Bits and Bobs – The Epaphras Edition

It has been a really long time since I have done a Bits and Bobs episode. But I wanted to be in touch without having to come up with a real blog post, so here it is.

Veteran’s Day

EpaphrasAs I have been working on my ancestry (mainly at it is interesting to see how many of my relatives and ancestors served in the military. My dad, many uncles, and it turns out my 5th great grandfather, Joseph Waters, was a sergeant with the Connecticut militia in the Revolutionary War. Yes, that’s right, I’m a Daughter of the American Revolution. When I was poking around on for records related to his service I discovered paperwork filed by his son in the 1850s to get the pension funds that were owing to his mother (Jospeh’s widow). Not only were those documents fascinating to read, many of them being affidavits by octogenarians who had known Joseph and could vouch for his service and his offspring. Anyhoo, as I was reading them I realized that the son filing the petition was not on my tree. His siblings (like Erastus, Ozias, and Russell) were, but there was no Epaphras G. Waters on my tree After verifying that he was indeed Joseph’s son and brother to my 4th great grandfather Russell, I searched for records related to Epaphras.

Not surprisingly there are not a lot of Epaphras Waters out there so it was easy to find some things. What I discovered was that Ep (as I call him) served with the New York militia in the War of 1812. At first I was dubious because the name was slightly off and his date of birth meant he could only have been about 13 at the time of his service. But there was no way it could have been anyone else. Then I found a payroll card that showed his rank as “Drumm’r”. Off to Google I went, sure enough some Drummer Boys were as young as seven although most were in their late teens. They helped send signals and communicate information to the troops. And my 4th great uncle happened to be one of them. How seriously cool is that? I think I find that more interesting than if he had been a general. It makes me want to write a novel about him.

Apple Paltrow has nothing on my ancestors

As I have been doing my ancestry research I have come across some really interesting names. It is a good thing my childbearing years are over or I would have progeny getting beat up in school left and right. Here are some of my favorites in no particular order (although Roxy Miles is John’s favorite).

Roxy Miles (1789-1873)
Temperance Waters (1739-1804)
Eliphalet Ball (1680-1686)
Rejoice Plaise (1616-1677)
Elizabeth Wapples (1618-1669)
Habiathia Pye (1578-1681)

I’m not a total fraud

One of the reasons I didn’t have the mental energy to do a real post was that I squeezed my brain really hard to come up with a ‘review’ of Anita Brookner’s Fraud that wouldn’t make me look totally stupid. I also updated my guide to Brookner’s London where I’m creating a gazetteer of all the London place’s that appear in her 24 novels. The problem is that I’m only halfway through my chronological re-read of her books and at the rate I am re-reading them (1 to 2 a year), it is going to take me about six more years to finish the gazetteer. I really need to speed that up. I also realize that I need to have not just a list by location but also one by book. I’m also getting distracted by the fact that I want to actually put the plot all the locations on a map.


Like me, if you are a fan of Ruth Reichl’s wonderful, foodie, memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples, you have been afraid to pick up Reichl’s first novel Delicious!. Well, I finally picked it up last week and was quickly drawn in. At first I found some of the writing too similar to her memoirs–which works very well in her memoirs–and it made me cringe a bit. But then I kind of let go and started to enjoy it. A young woman moves to NYC to be an assistant to the editor of magazine Delicious! magazine (No doubt somewhat modeled on the fabulous, but defunct Gourmet magazine of which Reichl was the editor). I start to love her new foodie friends as much as she does. And then Delicious! closes down but our heroine, Billie, is kept on to keep providing ombudsman services for the magazine’s recipe guarantee.


But then, get this, she finds herself alone in the mostly empty old mansion that was the magazine’s headquarters and ends up discovering the library that had been locked up for years and includes a secret room full of correspondence from the 1940s. I could have peed my pants. CAN YOU IMAGINE? A neglected, old, private, food library, with a card catalog, and files of letters, and did I mention she had the place to herself all day and got paid for it?! I mean hello.

But then again, about half way through it began to get less and less joyous as my willingness to suspend disbelief was overcome by one too many crimes against plausibility, believeability, and reasonable plotting. IF, you can overlook these things you might want to read it. If you are more like me, you could stop at about 150 pages and be as happy as you could ever be with this book.

I still love Ruth Reichl to bits. But you should read her memoirs if you have never read her before.

The problem with so many ‘documentaries’

On my flight back from my recent trip to Europe I was excited to see that there was a LEGO documentary available on the in-flight entertainment system. I’m a mild fan of LEGO and a big fan of behind the scenes documentaries. Unfortunately, this one has all the trademarks of the crap that passes for documentaries on TV today.

Always has to have a time crunch. Will the shop open on time? Will the displays be done in time? Will the staff be trained in time? Will the equipment work in time? Will this shitty documentary be done in time? It’s like every home improvement show ever made: WILL THIS FUCKING BE DONE ON TIME?!

Always has to have some sort of human interest angle. Will this long-term unemployed guy get a job as a shop assistant? Will the mum of two get a job as a shop assistant? Will the designer of the photo-booth mosaic maker who moved his family from Mexico to Denmark get the job done in time (oops see the first category for this one, but inextricably linked to WHO CARES ABOUT HIS FLIPPING FAMILY?).

Always leaves the interesting questions unasked. Seriously, how about telling us something interesting about the mechanics of that machine, or how a design gets turned into a ginormous LEGO sculpture? Don’t just tantalize us with some shots of the factory in the Czech Republic where they built the gigantic LEGO Big Ben, tell us something about it FFS. It’s similar to the Great British Bake Off where they repeat the same lines endlessly (take the cake out too soon and it will be raw, leave it in too long and it will burnt) instead of telling us something we didn’t already know.  YOU HAVE PLENTY OF TIME, TELL US SOMETHING INTERESTING, YOU STUPID GIT.

Always has to be some sort of competition. Of course related to the first two points about time and the wannabe employees competing for a spot on the team, but I can’t forget the giant Tower Bridge replica clad in LEGO to support two Range Rovers and break a record for most boring LEGO sculpture. I CAN’T RELATE TO ANYTHING UNLESS IT IS PART OF A COMPETITION.

Always has to be some sort of moment of peril. Will the Big Ben replica get into the store without doing any damage? Oh, shit, no damage done. Wait, what about this heavy photo booth mosaic maker thingy? Will that make it in okay? Of course fucking not, drywall gouged just days away from the store opening. OH GOD, WILL THE DRYWALL BE PATCHED IN TIME, WILL SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN. Don’t even get me started on the fact that they could have removed two of the glass panels instead of only one.

Always have to hear from the dimwit on the street. The drywall is repaired, the store is going to open on schedule how in the world can we create drama? I know, let’s talk to the disgruntled whiners who crawled on their knees all the way from Yorkshire to London and have been waiting in line for 32 months only to find that people who arrived 32 seconds ago are ahead of them in line. IT’S UNFAIR, IT’S SO GODDAMN UNFAIR. FUCK LEGO AND FUCK THIS FUCKING STORE.

I find this particular approach to documentary making to be of British origin. Don’t get me wrong, American television “documentaries” have their own issues for sure (lack of any real content, 10 seconds of footage repeated 1400 times, screaming electric guitars, etc.), but the particular formula for this LEGO programme could have been written by David Walliams and Matt Lucas (cf. Come Fly with Me).

Please, hire a few more nerds next time.

Bookshops in foreign lands

I just got back from 10 days hanging out with two of my best friends at their house in The Hague and a bit of a mini-break we all went on to Milan. Despite the fact that I had five books with me and was in two non-English speaking countries, I still managed to buy about 23 books. And all but one of them were in English.

I’ve already shown you my excursion into a glorious heap of used books I found in The Hague. But I managed to find a few other things along the way as well.

First off was a dedicated English-language bookstore that is charming and cozy for browsing. After about 7 years of visiting it, however, it has finally dawned on me that it is really just charming and cosy. The stock seems geared at the twee and/or obvious with lots of Englishy nostalgia items like Penguin merch. I had a bunch of UK titles that aren’t out yet in the US that I was hoping to find and this store only had one of them, and only one copy at that. It’s not a bad store by any means, but feels a bit like they might be missing the opportunity to broaden their offerings and still sell books–particularly when compared to other English language sections at other Dutch bookstores.

I love following Matt Haig on Twitter, but I have never read any of his books. This one is getting so much play on the internet but still isn’t available in the US. Finally glad to have my hands on a copy.

I asked my friend who is Canadian but has been living Europe since 1992 and in The Hague for a decade to take me to a good Dutch bookstore. I had never been in one in my visits. He took me to Van Stockum Boekverkopers where I was very impressed by the aesthetics of the store. If I spoke Dutch it might be possible that it wasn’t very comprehensive, how could something so stylish without tall shelves be comprehensive. Still, I quite liked it. They had a decent English section but I didn’t buy anything.

This store was very nicely designed, but does it hold enough books?
I’m told this is a great book, but I think I will find the English edition.
I’m not sure what’s going on in this coffee table-sized book, but I was hoping it was just full of officephilia pictures like the one on the cover. It wasn’t.


And then we were off to Milan. Just inside the world famous Galleria we bumped into Rizzoli Books which was disappointing only because most of the stock was in another language. Although that might have been a good thing. God only knows how much I would have purchased.

This has nothing to do with Tess Gerritson. Although I guess her books might be inside.
Books that won’t be mine.
The large English section was down in the basement.
Doesn’t this remind you of Breaking Away?
I like an event space that doesn’t require rearranging the store. On the other hand it looks a bit small.
Certainly a compelling cover for book lovers.
I loved this wall of little blue books.
Recently I began Italian classes to try and resurrect the two years of college Italian I gook almost 30 years ago. I picked this up off the blue shelves at random and found I was able to actually read the first paragraph. So I bought it to use as a study aid when esercizi start to get me down.


I cooled my jets in the Tauschen Store in Milan while my friends were in search of espresso and a toilet. If I was rich and had a huge library with special slanted reading tables, I would buy lots of Tauschen Books which tend to be enormous.

I was really tempted to buy this. But I had only brought along a messenger bag as my luggage and this would not have fit.
I think this one belongs to Yotam Ottolenghi. I would love a print of this framed somewhere in my house.

We had some time before our bus left Milano Centrale for the airport so I popped into the extremely good bookstore at the station. They had a pretty big English section. Reminded me of the the time in 1992 when I was a poor student passing through Rome and ran out of reading material. I found a copy of The Razor’s Edge at the Rome train station. It was a cheap mass market edition that cost me a whopping $15. Did I mention I was poor and it was 1992? I still bought it though, I was desperate. I wasn’t desperate this time but I bought books like I was.

So happy to have this much to choose from.
So happy to get Elmet and Tin Man which everyone has been talking about and I haven’t been able to find in the US. The others were impulses. I finished African Pyscho on the plane ride home.

As if I wasn’t laden enough with books, I couldn’t resist browsing a bookstore at Schipol Airport on my way home.

Can you believe I bought the Ali Smith. I really hated How to be Both, but the cover made me pick it up and when I read a bit of it I thought it might not be so bad. The bottom one is all about the whos whats and whys of air travel written by a pilot. I eat that stuff up.

I can’t help following up on my previous post about the used bookstore in the Hague with these photos.

Thought you might want to see the cover of the Mrs. Harris edition. Couldn’t believe the good condition of the dust jacket.
I love these Faber editions and this cover is particularly nice. I first encountered them with the Alexandria Quartet and now I buy them whenever I find them. It was only recently that I realized Lawrence and Gerald were brothers. There outlook and books are very different.
I actually found this at a different used bookstore in The Hague. Much better organized but much less to buy. There is a little part of me that thinks I may already own this, possibly even read it.


If at this point you are thinking this post random and poorly written, it kind of is. I will blame jet lag.

Book tidying fantasy camp

Yesterday was not the first time I fantasized about organizing books.

After a visit to the truly astonishing Gemeentemuseum in The Hague (think Mondrian not Rembrandt) my friend was on a mission to buy toys for Koko, a cuddly cat he and his husband recently adopted.

If it wasn’t for Koko’s entertainment needs, I never would have stumbled across this bookstore.

While he was weighing the merits of low effort cat toys, I noticed a particularly full used bookstore across the street.

I didn’t even catch the name of the store. I was mesmerized by the mess within.

Given that I knew most, if not all, of the contents would be in Dutch, I first satisfied myself with taking a picture from outside the shop. Plus the aisles couldn’t even really be called aisles, I didn’t think I would even fit inside. But then, after witnessing the cat toy exploration for about a minute, I thought it might be worth it to cross back over to the bookstore.

The books in the small English section were double-shelved. Pretty much everything I took home with me was hidden behind the front row.

Turned out they did have some Engels books. And it turned out to be a bit of a treasure trove. Although it was extremely difficult to find a place on the floor for my size 12 feet to stand, and forget about bending over–I knocked one stack over trying to do that–I wedged myself in for a rather successful and short fossick. It was a smallish section but it yielded pretty good results.

The heel of my foot was up in the air because I had a hard time being able to place my whole foot on the floor. Essentially my feet had to be perpendicular to each other in order to have both feet on the ground.


I would truly love spending a week helping to organize a store like this. But with most of the books in a language I don’t know, I’m guessing that would be pretty unsatisfying. I did my bit to deplete the stock but I don’t think it was enough to allow for much in the way of tidying things up. My guess is a couple thousand books would have to be sold in order to really see the floor again.

From top to bottom:

  • An earlyish Monica Dickens I had never heard of.
  • A thriller from Paul Gallico. To date I have only read his cosy, sweet stuff.
  • Speaking of cosy, sweet Gallico, Flowers for Mrs. Harris is by far my favorite. I think I only have a paperback at home and this neat little hardcover was in really good shape.
  • I’m a big fan of these Faber editions of Durrell and these are two titles I have never stumbled across in the U.S.
  • I pretty much buy any old green cover Virago’s that I know (or think I know) I don’t own.
  • Pretty sure I don’t have these Bensons. I know I don’t have Final Edition, which appears to be his final memoir. I have quite a few of these Hogarth editions at home. Probably getting dangerously to becoming completest about them.

All in all, a good job for about 15 minutes in a store where only about 1% of the stock was in English.

Back in Europe

After all the Africa photos, I intended to do a post about my day with Simon Savidge in Liverpool at the end of August. One thing led to another and I never got around to it. Now here I am staying with dear friends in The Hague writing this post about something that happened almost two months ago elsewhere in Europe.

This is going to be a photo essay.

Me trying to take a selfie at Liverpool’s central train station. Spoiler alert: it was indeed Liverpool.
Tell me about it. Because of Bank Holiday track work, it would have taken me over 4 hours one way to get to Liverpool from London. This would have made it nigh impossible to spend the day with Simon. So I ended up flying from London to Manchester and then taking a taxi to Liverpool and then doing it all again about 6 hours later to get back to London.
I took this shot surreptitiously on the little shuttle bus out to my plane. The gentleman next to me was reading, or at least carrying around, The Readers summer 2016 read along novel. I hope he liked it more than Simon and I did.
I can’t understand who in Liverpool thought this statue was a good idea. Some famous Liverpudlian know for his zany feather duster humor. I forgot his name. Must have been dreadful.
We did a quick walk through of the beautiful central Liverpool library. Simon has read all the books in the on the shelves behind us..
Pretty fabulous cover. It was 3D.
On the bus to Simon’s house. We didn’t actually get into a fight. I just wanted to be by a window that opened.
Simon hates it when I air his dirty laundry so I opted for showing some clean linens.


While I was there we recorded two episodes of The Readers and one vlog for Simon’s Book Tube channel.


John was asleep when I left for Liverpool and had to fly to Jackson, WY for work so he was gone by the time I got back to our hotel.


I only had about an hour in the lovely, original Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street.
In the United lounge at Heathrow on the way home.
Yes, that’s how I do it.
The speed with which I ate them was a little nutso.


Heywood you look at this…

Who can resist a brown paper package tied up with string? Okay, so the string is actually a lovely, blue, Heywood Hill ribbon, but you get the idea. Was the packaging the only reason I signed up for one of the bookshop’s subscriptions services? Being a reader, the answer is no. But it sure didn’t hurt. In fact the aesthetic experience of a Heywood Hill subscription is a delight from start to finish. Take a look at their webpage, it’s a perfect blend of old and new. And it just gets better from there.

Not only are these various book subscriptions fascinating in their own right, but the label-like graphics in lovely colors, wonderfully designed with the perfect use of typeface are too enticing to resist.

For those who don’t know, Heywood Hill is an independent bookstore in Mayfair in London that opened in 1936–back when one didn’t need to insert the word independent to describe it. From 1942 to 1945 Nancy Mitford worked there (a writer whose letters I like more than I like her fiction). With all the time I have spent in London over the years I have never actually made it to the shop. I thought I was going to get there at the end of August, but I had so little time I only managed about an hour at the original Daunt Books which was near our hotel.

When I got back to the U.S. I decided to take the plunge and sign up for Heywood Hill’s “A Year in Books”. One book a month for 12 months. I chose the paperback option because I prefer to read paperbacks and it was less expensive. The store claims to offer a bespoke service, choosing books specifically for you based on a “consultation” with one of their booksellers. But would they really get me and my reading tastes? Since I didn’t manage an in-person visit, my consultation happened via a web form. There were 8 questions in total:

  1. Would you like to receive fiction, non-fiction or a mix of both?
  2. Which three books have you loved?
  3. Do you have a favourite author(s)? If so who?
  4. Is there a particular genre or area of interest you would like to explore?
  5. What are some of your interests beyond reading?
  6. Is there any genre/author that you really don’t like?
  7. Are there any particular books that you know you would like to receive during the course of the year?
  8. Is there any other information that you would like us to know about your reading?

I wish to heck I had saved a copy of my answers. I mean, I know in general how I answered, but I wish I had the details at hand. I’m pretty sure I threw Ali Smith under the bus and indicated that I really didn’t want something that was too clever with hard-to-follow narratives.

First came the lovely announcement on the thickest card stock known to man.

On the positive side, I said that I wanted to get UK published novels that were on the newish side that would be harder for me to get in the US. Since I asked for paperbacks I knew I wouldn’t be getting things hot off the press, but I’m okay with that. Gives a chance for the wheat to separate from the publicity chaff.

The first book arrives. I’m having these delivered to work. Nice way to brighten up the day.

When I got the first of my 12 books this month, after being delighted with the packaging, I was a little put off by the cover of the book itself. Stock-photo covers are close to my least favorite type of cover. Couple that with the title and I was more than a little worried that I had been given a fluffy clunker that misinterpreted my predilection for books by and about women. However, I knew I could never write this blog post and share these great pictures without being able to comment on the book that was specially chosen for me. So, unlike my usual modus operandi of not reading anything that was purchased recently, I sat down to read it as soon as I finished the book I had been reading at the time.

I love to wrap books myself so I appreciated the beautifully crisp folds and corners.

Much to my surprise, I ended up loving Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak, proving the adage about book covers. It had time shifts in the narrative–which can really trip me up and which I am pretty sure I warned them about–but the shifts were the kind I like, clearly labeled and easy to follow. The story itself was right up my alley. It was kind of a retrospective coming of age tale about a non-practicing Muslim woman in Istanbul who had gone to Oxford to study. It wasn’t a work of art necessarily–probably why I liked it–but it was smart and well-written, and improved my limited understanding of life in Turkey and the Muslim world in general.

Each month has its own bookmark.

So what is my verdict on the capabilities of Heywood Hill’s book whisperers? I would have to say that I am cautiously delighted. They definitely hit the nail on the head with their first selection, but was it just a fluke? It was newish (2016), unknown to me, took me out of my typical reading milieu but in a way that was totally enjoyable and in a way that I asked for. But will they be able to follow it up 11 more times? We shall see. Stay tuned for the monthly updates.

You can see why this cover put me off. It proves that a good bookseller knows helpful things. I never would have picked this up to find out what it was about. And then reading the synopsis, I still would have thought it was going to be fluffy and bad. Instead it was substantive and good–and totally enjoyable.

(Hi Eleanor!)

This review deserves four titles

My thoughts PRIOR to reading 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

1. I’m a little surprised this is on the Booker shortlist. Not because I know anything about it or the other long- and shortlisters, but because I’m still not used to the Booker being open to Americans.

2. In my experience Auster writes two general kinds of books, ones that are totally straightforward, readable narratives (e.g., Brooklyn Follies, Sunset Park), and ones that twist things a bit on their edge (e.g., Man in the Dark, Travels in the Scriptorium).

3. I’ve not yet been able to get into his early work The New York Trilogy.

4. Auster is married to Siri Hustvedt.

My thoughts AFTER reading 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

4. This is a brilliant, enjoyable, touching, epic, coming of age story.

4 3 2 1 takes a close look at one boy’s life told four different ways. All four Archie Fergusons start off with the same genetic material, but from there his life heads down four different paths. The first chapter headed ‘1.0’ outlines Archie’s lineage and introduces us to his parents and grand parents, his uncles and aunt, and even his mother’s employer–all of whom will weave in and out of all four of the Archie story arcs in ways that are both familiar and surprising. This first chapter ends with the birth of Archie and it gives the reader a hint of how Auster infuses Archie Ferguson’s story with a sense that in each human there is an inextricable connection between the mundane and the cosmic.

Thus Ferguson was born, and for several seconds after he emerged from his mother’s body, he was the youngest human being on the face of the earth.

What happens next is where the epic begins. Instead of tracing one family through multiple generations from beginning to end, Auster limits his epic to about a 25-year period focusing on how the life of one boy could have gone four different ways. So chapter 1.1 begins the tale of one version of Archie’s life. Chapter 1.2 is the tale of Archie’s life continuing on a similar but different trajectory. Same for Chapters 1.3 and 1.4. Then Chapter 2.1 goes back to continue the tale of Archie number 1, Chapter 2.2 continues Archie number 2 and so on. Normally this kind of disjointedness can really trip me up and make me run from the room, but I was quickly caught up in the all the Archies and decided that trying to keep it all straight would be worth the effort.

And, although it wasn’t really all that hard to follow, I gave in to my burning desire to map it all out on a spreadsheet. Some characteristics that were easiest to distinguish had to do with his parents’ occupations, his Aunt Mildred’s academic posts (Stanford, Berkeley, Smith, U of Chicago, Brooklyn College, etc.), his uncles various forms of malfeasance, and eventually the Archies’ choices of college. As much as I loved my spreadsheet, after about four of the seven cycles, I no longer felt the need to keep it updated. (There is a part of me, however, that would really like to go back and re-read it keeping track of every single character and what happens to them in each of the four versions.)

3. It’s hard not to love all the Archies.

There is much that differentiates each of the four Archies and each version would quite easily stand on its own. But there were common elements to each of the stories that make it clear that each of the four Archies are four different versions of the same person rather than four different people. These similarities also imply Auster’s belief in the innateness of certain fundamental elements of who we are, what we like and dislike.  And Archie is a guy that I like: he likes to read and write and has a passion for music and film. Each of the Archies take us on a ride of discovery that had me Googling book titles, films, pieces of music, artists, and other cultural figures and movements. He also likes sports, but as a non-sports lover who usually hates reading about sports, Auster never focuses too much on this and it generally enhances rather than delays the story. In essence Archie is a sponge for knowledge and experience. He is the kind of kid I wish I could have.

There is plenty of plot in 4 3 2 1 but Auster definitely takes some time and pages to luxuriate in intellectual development of each of the Archies. For someone who just wants it all to plug along to the next thing this could be annoying I suppose, but I found it immensely enjoyable on two levels. The first being that they were fascinating on their face value: scraps of verse, essays, short stories, book outlines, jokes, newspaper articles, word games, films watched, books read, etc. The second being amazement that Auster has so much of this stuff bouncing around his head that he had to split a character into four to justify using it all. I enjoyed every minute of it. In particular I was taken with Archie number 4’s early attempt at short fiction which Auster spends about 11 pages describing. It’s called Sole Mates and it’s about Hank and Frank, who just happen to be a pair of shoes in addition to being best friends. I found it charming and funny and rather than being a blip in the overall tale, I felt it drew me even closer to Archie number 4.

2. It’s like a really enjoyable history lesson.

Like William Boyd’s Any Human Heart and Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, Auster’s 4 3 2 1 takes the reader on a ride through history. So many things I knew about in passing, pieces of stuff I kind of remember from high school and college, things I have forgotten, details I didn’t know…Vietnam, the civil rights movement, race riots, student takeovers of college campuses, and any number of other political and historical moments. Auster brings life to many moments that for most of us are not much more than a sentence or two in our school history books. And he does it in a way that is never pedantic or intrusive. One fully understands that it was all a part of the existence and consciousness of the characters. When you add in all of the high, low, and pop culture that Auster weaves into the story it is like a undergraduate seminar in American Studies.

1. This is a memorable book that packs an emotional wallop.

There is so much I want to tell you about this book, but I don’t want to spoil one single surprise. Let me just say that there are surprises. And they sneak up on you in terms of timing and content. Having four Archies gives Auster the opportunity to really (to use a word Auster/Archie would use) fuck the story arc up in ways that a single Archie wouldn’t have been able to convey.

There is so much joy in this book. Despite all the trauma and tragedy there is so much flippin’ joy. I found it life affirming to follow all of the Archies as they discovered passions, and friends, and sex, and freedom, and life in general. Some would (and have) reduced it to nostalgia, but for me, whose undergraduate days ended almost 30 years ago, it is less about nostalgia and more of an inspiration to be the kind of person that can forever be taking on new and exciting information and making new friends. Man I would like to inject some of that into my life.

And then there are the moments of pure upheaval and tragedy. Just as Archie is different in each of the four stories and meets a different fate in each of them, so too do the rest of the supporting characters. The fates of his parents and grandparents and uncles and aunt–times four!–all pack a punch and often have a profound impact on our hero. There is much that left me sad about the characters, about the arc of history, about the plight of the human race, and about this stinking bullshit mess we are in now that is both similar, better, and worse than it was 40 years ago.

Since finishing 4 3 2 1, I have really been missing the Archies. Part of it is a function of the length of the book–you just end up spending a lot of time with these characters. But more than that, it is the affection I have for each of these Archies that makes me want to spend more time with them. It’s not like I think we would necessarily get along in real life, there were times where  I wanted to bop one or two of them on the head, but they are fascinating, charming, complex individuals and I want to know more.