Posts tagged books
Posts tagged books
Michael Lewis’s work has always straddled the line between straight-up reportage and first-person essayage, but Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt is the first time I’ve seen the latter conquer the former. This has more to do with the timing of the book’s publication than anything else. I admire the work he’s done here, but there are a lot of footnotes that keep undoing any pretense that this book is just about telling a good story.
For example, on page 202, Lewis notes, “When the last history of high-frequency trading is written, Hunsader, like Joe Saluzzi and Sal Arnuk of Themis Trading, deserves a prominent place in it.” Okay, that’s a good idea—wait—why didn’t they get a prominent place in this book? Since you already know about them and everything? And are writing about HFT? This happens several times, Lewis leaving an Easter egg suggestion for this someday-maybe book about high-frequency trading. I’m assuming that’s because he felt it was important to publish this information ASAP. There is a sense of urgency driving the book, though that could just be the adrenaline rush that pumps alongside most writing about financial services—but there’s also a sense of wonder and outrage that’s more present than some of his other writing about similarly outrageous financial issues.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in my eyes, because I do think it’s urgent that more people understand how high-frequency trading works, and that we talk about it, and don’t allow large swaths of the economy to be invested in financial tools that aren’t even adequately understood by the people holding the reins. But it does lend the book an unbalanced feeling, as it’s hard to tell whether Lewis wants you to understand high-frequency trading or just be mad at it. Perhaps both. It’s worth reading (at least this excerpt) anyway.
Kate Gavino of @lastnightsreading is live-drawing at @housingworksbks and it is just the greatest!
I stopped by the Bowery Poetry Club to hear Teju Cole speak this morning (along with Hari Kunzru and Katie Kitamura who I haven’t read) and fangirl-ed a lot to Lamya, my partner in crime for all things downtown literary fest, when I realized lastnightsreading was actively drawing the speakers. Also Teju Cole is just as great of a speaker as I imagined, somehow infusing even casual chatter with sharp literary references and wry humor, and that was all I needed on a sunny Sunday.
(To be fair, I am pretty sure everybody would like Katie Kitamura, I’m just 100% positive about this particular recommendation.)
I have found so far that nobody, bookseller nor librarian nor patron nor customer, wants to hear my very thoughtful thoughts regarding Frog Music by Emma Donoghue. They want only to know: “Is it like Room?” So here is a PSA:
No, Frog Music is nothing like Room.
It is really good, though, regardless of how you felt about Room.
I hope this is helpful to you!
Every year I look forward to the Tournament of Books for several reasons, but primarily because it forces me to read a book I’ve had on the pile for ages. As the ToB has come to an end this week, that book has been The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, at first because of its bracket-busting abilities. Any book that could potentially be better than Life After Life and The Goldfinch seemed like a good choice. And: wow! Was it ever!
I like nothing more than being surprised by a book, and this book surprised me on multiple fronts. I finished it this morning, and was stunned into staring out the train window at the sunrise. As both judgments linked above make clear, Yanagihara is a spectacular writer. What’s impressive beyond her obvious ability, though, is her ability to write in the pompous voice of a horrible person while simultaneously skewering that person, all without her beautiful descriptions of a heartbreakingly fictional time and location feeling out of place. Further, though she builds up tension so subtly that I’m not sure I’d be able to expect it on a re-read, that tension strengthens to the point of near breath-holding in the final sections.
Life After Life came back in the Zombie Round and beat it, and I can see why—though this book is incredible, I think Life was a masterpiece. But it’s fitting, because this book reminds me, in spirit, of Atkinson’s debut novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It is similarly audacious, and has inspired a similar devotion: I will read anything Yanagihara writes moving forward, as I do for Atkinson.
BECAUSE NO MATTER WHAT YOU WISH FOR,
YOU WILL GET A MASSIVE BOAT
I was lucky enough to have When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, the story of three Bed-Stuy boys who get in over their heads when they try to be cool, as my traveling partner on the trek home from PLA yesterday. It’s great—I haven’t read such a funny and heartbreaking voice in YA since Absolutely True Diary. I have become increasingly uninterested in YA in the last few years, but books like this remind me why I loved it in the first place. Just fabulous.
Which is ironic, in light of Christopher Myers’ article today: The Apartheid of Children’s Literature. It opens with a depressing fact: “Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people.” Myers expertly parses through how this might have happened despite lots of talk about diversity from practically all publishers, and then comes to:
The closest I can get to the orchestrator of the plot — my villain with his ferret — is The Market. Which I think is what they all point to because The Market is so comfortably intangible that no one is worried I will go knocking down any doors. The Market, I am told, just doesn’t demand this kind of book, doesn’t want book covers to look this or that way, and so the representative from (insert major bookselling company here) has asked that we have only text on the book cover because white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover — or so The Market says, despite millions of music albums that are sold in just that way.
This is completely correct, in my experience. Despite the fact that almost everybody I talk to about children’s books is involved in their creation and marketing—(it’s a small world)—almost all conversations turn on how hamstrung everybody feels by The Market. Everyone holding the reins and complaining about the horse at the other end.
I think, unfortunately, Myers is right when he says “I will make a fantastic world, a cartography of all the places a girl like her can go, and put it in a book. The rest of the work lies in the imagination of everyone else along the way, the publishers, librarians, teachers, parents, and all of us, to put that book in her hands.” This is unfortunate because so far, we have not been up to that challenge. But hopefully it is also inspiring. Looking to do something besides blame The Market? Reading and promoting Jason Reynolds’ stellar book would be a good place to start.
Ironically, now that publishers have stopped pinning “for readers who loved Gone Girl!” to any thriller with a complex female protagonist that stays put long enough, a book that is actually for readers who loved Gone Girl has popped up its head. That book is Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. Chockablock with moral ambivalence and thoughtful examination of the relationships between men and (strong) women, this book will string you along slowly and then go for a punch that you know is coming, and which will surprise you anyway. One scene actively repulsed me (like, I was making weird lizardy motions with my neck trying to get away from it), which I always love in a book. Great smart thriller.
I love independent book stores. I want them to succeed, and I hear and understand their frustrations about the Amazon situation. Over the years as an author, I’ve worked with some great, great indies and indie people who are on point with their management, strategy, customer relations, marketing, event planning. I have also worked with indies who are angry and distraught about Amazon but still running their businesses like there is no Amazon. Stores that make silly mistakes when it comes to using social media or don’t use it at all, stores that don’t communicate consistently or clearly with existing customers, or don’t try to figure out how to reach out to new ones, stores whose web sites don’t display their location and hours on the front page, stores that sell Kobos without explaining to customers how to set up an account so it actually benefits their store, stores that don’t hire smart, stores that have gone out of business two months after opening because they’re not creatively problem-solving how they can offer customers something Amazon can’t—because they have an attitude that says it’s the customer’s job to support and patronize them in solidarity against The Man (yeah, there was this one store that basically blamed local authors and its potential customers for its failure). I want indies to succeed and I do what I can to see that happen. But dude, in this climate, you gotta bring your A game.
Observe: Sara gets into one paragraph more compassion and pragmatism about the current state of indie bookselling than most people can manage in a full article.