Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness

Posted on 24 October 2012 | 19 responses


It’s always difficult to convey in words when a book has moved you beyond comprehension. I half-wish Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe’s Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness could’ve been the book we read together as a group two years ago. It’s because this book is infinitely stronger in its depiction of life in all its harrowing glory, physically and emotionally and mentally, yet still keeping intact a certain beauty. I wouldn’t have minded for myself, because I had resolved long ago to read all of Oe’s books translated in English, but for the others who were put off from reading more Oe because of their dislike for A Personal Matter. I wish they had read this.

This collection is composed of four novellas, the first one being the longest and most disturbing, which I talked about hereThe Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away is a difficult story to begin because the mad, unreliable narrator is in your face from the very first page, screaming at you, and then jumping back and forth in narrative between his inner self and the people surrounding him. It succeeds quite well in getting the reader acquainted with his mental condition.

And then he settles back as he recounts his traumatic childhood in countryside Japan during the World War II with his father. The story eases you then into his past, in a more tranquil manner now, but then grips you and shakes you with horror and distress. My own feeling took me by surprise, taking me from wariness and circumspection at the beginning towards awe and admiration in the end.

His heart pumped vigorously and the pressure in his blood vessels surged until his eardrums sang and all he could hear on the other side of that curtain of piercing sound was the silence of all things. (95)

The second story, Prize Stock, takes place in a much poorer, more isolated village, where the inhabitants are less affected by the war due to their location’s and their people’s insignificance. Kids are restless and bored and desperately looking for things to do. One day things dramatically change when the adults capture a black American soldier who solely survived a plane crash.

The story, in the most accessible voice of all in this collection, is told from the perspective of a child. It aches with a lingering tenderness somehow, but lightly and staggeringly pulled by the grotesque and the morbid. And Oe does it so effectively, too. (Sorry, I won’t quote any of the grotesque and morbid here, as this is a GP blog.)

I climbed down the narrow stairs at the approach to the bridge and walked to the river for a drink of water. Tall wormwood bushes clustered thickly along the bank. I kicked and tore my way through them to the river’s edge, but the water was a stagnant, dirty brown. It struck me I was a miserable and meager creature. (133)

The third story, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, tells of a father’s obsessive attachment to his mentally disabled son, and also of his obsessive desire to know how his own father died during the war, since his mother refuses to talk about it.

The minute he found himself free a miserable loneliness rose in him and withered his already slender spirit. (171)

Aghwee the Sky Monster, the fourth and last story, is a whimsical Tokyo tale with a surprisingly light narrative voice for Oe. A father driven to a quiet sort of madness by guilt over his son’s death. The voice may be light, yes, but the message and the impact nonetheless as deep and heavy as the other stories here.

Life was like a family emerging from the darkness, coming together for a brief time around a lighted candle, and then disappearing one by one into their own darkness once again. (218)

This book has collective, recurring themes, which are reflective as well of his other works. The most apparent, war and militarism, the father-and-son relationship, and madness. In particular, emperor-worship, of which Oe is passionately against. In contrast, his own father, who died in the World War II, was a loyal supporter of the imperial system. The first three of these stories explore different versions of his father. Two of them explore different versions of his own son Hikari. In all of these, too, the mothers are either absent or distanced from the son, whether physically or emotionally.

From *The Paris Review:

He describes most of his fiction as an extrapolation of the themes explored in two novels: A Personal Matter, which recounts a father’s attempt to come to terms with the birth of his handicapped child; and The Silent Cry, which depicts the clash between village life and modern culture in postwar Japan.*

Oe reveals to the interviewer, Sarah Fay:

“One of my main literary methods is “repetition with difference.” I begin a new work by first attempting a new approach toward a work that I’ve already written—I try to fight the same opponent one more time. Then I take the resulting draft and continue to elaborate upon it, and as I do so the traces of the old work disappear. I consider my literary work to be a totality of differences within repetition.”*

“I haven’t seen many great things. I haven’t been to a new world. I haven’t had many strange experiences. I have experienced many little things. I write about those small experiences and revise them and reexperience them through revision.”*

I believe that to be able to appreciate Oe and understand his vision one has to experience a collective reading of his works. Every single story I’ve read by him builds on the others. It’s like putting together pieces of a puzzle. Each one unique but a part of all the rest. While we know that writers collect material for their stories from their own lives, often it is only hinted at. With Oe it is much more pronounced, especially when it comes to his son, who he constantly tries to give a voice to.

“People say that I’ve been writing about the same things over and over again ever since—my son Hikari and Hiroshima. I’m a boring person. I read a lot of literature, I think about a lot of things, but at the base of it all is Hikari and Hiroshima.”*

“About ten years ago I stopped writing about Hikari in a straightforward way, but he always makes an appearance. He’s become the most important minor character. Just as Hikari has always been a part of my life, I would like handicapped people always to be present in my fiction. But a novel is a place to experiment—as Dostoyevsky experimented with the character of Raskolnikov. The novelist plays out different scenarios—how would this character react in this situation? I don’t do that with Hikari anymore. As I continue to live with him, it’s important that he function as a pillar of my life—not as an experiment. He is a part of my reality.”*

“In general, about a third of my life is devoted to reading, a third is devoted to writing novels, and a third is devoted to living with Hikari.”*

And unlike certain collections with recurring themes that in the end can seem like one big blob, each story in this book is independently powerful, each one as clearly resonant as from the moment I closed its last page. This is a solid collection that I’ll be recommending to readers who are seeking an introduction to Oe’s ouevre.

I can’t even begin to describe how in awe I am of Oe’s boldness as a writer. He makes his readers uncomfortable, discomfited. He wields his pen like brandishing a shining, newly-sharpened sword. His imageries would need parental guidance. In his writing I see anger, anguish, shame, guilt, fear, and he boldly confronts these unflinchingly. I see humility, kindness, too. I see him coping through his words.

“A good writer wouldn’t normally try to destroy his voice, but I was always trying to destroy mine.”*

“Every morning, I have woken up knowing that I will never run out of books to read. That has been my life.”*

.     .     .

Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness was translated from the Japanese by John Nathan. More Japanese literature talk at the Japanese Literature Challenge 6.

Coveting The John Lennon Letters

Posted on 22 October 2012 | 6 responses

I want to run to the bookstore and get this!

The John Lennon Letters, compiled and annotated by Hunter Davies, who wrote The Beatles’s 1968 authorized biography. Letters, postcards, etc., written by Lennon, “to family, friends, lovers and complete strangers.” Doodles he drew. Davies, on an NPR interview, explains:

“It’s just an accumulation of all the aspects of his life, from the age of 10 — writing that nice letter to his auntie thanking her for his Christmas towel, and he says it’s the best towel he’s ever had — up to a few minutes before he gets killed, aged 40. So you see the whole span of his life. The thing about it: You see it through his eyes, through his handwriting. A biography can never really get as close as letters can. With letters, he’s not writing for posterity, it’s all coming out there and then, and it’s all emotion.”

The postcard below addressed to Ringo reads:

“We’re here and you’re there. This is the truth as we see it.”

This makes me jumpy and very excited. Read more about it at NPR, here.

But then a more critical review at The Guardian, here.

“To be fair to Davies, he does admit in his introduction that he has “rather expanded the definition of the word ‘letter’”. This still does not quite prepare the reader for gems such as “Degs, No Fucking George, Yer Cunt, Jack” (letter 238: Memo to Derek) or “Fred, Lights in kitchen (bulbs), Honey Candy, Kitchen Air Con is ‘On Heat’ (Something Wrong), Cabbage, Grape-oil (ask where), Onions, Peas (NB the Korean Shop Shells Them!), Sesame Oil, Tomatoes, Berries, Yoghurt, Hamburger Meat (for the cat!)” (letter 255: Domestic list for Fred). The Post-It Notes of John Lennon, anyone? I like mundane reality – you could say it’s my specialist subject – but there’s no getting away from the fact that the second of those two examples is a shopping list. Are we really so bereft of new ideas that we now wish to study the equivalent of someone’s Ocado profile?”

On second thought, maybe I should just check the library first.

The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away

Posted on 20 October 2012 | 48 responses

Some time ago I picked up a book entitled Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! I had always wanted to read something by Kenzaburo Oe, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994. The book intrigued me because of the beautiful opening lines and because of the screaming, passionate title, which turned out to be taken from a piece by William Blake.

The book itself turned out to be lovely. Semi-autobiographical, it tells of a certain writer with a mentally-disabled son. Despite his condition, he believed his son was capable of living a meaningful life. He tries to write a sort of map of life for his son, a sort of preparation for the looming time ahead when he finally leaves this life and ceases to be able to protect him. He writes along the framework of Blake’s poetry. What ended up happening was that he took away more from the experience, quite unexpectedly.

I fell in love with Oe’s writing. I decided that I was going to read everything he’s ever written that’s been translated into English.

And then some time after that, I read an earlier work of his, another semi-autobiographical novel, A Personal Matter, with a group of bloggers. I was very surprised, in fact, shocked, at how different the voice of that book was from the voice of the Oe I had come to know and love. I was horrified by the anger and vileness that came out of this book. I still, though, sympathized with the writer behind it, despite not liking the book very much, considering that Rouse Up was written in his 40s while A Personal Matter in his 20s, so young. Still, I was quite taken aback by the severely hostile response towards this book by my blogger friends.

I took the time to reflect and, I realised, despite my dislike for the book, I also did truly like it. I know this is possible because it’s happened to me many times, liking something you dislike, something even that you find appalling. It was funny because I was defending myself for having defended the book. It was as if liking the book, no matter how slight, made me a terrible person. Of course, no one said or thought that, but that’s how I felt anyway.

I took that book and, assumingly, his other books, to be an exploration of his fatherhood, his character, his morals. A conscious exploration, that is.

Despite the strange experience, and even more because of it, I knew I would have to keep reading Oe. But I also knew I had to remove from him for a while and allow time to settle the waves.

Last week I plunged headlong into Oe’s novella, The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away, the first of four stories in his collection, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness. I chose this book to read because, again, I felt drawn to the title. Somehow I felt the book’s title reflected its depth. And I may be right.

I had only finished this one story in the book but I couldn’t wait to read the other three before talking about it. It’s because the story was so utterly disturbing as to have lingered  in my head for days and I couldn’t shake it off. I have to write about it.

The narrative was loud. You couldn’t slide down it, you have to jump. The character, an unreliable narrator consumed by madness, sounded like a buzzing in my ear. My first reaction when I read the first page was, how angry, again, how angry! All the screaming and yelling and, just, all the anger contained in the voice. It was giving me a headache.

But halfway into the story, when the angry madman finally reveals his backstory, I understood. He was only a child when the war overtook his life. His parents failed to protect him because of their preoccupation with their own inner battles. So then I understood why he was so angry. (His trauma like a cancer eating away at his life!) I understood why Oe chose to be so passionate in the telling.

In the end, I had been moved so deeply that I couldn’t find any words for it. It was like a void that was being scraped to expose even more hollowness. But in the midst of it the beauty.

Oe is a post-World War II writer and the war dominated his writing here, with “themes of militarism and emperor-worship.” I had never read a more passionate Japanese writer. This story was so unsettling in its rawness and honesty.

John Nathan, Oe’s translator, mentioned in the introduction—which I impatiently read right after reading the story, eager to make sense of it—how Oe would keep telling him, time and again, how he would die when his son (the mentally-handicapped one) died.

That was the affirmation I needed that I knew the protagonist in A Personal Matter felt but didn’t blatantly convey. He was much too unconventional a writer to have revealed that so openly, that he loved his son even more than his own life.

More Japanese literature talk at the Japanese Literature Challenge 6.

Captain Ahab on Google

Posted on 18 October 2012 | 429 responses

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick on a Google doodle today. Standing strong, still, 161 years after its publication.

Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

A newspaper story

Posted on 16 October 2012 | 20 responses

In bygone days of non-internet, there was this girl obsessed with newspaper clippings of book reviews. Every weekend they would go to see their grandparents who subscribed to English and Filipino and Chinese papers. She would sit with her father and they, together, would do the crossword puzzles. And then she would single out all the arts and lifestyle pages and scour for the smattering of book reviews and short stories and poetry. She would cut them out and keep them in file folders. She would read them again and again and again. She would make lists of those books she read about and memorize them by heart. If someone travelled abroad or to the big city—Manila—and asked her what she wanted for them to bring her, she would hand these lists out.

Thus, despite the considerable lack of literature available in her town, she was able to acquire books like Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh and Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. In that place where bookstores mostly ever only sold Sweet Valley High and  and Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon. (I say mostly because there were times when she and her sisters were able to purchase great classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Little Women and Wuthering Heights and Silas Marner and others, but they were few and far between).

And then she moved into a book-abundant country. The internet seeped into her life. Book blogs and bookish sites and book reviews became easily available online. She stopped reading physical newspapers. All was well.

Last year, for some reason, she welcomed papers into her life again. Every day, after somewhat hurriedly reading headlines and current events, she would excitedly look for the crossword and sudoku page and relax with it. And then, saving the best for last, she would settle in her favourite place on the couch by the window, or in bed, with the bookish items. Reviews and author interviews and such.

There is a sense of serendipity in these findings. Online, the most popular books are more often the ones being talked about—which is good, because out here we feel like we’re in touch with the goings-on of the bookish world. In the papers, on the other hand, chance and surprise. Random books that only a handful of people blog about, or even not, and even books which should appear popular but which we miss because they didn’t garner enough buzz.

Today, this girl doesn’t save newspaper clippings anymore but she still reads them and still definitely makes those lists.

Readathon Hour 21

Posted on 14 October 2012 | 14 responses

4:27 AM. Didn’t get a wink in all the 21 hours. If I didn’t start work an hour immediately following the end of the readathon I would keep on. As it is, I need to sleep a little before then.

Finished my fifth and final book, The Brontës and their World by Phyllis Bentley. Despite the heavy head, my fascination for the Brontës kept me up.

Pictured above, High Withens in Haworth Moor, believed to be Emily’s inspiration for Wuthering Heights.

But now I’m done. Though fatigued, am overwhelmed with joy that I got to participate once again. Work will be brutal today. Sleepless and hung over. But happy. So happy. See you again in a bit.

Thanks so much for organizing, hosting, cheering, all. In memory of Dewey.

Total pages read: 672

Total books completed: 5

Total time spent reading: 9:41

And of my favourite Brontë:

Emily Brontë was a ‘space-sweeping soul’ . . .

Good night.

Readathon Hour 17

Posted on 14 October 2012 | 2 responses

Since the last update, I: fed the kids their supper (pot roast dropped into the slow cooker by hubby, as I requested, before he left for work earlier), did the dishes, put the little one to bed (older brothers still up), went to visit other readathoners, read Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli.

There were moments, while reading, when I felt like her, like some things she did were things I wanted to do, too. But I’m not as courageous nor as sympathetic. Nor as young. Although nothing is ever too late.

Stargirl the character is a wonder and unforgettable and Stargirl the book is as much. I’m passing this on to my sons and my niece and my sister, &tc. LOVED it.

Head’s a little woozy but continuing on. Past midnight and I’m still in my spot on the couch, waiting for hubby to come home.

Total pages read: 545

Total books completed: 4

Total time spent reading: 7:09

Favourite passage:

She was bendable light: she shone around every corner of my day. (107)

Readathon Hour 11

Posted on 13 October 2012 | 6 responses

I took the mini-challenge over at I Heart Monster for a day break awhile ago. My youngest son and I stepped out for a few moments to get the mail and we stopped by our next-door neighbour’s front garden to admire her flowers. It was chilly and breezy and we were in our pajamas. I thought of chalk drawing on the driveway but it was too cold for that, so we went back in and played a little bit of Xbox with his older brothers who were fighting dragons on Skyrim (The Elder Scrolls).

Soon afterwards, it drizzled. Sky’s grey, the way I like it. It’s chilly even indoors. We didn’t want to turn the heaters on just yet because it’s still the kind of cold that feels nice.

Snacks were milk and egg salad sandwiches for the children. Raspberry currant tea and Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat for me. Keeping my toes toasty in a blanket, pajamas and a super comfy favourite knit sweater.

I’ve finished the third book for the day. Tortilla Flat is a social satire modeled upon the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Another good one, although I caught myself nodding my head a few times nearing the end of the book, not because of it but because I maybe really need a little rest.

Night is almost upon us. But I’ll read on. Or try to.

Total pages read: 359

Total books completed: 3

Total time spent reading: 4:37

These passages:

It was purple dusk, that sweet time when the day’s sleeping is over, and the evening of pleasure and conversation has not begun. The pine trees were very black against the sky, and all objects on the ground were obscured with dark; but the sky was as mournfully bright as memory. (18)

Time is more complex near the sea than in any other place, for in addition to the circling of the sun and the turning of the seasons, the waves beat out the passage of time on the rocks and the tides rise and fall as a great clepsydra. (141)

(I had to look up the meaning of clepsydra: “the Greek word for water clock; literally, water thief.”)

Readathon Hour 8

Posted on 13 October 2012 | 10 responses

Lunch was taco rice salad that my husband prepared last night so that all I had to do today was toss everything together. He left for work three hours ago so I’m left with just the children, but he tried to help out to make things easy for me while he’s away. We made sure to keep the menu today kid-friendly, that is, a menu that included only food that our children absolutely love so they don’t go bugging me to make them something else.

Despite the effort to stay focused on just reading, I couldn’t help doing the dishes. I could leave them there for later, but really couldn’t go on reading in a cluttered environment, so that’s time off of my reading. Nevertheless, I got to finish my second book, Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl, a duo of one short story and one novella, both connected to each other. So beautiful, haunting. I wish everybody could read it.

Total pages read: 185

Total books completed: 2

Total time spent reading: 2:33

Life lessons:

“Too much education makes fools.” (25)

“If you’re alone too much, . . . you think too much.”
“Without a life . . . a person lives where they can. If all they got is thoughts, that’s where they live.” (27-28)

“For everything there’s a bad way of describing, also a good way. You pick the good way, you get along better.” (56)

Favourite passage:

What a curiosity it was to hold a pen—nothing but a small pointed stick, after all, oozing its hieroglyphic puddles: a pen that speaks, miraculously, Polish. A lock removed from the tongue. Otherwise the tongue is chained to the teeth and the palate. An immersion into the living language: all at once this cleanliness, this capacity, this power to make a history, to tell, to explain. To retrieve, to reprieve! (44)

Readathon Hour 5

Posted on 13 October 2012 | 7 responses

Late breakfast was cranberry raisin focaccia and a cup of coffee. Book finished was The White Deer by James Thurber. A charming and silly fairy tale of a king and his three sons and a princess and magical tasks to win the princess’s hand. You know the sort. Only this is uniquely told, Thurber-style. It made me laugh a little bit and warmed my heart more than a bit. So very enchanting and delightful. Wish I had many more Thurbers to read today.

It starts out this way:

If you should walk and wind and wander far enough on one of those afternoons in April when smoke goes down instead of up, and nearby things sound far away and far things near, you are more than likely to come at last to the enchanted forest that lies between the Moonstone Mines and Centaurs Mountain. You’ll know the woods when you are still a long way off by virtue of a fragrance you can never quite forget and never quite remember.

Brims with passages like this:

“Visit the Seven-headed Dragon of Dragore. Free, Except Moondays and Feydays.”

And pictured above,

“the flock of wingless birds.”

Total pages read:  115

Total books completed:  1

Total time spent reading:  1:22

Favourite passage:

“This little light and then the night.”

Readathon Hour 2

Posted on 13 October 2012 | Comments Off

A good Saturday morning to all you readathoners! It’s 9:35 AM here and on the second hour of Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon and I’m over an hour late because I had just got back home from an early-morning meeting at work, so no time for dilly-dallying, I’ll have to start reading as soon as this post is up.

This is my fourth time to join Dewey’s Readathon, but it seems like ages since the last one, which was two-and-a-half years ago in April 2010. I am so very excited to be doing this with you all again. Nothing beats a whole community reading together and cheering one another on. You have no idea how much I’ve missed this. The excitement and the fatigue, a great marriage!

I’m preparing only a few titles that I hope to get through by the end of the day and the rest by whim. I’m starting off with a very, very short book from the author of my favourite children’s book ever, the dear James Thurber. Interestingly enough, I never find his books anywhere and so I’ve never read anything else by him before. It was just my luck that I chanced upon one at the book fair I went to last month. This one, The White Deer. It seems to me very quirky. We shall find out soon enough.

Now for the late introductory post.

What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

The Greater Toronto Area.

Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

The White Deer by James Thurber above.

Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Do meals count? I’m looking forward to the taco rice salad for lunch later.

Tell us a little something about yourself!

I have three sons, the joy of my life. I love going on road trips and never get tired of driving. With music. It settles my nerves. I am overwhelmed by love for music. I’m addicted to Mexican food. Give me guacamole and burritos any day!

If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I didn’t participate the last time but I did a few years ago and this is my fourth time to join in. One thing I’ll do different is not to oversleep so I get more reading hours done.

I’m looking forward to the thought of zipping through at least four or five books in a day, lots to be crossed off the TBR stack! And looking forward to reconnecting with the book blogging community.

Okay, time to read. Catch you in a bit.

The Song is You

Posted on 12 October 2012 | Comments Off

“Look, Julian: love is not sufficient. It never has been. Stories that claim otherwise are lies,” kindly instructed the man still weaving from his losses. “There’s always something after happily ever after.” (207)

Just finished The Song is You by Arthur Phillips, immediately following Let the Great World Spin. Two New York books back to back. I’m heavily partial to this one. Maybe because of the music. Yeah, probably, but not exactly.

That’s a big part of it though. How to resist a narrator who listens to The Smiths, The Pixies, et al? Add to that a cameo of Billie Holiday. Swoon.

I found the narrative intelligent and a bit cocksure, but also vulnerable, which balances that out. The effect is a voice alarmingly familiar but also only faintly so, as there’s a certain note to it that’s uniquely his.

I don’t always warm up to extremely contemporary voices, but I loved this because it hinted at nostalgia whenever the subject of music arose, which happened quite often.

Excerpts here and here.

A splash of tragedy with your childhood

Posted on 11 October 2012 | Comments Off

“A splash of tragedy with your childhood lends a proper tone to the rest of your life, calibrates expectations. There are no more miserable, persistently disappointed adults than the ones with perfect childhoods.” (125)

Arthur Phillips, The Song is You

To lose music

Posted on 10 October 2012 | Comments Off

When he was first married, Julian worried how he would feel about particular songs if his marriage should expire prematurely, in Rachel’s death or her infidelity . . . And he prepared himself to lose music for Rachel, as the price of love, the ticket torn at admission: he assumed that, whether the marriage worked or not, he would never really find his way back to the music, that old songs would be sucked dry of promise or too clogged with memory.

But no, music lasted longer than anything it inspired. (14)

Arthur Phillips, The Song is You

Let the Great World Spin

Posted on 8 October 2012 | 8 responses

“New York,” she sighed. “All these people. Did you ever wonder what keeps us going?” (320)

Just finished reading Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. It took me a while because, somehow, it had a difficult time reeling me in after every time I left it. It’s a beautiful book, no doubt, but I felt it quite uneven. Snippets of New York lives, stories connected obscuredly by the tightrope walker Philippe Petit who walked between The World Trade Center towers in 1974. There were some parts I liked more than others. Some of its stories felt more real than others.

There were instances when I felt consciously aware of the narrator and was distractedly focused on the abruptness and contrivancy of the words. Those times I really felt the tediousness of the stories. But it had moments. Other parts were really beautiful. Parts that felt like it celebrated life. Life in all its facets. Love, loss, longing, loneliness, moments of bliss, moments of madness, desperation, friendships, hardships, hope, redemption, family.

There are a thousand reasons to live this life, each one of them fine. (235)

Gather all around the things that you love, I thought, and prepare to lose them. (127)

Interestingly enough, this book reminded me of two other books. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, also told in connecting vignettes, but instead of in a bustling city, it’s set in a small town. The other was Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, a short novel whose title speaks for itself. Forgive me for making these comparisons, I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t help thinking how Olive Kitteridge and Brooklyn were so much more satisfying to read and so absolutely more breathtaking.

Still, Let the Great World Spin was a good read, just its unevenness made it less compelling to me.

There are rocks deep enough in this earth that no matter what the rupture, they will never see the surface.

There is, I think, a fear of love.

There is a fear of love. (156)

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