2010 • 256 pages • Riverhead Books
While I’ve cooled on all but one, my love for advice columns once led me to subscribe to three at once—Dear Sugar, Ask Polly, and Captain Awkward. These days, Dear Sugar has evolved into a podcast (which I don’t have room for on my current podcast rotation, sadly), Ask Polly has moved from the Hairpin to the Cut, and Captain Awkward is still chugging away. I now only subscribe to the good Captain, but I’ll occasionally drop by the Cut to see what Ask Polly author Heather Havrilesky is up to. Like when I dropped by a few weeks ago, and discovered this gorgeous gem that summed up a lot of my interpersonal issues:
What you don’t know when you’re young and single is how personal it feels to live at the whims of someone else’s bad habits.
It’s this kind of writing that really resonated with me, especially given my issues regarding control and agency. So, inevitably, that led me to add Havrilesky’s memoir to my reading list. Disaster Preparedness focuses on key incidents in the young Havrilesky’s life, growing up in the late seventies and early eighties, that highlight the dysfunction of her family. As she grows up and starts to learn that other people don’t operate the same way that her family does, she finds herself running into obstacles between herself and her ability to connect with other people.
Havrilesky writes Disaster Preparedness with the same clear-eyed wit and wisdom as she writes her column. Mostly, she marvels at the ways in which her family have pushed aside the world to cling together as a unit, in ways that damage them personally and publicly. She writes of her family life at a distance of both years and knowledge.
It’s all very well done. Nonetheless, I am left with one question: how do I review a book that pushed me into a dissociative funk for a weekend?
2015 (originally published 2014) • 452 pages • Riverhead Books
It’s a surprise to me that this is my first Nick Hornby. High Fidelity and The Polysyllabic Spree have been hanging out on the Behemoth for many a moon, but I’ve never made so much as a lurch towards them. And Funny Girl never even made it onto the Behemoth; I just saw the cover and had a vague, fuzzy memory of Jenny really enjoying it despite not traditionally enjoying Nick Hornby novels to the hilt. But I’ve been finding myself at my local library fifteen minutes before closing on weekdays, lately, stunned and a little confused by all this sunlight we’ve got now in the evenings, and I’ve had to make a lot of quick decisions in that amount of time.
But Funny Girl is, of all of Hornby’s work both fiction and non, the one most pandering towards my strange little demographic. I mean, I did recently watching all of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (and getting steadily more and more disenchanted…) and I was raised on British sitcoms (To The Manor Born and The Vicar of Dibley…) by Madame, so a novel about a young woman from Blackpool who moves to London in the 1960s and lands a leading role in a situational comedy that becomes a beloved British institution is right up my alley.
Affinity by Sarah Waters
During my trip to Ireland, I bought a copy of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, her 1950s gothic novel. I’ve been meaning to get around to that (and the rest of my small Irish haul) ever since I set foot back in America, but I felt like I couldn’t until I finished her “Victorian Women in Love” trilogy (there’s a snappier title out there, surely?)—I’d already read and loved Fingersmith, recommended heartily during 2010 in the book blogging community, and I’d loved Tipping the Velvet, so as my work load for this semester increased, Affinity seemed like a pretty sure bet.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
It seems that every book blogger I know or know of has either read Fingersmith or is meaning to read it. In fact, I think all this fervor can be traced directly back to Nymeth of things mean a lot. The author, Sarah Waters, is known for writing historical fiction with lesbian characters, particularly Victorian fiction. Historical fiction with queer romance? As an ace, I approve most heartily. I picked up Fingersmith expecting only what I’d read in summaries and reviews; I was not prepared for what it truly was.