Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell, or Fate, Time, Television and True Love

The funny thing with Landline is that I didn’t even fully mean to reread it, I just started the first few pages and then bang I was flying through it in true Rainbow Rowell fashion (see: Why I Fangirl over Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (Spoilers: Levi)). I felt like I was at an all-you-can-eat buffet, filling myself with one more page, one more…

As far as time machines go, a magic telephone is pretty useless.

TV writer Georgie McCool can’t actually visit the past; all she can do is call it, and hope it picks up. And hope he picks up — because once Georgie realizes she has a magic phone that calls into the past, all she wants is make things right with her husband, Neal.

Maybe she can fix the things in their past that seem unfixable in the present. Maybe this stupid phone is giving her a chance to start over. . . . Does Georgie want to start over?

A heart-wrenching—and hilarious—take on fate, time, television and true love, Landline asks if two people are ever really on the same path, or whether love just means finding someone who will keep meeting you halfway.

Also funny is the fact when I first read Landline, back in 2015, I came out of it thinking it was my least favorite Rowell book, simply because at that time in my life I couldn’t have cared less about married people. But with this reread now, coming after three years, I can’t get enough of family-based stories. So I was delighted to discover how with time my perspective had changed and matured to the point of gobbling up every little detail concerning the marriage chronicled in here.

It’s so hard to capture all that I loved (because there’s so many specifics) but I tried my best by including it all below:

  • Rainbow Rowell’s signature humor is ever-present and on-point.

“It was so rare to make Neal laugh. . . .
Georgie used to tease him about being a waste of dimples. “Your face is like an O. Henry story. The world’s sweetest dimples and the boy who never laughs.”
“I laugh.”
“When? When you’re alone?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Every night when I’m sure everyone is asleep, I sit on my bed and laugh maniacally.”

I was trying to find the best way to describe the humor, when I stumbled upon this interview between Rainbow Rowell and her audio narrator Rebecca Lowman, discussing the book:

Rowell: “…You know what, I don’t like punchline, sort of zingy humor. So I’m not drawn to comedians who are very big. I like people who are just sort of talking and they’re funny when they’re talking. …”

This. This is exactly it.

As well as this quote from the book on savoring what we hold precious:

“I put it in my Save Box,” she said.
“What’s that?”
“It’s actually just a box. I, uh . . . I hate that feeling, you know, when you’re thinking about something you’ve read or heard, and you thought it was so smart at the time, but now you can’t remember it. I save things I don’t want to lose track of.”

This right here hits the core on why I write such extensive notes during my reading.

  • Georgie’s office scenes with Seth (and Scotty) reminded me then why I had such a hard reading this book the first time. They weren’t my favorite scenes since no one was shining or bringing anything new to the table. In particular, Seth threw me off my game at the end because I feel like he was flexing, what Reagan in Fangirl so lovingly calls, his best friend muscles just to remind everyone that he came first. I’m not a fan. Also: He can’t write anything decent down without Georgie around, which makes him a true Nick.

“They were supposed to end up together, Seth and Georgie.
Well, technically, they had ended up together. They’d talked every day since that first day they met.
But they were supposed to end up together-together. Everyone thought it would happen—Georgie had thought it would happen.
Just as soon as Seth exhausted his other possibilities, as soon as he worked through his queue of admirers. He hadn’t been in any hurry, and Georgie didn’t have a say in the matter. She’d taken a number. She was waiting patiently.
And then, one day, she wasn’t.”

  • And since we’re on the topic of my favorite Rowell book, I was so keen on reading about Neal and Georgie together because it felt like we were seeing Cath and Levi chronicled from Levi’s perspective. Georgie is the one initiating all contact with Neal, making sure she can get a laugh out him (at least one), whereas “solid, stolid” Neal is a tough nut to crack, similar to Cath with their difficulty establishing eye contact and needing a barrier between them, such as drawing cartoons (in Cath’s case, reading fanfiction out loud) to distract. And lucky for him, Georgie doesn’t want the easy thing. To paraphrase Attachments, she likes to work a little harder to get the thing she really wants.

“He’s the guy in the Life cereal commercial who hates everything. If Mikey likes you, you know you’re good. If Mikey likes you, it means something.”

  • The concept behind ‘once we notice something, we see it everywhere’ is beyond fascinating to me, so I liked how subtly Rainbow Rowell incorporated that shift between the two:

“How had she missed Neal until junior year? He’d started working at The Spoon as a freshman, same as her. Georgie must have seen him, without really seeing him, dozens of times. Was she that sucked in by Seth? Seth was extra sucky—pushy and loud, always demanding Georgie’s attention. . . .
But once Georgie noticed Neal, she saw him around the office constantly. She’d try not to stare when he walked past her desk on his way to the production room. Sometimes, if she was lucky, he’d look her way and nod.”

Rowell excels at procuring real authentic moments.

“Can we go back and start over?”
“How far back?” Georgie tried to fold her arms, but she was still holding that stupid Zima.
“Back to the wall,” he said. “Back to you walking across the living room toward me. To you saying, ‘I’m surprised to see you here.’”
“Are you saying you want to go back to the living room?”
“No. Just go ahead, say it again now.”
Georgie rolled her eyes, but she said it: “I’m surprised to see you here.”
“You shouldn’t be,” Neal said. He lifted his chin and looked directly in her eyes. For the second time in five minutes. For the second time ever. “I’m here because I knew you’d be here. Because I hoped you would be.”

That moment when people stop playing games (Gemma Collins echo) with one another and just present their real selves… Showing someone you’re keen on them and having it reciprocated is a grand gesture.

I equally loved those tiny, intimate moments sprinkled throughout their married life:

“Stop. You’re blowing my mind.”
“Oh, I’ll blow your mind. Girlie.”
“Are you flirting with me?”
He’d turned to her then, pen cap in mouth, and cocked his head. “Yeah. I think so.”
Georgie looked down at her old sweatshirt. At her threadbare yoga pants. “This is what does it for you?”
Neal smiled most of a smile, and the cap fell out of his mouth. “So far.”
Neal . . .”

As well as featuring really beautiful metaphors with flowers, like: “Pizza girl’s name was Alison, and Heather’s face followed her around the room like a sunflower chasing daylight.”

And: “(Neal’s face was like a flower blooming—you’d need time-lapse photography to really see it in action. But Georgie’d become such a student of his face, she could read most of the twitches.)”

  • Regarding the major plot line of the magic telephone, I could only think of this:

To give some background, this quote led me to it: “Georgie exhaled when she heard Neal’s voice, then resisted the urge to ask him who the president was.”

  • I’ve been holding off, but I really have to end on the most epic cameo to appear in this book, featuring my all-time favorite couple: Cath & Levi. I really thought before starting that it wouldn’t hit me as hard because I’ve already read it before. But it’s been so long and LEVI’S STILL SO GOOD.

“Can we help you find something?” someone said.
Georgie turned. It was the ecstatic young couple. Still hanging on each other, as if neither of them could quite believe the other was finally here.
“Taxi stand?” Georgie said.
“You’re looking for a taxi?” the boy asked. The man. She should probably call him a man. He must be twenty-two, twenty-three; his hair was already thinning.”

My boy is all grown up. bookspoils“Wait a minute.” The boy got out of the truck, then hopped back inside thirty seconds later with his duffel bag. He unzipped it, and clothes spilled out. He started heaping them in the girl’s lap. “Here,” he said, pulling out a thick, gray wool sweater. “Take this.”
“I can’t take your sweater,” Georgie said.
“Take it. You can mail it back to me—my mom sews my address inside everything. Take it, it’s no big deal.”

LEVI GOES OUT OF HIS WAY TO MAKE SURE GEORGIE GETS SAFELY TO HER DESTINATION (on top of the snowy hill).

And Cath caught up with Levi’s good habits along the way because when they notice Georgie’s shoes not having foolproof cover from the Omaha snow, this happens:

“Oh for Christ’s sake,” the girl said. “You can wear my boots.” She reached for the floor. Georgie noticed she was wearing a small engagement ring. “You can have them. I don’t even like them.”
“Absolutely not,” Georgie said. “What if you get stuck in the snow?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “He’d carry me across the city before he let me get my feet wet.”

Levi would do it in a heartbeat!! Cue my tears.

I really thought that time would pass and one day I would be ready to move on. But these characters are my home, and I’m never going to stop missing them.

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Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55I’ll close off by sharing this beautiful alternate cover for Landline, which has the best details from the book; the Polaroid!!

Source

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Landlinejust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Real Friends 12-- bookspoilsI’ve had my eye on this graphic novel memoir set in the 80s for awhile now, so I was beyond keen on getting my reading on. I sped through this thrilling ride in one big whirlwind.

When best friends are not forever . . . 

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group―or out?

This book, to be honest, made me feel utterly frightened for my nine-year-old sister. Like, what kind of fresh hell is going on in the American education system where the amount of bullying Shannon went through in the fourth grade was completely overlooked to the point of oblivion.Real Friends 9-- bookspoils

This is frightening… The amount of pain and suffering school can bring to a child made me that feel sure about my decision to homeschool.

I was then also gobsmacked by the abuse Shannon experienced at the hands of her older sister, looking to alleviate her own pain by putting it all on this little girl. I mean, if it’s unacceptable to hit a nine-year-old stranger, then it sure as hell is unacceptable to hit your own sister.Real Friends 1-- bookspoilsI’m still shellshocked at this panel.Real Friends 10-- bookspoils This poor kid experienced utter terror in her own home. Shannon ran to hide just at the sound of Wendy’s voice and that had me nearly in tears.

Please, treat your younger siblings with all the love and respect you have.

Shannon’s perspective gave us a very keen look on her girlhood, and it made me understand certain outbursts kids might have with a more clear eye. Like, when she was “playing” with her siblings and starts crying when caught, not at her loss but at the overwhelming build-up of emotions from feeling left out. It made me remember that kids tearing up isn’t usually about the situation at hand but about something much deeper in their heads that only they have the knowledge about. And it’s our jobs to show them that they can trust us enough to share their thoughts.Real Friends 13-- bookspoils On a more uplifting note, Real Friends has some incredible art that I’d like to highlight by sharing a few favorite panels of mine:Real Friends 3-- bookspoilsReal Friends 4-- bookspoilsReal Friends 6-- bookspoilsReal Friends 7-- bookspoilsReal Friends 11-- bookspoils

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Real Friendsjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing.

It’s this opening quote that raised my intrigue by a tenfold on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. I’ve read (and reviewed in praise) her previous Nonfiction works (Dear Ijeawele & We Should All Be Feminists) so I knew Adichie to be an author with a compelling way of words, but all that paled in comparison to the character building she excels at exploring in this fictional work of art.

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?

So, now comes the difficult part of trying to sum up my reading experience of this grandiose book. Which is also, coincidentally, the first lengthy book I’ve read in awhile, so I took my sweet time savoring its pages over the course of a week. And I’m glad I did because it gave me the chance to mull over my thoughts and feelings regarding Americanah.

This was love, to be eager for tomorrow.

First and foremost, how does the author succeed so seamlessly at fleshing out a side character even if they come to show only one time??? Time and again, I was dumbfounded at Adichie’s success in cultivating characters so full of life with a single page or two, sometimes needing only one paragraph. This is raw talent right here.

By introducing a new character that says something particular, she then gives background on why they would act that way. Like, Ifem meeting someone she catches keen on other’s affection:

“He was an impresario, well oiled and well practiced, the sort of man who did a good American accent and a good British accent, who knew what to say to foreigners, how to make foreigners comfortable, and who could easily get foreign grants for dubious projects. She wondered what he was like beneath that practiced layer.”

Or, Obinze’s catching Amara’s quick fix on reminding everyone she was wronged:

“Maybe he should go and find a Jamaican woman,” Amara said. Her husband had left her for a Jamaican woman, with whom it turned out he had a secret four-year-old child, and she somehow managed to veer every conversation towards the subject of Jamaicans.”

I’m a sucker for books full of eccentric and subtle quips on life, so Americanafell prey to my immediate affection. However, this is also where my later issues with the book stem from since I came to depend on those familiar, detailed intimacies on everyday life to propel the book forward more than the actual storyline. My mind was on a never-ending wait for more noteworthy remarks to drop, instead of caring for any actual development in the plot.

It was also a bit of a bummer to learn that the most important person in Ifemelu’s life could not have made me feel number. Sitting through whole chapters from Obinze’s viewpoint left those parts of the book marred for me, as a result. His later persona, lacking that quiet strength that made up the arc of his youth, didn’t work in his favor, as well.

It’s the stark contrast between the joy and quickness Ifem’s chapters provided with them, in comparison to the snail-paced reading I experienced with Obinze that staggered me.

There’s also a comment in here that rubbed me the wrong way, regarding antisemitism:

“Don’t say it’s just like antisemitism. It’s not. In the hatred of Jews, there is also the possibility of envy—they are so clever, these Jews, they control everything, these Jews—and one must concede that a certain respect, however grudging, accompanies envy.”

Why is she essentially telling me to be grateful for antisemitism?? Opting for the wrong approach where they teach hundreds of little girls to take it like a compliment when boys use abuse to get attention??? I listened to a lecture recently on antisemitism and seeing a comment like the above to excuse this systematic form of oppression made me livid.

But I’ll hit a bit of a pause on the negatives to highlight my more cherished moments from the carefully-crafted story that is Americanah. I noted down so many quotes from this book that I had to open up a separate document in my notes for lines I highly wanted to include in my review so they wouldn’t be lost amid scouring my never-ending pages. I looked something like this writing everything down from excitement:

My favorite of those include:

  • When this book expertly offers us an intimate look into Ifemelu’s young love with Obinze by including us in their private inside jokes that only those two get. Like, referring to him as “Ceiling” in public and making everyone wonder about the story behind it.

“Why do you call him Ceiling anyway?” his friend Okwudiba once asked her, on one of those languorous days after first semester exams. She had joined a group of his friends sitting around a filthy plastic table in a beer parlor off campus. She drank from her bottle of Maltina, swallowed, glanced at Obinze, and said, “Because he is so tall his head touches the ceiling, can’t you see?” Her deliberate slowness, the small smile that stretched her lips, made it clear that she wanted them to know that this was not why she called him Ceiling. And he was not tall. ”

  • The amount of specificity the author offers to her characters astonished me time and again. To quote Ifem’s blog, she offers “Lagos from an Insider,” and there’s an unequivocal honesty to it.

“You lied.” It was said with a kind of horror that baffled her, as though he had never considered it possible that she could lie. She wanted to say, “Blaine, people lie.” But she said, “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” He was looking at her as though she had reached in and torn away his innocence, and for a moment she hated him, this man who ate her apple cores and turned even that into something of a moral act.”

I can’t get over that last line. Blaine was one of the more interesting boyfriends of Ifem’s past. I liked, in particular, their initial encounter on the train the very same day Ifemelu drops her efforts at assimilating with faking an American accent.

“It was not in her nature to talk to strangers on public transportation—she would do it more often when she started her blog a few years later—but she talked and talked, perhaps because of the newness of her own voice. The more they talked, the more she told herself that this was no coincidence; there was a significance to her meeting this man on the day that she returned her voice to herself.”

Theirs was a fascinating dynamic that I loved seeing chronicled.

“So when are you going to have the next salon, Shan? I was telling Ifemelu about them.”
When Blaine had told Ifemelu about Shan calling her gatherings “salons,” he had underlined the word with mockery, but now he said it with an earnestly French pronunciation: sa-lon.”

The peak of intimacy arrives through these details that expand on domestic life; sharing a life together means you know their true, intimate thoughts, so that in outside situations you’re like, ummm, that’s not what you told me in private…

  • On feeling stuck and unresolved in her relationship:

“But she had not had a bold epiphany and there was no cause; it was simply that layer after layer of discontent had settled in her, and formed a mass that now propelled her. She did not tell him this, because it would hurt him to know she had felt that way for a while, that her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out.”

I read that last part twice to let its magnificent power sink in

“How was it possible to miss something you no longer wanted? Blaine needed what she was unable to give and she needed what he was unable to give, and she grieved this, the loss of what could have been.”

  • Sifting through Ifemelu’s past and playing this game of catch-up, there hits a certain moment when things start to feel exhausting and previous plot lines are forgotten (like, Ifem getting her hair braided in present day, which we keep returning to) in the process of reading this richly told story spanning three continents and numerous lives. And circling back to the present after being so caught up in the past is when my enthralment for the story usually goes down by a notch… That is until another noteworthy line gets dropped on us.
  • Such as, the clapback delivered to Obinze at the hands of his wife, Kosi, after he confesses to his immature desires, left me feeling more empowered than the “cool girl” speech from Gone Girl:

“It’s not about another woman, Obinze,” Kosi said, rising to her feet, her voice steeling, her eyes hardening. “It’s about keeping this family together! You took a vow before God. I took a vow before God. I am a good wife. We have a marriage. Do you think you can just destroy this family because your old girlfriend came into town? Do you know what it means to be a responsible father? You have a responsibility to that child downstairs! What you do today can ruin her life and make her damaged until the day she dies! And all because your old girlfriend came back from America? Because you have had acrobatic sex that reminded you of your time in university?”

I couldn’t have been more grateful to Kosi for saying what I always yell at men who want to leave their wives and families to satisfy some impulse.

Also: “acrobatic sex.” I C O N I C

I’ll leave this list of favorites on one last priceless moment because I’m this close to sharing the whole novel with you… I smiled at the below:

“It’s a cowardly, dishonest book. Have you read it?” Shan asked.
“I read a review,” Mirabelle said.
“That’s the problem. You read more about books than you read actual books.”

That is to say, I’m more than eager to discover the power of Adichie’s words in exploring her other books.

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Americanahjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!