Let me begin again.
Golly gosh, how to explain this? It’s a memoir, it’s a fever dream, it’s an obituary – maybe? And did I like all of it, any of it, only the parts that I read at night? It was, in a way, beautiful, though. A kind of experience hard to put into words.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is one of those titles that seem to be singing around in ‘Serious Reader’ circles for a while. It’s not loud enough to feel like it’s been hyped, nor is a celebrity book club attached, but there is the vibe of “Haven’t you read it yet?” around it. To me, anyway.
Ocean Vuong wrote poetry before, and it shows in his descriptions, his look on life, how it feels like he weighed every word before putting it down. It’s in juxtaposition with the subjects he writes down: the suffering of his grandmother and mother, the lack of family, being an immigrant child, being the only different one while growing up. All of it feels absolutely anchor-less.
Can you have an opinion about something that runs through your mind like sand through your hands? I’m sure you can, but I’m just going to stick with ‘an experience’ and a weird feeling of honour that Vuong allowed you in.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong, Penguin Random House 2019
When it was first suggested to me that I write about this year, my first instinct was to say no.
I kind of feel like I have to approve of this book solely because of the achievements of the person that wrote it. And Shonda Rhimes achieved a lot, and well done to her and I hope she keeps on carrying on.
And maybe I should have been less surprised about the tone of the story with such a title. I mean, this is the second time this year I’ve been cuckolded by a book title. This isn’t completely a memoir, but it comes close it. Combine that with the subject (saying yes to more things, daring to live (a little)), and honestly – I could have seen this coming.
Of course, it’s interesting to learn about how much work Rhimes puts into everything, how determined she is and how she recognises what has to be done to get where she wants to go.
It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing: is she ‘American Dream rah-rah’ because of what she accomplished or did she accomplish what she did because she’s ‘American Dream rah-rah’?
In the end, have I decided to be infected by her yes-saying? Maybe. Temporarily. Mostly I’m still stuck on all the ways in which she describes herself, her thoughts and her actions.
Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes, Simon & Schuster 2015
Never trust anything you read on the internet.
First romantic comedy of the year! Although both genres are just slightly represented; How to Hack a Heartbreak is mostly about being a woman in the tech world, and about dating online. The comedy is a tad sharper than you might expect, but both these subjects deserve some attention that isn’t just tongue-in-cheek.
That doesn’t mean that How to is a severe novel about the endless sexism both these worlds entail and a detailed deconstruction of it – it’s still a romantic novel after all. Still, the more realistic angle on the subject and of the protagonist’s thinking is pretty refreshing.
It makes the story of Melanie learning something about herself, her abilities and her (lack of) self-confidence easier to swallow. There might have been just one or two situations through which I rolled my eyes, and I’m pretty sure that was an expected reaction. All this, and a well-balanced happy ending, makes this a romance for the ’20s.
How to Hack a Heartbreak, Kirstin Rockaway, Harlequin 2019
The feeling when a film is part of several genres and therefore part of none at all, or maybe something new. Colossal largely went under (my) radar, except for maybe a wayward comparison to Pacific Rim: both have huge monsters in Asian surroundings. Colossal is no Pacific Rim.
This huge monster is connected to Gloria and starts showing up when she returns to the place she grew up in. Life isn’t great, the place she grew up in isn’t great, and the few people surrounding her aren’t either. Or are they? And how is the monster created, and how is it connected to her? Is it even part of this reality?
This summary might make it sound weirder than it seems, but what makes all this eerie is that it isn’t weird. Or well — it is, of course, but nothing in the cinematography or dialogue shows you that the film and the characters are in on the joke. This is a story about a barely functioning woman, and Anne Hathaway does it well without barely ever going overboard.
You can find Colossal on Netflix.
Colossal, Neon 2017
We typed a hundred words per minute and never missed a syllable.
While I’m absolutely lukewarm about stories that use the World Wars as their background, the Cold War or anything involving the USSR/Russia has easily my interest (peeked). The Secrets We Kept ads love for literature to that. Ace in the hole, you’d say.
I can’t pinpoint why it isn’t one. It’s an appealing, enticing story; easy to read, pretty easy to follow (several chapters keep you in the dark about who’s the protagonist now — at least for a page and a half) and voices could have differed a bit more from each other. But that’s details I discover looking back, not necessarily crippling me during reading the story.
The secrets kept the title mentioned are from both The Agency (American security) as from Russian individuals that dare do things The State doesn’t agree with. Of course, there’s secrets on other levels as well, and this isn’t a Cold War story in the way of ‘pick a side and follow through’. These women and typists carry more responsibility than their detailed-described looks entail.
It’s a fun novel to read, easily calling up images and with no frills when not necessary. I’m honestly surprised that I’m not more excited about it.
The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott, Bond Street Books 2019
On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.
Don’t judge a book by its title. Or maybe don’t expect to know what is going to happen by a book’s title. I thought Lincoln – like the American president. I thought Bardo – a kind of Buddhist limbo, add those and you get something eerie, cool, spooky about mourning, the afterlife and discussing religion.
Instead I got a collection of (fictional) citations and quotations about Abraham Lincoln, his dead son and a lot of people I’ve never heard of before.
It took some time to adjust.
Both Lincolns are very little part of this story. It is about the Bardo and how people of all walks of life experience it while avoiding the reality of having died. As mentioned before – this doesn’t happen in continuous prose, you seem to be paging through an encyclopedia of Americans that have died in the time before Abraham Lincoln. Why? Because some of them look out for Willie Lincoln, and are impressed that Abraham continues to visit his son and mourn him.
So it’s not a story about the American president, it’s a little bit about mourning, it’s a too little bit about what the Bardo is, how it works and what it looks like, and the rest of it is – I guess – about the skills of one George Saunders in bringing a lot of character sheets together and passing them off as novel.
2020 isn’t a great year for books, just yet.
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders, Bloomsbury 2017
Depending on when you read this: just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s very loosely tied around that day: mothers feel neglected by their sons because of a lack of Mother’s Day attention and therefore decide to go find them. The so-called hijinks follow.
With one of the mothers mentioned being played by Angela Bassett the game is immediately upped: when’s the last time her presence pulled a project down? So okay, Patricia Arquette is here to play a young Frankie-rip off and Felicity Huffman still thought she could buy universities, but they’ve got Angela Bassett.
With such a title and these actresses involved it of course isn’t about the sons in this story, but they do manage to keep up.
New York city gets to be the city where it all happens and everyone has room for personal development – including the small-town-mums who I guess stayed at home for so long that they need a city to remember that they’re individuals whom had been young once.
You could just watch this for the make-over Angela Bassett gets, but it might leave you with some appreciation for both your mother and your personal space as well.
Otherhood, Netflix 2019
Well done, New Zealand Tourism Bureau. I mean, how else did Netflix international come up with a story in which an American woman from San Francisco (plenty of scenery there!) ends up in a small town in New Zealand, where she doesn’t just find a defunct inn but also love (now you understand the title as well!)?
I was ready to be disappointed. Even though romance projects are pretty much allowed to be a collection of clichés, it doesn’t mean that the clichés are used correctly or too often. As a born kiwi I was ready to support the language and surroundings shown and zone out for the rest of it.
Was I pleasantly surprised! Yes, both characters and plot are made of cardboard, and maybe it’s solely the accent that makes things sound more heartfelt and less superficial. But Christina Milan is adorable without going overboard into Manic Pixie Quirky Girl, while her love-interest has enough appeal to make him believable as one (opposed to some romances Netflix tries to sell).
So no, nothing life-saving here, but quite right for your short, dark day-needs without feeling nauseous about saccharine sweetness.
Falling Inn Love, Netflix 2019
“Would you mind if I measured your extremities?”
Never thought that I’d be disgruntled by a happy ever after, but here we are.
The nice things about this story: a love for fountain pens, writing, language and for the majority of the time a very grounded few of oneself of the protagonist. It starts out as a fun, coming-of-age story with a weird quirk. No, I don’t give a toss about golf, but thankfully the protagonist recognises that and doesn’t bother the reader too long with descriptions of the game. One of the side-characters is completely annoying and would never get the function he has in real life with such behaviour, but soit. Fiction.
The albatross of the story is Adam. His teacher takes his measurements and – by calculating them through a random study by annoying side-character – discovers that he is a golf talent. Golf success follows, even though Adam doesn’t care about the game at all. The money doesn’t hurt though, and that’s largely his motivation for making the decisions he makes.
At first Adam is baffled by all of it, but he all too soon and smoothly takes it all in, and from that part on – there’s just not much to the story. He gets everything he wants, life moves in the direction he wants, his love story finishes the way he wants to … it’s all quite dull.
And this is just partially coming from a place of jealousy.
Albatross, Terry Fallis, McClelland & Stewart 2019
As is known by now; I’m not that impressed by lyrical reviews. If the words ‘needs an Oscar!’ pass by, I roll with my eyes. There’s two reasons I still went to go see Parasite in theaters: I was curious, and I had a free ticket.
Now I’ve watched it and don’t know how to review it without giving the story away. But honestly, wow. Parasite moves through different genres and scores with every one of them. It doesn’t have to be a commentary about rich versus poor, about housing and loans; the images are there and clear enough.
So yes, it’s a story about a poor family that worms its way into the heart of a very rich family. Yes, you’re very probably going to have to read subtitles as well (unless you know Korean). But holy heck, what did I just watch?
It’s beautiful and sharp and cheeky, until it isn’t. It’s daunting, until it turns into something worse. It’s over two hours and only very few times that I felt like checking the time remaining, because you have to pay attention. Or rather, you want to. And in some way I feel like watching it again already – let me go back to the family.
Parasite, Neon 2019