Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, No fruit was abused in the writing of this review.

Call Me by Your Name
Love stories punctured by loss, doubt, regret and a lifetime of longing. Will the world ever have its fill of them? I hope not. They inspire the most beautiful writing, as you’ll witness when reading Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman.

Elio and Oliver are teenagers when they first meet in an unnamed coastal town in Italy. Oliver, a graduate student from America, is a guest in Elio’s home for the duration of the summer while he works on his dissertation. Narrated by Elio, a grown man reliving the intensity of that summer of sexual awakening with a maturity he never had at the time, the book is a meditation not only on the heat of lust and anxiety of wanting but also on the choices people make in life; what motivates us (are we ever fully conscious of what is at stake?) and more importantly whether we can ever be at peace with the consequences of our decisions.

The tragedy in Call Me by Your Name is that the young Elio is far too immature to be making the kinds of choices he is faced with at the end of the summer, or not faced with as it were. Because Oliver, who is considerably older at the time, simply does not offer him any. He leaves “Later!” – whether propelled by fear or indifference or simply the inevitability of a life led following the textbook, is never really clear (this provides an important dimension of authenticity to the story; how often are we ever truly privy to the motivations of others?  All-loving does not make us all-knowing).

It is interesting though that in the end, the person whose loss is felt most keenly is that of Oliver’s rather than Elio’s.  Although we don’t know the specifics of Elio’s circumstances, it is Oliver who clearly seems to be living a life which in a sense has fulfilled the prophecy that Elio’s father had warned about:

“Most of us can’t help but live as though we’ve got two lives to live, one is the mockup, the other the finished version, and then there are all those in between. But there’s only one.” (p. 225)

and:

“Some, for fear of taking any turns, find themselves leading the wrong life all along” (p. 99)

I understand Call Me by Your Name is often upheld as a kind of poster-book for the gay coming-of-age genre. Certainly there are passages within it, specifically the conversation that Elio has with his father, which will have a particular relevance to any young person dealing with the implications of ‘coming out’. Elio’s father handles their “talk” with a sensitivity and wisdom and ultimately unconditional love and acceptance that will make you weep.

But it would be criminal for such a thought-provoking and fine piece of literature to be shelved so narrowly. The writing is deep and brooding, the descriptions of scene and dialogue so perfectly observed, it is no wonder there are people driven to distraction trying to work out precisely where the novel is set so that they can visit the town in person. I, on the other hand, will never be able to look at an Apricot (Apricock?) the same way ever again.

Moreover, the things that the grown-up Elio is left contemplating after half his life has been lived and the summer with Oliver is but a distant memory, are the same that anyone might find themselves contemplating in later life. These are not idle musings about ‘what if?’, rather a very real sense that eventually the significance of those critical events and people that have so irrevocably and sometimes unexpectedly shaped our lives, might one day be understood, if not entirely accepted, in the grander scheme of things.

***This book has been Insta Book Reviewed! Don’t know what that is? Check it out! You may even be able to resolve your curiosity about the subtle references to fruit…****

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Judging a Book by Its Lover by Lauren Leto

Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers EverywhereJudging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What would a self-identified law school drop-out and co-founder of the decidedly shallow cult website textsfromlastnight.com know about literature, you might ask? Well quite a lot, as it turns out.

Barely out of college, Lauren Leto appears to have crammed more reading into her life than air into her lungs. She’s read every great classic tome ever published from Tolstoy to Proust, not to mention all the contemporary big hitters. She’s studied the works of as many popular, prolific and prize-winning authors as you can possibly think of as well as those on the fringes. From magical realism to postmodernism to Harry Potter to fanfiction and even utter junk, this freshly pressed bibliophile has apparently left no page unturned.

It makes you feel quite sick actually. To think all that time I spent in nightclubs drinking and dancing and I could have been reading Dostoyevsky… More to the point, what’s the poor girl going to read for the next 70 years?

But I digress. Leto describes her book Judging a Book by its Lover as a ‘Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere’. This woefully inaccurate description is nevertheless witty and sets the tongue in cheek tone of the book from the outset. Which is just as well ‘cos this girl’s got some balls! She reduces the greatest works of literature to twitter-friendly summaries in the section titled “How to Fake it”, even venturing so far as to instruct readers on how to talk condescendingly about the most revered authors in history. Parts of this self-help manual are genuinely interesting – particularly the gossipy lesser-known details around certain works and their authors (everything from McEwan’s divorce and custody battle to personality quirks, and who dates who in the authorsphere). Think of it like the Women’s Weekly of books where celebrities are authors not actors. Damn, I’d definitely buy that.

Chapters are varied and have great potential; who doesn’t enjoy stereotyping people based on the books they read? How about summarising memoirs in under 140 characters (“Annoying blond woman harps about her extravagant vacation and upper-middle-class premenopausal problems for four hundred pages” – bet you didn’t guess she’s referring to Eat, Pray, Love, did you?). Then there’s rules for hooking up in a bookstore, protocol for reading in public or participating in bookclubs, tips on how to classify fiction in an ugly but practical broad-sweeping fashion, as well as a guide to what your kid will grow up to be depending on what picture books you read them.

Mostly it’s light-hearted fun; Leto makes a veiled attempt at objectivity which helps deflect attention away from what she really thinks about anything. And it’s open-slather – no author or reader is spared her sardonic wit, even ironically, James Frey (A Million Little Pieces) whose glowing commendation of the book makes you wonder if he actually read it, considering how he himself is reflected in it. Readers get their fair share of stick as well, although Leto’s research seemed to have been restricted to middle-class American readers falling between the ages of 18 and 28. Too bad for anyone over the age of 30; we’re all lumped into the category of “Soccer Mom” or “Dorky Dad”. Tsk tsk Lauren, so lazy – and a golden opportunity missed.

Leto is careful to include sufficient self-deprecating remarks as to ensure she’s not above her own sarcasm (frequent references to dropping out of law-school and a “dark” confession that Janet Evanovich is her booze) – but unfortunately it doesn’t really ring true. When she’s read as densely and widely as she has, or at least as much as she wants us to believe, there seems to be little point in trying to qualify it with fine print.

People who’ve laughed out loud reading Judging a Book are far more generous than me. It was an enjoyable and amusing read but I wasn’t slapping my thighs. I think that’s partly because the cynicism and jadedness felt a bit inauthentic for one so young, a bit too studied. Which is a shame because the premise of the book is great and certainly Leto’s years in the reading wilderness have paid off because there’s no doubt she can write well. In fact, the autobiographical parts of the book are probably the most interesting of all and are genuinely comedic – in a kind of “prom queen got the guy but nerd-girl gets the book deal” kind of way. I wish she’d made more of that.

Even so, I made an Instabook review of Judging a Book by its Lover – if you don’t know what that is, you need to check it out now! Read it here.

View all my reviews

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, a multimedia review

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (Cover) Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks is inspired by the true story of a village in Eyam, Derbyshire, who in the time of the Plague did a most unusual thing. Instead of each man and woman fleeing for their lives, they sought to halt the spread of the Plague by closing the village in and selflessly bearing out its wrath internally. Geraldine Brooks has done an incredible job of evoking the customs and superstitions of the period, the nuance of language and the hardship of labour, such that you feel completely immersed in the village and its fate. The historical detail is astounding, but it is the very personal nature of Anna’s friendship with the rector’s wife that makes the horror of the plague so much more vivid.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce: A multimedia review.

Harold_Fry_CoverThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is about family secrets, regrets, shame, blame and the baggage we carry from the past. It is about the moment of reckoning, when all of the emotion comes bursting forth and demands to be understood. For Harold Fry, that moment comes when he receives a letter from a woman who he used to work with many years ago, and who now lies in a hospice at the other end of the country. Intending to send her a response by mail, Harold leaves his wife vacuuming in the hall and steps out to post the letter. But something happens inside his head and heart during the short walk to the box, and he doesn’t return. Instead, he continues to walk. On and on, a journey of months and several hundred miles, towards Queenie.

Your sample of passages, made misty and nostalgic with the help of Instagram: (click to enlarge & read descriptions)


A poetic voice to accompany Harold’s:

T.S. Eliot – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (excerpts only…)

[…]
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

[…]

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

[…]

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”

Read the whole poem here

And as for the song… could there have been any other?! 500 Miles, by the Proclaimers

Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. A multimedia review.

Still_Alice_coverSynopsis in brief:
Here’s a book with a heart, and a brain. It is the story of a middle-aged woman, a university professor and leader in the field of linguistics, who at the peak of her career is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers. We’re able to go right inside Alice’s thoughts to experience the world as she does as the familiar reference points that provide security and purpose slowly ebb away. We’re also privy to the emotions of her family as they struggle to deal with what is essentially her departure from the world. It is frightening at times, always sobering, yet never patronising. It is simply an honest, quiet exploration of what it means to be conscious, not just alive.

Prepare your tissues, call for silence, you will need it in order to hear your heart breaking.

Your sample of passages, made misty and nostalgic with the help of Instagram:

Alice, an academic, a woman whose whole life has been shaped and defined by her intellect, contemplates what she will miss most, when it is finally taken from her.

Alice, an academic, a woman whose whole life has been shaped and defined by her intellect, contemplates what she will miss most, when it is finally taken from her. (p.118)

A poignant passage where Alice considers the moment that her brain is dissected in a laboratory for scientific research, a process she is not unfamiliar with in her own line of work.  Yet for the first time it holds a different, much more profound, significance for her.

A poignant passage where Alice considers the moment that her brain is dissected in a laboratory for scientific research, a process she is not unfamiliar with in her own line of work. Yet for the first time it holds a different, much more profound, significance for her. (p.134)

A mother and daughter hold on to what little time they have left.  Hear that?  Yep, that was your heart getting a little crack in it.  This passage inspired the song choice for this review!

A mother and daughter hold on to what little time they have left. Hear that? Yep, that was your heart getting a little crack in it. This passage inspired the song choice for this review! (p.230)

And now, for the poetic accompaniment. Stanley Kunitz, take it away:

Touch Me

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

Finally, the song which in my humble opinion, encapsulates the sentiments at the heart of Still Alice:

Steve Earle, “I Don’t Want to Lose You Yet”:

Bonus information, just ‘cos.
This book was originally self-published, but has since gone on to sell hundreds of thousands (?), millions (?) of copies. It has won dozens of awards, sat at #5 on the NY Times Best Seller list, and has been translated into 25 languages. And to think this gal started out selling the book from the trunk of her car. Wow. Lisa Genova rocks (Read more about her here)

Happy reading everyone!