Gothic/horror is not my usual genre, but so far I’m enjoying Seanan McGuire’s “Wayward Children” series, of which this is the second, though it also could work as a standalone because time-wise, it’s a prequel to the first book, Every Heart a Doorway. The dark-fairy-tale tone of this book is similar to the first, though in some ways I liked this book more than that one. In Every Heart a Doorway, we meet the students at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, all of whom traveled to other realms via magic portals but ended up back in our world. In Down Among the Sticks and Bones, we learn more about two of those students, the twin girls Jack (short for Jacqueline) and Jill Wolcott, and actually get to see the world they went to, which is a dark and dangerous place called the Moors.

Before we get to the Moors, though, we get a lot of background about Jack and Jill’s childhoods and their terrible parents, who are pretty insufferable/want children for all the wrong reasons/spend years and years not seeing Jack and Jill for who they are at all/mold the twins into their visions of who they should be. They see Jillian as the brave and boyish one, so she gets dressed in sporty clothes and signed up for the soccer team; they see Jacqueline as the reserved and girlish one, so they put her in fancy dresses that she’s not allowed to get dirty. But because they don’t actually know their children, the Wolcott parents get it totally wrong:

They didn’t know that Jillian was brave because she knew Jacqueline was always somewhere behind her with a careful plan for any situation that might arise. They didn’t know that Jacqueline was timid because she was amused by watching the world deal with her sister, and thought the view was better from outside the splash radius. (34)

The girls find themselves stuck in these roles that have been imposed on them; neither of them has the opportunity to make her own choices about what she wants to do and who she wants to be. That changes one rainy day when they’re twelve: Jillian, bored, suggests that they go play in the attic; when they open the old trunk that’s normally full of dress-up clothes from their grandmother (who is awesome and basically raised them for the first five years of their lives, but is no longer really in their lives because their dad is a jerk), what they find instead is a staircase. Which, of course, they go down. Which takes them to the Moors, where they eventually learn that there are vampires and werewolves and a kindly Dr. Frankenstein-ish figure named Dr. Bleak. In the Moors, the girls’ paths diverge, in ways that readers may already know from having read Every Heart a Doorway, but I really liked getting to see Jack and Jill’s experience of this world in more detail here. Getting to see Jack’s interactions with Dr. Bleak is especially excellent—there was one passage featuring the two of them that totally made me teary-eyed.

I decided to read this book, which is Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, after reading Teresa’s post about it over on Shelf Love, and I’m really glad I did. As Teresa says, this book is fun—lots of fun. Before I picked this up, the last five books I read were either 1) enjoyable and readable nonfiction or 2) good but somewhat challenging or offputting fiction, and I was ready for a book like this: a novel that is smart and well-written but also pretty straightforward. Hag-Seed was a pleasure to read, a book that made me look forward to my subway commute every morning and evening because it meant a chance to read a bit more of it.

From early in the book, it’s clear that Felix Phillips is going to be our Prospero-figure, associated as he is with “illusion” and “pretense” and “fakery”, and with a rivalry that has resulted in a “vengefulness” that’s been building for the past twelve years (9-10). As Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival, doing over-the-top Shakespeare adaptations, Felix has been a “cloud-riding enchanter” (12). But he’s familiar with loss, too: his wife, we learn, died in childbirth, and his young daughter (named Miranda, naturally) died from meningitis at the age of three. Felix fears his absorption in his work may have contributed to Miranda’s death, but he’s also convinced it’s what will save him: he throws himself into a production of The Tempest in which he will play Prospero. But that production is never to be: Felix’s assistant, Tony, delivers the news that the festival’s board has decided to cut Felix’s contract short; Tony himself will be the interim artistic director. This blow leads Felix to a self-imposed exile in a shack on the outskirts of town, his version of Prospero’s island, with the imagined ghost of his dead daughter for company.

Eventually, though, he realizes he needs to do something, and so applies to teach a “Literacy through Literature” program at the local prison. He applies under a false name, but the woman who interviews him recognizes him: he convinces her that his true identity needs to be their secret. He gets the job, and decides to make his version of the program focused on Shakespeare: the inmates will read the plays, write about them, and put on productions of them. After three successful years of this, Felix learns that Tony, now a government minister, will be in the audience of the next production: he decides that it has to be The Tempest, and of course, because this is a retelling of The Tempest, he decides he wants to use the occasion of the production to get his revenge on Tony and on others who wronged him. It’s a pleasure to watch the various strands of the story unfold—we get classroom scenes where Felix works with his students to tease out the play’s characters and their motivations; we get rehearsal scenes where we get to see the production taking shape; we get scenes of Felix shopping for props and costumes, and scenes of Felix planning his revenge, all told in a way I found to be lively and fluid and immensely readable.

The Black Notebook, which was originally published in French in 2012, caught my eye at the library after I’d seen this post on Instagram: I like the cover a lot, how layered and atmospheric it is, the way the different urban images are juxtaposed. I’d never read anything by Modiano, and I’m not sure if this short novel was the best place to start: maybe? (If you’ve read anything by him, I’d love to hear your thoughts.) For a book under two hundred pages, it felt like slow going to me, and I sometimes found myself slightly bored by the flatness of the characters, but there were also things about it that I found really appealing.

The black notebook of the title is one that Jean, the book’s narrator (who is a writer) kept when he was younger, in the 1960s. It’s now fifty years later and he finds himself consulting the notebook again as he thinks about the time when he was writing in it, a time when, for a few months, he was dating a mysterious young woman who hung around with some shady-seeming men at a Paris hotel. There’s a little bit of a noir/mystery feel to this book, but not entirely: it’s less plot-driven than that might imply, and there’s not really a big revelation or a tidy ending. It’s not exactly character-driven either: several of the characters are little more than names, and Dannie remains largely a mystery, though the narrator does learn some things about her that he didn’t previously know.

More than anything else, this book to me felt like a combination of place-driven and idea-driven and image-driven. I suspect that if I knew the Paris neighborhoods and landmarks being discussed as intimately as I know New York, I would have liked it even more than I did, but even without a strong sense of the geography (or the scenery or history, beyond what the book includes), I liked the sense I got of the changing city, where the narrator recognizes some buildings fifty years later but realizes that other places have been transformed, with whole streets erased for new construction. The city and the layers of its past are one of the narrator’s concerns even as a young man: some of the things he wrote down in his notebook, in the 1960s, were the names of painted signs for old businesses (tanneries, wine warehouses) that will probably soon disappear. As someone who is really fond of cities/history/layers/old signs myself, I found this really appealing.

In terms of ideas and images, there is a lot here about memory and identity, the distance or lack thereof between the past and the present, between one’s past self and one’s present self, and also a lot about the remove at which the narrator moved through his life when he was younger, writing things down but not necessarily understanding their import, not piecing together the strands of narrative connecting the people around him. A recurrent image throughout the book is a pane of glass separating the narrator from something or someone else: lit apartment windows that give you “a feeling of both presence and absence,” a metaphorical train window beyond which the scenery passes quickly, an imagined window of a subway car through which he thinks about looking at someone he knows, a pane of glass separating a prisoner from a visitor (in a dream), a café window through which the narrator and someone from his past recognize each other, a hotel lobby window outside which the narrator stands, unseen. That sense of distance is sometimes present in the narrative itself, which I think is why it felt like slow going, but it’s intentional and I guess it worked: I found it striking and thought the images where it’s made explicit were some of the loveliest passages of the book, like this, which the narrator uses to explain what he was doing in writing things down in his black notebook, “to have a reference point later”:

A train rushes by a station too fast for you to read the name of the town. And so, with your forehead pressed against the window, you note down other details: a passing river, the village bell tower, a black cow ruminating beneath a tree, removed from the herd. You hope that at the next station you’ll be able to read the name and find out what region you’re in. (13)

I heard about Fish in Exile via Sarah McCarry’s post about it on her old blog, and re-reading that post now I would agree with her assessment that this book “is addictive, but for quite some time you have no idea what it’s even about.” The day I started it, I tried to explain it to someone, and I think all I managed to express was my befuddlement. That befuddlement remained for a fair chunk of the book, but I didn’t much mind, because on a sentence level, Nao’s writing is gorgeous. Like: “Light shifts, lifting the four corners of the room into an origami box” (16). Or: “I stand there like a front burner gazing at the stars and the dismal, faraway sea” (45). Or: “I imagine moving through the sea of winter with a boat, a pair of oars, and light” (87) Or: “The clouds take turns combing each other’s manes” (133).

The book is about a married couple, Ethos and Catholic, who are in a deep state of grief over their dead children, but that description of it doesn’t get at its sometimes-surreal strangeness. The six sections of the book have different narrators and different forms; there are sections of dialogue that recall a play (perhaps a Greek tragedy); Greek myth is there, too: a fairly great/hilarious retelling of the Persephone myth makes up a large part of one of the sections. At one point in the retelling, Hades is talking about how great things have been since he brought Persephone to the underworld: “It’s like a festival down there. Banquets and film screenings left and right. Of course, the only film we watch in the underworld is Satantango” (77). (Ethos’s mother is a classics professor, and there are a few amusing Anne Carson jokes/references in this section too.)

But when it’s not being formally inventive or surreal or funny, Fish in Exile gets at the emotional experiences that Ethos and Catholic are having. They seem to alternate in who is more sad and more stuck at any given moment; their shared but separate grief strains their partnership. Early in the book, Ethos (the husband) tells Catholic he’s “in exile” and notes she doesn’t understand; he left his job when the children died and seems to spend his days aimlessly passing time at home or by the ocean. Later, it’s Catholic who seems more stuck in sorrow; there’s a gorgeous several-page section near the end of the book talking about her pain which I would love to quote but can’t really, because it’s all so good. Despite how adrift I felt when I started this book, I was caught up in it by the time I got to the (very good) ending, which I read on the subway home from work, totally rapt.

I was recently talking with someone about what I was currently reading, which was this novel, and he asked what else I had read by Ali Smith and then asked if she’s an author where I feel like I want to read every book she writes/has written, and I realized that the answer to that question is yes, even if I’m sometimes slow to get around to them: I still haven’t read How to Be Both, for example, even though I own a copy. I wasn’t too slow with this one, though: I heard about it last year, before it was actually out in the US, and was reminded about of its existence by Stefanie’s post about it last month, and promptly grabbed it when I saw it at the library recently.

The flap copy says that Autumn is “a story about aging and time and love and stories themselves,” to which my reaction was basically “yes please,” and aw, there are so many good things in this book, which centers around the friendship of Elisabeth Demand and her old (both in the sense of former and in the sense of elderly) neighbor, Daniel Gluck. In the autumn of 2016, Elisabeth is 32 and a university lecturer; Daniel is 101 and in a care home. The book is set in the autumn of 2016, but with lots of earlier bits too: we see Elisabeth at age 8, meeting Daniel, and Elisabeth at age 11, going to see The Tempest with him, and Elisabeth, somewhere in childhood, crying in his backyard, and Daniel himself not much past childhood, spending time with his sister when he was 17 and his sister was 12. A lot of the book is about Elisabeth and Daniel, but there are sections too, about Elisabeth’s sometimes-challenging relationship with her mother, and about Daniel’s unrequited love for the (real) artist Pauline Boty, and about life now, television and bureaucracy and uncertainty. There’s a lot, too, about more abstract things: art, and story, and transformation. Metamorphosis is a recurring theme (at one point, Elisabeth is reading Ovid aloud to Daniel as he sleeps; some images find their way into his dreams) but not just metamorphosis, change in general: changing seasons (this is the first of four planned volumes in a seasonal quartet) and the changes of growing up/growing old/nearing death, and unexpected life changes (like when Elisabeth’s mother finds herself surprised by love) and political changes (the Brexit vote, though not named as such, is referenced, including in a really amazing two-page section that is made up mostly of sentences beginning with “All across the country,” as in, “All across the country, people felt righteous. All across the country, people felt sick” (60) et cetera).

I like how many good conversations between Elisabeth and Daniel there are, imagined ones and remembered or forgotten ones, and I like how good-natured and big-hearted Daniel is in those conversations, and how he teaches Elisabeth about important things, about, for example, how “whoever makes up the story makes up the world,” and how you should “always try to welcome people into the home of your story” (119).

And oh, I love Smith’s writing: this book is full of so many good descriptions and images. Like when Daniel tells Elisabeth to close her eyes and then closes his eyes, too, to describe one of Boty’s pieces to her, and then she opens her eyes just before he does and thinks of how seeing him open his eyes is “like that moment when you just happen to see the streetlights come on and it feels like you’re being given a gift, or a chance, or that you yourself’ve been singled out and chosen by the moment” (74). Or this moment when Elisabeth wakes up one morning at her mother’s house: “the little TV up on the shelf in the kitchen is on but with the sound turned down; it must have been on, lighting and darking the kitchen by itself, all night” (233). Or this, about the sidewalk in November (with a nod to Gerard Manley Hopkins): “The leaves are stuck to the ground with wet. The ones on the paving are yellow and rotting, wanwood, leafmeal. One is so stuck that when it eventually peels away, its leafshape left behind, shadow of a leaf, will last on the pavement till next spring” (259).

TL;DR: this book is lovely and made me teary-eyed on the subway, twice. Also, I really like Sarah Lyall’s review of it in the New York Times.

I don’t know whether to call Pond a novel or a collection of linked stories: it consists of named pieces of varying length, all but one of which are first-person narrations, with the same narrator. A novel with a shift at the very end? Whatever it is, I found myself alternately enjoying it and not. I found it well-written, with a strong voice, but that strong voice is pretty much all there is: there is little in the way of plot or character, other than the sense of our narrator’s character we get through her voice, and I found the whole thing a bit claustrophobic, and a little off-putting, but I think that may well be intentional. Our narrator lives in a cottage somewhere in the west of Ireland; she was an academic at some point, or was trying to be, but seems not to be at present. She sleeps with people; she has friends; she throws a party. But largely it feels like she moves through her days alone/in her head, and these stories are very concerned with the way she moves through her days. She talks about breakfast: “Sometimes a banana with coffee is nice” (3). She talks about her fading nail-polish and the dirt under her nails: “They look like the hands of someone very charming and refined who has had to dig themselves up out of some dank and wretched spot they really shouldn’t have fallen into” (6-7). She talks about coming to a literal and figurative standstill after a break-up, and about fleeing the room after giving an academic talk, and about how the knobs on her stove are eventually all going to break and she’s not sure what she’ll do then. There are some really lovely bits, like when she talks about lying in the garden on a blanket listening to insects and various kinds of birds:

And each sound was a rung that took me further upwards, and in this way it was possible for me to get up really high, to climb up past the clouds, towards a bird-like exuberance, where there is nothing at all but continuous light and acres of blue. (25)

Some of the shorter pieces in the book are funny and really well-paced: there’s one called “First Thing” that’s only a page that’s about waking up after having had maybe too much beer the previous night, and having to deal with a ratcatcher coming to take care of a rat in her cottage, which ends like this: “And because I wasn’t really here I didn’t yet know how I like things, so I put two sugars and milk into my coffee, because that’s how the ratcatcher takes his” (29). A piece called “Wishful Thinking” was another highlight for me, as was “Stir-fry,” which you can read in full in Jia Tolentino’s review on the New Yorker website.

Also, I really like this, from “Finishing Touch”:

Quite often I’m terribly disappointed by how things turn out, but it’s usually my own fault for the simple reason that I’m too quick to conclude that things have turned out as fully as it is possible for them to turn, when in fact, quite often, they are still on the turn and have some way to go until they have turned out completely. (80)

I’m sure I’m not the only person to have the problem of always packing too many books when I go on vacation, right? I mean, I read a lot when I’m at home, surely I’ll read a lot elsewhere, too? I’m on vacation! I’m not going to be cooking or cleaning or doing laundry, so, I mean, what else will I do? And what about those long flights? I’ll read, right? Well, sort of. I tend to forget that at home I have a twice-daily chunk of reading time built in, in the form of my commute via subway to and from work; that isn’t there when I’m on vacation. And when I’m on vacation I’m probably out doing things/seeing things/getting lost, or sleeping after a long day of walking, or having dinner with the friend I’m visiting: all very good things, but things that are not reading. And those long flights—sometimes reading works on them, but sometimes I just want to sleep. Or watch movies back to back. Or stare out the window, wondering where exactly we are and whether I’m going to make my connecting flight (true story: on this particular vacation, I found myself full-on running from one terminal of the airport in Houston to another: it was fine, but my flight was already boarding when I got to the gate). All of which is to say, it probably took me longer to read Norse Mythology while I was on vacation than it would have if I’d read it at home, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it.

The book is made up of 16 stories, plus an introduction and a glossary, but there is a narrative arc/the stories should be read in order. In the introduction, Gaiman talks about his own introduction to the Norse gods via comic books he read as a kid, followed by books of myth; he says he has tried to retell them as “accurately” and as “interestingly” as he can (14). I can’t really speak for the accuracy of his retellings—I think maybe the only other book of Norse myths I’ve read was A.S. Byatt’s retellings in Ragnarök: The End of the Gods—but Gaiman’s retellings are definitely interesting. I like how he uses current/casual language to often-humorous effect, like when Freya, worried that she’s going to be married off against her will because of an agreement Loki’s gotten all the gods to buy into, turns to him and just says “I hate you so much” (78). And I like the way Gaiman combines a matter-of-fact tone/phrasing with more poetic language, like this early description of Loki: “Loki makes the world more interesting but less safe. He is the father of monsters, the author of woes, the sly god” (24). After an introduction to Odin, Thor, and Loki, Gaiman moves on to the Norse origin myth, and from there onto the world-tree, Yggdrasil, and Odin’s desire for wisdom, and other, more various stories. I love this, from a story about Thor and his wife waking up one day to find that she’s bald, and Thor being convinced that it’s somehow Loki’s fault, then telling Loki he’ll break every bone in his body if he doesn’t fix the situation:

“Today,” mused Thor, it will probably take me about an hour to break every bone in your body. But I bet that with practice I could get it down to about fifteen minutes. It will be interesting to find out.” He started to break his first bone. (53)

As with Byatt’s retellings, I felt like Loki was often a highlight of this book; he’s forever being motivated to sort things out because he needs to save his own skin, and the uncertainty and drama he adds to things gives the stories a lot of their force. I love that when Odin confronts him about his monstrous children, this is how Gaiman describes it:

Loki said nothing. He tried to look ashamed and succeeded simply in looking pleased with himself. (94)

I think the story of “Freya’s Unusual Wedding” was probably my favorite in the book, followed by “Thor’s Journey to the Land of the Giants,” but the whole thing was pretty delightful to read.

Every Heart a Doorway, set at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, is a novel (novella?) that I felt was more about the allegory than the story, though Cory Doctorow feels that it’s the other way around. Not that I didn’t like this (beautifully-written) book: I did, a whole lot. It just felt less about the plot or even the characters and more about the ideas. There’s a fairy-tale feel to Every Heart a Doorway, which is appropriate, given its subject: the Home for Wayward Children is a school for teenagers who have traveled to other realms via magic portals but had to leave, for whatever reason or non-reason, and now find themselves back in our world, each yearning for the place they left, the place where they felt right/understood/at home.

Near the beginning of the book we meet Nancy, a new student at the school: she’s been to the Halls of the Dead and wants to go back. Her roommate, Sumi, tells her she should know better: “You can’t go back. Once they throw you out, you can’t go back,” Sumi says, but others at the school share Nancy’s hope (26). As the book progresses we get to learn bits about where other students have been: the other worlds they’ve traveled to are roughly divided into worlds governed by Logic and worlds governed by Nonsense, with Wickedness and Virtue as the other main “compass points” by which the worlds are categorized, though there are other characteristics too, like Rhyme and Linearity, or Whimsy and Wild. A pair of twins went to a world with wild moors and vampires and a Doctor-Frankenstein-ish mad scientist; another girl went to a place with “boys made of glass whose kisses had cut her lips”; when someone else tells about the world she went to, it’s “a majestic, epic tale of spider princesses and tiny dynasties”; a boy who turns out to be able to make bones dance went to a world of “happy, dancing skeletons” that he describes as “pretty sunshiny, but sort of sunshine by way of Día de los Muertos” (56, 95, 110).

There’s a lot in this book about the tensions of growing up, about parents like Nancy’s who say they want their “real daughter back,” parents who want the children they knew and can’t/won’t figure out how to let those children be the people they’re becoming. There’s a lot, too, about identity and self-determination and belonging/not-belonging, and kids/teens figuring out who they are: Nancy is asexual and talks about the challenges of explaining that to her peers; there’s also a trans boy, Kade, who talks about how his trip to a Fairyland was the first time he was properly seen as himself, rather than as a girl. Every student ended up in a realm that was right for them: as Jack (short for Jacqueline), one of the twins, puts it, “for the first time, we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be” (57). All of this worked for me, moreso than the other aspect of the story, which is a horror-inflected mystery plot, though it wasn’t bad, just not what I found the most appealing (and hard to talk about without being spoilery!).

If you’re curious, you can read an excerpt of this book over at io9.

For years, until it stopped happening, my favorite thing to do on New Year’s Eve was to go to the Pratt campus here in Brooklyn, which has a steam-powered electricity-generating power plant. On New Year’s Eve, the chief engineer would rig up his collection of historic steam whistles outside: there was a steam calliope, and whistles from trains and boats, and at midnight they’d go off together with billows of steam, a variety of pitches. You can find videos online but they don’t capture how it felt to be there surrounded by the sound, not just hearing the whistles but feeling the vibrations from them in your body, especially the biggest and deepest one. I thought about that thrum when reading The Chimes, a dystopian novel which features a massive instrument called the Carillon, whose sounding brings the people of England to their knees on a daily basis, and whose vibrations mean loss: of written language, of birds, which died when Chimes started, and also, daily, of memory.

The Chimes is disorienting at first, and it’s meant to be, and it works: we’re with our narrator, Simon, as he makes his way to London from Essex: his mother, who recently died, has sent him to find a woman named Netty, and that’s about all he can remember about that: he has no idea who Netty might be or why he’s meant to find her. We learn about this future England in bits and pieces: there’s no written language; people communicate largely in music and in the hand-signals tied to the notes of solfege. Memory doesn’t work properly: people have their bodymemory, their muscle-memory of the work they do, and they are able to sort of/sometimes remember important things by storing the memories in objects, and music helps keep some memories, too, though mostly just place-memory, the route to take from point A to point B, communicated in song. Children all learn musical instruments, and every morning everyone sings Onestory, a song about how the Order (the group who built/compose for/play the Carillon) brought the country together after a cataclysmic event called Allbreaking, which seems to have turned much of London to rubble and sent the country back to a pre-Industrial-Revolution kind of existence.

In London, Simon finds Netty but doesn’t know what help she’s meant to give him, and she doesn’t seem too inclined to be helpful anyway, so he follows a sound/feeling he has to the Thames, which leads him to a hunk of palladium in the muck: palladium, we learn, is what the Carillon is made of, and packs/pacts of scavengers in the city collect it and sell it to the Order. Simon falls into one of these pacts, with a boy named Lucien and a few others. Lucien is blind, but leads the pact through the tunnels under London with his extra-sharp hearing; they have their daily routines and each other but not much else. But then another member of the pact, a girl named Clare, tells Simon she hears him and Lucien talking at night. Simon doesn’t remember this so doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but then, slowly, he figures it out, and the plot turns into an adventure/quest, with Simon and Lucien setting out from London together on a mission.

After reading a bunch of realistic fiction, this book was exactly what I was in the mood for. The writing is gorgeous and immersive, and it was a delight to be absorbed in the book’s world. I loved things like this description of Chimes, early in the book: “Chimes is like a fist. It unclutches, opens. Starts like a fist, but then bursts like a flowering. Who can say if it’s very slow or very fast? Chimes is always different, and even after the thousands of times, I couldn’t venture to say what it’s like” (12). The adventure/quest narrative plays out somewhat predictably, though there was a twist I totally didn’t see coming, and by that time I was invested enough in the story and characters that the predictability didn’t bother me. I mean, it’s OK for certain stories to fit certain shapes. I cried, multiple times, and when I wasn’t crying I was busy being pleased by the themes of the book, by its focus on memory and story and how narrative shapes things, and how narrative opens up possibilities. Simon is, basically, a writer, someone who observes and wonders and imagines and remembers as best he can, and I like how the book explores all of that. I did wonder (as I sometimes do when reading this particular kind of dystopia that’s set in our world but focuses on one geographical location, like The Hunger Games did), about the rest of the world: does the Order’s power stretch beyond England? Or is the rest of the world like, “Oh, London. Used to be a nice place, and then it was a war zone. Now it’s, like, medieval? *shrug*” But mostly I was willing to suspend disbelief and just go with it.

Also: I love this page on the author’s website: The World of The Chimes – A Non-Exhaustive Handbook.

Attachments is not my favorite Rainbow Rowell novel, but it was a quick read, and I was in the mood for something light, and it was fun enough that I was willing to overlook its flaws.

The books starts with an email exchange between two women who are best friends and work at a newspaper: it’s 1999 and the paper has only recently given email accounts to its employees, and Beth and Jennifer use theirs to have private/funny/fun conversations during their downtime. They know they’re not meant to be using their work email for personal chats like this, and they know everything they send is being monitored, but they’re not overly concerned about it. We then switch to Lincoln, who lives with his mom and works in the IT department at the same newspaper where Jennifer and Beth work. His job, in fact, is to monitor the company’s email: there’s a piece of software that flags messages containing certain words, or that exceed a certain size or frequency, and he’s supposed to review them and take the appropriate action, which is usually just giving the emailer(s) a warning. Beth and Jennifer’s messages keep getting flagged because they write to one another so much, but Lincoln is charmed by their friendship, and by the messages’ humor and kindness and heart, and he doesn’t send them a warning: instead, he finds himself looking forward to their exchanges being flagged so he can read them, so he can get a little window into their lives. He knows he should stop, but he can’t seem to make himself, and after a while he realizes he’s totally falling for Beth, despite the fact that she has a boyfriend (who isn’t reliably present for her in their relationship) and despite the fact that he’s never even seen her. Beth, meanwhile, has a chance to engage in some stalker-y behavior of her own as the story progresses, and does, which I guess is meant to balance things out? (It was funny to read this book relatively soon after reading Crosstalk by Connie Willis, which is also a book centered around co-workers and also features a basement-office-IT-guy who knows more than the female protagonist does/withholds information from her at some points. I was willing to not be bothered by it in that book, too.)

I like how we get to see Lincoln grow up over the course of this book: his mom is overbearing, and he dated someone in high school/early college who was way more assertive than he was and he’s never really gotten over that relationship even though he is now, like, 28, and he’s never really figured out who he is and what he wants. I like the depiction of the arrival of email and the Internet in a workplace that hasn’t had it before: as far as the company bosses are concerned, it’s suddenly “impossible to distinguish a roomful of people working diligently from a roomful of people taking the What-Kind-of-Dog-Am-I? online personality quiz,” and they’re dismayed about it (11). I was amused by the throwaway references to things like Zima and Orange Julius and appletinis—oh, 1999/2000. I also really like the beautiful descriptive writing about a crisp October day near the end of the book: big chunks of the book take place either in the newspaper offices or in people’s heads, and I appreciated the bits that were views of the outside world the characters are moving through.