April 20, 2012

Depressing Streak of Books

I'm on a depressing streak of books. Most of them have been GOOD, and I'm glad I read most of them, but they have a lot of THINKY ISSUES in them and they're leaving me feeling broody and low and inclined to respond irritably if brought out of my Deep Thoughts by the needs of small children.

(photo from Amazon.com)

First I read The Snow Child, which is an enchanting fairy tale for grown-ups, and I was indeed enchanted. Until I got to the end, when I was all, "Wait. What? But then...what happened to the? And what about the? And what does that mean for the? And so was she or wasn't she?" It was a beautiful story, and the ending was as sad as all those original fairy tales where no one has modernized it for children yet.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Then I read Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, which is one of those 1960's Heavy Message books of the sort I haven't read since I had to in high school. I DID like it, and I AM glad I read it, and now I think "See the cat? See the cradle?" at appropriate times and I like that, and also I feel more culturally literate, and also now I can say "So I was reading some Vonnegut the other night, and..." But I also felt like there was a lot of stuff going over my head, stuff that I would need a literature professor to explain to me while I tried to stay awake, and I didn't like that. And it's kind of depressing/insightful on the subject of religion, and I couldn't tell if I liked that or not but it was depressing either way.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Then I read No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make It Better by Elizabeth Weil, the title of which I unfortunately misread as "Then I Made It Better," so throughout the entire book I was thinking, "When do we stop talking about marriage therapies/theories I don't believe in ('The marital bond mimics the mother/infant bond!') and get to the part where something WORKED??" (She does claim that things worked, but boy, I didn't get that feeling from it.) Also, I ended up depressed because she's married to such an incredible, unbearable jerk someone I would not be compatible with, myself. And they spend more on groceries than on their San Francisco mortgage when only one of them cares about food; I found that hard to incorporate into my world view.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Next was Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet by Heather Poole. I lovvvvvvvvve insider tell-alls, so I wanted to know ALL ABOUT what it was like to be a flight attendant and all the inside scoop on things. But she was so carelessly, cheerfully MEAN about everyone and everything. Like she didn't even realize she was saying mean things. It wasn't even snarky, it was just MEAN. And you know how it is when someone is telling you a mean story about someone else and you can't even enjoy it because it doesn't sound true? Like, it sounds so distorted and exaggerated and one-sided, it doesn't even make SENSE? I stopped reading halfway through, because the stories were making me feel queasy and I didn't even believe the parts that were almost certainly true (or at least trueish) and I wasn't even ENJOYING them. And I came away with that unpleasant "People are actually, seriously dismissing me as a worthwhile human being because I don't wax my eyebrows / don't get pedicures / have a minivan"-type feeling about humanity.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Then I read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Someone I read JUST wrote about this in the last few weeks, and I need to pretty much cut and paste everything that person said about it because she was exactly right: it was about Jesuits and space travel and that worked; it was one of those books where you know from the beginning that everyone is doomed (the example given was Bel Canto); there is quite a bit of crying; she was so glad she read it. That's how I feel too. Now someone please recognize who I'm talking about so I can provide a LINK and some CREDIT. [AH HA! It was Notthedaddy's post! Thanks, Shelly!]

This was another book that was depressing/insightful about religion, and again I didn't know how I felt about it. It was also depressing/insightful about society, and about contact with other societies, and about the way creatures are. And it was very sad: they tell you right at the beginning that only one member of the space traveling group is going to make it back. And yet there was a lot of laughing/happiness too, and so many interesting things, and I am so, so glad I read it, and I have found it on my mind a LOT, and I'm going to read the sequel. And in fact my MAIN complaint among all the depressingness was actually how the author kept having her characters saying marginally funny things that had her other characters just ROLLING and GASPING with laughter---which is a bit immodest, isn't it, considering the author herself wrote those marginally funny things?

(photo from Amazon.com)

And NOW I'm reading Slaughterhouse-Five, another Kurt Vonnegut. I keep getting interested in these older books because I subscribe to Contrariwise: Literary Tattoos, and the stories about why people got certain things from books permanently put onto their skin make me want to go read those books. This one is kind of about war and kind of about space aliens and kind of about time travel and kind of about being a Heavy Message book. And I like it, and I'm glad I'm reading it, and my guess at this point is that I will be glad to have read it, but it also makes me feel like drinking.


Josefina said...

I had to read Slaughterhouse-Five for a class I took in college and at the time I was furious that I had to read it. What about all the other great, not-weird books?! Indignation!

I think about it all the time. I have consistently done so for the 17 or so years since I read it. Yes, very glad I read that one, and only more so the older I get.

Anonymous said...

Your reading Vonnegut makes me want to go back and read some of the other classics I read in high school. I think I read Slaughterhouse-Five but I really don't remember.

I'm reading Fifty Shades of Grey, book two. Complete fluff and I feel ridiculous reading it (on a Kindle, even). Definitely would get you out of the depressing category but I can't really bring myself to recommend it either.

Mrs. Commoner said...

I have Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle unread, in my to-be-sold pile. I'm not normally into reading anything deep unless I'm getting some sort of grade for it. I read to relax. For me, thinking while reading is not relaxing for me.

I just finished reading One Day - I thought it was good and required just enough brain energy to make it interesting but not too thought provoking.

Last summer, when the kids were away with their grandparents, I read Sophie's Choice. That was very thought provoking, and heartbreaking. Overall though, I thought it was an excellent book and was well written...aside from the fact that the Brooklyn geography was off (I grew up there and I kept getting stuck on the errors).

Right now I'm trying to read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close but I'm having a difficult time getting into it. Have you read it?

Slim said...

I just got my copy of Jenny Lawson's "Let's Pretend This Never Happened."

Maggie said...

The Sparrow is one of those books I read awhile ago but keep thinking about. As I tried to explain to a friend about it, I loved that absolutely everything in it was the logical conclusion of other sets of actions, but I did not see it coming. After finishing it and thinking back on it, I didn't see gaping plot holes or illogical actions, which seems unusual lately. Depressing as all heck, but a book I keep coming back to mentally.

PinkieBling said...

"It makes me feel like drinking." EXACTLY.

Swistle said...

Mrs. Commoner- I started it, but as soon as I realized it involved 9-11 I closed it.

Anonymous said...

I will tell you that the BEST book of short stories I ever read was Kurt Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House. It's a great mix - some sf, some mundane, some humor, a lot that made me think, and some that made me happy. Many people have read the most famous story from it, "Harrison Bergeron," but a lot of them are even better.

Nicole said...

Once I read, all in a row, a book about Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, The Glass Castle, and Sophie's Choice.

That was depressing.

Clarabella said...

My partner is a college professor, and he taught a class about apocalypse lit for a while and included Cat's Cradle. He was always pleasantly surprised by how his students reacted to it. (It's often hard to get non-English majors to like ANY book. Shocker, I know.)
I haven't read it, so I can't help, but I am of the opinion that if Vonnegut *doesn't* make you want to drink, you're doing *it* wrong.

Clarabella said...

Oh and P.S. Last year and friend of mine & I got "literary tattoos." I got "Boundless love," from one of my favorite lines of poetry from Frank O'Hara, and she got "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." from Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun. (She's a poet; I'm writing my dissertation on Faulkner. Funny how we switched that up.)
That was a fun day.

Type (little) a said...

Kurt Vonnegut is my very favorite author. You might like Mother Night

Vegas710 (St) said...

I feel so ignorant! I've never read Vonnegut, Orwell, Tolkien or Bradbury. Not even Salinger, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Hemingway or Austen.

Religious fundie homeschooling followed by Bible college (I've read everything by C.S. Lewis) gets most of the blame but each time I've tried to pick up a classic, I get bored really quickly. I'll try Vonnegut next, I'm sure I'll enjoy a classic eventually. :)

Vegas710 (St) said...

I forgot the whole reason I set out to write a comment!!
I can't believe I had never seen Contrariwise before! Thanks for the great link. :)

Kelsey said...

Part of the problem with reading book recommendations, listening to bookish stuff on NPR, and following library blogs is that I'd have to live to be about 5,000 years old to read everything on my list.

Maria Doria Russell is an author whose books I've read a lot about but never actually read. She's getting bumped up a little higher on my list.

I like the way you review books Swistle - and I was glad for that State of Wonder review a while back. We read it for my book club and I think I approached it maybe more openly because I'd liked your review of the book.

Blythe said...

I would recommend reading Children of God, the sequel to The Sparrow. It (somewhat unfairly) puts the whole story in a different light. I am a fan of both books but they are indeed depressing.

el-e-e said...

I didn't post about The Sparrow, but it is definitely one of my favorite (depressing) books. :)

Bibliomama said...

Ditto about The Sparrow. I gave it to my best friend and she was kind of angry that I didn't adequately explain how heartbreaking it was, which was probably fair. Have you read the sequel (I think it's called Children of Men, but I'm too lazy to go look at the shelf)? It's still terribly sad, but there's a sort of resolution. I'm still smarting from not being able to finish The Flame Alphabet. I love Vonnegut, though.

Jenny said...

Be warned: I loved The Sparrow (though yes with the crying) but gave up on the sequel within the first ten pages because the author CHEATED. She pulls a fast one on you with the very premise of the book, and I felt like a sucker, and I hate that. If you want to know what it is before reading it, I will share it through email, but don't want to share even mild spoilers online.

I have really liked others of her books, though. I still think The Sparrow is the most powerful, but others have been very good.

Swistle said...

Jenny- Oh, this is a terrible dilemma! I'm very glad to be warned about this.

Shelly said...

That was my review of The Sparrow that you're referencing! YAY!

The sequel is called Children of God, and yes, she does kind of pull a fast one in that something you think happened in the first book didn't happen exactly the way you thought it happened. And it's the most heartstring-pulling thing that happened that she goes back on, of course. She also pulls a really dirty move later in the book that I don't think the characters involved would really have gone along with. BUT! Just like with the first novel, there's so much RIGHT in the novel that I found I could get past the trickery, and I am usually very hard on authors about trickery. I don't like to feel like an author is manipulating the story at all. And I did feel that way, a little bit, in Children of God. But again, the story is so good, and it does resolve some of those issues from the first book, and the ending is just...well, it made me cry from happiness, that's all I'll say.

Swistle said...

Shelly- AH HA! Yes, I just went back and read your post, and your review is exactly right! I was dithering about the sequel, but if you liked it, that puts me on the side of wanting to read it: I'm VERY GLAD to know about the dirty moves ahead of time because otherwise I'd probably be too pissed to get past it---but knowing about them, I have different expectations and they likely won't affect me the same way.

nicole said...

I read The Sparrow years ago and loved it. I did not enjoy the sequel nearly as much, if I recall correctly.

I just read Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (or something close to that name, being lazy) and I loved it. Mystery with really great characters.

Shelly said...

Thank you, Swistle! Your comment is so sweet! And if you choose to buy the sequel and then don't like it, I will buy the copy from you. I checked it out from the library and ended up liking it so much I now want to buy it.

shriek house said...

The Sparrow is my all time favorite book ever ever ever, and I am SO glad you liked it! I agree the sequel pulls a fast one, but I liked it anyway, and it still leaves you with a lot of Deep Thinky Thoughts.

Need to read Vonnegut again. It's been maybe... well I don't need to say EXACTLY how many years. Too many.

Nil Zed said...

Oh, the tattoo blog! I am completely skeeved out by tattoos! and so many of them are NEW tattoos, doubly skeevy!

And yet, I kept scrolling and reading and scrolling and reading. And remembering all the things I've never read, that I ought to read.

I was in a school that had a special curriculum for smart kids, so by passed a lot of standard reading, and writing, training. and I dropped out of college. So I never have been required to read a lot of those hard books. I'm married to a professor, and we live in a neighborhood right by the University, with all the other professors and their equally as educated (often also professors) spouses. I feel so awkward sometimes, not having read things they all have read. Or I've read them alone, and missed the standard interpretation they got in classes.

I may subscribe to the blog just to get a kick in the library card, like you are having, to read those books. I wonder if I can somehow not see the pictures though?!

Veronica M. D. said...

Whoa, just had to check out Contrariwise. My little sister has four (FOUR!) Kurt Vonnegut tattoos and a Matilda tattoo (Matilda sitting by a stack of books). :)