Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

Lincoln in the BardoBardo:: A Tibetan Buddhist term meaning ‘of an existence between death and rebirth’.

This novel is quite unconventional. Not quite as unconventional as the book called S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams, but it does not, as a typical novel would, consist of nothing but prose.  The chapters are quite short, and many of them are made up entirely of quotes pulled from historical accounts, history books, and letters. It is almost more of a work of art than a novel. And Although it took me awhile to get the rhythm, in the end I rather enjoyed it.
I came to this book straight off of Gone With the Wind and wanting to stay in the time period of the civil war. While this story does technically take place during the civil war, it is nothing about it but a vague backdrop that almost has no meaning to the story being told. This book is about the death and mourning of a child, and also an interpretation of the afterlife.

I read this book on audible, and it is the first audiobook I’ve listened to with a full cast. For this novel it meant 166 narrators! I can’t move on from this subject without mentioning how odd the experience was at first listening to people reading sometimes only a few words before another person jumped in. It was a cacophony of human voices for awhile, but once I understood what was going on, I loved it. As you may have seen, Nick Offerman (of Parks & Rec fame) leads the cast, playing a dead man called Mr. Vollman. David Sedaris has another leading roll as Mr. Bevins, and together they narrate much of the story from their perspective as ghosts in a graveyard. I was able to pick out a few other voices I knew: Rainn Wilson and Megan Mullally among them, and in 166 voices, I’m sure you will find others you know as well.

The story itself is devastating; Lincoln’s young and beloved son Willie dies. Since this was an audiobook it is hard to go back and pull quotes, but I will just say that the chapters full of quotes were extremely powerful and put together very skillfully. As a new mother, I found new layers of meaning and understanding in the scraps of real world accounts surrounding this event and my heart ached for our 16th president. Not only was he dealing with this horrific personal event, but he was also facing enormous backlash because of the war, where thousands and thousands of other men’s sons were being slaughtered on his order. What a terrible burden it must have been. Again, I find I am intrigued to learn more about this era, and even Lincoln himself. Knowing that his life was prematurely ended not terribly long after this, it makes me feel so terrible for him. What a hard life he had. Poor man.

But this is all only backdrop for the novel. Mostly the story takes place in the graveyard Willie is taken to after his death. The ghosts there are unwilling to accept that they have died, and therefore linger on, resisting their fate by essentially squeezing their eyes shut and ignoring anything that doesn’t fit their faulty beliefs. When Willie’s spirit joins them, he is confused, and resists ‘passing on’ when his father comes back to the mausoleum to hold onto his dead son’s body (apparently a true event). Through the quest to get this child’s spirit to pass on (something they all agree should happen), the other ghosts become more aware of themselves and what the true situation of their existence is, eventually accepting their fate and moving on themselves.

Yes, those were all spoilers, and yet I feel like none of that will ruin the book for new readers. This is the kind of book you don’t necessarily read for the story, but for the experience itself. I hope you read it, you who are reading this, and that you can appreciate it for what it is. I loved this book, and it has stuck with me in the weeks since I’ve finished it. Maybe it will for you too.

E.

June Reading Wrap Up

Hello friends – I hope your month of reading in June was as good as mine! I will just go ahead and admit right now that the last several years of my life have basically been one big reading slump, so the fact that I read 5 (FIVE) books in June makes me feel freaking awesome! So since I actually have something to talk about, I thought it would be appropriate to write a post summarizing my month in reading.

Total Books Read:: 5
10 Books of Summer Challenge:: 4/10    (see my book list here)
Classics Club Challenge:: 2/50     (see my book list here)

I started June with a mission: finish Gone With the Wind. I usually have issues finishing longer books, and I don’t know why. It’s so bad that I’ve been calling it a curse! The only way I’ve been able to get through doorstop books are by reading them either on an e-reader (The Stand, Stephen King), or as an audiobook (Game of Thrones books 2 & 3…and half of 4). Well, I am happy to say that the curse appears to have broken! I finished Gone With the Wind, my copy has 1,024 pages, in 25 days! I cannot adequately express how proud this makes me without making myself sound ridiculous, but ah who cares. I’m awesome!

However…

I still feel like I’m in a little bit of shock from it. It is not the book I was expecting…at all. To be fair, I didn’t really have any expectations about it going in, but I was expecting it to blow me away. After all, sooo many people say this is one of their favorite books ever. I’ve been keeping reading journals here on the blog after finishing each Part, but I am still gathering my thoughts on an actual full-book review. If you are interested in reading those, here are the links:   Part I   Part II   Part III   Part IV
I found the movie on Amazon Video, so I am planning to watch that and possibly blog about it as well.

I finished the rest of the four books I read this month on audio. The first was the only non-fiction book I read this month, The View from the Cheap Seats. I’ve already blogged my thoughts on this book here,  but I’ll say it again – I highly recommend it for anyone who loves Neil Gaiman, or anyone who is a fan of comics, or writers, or the science fiction genre, or literature in general.

Next I listened to a book called The Girl You Left Behind (my review is here). This book was recommended to me by a friend at work numerous times. I was on the fence about reading it since I didn’t love Me Before You, also by Jojo Moyes, but she finally convinced me. I was surprised at how dark it was, and ultimately I really enjoyed it. It had some issues, but overall it was very impactful, and I still think about it ocaasionally. Funny how some books just stick with you that way.

I also read A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle (review will be up in the next few days). This was another book from my Classics Club challenge, and it was a super quick read. I can’t say either of the two Sherlock stories I’ve read so far engrossed me, but I did like this one.

And finally Lincoln in the Bardo. This audiobook has something like 166 narrators. It’s nuts. I’ve never listened to an audiobook production with a full cast, and in the beginning it was very off-putting (it’s quite a cacophony of voices at times), but you adjust to it quickly enough. I especially loved that I could pick out voices of some of my favorite people; Nick Offerman, Rainn Wilson, David Sedaris, Megan Mullally, and many other names I know, but didn’t recognize while immersed in the story. I am still working out what I might say about this book in a blog post, so it may be awhile until you find it here on my blog, but I kind of loved it.

Right now I am listening to one of my favorite books of all time on audio: Jane Eyre (narrated by Josephine Bailey, my preferred version), and reading My Cousin Rachel in paperback. I’m hoping to finish another 5 books in July, wish me luck!!

Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King

Mr. MercedesDespite the fact that Stephen King is one of my favorite authors (as a person), I have only read a shameful amount of his fiction. I frequently watch his interviews and appearances on YouTube, and once heard him talking about a story he was working on; a retired detective is being mocked by one of the criminals he never caught on the job. The idea gripped me immediately. That work-in-progress turned out to be Mr. Mercedes. The one book expanded into a trilogy, and embarrassingly I never started Mr. Mercedes until long after the last book in the series had been published 😬

The novel opens with the scene of the crime – on a misty early morning, a madman drives a Mercedes into a crowd of people waiting in line for a job fair. It then fast forwards to find retired detective Bill Hodges doing nothing more exciting than watching daytime television and contemplating the thought of taking his own life, when a typewritten letter is delivered out of the blue. It is from the Mercedes killer, still at large, taunting him. Bouncing perspective between Bill and the Mercedes Killer, the novel is a non-stop crime thriller I found hard to put down.

Although I wouldn’t call this book a member of the ‘Horror’ genre, it is probably the most disturbing book I have personally ever read. Being inside the head of a serial killer is a freaky place to be, as you can imagine. **spoiler**At one point I thought I may have to put it down, as I have a sensitivity to cruelty to animals, but I pushed through and luckily the dog was not poisoned and brutally murdered. Somehow finding that his mother was instead didn’t bother me as much. (It’s the fact that animals are helpless and completely at the mercy of their caregivers is why, in case you are thinking I’m a monster for thinking that) **end spoiler**

Even though this book is part of a trilogy, I feel this novel stands alone very well. That is to say, it doesn’t leave off on a cliffhanger; there is a satisfying and complete ending, which I appreciate very much. There’s nothing worse than a cliffhanger ending. Or a violently abrupt ending (I’m looking at you Margaret Atwood), but this book doesn’t have that, so let’s move on.

Thrillers (especially crime thrillers) aren’t my preferred genre of novel to read, but every once in awhile a really good one can be quite satisfying. If you’re looking for something that fits the bill and is really well written, I recommend it! I’ve borrowed the next two books, Finders Keepers and End of Watch, from a friend, and I plan to read them later this summer. Stay tuned!!

E.