This is a typical pre-trip conversation between my mum and I:
Mum: Are you all packed? Your dad wants to know, how heavy your bag is?
Me: All packed and I can carry it so it’s definitely not 50 pounds!
Mum: Be honest, how many books did you pack?
Me: … More than two and less than a thousand.
Mum: Your dad says to buy a Kindle.
Everyone has their thing. Some people pack six lipsticks into their pursue “just in case” while others travel with an entire pharmacy in their bag. For me, it’s always been books. Sure, realistically I know I won’t be reading four books in four days, but what if my plane gets delayed on the runway and then delayed due to weather and a five hour trip turns into an eight hour excursion? (That’s exactly what happened when I flew back to New York so I know it’s a real thing to say.) What if my friends are late? I could text OR I could enrich my mind with the works of Joan Didion. What if every animal at the zoo escapes, they shut down the 405, and I’ve already read the other three books I packed for the trip? So if anything, I’m actually a more responsible person for bringing an entire library on a plane.
This past trip to L.A. (more on that later) I was in full vacation mode. No laptop. No writing. No emails. No guilty thoughts about the responsibilities I should be taking care of instead of reading. The minute I got on the plane, it was all about the books, and in two flights, I had consumed two novels down, with a third on the way, proving that my overpacking book tendencies are not completely insane.
To Los Angeles, A Visit From the Goon Squad was the bibliophilic special and the perfect book to read in one siting due to the complicated relationships between each of the characters (see graph below). I almost can’t describe the plot because of all the details involved but broadly, the novel follows a host of characters related to one another through seven degrees of separation. The story moves in and out of a 20 year time frame and follows musicians, misguided teenagers, safari guides, mistresses, wives, music producers, and publicists as they come to terms with losing sight of the dreams that were once so vivid in their youth. The subtle clues showing how the characters are moving in and out of each others lives are incredible and made a little more (or less) clear below:
The book is a masterpiece and caused numerous debates between my friends and I about the ending. Is it hopeful? Is it hopeless? Some love it, some think it doesn’t stand up to the rest of the book, but for me, it was a nice book end to an incredible read. If you read this and love it, I recommend next The Imperfectionists. The story utilizes the same multi-character narrative following the staff of a declining French newspaper over a year.
There is a high chance you’ve already heard of Alison Bechdel. She’s is the woman behind the “Bechdel Scale” — a simple test that judges movies and television shows to see if they have two leading female characters that talk about anything other than men. It’s alarming to say, few pass this test.
Fun Home is Bechdel’s debut novel, self-identified as a tragicomedy, that follows Bechdel’s relationship with her father, a closeted gay man, and her own journey in understanding her sexuality. While the graphic novel covers childhood to college, each story revolves around Bechdel’s father’s suicide that happens two weeks after she shares with her family she’s a lesbian and in turn, learns her father is gay. The story is a powerful and personal look at one woman’s quest to please an unpleasable father, to understand the sacrifices of her mother, and embrace her sexuality in the wake of her father shunning his own. The novel reminded me of Persepolis in the way that the artist was able to transport readers into their memoirs through both art and writing.
Any book recommendations you might have, send them this way! Until the floor of my apartment collapses due to the weight of my bookcase, I will continue to say I don’t own enough literature.