February 2018 Books


Books acquired

  • Feel Free, Zadie Smith
  • Down and Across, Arvin Ahmadi

Books read

  • A Year in Van Nuys, Sandra Tsing Loh
  • Lady Susan, Jane Austen
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  • Down and Across, Arvin Ahmadi

In February, I kept up with my 2018 fiction vs non-fiction alternation goals and also tried to start doing Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder challenge. Hence Lady Susan (“a book published posthumously”) and In Cold Blood (“a book of true crime”), although let’s be real, I’ve been meaning to finish out Austen’s bibliography and try some Capote anyway. But this was a good push! Unclear if I’m going to keep it up, though, because I have way too many books that I already own to finish so that I can maybe get rid of them before I move out of my current apartment.

I found A Year in Van Nuys in my parents’ house and it looked like it might be fun, because I do have some affection for/fascination with the suburbs of Los Angeles. But nah–the writing style is super unpolished, the comic observations are all pretty tired and clichéd, even for 2001, and it doesn’t even contain much of the LA-suburban specificity promised by the title.

Lady Susan is perhaps not substantial enough to join the ranks of my favorite Austens, but it is delightfully bitchy! (Also, the edition I checked out from the library was from the Melville House “Art of the Novella” series, and man, I am still so into their branding. Good job, guys.)

Not sure how to feel about In Cold Blood, but I guess I’m glad to now know what the deal with that is. It’s basically compelling, but there is something uncomfortable about the amount of dialogue and novelistic psychological descriptions of characters in a purportedly non-fiction book because if you think about it, it’s like…well, Capote wasn’t actually there, so even with extensive research and information gleaned from interviews, a lot of this is just artistic extrapolation, right? I’m sure this was discussed to death when it came out, though, and it’s going to be a thing with all true-crime novels; after all, the genre wouldn’t be that interesting if we didn’t go into the heads of the criminals involved, but still, how can we?

I don’t read enough YA to have an opinion on the relative merits of Down and Across, probably. It…seems like pretty standard YA? The author went to my school, so pretty weird perspective going into this: 1) totally jealous of someone my age publishing a novel (even though it’s not like I actually have any ideas for a novel of my own and/or the work ethic/talent to write one) and 2) totally curious how (if at all) our school experience would be reflected in fiction.

Selected quotes:

Lady Susan

There needed not this last fit of the gout to make me detest Mr. Johnson, but now the extent of my aversion is not to be estimated. To have you confined, a nurse in his apartment! My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age!—just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout—too old to be agreeable, and too young to die.

savage af

In Cold Blood

Without exception, Garden Citians deny that the population of the town can be socially graded (“No, sir. Nothing like that here. All equal, regardless of wealth, color, or creed. Everything the way it ought to be in a democracy; that’s us”), but, of course, class distinctions are as clearly observed, and as clearly observable, as in any other human hive. A hundred miles west and one would be out of the “Bible Belt,” that gospel-haunted strip of American territory in which a man must, if only for business reasons, take his religion with the straightest of faces, but in Finney County one is still within the Bible Belt borders, and therefore a person’s church affiliation is the most important factor influencing his class status. A combination of Baptists, Methodists, and Roman Catholics would account for eighty percent of the country’s devout, yet among the elite—the businessmen, bankers, lawyers, physicians, and more prominent ranchers who tenant the top drawer—Presbyterians and Episcopalians predominate. An occasional Methodist is welcomed, and once in a while a Democrat infiltrates, but on the whole the Establishment is composed of right-wing Republicans of the Presbyterian and Episcopalian faiths.