I read and liked Rubin’s previous book, The Happiness Project, in 2010; in a lot of ways, this book is more of the same. Like that book, this one is organized by month, and each month has a theme. (This time around, Rubin sticks with the school year instead of the calendar year, so there are nine months and nine themes: Possessions, Marriage, Parenthood, Interior Design (that one’s about the self, not about furniture), Time, Body, Family, Neighborhood, and Now.) Within each month, Rubin talks about specific resolutions she has made related to the month’s theme, and talks about how those resolutions do or don’t work for her, and how they do or don’t contribute to her happiness. The book’s subtitle is “Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life,” and for me, that last bit is what’s appealing : the “practice of everyday life.”

In this book, Rubin explores the things she can do in and around her home to make it what she wants it to be. “My home should calm me and energize me,” she writes (8). “It should be a comforting, quiet refuge and a place of excitement and possibility.” (ibid.) She talks about wanting to feel “engaged with” her possessions: not necessarily getting more stuff, or getting rid of stuff, but knowing/using/appreciating what she has (28). Relationship-wise, she write about wanting “more appreciation, more tenderness, more cooperation, more fun” with her husband (67). She writes about needing to remind herself to “choose the bigger life” rather than sticking with what she already does/knows (79). (Relatedly, she talks about the “feelings of ineptitude and anxiety” she gets when doing something she doesn’t feel good at: “In every area of my life, I dislike the feeling of uncertainty or unfamiliarity. I love mastery” (81). Yeah, I relate to that.) She talks about filling her days with things she loves, and about appreciating her routines: “The things I do every day,” she writes, “take on a certain beauty and provide a kind of invisible architecture to my life” (146-147).

All of this is fine, but I think I would have liked a book that had more about home as a place/idea, and less about family/relationships. My favorite bits of the book are when Rubin writes about wanting to pay more attention to the sense of smell, and when she writes about seeing Charles Simonds’s “Dwellings” at the Whitney and a) deciding she wants a miniature landscape in her home and b) realizing she has long had a fondness for miniatures, which she somehow hadn’t articulated to herself yet. I think Rubin’s enthusiasms come through strongest in these sections—or maybe these are just the enthusiasms that resonated most to me.

I read El Deafo, Cece Bell’s incredibly charming graphic-memoir about her childhood, in one day, and totally loved it. I laughed a lot, and kept interrupting my boyfriend to show him great pages, and there were a few places where I got a little teary-eyed. Bell’s art, which is rendered in vivid color by David Lasky, is really appealing to me: all her human characters are depicted as rabbits, and I love how Cece portrays herself, whether as a little rabbit in a polka-dotted bikini, or a slightly older little rabbit with a hearing aid; her alter-ego, the imagined superhero of the title, wears a red cape and is also great (you can see a page from the book in Katherine Bouton’s New York Times review of it).

So, the story: when Cece is four, she gets sick: it turns out to be meningitis. She recovers, but is “severely to profoundly” deaf, though she doesn’t fully realize it immediately. She gets a hearing aid (which is bulky, because this is 1976) and feels different because of it, a feeling that is amplified when she and her best friend go off to different schools. But Cece is pleasantly surprised: everyone else in her kindergarten class is also deaf or hard of hearing, and in addition to the usual kindergarten fare of reading and writing and math, Cece and her classmates start learning how to lip-read. After kindergarten, though, Cece’s family moves, and her new town’s school doesn’t have a program for deaf kids. So she gets an even bigger hearing aid called the Phonic Ear, which is paired with a microphone and transmitter that her teacher wears. It’s exciting to be able to hear well in class, but there’s something unexpected, too: Cece’s teacher doesn’t take the microphone off when she leaves the classroom, and Cece realizes she can hear her teacher anywhere the teacher goes in the building: the principal’s office, the teachers’ lounge, and even, awkwardly but humorously, the bathroom. Cece starts thinking of this as her secret superpower, which is cool, because she likes Batman. But she’s still concerned with her deafness as a marker of difference, and some of the book is about navigating that.

A lot of the book, though, is also just about navigating childhood: friendships and crushes and teachers and schoolwork. (The book covers the period from when Cece is four to when she’s in fifth grade.) Sometimes the trouble Cece has is related to her deafness—she has one friend who talks loudly and slowly to her, and can’t seem to stop even after Cece tells her it isn’t helpful; this friend also introduces Cece as her “deaf friend.” Or there’s a sleepover party where Cece gets really frustrated because her friends keep talking after they turn out the lights, and she can’t understand them because she obviously can’t lip-read in the dark. Or there’s the time when her mom signs them up for an ASL class, but Cece has no interest because she’s afraid that signing will make her even more visibly different than she already is. But lots of the things Cece deals with are the kinds of things hearing kids deal with too: a “best friend” who’s really bossy and possessive, a popular girl who tries to force a makeover on her even though Cece isn’t at all into makeup, a jerk at the bus stop who breaks a gift Cece got from her dad, and how tongue-tied she feels whenever she’s around the boy she has a crush on.

In her author’s note at the end of the book, Bell notes that some of El Deafo is fictionalized, and also makes it clear to readers that her experience of growing up deaf isn’t everyone’s experience: she talks a little about Deaf culture, and about her own shifts in thinking (as a kid, she saw her deafness as a disability; she no longer does). She notes that in making this book, she was most “interested in capturing the specific feelings [she] had as a kid with hearing loss,” and I think the book does that really well: it feels personal and honest and is really engaging.

More Baths Less Talking, which I decided I wanted to read after reading Stefanie’s post about it on So Many Books, contains fifteen short pieces that were originally published in the Believer magazine between May 2010 and December 2011. The pieces are from Nick Hornby’s running “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column, and they’re really great. Each piece begins with two lists: “Books Bought,” and “Books Read”: not surprisingly, sometimes those lists overlap, but sometimes they don’t at all. I’ve read hardly any of the books Hornby bought or read during the timespan covered by this book—if I’m counting correctly, I’ve read three of the ninety-five that he lists—but that’s OK. I’d heard of a bunch of the books he mentions, and a number are already on my list of books to read someday (Emily Fox Gordon’s Book of Days, and Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love, and Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live, and David Almond’s My Name is Mina, and Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy, and probably some others, too). And, not surprisingly, my list of books to read has grown as a result of this book. (Despite the fact that it seems like pretty much everyone has read and liked Just Kids, I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but Hornby describes it as “a riveting analysis of how an artist ended up the way she did,” and “all the things she read and listened to and looked at that helped her along the way” (29). OK, I’m interested now.)

Hornby’s style is smart and funny and immensely readable: the way he brings together the books he’s read over the course of a month, whether they’re thematically related or not particularly, is a delight. The Believer, apparently, has a “no snark” rule, and this probably contributes to the tone of these essays, which are largely positive, though not in a fawning way. Hornby comes across as an interested and attentive reader, and I like the facts/passages/ideas he chooses to highlight from the various books he’s read. For example, here is a thing I didn’t know before reading this book:

In England after the war, no TV was shown between the hours of six and eight p.m., a hiatus that became known as the Toddler’s Truce; the BBC decided that bedtime was stressful enough for parents as it was, and, as there was only one TV channel in the U.K. until 1955, childless viewers were left to twiddle their thumbs. (28)

And Hornby clearly understands the vicissitudes of a reading life: here, he’s talking about having gotten three books for his birthday:

Several months later, and I have finally read one of the three, even though I wanted to read all three of them immediately. (What happened in between? Other books, is what happened. Other books, other moods, other obligations, other appetites, other reading journeys.) (82-83)

This is the fourth collection of Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns, and it has totally made me want to read the other three, but that will have to wait: I am, as I mentioned previously, participating in The TBR Double Dog Dare right now, which means I’m only reading books I already own between now and April 1, with exceptions for books like this one (which I checked out of the library in December) and library books I had put holds on in or before December that come in between now and April. This actually is a great book to have made an exception for: it’s making me wonder what excellent reads are sitting on my shelves waiting for me to discover them.

At the start of The Accidental Highwayman, which is set in England in the mid-1700s, sixteen-year-old Kit Bristol feels pretty pleased with where he’s ended up: he’s an orphan who used to be a trick-rider in a traveling circus, and now he’s an indentured servant to a gentleman who isn’t much trouble, though he’s fond of drink and gambling. Kit feels respectable, doing his master’s errands in town on market day. But soon he finds out that his master has a secret: he’s actually a notorious highwayman, Whistling Jack. At the point when Kit finds this out, Whistling Jack has been shot, and is bleeding to death on the kitchen table. Kit rides out on his master’s horse in his master’s riding costume to make the attackers think his master is fine. But this dismays the dying Whistling Jack, who tells Kit that by taking on his identity, however briefly, Kit has become bound to take over a task that he was supposed to do, a task he was afraid of. And with that, Whistling Jack gives Kit his horse, tells him to bring his French bulldog to a witch he’ll find in the forest, and tells Kit that the witch will tell him about this task he now has to do.

Kit isn’t sure what to make of any of this, but goes to the woods and finds the witch, who tells him he has to rescue a lady from an enchanted silver coach the following evening. Kit figures it can’t hurt to try, so he does, and when he succeeds, he finds himself in the middle of magical political intrigue. The lady, it turns out, is a faerie princess who’s rebelling against her father’s wishes by refusing to marry King George II’s grandson. Her father, who is the faerie king, is hoping the marriage will be a shrewd political alliance; King George II is hoping the same. But the princess, Morgana, thinks her father is power-hungry and wicked, and that an alliance between the English King and the Faerie King will be bad news for the magical world and the human world, and some faeries agree with her. So she flees, and Kit travels by her side, and things keep on happening—this is a plot-heavy book, and there are “dark deeds, treacherous villains, and acts of violence,” as well as “bravery, loyalty, and love,” as Kit’s preface to his story puts it (10).

I liked the magic/historical setting of this book and the humor of it, and I really liked the animal characters—the horse, Midnight, and Kit’s love for him, and the dog, Demon, to whom we are introduced in the passage below (which is followed by a full-page illustration of the dog in question looking ridiculously cute):

”Vicious, is he? Jaws like a trap?
“He can snap a bone with one bite,” I said.
This was perfectly true. I did not lie about the dog, who was Master Rattle’s constant companion, but rather omitted a few details: he was a French bulldog, a tiny beast bred not to fight bulls but to snore lustily, and he could snap a bone with one bite, but only a ham bone. In fact, he spent all of his waking moments, which amounted to about an hour each day, gnawing on bones. (17)

That said, I’m not sure if I’ll read the rest of this trilogy: the book sometimes felt too plot-heavy (there are at least two major sub-plots I haven’t mentioned here), and I’m not sure I liked the human or faerie characters enough to want to read more about them.

I like Lucy Knisley’s work a whole lot, and this was a quick and fun read. It’s a travelogue/graphic-memoir of a trip to Europe that Knisley took in 2011, when she was 27, and includes her travels to/in Norway (Bergen), Sweden (Stockholm), Germany (Berlin) and France (Beaune, Angoulême, Royan, and Paris). The trip is partly work, partly pleasure: in Norway, she speaks at a comics fest and teaches workshops about making comics to schoolkids, and then she’s off to Sweden to visit a Swedish guy she met at a party in New York. He ends up coming to Berlin with her to visit two honeymooning friends of hers, after which she goes to France to hang out with a friend and then her mom/two of her mom’s friends. After that, the Swedish guy meets her in Paris, where they spend a little while together before they each head home again.

I like Knisley’s work best when she’s looking outward rather than inward, I think largely because I prefer reading introspective prose that is more wordy, more densely prose-y, but this book had some satisfying thoughtful moments. On the appeal of travel, there’s this, from the start of the book: “Being untethered, I could float away, lifted to a great height where everything is new, and I could look back on my life with new perspective, and go, “Oh!””(1). Travel, Knisley says, “unhomes you,” and when you’re set adrift temporarily, you can see things differently: you can see possibilities. Which is why travel particularly appeals to her when she’s in her late twenties: she’s done with school, and has been for a while, but her life isn’t yet settled: she’s only recently moved to New York, she’s single but pining for her ex, and she’s figuring out her wants and priorities.

The art in this book, as usual, is gorgeous: I like Knisley’s clean black-and-white line drawings, and the full-color images in this book interspersed with them are bright and warm and super-appealing, whether they’re pictures of Knisley on her couch with her cat, or a black-roofed yellow building seen from her hotel room in Bergen, or a row of old buildings in Stockholm. The format of this book feels looser/a little less grid-based than Relish (which I also really liked!) was: I like the room, in this one, that Knisley gives to her art.

My favorite bits, though, are the ones most about the places where Knisley is. Like where she’s describing flying over “miles of totally uninhabited land” in Iceland, where there is “so much earth without human landmarks—the rare house or tower throwing the rest of it into enormous scale” (33). Or the drawing, on the next page, of a rainy day in Bergen, with charming cobbled streets and tiled rooftops and pedestrians with umbrellas. Or when she talks about visiting the Hospices de Beaune, founded in 1443, and describes (and draws) the building’s roof-tiles, the curtained beds inside, the pewter objects used by the patients, the bottles of old medicine in the apothecary. Also, not travel-related, but: I love that she quotes John Donne.

Near the start of Enchanted Glass, Andrew Hope, a thirty-something-year-old academic, finds out his grandfather has died, which means he’s inherited the family home, Melstone, where he spent happy weeks on school holidays when he was a kid. Andrew Hope’s grandfather, Jocelyn Brandon, was a magician, so Andrew has also inherited his field-of-care—a magical area surrounding the house. As a neighbor puts it, “all round here, in a radius of ten miles or more, is strange. And special. And Jocelyn was in charge of it. And he was trying to hand the responsibility on to you” (56). But because his grandfather didn’t get a chance to explain this to him in person, Andrew doesn’t quite know what he’s meant to be doing: the magic things his grandfather taught him when he was a kid are distant, blurred, half forgotten; even when he remembers things, he’s out of practice. Having quit his job, Andrew thinks he’ll be able to use the space and quiet of Melstone to write a book. But then a twelve-year-old boy named Aidan Cain shows up on his doorstop, asking to see his grandfather: Aidan’s grandmother, also a magician, has just died, and she told Aidan to visit Jocelyn Brandon if he was in any trouble after her death. Which he is: there seem to be multiple competing factions of weird/supernatural beings who are after him, and they’ve been making a racket in the backyard of the London foster home where he was sent after his grandmother’s death. Andrew says Aidan can stay at Melstone while he tries to figure out what’s going on/what to do, and, meanwhile, he figures that he’d better not neglect his magical duties. So Andrew and Aidan set out to try to walk the boundary of Andrew’s field-of-care, and, as they do so, they have a run-in with Melstone’s nearest neighbor, Mr. Brown at Melstone Manor. It becomes clear who’s looking for Aidan and why, and things come to a head in an over-the-top scene at the annual Village Fête (which made me think of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit).

But the strengths of this book, for me, weren’t really in the plot or pacing, which felt imbalanced—it takes a long time for things to get going, and then once they do there’s a lot of plot all at once. What I liked about this book was the humor of it, and the usual kind of tender/lovely/insightful moments that can be found in Diana Wynne Jones’s books, and some of the descriptive passages. The humor mostly comes from the supporting characters: Andrew continues to employ his grandfather’s housekeeper and gardener, the former of whom is perpetually moving the furniture back to its original place when Andrew attempts to rearrange it, and cooks cauliflower cheese when she’s grumpy, and the latter of whom is focused on growing massive vegetables for the fête, the rejects of which he unloads on Andrew as a way of taking out his annoyance at having to do the rest of his job. The tenderness is centered mostly around how characters relate to one another: I love that when Aidan complains about his name, Andrew looks it up and tells him this:

Aidan is a diminutive—that means a smaller version or a pet name—of an Irish name that means ‘fire.’ You are ‘young fire.’ Think of yourself as crackling and throwing up long yellow flames. Sparks too. (91)

And oh, descriptive sentences like this:

Here the rain came down properly, white and pelting. The rushes bent and hissed with it, and the distant wood was almost canceled out by gray rods of rain. (114)

This book is not one I’ll keep coming back to, like the Chrestomanci books are, but I’m glad to have read it.

2014, in Reading and Otherwise

December 31st, 2014

So the big thing about 2014, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned here, is that my boyfriend and I bought an apartment. It was a fairly stressful endeavor, involving going to a whole bunch of open houses, making several offers that didn’t go anywhere, and then, just as we had decided that we were ready to take a break from looking, finding out that our offer on a sweet little one-bedroom apartment had been accepted. Then there was some mortgage-related stress, and a lot of waiting, and a whole afternoon of hanging out in a lawyer’s office/waiting for the guy from the bank to show up/signing stacks of papers. And then, in July, we moved, from one corner of our neighborhood to the diagonally opposite corner. Yay!

The other thing about 2014 is that I spent quite a lot of time at various rock gyms, mostly in Brooklyn but elsewhere as well. This was true in 2013, too, but moreso in 2014. (I started climbing in November 2012, got really into it in September 2013, and have been really into it ever since.) In 2014, I took my climbing shoes with me on work trips to England, weekend trips to Pennsylvania to visit my boyfriend’s family, and a vacation to Montreal with the other person I’m dating. In 2014, I climbed 130 times and got belay-certified and took a class in bouldering technique and talked about climbing to anyone who would listen.

Meanwhile, books. In 2014 I read 64 books, including quite a few kids’ books and YA books. Numbers-wise:
Kids’/YA books: 17
Fiction (for grown-ups): 31
Non-fiction: 11
Poetry: 5

Works in translation: 7

Favorites: Tamara Shopsin’s Mumbai New York Scranton, which is full of great details and which I found emotionally engaging and well-written and charmingly illustrated. An Enlarged Heart by Cynthia Zarin, for the language and style and New-York-ness of it. Basically all of Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci books. And oh, Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis, which I found really smart and really fun.

Books I expected to like more than I actually did: Tristano by Nanni Balestrini, which I thought would be exciting because of its experimentation with form, but was pretty much just a slog. City of Djinns by William Dalrymple, which I wanted to have more personal bits and lyrical/descriptive bits.

In general: I read a bunch more kids’ books and YA this year than last year, including a whole bunch of Diana Wynne Jones books (some were re-reads, some were not, and my boyfriend read all of them too, which was super-fun) and two of Lois Lowry’s Anastasia books (I want to read them all but my hold on the next one seems to be stuck). I read some authors I’d been reading about/meaning to read for what felt like ages (Rainbow Rowell and Jo Walton and Teju Cole). Looking back, I feel like a read a lot of plot-driven books/comfort-reads this year, and I’m OK with that.

Plans for 2015: I’m doing the TBR Double Dog Dare, with exceptions for any library books I’ve checked out or put on hold before 11:59 pm on December 31. Also, I said this last year, but: more poetry? And maybe 2015 will be the year I finish reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time?

At the start of The Laws of Murder, Charles Lenox is optimistic: it’s the start of the year (1876) and he’s in the midst of helping Scotland Yard catch a murderer. The new detective agency he’s set up with his friend and protégé, Dallington, along with two other detectives, is about to open, and he’s sure there will be good press for the firm of Lenox, Dallington, Strickland, and LeMaire. But the new business doesn’t start smoothly: on its opening day there’s a headline in the paper saying Scotland Yard is urging it to close, and the piece singles out Lenox specifically, saying he’s likely to be “more of a burden than an aid to his new colleagues” (13). In the agency’s first seven weeks of business, Lenox doesn’t bring in a single case. And then, in early April, he’s asked by the Yard to consult on a case, but one that hits close to home: Inspector Thomas Jenkins, the person on the police force he’d been closest to, has been shot and killed. Before his death, Jenkins specifically instructed his colleague, Inspector Nicholson, that Lenox should be consulted if Jenkins “should be killed or missing” (30). This, plus the location of the murder, makes Jenkins suspect the Marquess of Wakefield: Jenkins’s body was found practically right outside Wakefield’s house, and Wakefield is the seventh on a list of seven suspects from old cases who Lenox has been trying to get arrested, as part of his return to detective work after his time in Parliament. But it soon becomes clear to Lenox that he needs to be looking at more suspects than just Wakefield, and it later becomes apparent that Jenkins’s murder is not the only crime that needs to be solved.

I really like this whole series, mostly for the characters and setting, and for Charles Finch’s graceful writing style. I love the descriptions of London and its weather, of wet days and tea and toast, of summer evenings with late sunlight and chilled wine in a back garden. In this book, I also liked the moments of humor injected by the bad English of LeMaire’s nephew Pontilleux, who seems like he has the potential to be a solid detective in his own right.

I picked this book up at the library several months after reading Dan Chiasson’s piece in the New Yorker about Zucker’s work. I think it was Chiasson’s characterization of Zucker as a city poet that made me want to read her: he compares her to Frank O’Hara, and says this: “A city poet is a conduit for things said, actions observed, behaviors noted. Gossip, for a city poet, is really a form of passivity, part of a larger open-border policy toward whatever comes her way.” That open-ness is evident in poems like “please alice notley tell me how to be old,” which includes these great lines:

I think the rookie cops are graduating today
Times Square is a sea of blues there’s a secret
staircase at the end of the shuttle platform that
takes me right to my therapist’s office but you
don’t live here anymore anyway Alice I haven’t
got much time or maybe I have no one knows (96)

I like how writerly and everyday that poem is, the way it mixes city-moments with musings on gender/work/motherhood, what kinds of poems women write, or don’t. I also love “pedestrian,” another long-ish poem with a stream-of-consciousness style that’s full of great New York things, shopping and meandering and people-watching on the subway, like:

the woman next to me is reading an FSG book
can’t see the title the man on her left snores
& leans into her please someone remind me what’s
the point of literature? 72nd St & Cathy Wagner’s
book My New Job includes the word PENIS frequently (107)

In prose pieces, like those that make up the first section of the book, or like some of the dream-poems in the book’s second section, Zucker reminds me of Lydia Davis: a similar matter-of-fact tone, a similar sly humor, like in this passage from “mountains”:

In the town she bought two avocados, red grapes, two kinds of soup, kale cakes, two teriyaki chicken thighs, a chocolate bar with almonds and sea salt, a whole kabocha squash, wasabi rice chips, peanut butter, and a loaf of bread. At a different store she bought another soup. Soup seemed important. She bought a small salt grinder filled with pink salt. She bought a d’Anjou pear. If anyone asked her if she wanted bread with that she said yes. She said she did not need any plastic spoons. (53)

This book turned out to be the perfect length to read on a flight from Atlanta to New York, and its combination of intelligence and approachability made it a lovely in-flight companion: I definitely want to read more of Zucker’s work.

I’d been sort of resistant to reading Love Is the Higher Law, because as the cover photo of the Tribute in Light makes clear, it’s David Levithan’s “9/11 book,” and I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a 9/11 book. But, well, it’s David Levithan, and I love how he writes, and I love how he writes about New York, and I ended up really liking this book. The book has four parts (the first takes place on 9/11, the second in the days immediately afterward; the third and the fourth are set a bit later), and in each one we get the alternating first-person narratives of three characters (Claire, Jasper, and Peter). Claire and Peter are high school seniors at the same school; Jasper’s about to start his sophomore year of college. All of them are New Yorkers who are in New York on 9/11, but none of them lose anyone: the most affected, in an immediate way, is Claire, who lives downtown— she and her mom and brother can’t immediately go back to their apartment/have to stay with friends. I think Levithan does a good job of capturing some of the emotional reactions of young people who were here in the city but didn’t lose anyone: none of his characters feel the tragedy/sorrow of 9/11 is theirs, but they do feel it belongs to them more than it belongs to the tourists taking photos at Ground Zero. (I was in New York on 9/11, and I was Jasper’s age: it was the start of my sophomore year in college. I was eight miles uptown, at 114th Street, and like Jasper, I was asleep, and woken up by my mom calling from elsewhere to tell me the news.)

Claire is in school when the planes hit: “This isn’t even something I’ve feared, because I never knew it was a possibility,” she thinks (5). Peter, who loves music, is outside Tower Records, waiting to buy the new Bob Dylan album. Jasper is in Park Slope; his parents call from Korea, where they’re visiting his grandmother: he walks outside and finds papers that have blown across the river, papers that flew out of one of the towers. He tries to give blood, but can’t, because he’s gay/has had sex, but before he finds out he can’t give blood, he’s waiting on line with a school friend who lives his neighborhood, trying to hold on to some normalcy amidst everything:

Did the fact that the World Trade Center had just been destroyed mean that I couldn’t act normal with Amanda? I genuinely didn’t see the point of looking somber and talking somber and thinking only somber thoughts. Who benefited from that? You have to imagine that the minute before that first plane hit, there were guys in the World Trade Center giving each other shit. (28-29)

Because of course life goes on, and what’s the same/what’s different is part of this story. Claire and Jasper and Peter are all connected: they were all at a party the weekend before 9/11, and Peter and Jasper were supposed to go on a date that night. They reschedule for later in the week, end up at Jasper’s place, end up watching the news. “It’s not very romantic,” Peter thinks, “except maybe if you take the long view and say that the two of us on the couch despite everything going on is itself a romantic statement” (50). But things are awkward, and Jasper doesn’t know what he wants/ and the date doesn’t really go anywhere. Claire, meanwhile, tries to find ways to channel her energy and emotions: there’s a scene of her walking to Union Square in the rain and watching a woman re-lighting people’s memorial candles, then joining in to help, that totally made me teary-eyed. I love these lines, from that scene: “It feels like the right thing to do, even though the light we make doesn’t change what’s happened. We are making our own temporary constellation, and it doesn’t spell a single thing” (77). I also love this, from a scene later in the book where Jasper and Claire run into one another at Ground Zero at night, and walk to Battery Park to talk:

If you were quiet, you could hear the waves. In Manhattan, you forget you’re surrounded by water, because you so rarely see it or hear it or feel its pull. But right at the edge, the air gains the current and the undertow. The water is black, but it carries any light that crosses it. (103)