The Grumpy Librarian: Picks for Strange Worlds and Rare Birds
The legacy of Italo Calvino and books for the Physics 050 crowd
Caitlin Goodman, aka, The Grumpy Librarian, is here to help. The rules are simple: if you’re looking for what book to read next (who isn’t), just send over two books you love, and one you… don’t. The Grumpy Librarian will do the math and provide you with the ideal next read. (To submit your books, you can email TheGrumpyLibrarian@lithub.com.)
Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus • Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
DID NOT LOVE
Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities
This week, the Grumpy Librarian found another reason to hate NaNoWriMo: sure, its worst offense remains that unforgivable abbreviation, but it is also responsible for the existence of The Night Circus. The novel spills plenty of words exclaiming how fantastic and magical the night circus is, but it feels more like reading a leaden game of MadLibs, Victorian fantasy edition. As a submission, it makes for a dissonant pairing with the light touch of Invisible Cities, which is so playful in both its poetry and its formalism.
Even after the heyday of (forgive me) “postmodern literature,” Invisible Cities remains vibrant. If The Bonfire of the Vanities is still relevant, it is as artifact and not as literature (the GL suspects the same argument can be made for Tom Wolfe). So the GL is going to assume maybe you just really like books about strange worlds, 1980s Big Finance excepted. Somewhere in the midlands between the Big L Literature of Calvino and the prosaic fanfiction of Morgenstern is your next read: Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams. It was the thing for a while in certain circles but it seems to have fallen into shadow. It’s a clever riff on time, like “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” for the Physics 050 crowd. The GL has never tried to read Einstein, but she has tried to read Henri Bergson and this is definitely easier, and better complements your yoga class.
Charlotte Bronte, Shirley • Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star
DID NOT LOVE
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Please extend your congratulations to the legacy of Italo Calvino, as he gets double billing this week in this extremely influential readers’ advisory column. Poor Signor Calvino was insufficiently miserable for this reader, or maybe insufficiently political, or maybe just, uh, over-sufficiently constructed.
The GL imagines it’s a rare bird who picks Shirley over Jane Eyre or Villette, since you are the first such bird she’s encountered. Do you argue the merits of Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day in line for complicated pickles at Smorgasburg? But sure, have it your way: psychologically unflinching examinations of society’s miseries for everyone. Get in line, and the GL hopes you enjoyed Hanya Yanagihara on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Admittedly, memoirs are especially clotted with desolation but a “fun” entry is Caitlin Thomas’ stormy downer, Leftover Life to Kill. She spent two decades drinking and fighting with her husband Dylan Thomas, and her style is less well-buttoned than Bronte or Lispector but there’s an awful charm in it. Read it with something relaxed and conventional, like chocolate milk.