Currently Reading: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

I began Tell the Wolves I’m Home last December, during the holidays. I read only a handful of chapters before putting it aside, not to be resumed until now. I think post-Christmas blues and/or New Year anxiety made me less than eager to pursue a sad and emotional read. But it’s now Spring, and after the teenage love saga of Eleanor & Park, I wanted to read a story with a wider scope, not just two teenagers, not just home-school bus-school, on repeat.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is the debut novel of Carol Rifka Brunt, born in New York and now living in England. She introduces us to social pariah June Elbus, whose coming-of-age is darkened by the AIDS-related death of her uncle, Finn Weiss. Finn, a talented painter, is her godfather, best friend, and soul mate. He is the person who buys cassette tapes of Mozart’s Requiem, all four versions, so that he and June can decide which one is the best. He brews tea in a Russian tea pot and takes her to the Cloisters on Sundays and teaches her the difference between being “romantic” and being “a romantic.” Upon his death, June finds herself completely alone. A few weeks after the funeral, June receives Finn’s treasured tea pot in the mail, which includes a letter from a mystery man named Toby. Toby writes that June may be the only person in the world who misses Finn as much as he does.
Beautiful details are easily woven into the story. There is a scene when June, her sister Greta, and their mother select a frame for Finn’s final painting, a portrait of June and Greta. June observes that each frame changes everything about the painting. The “plain black wooden frame” makes everything look “sarcastic.” June prefers Tuscan Gold, as it looks “old-fashioned,” like it “could go right into a museum.” They eventually pick a “medium brown with beveled edges,” as it “seemed to disappear around the canvas, letting the painting be itself.” The details of the story are given just as much life as the characters. Here’s to being in the midst of a stunning read.

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Eleanor & Park

“I never said why I like you, and now I have to go.”
“That’s okay,” he said.
“It’s because you’re kind,” she said. “And because you get all my jokes…”
“Okay.” He laughed.
“And you’re smarter than I am.”
“I am not.”
“And you look like a protagonist.” She was talking as fast as she could think. “You look like the person who wins in the end. You’re so pretty, and so good. You have magic eyes,” she whispered.
Eleanor & Park, p. 113
By Rainbow Rowell
Published 2013

On Short Stories and College

During one of those predawn, sluggish, unknowingly pretentious conversations that thrive in college dorm rooms, a floormate brought up Edgar Allen Poe. By that point, it was late Winter Quarter, I had stopped asking, This stuff happens?
See, on the first night of my first year in college, I was alone and homesick in my dorm room. Right outside my door I heard feet shuffling and bodies settling and soon after guitars strumming. Following social protocol, I left my room to join whomever was outside because I read it’s important to make friends during your first week in college. There were about ten people crowded together in a narrow hallway. By the time I sat down, two boys had started playing “Wonderwall” by Oasis and everyone was singing along. Like summer camp. I thought, This stuff happens?
During that predawn in winter, I learned that Edgar Allen Poe kept his writing short because he thought readers should be able to finish a story in one sitting. Poe hated the thought of a story stretched out over multiple days because “the affairs of the world interfere.” Real life is distracting. Only uninterrupted reading could offer the unity that was essential to experience a story and grasp its meaning. Poe therefore stuck to his poems and short stories, which worked out alright.
At the risk of disappointing the late Mr. Poe, I hardly ever read an entire book in one sitting, though I want to work on that. I do read a lot of short stories in one sitting. Short stories are a good way to re-visit an old story without taking away from any new one to discover. They are short but dense, tricky but beautiful. I recently re-read Teddy from Salinger’s Nine Stories, and I often “recently re-read” stories from that collection. My all-time favorite is For Esmé – With Love And Squalor. In college I even told people that I wanted “Faculties Intact” tattoed on my wrist, which comes from two lines in the story, including the final one: “I hope you return from the war with all your faculties intact.” Years later I told a friend about the tattoo idea and she said it sounded like some declaration after a long stint in a psychiatric hospital. By that point, I agreed.

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Currently Reading: Eleanor & Park

I was poetically introduced to Eleanor & Park when I saw it displayed on the YA table at a quaint, local bookstore called Barnes & Noble. It was sitting alongside everything that John Green has ever breathed on. (Mr. Green also penned the The New York Times review for Eleanor & Park.) I liked the cover, the headphones intertwined to form an ampersand. I was then distracted by the bright blue emanating from the endless copies of The Fault in Our Stars and moved on.
Months later I read The Interestings, a story of six characters who meet at a summer camp under the haze of young talent. The story spans from their teenage years to their 50s, and sadly, many of them prove happiest as teenagers at a summer camp. Adulthood makes everything serious and complicated. While reading, I found myself continuously reminiscing to the beginning of the book, when everyone was young, secretly hopeful, and didn’t yet know what would happen with their lives. I wanted to focus on that single period in life, to be stuck in the amber of youth. Re-enter Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.
Eleanor & Park takes place over the course of a single school year. It is a love story between Eleanor, unkindly nicknamed Big Red by classmates, and Park, a comic book and music lover. They meet on the school bus. They fall in love. I’ve been promised a powerful read. Here’s to stories of the forever young.

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