Finished Last Week:
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I picked up The Wangs vs. the World after attending a panel with the author at the Gaithersburg Book Festival back in May. The eloquence of patriarch Charles Wang's hatred of America inspired my purchase, but still the hardcover sat unread for days and months, intimidating me. I knew I was going to like it, but that also made me more eager to wait for the right moment, when I could appreciate it.
The prose didn't disappoint. From white wolf hair ink brushes to urea to "guyliner," Chang creates an entertaining world of words, including transliterated but untranslated Chinese, in which the Wangs wither. Patriarch Charles is joined on his ride of shame across the nation by his wife Barbara, son Andrew, and daughter Grace en route to daughter Saina in upstate New York, who has troubles of her own. However, although entertaining and well-worded, the troubles of the Wangs don't seem to be resolved in any meaningful way, or, at least, the world suffers the consequences just fine.
Station Eleven, on the other hand, which I picked up from the Little Free Library near my home, metamorphoses material goods like iPhones, stilettos, and comic books into symbols of hope and ineffable meaning. It centers on a performance of King Lear in Toronto where the lead actor, Arthur Leander, perishes of a heart attack on stage, followed by a worldwide pandemic. The story follows the one young actor who survives, the paramedic who tried to revive him, and other characters from the life of Arthur Leander. Just as Chang's story does, Station Eleven follows multiple characters at different moments in time, but primarily focusing on one physical journey. However, reading them so close together, it was palpable to me that while I enjoyed the characters in both, Station Eleven felt so much more meaningful and significant and has a much more narratively fitting ending. Although I do think St. John Mandel's work has an intentionally spiritual quality (and, frankly, Chang has the more sparkling vernacular), I do wonder if post-apocalyptic worlds are necessarily imbued with more meaning than our mundane world, where entrepreneurs rise and fall and go to live with their daughters. It reminds me of that old Okcupid question, "In a certain sense, wouldn't nuclear war be exciting?"
Finished This Week:
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman
I started reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team at an airport and finally managed to get it through hold at the library. Although it's fictional, the team in the book seemed entirely realistic. Lencioni succinctly and entertainingly details the consequences of a team's lack of trust, and how one might turn it around. I haven't read many business/management type books, but I would highly recommend this one.
Friday the Rabbi Slept Late was a find from the Bookcrossing table at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. I'm generally not a fan of mysteries, but I couldn't pass up a novel with 'rabbi' in the title. I'm glad I did, since, although the whodunit was obvious, reading about synagogue politics of the 1960s was at once familiar and revelatory. I grew up around the kinds of attitudes and discussions in the book...but I've never read about them before. Plus, the eponymous Rabbi Small is a Talmudic scholar who applies his learnings to the modern world, which was nerdily fascinating to me. There are apparently 11 of these Rabbi Small mysteries, plus a TV pilot, and I'm considering acquiring the rest.
The Best American Travel Writing 2015, edited by Andrew McCarthy
Not sure what I'm up for yet. It's Women in Translation month so perhaps I'll spring for the next Elena Ferrante novel (I'm due to read the third), or a different WIT read.