I LOVE SUMMER: May & June Books

Hi! Wow! It has been an insane two months. I moved apartments, mostly, but that ends up making a two-month-span feel very insane. What with the apartment-viewings, and the apartment-lease-signings, and the apartment-cleanings, and the moving itself. Anyway, I survived and I got a new bookshelf and I’ve already killed a cockroach, so it’s safe to say I’ve settled in nicely. But, of course, I’m behind on my reading. I was supposed to be done with book #37 by now, but I’m only on book #32. But I’m okay with it, because the move had to happen and now I’m settled and it’s summer and I have endless beach days ahead. YAY FOR THE GREATEST SEASON, YAY FOR BOOKS! Reviews below:

book #22: everything i never told you by celeste ng

I just recently read my first Celeste Ng when Little Fires Everywhere was our book club choice earlier in the year. I liked that book a lot, but I liked this book so much more; Everything I Never Told You was so affecting and beautiful and sad. It takes place in Ohio (same state where LFE is set) and revolves around the Lee family and the death of their oldest daughter. Lydia, the middle and favorite child, is found drowned in the pond near the Lee’s home one morning, leaving the family to reckon with their huge loss, trying to untangle who their daughter really was from their perception of her. Ng is so incredibly adept at transitioning seamlessly between her characters – their voices, thoughts, flashbacks, backstories – so this story was rich with the varying perspectives of all the family members. It was morbidly fascinating to watch the way this family gradually started breaking down upon Lydia’s death, and how each member internalized their own complicity. Nath, her older brother, becomes fixated on the neighbor boy Jack, whom Lydia had started spending more and more time with leading up to her death. Hannah is Lydia’s younger sister, and her reaction is to fall further into the shadow of her sister. Marilyn can’t accept that fact that her happy and willing daughter could possibly have killed herself, and James, her father, dives into an ill-advised affair to avoid fully experiencing the pain of the family’s loss. It’s a gripping and smart read, and a true literary thriller. Celeste Ng pulls it off, and I can’t wait to see what else she writes.

From now on, she will do what she wants. Feet planted firmly on nothing, Lydia—so long enthralled by the dreams of others—could not yet imagine what that might be, but suddenly the universe glittered with possiblities. She will change everything.”

—page 275

book #23: homesick for another world by ottessa moshfegh

Instead of writing up a quick review of this one right after I finished it, I put it off for too long and now it feels like it’s been forever since I read it and it’s a blur. Maybe that’s a testament to the memorable-ness of the book. I do remember really liking it while I was reading it, and enjoying the dark and often disturbing undertone in every story. I read a review calling Ottessa a “modern-day Flannery O’Conner” and I do agree with that. Every story is a bit understated, full of quietly flawed characters who seem to almost understand their own shortcomings, but just can’t quite get there. I also remember a lot of dawning realizations about the events that were taking place in each story, and coming to those realizations with some horror. The two stories I remember most vividly were “An Honest Woman” and “Slumming.” The former was a tense, chilling story from an old man’s perspective as he almost obsessively watches his new neighbor, a young “girl” in her thirties; the latter tells yet another chilling story of a woman, a teacher, who spends her summers in the dying, burnt-out town of Alna. I read another review of this collection that said, “it’s like watching someone grin with a mouthful of blood,” and I get that as well. Disturbing but mesmerizing, and I couldn’t look away. I highly recommend this collection if you’re looking for dark, well-constructed short stories that leave you creeped out but thinking.

Life can be strange sometimes, and knowing it can be doesn’t seem to make it any less so. I know I don’t have any real wisdom. I don’t have any wonderful ideas. I am lucky to have found a few nice people here and there.”

—page 259, from “The Surrogate”

book #24: they can’t kill us until they kill us by hanif willis-abdurraqib

I cannot possibly overstate how much I loved this book. This is the best collection of essays that I remember reading since Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, and not since that collection have I found myself so enamored with someone’s way of looking at and interpreting the world. AHHHH. Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is a poet from Columbus, OH. His essay collection often uses music as a through-line to delve deeper into current issues, sometimes relating to his specific experience as a black man in America and sometimes relating to where he’s from in America (MIDWEST) and sometimes relating to his anxiety disorder and sometimes relating to… etc. While I found them all endlessly fascinating, some of his essays were more straightforward, like the one about The Weeknd relating to Hanif’s own personal heartbreak. But others were more complex and layered, and those were the ones that left me sitting, crying, in a park for 45-minutes of silence after I finished the book. There’s a thread woven between each section about the day that Marvin Gaye sang the National Anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game that is an awe-inspiring use of space and words. That’s the thing: these essays somehow felt like a warm acquaintance was talking to you, maybe telling you about their specific kind of love for the place they’re from, or talking about one of their favorite basement concerts with their childhood friend who is no longer alive; at the same time, they almost felt to me like a holy text (I know I sound borderline insane, but… I loved this book). The fact that Hanif is a poet first and foremost comes through every single careful placement of every single word. I also love that no topic or concert or band or event seems to be off-limits (something I really admired about Jessica Hopper’s essay collection as well). I know that I just gushed and gave very little by way of an actual review of this book, but I promise you will be doing yourself an enormous favor if you go read it right now. Adding Hanif to my list of authors whose every piece of work I will read from this day forth.

**please note: it was nearly impossible for me to narrow all of my underlines from this book down to only two quotes**

Even in a city that makes you feel small, there is someone waiting to fall in love with you.”

—page 24

I’m sad and I’ve hurt people and I’m a beautifully tortured survivor of my past is a hard thing to say out loud (or scream on a chorus), but it is the honest thing, which means it is the thing that I would rather have sitting in my room with me on the days I miss everyone.”

—page 63

book #25: we are okay by nina lacour

This book was lovely. We Are Okay is a young adult novel about a girl named Marin, who is facing down a long and lonely winter break after her first semester at college in New York. Early in the novel, the reader finds out that Marin needs to stay on in her dorm because she has no “home” to return to over break, and we find out that she seems to be dreading her self-imposed daunting isolation. We also understand that something horrifying or traumatic or life-changing (or all of the above) has happened to Marin recently, when it becomes clear that she left her old life on the California coast in a hurry with nothing but her wallet, her phone, and a picture of her mother. Each chapter in the novel alternates from present-day to the spring and summer prior, when Marin lived a more carefree life as a recent high school graduate outside of San Francisco with her best friend, Mabel. Marin was raised by her grandfather, her only remaining family after a tragic surfing accident took her mother’s life when Marin was a baby. I don’t want to give too much away, because there’s a twist and I thought it was well-executed, but the both story-lines start coming to a head when Mabel visits Marin at her dorm upstate before Christmas, and the girls reconnect for the first time since the summer before. I thought this was a beautiful story about friendship and family and trust and loss, and I weirdly saw a lot of myself in the main character, Marin. If you’re looking for a slower-paced, character-driven story, this might be the one for you. (Also, THAT COVER! Shoutout to Samira Iravani and Adams Carvalho)

I thought that it was more likely the opposite. I must have shut grief out. Found it in the books. Cried over fiction instead of the truth. The truth was unconfined, unadorned. There was no poetic language to it, no yellow butterflies, no epic floods. There wasn’t a town trapped underwater or generations of men with the same name destined to repeat generations of mistakes. The truth was vast enough to drown in.”

—page 88

book #26: heather, the totality by matthew weiner

If we’ve ever spoken more than twice, you are probably aware of my level of love for the show, Mad Men, which was created by Matthew Weiner. I think that show is genius and I admired him so much for creating it. So when I heard he was writing a book, I was thrilled. I figured it would also be genius. And then, I think it was the same week that his book went on sale, he was implicated in #MeToo movement after one of his writers came forward about that time he told her that she “owed it to him to let him see her naked,” like the entitled, self-important, disgusting human that he’s probably always been to some extent. I know this doesn’t seem like a book review, but I promise that all of this did make a difference to me as I read the book. So! About the book. It was disappointing and lackluster, and it felt like a waste of my time. I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly attribute this reaction to only the book, as of course my impression of him changed and his book doesn’t exist in a vacuum. But still, I think I would’ve been disappointed with this book no matter what. It’s about Mark and Karen, a married couple with one daughter named Heather, and the small family’s privileged lives in Manhattan. The book also interweaves an alternate narrative of a boy named Bobby who grew up in New Jersey doing whatever he needed to get by to survive his addict mother. Bobby’s life collides rather violently with the family when he begins a construction contract on the penthouse of their building. He develops an obsession with Heather, Mark and Karen’s daughter. Mark catches him staring and in turn develops an obsession with Bobby, worried for his daughter’s sake. It’s all a lot of unspoken, often unrealistic and not appropriately motivated behavior. The writing was spare and it almost read like a screenplay. I will give him props for some clever descriptions, but they never made up for the meandering, overly-dramatic story full of irredeemable characters. Damnit, Matthew, you let us all down.

… but she had come to understand that you could never see yourself the way others did, and it was okay to appear isolated as long as you remember that you are not the way you are seen.”

—page 14

book #27: how to behave in a crowd by camille bordas

This ended up being the most perfect antithesis to the previous book I read, and I loved it so much. It was also a family story, and also pretty over-the-top, but Camille Bordas’s characters were developed enough to justify their own irrational behavior. How to Behave in a Crowd is the story of the Mazal family, from the perspective of Isadore Mazal. He’s a 13-year-old boy living in a small French town, he’s the youngest of the six Mazal children, and he wants to go by Izzie but no one will stop calling him Dory. All of his older brothers and sisters are exceedingly smart; three of them are on track to receive their first Ph.D.’s before they turn 24, another plays in the symphony, and the second youngest, Simone, has already skipped two grades although she’s less than two years older than Dory. But Dory notices things in each member of the family, and his empathy and sincere kindness make him the glue that holds his family together after a tragedy strikes. At the same time, he’s grappling with puberty, maintaining his first real friendship, and attempting to run away from home. It’s a lot for a young boy trying to find his place in the world, much less his own big, overachieving family. This story somehow walks the thin line of genuine sweetness and unrealistic saccharine perfectly, and I was in love with Dory by the end of the story. This book felt like a warm treat.

She’d said her apparent disorganization was how she kept things organized, that she’d mapped it all out in her head, and that I should never again mess with other people’s messes… But the more I grew up, the harder it was to tell the difference between what was mine to organize and what wasn’t any of my business at all.”

—page 259-260

book #28: on the same page by n.d. galland

This was another warm treat type of book. I won’t get too into it, because it doesn’t go on sale until January of next year, but On the Same Page is about Joanna Howes (who goes by Anna Howes or Joey Dias, depending on who you ask) and her not-so-triumphant return to Martha’s Vineyard to take care of her 70-year-old Uncle Hank, after he suffers a severe leg-break. Joanna was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard (an “Islander”) but she moved to New York City after college and hasn’t looked back. She didn’t leave for any traumatic reasons, just the usual justification for leaving the small town (or island) where one was born and raised. Joanna finds herself strapped for money shortly after her return, and when her freelance job at The Journal isn’t quite cutting it, she’s forced to take advantage of a slight loophole and begin freelancing for the rival newspaper, The Newes. And if that wasn’t duplicitous enough, Joanna starts falling for the only off-limits man on the island. Off-limits for several reasons, but namely because he stands for everything she despises in a “Wash-Ashore” (or “Summer Person,” spoken with a healthy disdain.) It’s a really lovely story that’s even better because the author is a true native Islander herself. I’m always impressed by people who can write about where they’re from effectively, and N.D. is fantastic at it. Small town politics come into play along with the unique mental health and unemployment struggles that the year-round Islanders face. You’ll feel attached to and embroiled in all the beauty and the ugly bits of Martha’s Vineyard, even if you’ve never heard of it. I highly recommend this book (in approximately 7 months (sorry)).

She was falling sweet for the plaintiff and living with the defendant. Neither aware the other one meant a thing to her.”

—page 168

book #29: the tenth man by graham greene

Prior to this, The Quiet American was the only book I’d read by Graham Greene. He’s one of those authors who I’ve always found intimidating because of the sheer volume of his work plus his established “classic” author status. I really liked The Quiet American, though. This book was much shorter and told the story of a wealthy former lawyer named Chavel, who is taken hostage in France during WWII. At some point, all the hostages are forced to draw lots as the guards have told them that three of them must die. Chavel is chosen as one of the three, and he (understandably) freaks out. He starts making a shameful and hysterical scene, and offers up all of his money and his family home to any man who will trade places with him. Janvier, another young hostage, accepts this offer and they write up a will then and there, leaving the money to Janvier’s mother and sister. The story picks up again years later, after the occupation has ended. Chavel has assumed another name, Charlot, and has made his way back to the house that once belonged to him. Janvier’s mother and sister are living there, and he becomes integrated into their lives of when he accepts a job as groundskeeper. It’s ironic and smart, especially when an unexpected visitor shows up claiming to be Chavel, who the sister has sworn revenge on if he ever appears. It’s a thought-provoking and quick read.

Philosophers say that past, present and future exist simultaneously, and certainly in this heavy darkness many pasts case to life: a lorry drove up the Boulevard Montparnasse, a girl held out her mouth to be kissed, and a town council elected a mayor; and in the minds of three men the future stood as inalterably as birth—fifty yards on cinder track and a brick wall chipped and pitted. It seemed to Chavel now his hysteria was over that that simple track was infinitely more desirable after all than the long obscure route on which his own feet were planted.”

—page 53

book #30: shiny broken pieces by sona charaipotra & dhonielle clayton

Way back, I met these authors at the Brooklyn Book Festival and really enjoyed their intense first book, called Tiny Pretty Things. I finally picked up the sequel and found it to be equally thrilling and intense and suspenseful. TPT ends on a cliffhanger when Gigi is pushed in front of a car after a night out with her classmates. SBP picks up at the end of the summer following this incident, as everyone is gearing back up for another school year. Gigi is nearly recovered and ready to take revenge on whoever jeopardized her career and almost killed her, and Bette is stranded at home, suspended indefinitely as she’s the leading suspect in the Gigi accident mystery. June is finally coming into herself and dancing better than ever, but at the cost of her health. There’s a lot of drama in this book and it kept me turning the pages. To me, SBP felt a little darker than the first book. In this one, there’s a character caught in a compromising (and essentially abusive) relationship with a much older instructor, and several other characters start losing who they are to the endless backstabbing and cycles of competitive abuse. I’m sure it’s not too far off from that experience though, especially in New York where the competition is so fierce. The ending of this book was tied up a little too neatly for my tastes, but it’s a duology so I understand they can’t leave us with another huge cliffhanger or unresolved conflicts.

This New York is so different from mine: the bustle of the street, people of all different shapes and colors and sizes. English, Hindi, and Korean and who knows what else mingle into a pulsating backbeat. This place is a different New York, teeming with life. Not all glass and metal and sheltered like the conservatory. Not so easy to shatter.”

—page 339

book #31: the song of achilles by madeline miller

I so wholeheartedly loved this book, and never wanted Patroclus and Achilles’ stories to end. The Song of Achilles is a fantastic retelling of an overlooked character from Greek mythology, Patroclus. He’s an awkward young man with no discernible strengths, who is exiled by his father after accidentally killing a boy at a young age. Peleus is a gracious king who takes in exiled boys, and that is how Patroclus finds himself growing up in the shadow of the greatest warrior of all time. Achilles is the skilled, graceful, beautiful, strong son of the goddess, Thetis, and the Peleus, the king. Achilles and Patroclus’s unlikely friendship blossoms when the boys are 12, and grows into the most beautiful love I’ve read in a book in recent memory. Ah! I’m emotional. Their connection is so beautiful and strong and tragic and I was a wreck reading this book because of it. When Achilles is called into battle for what would become the Trojan War, after Paris has kidnapped Helen of Troy, Patroclus follows in blind devotion. I’m not going to ruin anything, but I highly recommend you read this book. Madeline Miller is an insanely talented and impressive writer, and I was gripped by every single page in this book. I’m not too well-versed in The Iliad, which is what Miller built TSoA off of, but I was still invested and I don’t think that base knowledge is necessary to appreciate the story. This book touches on Greek mythology, the fates, love and war, all the big stuff. It’s epic and so great, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. AH, PATROCLUSSSS…. </3 (ok, enough).

**again, impossible to narrow down to just two quotes I’M SORRY**

I stopped watching for ridicule, the scorpion’s tale hidden in his words. He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart?”

—page 44

“I conjure the boy I knew. Achilles, grinning as the figs blur in his hands. His green eyes laughing into mine. Catch, he says. Achilles, outlined against the sky, hanging from a branch over the river. The thick warmth of his sleepy breath against my ear. If you have to go, I will go with you. My fears forgotten in the golden harbor of his arms. The memories come, and come. She listens, staring into the grain of the stone. We are all there, goddess and mortal and the boy who was both.”

—page 368

So that’s that. I have another busy two months ahead, but hopefully they’ll involve a lot of reading. I’m currently (finally) getting through Sweetbitter, just in time for the renewed hype of the Starz show. It’s one of those weird books that I somehow enjoy, but hate all the characters in it. Oh well, I’ll take it. Until next time! ◊

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