Weather by Jenny Offill

There is not much plot in Weather, by Jenny Offill, and that is to its credit. Plot would get in the way of the point, which is the day-to-day life of a librarian and mother of a small child in New York City who is increasingly worried about climate change. This book is full of hilarity, to wit (about a problem patron): “But how to categorize this elderly gentleman who keeps asking me to give him the password to his own email?” Reader, I laughed out loud.

Her brother is an addict who gets sober, finds someone to fall in love with, gets married, has a baby, freaks out, relapses, and gets a divorce. Towards the end of the book, she may or may not have an affair, her prepper tendencies get stronger. Her son gets a couple of years older, the dog needs to be walked. Somehow, this all results in us asking the question: how do we care for each other and how do we care for the world?

The language is lovely and wonderful, and if you told me that the author was a poet I’d believe you.

I’m also going to say that this is kind of a book about the end of the world, given that climate change features in it. Given that, is it a good book to read during the time of corona? I think it is.

Weather: highly recommended

A love letter to 1981 NYC

If the first chapter of The Beastie Boys Book is a love letter to Adam Yauch, the second (titled: Beastie Revolution) is a love letter to 1981 New York City from Luc Sante. He describes a romantic vision of being a punk kid from a poor, forgotten city that is full of music. It is immersive and beautiful and you can feel the raw energy of a place that’s about to burst (re-burst?) back into America’s consciousness.

A clip from the kindle version, showing a stage that’s about to be vandalized by the crowd.

I think I listened to the author-read version of this chapter like three times and read it at least twice. There are too many bands to name, too many artists, all people who lived on the edge of society and could make a living as a poor artist because living in NYC was cheap.

If you want to fall in love with New York City and early rap and punk music, you could do worse than reading this chapter as a stand-alone essay.

Death and surrealism

A French Exit is the fine art of leaving a party without saying goodbye. French Exit, the book, is about a woman who is trying to leave the party of life without saying goodbye to anyone, except maybe her son. It only works to a particular degree.

It starts with Frances (the woman, notorious for finding her husband’s body, closing the door, and going skiing for the weekend instead of reporting it) and Malcolm (her adult son, whose main life ambition seems to be to do as little as humanly possible) leaving a party early because they can, with Malcolm having stolen a framed picture from the wealthy household. You shortly find out that Frances has almost spent all of the money she inherited from her very wealthy husband; she and her son, who leaves behind a fiancée, soon leave for Paris along with their cat.

Their lives get weirder, more absurdist, once they’re in Paris. They collect people around them, ranging from a private detective who only speaks barely-passible English to an unemployed American woman who can see when people are about to die. Weird, in French Exit, is good.

I won’t spoil the ending, but the entire book is death-obsessed and nihilistic in that way that only wealthy upper-class people can be nihilistic. It is funny, and I would recommend it, but only if you’re in the mood for something that most people would consider to be a little bit off.

The Beastie Boys Book is a delight

I was never more than a casual, occasional Beastie Boys fan. I listened to this audio book for two reasons: I had a free book on Audible and Linda Holmes enthusiastically recommended it.

The Beastie Boys Book is a history of the band as told by its two remaining members, Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horowitz (Adroc). It captures their passion and enthusiasm for both New York City in the late 70s/early 80s and music. Their story is a delight to listen to. It took longer than expected to listen to the book because I kept wandering off to Spotify to listen to music I hadn’t heard in awhile or hadn’t heard before. (Someone, bless their heart, made a playlist of all the songs and artists mentioned in the book.)

Specifically, I’d recommend listening to the audiobook. Why? There are a ton of voices, not just theirs, people like Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, and so, so many others read chapters. Not surprisingly, a hugely successful band knows how to put together a quality audio product.

I can’t stop, won’t stop recommending the Beastie Boys Book to everyone in my real life, so here’s me, continuing to do it on the internet.

Grace Coddington seems like a fun person

A very sun-faded copy. I’m pretty sure the cover should be a uniform shade of orange.

Grace is, as advertised, Grace Coddington’s memoir. She is a hoot, and this is a fun story of a person who loves clothes and fashion and art practicing her craft throughout the mid- to late- twentieth century. She certainly sounds like a lively person to be around and being in the fashion world during that time seems like a hoot.

Unfortunately, I only got through about half of this book because, while she seems like a great person who is full of enthusiasm, the story got a bit repetitive (she’s in London! no Paris! now London again!) and it was more name-droppy than I would have liked. Don’t get me wrong, she’s just talking about her friends, but a little bit less of making sure we know she knows these people and more about fashion in the 1960s and beyond would have been better. It was eventually tiresome.

Read The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star is easily one of my top books of the year. Like the other Nicola Yoon I recently read, it’s a YA romance. This is her second book and the writing style is slightly less linear and definitely choppier – the two main characters, along with others, share the storytelling responsibilities – and it works well.

Natasha is the child of illegal immigrants from Bermuda, and is probably going to be deported at the end of the day, unless a miracle occurs. Daniel, the son of Korean immigrants, is on his way to a college interview at Yale (second best university, after Harvard, according to his parents). They meet and their story is almost entirely contained in that day, with the exception of the epilogue.

It strongly reminds me of Before Sunrise, never a bad thing. Their romance is electric, delightful, and potentially doomed.

I am definitely recommending this book to almost everyone.