Debriefing, with Susan Sontag

Book Reviews

Reading Susan Sontag has always felt like gentle rain coming down on you midday, on a quiet street with no shade in sight, no umbrella on hand.

So you soak all of it in. You let her words seep through your pores, a place where water meets itself.

After reading her diaries and journals, I was eager for more.

And just as I was getting into short stories, Sontag’s own collection materialized — Debriefing: Collected Stories (Amazon | Shop your local indie bookstore) happened.

I was curious: would these stories be different from her journal entries, musings and observations, each a pseudo-short story in itself?

Surprisingly, I settled within each story naturally.

Sontag’s rhythm even in prose is unmistakable, and I sought to find her in each one as I did with her journals.

And there she always was, gleaming in between action or whatever emotion came hurtling out of the page.

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In Pilgrimmage, Sontag writes how two curious high-schoolers, also voracious readers, managed to get themselves invited to their favorite writer’s home. The story is an ode to reading and writing, both ends of the literary spectrum where the writer meets the reader in the pages. But in this particular story, the writer meets the readers in real life in an encounter so surreal it had me sitting on the edge of my seat.

After all, isn’t it every reader’s dream to meet/have coffee or tea with their favorite author?

Then there’s a story that reads like Sontag’s journals, called Project Trip to China wherein she notes a myriad of topics and things coming up for a trip to the country. I love how meticulous she is about this particular topic, as she weaves facts about China and her presuppositions. She writes about her own observations about the political conditions of the country, at a time of Mao Tse-tung’s reign.

Finding An Uncommon Type, with Tom Hanks (A Book Review)

Book Reviews, Fiction

I have a confession to make: I don’t really care much for Tom Hanks the actor, but I am quite impressed by Tom Hanks the writer

34368390When Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks was released, I was immediately intrigued. I usually ignore books by celebrities and dismiss them, with the exception of The Autobiography of Gucci Mane which I reviewed last month. Ok, so maybe my barometer for legit reads is if they get interviewed on KQED which Hanks did, a signal that this was a “real book” as opposed to just a self-promotional ploy.

So when Book of the Month had the book as one of its monthly selections, I knew I had my choice picked.

It wouldn’t be for another two months after that that I would dive into the book, and as always, the timing couldn’t have been perfect. I purposely did not read any reviews or listen to any interviews because I wanted my review to unvarnished, free of influence.

And boy did I love this book.

Each story is anchored with a quiet but resolute vibrance, the kind that emphasizes humanity more than grandiosity (I expected the latter, because hey, he’s a movie star after all). There aren’t any big hooplas, no grand entrances or fire-truck alarms going off that holds your breath captive by the page. Instead, he writes about the many rhythms of daily life, the ones we will have  missed if we weren’t paying close attention.