Fluff, You’re Looking Mighty Fine These Days

I have extolled the virtues of fluff on numerous occasions. Now, more than ever, fluff is my literary drug of choice. I hate to admit this, but I just don’t have the time or the brain power to handle true literature (pronounced like this, of course).

In the past couple months, I have checked out the following books from the library . . . and returned them all unfinished:

imgres-1 Swing Time by Zadie Smith (I really gave this one its due, too. I read about 250 pages before giving up. I wanted to like it, but it just dragged on and on and didn’t get anywhere. The characters were unconvincing, shallowly drawn, a bit stereotypical, and not very likable. Sad.)

imgresMoonglow by Michael Chabon (On the other hand, I did not give this one a fair shake. I read maybe 50 pages before I had to return it to the library. It started out fine, but it obviously didn’t grip me. I mean, 50 pages in three weeks? Sad, sad.)

imgres-4Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (OK, this one I really don’t understand. It’s a National Book Award winner, and people whose opinions on books I respect have raved about it. But I wasn’t a fan. It started pretty strong with some striking—albeit gruesome—imagery . . . but then it faltered. Once they hit Baltimore, things came to a screeching halt. I was too bored to read any more. Oh, and the underground railroad as a real-deal train? I just found that a bit too trite. Sad, sad, sad.)

I used to be one of those people who COULD NOT abandon a book midway. I was compelled to finish even the worst novels. But now? Nope, nope, nope. I ain’t got time for that. Unless you’re the best book I’ve read in ages (see, e.g., Homegoing) or super easy/super fun/super fluffy stuff, chances are, I’m not going to read you right now. I only have so much free time, and I’m trying to make my way through Gilmore Girls, thank you very much.

Despite this new view on reading (and my radio silence on the blog), I have been reading. And here’s proof:

imgres-2.jpgThe Wangs Vs. the World
Jade Chang
October 4, 2016
368 pages

Why I read it: See above. Also, it was an Indie Next List pick and an Amazon Best Book of  October 2016.

What it’s about: This is a riches-to-rags story set in a car. Charles Wang, the family patriarch and a cosmetics mogul, makes a bum business deal that costs the family everything. Youngest daughter, Grace, gets pulled out of her boarding school, and son, Andrew, finds out that his Range Rover has been impounded right before he is forced to leave college. Charles and his wife, Babs, pick them up (in their maid’s Mercedes) and head cross-country to live with eldest daughter, Saina, in upstate New York. The book primarily covers the road trip that ensues.

Rating: 3.5/5

This book has a lot of things going for it. The pacing is super quick, the writing is fun and smart and a little sassy, and the characters are interesting. 

The book changes perspective from chapter to chapter. Although they’re all told in third person, each character’s voice is distinct and strong. It worked pretty well (although some characters—like Saina—were much more interesting than others—like Charles). Buuuuut it kind of jumped the shark two-thirds of the way through when the car got its own paragraph. That’s taking things a little too far.

Not to sound ridiculously vain, but I may have liked this book because the voice is somewhat similar to my own (example: “She downed the last inch of her mediocre wine. Whee! She was a little bit drunk.”). It’s very readable.

But, despite its strengths, even for fluff, it’s not spectacular. I wish its scope had been broader than the road trip (and Charles’s brief jaunt to China thereafter). There was a lot of potential for these characters that wasn’t realized. The book trails off and ends up being more shallow than it could have been. That said, I must admit, the ending didn’t suck. All in all, this book is enjoyable and pretty good.


imgres-3.jpgAnd Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer
Fredrik Backman
November 1, 2016
96 pages

Why I read it: I’ve read Backman’s other books (A Man Called Ove is easily the best). They are quintessential fluff: sweet, light, quick, not too thinky. This is his latest, and it’s not even a full-blown novel–it clocks in at just under 100 pages (several of which are whimsical illustrations). A fluffy book that can be read in less than an hour? Count me in!

What it’s about: Well . . . let’s just say this isn’t as fluffy as Backman’s other books. In his own words: “This is a story about memories and about letting go. It’s a love letter and a slow farewell between a man and his grandson, and between a dad and his boy. I never meant for you to read it, to be quite honest. I wrote it just because I was trying to sort out my own thoughts, and I’m the kind of person who needs to see what I’m thinking on paper to make sense of it. But it turned into a small tale of how I’m dealing with slowly losing the greatest minds I know, about missing someone who is still here, and how I wanted to explain it all to my children.” In short, it’s about a grandfather who knows he is slowly losing his mind (well before his body is ready to give up).

Rating: 3.5/5

Like all of Backman’s books, this is quick and easy reading (don’t let the mouthful of a title fool you).

In case there was ever any question, this little novella makes it pretty clear that Backman draws from his own life a lot in shaping his characters. It’s replete with his signatures. There’s the super sweet relationship between an old person and a precocious kid:

“Tell me more about school, Noahnoah.”

Noah shrugs.

“We don’t count enough and we write too much.”

“That’s always the way. They never learn, the schools.”

“And I don’t like music lessons. Dad’s trying to teach me to play guitar, but I can’t.”

“Don’t worry. People like us have different kind of music, Noahnoah.”

“And we have to write essays all the time! The teacher wanted us to write what we thought the meaning of life was once.”

“What did you write?”


Grandpa closes his eyes.

“That’s the best answer I’ve ever heard.”

“”My teacher said I had to write a longer answer.”

“So what did you do?”

“I wrote: Company. And ice cream.”

Grandpa spends a moment or two thinking that over. Then he asks:

“What kind of ice cream?”

Noah smiles. It’s nice to be understood.

There’s a very dissimilar couple who were head-over-heels in love with each other until they were parted by death:

No one had ever fought with him like she had. Their very first fight had been about the universe; he explained how it had been created and she refused to accept it. He raised his voice, she got angry, he couldnt’ understand why, and she shouted, “I’m angry because you think everything happened by chance but there are billions of people on this planet and I found you so if you’re saying I could just as well have found someone else then I can’t bear your bloody mathematics!” Her fists had been clenched. He stood there looking at her for several minutes. Then he said that he loved her. It was the first time. They never stopped arguing and they never slept apart; he spent an entire working life calculating probabilities and she was the most improbable person he ever met. She turned him upside-down.

And, of course, there are several tear-jerking moments: “Noahnoah, promise me something, one very last thing: once your good-bye is perfect, you have to leave me and not look back. Live your life. It’s an awful thing to miss someone who’s still here.”

While this novella is decidedly sadder than Backman’s other books, it still definitely fits the fluffy Backman bill. And, bonus, it can easily be read during a single afternoon nap.

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