Hi, friends! I’m alive. I’ve been reading. Not as much as I would have liked, but it has been a productive summer of books, for the most part. Reviews below! (This is quick because I have to hurry and get outside to enjoy the last few seconds of summer, I’m in denial…)
WOW, THIS BOOK. So obviously, I loved it. A dystopian historical fiction novel about marginalized women revolting against their oppressive reality? Sign me up. Margaret Atwood is an incredible writer, and this novel made me want to continue reading her work. The premise is a scary one — and at times hits too close to home in the possibility of the fiction becoming a reality — but it was gripping and amazing and I recommend that everyone read it. I’ve since started the show, and am also hooked.
I thought that this book was incredible. The Essex Serpent is a Gothic novel set in the English seaside town of Essex. The people of Essex are concerned that a monstrous water serpent has returned to haunt their town after the mysterious disappearances of a few town goats and, eventually, one young girl. The main characters, especially Cora, the female protagonist, are so well-rounded and complex, I felt like I was losing friends when I finished it. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a love triangle and a coming-of-age element and suspense and questions of morality and mortality all wrapped into one beautifully packaged book. You should buy it and read it.
I love Roxane Gay. I ate up Bad Feminist and I got to hear her talk about Hunger (which is still on my “to read” pile) earlier this summer. I think she’s so smart and well-rounded. She can often provide academic insight alongside a very human, layman, pop-culture-consumer viewpoint and it’s so refreshing and great. I want to know what she thinks about literally everything. Difficult Women is a short story collection, generally centered on difficult women. Whether that means difficult in the eyes of a bigoted sexual predator, or difficult in her fragility, because she is literally made of glass — Gay runs the gamut of the ways in which women can be difficult in creative, amazing ways that often shed light on larger issues of the female experience. I loved each and every story in this collection, and many of them have stuck with me. I will continue reading everything that Gay writes, that is all.
(Quick aside: I was really on a female-author kick this summer, wasn’t I? Go, women!!) THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING. Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me felt like a book that I have been waiting for my whole life. The title is pretty self-explanatory; this book explores the phenomenon of men explaining things, often unnecessarily, to women, simply assuming that the woman will not know about whatever the man feels entitled to explain. I am confident that every single female has experienced this, and it’s infuriating. Solnit discussed it in a way that didn’t spark outrage so much as it made me think critically about it all: how men and women are raised, and why we default to assuming that a woman won’t understand something and that a man will. Solnit is so, so smart, and this book was so illuminating and readable and perfect, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
This is a sweet little novel that isn’t quite out yet (sorry) but that comes out soon-ish on October 17. The whole story takes place on a single day, Thanksgiving Day, and switches back and forth between two characters who start the day as strangers and develop an intense, believable, platonic friendship by the end. They are both escaping from their respective family situations, and continually fall back on each other as the day goes on. It isn’t the most original premise of all time, but Feldman keeps this novel from getting cliche and overly sappy through skillful plot developments and well-rounded, multi-faceted main characters. I liked it a lot.
This was an essay collection that had me snotting on the subway (“snotting = forceful air expelled from your nostrils when you aren’t expecting to laugh but do, according to Webster’s Dictionary/me). Irby is from the suburbs of Chicago (Midwest!). I wish this book had been hundreds of essays longer. In We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Irby writes about her day-to-day life in the funniest, frankest, most relatable ways. She frequently refers to herself as a garbage person, talks about how bad she is with money and why, laments how boring and lackluster she has finds her healthy, loving relationship, and more. She even makes working the front desk of an animal shelter full of zombie animals from hell seem appealing. I love her and I loved this book. She has a blog called “Bitches Gotta Eat,” if you’re interested in getting a taste of her hilarious voice (and who wouldn’t be, with a blog named “Bitches Gotta Eat”)
Tampa was a weird book that I still managed to enjoy through my discomfort. It’s narrated by a 26-year-old professor who is sexually obsessed with 14-year-old boys. She’s a middle school teacher, solely for the access to 14-year-old boys, and the story goes from there. Celeste, the main character, has a Patrick-Bateman narration style, so the book is equal parts dark humor and unsettling levels of detail. Celeste develops a relationship with one of her students, and the novel is about that relationship’s inevitable and tragic unraveling. There was an author’s note at the end, explaining that the author had gone to high school with the infamous Debra Lafave, the Florida middle-school teacher who had a relationship with one of her 14-year-old students. During the court case, her lawyer cited her looks as a reason for acquittal, saying something along the lines of “she’s too pretty to be in jail.” A similar scenario unfolded in this fictionalized account, making the novel more than just disturbing for the sake of being controversial. It was Nutting’s attempt at getting in the mind of a sexually deviant, abusive sociopath, and her commentary on how society views that kind of assault, depending on who it’s being perpetrated by. Still a weird read, but I would recommend it.
If you read only one book this year, let it be The Hate U Give. This book was a debut novel by Atlanta-based writer Angie Thomas, and I cannot say enough good things about it. It was smart and important and realistic and just good. It laid bare the sad reality faced by children in poor neighborhoods everyday and it talked about the extremely important “Black Lives Matter” movement without being preachy, or oversimplifying. The book is narrated by Starr, who witnesses the murder of her childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop. She is the only witness, and so decides to testify in the court case against the officer who killed her friend. All of this happens as she continues attending school and navigating her two different selves — the Starr from a poor neighborhood in Atlanta vs. the prep-school-attendee Starr when she’s going to high school in the burbs. It’s a really incredible story and everyone should read it (especially before it becomes a movie starring this all-star cast). Double-especially because as of late, it’s very important that a book like this exists.
I knew about this book’s cult following without knowing a thing about the premise. A Clockwork Orange is a twisted, dystopian novel about a world overrun by violent teenage gangs. There is a lot of sporadic Russian thrown in, and it took me a while to realize there was a glossary in the back with translations. I used context clues and muddled my way through, though, and I enjoyed this novel despite it’s disturbing premise and graphic depictions of the gang wreaking havoc. The narrator, Alex, is just this violent whirling dervish of a human who’s looking to mess up as much as possible at any given moment. It’s horrifying to read a story through the eyes of that type of narrator, but also at least a little fascinating. He’s eventually arrested (not a moment too soon) and put through an experimental “prisoner reclamation” program, where he is essentially tortured and conditioned to change his ways, with no say in the matter. I won’t spoil anymore, but that’s this book in a nutshell. I get the appeal and now look forward to watching the movie.
The Graveyard Book is one of Neil Gaiman’s children’s books. A young boy named Nobody (Bod for short) unintentionally flees the scene of murder at his family’s home as a young, freshly-walking infant. A mysterious Man Named Jack is meant to kill everyone in the family but misses young Bod because he unwittingly wanders into a nearby graveyard and is protected by the ghosts of the people who inhabit it. Two of these ghosts then claim him as their son, and Bod is raised by this quirky village of the dead. As he gets older, he begins reconciling his past (and his murdered family) with the shadowy forces that haven’t stopped haunting him since his arrival to the graveyard. The Man Jack isn’t quite done with Bod yet, and the graveyard has to come together and save its only living resident. It’s a really sweet, fun, and slightly dark coming-of-age story and Neil Gaiman is great, as always, with his addictive magical realism.
I wasn’t sure if I liked this book at first, and actually considered putting it down a few times (I read that Nora Roberts simply doesn’t finish books she doesn’t like and it inspired me… but clearly not enough). I ended up finishing it and I am glad I did, the author skillfully turned the main characters around in the home stretch. The book follows two friends in their 20s, Laura and Tyler, as they navigate life-changes both with and apart from each other. Laura is engaged, but constantly pulled between beginning her new life with her fiance and her old one with Tyler — filled with parties, drugs, indulgence, and irresponsibility. The two are roommates, and their friendship is intense and unhealthy. Both Laura and Tyler really annoyed me for the majority of the book. Tyler’s father funded her apartment which allowed Laura to live rent-free. They both squandered what little money they did have recklessly; Tyler was over-educated and pretentious; Laura was helpless to say “no” to anything that Tyler suggested, etc. They just weren’t the strongest or most likable characters. Unsworth turns it around at the end and redeems them — or at the very least, she redeems Laura — toward the end in a realistic and refreshing way. I know that wasn’t the best sell, but you should read it if you think you can deal with irritating characters for the majority of the book.
This was my first Joe Hill novel, and I loved it. He is great at portraying suspense (no surprise, considering who his dad is) and the book was over before I knew it, such was his skillful pacing. Strange Weather is made up of 4 short novellas, each one unrelated to the others. In one story, Hill creates a world where crystal nails fall from the sky in a murderous, devastating rain. In another, sadly more realistic one, the reader goes behind the scenes and into the mind of a gun-enthusiast who loses their mind and goes on a violent, fatal rampage. I don’t want to give too much away about any of the individual stories because they aren’t too long and I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you’re new to Joe Hill and not sure where to start, I would recommend this one very highly. I thought it was a great sampling of his style without having to commit to an 800-page book.
I just finished this book last night, and it wasn’t my favorite so sorry to end this on a “meh” note. Tangerine is, again, about two female friends in an intense and unhealthy relationship (I guess that trope just wasn’t my jam this summer). This one’s about Alice — a delicate orphan who came into money when her parents died, a death that she partly blames herself for — and Lucy — a beautiful, poor nobody without a mother and with a propensity for warping the truth and stalking. The story is told in alternating chapters, switching between the girl’s perspectives and alternating between present day and their past at Bennington College where they met. The women haven’t spoken to each other in quite some time when Lucy shows up unannounced at Alice’s home in Tangier, where she moved with her husband shortly after school. There’s a lot of unspoken tension and awkwardness, so it becomes clear that something has happened between the two women, but it’s unclear what or just how sinister that something is. Again, don’t want to spoil the ending but I think that these characters both just annoyed me so it inhibited my getting into the story. Alice was so weak and helpless, and Lucy was diabolical but with no real explanation for her diabolical-ness. I LOVED the Elena Ferrante series, which revolved around two female friends and their sometimes unhealthy relationship, so the fact that these recent novels didn’t do it for me is probably a testament to Ferrante’s incredible skill. Now I want to reread the Neopolitan novels…
So that’s it, until next time! I’ll probably write again long after the summer has been pried from my cold, clutching, cracked and dry winter hands. ◊