This has been my worst reading year so far. For many years I’ve read at least one book a week to keep my brain running; in the last six months I’ve finished exactly three (The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild—very amusing, Gun Dealers’ Daughter by Gina Apostol—required reading on the last years of martial law, and the Modiano. Almost forgot Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, which is a very short novel). In that time I started but abandoned A Little Life, My Brilliant Friend, The Three Body Problem and City on Fire. I will go back to them, but for now I just want to get back into the habit.
So method reading. Like method acting, but not so extreme. Just pick a soundtrack for the novel, and maybe food and drink. It’s all about the mood.
Patrick Modiano writes short (120pp), intense novels about memory and identity, very “French” in that nothing much happens outwardly and he doesn’t go for great stylistic effects but you feel wrecked afterwards and wonder how he did it.
Pair with the Elevator to the Gallows soundtrack by Miles Davis, and Pernod.
Noah Hawley is the creator of TV’s Fargo, which is better than any movie I’ve seen at the theatre this year. I’m looking forward to this thriller.
Pair with the Fargo season 2 soundtrack, and whiskey.
Update: Riveting. It’s a lot like Fargo season 2, in which every character is the protagonist of her own story, and then all their stories collide and we try to make sense of the rich randomness of life. Before the Fall starts with a literal bang: a private jet takes off from Martha’s Vineyard (which reminds me of JFK Jr) and crashes into the water minutes later. Was it an accident, or was it a crime? The Bill O’Reilly-like TV host thinks it’s terrorism because the passengers included the head of a cable news network who routinely receives death threats and a Wall street guy who deals with blacklisted governments. The only survivors are a four-year-old boy and a failed artist whose canvases, unfortunately for him, portray the aftermaths of disaster. Especially recommended for long-haul flights.
Emma Cline’s novel is about a girl who joins a cult led by a Charles Manson-like character in late 60s California.
Pair with California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and The Papas. Do not read while eating a chicken sandwich (Look it up, children).
Update: Compelling and evocative. Transforms the reader into a 14-year-old girl in California in 1969. Evie is living with her divorcee mom who is on a perpetual quest to find herself and bouncing from one terrible boyfriend to the next, fed all the cliches about how girls are supposed to be, and raised to believe that a female is nothing if she does not get male attention. One day she sees a girl not much older than herself, who seems to be perfectly comfortable in her own skin. She gets drawn into the cult. The descriptions of the filth and squalor of the cult’s ranch made me want to boil myself. The Girls is both seductive and repulsive: you can’t stop reading it; you know the horror that is coming and you want details. It makes a snuff movie voyeur out of you, and as good as the novel is you find yourself asking why this oft-told story had to be repeated.