August 2nd, 2008


I’m forever maintaining that I don’t have a favourite book, that I love books as a concept too much to ever pick one above all others. But I do have a number that, when pressed, I can put into that top-tier slot–books that are good enough that I’ll love them forever and forever, even if from day to day, what is the absolute number one varies quite a bit.

For a number of years, since high school really, two of those have been Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block and Too Far to Go by John Updike.

Weetzie Bat, as you know if you clicked on the link or ever were a teenage girl, is very loosely a young adult novel, a fantasy, a fairy tale, and a damn good story. Every time I reread it, it’s worth it–Block’s language is as sweeping and funny and romantic as a heavy-headed peony bloom flopping to the grass, like a puppy leaping into your lap and trying to keep going up your body, like a metaphor and then a metaphor and then, just in case you didn’t get it, a few more images and then an example. Block has an absolute generosity of spirit for her characters–they can be as weird or sad or messed up as they want, and still be beautiful–that translates to a generosity of prose for her readers. If you don’t get it, don’t relate, don’t care; the author will come and get you on the return pass, and eventually just win you over with the sheer love she feels for what she is writing. Just one sentence: “Then they went into the clubs dressed to kill in sunglasses and leather, jewels and skeletons, rosaries and fur and silver.” Love it or don’t love it; there will always be more. I love it.

Though *Too Far to Go* is perhaps not such a standard of the linked short story form as *Weetzie* is of the young adult novel, Updike is one of the masters of that craft of short stories. This book is not a novel about a failing marriage, it’s a set of stories that take place within a marriage, and that marriage has it’s bad moments and eventually ends. The emotional punch is always powerful, but as with Block, it’s the sentences that will kill you. Updike performs the great trick of *seeming* laconic and spare and plain while actually being wildly intelligent and intelligently wild is his sentences, images, every word: “The taxis they hailed carried heads in the rear and did not stop. They crossed the Via dei Fori Imperiali and tried to work their way back, against the sideways tug of interweaving streets…”

Favourites! I’ve tried to say why I like these two books, but I think really the only explanation would be for you to read them. A perfect map of the world is the size of the world, after all. (This could be why I have such trouble writing book reviews.) There are reasons why these are both good, why I like them, but why I would rank them higher than other books (Block’s contemporary fairy tale above, say, Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine, or Updike’s dreamy realism over something by Anne Tyler–a mystery. There too many good books in the world to start splitting hairs like that, especially when my love of these books is at least partially invested in where they came from and who gave them to me and how I was feeling open and excited when I read them first.

And could I ever rank one of these two above the other? Updike is the more accomplished writer; Weetzie Bat is the character closest to my own experience and my own heart. Favourites are great but they are arbitrary, fun only insofar as they give you an opportunity to show your love for something. And who can ever quantify love?

I feel old and tired

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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