Monday, June 25, 2012

Not in our stars, but in ourselves

I am currently $0.25 away from having my library card shut down again, in part due to two books I read, appreciated but didn't love, and then promptly forgot to return.

The Imperfectionists was a collection of sad stories about the staff of a declining English-language newspaper headquartered in Rome. They were all interesting and well-written, even if the the stories themselves a bit depressing. Each glimpse into the lives of the editors, reporters, and owners of the newspaper highlighted the not-so-newsworthy human dramas of deception, pain, lust, fear, disappointment, and anger. Something ended, for better or worse, in every vignette -- all against the backdrop of the methodic production of a daily paper whose identity and existence are become irrelevant in an internet age.

I'm not the biggest proponent of saving newspapers for their own sake; I think the smell of ink on a printing press and the illusion of objective "truth" have been overly romanticized. I'm more concerned that the decline of newspapers means fewer voices in media, not that everyone will suddenly be unconcerned with what is going on in the world because there are fewer stacks of papers in it. I think there's a way to honor the legacy of the print room without making it a funeral for journalism itself, which has always adapted to technology.

After all, the empire fell, but Rome is still a vibrant city.

By contrast, Vaclav and Lena was a sweet and bittersweet tale about two Russian kids who meet in ESL class, become friends, plan a future as magicians, and then are abruptly separated for seven years by a mysterious event.

As an immigrant tale, the lives of Vaclav and Lena are bookends: one speaks Russian at home, one has parents who want to speak only English. Both have families that work incredibly hard, long hours in very different industries and with very different risks. Hunger and food, disadvantage and opportunity, acceptance and hope, American Dream and fairy tale: the story of two children and their circumstances is both uncomfortably familiar and refreshingly new.

Though the overall tone of the book is not exactly happy (in fact, it took me a while to plug through because it was kind of depressing), I thought it was cute and beautifully written.

And my new goal for this summer is to return the rest of my library books on time.

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