As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I am a teacher. Depending on the semester, I don’t have very much time to read. Prior to the semester starting, this year I had read 73 books (Goodreads helps me keep track). Between October and a couple of days ago I had read none. That’s because I am teaching two very highly intensive college writing courses, so while I have read no published material, I have read about 500 five page papers written by freshmen, which is why all the blog posts for the past few months have been focused on television and film – I simply needed to detach from reading in my time off and couldn’t focus my eyes at night on anything typed. Yesterday, though, I spent a bit of time on the train and before getting on I stopped for coffee at a Starbucks inside a Barnes & Noble and saw that two new publications were on the shelf and both were quite petite, the perfect size for a quick read on the train. As the semester is not quite over (one very busy and overwhelming week left) I needed something that was not a commitment and that I could finish really quickly. I picked up the two booklets (one for the way there, one for the way back) and happily got on the train in good company. The size of the books also would make for some nice stocking stuffers for readers, as the holidays are upon us.
“The Grownup” by Gillian Flynn
Most readers are already familiar with Gillian Flynn. The author’s third novel, Gone Girl, was a huge literary sensation, garnering lots of attention and a movie adaptation directed by David Fincher. This short story had previously been published in a collection of stories edited by George R.R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame), but has just been published on its own for the first time. The story fits in the genre of horror/mystery/thriller. The narrator is a woman in her thirties and her voice is extremely funny, relatable, ironic, and dry. She discusses the events in such a matter-of-fact way that I had to back several times to comprehend the actual events described, for often the narration was so aloof that disturbing topics were nearly glossed over as absolutely normal. This short story is definitely not for the faint of heart: it’s not terribly scary, but it’s definitely not for the prudish. The first two pages of the story are so dirty and hilarious, I will remember this story for a really long time. The narrator is a sex worker, but not technically a prostitute, for she only engages in, er…, digital stimulation of male clients (handjobs). The business she works for operates the sex favors in the back, while in the front fortune telling services are provided. The narrator makes the jump to the front of the house and one day is visited by a distraught and terrified woman who believes her house to be responsible for unexplained events and the bizarre changes in behavior of her stepson. To say more would ruin the twists and turns the short story takes over the course of its brisk and delightful 60 pages. Heavily influenced by Henry James and gothic 18th century literature with modern twists, Flynn demonstrates that she has a knack for pacing, style, and refreshing characters that don’t conform to expected archetypes. This is definitely a reading for adults. Such fun!
“Gratitude” by Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks passed away just three months ago, after an eye melanoma he had been living with for over a decade metastasized in his liver and eventually led to the death of the beloved physician and author. This publication is very similar to Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality, as it is a collection of essays written while undergoing treatment for a fatal disease and coming to terms with one’s mortality and impeding death. This publication is made up of four essays previously published in The New York Times, and now bound together for the first time as a collection of a man’s thoughts on his life, past, future, illness, and death. As a relatively healthy person in their thirties one would think that this book would not be appealing or applicable to me, but I found myself really engaged with Sacks’ words and his writing style. I had never read his other publications, but his voice and prose are beautiful and relatable, he does not write like an academic or unapproachable man of science and intellect, even though he is. Sacks delivers a powerful and lasting eulogy not so much about himself, but rather dedicated to the world he lived and the experiences he had and the people who made an impression in his 82 years of life. Sacks has left a notable legacy as a neurologist, author, and activist. Gratitude provides the most appropriate bookend to such an illustrious life.