Category Archives: Books

Dedication Page: A Love Song

Lately I’ve been re-reading David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim on my Metro rides, and mostly marveling, whether it’s late at night or I’m morning-cranky, at how beautiful and assured his prose is, how sly his wit, how intelligent his humor, how sneaky his emotional gut punches. I just finished the book in its entirety again last night, and on a whim flipped for the first time to the dedication page. It reads, in small italic font on an otherwise blank page: For Hugh. Hugh is Sedaris’s longtime partner, about whom he writes often and without shyness about their relationship and their respective roles in it. And seeing those words on the page, it struck me—how beautiful. How wonderful and bold a declaration that no matter how many squabbles he details within the pages of the book, how many fears he expresses that Hugh will leave him, for good, by the monkey cage at the zoo, here, in naked black and white type for a thousand or a million eyes to see, the declaration of not only his love but of their complicity in each other’s lives. Here I am, putting our private existence on display, shaped by an editor and my creative license as they may be; here I am, in the same breath, absolving and apologizing and pledging my devotion to you with these two words: For Hugh. For you.

Tagged , , ,

Interpreter of Maladies, or Why I Haven’t Given Up on Fiction

I recently moved to a new apartment in DC proper, which means my commute in the morning is quite a bit longer than it was before. But I’m not complaining; in fact, I enjoy that time on the train because it gives me time to zone out, or people watch, or—provided I remember to shove a book in my bag—to read.

This week I started rereading Interpreter of Maladies, a short story collection by Jhumpa Lahiri. It was her first book. It won the Pulitzer prize. And it is gut-wrenching.

Three times in two days while I was trying to read the stories I had to close the book because my eyes were swimming with tears and I didn’t want to alarm the other passengers. It’s like all my greatest fears about life are crystallized, pinned like inky butterflies onto the pages of this book. All the stories are, in different ways, about all the little ways the things in life that once seemed magical become commonplace, the way the person you once found so alluring seems to fade before you like sun-bleached paint. They’re stories about the roads not taken, the dreams not realized, all the words left unsaid and the stains of regret you can’t scrub away. It’s the ugliness and the tedium of the everyday, laid out, bare as bones, plain as oatmeal.

And yet, there’s so much beauty in her writing, too. It makes me cry because of its harshness but also because of its hopefulness. Joy, she says, is still possible; hope is still present. Life happens not just in the big, sweeping moments, but also in the quiet spaces in between.

Ever since I started studying writing in college, it’s gotten harder for me to find fiction I truly enjoy. So much of it rings false, seems manufactured, like seeing a ventriloquist move his lips. Her prose, on the other hand, rings uncomfortably, heartbreakingly real. (This is especially true because we share a cultural background; so many tiny details, from the flat leather sandals one character wears to the image of another “leaning against the refrigerator, eating spiced cashews from a cupped fist,” strike me as clearly as chords on a piano.)

My favorite passage in the book, the one that sums up everything I love about this collection, is the closing lines of the last story, which tells of a man who moves from India to Boston and later is joined by his wife, who is a stranger to him. Thirty years later, still in Boston, he reflects on the paths and the choices that have brought him to where he is.

While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination. 

Craving more of the Hunger Games

Yes, I went for the easy pun. But it’s true: I do wish there were more Hunger Games books. A couple of days before my trip to Key West, a good friend lent me the first in the series. She offered the second one, too, but I figured I already had plenty of reading material. “You’ll regret it,” she told me. Boy howdy, was she right.

As soon as I read the first paragraph, I was hooked. I tore through the first book in a day and a half, then dragged my long-suffering travel companions to the only Borders in Key West, where I splurged on the hardcover versions of the second and third tomes. Not since Harry Potter (which I also picked up late) do I remember getting so addicted to a series. It doesn’t hurt that it reminds me of one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of my all-time favorite TV shows. And as I started in on the last chapter of the last volume during an interminable wait in the Miami airport for my flight home, I remembered that what I love about series is also what I hate about them. Series give you time to settle in, to get used to the characters and the surroundings before the insane plot twists begin. Reading or watching the next installment is like discovering a new crush. (I’m especially bad about this, since I often jump on the bandwagon a bit late and can pick up several installments all at once.) And when the relationship starts to fizzle, you can always quietly stop showing up for your coffee dates.

Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. So if the saga runs its designated course (HP), or the ratings plummet past being salvaged by fan demonstrations (sniff: Veronica Mars), the story ends—and you’re stuck scrambling for a date. But sometimes I just can’t let go. I rewatch, re-read, rediscover, time and time again. And while it’s always a pleasure, I find myself stopping before the final chapters or halfway through the last season. Because the end is near, and in some bizarre and bittersweet way I don’t want to acknowledge it. I want to freeze time while there’s still something left, even though I know what’s going to happen next.

I finished the Hunger Games, and I’m halfway through reading them again. But in this case I’m in luck: They’re already making the movie.

Tagged , , , ,