The Fullness of Life by Edith Wharton & Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda

In her short story, “The Fullness of Life,” Edith Wharton wrote about a woman who dies. In heaven, she is met by the Spirit of Life, who rewards her with the chance to live for eternity with her soulmate, something she did not get to experience during her time on Earth.

Seems like an easy decision, right? But here’s the catch: the woman still feels a dutiful attachment to her former husband, who has yet to die. In a classic bit of Whartian tragedy, he’s always considered her his soulmate, and will surely want to spend eternity with her once he, too, passes on.

Thus, her dilemma: does she selfishly take the Spirit’s offer and spend eternity with her true soulmate, or does she stay loyal to the man she married?

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
― Alexander Pope

I had been waiting to read Chloe Benjamin’s second novel, The Immortalists–which hit bookshelves four days ago–since last summer. That’s when Michael Kindness started shouting from digital mountaintops about how good this book was, and how he couldn’t wait for people to read it when it was finally published.

Then came the Publisher’s Weekly review, which claimed the author had written “a cleverly structured novel steeped in Jewish lore and the history of four decades of American life.” It was described as “a moving meditation on fate, faith, and the family ties that alternately hurt and heal.”

Then there’s that cover. Even if had been described as “Trump’s twitter feed, but worse” I probably still would have bought it. Early contender for Cover of the Year, for sure.

Finally, in a moment of apparent serendipity, I won a Goodreads giveaway and ended up getting a copy of the book two weeks early. More than six months after Kindness’ proselytizing, everything had fallen into place.

Things went downhill from there.

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Acknowledgments: January 2018

Every month I wrangle up some of the more interesting things around the blogosphere and present them to you in a neat and tidy package. Like sports highlights, or the mall.


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I’ve planned out most of my reading for 2018. This is a small sample, and you can find the rest on my #50BookPledge page (below).

December and January are largely comprised of 2017 wrap-ups and 2018 previews. I’m going to do my best to highlight some other great articles here (although there are a few great 2018 previews that I would like to share, but I’ll save that for the end).

I find that I’m gravitating towards the positive to start the new year. The narrative of “last year sucked, this year probably won’t be any better” is not only trite, but it’s negative. I don’t really have time for it anymore. Yeah, Trump is a monster. Hollywood is a an absolute mess. Lots of people hated The Last Jedi.

Who. Cares.

Choose to see the good things in 2018. I’m not saying ignore the bad, but do yourself a favour and just try to at least acknowledge the good.

Need some help? Let’s kick off this month’s Acknowledgments with a list of the 99 Best Things that happened in 2017.

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Vacationland by John Hodgman

Vacationland audiobook reviewI’m an absolute sucker for wise father figures.

Sandy Cohen. Johnathan Kent. Doctor Morgenes. Shaun Maguire. Few things hit me harder than moral, compassionate, middle-aged men with wisdom to burn and shithead kids who just won’t listen … until they do.

When I was a teenager my father wasn’t really around to teach me much of anything. You’d think this would explain my predilection* for paternal wisdom, but that theory falls apart pretty quickly when you consider what an unstoppable geyser of folksy insight my step-father was (albeit on matters of fishing, forestry, the Titanic, and surviving the damp winters of Eastern Canada in little more than a t-shirt and sandals). He delivered one of his children by himself as a 19-year-old, and might be the most self-sustaining person I know.

*Sidenote: why does “predilection” sound like such a gross word? More at 11.*

My attraction to gentleman sages like John Steinbeck may, in fact, be me making up for lost time, given how persistently I ignored my step-father’s step-fatherly advice when I was a shithead kid, myself.
I bring this up because not only is John Hodgman’s Vacationland an (admittedly) early contender for my 2018 Book of the Year, it features a wonderful addition to the Annals of Fatherly Wisdom.

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

In Bo Burnham’s Make Happy, he describes social media as “the market’s answer to a generation that demanded to perform.” So the market said, here, perform everything all the time for no reason. “It’s prison,” he says. In Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence the market is New York’s high society in the 1870s, and it’s fitting that the novel opens to a performance at an opera house because this is a story about people performing, and watching others perform, constantly.

The prison is society’s strict adherence to (arguably outdated) decorum: protocol, customs, etiquette, formalities, whatever you want to call them. This prison governs who people can marry, where and how they spend their time, what they wear, how they think, and whether or not their dreams are worth anything at all. These rules are strangling people, programming them, and as a result they live in a world where appearances are everything.

If they refuse to perform up to the claustrophobic norms of the day, they risk expulsion. No money from the patriarchy, no connections from the matriarchy, no respect whatsoever. Performance, then, becomes religion.

“Does no one want to know the truth here, Mr. Archer? The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!”

Every time I read a classic I inevitably ask myself the same question: “Has this book finished saying what it has to say?” If it’s become out of touch then it isn’t a classic, because classics endure; they reinvent themselves. We continue to find value in classics well past their point of origin.

The Age of Innocence is a nearly 100-year-old book about a society of fake, self-centred, and anxious people in 19th century New York and all I can think about after reading it is Facebook. If that’s not the definition of a classic in 2018 I don’t know what is.

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