And boy, they couldn’t be more different.
One for Now: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
This one is… it’s more sci-fi than I’m used to, let me start with that. I’m okay about sci-fi, but I’m picky. Borne was another book that was getting rave reviews at the NCIBA Spring Workshop and the concept is bizarre enough that I decided to give it a shot.
Basically, dystopian society in which our narrator (woman named Rachel) describes a world that was once ruled by the Company and is now actually ruled by Mord, a gigantic bear and one-time project of the Company. Yep, you read that right. Bear. As in big furry mammal. Rachel and cave-mate Wick (who are also occasionally lovers) hang out in Balcony Cliffs together until one day, while out scavenging, Rachel finds a little pod thing and names is Borne. She carries it home, and eventually Borne begins to grow. Rachel takes on an almost maternal role with Borne, and debates arise as to whether or not Borne is a person, what happens after death, and the usual existential crisis sorts of topics. There’s also a woman named the Magician who pops up occasionally, and the Mord wannabes who try to kill people.
I’ll give you a moment to unpack what I just wrote.
There you go.
Not being a gung-ho sci-fi gal myself, I found it to be almost a little too far-fetched, largely because of how matter-of-factly people dealt with a gigantic flying bear.
Oh, I didn’t mention Mord flies? Yeah. Giant flying bear.
VanderMeer, author of the widely acclaimed Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), is a great writer. The construction of the novel, told through a first-person narration with occasional disconnected thoughts or oddly broken sentence, works beautifully. And the end did surprise me. Not all of it, but enough that I sat there and actually said, “What?” So that was a pleasant change.
My issues with the book are strictly personal preference — while I would love to say I enjoyed this wholeheartedly and would read it again, I can’t. I can say that I’m very curious about VanderMeer’s trilogy and might just give that a shot. As far as Borne goes, there’s a lot of good here, and if you had any interest in it at all, you should read it. Even if you don’t love it, I think you can easily find something to appreciate about the work itself.
And on a completely shallow note, the cover of the book (U.S. edition) is really cool.
One for Later: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
I’m firmly of the opinion that Sherman Alexie is one of the greatest American writers ever. Like, I’d put him right up beside my boy Fitzgerald. Easily. He doesn’t dwell on easy topics or obviously funny things, and he doesn’t make everything out to be pitiable or dark. Instead, he blends light and dark, tragedy and comedy so beautifully together that everything he does is a work of art.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is a tough book. After his mother died at 78, Alexie wrote 78 essays and 78 poems about their relationship, and it’s not an easy one. But Alexie doesn’t shy away from the difficult, scary, horrible parts of life — abuse of all kinds, broken promises, health issues — but tackles everything with his truth.
And I purposefully say “his truth” because some of my favorite moments in the work come when he remembers something one way and is informed he’s mistaken. The imperfection of memories, especially about those with whom you share an intimate collection, is faced as the best writer should: head-on and with a sense of humor about the bits that might not be completely accurate according to the rest of the world.
I think I keep emphasizing the humor in this book, but I wonder if humor is the right word. There are a lot of moments in this where I laugh out loud, and there are a lot of moments where I think I’m a horrible person for laughing. But that’s what I consider Alexie’s greatest strength to be in all his writing that I’ve had the pleasure to read. Being a writer who only writes “serious” books or a writer who only writes “funny” books usually doesn’t amount to being much of a writer that I appreciate. A writer who can make me smile in the midst of something terrible, or who can shock me with a funny story — that’s a writer who has a real gift.
I don’t mean to make this an ode to Sherman Alexie, but he deserves it. Hell, he deserves a whole book of odes about how great he is. But here’s what I’ll say about his new book: read it. If you like him at all, read it. If you’re interested at all, read it. If you happen to be walking by a shelf in a library/bookstore/grocery store/Target/friend’s house/place on Earth and you see it sitting there, take it. And read it.
Although I recommend checking it out/paying for it/asking politely if you may borrow it first, just because it seems most of society finds that more appropriate than just straight up taking a book. But still. Take it and read it.
Other notables before I sign off:
- Rainbow Rowell’s delightful book Carry On comes out in paperback TUESDAY and the cover is gorgeous. The book is also a complete delight and is probably one of my favorites of all time, so it just gets better and better.
- I’m working on my first Daphne du Maurier, Frenchman’s Creek, at the suggestion of a friend and I’m loving it. Swashbuckling and romance and Cornwall. Can’t get much better.
- Still staring at Washington: A Life as it takes up space on my to-read pile. I WILL FINISH THAT BOOK.
- I just realized that these two books both have a sort of mother-son relationship in them. Needed a present for Mother’s Day? You’re welcome.