RidgewayGirl's Year of Books, Part Four
This is a continuation of the topic RidgewayGirl's Year of Books, Part Three.
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Books acquired - TBR book read: 3 : 1 (87 - 29)
You can't kill the rooster. http://www.themorningnews.org/video/you-cant-kill-the-rooster
The Morning News Tournament of Books is a favorite book award of mine. The long list this year is very, very long at 120 books. I'll use this category to track my reading of that list. There's also a summer reading program this year, so my Rooster reading will continue.
Here's a link to that list:
1. American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis
2. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
3. Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel
4. The Nix by Nathan Hill
5. Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
6. Mister Monkey by Francine Prose
7. Version Control by Dexter Palmer
8. Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet
9. Moonglow by Michael Chabon
10. High Dive by Jonathan Lee
11. The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
12. Marlena by Julie Buntin
13. Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash
Published in 2017
I like new books. I've decided to stop fighting and embrace it instead.
1. A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates
2. The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
3. Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
4. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
5. Ill Will by Dan Chaon
6. A Separation by Katie Kitamura
7. Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
8. Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
9. The Long Drop by Denise Mina
10. Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong
11. The Answers by Catherine Lacey
12. Strange Weather by Joe Hill
13. Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
Bookshelf Challenge, Part One
I've got some shelves with books on them. On some, the read and yet-to-be-read books share space, on others, the books are all unread. I've counted cases and shelves and am planning on reading a single book off of each shelf. This is the big white bookcase in the living room.
2. I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
3. The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
11. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
12. American Rust by Philipp Meyer
13. My Lover's Lover by Maggie O'Farrell
Bookshelf Challenge Part Three
"The possession of a book becomes a substitute for reading it." --Anthony Burgess
These are the shelves in the bedroom.
5. Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
6. The Public Prosecutor by Jef Geeraerts
7. The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
8. Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon
9. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
10. The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock
15. The Whole World by Emily Winslow
We Need Diverse Books
1. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
2. We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
3. Black Wave by Michelle Tea
4. The Break by Katherena Vermette
5. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
6. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien
7. How to Survive a Plague by David France
8. Rapture Culture by Amy Johnson Frykholm
9. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
10. The Girl at the Baggage Claim by Gish Jen
11. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
12. Chemisty by Weike Wang
Expats, Immigrants and Works in Translation
1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
2. The Fall Guy by James Lasdun
3. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
4. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
5. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
6. The Patriots by Sana Krasikov
7. Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann
8. Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan
9. Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa
10. Ties by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri
11. The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale
12. Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall, translated from the Polish by Philip Boehm
Books by Women
1. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
2. The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer
3. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
4. Transit by Rachel Cusk
5. Autumn by Ali Smith
6. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
7. True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies
8. You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane
9. The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
10. Dis Mem Ber by Joyce Carol Oates
11. Dirty Work by Gabriel Weston
12. The Visitors by Catherine Burns
13. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Around the World
Books written by authors from different places, set in different places. Tracked by the nationality of the author.
1. Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue (Mexican author)
2. Human Acts by Han Kang (South Korean author)
3. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag (Indian author)
4. War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans (Belgian author)
5. Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald (Irish author)
6. An Atlas of Countries that Don't Exist by Nick Middleton (British Author)
7. Autopsy of a Father by Pascale Kramer (Swiss Author)
8. All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan (Israeli Author)
9. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Australian Author)
10. Frontier by Can Xue (Chinese Author)
11. A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli (translated by Sam Taylor) (French Author)
1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (February AwardsCAT)
2. This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell (April RandomCAT)
3. Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta (May WomanCAT)
4. No One You Know by Michelle Richmond (July CultureCAT)
5. By Gaslight by Steven Price (July CultureCAT)
6. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (August RandomCAT)
7. The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt (October RandomCAT)
8. IQ by Joe Ide (October CultureCAT)
9. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (October CultureCAT)
10. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (November CultureCAT)
11. Leavers by Lisa Ko (December CultureCAT)
12. Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell (December CATWoman)
1. True Crime Addict by James Renner
2. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña
3. The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
4. Night School by Lee Child
5. Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin
6. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
7. Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
8. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
9. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
10. The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
11. Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney
12. Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy
13. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
14. Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
As you can see, I have crafted a challenge with the surprising and no doubt controversial theme of "books." Here's to a great reading year in 2017 for all of us.
I almost forgot the BingoDOG!
1. Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall (no one said they had to be in the same order)
2. Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue
3. A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates
4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
6. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
7. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
8. Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon
9. Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
10. Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet
11. Night School by Lee Child
12. The Public Prosecutor by Jef Geeraerts
13. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
14. The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock
15. Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney
17. Moonglow by Michael Chabon
18. Black Wave by Michelle Tea
21. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
22. American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis
24. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Happy new thread!
I've just been catching up on your old thread. Regarding posts #195 & #196 by you and Jackie_K, I wish my imaginary tbr was bigger than my burgeoning bookshelves. I just can't resist a new book, or a new old book for that matter.
Vivienne, my shelves are double-stacked and piled high. But I'm eager to read them all, so I regret nothing.
Thanks, Jennifer and Lori! You are welcome to settle in and make yourselves comfortable.
Charlotte, there are always a bunch on the long-longlist that I already have planned to read. Then I read the ones I think will make the actual tournament. I'm usually wrong, but it's a fun endeavor.
Thanks, Andrea. I got to wear a cardigan today, so I was very pleased with myself.
Happy New Thread, Kay. You've had some good reading this year. I've tried to refrain from taking too many BBs from you, but some just sneak in anyway.
My husband just walked in the door and handed me this.
Hello. My name is RidgewayGirl and, yes, I am bitter.
>23 RidgewayGirl: - That is excellent! Do let us know how the beer taste... I have been enjoying this summer experimenting with various craft beer offerings and have discovered some fabulous good beer in the process!
>23 RidgewayGirl: Nice! Let us know how it is and what kind of books you'd pair it with ;)
>23 RidgewayGirl: Ha! But maybe the brewer met you at some point and you made such an impact. ; ) Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.
Lori, you should hang out with my husband. He can show you every craft beer store and microbrewery in the upstate.
rp, I will have to pay attention to beer/book pairings in the future. Maybe a golden age mystery or something involving rugged men moving sheep around?
Victoria, you've met Dirk. He knows where to find all the beers.
Jennifer, I did live along the Ridgeway in England, which also gives its name to the brewery. It was excessively lovely and it's an area where standing stones and prehistorical burial mounds can be found in every other field (alongside the sheep).
I see you've acquired Tell The Wolves I'm Home. It's one of my favorite books in recent years, I hope you like it as well. I still have it and will reread it eventually.
clue, I'm really excited to read it. I'd read a couple of reviews by people here and so when I ran across a pristine hardcover at a charity booksale I was very pleased with myself. I hope to get to it soon.
>23 RidgewayGirl: What a great gift! If I drank alcohol dark beer would be my choice because I love the taste. Unfortunately it means an instant and severe migraine.
Vivienne, that would keep me away from beer!
We're forecast to get a lot of wind and rain today, although nothing in comparison to Florida or Georgia. Still, 3 inches and 40mph winds are challenging enough to cancel school today. The kids cheered when they read the news and then they promptly made plans to sleep-over at friends' houses, which is fair enough, the house was full of kids Friday and Saturday (which made our sweet dog, Ivy, very happy).
All the Rivers is the title given to the English translation of a novel by Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan which was banned from Israeli schools. It's the story of a relationship that forms between an Israeli translator working in New York on a temporary basis and a Palestinian artist. The story is interesting, but unremarkable except for their heritages. Liat reacts by hiding the relationship from her family and living under a fear of being seen by someone from back home whenever they are together in public, a fear that extends to being seen by anyone from Israel. Hilmi is unafraid of their relationship and his frustration comes from being sent out of the room when her parents call, even as his insistence in including Liat in an evening meal when his brother visits from Ramallah results in an uncomfortable evening for everyone.
This book did give me an insight into how intractable the division between the Israelis and the Palestinians is, even as Hilmi remains optimistic about the future. They both live with the damage the long conflict has done to them, creating areas where they can't communicate. This isn't a trite story of love conquering all, and even when they are together in New York, their relationship is a very real one. In the end, Rabinyan fails to stick the landing, writing an ending that carefully skirts around any hard decisions on the part of Hilmi and Liat, and one that also avoids making any sort of meaningful comment on Israeli-Palestinian relations. I'm left wondering if this careful circling around of the issues still resulted in All the Rivers being viewed as controversial, what would have happened had Rabinyan refused to allow her characters an easy way out?
>28 RidgewayGirl: Ah, there's the explanation for your moniker! It sounds beautiful.
I hope your rainy, windy day is exciting but not too exciting. That sounds like a lot of rain and wind to me, but then it's the top news story if we get half an inch here.
Jennifer, there was a lot of rain and a lot of wind. It looks like the trees had a drunken orgy yesterday and forgot all their clothes on the lawn. The dog, who is usually terrified of anything that could be called weather, slept through most of it and was unimpressed by the rest.
Charlotte, it wasn't All the Rivers. And Monday off of school was a treat, today they were bored. My son was texting me most of the day asking me to drop everything and bring him a sandwich from Subway as sandwiches made at home are not as good. He's bored and I am taking him to school tomorrow whether or not it's open.
Hi, Lori. Welcome to my new thread. I hope the boys are behaving themselves.
Brigit, any break from LT results in dangerously long threads to catch up on. At least it's a fun thing to do. I hope you went somewhere lovely, although leaving northern Germany at this time of year is leaving it at its very best.
Andrea, it was delicious.
So I only picked this up because I was seeing it everywhere. That usually doesn't pay off for me, but every so often it does, and reinforces the whole futile exercise. This book is odd and also brilliant. There's so much going on that it shouldn't work, but Catherine Lacey is so sure-footed that every bit of The Answers fits together in ways that, days after finishing it, I still don't fully understand.
Mary Parsons is a young woman who has very few friends. One, really; her college roommate Chandra. She was raised by very religious parents living off the grid in the woods. She broke free and managed to get through college with her roommate's and her aunt's support. Then her health problems began. Chronic pain and inexplicable symptoms have put her deeply in debt as doctors continue to order expensive tests and procedures. Chandra suggests an offbeat, new agey procedure called PAKing and Mary jumps on it, desperate for any hope. And it works. But she has to take a second job in order to pay for it, which is where the book starts to get weird.
See? So many plot lines. Each sufficient for a book all on its own, but here, somehow, all those plot elements add up to just the right amount of stuff going on. This is an accomplished novel, with complex character studies, interesting things to say about popular culture, and a perfectly paced plot, despite the quantity of things going on.
>39 RidgewayGirl: Thanks, I spent two wonderful weeks of sunshine on the west coast and returned just in time to enjoy the first autumn storm at home.
>23 RidgewayGirl: What a great label! Recently, when I was vacationing in Quebec, I was thrilled to find a craft beer named "Tante Tricotante", or "Knitting Aunt", which describes me perfectly.
Frog Music is not a slow-paced and measured novel. It's set in San Francisco in 1875 during a heat wave and a smallpox epidemic and it begins with murder. Then it really gets going, featuring former circus performers, burlesque dancers, a cross-dressing woman riding a penny-farthing, French lullabies, a murder investigation, mob riots, and a missing baby. It's not a question of what happens on the next page, but how many things will happen.
Emma Donoghue's historical novels are scrupulously researched, and Frog Music is no exception. But it wears it's research lightly, so that the sure-footed mastery Donoghue has of the time and place enhance the story she's telling. I found this novel to be a great deal of fun.
It was a ton of fun to read, Andrea. And exactly what I was in the mood for.
I've had Frog Music on my list ever since it came out, sounds like I need to push this one up to the top!
We are in Oxford, and I shall endeavour (haha Morse pun) to find some more Ridgeway Brewing products. Their website tells me they have a beer called Bad King John, which I find hilarious.
Any bookstores I should be checking out?
(Edit to correct iPad-induced typo)
I think you'll like it, Judy and Charlotte.
Enjoy Oxford, rp! My favorite local bookstore was in Wantage and they've since closed. Have so much fun exploring. It's a good part of the country to eat Indian food.
He wasn't sorry then and he wasn't sorry now. There was wickedness in this world that swallowed any light that might've been, darkness that could be answered only with darkness.
The Weight of This World by David Joy tells the story of Aidan McCall and his friendship with Thad Broom. When Aidan was twelve, he watched his father shoot his mother and then himself. This is the opening scene in the book and certainly paves the way for the rest of it. Aidan eventually ends up living in a trailer with his buddy, Thad, who was moved out of his house by his new step-father. The two boys raise themselves, Thad eventually joining the army and serving in Afghanistan, but returning to live in the same single-wide and to the same life of picking up occasional work, but mainly getting by by stripping foreclosed houses of their copper wiring. Aidan would like to leave the hamlet of Little Canada, in the mountains of North Carolina, to go to Asheville or maybe even further afield, somewhere where the jobs paid better and were easier to find. He's trying to save a little, but Thad is content to spend whatever money they come by on booze and meth.
It's the meth that gets them in trouble.
The Weight of This World fits into the sort of gritty Appalachian noir of Daniel Woodrell and Donald Ray Pollock. There's a lot of violence, some of it breath-taking in it's random casualness, and a bleak sense of place that shows in both the beauty of the mountains and hollows, and in the relentless poverty of the people living there. There are grace notes and Joy never forgets to write his characters, large and small, as real people, but this isn't a book for the faint of heart.
>52 RidgewayGirl: I have this book and one other by David Joy on my wishlist, my problem is actually getting to all these books I want to read!
Priestdaddy is Patricia Lockwood's account of her childhood as the daughter of a Catholic priest, through the framing device of the year she and her husband moved in with her family. Lockwood's father is a larger-than-life character, a manly man of out-sized opinions who dominates every room he's in. Her mother is also colorful, a good Catholic wife with a passion for the ways the world can injure or even kill you.
Lockwood is a poet with a fierce sense of humor and both her facility with language and her ability to write an uproariously hilarious scene are integral to this memoir. It's a wonderful balancing act between the accounts of very funny things that happened, accounts of things that are very funny because of how Lockwood tells the story, and accounts of how her childhood shaped who she is as an adult, not all for the good. She has a wonderful, and wonderfully easy-going husband whose presence grounds both her and this book.
Here's her description of her father's guitar playing.
It sounds like a whole band dying in a plane crash in the year 1972. He plays the guitar like he's trying to take off women's jeans, or he's standing nude in the middle of a thunderstorm and calling down lightening to strike his pecs. . .
Some people are, through whatever mystifying means, able to make the guitar talk. My father can't do that, but he can do the following:
1. Make the guitar squeal
2. Make the guitar say no
3. Make the guitar falsely confess to murder
4. Make the guitar stage a filibuster where it reads The Hunt for Red October out loud.
Great review, and that quote is hysterical. Will add it to the wishlist.
Charlotte, The New York Times Book Review Podcast has a bit at the end where four people share what they're reading. It's been more influential for my reading than the actual book review part, mainly because people who love books talking about the books that are exciting them are impossible for me not to fall for. One guy read the quote I used (it's quite a bit longer) and I asked the library to save a copy for me immediately.
And having now read it, I purchased a copy to send to a friend I think will like it.
In The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn, Owen and Lucy, a couple with a special needs kindergartener decide to take six months off of fidelity. They have rules, primarily the time limit and that any activities not affect their happy family life and remain secret. They live in a storybook town with an intensely involved PTA and friends who keep an eye on them. As one might expect, things don't go as expected, let alone smoothly.
Dunn writes for the sit-com American Housewife and that shows in the dialogue, which feels like regular conversation, only faster and wittier, and in the often funny situations the characters find themselves in. But Dunn is also going for more than an entertaining read here, and manages to handle a morally ambiguous topic with a great deal of nuance. It does wrap up a bit too neatly at the end, with all characters settled and accounted for, but as an escapist novel with a bit of substance, The Arrangement suits very well.
The murders of Lizzie Borden's parents, along with the court case that decided she wasn't guilty of the murders is an endlessly fascinating facet of American history. Here, Australian author Sarah Schmidt gives us her interpretation of events in See What I have Done. It begins with some promise, rendering a portrait of a claustrophobic living situation with an autocratic father making hasty decisions, an older sister torn between a desperation for escape and a love for her troubled little sister, and an unstable and erratic Lizzie. But the characterizations remains opaque, the trial is side-stepped and there's too much wrapped up in the final moments for an event steeped in ambiguity. A story like this requires unanswered questions.
>60 RidgewayGirl: - Listen, Kay - just in case you might be interested - They've put her house up for sale.
Betty, I would buy that house in a minute. It could be a successful Bed and Breakfast, and I could bake scones for the guests and solve mysteries with the ghost of Lizzie's Mom.
>62 RidgewayGirl: - It is/was a B&B. I had a friend who went and stayed there.
Caught up with this thread and the last one, and somewhat embarrassed to say I've taken 8 BBs - I'm dying here! :)
The Borden house that the murders took place in has been a successful B&B for years. The Lizzie Borden house that's currently for sale is the one she bought with her sister after the trial. It's was in the wealthier side of town that she had always wanted to live in but her father refused to spend the money.
Betty, in See What I Have Done, the house feels so small and claustrophobic, as if they were all on top of each other all the time. I have a hard time thinking you could fit guests into it, unless they stayed in the barn.
Lisa, fair is fair.
Jennifer, that house is mentioned in the book, but if no murders happened in the living room, it's not as much fun.
>65 mstrust: - Thanks for saying that. I didn't know that there were two houses.
I was in the mood for a decent crime novel and so pulled The Whole World by Emily Winslow off of my tbr and found it to be just the thing. Polly and Liv are Americans studying at Cambridge. They meet Nick, a graduate student and become a trio, only Live likes Nick and Nick like Polly. Then Nick disappears just after Polly's mother shows up and many secrets are revealed.
Winslow used to make up logic puzzles for a game magazine, so the plot is both intricate and fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. This is both a boon and a drawback to this novel; while it's refreshing to read a debut novel where the final answer lives up to the promise of the set-up, by the end of the book, all the details are resolved a bit too tidily. Still it was a fun book to spend an evening with and the writing was good, so I'd be happy enough to read another book by this author.
>52 RidgewayGirl: I'm a bit behind in just about everything, trying to catch up. This one sounds up my alley.
Shannon, it was a great addition to the genre of Appalachia Noir, which is a thing I really enjoy.
>70 RidgewayGirl: I'm considering a focus on Southern gothic/noir next year, and Appalachia noir would most definitely fit into that!
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is Roxane Gay's book about what it's like to live in the world as an obese woman, approaching the experience from both universal and starkly personal angles. She's so honest and unflinching in her examination of her own weight, as well as why she is fat, that the book is often difficult to read; I felt that I really shouldn't be privy to such personal information. But Gay is unable to not be completely open, and it's that rawness that makes this book so powerful.
Gay ties her very personal experience to the wider one of how society treats larger women, pulling from her own life to demonstrate how ill-equipped and judgmental we are of people who we perceive as lacking control, and especially of women who take up more space than they should. Gay is also a tall woman, at 6'3" making her even more conspicuous than she would be at an average height, making ordinary things difficult, from airline seats to finding clothes.
While she was on a book tour for this book, she traveled to Australia and did an interview with a website which subsequently wrote an article about the unique problems accommodating Gay's size posed for them, from having to find a sturdy chair to the onerous task of checking how many pounds the elevator could carry. It was amazing how very much a publication which intended to be sympathetic missed the mark and the whole sordid tale proved Gay's points. It should be noted that had this company planned an interview with a man of similar size, they would have gone about their preparations with a great deal less hysteria and certainly never considered it fodder for an article.
Frontier is an experimental novel by Chinese writer Can Xue set in on the northern border in Pebble Town, an odd city dominated by the mysterious Design Institute. Each chapter follows a different character or group of characters, but the story centers on Liujin, a woman living on her own since her parents retired to Smoke City. As she, and those she comes into contact with, go about their lives, odd things happen.
Frontier is described as surreal and there is a folk tale feel to this novel, with wolves and snow leopards wandering through the marketplace, a garden floats and young woman's hand occasionally transforms into a scythe. Sometimes the bizarre is remarked upon, at least by newcomers, but mostly the residents of Pebble Town continue to live their odd lives and think their random thoughts. Most of the book has the feeling of a dream sequence, where events occur unrelated to the events that precede or follow. Time and space are equally unstable.
This book defeated me. I read the entire thing, but each new, weird occurrence left me increasingly disconnected from whatever Can Xue was trying to communicate. The writing was stilted and varied between short lyrical segments interspersed with jarring, technical-feeling language. I'm uncertain of what was the intention of the author and what is the result of a tone-deaf translation. I have other issues with the translation, which leads me to think that the translators did the author a disservice beginning with the odd decision to give half of the characters random westernized names. What I'm left with is having slogged through a novel-length first draft of someone's dream. I suspect that had I a decent knowledge of modern Chinese literature and folklore, or had read this as part of a class, I might have been able to find the substance in this vaporous vision. It was interesting to venture so far from what I usually read, but I can't call the experience a rewarding one.
The Dark Dark is a collection of short stories by Samantha Hunt that were often weird and always a little off-kilter, some stories veering directly into George Saunders/Karen Russell territory, and other stories remaining superficially more ordinary, but with an undercurrent that hints of something else.
This was an excellent collection of stories, where each story felt completely different than the one before. The book begins and ends with two variations on the same story and were the strongest of the stories, although there wasn't a dud to be found. And while the stories stand out for how imaginative they are, Hunt never fails to make her characters fully realized individuals or to give the stories a beating heart.
This is a book. Going in, I knew that it was a modern classic of South American literature and both Worthy and Important, after all, I've had a copy for at least three decades, the bookmark sitting sadly between page 36 and page 37. I was unprepared, however, for the experience of reading it. Reading Love in the Time of Cholera is a brilliant, immersive, frustrating and fabulous experience.
Set a hundred years ago, in a coastal city in Colombia, Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, from the moment Florentino first catches sight of Fermina and falls madly, desperately in love, until they are both elderly. It's not an easy path; Florentino is awkward and weird and Fermina's father disapproves of the relationship. She marries another, and while his heart remains hers, he spends much of his time juggling a number of lovers as he waits for her to become free.
First published in 1985, Florentino's sexual ethics are presented as laudable and perhaps by the standards of the time and place, they are. But by modern standards, many of his relationships are coercive, if not blatantly abusive. This is the dead insect in the glorious feast of this book. Which is not to negate the importance or the beauty of this excellent book. I'm eager to read Marquez's other novels now.
I belong to a Southern Lit book club run by the local independent bookstore here and it's been interesting. The first book we read was by Joshilyn Jackson and a few people were offended by some aspects of that book, so I wondered what people were going to say about last night's book, The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock. If you're not familiar with his writing, he writes the kind of Appalachian Noir that Quentin Tarantino would read and think, "This would make a great movie, if I dialed back on the gore."
I loved it. It was right up my alley, although it wasn't a book I could read while eating lunch (or even while drinking a glass of water, given the part where a character fishes a rat out of a well, batters it to death and then gets a drink). Lindsey, the woman leading the group, is a former professor who has taught classes in Southern Lit and who is wonderful, was the only other person who liked the book and one other person managed to finish. The first person began by talking about how bad the book was, the second about how vulgar and then I got to be the sole defender and, surprisingly, it was a blast.
Quentin Tarantino would read and think, "This would make a great movie, if I dialed back on the gore."
Ha! That says it all. I've never heard of this author and certainly wouldn't have expected gore from the title. He's going on my list just for the fact that you liked it when the rest of the group didn't. : D
The premise for Joe Ide's debut novel, IQ, is unbeatable. Sherlock Holmes in the form of a young black man living in the 'hood, more specifically, East Long Beach. Isaiah Quintabe is an orphan, his brother dying suddenly while IQ is in high school and seemingly bound for better things. Scrambling to find a way of supporting himself, he makes a life for himself solving crimes in a neighborhood the police would rather not enter, being paid with whatever his client can afford. He's broke and has a debt to pay, when an old roommate resurfaces with a job offer from a wealthy rap singer, who wants to know who is trying to kill him.
The central mystery is pretty thin, and most of the book is made up of IQ's backstory, which is more interesting than the mystery in any case. Ide concentrates on the setting and atmosphere, vividly describing life in the grittier corners of Los Angeles in a way that allows the reader to hear the freeway noise and see each location as though watching a movie. On the other hand, Ide falls back on stereotypes to create his characters, who all seem pulled directly from a list of stock characters, none of whom ever make an attempt at individuality.
The book was a mixed bag for me. I loved the setting, which isn't one often encountered, but the thinness of the plot compared with the dullness of the characters made reading this book less enjoyable than I had hoped it would be. Still, there is the kernel of a good series here and the first book in a mystery series is rarely the strongest. The second book in the series has just been published, so I'll be waiting to see if Ide develops as an author and breathes some life into his characters and creates a plot worthy of a Holmes-inspired character.
>81 RidgewayGirl: - I was thinking the book sounded interesting at the start of your review, but changed my mind as I read further. I think I’ll wait til you read the next one to make up my mind.
>82 dudes22: Betty, that would be my strategy too. I'm interested in this next book, but not enough to pick it up unless the reviews indicate that it's better than the first.
>81 RidgewayGirl: Oh I liked this one more than you did! I think I am increasingly reading crime for the setting rather than the plot. Unless the plot is completely awful, of course.
I do agree, the first book is rarely the strongest one.
Charlotte, the setting for IQ really is wonderfully done, and it's a change from all the detective novels set among the comfortably-off in London and New York. I'm eager to hear what you think of the sequel.
Hi, Lisa. I hope you like them.
The Visitors by Catherine Burns is a tense novel in the style of Barbara Vine and Minette Walters. It builds slowly, so that the first half is spent describing Marion, a socially phobic middle-aged woman who is nearly house-bound, living in her childhood home with her brother, watching treacly movies and the house decay around her. The novel looks at her grim childhood and takes its time with the story, slowly piling on hints that something is very, very wrong.
it's not easy to build a buzz for a debut novel as slow-building as this one, and so the publisher went with the strategy of revealing the bad thing on the back cover summary. While it didn't ruin the book, I think it would have been much more fun to have gradually figured out what was going on, rather than going into it looking for the clues. And while the central storyline is fantastic and creepy and terrible, this is a debut novel, with issues with pacing and character development. Still, Burns is an author to keep an eye on and I don't think anyone will disagree that the literary world is always in need of more literary suspense novels that really deliver in unexpected ways.
Jennifer, don't read the back cover and keep in mind that the book starts slowly.
Got it- avoid the back cover and don't expect anything too soon. I haven't read either Vine or Walters yet, but I'm picturing a Jackson-esque style. Right or wrong, that's what I'm picturing. ; )
Oh, well, either way, the sooner he took care of their questions, the sooner he could get back to his music. He was right on the verge of finishing his first original composition, a slow, mournful piece in eight movements meant to capture the educator's dread of returning to the classroom after the bliss of the summer break. Tentatively titled, "Might as Well Hang Myself," he had been working on it off and on for the past several years.
Brace yourselves, because The Heavenly Table is not a novel for the faint of heart. Set in 1917, it tells the story of the Jewett Gang, three brothers living in excruciating poverty on the Georgia-Alabama border until events send them on a bloody crime spree, and they move ever northwards, hoping to escape into Canada. In their path lies the farm of the hapless Ellsworth Fiddler and his wife, Eula, who are struggling to get by after being swindled out of their savings and their son ran off to join the army, which is establishing a base in the nearby town of Meade, Ohio, preparing volunteers to fight in Europe.
Donald Ray Pollock has never been a writer who shields his readers from the world he's creating and in The Heavenly Table he describes every smell, every misdeed and every bodily fluid with a vividness that makes even ordinary daily activities less than pleasant. And here he's written a book full of less than pleasant individuals, most of whom spend their days involved in vile and/or unhygienic activities, all of which Pollock describes in a sort of cinematic technicolor. But don't let the violence fool you; Pollock is a talented writer and here he's also humorous. It's a fine tightrope to walk, to write a book that can make the reader cringe and laugh in the same paragraph, but Pollack has done it.
This book is a bloodbath, and it's a bloodbath where a serial killer who tortures his captives to death and collects their teeth in a jar is a minor player. And yet Pollack also manages to add just enough heart and grace to humanize this novel. A killer who finds terrorizing a lone black man entertaining is the same person who realizes that the prostitute he visits has had a harder life than himself and who pitches in to help an old man with the harvest. The characters here may be very bad men, but you can't help pulling for them, or at least seeing them as people.
>92 RidgewayGirl: This sounds like not my kind of book at all, but I do love the bit you quoted!
Christina, there were many quotes that were unsuitable for an LT review. I also liked this one:
Books were her greatest passion, and she could never get serious about a man who didn't read, let alone marry one. To do so, she felt, would be like hitching her star to a fence post that just happened to breathe air and draw a paycheck.
>94 RidgewayGirl: Love that quote, and the first one too. Not sure it's a book for me though!
Charlotte, it's a hard book to read, but I'll admit that the whole Appalachian Noir genre is pretty much my favorite right now. I'm reading another one called Where All the Light Tends to Go now and it's making me very happy.
Judy, I think you'd love this.
>77 RidgewayGirl: I enjoyed reading your review of Love in the Time of Cholera. I'd read this several decades ago and picked a copy up recently, intending to do a reread. Last year, I'd read A Hundred Years of Solitude and found it a challenge to get through, but I appreciated it more after getting some insight from a colleague from Argentina who'd also lived in Colombia.
Ties by Domenico Starnone received extra exposure in the English-speaking world by being translated by Jhumpa Lahiri, who has spoken at length about the experience. This extra bit of publicity got a copy onto the shelves of my local library, so I'm grateful. Lahiri's translation is lovely.
This short novel tells the story of an unhappy family, in the form of three segments, one less than a decade into the marriage, when the husband leaves his wife and two young children for a younger woman. The second and meatiest part of the novel takes place when the couple are in their seventies and a traumatic experience throws old secrets into the open. The third section is the weakest and wraps things up a little too neatly through the eyes of their two now-middle-aged children.
Despite the tidiness of the ending, this was a powerful novel about how the fault-lines in a marriage may be smoothed over and life continued, but how those fractures remain under the surface, ready to reveal themselves at moments of stress. And how parental discord affects children, who have no say in the way things play out but who are nevertheless the people most affected.
This wasn't a cheerful book, but it was compelling and thought-provoking.
I thought I'd at least pop in and say hi. Life is just busy at the moment so I'm skimming most threads rather than reading them.
Hi, Victoria and Lori. I was just thinking about our meet-up and how much fun it was.
And I'm making a formal announcement. I'm going to be attempting NaNoWriMo in November. If I don't show up in your thread, I apologize and will try to catch up in December. If I fall behind on my reviews or don't read anything next month, there's a reason for that. I did NaNo seriously once before and it was a rewarding experience (for one thing, I met VictoriaPL and it turns out she's actually pretty nice).
>103 RidgewayGirl:. Aw, your friendship has meant so much to me!
I've decided to do NaNo this Nov as well.
We should re-create our first meeting downtown!
ETA I knew we were going to be good friends when you told me I had pre-raphaelite hair. I was going through my Waterhouse phase and that was the best compliment ever! LOL
>103 RidgewayGirl: Lots of luck to you! I'll be looking for an update in December.
Victoria, I don't remember that at all, but it certainly sounds like a weird thing I'd say to someone I was just meeting for the first time!
Thanks, Stacy and Shannon. I hope to drop in now and again through the month.
Thanks, Judy and Jennifer. I still have one more day to tootle around LT and the internet being aimless.
Good luck with your novel! I want to focus on non-fiction writing, mostly genealogical, of course.
More good luck from me. I admire the dedication of participants (whilst reading my books!).
Lori, of course. You are a published author after all.
Charlotte, I'm still reading. No crime novels for now, but I can't not read.
Under a Pole Star is a novel about polar exploration in the Victorian era. Written by Stef Penney, an author I like a lot, I had high hopes for this novel and it almost met them.
When her mother dies when Flora is only twelve, her father, the captain of a whaling vessel, takes her on board. They spend years sailing to the western edge of Greenland, where Flora becomes accustomed to being on board a ship and to the Arctic. She makes friends with Inuit children and loves her life of freedom. When she grows older, her father abruptly returns her to Britain, leaving her alone with the desire to back to the north and no way to get there. Jakob is the son of an engineer working on the Brooklyn bridge until his accidental death sends Jakob and his older brother to live with unwilling relatives. Raised in tight spaces in a crowded immigrant neighborhood, Jakob dreams of wide open spaces, eventually becoming a geologist and working in the west, but always with the dream of joining an Arctic expedition.
For the most part, this is a solid novel about early Arctic exploration, with a focus on how the whalers and explorers interacted with the local population. It did falter though, in the central story of the relationship between Flora and Jakob. It threw the balance of the novel out of kilter, with way too much of the ins and outs of their complicated love affair and too little of what made the book so interesting - Flora's unique experience of being a woman in what was then seen as solely a man's world and how she dealt with that. And sex scenes, like any other events in a novel, should serve to move the story along. While a few did illuminate the relationship between Flora and Jakob, many of them seems to just exist to pad out an already substantial book.
Still, it's hard to beat a well-researched novel about explorers in wild places.
Sorry I'm late to add my good wishes for writing a book in a month. We lost our internet in the storm over the weekend. Great ambition!
>116 RidgewayGirl: I'd probably enjoy it better without the romance line. However, I do enjoy Stef Penney's work so I may give it a shot.
Betty, our internet goes out in a stiff breeze.
Lori, I had high hopes because I loved the detective novel she wrote. Still, this is meticulously researched and Penney writes well.
So I met up with VictoriaPL today to do some NaNoWriMo writing and we actually did! Not as much as we talked, but some writing was done.
>120 RidgewayGirl: well, there's no way we would meet up and NOT talk, LOL. I thought we struck a good balance!
Good luck to both of you with your writing! Looks like a nice balance was managed.
Victoria, we did pretty well especially considering that we never run out of things to say!
Thanks, Stacy. I'm going to have to buckle down and catch up.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry is a Victorian novel in both setting and style. A meaty, substantial book filled with interesting secondary characters and a riveting central story, this book made me happy.
Cora is a widow with a young son, recovering from a bad marriage, she turns to science and the hunt for fossils. She has friends and allies, from her socialist companion working to raise awareness of the conditions of the working poor in London, to the irascible, talented surgeon who attended her husband in his final days, to the wealthy and politically connected Ambroses, they all revolve around her. When she becomes fascinated with the reemergence of a local myth about a giant serpent, she is introduced to Will Ransome, a vicar, and his family, who live in the coastal village of Aldwinter, at the center of the rumors about the serpent.
While things happen and the writing is beautiful, the real stand-out in Perry's novel are the characters, who are each worthy of a novel of their own. Cora, herself, is less interesting and admirable than all of her admirers in the novel believe her to be, but with all the fascinating people she surrounds herself with, the gap is easily filled. I'm very much looking forward to Perry's next book.
>124 RidgewayGirl: I'm glad to see you liked this, it's on my list for next year.
>124 RidgewayGirl: - I'm going to take 1/2 a BB on this. I love good characters, but a myth about a giant serpent isn't that appealing. I'll have to keep thinking on it for a bit. Maybe I'll look at it at the library. Love the cover.
Betty, there's no supernatural element in the story. The locals think some serpentine creature is responsible for some incidents, and Cora dreams of finding a prehistoric creature. It's more a look at how people react to rumor - in this case the villagers, the vicar and the out-of-towner all haver different reactions.
Stopping by to get caught up and making note of your reading to date.
>43 RidgewayGirl: - That does sound like a fun read!
Good luck with NaNoWriMo!
>77 RidgewayGirl: I wasn't able to get past the halfway mark of this book. It dawned on me at that point that it felt like it was still the beginning of the book and I was being introduced to the characters and setting. I think this was because the author always used the characters' complete names even though by that point he could have just used their first or last names.
Catching up with everyone after a hiatus.
Would you recommend the white rose letters? I'm putting the annual Amazon wish list together for Father Xmas, and see it's in your currently reading pile.
I have a feeling that when I finally pick up The Essex Serpent I'll wonder why I took so long.
Charlotte, I'm enjoying them, but the Scholls are an interest of mine after living in Munich. They aren't writers, just ordinary Germans, although I find the slow evolution of their ideas interesting, it may not have a wide appeal. It does paint a picture of ordinary life in Germany at a specific point in time.
Centered on the Second World War, Manhattan Beach tells the story of three people; a merchant marine third mate as he works on ships sailing dangerous seas, a mob boss negotiating stormy seas of his own and a young woman who grows up in Brooklyn during the Depression and who finds her feet when she gets a job working in the Naval Yard, eventually fighting for the chance to become a diver. Their lives intersect in important ways, but their relationships with each other are almost tangential to their own stories.
This is a solid, well-researched historical novel. There is none of the innovation or surprise of Jennifer Egan's best known work, A Visit from the Goon Squad. Egan uses instead a traditional approach to this traditional tale. And while I thought the novel lost intensity towards the end and was irked by an uncharacteristic and stupid action by one of the central characters, readers who enjoy solid historical fiction about WWII will find Manhattan Beach to be an excellent read.
>135 RidgewayGirl: A female character holding a traditionally male occupation, and WW2, and ships: this ticks a lot of boxes for me!
rp, would learning that there may or may not be a shipwreck increase or decrease your interest in it?
I hope your writing is going well and that you end the month very proud of yourself.
rp, I knew it!
Thanks Paulina and Jennifer. I'm way behind in the word count, but I am still writing and I'm even enjoying it, so that will have to do.
Where All Light Tends to Go is David Joy's debut novel. I really enjoyed his second book, The Weight of this World, which was also a dark, crime-ridden tale set in the hardscrabble Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Where All Light Tends to Go tells the story of Jacob McNeely who, as the son of a prominent meth dealer, deals with being viewed as trash everyday by upstanding folks. His mother is an addict and his father is more dangerous than nurturing and after dropping out of high school, Jacob figures he's trapped in this dead end part of the world forever. But his ex-girlfriend has been accepted to a college way out in Wilmington and he'll do what he can to help her get there. And maybe even dream about joining her.
So this was a debut novel. While I could see hints of what he'd be able to write just a book later, here the story is simplistic and the characters stay carefully within their assigned stereo-types, from the perfect, pure girlfriend to the slimy lawyer. Jacob had a few moments along the way where Joy seems to be pointing out the naivety of an eighteen-year-old boy's ego and the story itself was certainly fast-paced, but this is clearly the work of someone still learning their craft. Joy will be a writer to watch, but this book is not a strong one.
I hope you and your family are having a lovely Thanksgiving holiday, Kay.
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash tells the story of workers in textile mills in the South in the late 1920s. Ella May is raising four children alone. She's got work, but her 72-hour work week pays less than enough to even feed them everyday. Her youngest is ill and when she stays home to care for him she'd told that if she misses another shift, she'll be fired. So when news comes that unionizers are to come to nearby Gastonia she's desperate enough to hope.
Told from several viewpoints, from the wife of a mill owner to a black union organizer terrified to be back in the South, Cash tells the story of one brave and desperate woman and also of the textile mills of the piedmont region of the Carolinas. It's fascinating stuff, and Cash clearly spent years in immersive research.
Thanks, Judy. It was lovely. There was a full table and we just managed to squeeze everyone in around it, which is the way it should be. And now to enjoy a quiet Friday, which I plan to spend reading, writing and avoiding the Black Friday sales.
Amen, sister. I saw people on tv who had spent two days camping in front of a store waiting for Black Friday. I'd rather pay the full price. Here's to staying home!
Strange Weather is a collection of novellas by horror writer Joe Hill. Unlike many collections, this isn't just a group of stuff he wrote, but nor is it inter-linked in any way except that weather plays some role in the plot. The novellas are also nothing alike: the first, Snapshot is horror in the style of his father, from the adolescent protagonist, to the clear depiction of a specific time and place, to the creepy and imaginative evil dude. Loaded was the best of the bunch, without an ounce of the supernatural, it was easily the most terrifying in the bunch. The ending was horrible and perfect at once. The third, Aloft has a terrified young man's first parachute jump go horribly awry. This one's got aliens of a sort and a more prosaic (and to me more interesting) story at its heart. The last story, Rain is an apocalyptic story that obeyed all the usual tropes of that over-written genre, but felt fresh and new.
This is an excellent collection that really shows that Hill is a writer who is a master of his craft.
>144 RidgewayGirl: We got that one at the library, and I plan to read it in the next year.
Judy and Lori, Hello! and I look forward to finding out what you think of it.
Dimestore: A Writer's Life by Lee Smith is an odd mix of essays, some about her childhood, growing up in a small, Appalachian coal town where her father owned the local general store, some about her later life, some about writing and some about teaching. By far the strongest portion were those about her childhood - this section was the most vivid and honest. She also came to life talking about some of her writing students.
This wasn't a particularly strong book, but it was interesting enough and it did make me want to take a look at a few of her novels.
>147 RidgewayGirl: I have heard good things about this. I wasn't too excited when I heard it was a collection, but now I'm certainly intrigued.
>153 RidgewayGirl: I liked it a little better than you did at the time I read it. In hindsight, I probably over-rated it. Perhaps I'd read several klunkers preceding it.
Shannon, it's really good. And the short format made each story really focused.
Lori, the first third was fantastic. I could even hear her voice telling the stories of her childhood. It just lost that intensity as she ping-ponged between all the different things that happened to her as an adult. And it felt less open - she elides past events she doesn't want to talk about.
Early one morning, in the dead of a Polish winter, in the middle of WWII, three German soldiers set out to hunt for Jews in hiding in the woods. They requested the task, having reached the point of being unable to continue with the shootings. They set out, on that cold morning and walk for some time. During the day they will encounter two men, one of whom will walk away. They will also share a meal with those two men.
A Meal in Winter by French author Hubert Mingarelli is a novella of surprising depth. It's a simple story, told straight-forwardly, but it leaves a lot to think about.
>156 RidgewayGirl: I will probably earmark it for next year's ScaredyKIT, as we are having a Stephen King and family month.
>157 RidgewayGirl: That one sounds good. ETA: Not available at my library, but I recommended it to be purchased by TN Reads. I'll check Knox County also since their ebook collection is a bit different. It didn't have it either.
Shannon, that would be an excellent choice.
Lori, I was surprised to discover it in my local library system. Things do show up that I don't expect to be there all the time. And, of course, I also discover all the time that they don't have a book I had thought would have been an automatic purchase. It does add to the randomness of what I read.
By the way, I never mention her weight because I don't want her to end up with a complex. I was overweight when I was her age, and my mother discussed it exhaustively. And yes, as a result, I would say I am the proud owner of several complexes. But who isn't? When you think about it, isn't a person just a structure built in reaction to the landscape and the weather?
Young Jane Young tells the story of Aviva, a young woman interested in a career in politics who interns for the re-election campaign of a congressman. The congressman is charismatic and friendly, Aviva is insecure and determined to change her life. When their relationship is discovered, Aviva is the one to take the fall, while the congressman is able to continue his life as usual.
This book reminded me of Where'd You Go, Bernadette? in its tone and structure, but with less obvious humor and a warmer heart. The narrator shifts between Aviva, her mother, her daughter and the congressman's wife, and the changes in perspective give the book a wider view of what happened and how Aviva managed to rebuild her life. Despite the extreme relevance of the novel's subject matter, Gabrielle Zevin manages to both build nuance and to keep the tone from becoming too somber or angry.
Chrischi, those are two very different books! But I liked both quite a bit and look forward to finding out what you think of them.
Hi, Charlotte, yes, I can see Young Jane Young appealing to a lot of people. Given what's going on in the world today, it does feel very current.
Hi Kay, way back at #144, I'm reading The Last Ballad also, and it is excellent!
Lisa, it really is. I've promised to loan my copy to VictoriaPL, but I keep forgetting to bring it with me.
After listening to an interview with Derf Backderf, the author of My Friend Dahmer, I found myself reading a graphic novel about the high school years of a serial killer. I don't generally like graphic novels, but the format was ideal for the subject matter. Derf went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer and they were a part of the same group of friends. Dahmer was an outcast until his humorous routine as a man with cerebral palsy won him a place on the edge of a group of boys. Dahmer lost his hold on whatever gave him stability in those years and Backderf's main question is "Where were the adults?"
And that's not an easy answer. It was the seventies, a time before teachers watched their students for signs of alcohol or drug abuse, when kids ran wild with very little supervision and when parents were focused on their own changing lives. But Backderf says that Dahmer's deterioration was so obvious that someone should have noticed. And his parents were absent, his father and mother were divorcing and the process was drawn-out and acrimonious. Dahmer and his younger brother were left living with their possibly mentally ill mother, a woman unable to care for them. And so he had no one to help him as the warning signs became ever larger and brighter.
Backderf is an excellent guide through these years of Dahmer's life. In addition to the time and effort he made in remembering those years, he also spoke to friends, classmates and teachers, putting together an account that is both insightful and centered in what it was like to be a teenage boy in that time and place.
The New York Times Book Review podcast features a short discussion about what they're reading each week and all summer long they were, one by one, falling for French author Emmanuel Carrère. My library system owns a single book by Carrère and so I read The Adversary, which is a non-fiction piece about a murderer.
Jean-Claude Romand was a prominent doctor working for the World Health Organization in Geneva, and who lived in a pleasant village where he had good friends and was respected across the border in France with his storybook family. It was also all a lie. He'd never taken his first set of exams in medical school, but had simple continued along as though he were doing well. Once his class had graduated, he married his college sweetheart and continued the masquerade for years, leaving to attend important conferences, buying a home, even taking a Parisian mistress.
The reasons why he murdered his family are clear; he was running out of options and realized that the careful illusion he had created was soon to be shattered, but how he managed for so long makes for a fascinating story.
>167 RidgewayGirl: I knew that one existed, but I'd wondered if it was something incredibly weird because of the title. That was a great review and I'd pick it up now.
Thanks, Judy. It was a book I never thought I'd read, but I'm glad I did.
Jennifer, I know. I only picked it up because I heard that interview and it was so thoughtful and not exploitative that I was intrigued.
Usually in a collection of short stories by a single author there are a few duds; stories that you begin forgetting as soon as you've turned the last page. And there are a few that are fine and at least one that knocks your socks off and leave you light-headed. In a good collection, they'll be a few stories of the knock-out variety and in a great collection, there might be three or four. Fresh Complaint, Jeffrey Eugenides's collection of short stories falls short of even the first variety. Composed over several decades, the stories in Fresh Complaint are often stale, usually forgettable and in a few cases, misguided to an unsettling degree.
Eugenides is a great novelist, one who does amazing things when given the room to develop his characters and his story, but when restricted to a minimal length, he shows that he's not able to create characters that are anything other than one-note. His stories (with a single exception) center on white middle-aged men of the hapless variety. It's not a type that lacks for representation in American literature, but fine, Eugenides is writing-what-he-knows or something like that, but these sad sack men are written so carelessly as to make any sort of connection or sympathy for them impossible to achieve. I watched them flail and didn't care much one way or the other how things panned out.
There were things I did like. Eugenides writes well, and the stories that involved characters from The Marriage Plot and Middlesex had interest for me as someone who loved both those novels, although they brought nothing new to the table, it was at least interesting to see Eugenides develop his ideas. And the single story that wasn't about a middle-aged white dude had a little meat to it.
Were that it, this would be a lackluster, but fine collection by an author whose heart doesn't beat for brevity. But there were two stories that were much worse than they should have been. One, Capricious Gardens, concerns a well-off middle-aged divorced man who picks up a hitch-hiking tourist, an attractive young woman, and offers her lodging at a house he occasionally lives in. Unfortunately, the attractive young woman has a traveling companion who is less attractive and who thwarts the guy's plans of conquest. The story appeared to be aiming for screw-ball comedy, and ended up feeling skeevy, with the middle-aged man's attempted seduction of a woman half his age. But this was written decades ago, and a pass of sorts might be given for a story written in the 80s. Inclusion in this book, however, is less excusable. And, finally, the newest story in the collection involved a teenage girl sexually preying on a much, much older and more powerful man. There was just so much wrong in this tale of a married man who innocently begins a sexual relationship with a teenager that it soured my view of the author.
>172 RidgewayGirl:, Nicely done review--I'm sorry you had to suffer through it, but I'm glad I'll know to avoid it! I hate to say it, but I think I've come to assume that literary writers who publish both story collections and novels are drastically better at one than the other; the example that always comes to mind for me is Jhumpa Lahiri. There wasn't anything Wrong with the novel I read by her, but it didn't have nearly the power of her stories. I think it's why I keep putting off reading Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, I love his stories so much, but I'll get to it eventually!
Jennifer, I agree. There are some who can pull it off, but most do much better in one form than the other. I love short stories, but there's no room for digression or space to develop things slowly. Every paragraph has to count. I was so irked by this collection that I worry that when Eugenides does release another novel, I won't want to read it.
It's so true, and the other trick from the opposite side of the coin is that some ideas just aren't novel-worthy. I remember reading The Namesake and thinking how wonderful it could have been as one of Lahiri's long short stories--but drawn out into a novel... it just wasn't anything special. I still haven't picked up her second novel...
A poorly executed novel does have that effect, Jennifer. I'm half hoping Eugenides sticks with his current schedule of a novel a decade, so that I can forget everything about Fresh Complaint before a new novel is published.
Lori, Middlesex is his greatest novel. I loved The Marriage Plot, but that book divided readers, with more coming down on the didn't like it side.
Deming is twelve when his mother disappears. He'd been secure and happy, although he knew his mother, an undocumented immigrant had her worries and money was always tight. But in his neighborhood everyone was poor and from someplace else and he had a best friend and a mother whom he adored. Her disappearance and his subsequent adoption by a pair of white university professors is traumatic, even as he tries to fulfill his new role as Daniel Wilkinson.
There's a lot going on in Lisa Ko's debut novel, The Leavers, which addresses immigration, integration, adoption, cultural dislocation and growing up as a permanent outsider. At it's heart, though, The Leavers is a story about a mother and a son and their love for each other. It's a lovely novel, well-told, that fully deserves all the attention and awards its receiving.
The year's almost gone and I'm hoping to have the time this weekend to put together my 2018 Challenge. And get some reading time, too.
Mamzel, I have a number of books on my tbr that have gotten quite shouty lately.
In Chemistry, Weike Wang's debut novel, the unnamed narrator recounts events that were set off by her abandonment of her chemistry doctorate. Working at an unnamed prominent university in Boston, the narrator buckles under pressure and retreats. As she thinks back over her childhood, raised by parents unhappy with each other, and as an immigrant to the US who always felt like an outsider, she is a woman who is not quite at home anywhere. Her difficulties extend to her boyfriend, an fairly uncomplicated white guy who loves her, even as he plans to go on with his life, accepting a faculty position in another state.
This is a hard book to describe. it's a slender book, told in brief segments of memory and experience, all from the narrator's perspective. The book deals with everything from the pressures of competing and performing at an elite university, to the experiences of someone who immigrated to the US as a child, to how childhood is experienced by someone whose parents are unhappily married. And the book is charming; the narrator's viewpoint is a unique and fascinating one and her relationship with her dog and how she relates to her best friend's baby lend a lightness to what might otherwise be heavy-going. She's a mess, but it's easy to see why the people around her are drawn to her.
In The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso tells the story of two elderly women living in an affluent neighborhood in Capetown, South Africa. Marion, a white woman, runs the neighborhood committee and has a hand in everything going on. Hortensia, a black woman who moved to the neighborhood with her white husband after Apartheid ended, is stand-offish but she attends the committee meetings. Hortensia and Marion are constantly in disagreement and have never gotten along. After Hortensia's husband dies and they are both widows, circumstances push them together.
This isn't a feel-good story about old enemies becoming friends, or at least not quite. The gulf between the two women and the shared weight of their personal histories doesn't allow for a glib ending. Instead, there's a nuanced story of two women who lived through tumultuous times and were shaped by the places they'd lived. Omotoso does a wonderful job of portraying each of the women with equal nuance. It's not an easy thing to write a sympathetic and critical character study of a racist old woman, but Omotoso has managed to make Marion not only into a living, breathing woman, but to make her reactions and thought-patterns understandable.
Mrs. Fletcher is Eve Fletcher, divorced mother of a college freshman. She's determined to get out there and become involved in life again, and she signs up for a class at the local community college on gender identity as a way of making friends. Along the way she discovers internet porn and becomes friends with a woman she works with. Meanwhile, her son has trouble adjusting to college, where he's no longer a big star and where he's stymied by both his college roommate and the challenge of starting a romantic relationship.
Tom Perrotta's novel explores the sexual mores of contemporary Americans in much the same way works by Updike and Cheever did a generation ago. Touching on everything from how porn affects how a person approaches relationships, the difficulty of starting over after divorce, transgenderism and how different generations react differently to similar situations, Mrs. Fletcher is written with Perrotta's characteristic sensitivity and humor, although it does seem less focused than his other novels.
Stopping by to wish you and your loved ones peace, joy and happiness this holiday season and for 2018!
Stopping by to wish you the best of the end of 2017 and the start of 2018.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope every single one of us has a new book to read today.
I have seven, so I win. My father got me one, my MIL went nuts with my amazon wishlist, and my husband added a few more. Life is good.
Merry Christmas Kay,
My family doesn't buy me books anymore but I do have a gift card or two I can use. Silly people, they're trying to save me from myself, but I can just as easily buy books from Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble lol.
I have my eye on Lightning Men as soon as I read book #1.
Merry Christmas! I've got Soviet bus stops on my wishlist, but nobody got me it so far!
I did beat your haul though. I got three paper books (one was more of a coffee table chunkster, and one was a photography how-to book, but still), and my parents gave me £50 to spend in the kobo store and I managed to get ten (count 'em!) ebooks with that and only went a couple of pounds over. I'm very very very happy with that!
I hope you've had a lovely day!
Lisa, my family thinks gift cards aren't personal, so I make sure my amazon wishlist is up-to-date. That way they give me something tangible and it's always exactly the right thing.
Jackie, I love that you have the Soviet Bus Stops on your wishlist. It's fantastic.
Merry Christmas! I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on the Bridget Christie book.
You've made me very curious about Soviet Bus Stops. No books for me this year. Despite the fact that I always by hubby a couple. Anyway Kay - Here's my Christmas wish for you:
Paulina, I think you'd like Chemistry. It's a book that I keep thinking about. There were so many excellent books published this year and next year looks equally good. I really need three or four years of reading time each year.
rp, the first two pages of the introduction were hilarious. She managed to work in both Hitler and farts.
Betty, Soviet Bus Stops is a remarkable glimpse into ugly concrete structures and also into the everyday life of the more obscure corners of former Soviet republics. There is so much of the world I have not seen.
I definitely have a few books I can't wait to pick up.
I only got a Wreck This Journal but it is more books than I usually get.
Happy Boxing Day, Andrea!
Kristel, books are my favorite present. And that's what I get everyone else, so they've learned.
One of our local librarians is very keen to encourage people to take out Soviet bus stops. I have a sneaking suspicion he lobbied for the library to purchase it...
I think you should make the poor man happy, Charlotte, and check the book out.
Chasing the King of Hearts tells the story of Izolda, who meets Shayek in Warsaw during WWII and marries him. They live first in the ghetto until Izolda, who is unrelentingly resourceful and determined, smuggles herself out. She manages to get Shayek out too, as well as their parents but the war is harsh and unrelenting and over time their family members disappear or are arrested. Shayek is eventually arrested and all of Izolda's ingenuity is focused on getting to him. She endures much and survives because of her ability to think on her feet and to take any chances she sees.
From the beginning of the story we know that Izolda survives. There are segments set long after the war, when Izolda is an elderly woman living in Israel trying to tell her story to her grandchildren. The reader knows that she lives, but how she survives makes for quite a story. Izolda is a real person, who found the author, Hanna Krall, and asked her to write her story for her. Krall is well respected as a journalist in Poland and documents people's experiences in a narrative style much like Svetlana Alexievich. Here, she tells Izolda's story in a straight-forward way, eliding much of the harsher moments, but without omitting them. The reader knows Izolda is raped or that the conditions of her imprisonment were harsh, but these events are presented as facts, less important than her overriding need to find her husband.
She follows the policewoman.
The nearest station is on Poznanska Street. Not a good place, getting out won't be easy.
She has her pearl ring. She thinks: Should I give it to her right away? And why did she say you're all alike? By all she means Jews. Excuse me, Ma'am, she risks the question. What did you mean by all alike? Stop playing dumb--the policewoman now makes no effort to be polite. I'm from the vice squad, now do you understand?
Now she understands.
They're not taking her for a Jew but for a whore. What a relief, thank God, they're just taking me for a whore.
The sheer number of close calls and daring escapes experienced by this single woman would sound unlikely in a novel, but Izolda's personality and determination made each unlikely moment feel inevitable. This is an extraordinary story.
Mothers and Other Strangers has a killer opening line: My father proposed to my mother at gunpoint when she was 19, and knowing that she was already pregnant with a dead man's child, she accepted. It's hard to beat an opener like that, and impossible for the rest of the book to live up to the promise of that one perfect sentence.
Elsie is thirty-nine, but still living under the shadow of having been raised by a neglectful, self-involved woman. After her mother dies, she goes back to Toronto to clear out and sell her mother's apartment. The act of being back brings back memories and brings her back into contact with the odd, Scientology-like sect her mother had belonged to. They break into her mother's apartment, looking for something they don't find, but it's the tentacles they've left in Elsie's mind that prove to be the greater danger. Elsie was born in South Africa and still has vivid memories of the fire that killed her father and separated her from the woman who cared for her. Elsie is then raised in Canada, without any contact with any relatives in South Africa and as she finds clues in her mother's things she realizes she has to confront not only the religious sect that took over her mother's life, but also the past left behind in South Africa.
In many ways, this is a typical novel of the kind that involves a woman in peril who has to follow clues to resolving her past while protecting herself from nebulous dangers. But Gina Sorell writes well and the plot is unpredictable and eventful enough to keep the pages turning. It was impossible for any debut novelist to fulfill the promise of the opening sentence, and the ordinariness of the resulting novel was a disappointment, but Sorell shows enough promise there for me to look forward to whatever she writes next.
Stephen Florida is a college senior, a wrestler who has one last shot of winning the championship. He's focused on that one aim, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. He has one friend, another dedicated wrestler, but it's an odd relationship. He meets a girl and there's another connection to tether him to the world for a time, but the isolation takes a toll and Stephen Florida is losing it.
So I'm not generally a fan of novels about angry white dudes, or of sports novels, or of novels that put a lot of emphasis on bodily fluids, or, frankly, books that are so unabashedly male in their outlook. I would not have read this at all had it not made the Tournament of Books longlist, and while I often wondered why I was reading this, it did capture my interest in the end. Stephen's not a nice guy, but he's also not a bad guy, for all the petty gross stuff he does. He's just a not entirely stable guy who lacks anyone who could ground him and he's utterly committed to winning at wrestling. There's only a single sketchily-drawn female character, and she remains largely an idea that Stephen holds on to, but a story told from inside Stephen's head was never going to be balanced.
I'm glad to have read this book, even though I was not always happy while I was reading it. I really, really dislike snot and there was a lot of it in this book. But Gabe Habash shows promise and I'll be interested in at least see what he does next.
>205 RidgewayGirl: - I'm hoping this will be the last BB I take this year.
Time to assess my reading this year. Overall, it's been great and I'm content that I did increase the diversity of my reading and will continue to work on that as it never fails to also increase the quality of what I'm reading.
A few statistics:
I didn't complete the challenge I set out to complete. Not because I didn't read enough books, but because I didn't read enough off of my own shelves. I've adjusted next year's challenge accordingly.
64% of the books I read were by women.
I read books by authors from 23 different countries, although the vast majority (62) were American.
Most of my reading was newer books, with only two books published in the last century and none before 1985. A whopping 36% were published in 2017. This is what happened when I realized that not only to I love new, shiny books but I also realized that that's fine and I should read the books I want to. I'm happy with that -- I enjoy the conversations going on around new books. That said, the books waiting on my shelves to be read were neglected and I'd like to read more of them.
The best books I read this year were:
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
The Trespasser by Tana French
Autumn by Ali Smith
Transit by Rachel Cusk
And the very worst were:
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña and Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald - this is me eternally learning that when it comes to crime novels, an intriguing blurb is not a guarantee of good writing or even a decent plot.
That's all folks. It was wonderful spending time with all of you and I'm looking forward to the books we'll read next year.
I have Grief on my year-end list as well. I have The Animators on my shelf - apparently I need to actually read it. :)
Stacy, I got The Animators as an Early Reviewer book and when it arrived I thought, "I don't even want to read this." I'm so glad that obligation forced me to as it's a fantastic book.
See you next year in our brand new threads!
Even if you didn't complete the challenge, you still had a great reading year, and that's what matters!
Thanks, Lori. It was a great reading year.
Carrie, my library has yet to order a copy.
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