Three in One: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Death in Venice AND Landline

Folks. People. Friends. Readers.

It’s been a flurry. I’ve read not one, not two, but THREE books. And all of them were mostly okay but not inspiring enough to make me like YES-this-needs-its-own-post, so you’re getting this mashup. Buckle up.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was for the book club I’m in that has mostly new parents as members. For the most part these meetings roll like this: wine, snacks, 8-10 minute discussion of book, several hours discussing life. For whatever reason this is also a book club that consistently picks Tragic novels full of Sadness and Loss (and usually some horrific parenting failure or trauma). So there was some hope that The Perks would be less… wrenching. Alas. Once again we found ourselves in the weeds of heartbreak. Some of us read the book as younger people, and I’d guess the audience is young adult – something of a Catcher in the Rye feel (which our protagonist reads at one point in a mostly on the nose reflexive moment about the novel’s own perceived importance). Protagonist is poorly understood by his family, wanders the world looking for connection – find its, finds in connection the possibility of redemption, must work through trauma in order to fully realize self, questions the worth of a fully realized self, time spent in hospital, accepts self for who he really is: ta-da.  What the book does pretty well is to upset our expectations of sources of trauma, even while reinforcing a narrative of triumphant coming-of-age through suffering. I’d share the insights of book club folks, but to be fair, we ended up talking more about SNC Lavelin and toddlers. Oh well.

Death in Venice was for the other book club I’m in. The meetings follow the reverse structure: snacks, an hour or so of book talk, some discussion of life. This book club has tried a couple of different book selection methods. In our first year we all took turns choosing whatever books we wanted. Probably because we are all past graduate students in English, we ended up erring on the side of Literary and Important. As it turns out the ratio of Literary and Important books to Actually Enjoyable to Read or Consistently Great is… unreliable. So we ended up reading a lot of things we recognized as ‘good’ or ‘serious’ but also as… irritating. We then let the pendulum swing to the side of popular by only choosing books from the NYT bestseller list. This selection method led to the (now infamous) selection of Bridge of Madison County and we all got panicked that we’d forgotten how to discern quality. Doubting our faculties, we let the pendulum swing in the other direction and are now on a spate of only selecting Classics of the Canon. Hence Death in Venice (and Madame Bovary…). I listened to this one on audio book while driving through the dark and boy was it menacing and great and disturbing. Our protagonist finds himself in Venice enthralled by a young man/boy. So entranced is he by the boy (the novel – in excellent translation – calls him a boy, so I’ll go with that) that he risks a cholera epidemic to stay close to him. The narcissist myth plays out in the pursuit of youth and beauty, and we watch (no spoiler – it’s in the title) our protagonist choose/succumb to death rather than abandon the proximity of such beauty and desire. The book is densely layered in symbol and Idea and is both a delight to read and talk about (we also suspect it would be fun to teach).

Landline came to me by way of the ‘take-a-book-leave-a-book’ basket at work. It is almost completely mindless and silly and not really worth your time. I read it on a plane with a screaming toddler nearby and it was just distracting enough. Premise: failing marriage, woman finds a phone that lets her husband in the past, through the phone calls figure out how to fix marriage in the present (AND MAKE THE MARRIAGE HAPPEN IN THE FIRST PLACE because time travel). Children are described by way of their warm breath on your neck which is probably all you need to know.

I am now reading a great book and promise the post will only come six weeks late this time. Maybe. Ha ha.

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Filed under Bestseller, Book Club, Fiction

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