I have complained in the past about the typically low value of Powell’s Indiespensable book subscription but this month I think they did a better job – though perhaps that’s just because I had so been looking forward to the main book, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
This subscription costs $39.95, comes out every four to six weeks (usually closer to six but for whatever reason this particular box came out just four weeks after the last one) and it always has a signed first edition or signed collector’s edition of a new release, which is protected by a sleeve that’s exclusive to Powell’s, and other bookish goodies. Last month they gave us some nut butter, this month they gave us an extra book. Guess which one I liked more!
As I mentioned, the book this month was Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and it was one wacky ride! It’s certainly a book that’s difficult to describe – I’ve seen other people say that Saunders invented a new form with this book and I think that’s as accurate as anything.
When I first started reading this book, which takes place in a cemetery and involves a series of conversations from dead people in a sort of purgatory – including President Lincoln’s recently deceased son Willie – I had no idea what was going on. It’s sort of written as a play, but with the name of the person “speaking” written after what they have to say.
And then there are entire chapters that are just clips of news stories from the time, explaining what was going on in the world. These are particularly interesting, because they’re actual quotes from reporters, biographers, etc. of the time, and because these chapters are often just a series of different people saying things that directly contradict the thing the person quoted above them just said.
I sometimes like what I consider “experimental literature,” but there has to be a reason for it – I stand firmly against gimmicks. There was certainly a reason for this unique method of storytelling. On page 5 I thought, “How am I going to read hundreds of pages of this? This is an unnecessarily bizarre way to tell a story,” but by page 50 I thought, “Hot damn, this is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever read.”
I encourage everyone to give it a try – and a good try, not just a few pages while you’re standing in the book store. It made me think about things differently and isn’t that a big ole point of reading literature?
Powell’s was also kind enough to include a little booklet with info on the author and an interview with him about this book. I often skip these but this one was very funny and lovely. Recommended!
Rating: 9/10 How do you rate something that essentially creates an entirely new type of literature? As a 9, apparently.
Recommended for: Just read it – you’ll be better off for it.
Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace test? Yes
Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: N / N / N / N
The second book was The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, which is a children’s book that was illustrated by Lane Smith, who you may know as the illustrator of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. I must say, I’m not big into reading children’s books but when I got done with this I had to wonder why I’m not big into reading children’s books because this book was A+ fantastic!
Capable is the protagonist of this story, and she is as her name implies. The book begins with these adorable but annoying gappers who are in love with goats and eventually start taking over the goats on this particular hill, where Capable and others live, and all those who live there make a living via these goats – except when the goats are overtaken by gappers.
The problem could have been easily solved if the community would work together but instead each family stuck their fingers in their ears and said, “It doesn’t affect usss! We can’t see or hear you!” and then tragedy and then hilarity and then a great message. Except it was funny and great and I loved everything about it.
Rating: 10/10 Such a beautiful book but one that’s easy to see is not for everyone.
Recommended for: Children, adults, childish adults
Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace test? Yes
Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: N / N / N / Y