Jun 16, 2017

Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger

I read Catcher in the Rye in my high school sophomore English class, and while I didn't hate it, Holden Caufield was quite possibly the most annoying character I'd ever encountered. While reading "Franny," the first short story in this slim little book, I was reminded of what exasperated me. Like Holden, Franny is perhaps too smart for her own good. She's young and well-educated, and has gotten herself into a philosophical pickle. She views everyone around her with disdain, sickened by their egotistical attitudes, as well as by her own need for external gratification. "Zooey," published two and a half years after "Franny," is longer, more a novella than a short story, and it eventually becomes clear that Franny is Zooey's younger sister. He, too, is afflicted with intelligence and education, uniquely qualified to understand Franny's existential pain because he feels it too. But the wisdom of years (albeit only a few ahead of Franny) allows him to see a way through that crisis, and in his own awkward brotherly way, he seeks to help Franny navigate it as well.

I very much enjoyed both stories, particularly the banter between Zooey and his mother. The way Salinger wrote allows for a complete setting of the scene: he lists in one page-long paragraph literally everything in the room we're in, and delightfully italicizes exactly where his characters emphasize their words. As one member of my book club noted, it's almost like a screenplay, it's so easy to reel the pictures through your head while reading. In terms of the content, I did have a similar reaction to Franny as I did to Holden, but as another book club member pointed out, they are anti-heroes and were really the first of their kind; you're not necessarily supposed to have a positive reaction to them. They are meant to make you think, not to make you like them. And their struggles resonate very differently at different ages, so if you're reading this young, try it again in ten years.


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Jun 8, 2017

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., by Neal Stepheson and Nicole Galland

This book co-authored by one of my favorite writers is massively fun, and a big departure for Stephenson. Normally a master of hard sci fi, Stephenson's partnership with noted historical fiction writer Galland yields very different fruit. There's certainly science in here - namely theoretical physics - but hardly any compared with his other novels. Time travel is the name of the game here, and so we end up in several different historical locales. This is, presumably, where Galland's expertise comes in.

The story is told mostly through long-form diary entries and exchanges on D.O.D.O.'s intranet, making for a varied reading experience. Grainne is an especially fun character; what's not to love about a feisty red-haired Irish spy in Elizabethan London? Oh, and she's a witch. Here's where we depart from Stephenson's usual stomping ground. Early in the book, we learn that magic did really used to exist in the world, but disappeared after July 1851. What caused it and how can we get it back are the motivating questions for D.O.D.O. And then when magic is revived and the DOers (don't worry, you'll catch up with the acronyms pretty quickly) start going back in time all willy nilly, the expected complications ensue.

Yes, it's a little predictable, but just so much fun. This is the Netflix-and-Chill of books: enjoyable, addictive, and a little bit sexy.


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