Freestyle Friday: September 23, 2016

Oh, hi there. It’s been a while. Thought I’d just drop by and talk about books for a bit.

I just finished Commonwealth by Ann Patchett this week. I never wanted it to end and I am sorely tempted to read it again right away. I’ve read everything Patchett has published, and I believe this is her very best work. I tend to prefer her fiction more than her non-fiction, mainly because I find her sort of insufferable, but in a likable way. She tries to be self-effacing, but she’s so very privileged and talented (and she works hard) that she comes across as the world’s most inept practitioner of the humble brag. Anyway, that’s not really the point. The point is she has managed to write a family saga that never gets caught up in the misery of dysfunction. The Cousins and the Keatings (and the blended family that results) certainly have their share of weirdness and anger and tragedy, but in Patchett’s tale, they just come across as people brought together by the accident of birth or marriage who somehow learn to co-exist with each other (or the idea of each other) and to have respect, if not love, for each other. I like that she doesn’t play anger or estrangement or grief to the hilt, but instead just lets them be natural reactions to circumstances where those reactions are not necessarily overblown. I’m almost hoping that this book sets up a new model for family dramas. The other surprise about Commonwealth is that it’s funny—and laugh-out-loud funny at times. Oh, I miss it already.

So I mentioned I thought this was Patchett’s best book, so for transparency’s sake, here’s my full list in order from best to pretty good (because let’s face it, nothing she writes is bad):

  1. Commonwealth
  2. State of Wonder
  3. Bel Canto
  4. Truth & Beauty 
  5. The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life
  6. The Patron Saint of Liars
  7. The Magician’s Assistant
  8. Run
  9. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (which also contains The Getaway Car)
  10. Taft

Another writer I found insufferable recently (although not in a charming way) was Ottessa Mosfegh. Her interview in The Guardian rubbed me the wrong way. As a matter of fact, I had Eileen on my TBR, but I removed it after reading the interview. The thing is, writers don’t have to be likable. They can be downright unlikable and still be great writers. But I felt like she was insulting her readers, if indirectly, and also other writers, and that doesn’t really work for me. She doesn’t have to do blog book tours or kiss up to anyone, but maybe keep quiet about her contempt. The way I see it is this: plenty of other books on the shelf—plenty of other really good books that were maybe thisclose to being nominated for literary prizes, and Eileen got their spot. I think I’ll read those books instead.

I just started reading All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. We leave for vacation in Amsterdam next Thursday, so I hope to finish that before we go. Of course, that leaves me with the dilemma of what to read on the plane. Last year I tried to listen to audio books. BIG mistake. I fell asleep and missed most everything, so this year I’m sticking with my Kindle. Possible selections are Sara Taylor’s The Shore and Amor Towles’s The Rules of Civility. I always buy a couple of books at The American Book Center to read on the trip hoe and as a souvenir. This year I’ve got my eye on Tana French’s The Trespasser, but the other one’s a wild card. Maybe Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad or Amor Towles’s new one, A Gentleman in Moscow.

I haven’t written in so long, I don’t know if anyone’s still out there…If you are, what’s your favorite Ann Patchett novel? And do you ever decide not to read a book because the author rubs you the wrong way?

Happy Friday, everyone. Enjoy!

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7 comments

  1. My favourite Patchett novel is Bel Canto right now, but I haven’t read Commonwealth yet. You’re not the first one I’ve heard say it’s her best yet, so I’m looking forward to it!
    I hope you’re liking All My Puny Sorrows – I loved that one.
    I don’t usually look into authors closely until after I’ve read their book, so I can’t think of a time when I’ve decided not to read one because they’ve rubbed me the wrong way. I read Eileen a while ago and really liked it, but it was definitely morbid. She does come across a bit harsh in that interview, doesn’t she?

  2. I have definitely decided not to read books because the authors rubbed me the wrong way. Like, Lionel Shriver was such a jerk lately that it’s put me off ever reading one of her books — I’d idly planned that at some point I’d give at least We Need to Talk about Kevin a try, but I’m going to miss it out, now.

  3. So glad to hear that Commonwealth is your favorite Patchett. With how much I loved her other novels (the ones I’ve read) this can only be a good thing. It’s good to read your post – and have a wonderful vacation in Amsterdam! By the way, Rules of Civility is just wonderful.

  4. Naomi, to be honest I think this is the first time I’ve ever decided not to read a book because of the author. Usually I fall in the camp of separating the author’s life and work. I may change my mind in the future, because it sounds like a book I would like.

    I was having trouble getting into All My Puny Sorrows–my fault, not the book’s–but I picked up Crow Lake by Mary Larson and cannot put it down! I’ll go back to All My Puny Sorrows as soon as I’ve finished this one.

    I hope you enjoy Commonwealth when you read it! Did you read State of Wonder?

  5. Jenny, if it’s any consolation, I’ve tried to read We Need to Talk about Kevin three or four times, and it just never works for me. I’d say given that and her current rhetoric, you might as well move on and not feel too bad about it. With Mossfegh, I think I’ll just wait and see about her next book. I don’t think she’ll win the Booker…but then who knows?

  6. Laila, I don’t think she could write a bad book if she tried. She could write a grocery list on a piece of toilet paper, and I would read it. Commonwealth was a surprise because it’s funny, and usually her books are quite serious. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts when you get around to reading it.

    Thanks for the rec for Rules of Civility! the other one I was thinking about getting for the trip was another one you really liked, Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me, but I may save that for Nonfiction November if I decide to participate.

  7. Yes – I also loved State of Wonder – just not quite as much as Bel Canto. It might just be because Bel Canto was my first Ann Patchett – maybe it’s a sentimental thing?

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