Sunday, June 16, 2013

Recent good reads

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

“It was a real whale, a photograph of a real whale. I looked into its tiny wise eye and wondered where that eye was now. Was it alive and swimming, or had it died long ago, or was it dying now, right this second? When a whale dies, it falls down through the ocean slowly, over the course of a day. All the other fish see it fall, like a giant statue, like a building, but slowly, slowly.” 
There is an underlying sadness to the stories in No One Belongs Here More Than You. The characters search for connection, anything really, to break out of a loneliness that threatens to engulf them. But I sensed the sadness slowly, partly due to the humor on the page that is uniquely July. Take for example the hilarious premise of The Swimming Team: The protagonist teaches three seniors how to swim in her apartment for the town has no swimming pool. With Mon Plaisir, July writes a tremendous short story about a couple that connect as extras on a movie set. When the director yells 'action' something changes for these two characters, and July describes this change beautifully. It’s one of the best short stories I’ve read.

Here is New York by EB White

“It is a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible. Every time the residents brush their teeth, millions of gallons of water must be drawn from the Catskills and the hills of Westchester. When a young man in Manhattan writes a letter to his girl in Brooklyn, the love message gets blown to her through a pneumatic tube—pfft—just like that. The subterranean system of telephone cables, power lines, steam pipes, gas mains and sewer pipes is reason enough to abandon the island to the gods and the weevils.”
'Here is New York' is a tiny hard-bound book that houses EB White’s essay about the city, written in the summer heat of 1948, a tribute that still relates sixty five years later. Even if you couldn’t care less about New York, the prose is wonderful and the essay can be read just for that. The writing flows; the sentences are built with a cadence that begs to be read aloud, and there is preciseness to the language that reminds one of Hemingway:
“The café is a sanctuary. The waiters are ageless and they change not. Nothing has been modernized. Notre Dame stands guard in its travel poster. The coffee is strong and full of chicory, and good.” 
White puts down his flag of ‘this is what the city was like in 1948’ and this gives us the opportunity to contrast with the modern day. It’s fascinating to see the similarities and trends (“There are fewer newspapers than there used to be.”) but there is one passage that stopped me and required a re-read, both for it’s foresight and the succinct evaluation of the kind of world we live in now:
“The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.”

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