken in by the wealthy family of one his friends until his estranged father shows up and whisks him away to Vegas. While in Vegas he is befriended by Boris, another motherless boy. Together they scrap together a hardscrabble existence fueled by parental neglect, drugs, and all the weirdness that comes with adolescence. I don’t want to give much more way but at its, heart The Goldfinch is a story of friendship and what it means to be good and what role being good plays in one’s destiny. The last few pages were favorite and worth the slow start. Oddly enough, I ended up watching Tulip Fever which is set in the time that Fabritius created the painting and it was a nice juxtaposition for the contrast that made the The Goldfinch so special. The painting is atypical of the paintings coming from the Dutch Masters during that time. It is simple and bright whereas Rembrandt and Vermeer’s painting were dark and moody.

This book as also renewed my interested in finishing Walden. It is assigned reading for the boys while they’re in high school but that is a post for another time.

 

The Goldfinch

A Man Without A Country

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The cover matches my marigolds that also match my tattoo!

Ever since reading Sirens of Titan, I’ve been meaning to read more Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five is on my list and would have been the logical next step but last time I was at my local used bookseller’s and the only Vonnegut book available was A Man Without A Country. I finished it last night and no regrets! It’s not really a novel so much as it’s Vonnegut’s reflections on life and the political climate at the time. He was writing in 2004 and commenting on the Bush administration, such simpler and gentler times! I honestly never thought I would look back on that presidency in that way and can’t imagine what he would have to say.

I’m not sure I have much else to say besides go read the book. I feel like I am the better for it and it just has lots of great advice and me a little misty. Here is one of many of my favorite quotes:

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what it is.”

A Man Without A Country

Over Sea, Under Stone

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I just finished reading Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper. One of my friends lent it to me after I was talking about the weird supernatural elements in A Time of Torment. This eventually led to talking about books we read as kids and she suggested this one, which follows the three Drew siblings on their summer vacation to Cornwall and they discover a map that leads to Holy Grail.

It took me a long time to read because it never pulled me in. Maybe if I had read it as kid or teen it might have had more appeal but the plot and characters didn’t come across as very developed, which is weird because the story of three kids following a map to find the Holy Grail while being pursued by the forces of evil seems like an exciting plot but I guess this story just wasn’t for me. I am glad I finished it because not finishing a book always bothers me.  I think there are maybe four books that I can remember not finishing: Blackout, Gypsy Rizka, and A Farewell to Arms. I don’t remember why I didn’t finish Gypsy Rizka. Blackout is about a plane that is taken hostage and I was probably too young to be reading and got too stressed out. I still might have it somewhere. I didn’t finish A Farewell to Arms because I had a book report coming up and was running out time.

I had been working on Walden since last October and haven’t finished. I’m not counting this one since it was a reread. I probably do need to go back and try to finish or at least revisit because the first chapter is my favorite and it makes more sense at 27 than at 16.

 

Over Sea, Under Stone