Welcome to Alcohol & Advil, where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)! For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, it’s the former.
I’ve got a couple quintessential New York City books for you today. And, Look Alive Out There was the perfect recovery book for The Female Persuasion because the style was so different. Big, character-driven novel vs. short, snappy essay collection. Of course, I went into a slump after finishing this pair…
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Plot Summary: Greer is a shy college student still in love with her high school boyfriend when she meets Faith Frank, an icon of the women’s movement, who changes the trajectory of Greer’s life.
My Thoughts: Meg Wolitzer is one of my very favorite authors, so I’m not entirely surprised that The Female Persuasion is my second 5 star book of the year! I’d be shocked if you don’t see this one pop up on tons of Best Books of 2018 lists come December. In a letter to the reader at the beginning of the book, Riverhead’s Editor-in-Chief (Sarah McGrath) says The Female Persuasion is a novel about “female power, ambition, leadership, and mentorship […].” And it is, but those issues are secondary to what is ultimately a story in which the characters are the stars: Greer, her boyfriend (Cory), her best friend (Zee), and Faith Frank. We follow these people through their evolution into adulthood (in the cases of Greer, Zee, and Cory) and a second act (in Faith’s case). I was completely enmeshed in these people’s lives and the issues this book addresses fit organically around the characters’ stories without overwhelming them (like An American Marriage and The Mothers). The sparkling writing you expect from Wolitzer is there…
So Faith Frank hired me, originally, based on nothing. She took me in and she taught me things, and more than that she gave me permission. I think that’s what the people who change our lives always do. They give us permission to be the person we secretly really long to be but maybe don’t feel we’re allowed to be.
And, though this is a character-driven novel, there are definitely a few surprises in the story that felt like cherries on top of an already delicious sundae. After finishing the book, I realized it was 464 pages and was shocked by how long it was. I read it in a few days and I was always itching to get back to it when I had to leave it for some real life. If you loved The Interestings (and maybe also if you didn’t, per Annie Jones of From the Front Porch podcast), I think you’ll like The Female Persuasion, but you’ll certainly if you love character-driven stories with great writing. And, it’s ripe for great book club discussion!
Plot Summary: A collection of essays about Crosley’s mostly New York City life, with her “trademark hilarity, wit, and charm.”
My Thoughts: I generally have trouble with essay collections billed as humorous. Humor is hard. I often feel like the author is trying too hard with the jokes. But, Crosley’s humor is more subtle…the kind that has me chuckling rather than LOLing (a promise of so many of these types of essay collections), which is much more up my alley. Look Alive Out There is a perfect example of what I like in my Brain Candy…light and fun, but also smart and sharp. Crosley captures the ridiculousness and weirdness and occasional hilariousness of living in New York City and doesn’t hold back with the social commentary.
Part of what’s interesting about living in New York is how much business you can choose to have with people who are absolutely none of your business. There’s something incongruous about how careful we are to set up boundaries, how ardent we are about maintaining them, and how quick we are to take a wrecking ball to them when it suits us. We train one another to disengage at the daily level, to greet with silent nods, to ignore music coming through the walls or tearful phone calls on the street. Yet when we want to feel we’re doing the right thing, we come swooping in with eye contact and directions.
As with all essay collections, I had my favorites. The opening story, Wheels Up is quintessential New York and Relative Stranger, about her porn star cousin, is ridiculous in the greatest way. Up the Down Volcano, about her experience trying to climb a mountain in Ecuador totally unprepared, was too long and the weakest essay for me. And, yes, she does write about that cameo on Gossip Girl…wittily using her insider status in book publishing (she started as a Simon & Schuster publicist) to take apart the authenticity of her guest star scene (which was a book party).