Lincoln in the Bardo

“Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and, in this way, brought them forth. And now we must lose them.”

In honor of the Man Booker Prize winner being announced yesterday, and also because I am seriously lagging on my reading list so I can’t write about the winner since I haven’t read it yet, I decided to write about last year’s winner.

Last year, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo took the grand prize as the Man Booker Book of the Year.  Although it’s been sitting on my shelf since it won last October, I just managed to finish it yesterday – right on time to order the 2018 winner, Anna Burn’s The Milkman.  I am glad that I was so late in reading Lincoln in the Bardo, however, because October was the perfect month to read it:  the novel takes place over the length of one long, solitary night in a graveyard.

Solitary because the novel’s focus is on a single living character, Abraham Lincoln, and his lonely midnight sojourn to his young son’s grave.  Lincoln’s internal dialogue bombards the reader with tangible, raw waves of emotions.  Emotions that are vivid and familiar because they are emotions that we all have suffered: loss, grief, hopelessness, anger, regret…

Amplifying the palpable sense of loss is Saunders’ brilliant juxtaposition of Lincoln’s solitary grieving with a cacophony of voices: both historical and fictional, but all long dead.  Like us, these bodiless voices have experienced the emotions manifesting in Lincoln, and like us, they can act only as mere bystanders to his grief.  Both we and the voices are confined by time and space to the memory of our own losses and grief.

As the story matures, however, the reader – and the voices – come to realize that despite our seemingly individualized experiences, everyone must come to terms with death and accept that those who we love will eventually die.  And it is through this collective realization – and the realization that it is the love that makes life worth it, even with the eventual loss – that the voices in our book are able to find release and move on.

 

Without a Sense of an Ending

The lie of regret and of life gone off the rails.  What rails.  The life is the rails.  It is its own rails and it goes where it goes.  It cuts its own path.  My path took me here.

Okay – I will admit it.  I have been a mess the past month with way too much to do, so I utterly failed my goal of trying to read all of the books that were long-listed for the Man Booker Prize before the Short List came out, i.e. before today.

In my younger years – meaning up until now, but I am actively trying to change – I beat myself up about not reaching the goals that I set for myself.  But I’ve started (and before those of you who know me as a crazy type A person write me off, I said started) to realize, that I am human, and it is okay to fail at your goals sometimes.  In fact, goals should be aspirational so that in reaching for them, you accomplish more than what you otherwise would have had done.

What I mean to say, after all that rambling self-reflection, I have decided that instead of thinking that I failed by having a million other things to do that got in the way of my reading list, I’ve decided to be grateful for what I did accomplish – reading two great pieces of literature that I would not have otherwise gotten to had I not tried to read the entire Long List.

AND, I did manage to read one that made the Short List, Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room.  The Mars Room follows a young woman as she makes her way through the criminal justice system, and chronicles her attempt to come to terms with serving two life sentences.  The book was thought-provoking, especially with regards to the American justice system and the so-called “American Dream.”  The story itself, however, was not my cup of tea.

Admittedly, The Mars Room is not the type of book that I would have gone for myself – which is one reason I like reading books that have been nominated for prizes; it gets me out of my comfort zone – but as it is not my favorite type of novel, you do need to take my thoughts on it with a grain of salt.

In the novel, you come face-to-face with the vulgarities of life; strippers, drug dealers, murderers are all featured in the novel. And Words are not minced. Instead, the book breaks through our quixotic illusions of what we think the world is and should be and shows us the realities of a life that has become far too familiar to too many.  The result leaves the reader in a space where he or she must learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Facing reality is usually an uncomfortable business.

In fact, just as the reader is finding him or herself less guarded, opening up to the “family like” network that the characters have created for themselves, google and its vast knowledge of the world upends the unspoken agreement between the author and the reader that the main characters in this story are the protagonists – the wrongly incarcerated who are at the complete – and unfair – mercy of the criminal justice system.  Google tells the story of their crimes.  And some of their crimes are heinous.

It was this moment that I realized why this book had been long listed (and subsequently short listed).  It is Rachel Kushner’s ability to create a story full of multi-dimensional characters that are neither good nor bad, but fully human that sets her apart. Her novel is an ode to reality.  A reality that desperately needs to be acknowledged and has for so long gone unnoticed.

I will say, however, that if you do like your novels to end all wrapped up in a tight bow, you will definitely feel unsatisfied at the end of this book.  It leaves you, to borrow a phrase from Julian Barnes, but one that is especially apt here,  without the “sense of an ending.”

A Reprieve From Scotland: The Man Booker Dozen

Putting a pause in my Scotland Posts (I promise, I only have a couple more of those), the Man Booker Long List (or “Man Booker Dozen”) was announced last week.  The Man Booker prize is given to the “best novel,” written in English and published in the U.K. (a semi recent change of the Rules – previously, the authors had to be from the commonwealth) of the year.

I try to read the winner each year, but this year, I have decided to attempt to read the long-list before the short list is released on September 20th.  As I went to Amazon to order the books, however, some of them have yet to be released, at least in the U.S.  So my goal has been made easier (thank goodness, as I have a small pile of books sitting on my bedside table, and that pile has been slowly growing).

According to the Man Booker website, this year’s longlist include several dystopian books, giving this year’s list a theme of “a world on the brink.”  Additionally, many explore social class, gender, and family.

And so, without more, the “Man Booker Dozen” are:

Belinda Bauer (UK), Snap (Bantam Press): a crime novel about a mother going missing, and the aftermath of her disappearance on the family.

Anna Burns (UK), Milkman (Faber & Faber) (preorder only in the US): a novel that explores the consequences of corrupt political life on one’s domestic/family life.

Nick Drnaso (USA), Sabrina (Granta Books): the first ever graphic novel to be on the long list.  Another disappearance story line, but it is interwoven with how the 24-hour news cycle impacts our lives (a theme also explored by the 2003 Man Booker winner – Vernon God Little, and now, in my opinion, more relevant than ever).

Esi Edugyan (Canada), Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail) (preorder only in the US): a historical novel following an escaped slave on his road to freedom.

Guy Gunaratne (UK), In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press): a novel following friends and their interaction with urban life, focusing on the lives of the marginalized and oppressed.

Daisy Johnson (UK), Everything Under (Jonathan Cape): the story of an absentee mother trying to re-connect with her daughter and of the language they had invented together before the mother left.

Rachel Kushner (USA), The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape): a novel about incarceration in America.  This novel explores the criminal justice system, as well as gender, class, and the failure of the American Dream.

Sophie Mackintosh (Wales, UK), The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton): likened to the Handmaiden’s Tale, this novel explores the story of a mother and three girls who are kept on an island by the father – until one day the father leaves, and the women are left to survive on their own.

Michael Ondaatje (Canada), Warlight (Jonathan Cape): Ondaatje was just awarded the Golden Man Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient (which has also been turned into an academy award wining film, by the same name; starring Ralph Fiennes, may be better known as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films).  This novel, however, follows two children after the end of World War II and their mysterious caretaker.

Richard Powers (USA), The Overstory (Willian Heinemann)The Overstory is a story of the environment.  Following nine very different individuals, the novel eventually brings them together as each tries to save the final few trees left in the world.  This novel explores global warming, and its effects on all classes, genders, and races.

Robin Robertson (Scotland, UK), The Long Take (Picador)The Long Take is actually a novel in verse form.  It follows a man suffering from PTSD, and his attempt to cope with live after war.

Sally Rooney (Ireland), Normal People (Faber & Faber) (preorder only in the US): this novel looks at the intersection between classes through the lens of children.  A young middle class girl befriends her parents’ house cleaner’s son.  The story watches them grow up in two distinct social circles while trying to maintain their connection.

Donal Ryan (Ireland), From a Low and Quiet Sea (Doubleday Ireland): Separated into four parts – the first three sections tell the story of three men.  The first, a man deciding whether to flee Syria with his family.  The second, a brokenhearted bus-driver in Ireland. And, lastly, a manipulator searching for forgiveness.  The final sections brings all three together in their search for home and acceptance.

This year’s judges include: Kwame Anthony Appiah (Chair); Val McDermid; Leo Robson; Jacqueline Rose; and Leanne Shapton.

I am still waiting on a couple of the books to get to my house, but, as some of them have arrived, let the reading begin!

Welcome to Edinburgh

Today was my first day back in the real world, and needless to say, I am coming down from my travel high.  What a whirlwind of a trip.  If I could sum up Scotland in a single phrase, it would be: “majestically dramatic.”  The imposing nature of the landscape created both a mysterious and daunting atmosphere – making writing about it similarly daunting.  So I am going to give you my thoughts on a piecemeal basis.  Today, starting with Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle

DSC_0016The Sir Walter Scott Monument

DSC_0067

Sir Walter Scott is one of the many authors that was born in Scotland.  He wrote the Waverley novels, including Ivanhoe and Rob Roy.   (Other Scottish literary figures include Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and J.K. Rowling.)  Scott’s work celebrates Highland culture, which – at the time – was in danger of being eradicated, and his work has been attributed to reviving it.

King Arthur’s Seat

DSC_0091.jpg

Climbing this hill was one of my favorite things that we did the whole trip.  And the view from the top of the hill – incredible:

DSC_0118 (1).jpg

DSC_0120.jpg

We did make the mistake of not bringing water on our trek.  Major failure.  Bring water.

A fun fact about Edinburgh – if you are a Harry Potter fan – is that it provided inspiration to J.K. Rowling.  For instance, Diagon Alley is said to be based on Victoria Street, Hogwarts is supposedly inspired by an Edinburgh prep school – George Heriot’s, and the names of McGonagall and Tom Riddell come from Greyfriars Kirkyard.

DSC_0031
Victoria’s Street aka Diagon Alley
DSC_0041
Tom Riddell and His Father
DSC_0038
McGonagall’s Grave 
DSC_0065.JPG_1
J.K. Rowling’s Handprints

 

I am currently rereading the Harry Potter books – I am on the Prisoner of Azkaban – for the first time as an adult, and it is fascinating what I missed when I read them as a child/teen.

But, back to Edinburgh, we did a lot of eating and drinking, and I have listed by favorite places below.

Montpeliers Bar & Brasserie

The Dragonfly

IMG_2537

The Grain Store

IMG_2539

We also went to a few others, including Black Pig & Oyster, The Kitchin, and Café Tartine.  All three are in the same stretch near the Royal Britannia , next to a beautiful fountain, with seating outside.

Next up – Trossachs National Park.

Pack with me for Scotland

As I get ready for my trip, I thought I would share what I am packing.  I have never been to Scotland before so packing has included some guesswork.  By the end of the trip, I can share with you what worked and what didn’t, but for now, here are some of  – what I am assuming – will be the essentials.

IMG_2293

During our trip, the weather is generally “mostly cloudy” with highs in the low 70s/ high 60s and lows in the 50s.  Rain is also likely.  So item one on the list is a rain jacket.  My rain jacket is the Venture 2 jacket from North Face.  My hiking boots are Oboz Bridger Mid in Walnut.  My leggings are from Lulu Lemon, and I got my sweatshirt while hiking in West Glacier, Montana (a trip that is definitely worth taking if you’ve been thinking about visiting out-West).

IMG_2350.jpg

We rented a car for our trip, and I was unaware that Hertz required non-EU citizens to have an international driving permit until yesterday… so I was in a panic.  But, as it turns out, it is SUPER easy to get one.  You just need two passport photos – which i got in about two minutes at CVS – and your license.  Then just fill out this easy form, and take it to your nearest AAA.  The whole process took about five minutes, and I walked out of AAA with a permit – same day.  So if you booked a car and didn’t realize that you needed a permit, don’t panic.  I’m just hoping that this international driving excursion turns out better than my last one…. When I went on a trip to Ireland, I ended up totaling the car.  However, in my defense, the roads there are treacherous.  In fact, when we were returning the car, the lady at the rental agency was on the phone with someone who had crashed within five hours of picking up the car.  My advice – get the insurance.  It is worth it.

On another note, I have recently become a makeup geek – the only other lady at my office is a makeup goddess and she turned me on to the beauty industry; now I can’t get enough … which, if you’ve read my other post, is a ongoing theme in my personality.

In any event, choosing what products to bring with me when I travel has become difficult.  (As one of my best friends would say – what a “champaign problem.”)  I do, however, have a few specific products that I know I can rely on and therefore they come with me on every trip. They include, in no particular order: physician’s formula butter bronzer, Tarte shape tape, Two Faced’s Better Than Sex mascara (this mascara gets sold out very quickly – but it is also available at sephora, Marc Jacob’s velvet noir major mascara, Maybelline Fit Me matte and poreless powder, Laura Mercier translucent loose setting powder, and Chloé Eau de Parfum (the scent lasts FOREVER and I am in love with it).

IMG_2327

My current obsession is this new wallet that I bought for this trip from Aspinal of London.  It has dividers for tickets, passport, documents, and boarding passes, along with a little pouch for change.  It seemed perfect when I bought it, but it has yet to stand the test of actually being used – so I will let you know how it worked out.  For now, it seemed like a great investment.

IMG_2347.jpg

Finally, choosing a book to come with me is also a challenging task.  I’m currently in the middle of a couple – I tend to read multiple books at once because I never know what kind of reading I will be in the mood for night-to-night – but I don’t usually like to bring one that I have already started when I am traveling.  Bringing a brand new book avoids the problem of finishing one before the trip is over, and having to lug two books home.  Additionally, the book needs to be paper-back so that I can lug it around with me without feeling like my arm is going to fall off.  My problem there is that I am a super for hard-back books, so most of the books that I own that are on my “to-read” list are hardbacks.

The few that I do have are mostly history and include:

  • Allison Weir’s Queen Isabella
  • Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare 
  • Lawrence Goldstone’s The Activist 
  • Roger Crowley’s City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas
  • Anthony Everitt’s Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician

I still am up in the air, but I’ll let you know what I end up choosing.