Shannon's Dark, Deep South Challenge (sturlington)
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This year, I wanted an overarching theme for my reading, so I decided to explore the region where I live: the Southern United States. I am going to focus on the dark South, though: Southern gothic, noir, and crime.
I'm going to try something a little new this year and focus on a different category each month, rather than having categories that carry throughout the year. As much as I can, I am going to align my reads with the ScaredyKIT. I think this will satisfy my urge to move to something new while also enabling me to stick to my overall theme.
In addition to my monthly Southern reads, I'll also be reading selections for the SFFKit and RandomCAT (if I have matches), surprise books that I receive in my monthly Nocturnal Readers box, books from the ALA Reading List, recommendations, and real-life book club picks. I hope you all enjoy this foray into the deep, dark South!
ScaredyKIT: Survival/Disaster: ✔Ararat, ✔The Salt Line (Southern)
SFFKit: Urban Fantasy ✔Vermilion
Book Club: ✔Born a Crime
Movies (theater): The Greatest Showman; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Black Panther
Movies (streaming): The Cloverfield Paradox; Get Out (rewatch); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; La-La Land; Geostorm; The Lost City of Z, The Ritual
TV (Netflix): The Good Place
Southern: ✔The Reapers Are the Angels
ScaredyKIT: Weird Fiction ✔To Walk the Night, ✔The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion
SFFKit: Off World ✔Six Wakes
Other: ✔Magpie Murders
Movies (theater): A Wrinkle in Time, Annihilation
Movies (streaming): Their Finest, Arrival (rewatch), Ladybird, Coco, The Shape of Water, Up (rewatch)
TV: Absentia, The Swiss Family Robinson
ScaredyKIT: Supernatural ✔The Ridge (Southern), ✔Dark Matter,
SFFKit: Time Travel ✔The Gone World, ✔All Our Wrong Todays
Other: ✔The Lifeboat
Audiobooks: ✔Norse Mythology
Movies (theater): Isle of Dogs
Movies (streaming): The Florida Project, Okja, Phantom Thread, Queen of Katwe
Southern: ✔River of Teeth
ScaredyKIT: Close to Home ✔The White Road, ✔Unbury Carol, ✔The Outsider
SFFKit: Rise Up ✔The Power
Audiobooks: ✔The Song of Achilles
Other: ✔Shoot the Damn Dog
Movies: The Avengers: Infinity War
Movies (streaming): The Woodsman; I, Tonya; Jumanji; Early Man
TV (streaming): Howards End, A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2, Fleabag, The Terror
Southern: ✔American War,
ScaredyKIT: Adapted to Film: ✔Strangers on a Train
Ursula K. Le Guin memorial: ✔No Time to Spare
RandomCAT: ✔Hell Hound
Other: ✔The Hunger
Book Club: ✔The Reluctant Fortune-Teller
Movies (theater): The Incredibles 2, Jaws
Movies (DVD/streaming): The Birds, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Strangers on a Train, In the Heart of the Sea, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, A Walk in the Woods
Southern: ✔We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone (author is from Maryland, but setting isn't particularly Southern)
ScaredyKIT: Science/Techno Thrillers: ✔The Deep
RandomCAT: ✔Our Spoons Came From Woolworth's
Other: ✔History of Wolves; ✔Her Body and Other Parties (audio); ✔Tangerine
Movies (theater): Ant-Man and the Wasp
Movies (DVD/streaming): Everest; Game Night
Southern: ✔Greener Pastures
SFFKit: Makes You Laugh ✔Good Omens BBC dramatization as audiobook
RandomCAT: Let's Go to the Mountains ✔Thin Air
Book Club: ✔Isaac's Storm
Other: ✔The End We Start From, ✔Red Clocks, ✔The Silent Companions
Movies (streaming): Coraline, Nacho Libre
Movies (theater): Crazy Rich Asians
1. Title contains name of a famous person, real or fictional: Song of Achilles
2. Published more than 100 years ago
3. Originally in a different language
4. New-to-you author: Odds Against Tomorrow
5. Relative name in the title (aunt, niece, etc...)
6. Money in the title - any form of currency, type of payment, etc...
7. Book published in 2018: The Gone World
8. X somewhere in the title
9. Fat book - 500 plus pages: Sleeping Beauties
10. Book set during a holiday: The Reluctant Fortune Teller
11. LGBT central character: Vermilion
12. Book on the 1001 list
13. Read a CAT (middle square): Hell Hound
14. Number in the title: Six Wakes
15. Book that is humorous: Born a Crime
16. Book bought in 2017 that hasn’t been read yet: We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone
17. Title contains something you would see in the sky: Cold Moon Over Babylon
18. Related to the Pacific Ocean: The Deep
19. Book that fits at least 2 KIT’s/CAT’s
20. Book with a beautiful cover (in your opinion): All Our Wrong Todays
21. Autobiography/memoir: Hunger: A Memoir of My Body
22. Poetry or plays: The End We Start From
23. A long-time TBR/TBR the longest
24. Story involves travel: Good Morning, Midnight
25. Title contains a person’s rank, real or fictional
Where in the world did my reading take me?
visited 16 states (32%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Caliornia: The Hunger
Florida: Cold Moon Over Babylon
Georgia: American War
Iowa: The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion
Kentucky: The Ridge
Louisiana: River of Teeth
Maryland: We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone
Minnesota: History of Wolves
New Mexico: The Rim of Morning
New York: Odds Against Tomorrow
North Carolina: The Salt Line
Oklahoma: The Outsider
Oregon: Red Clocks
Texas: The Reapers Are the Angels
West Virginia: Sleeping Beauties
visited 13 states (5.77%)
Create your own visited map of The World
Canada: All Our Wrong Todays
Great Britain: Magpie Murders
Nordic Countries: Dark Matter (Norway)
Mediterranean Europe: The Song of Achilles (Greece)
Eastern Europe: The Power (Moldova)
North Africa: Tangerine (Morocco)
South Africa: Born a Crime (South Africa)
Middle East: Ararat (Turkey); Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor (Israel)
Central Asia: The White Road (Tibet)
South Asia: Thin Air (India/Nepal)
Polar Regions: Good Morning, Midnight (Arctic)
This is a great concept, and I'm going to love following along! I'm already cringing at how many bbs I'll be taking...
I was going to comment on how much I love your dark South theme (I was born and raised in Georgia), but then I saw your bingo dog photo and totally lost my train of thought because of that sweet face...the dog's. I'd like to plan my challenge monthly like this at some point. But I'm gonna need to develop more focus, I think, before I can.
>17 whitewavedarling: Thanks! I hope I will be shooting those bbs.
>18 virginiahomeschooler: Have you seen the movie Best in Show? That's where that pic is from. I find it hilarious because that character from the movie, Harlan Pepper, is just such a Southern caricature but then he's also so sweet and really adores his hound. It's a good movie, if you haven't seen it and you're a sucker for dogs.
Awesome theme! I like how you've aligned it with the ScaredyKIT.
>19 sturlington: I am definitely a sucker for dogs, and I haven't seen it, but it looks like it's on Netflix. I'll check it out.
I love your set up and plans for next year and I am envious at how focused you are as I tend to be all over the place. Your thread is going to be highly dangerous for me! I know I am going to be taking a lot of hits here. I have read The Reapers Are Angels and loved it.
>24 DeltaQueen50: This year I read When We Were Animals, which was written by Alden Bell under another name, and I really liked it. So I went looking for other books by him and was excited to see that The Reapers Are Angels might fit my theme.
Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I am hyper-organized by nature, but the real challenge is sticking to it and not getting distracted by all the shiny new things! I've tried to allow some room in my plan for that, though.
>26 DeltaQueen50: I think you would really like it. I read it in January, and it's one of those books I keep thinking about.
Hahaha! From the state of the sunshiny south. But cringing since I see you have Niceville listed. I haven't been able to bring myself to read it!
Speaking of the deep south, this weekend is the annual Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival here in Niceville. I should write a book about that. You wouldn't believe what comes out of the swamps for that.
What a fantastic theme. I love the way you set it up. Now I need to find some South Texas recommendations for you. ;-)
I'm loving this southern challenge! I've had The Reapers Are the Angels on my TBR for a while, so I'll be interested to see what you think of it.
Love the picture from Best in Show - such a good movie! Have you read News of the World? It might fit your historical category and is one that I recently read and loved.
As a Southerner myself, I look forward to following your thread. I have Killing Mr. Watson on my list for next year too. I see several good titles I've read on your lists and several more I want to read. Isn't it fun to plan a new year?
What a great idea! I admit that I am woefully uninformed of the local authors in my area. I am also a fan of Southern Gothic so I am looking forward to seeing what you read to fill that category.
Great theme - I will be following along to see what you are reading. Like Lori, I'm also a fan of Southern gothic. And noir and crime fiction are favorites of mine. Plus, I live in the Deep South - I'm a transplant from Indiana, currently residing in Georgia.
I'm looking forward to watching your monthly progress. I am generally following the same direction in my thread. Have a great year!
I'm interesting in seeing which Southern books make your cut. I'll try to post my challenge later this evening or tomorrow.
Very interesting theme! I'm also having a "local focus" neyt year, but not as consequent as yours. Have fun!
I love your theme and set-up - I see lots of books among your possibilities that I've either read or have on my shelves.
And I especially love your BingoDog picture - Best in Show is a favorite movie in my house :)
Hunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay - 5★
I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and I decided that instead of loading it up with games, I would use it for learning and non-entertainment reading. What a way to start the new year. I've never read a book like this memoir by Gay. Such a powerful, emotional read.
Hurray for starting the year with a good book. I heard her on the NPR game show Ask Me Another and found her delightful to listen to. The little bit she discussed her memoir made me want to read it. I should probably go place a hold with the library before I forget.
Interesting setup, and such lovely monthly headers. Well done! I'll be interested to see what you read.
I have Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body on my wishlist. I might have to put an unsubtle note on it to try and encourage someone to buy me it!
I've seen so many positive reviews of Hunger, I think I should also put it on the wishlist. Great start of your reading year!
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King - 5★
Just the right book at the right time for me. It probably had some flaws, but I loved it anyway. If you are a fan of Stephen King's big fat page-turners, this is a good one to pick up. It was cowritten with his son Owen King, but I couldn't detect two voices in the writing.
What amazed me was that this book was written by two men. The insight into women's anger, their labor, their oppression, and the humanity given to all of the women characters, especially the many women prisoners, inspired and uplifted me. Although not all of the men were as nuanced as characters, enough of them were, especially the two main male characters, who were not quite "hero" and "villain." What I especially loved about this story was that the ending
>50 sturlington: Great review. For some reason I had it in my head this was a book of short stories so I wasn't in a huge hurry to pick it up. I may have to get it this weekend.
>50 sturlington:, I'm so glad to read your high praise! I've got it sitting on the shelf, and had been trying to decide whether to prioritize it or some other King books I've got hanging around, but it sounds like I ought to get to this one sooner than later. I will say, he's often impressed me with the way he writes women. I'm reading a heavy door-stopper of a sci-fi novel now (which I'm loving), so I may give my wrist a break between this one and that, but it's moving toward the top of my TBR now :)
My son has to read 20 books in 9 weeks for school, in different genres. It's his very own category challenge!
I made him make a chart.
>55 sturlington: How else would you do a category challenge? Excellent parental advice there. Good luck to him, that's quite a lot of reading. Is each book in a different genre? As I'm not sure I could think of 20 different genre!
>56 Helenliz: No, there are 10 different genres, and they include poetry, graphic novel, personal choice. It's an interesting challenge, but difficult for fourth grade!
>57 sturlington: - Wow that is quite a challenge! Is he required to do at least one from each category? Good luck to him!
An update on some four-star reads this month:
Come Closer by Sara Gran: This is a short and creepy novel about a woman who is slowly being possessed by a demon. You could read it literally or as an allegory for mental illness. Very effective.
Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton: A melancholy and affecting literary science-fiction novel after civilization has ended for unknown reasons. It alternates between an astronomer stranded in the Arctic and an astronaut returning from a mission to Jupiter. Character-driven and moving.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig: I bought this because I follow the author on Twitter and his words are always so inspiring to me. This is a frank, honest, sometimes funny, often inspirational account of dealing with depression and anxiety, and I really needed it right now. If you are a sufferer or care for someone who does, you will find yourself underlining passages and flagging pages to return to later.
You got me with Good Morning, Midnight. Sounds right up my alley. Thanks!
I am having a hard time with dark, realistic, gritty, violent, hopeless fiction right now. Horror and dark fantasy seems more escapist, but the bleak worldview of so many writers is getting me down. Maybe I chose the wrong theme this year? I am thinking of turning to something lighter for a while, even if that does veer me off course of my original challenge.
>63 sturlington:, I love southern lit., but so many of the writers I love do write stories that get me down, from Flannery O'Connor to Ron Rash, so I can only do it in small doses. You could try changing it up with some of the crazier southern writers like Barry Hannah and Harry Crews. Lewis Nordan might also be an option--I've only read his Wolf Whistle, but have always meant to revisit him. No matter what, all of these writers are definitely southern lit, but they're also strange enough, style/subject-wise, that I don't find them anywhere near as bleak as most southern lit.
Or, as you said, you could always just turn away from the theme for a while and see where you end up--it was yours to create, so it's yours to play with, too!
I've planned book in advance and then when the time comes to read them real life interferes and I am just not in the mood for the planned reads. Something light and humorous to take your mind of the dark in gritty sounds like a great idea. Have you read any Fanny Flagg? Some of her stuff is light and funny.
>65 sturlington:, I only read a little Willa Cather, way back when I was an undergraduate, and I have to admit I didn't care for it at all. I couldn't tell you why, though, it was so long ago--it just left a bad taste in my mouth :( >66 DeltaQueen50: reminded me, though, I came across a series a year or so ago by Angie Fox called the Southern Ghost Hunter Mystery Series--I only read the first one, but it was a lot of fun, and after I gave the first few to my mom, I heard that she and my grandmother immediately devoured those, and ordered the rest! They're big fans of Fanny Flagg also, which is what reminded me. I wouldn't call the series 'southern lit' per se, but they're southern and light while still being atmospherically dark, so they might be an option. I certainly loved the first, and this note is already serving as a reminder to me to get around to the next one when I get a chance...
>68 christina_reads: I love Sarah Addison Allen. Also Joshilyn Jackson is very good. Another Georgia author that I like Is Phillip DePoy - he has a mystery series that features Fever Devlin and set in Appalachia - kind of quirky, very well written, but not too dark. The first one is called The Devil's Hearth.
>63 sturlington: I am having a hard time with dark, realistic, gritty, violent, hopeless fiction right now. Horror and dark fantasy seems more escapist, but the bleak worldview of so many writers is getting me down.
I've been feeling that way for awhile now but I'm also dissatisfied with a lot of lighter books. Soooo, lately I've been trolling the shelves and library for older books that I may want to read now. I think I'm going to go back to Delderfield for one. We're not the only ones that feel this way, we got into this discussion at my last book club meeting and I was surprised that it was a problem for most of us.
>71 clue: Yes, my book club too. I think it's not even light that I'm looking for so much as optimistic. Older books may be a good solution. I've also been turning more toward memoir lately, especially if it's honest and balanced. Our book club's next selection is Trevor Noah's Born a Crime, for instance.
> 72 Yes, I agree. I prowled through the shelves last night and pulled several nonfiction from the shelves.
Going to start noting recommended TV and movies here as well. So far this year, two good series I've binge-watched on Netflix were The Crown and the first season of The Good Place. Movies seen in the theater were The Greatest Showman, a feel-good cheesy musical for those who like that sort of thing (and I do!), and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which was darkly funny and very well-acted. On Netflix, I watched The Cloverfield Paradox, which I liked a lot better than everyone else on the Internet, it seems.
>74 sturlington: I've just started watching The Crown and am enjoying it so far! I am also coveting all the skirts and dresses :D
>75 rabbitprincess: It is really captivating. I loved Princess Margaret's outfits.
>57 sturlington: If his school has a librarian (or library clerk) they will be his best resource for finding books to fill his categories. Good luck!
>74 sturlington: - The Good Place is one of our favorite shows. The second season has been quite entertaining. We're also fans of Blackish (ABC) and Grace & Frankie (Netflix). I've watched two episodes of The Crown and enjoyed them, but I'm really bad at watching shows longer than 30 minutes.
Black Panther last weekend: believe the hype. A superhero movie with a good story, a nuanced villain, a plethora of amazing women characters, gorgeous everything, and white people who get called "colonizer." Also, fighting rhinos. Wakanda forever!
Favorite read of February:
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
It was a month for light, escapist reading for me, for the most part. I also enjoyed The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones, which I read for the ScaredyKIT (Survival), and Vermilion by Molly Tanzer, which I read for the SFFKit (Urban Fantasy). The Salt Line was set in North Carolina, so it also counts for my Deep Dark South theme. The remaining book I read was Ararat by Christopher Golden, also for ScaredyKIT, which was only okay for me.
Best watch of the month was undoubtedly Black Panther. But I saw a lot of good movies/TV: The Greatest Showman; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; The Cloverfield Paradox; and Season 1 of The Good Place.
I know we've still got a couple of days left in February, but I don't anticipate accomplishing much more this month.
>80 sturlington: Hooray for "The Good Place"! Season 2 is really good too. I still haven't seen "The Greatest Showman" yet, but I really want to!
>81 christina_reads: It's pretty much the definition of a feel-good movie, Christina. I think you'll like it.
I just found out (from another thread) that this is actually about his childhood in South Africa (rather than a book about his career), so now it's on my wishlist!
Hope your reading this month is solid. I have that Matt Haig book on my list.
March reading is slow-going. I've started and stopped a few things. I'm hoping it picks up. I finished Six Wakes for the SFFKit, a locked-room mystery set on a spaceship, which I found a bit underwhelming. Just finished Magpie Murders, which was very amusing and certainly became a page turner toward the end, but overall was rather fluffy. If you are an Agatha Christie fan, though, you are certain to love it.
>85 -Eva-: Yes, it is a really insightful and moving account of his childhood and his relationship with his mother, lightened up by humor. He doesn't really touch upon his career at all. I think you will enjoy it.
Finished two novellas for the Weird theme of the ScaredyKIT: The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy and To Walk the Night by William Sloane. Both were well written, but it's no surprise that I enjoyed the modern Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion more, with its diverse characters and decidedly weird story about a demon deer that commands undead animals and rips the hearts of out people who seek to harm others -- it was definitely something different! The Sloane was cleanly written for its era (1930s), without all the stylistic bombardment I've come to expect from Lovecraft et al, but I still found it a bit dated, with its othering of the female. This is a theme I've noticed in a lot of older weird fiction that I find very off-putting.
Well, March is almost over, and I'm declaring my favorite book of the month to be my last read, The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell, which I have given 5 stars. This was my Deep, Dark South read for the month.
It's hard to believe that someone could come out with a fresh and different take on the zombie apocalypse novel, but Bell has done it here. He seamlessly combines Southern gothic tropes with zombie tropes to tell a story that seems utterly unique. But he doesn't lose sight of his characters, and his protagonist--a 15-year-old girl named Temple wandering the abandoned South--is someone we come to know and care deeply for. Her voice is distinctly her own, and her observations of the world she finds herself in, the only world she has ever known, are both poetic and insightful. This book started off slow for me but built and built until I could not let it go.
Zombie fiction never names zombies "zombies." I liked the names used here, "meatskins" and "slugs." But if there really were a zombie apocalypse, wouldn't we just call them by the name we've always used for them? Why is the name "zombie" never used? Seriously want to know.
This was also a refreshingly different take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Instead of portraying people in a post-apocalyptic situation as reverting immediately to savagery and shedding all vestiges of civilization, which is the norm, this book portrays them as just people, in all their complexity. The survivors maintain their humanity, for the most part, which seems to me much more believable. Even the villain is not purely villainous.
I love, love how Bell managed to fit in the decaying Southern mansion, with its stuck-in-the-past Old South family, and the grotesque, both characteristic of the Southern gothic, in a zombie novel! There is even a Boo Radley-type character.
I also loved The Reapers Are the Angels and didn't know he was also Joshua Gaylord, who I read for the first time this year on your book bullet. And married to Megan Abbott, another favorite of mine - boy, I would love to have dinner at their place!
>91 sturlington: A direct hit! Adding that one to The List. If you posted your review, I will add my thumb.
I watched a lot of movies this month. In the theater, I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time (watched with my 10-year-old) but was disappointed in Annihilation.
On streaming, I enjoyed Lady Bird and Their Finest (based on Their Finest Hour and a Half), but was a bit underwhelmed by Coco and The Shape of Water.
On TV, I enjoyed Absentia, a thriller streaming on Amazon, and my son and I really liked the old-fashioned series, The Swiss Family Robinson, also on Amazon.
>97 sturlington: I hate to hear that about Coco. My daughter and I have been really looking forward to it. It's probably not good that we assume it's going to be spectacular. Just sets us up to be disappointed.
What I am enjoying this month:
Norse Mythology: My son and I are listening to Neil Gaiman read his retelling of the Norse myths. His style is straightforward, simple, but often lyrical and frequently funny. Gaiman is a good reader, taking on different voices and bringing his characters to life.
Isle of Dogs: "I love dogs," so of course I loved this animated movie by Wes Anderson. Lots of good voice work and an interesting use of language. Great fun.
Streamed The Florida Project and Phantom Thread: Two very different but captivating movies that I can't stop thinking about.
I enjoyed Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology as well, especially any of the stories with Thor. Thor is funny to begin with, but Neil makes him even funnier.
My new rule for reading: I'm putting down any book, no matter how old, the first time I encounter unironic sexist writing. Latest victim: The Fury by John Farris.
Here we are almost at the end of April already, so I'm declaring my favorite book of the month to be The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch. I received this book in a mystery box and had no idea what it was about. I discovered a complex and unique story combining elements of time travel, multiverse, police procedural, conspiracy, and horror, with a compelling and realistic female protagonist. A great discovery I probably wouldn't have picked up otherwise.
Honorable mentions go to Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, a ghost story set in Antarctica, and All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai, a twist on the time-travel story.
I just finished reading River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey for my Southern selection this month. This was a novella, and rarely do I want a book to be longer, but I think this story could have benefited from fleshing out a bit. It's set in an alternate Southern United States where hippos have been imported as meat animals and gone feral along the Mississippi River. So it's like a Western, but set in the bayou on hippos. The characters were interesting, but we didn't see them develop--we didn't see them fall in love, they just were in love; we didn't see why they betrayed one another, they just did. I also would have liked to see more world-building. Promising, but falls a little short.
This year, I've been upping the number of memoirs I read, which is surprising to me, because I haven't been drawn to the genre in the past. But I've been having good luck with the ones I've chosen lately, and I've found each one to be inspiring, in its own way. I would recommend any of them.
Here's what I've read so far:
Hunger by Roxane Gay: a book so honest and open that it literally brought me to tears more than once
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig: a short read full of compassionate nuggets of wisdom for people who have depression/anxiety
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: not only is this a funny book about some serious subjects, but Trevor's mother was an inspiring woman to read about
Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton: Just finished this one. This is a tough read, particularly if you have depression yourself, so raw and exposed that I often had to take it in little chunks, but it is extremely inspiring. I honestly couldn't believe that Brampton survived her severe depression, but seeing her come out the other side--and hearing all the things that worked (and didn't work) for her--are invaluable for anyone who is going through something similar.
Next up is No Time to Spare, which are essays by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Another month gone by, and time for another round-up. My favorite read this month was The Power by Naomi Alderman, which I gave five stars. It posits what if a power awakens in women, an innate ability to generate electric power, so that they can defend themselves and hurt other people, so that they, in just a few years, become more powerful than men? I found this book exciting, challenging, uncomfortable, sometimes horrific, and just thought-provoking on so many levels--our assumptions about gender roles, about power structures, about religion, about history and who writes it.
Lot of good reads this month, so I'm giving honorable mentions to: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller; Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman; The Outsider by Stephen King; and Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression by Sally Brampton.
As for the screen, I really enjoyed the television adaptations of Howards End and The Terror.
OK, let summer reading season begin!
Did not finish, unfortunately, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I waited a while to read (listen to) this because I wanted to avoid being tainted by the controversy when the book was first published. But I do agree with those early critiques. This is clearly not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, but an early draft, when Lee was still working out her themes and characters. It is more than a bit heavy-handed and not nearly as good, although the seeds of her masterpiece are there, particularly in the childhood scenes. Perhaps I will return to this someday, but I think I've read enough to get the gist of it, and I want to move on to other things.
>107 sturlington: - Hmm, I just finished this but wasn't an enamored of it as you were. I didn't dislike it but found it to be a bit uneven. Loved the concept though and how different groups of people might wield their power. Looking forward to discussing it with my work book club group next week. It's our first meeting so this will be one heck of a book to discuss, especially since I think the majority of people in the group are men!
For my Southern book this month, I chose a novel written by an Arab-Canadian now living in Washington state. But despite this outside perspective, American War by Omar El Akkad is a very Southern book.
There are two things that books can do that as a reader I live for: one is to create a world that I can completely inhabit in my imagination, and the other is to challenge me to look at our world in a different way. American War succeeds at both of these. Set in the near future after the country has started experiencing the devastating effects of climate change, the book depicts the second American Civil War when the MAG (Mississippi-Alabama-Georgia) refuses to follow a law forbidding all use of fossil fuels. (I'll leave it to the reader to find out what happens to South Carolina.) Sarat grows up during this war, going from child to refugee to insurrectionist to detainee to a bitter and broken woman. Sarat is a character I absolutely loved, a woman who completely belongs to herself but is irrevocably broken by the horrors she experiences. With its science-fictional depiction of familiar horrors from our own unending wars in the Middle East--drones impersonally dropping death, "homicide" bombers, waterboarding--this novel helps us to see our "enemies" in a different way, and perhaps empathize with them. I give this one five stars.
>112 sturlington: I'm putting this one on my list, luckily my library has it.
The Hunger by Alma Katsu: Certain historical events have always held a grisly fascination, and the infamous Donner Party is certainly one of those. Fictionalized accounts cast different members of the party as heroes and villains, because we don't really know--nor can we probably ever truly understand--what these people went through. This account introduces a supernatural element to explain what happens (and also changes up some key details). Most of the book is a gripping, chilling thriller, with the unlucky wagon train constantly being stalked by ... something. Gradually, the monsters show themselves more and more. This was quite a page turner, although I think it rushed too much through the last and most compelling part of the journey, when the party is stranded through the winter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. With such a large cast of characters, it was a bit confusing what actually happened during this climactic period, and I felt that this part of the story was given short shrift, given all we'd been through with these people. Despite this flaw, I enjoyed this intriguing combination of gothic horror and historical fiction based on real events.
It's hard to believe the year is halfway done. This was a mixed bag of a month, because I read several books I really liked, but I also abandoned three books, two of them halfway through, because I just couldn't deal with them anymore. So let's just talked about what I liked.
My favorite book of the month was American War by Omar El Akkad (see >112 sturlington: above). Other good reads were The Reluctant Fortune-Teller by Keziah Frost; Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith; The Hunger by Alma Katsu; and No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin.
For film, I enjoyed The Incredibles 2 and rewatching some Alfred Hitchcock classics, including The Birds and Strangers on a Train.
>116 sturlington: Where has the first half of the year GONE?! Just yesterday it was January, right?
Glad to hear you liked the new Incredibles movie. I'll probably see it on DVD eventually, but for now I need to watch the first one again.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: This book started out very strongly for me. Linda is a teenage girl living in what amounts to a shack in the Minnesota woods with her (mostly) benignly neglectful parents when she meets the family across the lake and starts baby-sitting their young son. She only gradually realizes something is off with the family; they are Christian Scientists, and the son is sick but not being treated. This plot line caught me and pulled me in, but there is also a subplot involving Linda's teacher and another girl who first accuses the teacher of rape, then takes it back. Linda is weirdly obsessed with these two people, and the final scene of the book, which involves the other girl, I found strange and unsatisfying. Also toward the end, the narrative jumps back and forth between teenage and adult Linda. Although the writing was good and the sense of place was very strong, the story didn't quite gel in the end.
And here we are at August! July was a good reading month for me, as I liked pretty much everything I read. The highlight of the month was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, which I started out listening to and then bought a paper copy because I knew I would want to actually read it. I think that book is destined to be one of my favorites of the year.
Another good discovery was Tangerine by Christine Mangan, a first novel that evokes Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy Hughes. I also enjoyed a hidden classic, Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's by Barbara Comyns.
I am staring at a pile of library books (unread) and realizing I need to curb my library addiction. I just bought several books because, presumably, I want to read them, but every time I go to the library, I grab so many books that I never get around to the books I own. I think I'm going to have to just say no to library books for a while, except for book club picks.
>120 sturlington: - I feel your library pain. I have approximately 30 books on loan and since my library auto-renews them as long as nobody else wants them, there are a few that have been on my shelves for a couple of years. It's to the point that I'm about to do nothing but read library books for a couple of weeks to see if I can plow through a large number of them. For the most part I have stopped requesting books unless it's for my book club.
This library addiction seems to be a concern for many of us. I have tried to limit myself to two or three library books per month and reading the rest from my shelves, it doesn't always work out, but it helps.
>122 DeltaQueen50: I think I am going to try limiting myself to just one per visit, instead of bringing home piles like I've been doing, and I'll see how that works out.
Just finished for book club: Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson, about the 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas. Overall, this was a compelling read. I found the real-life history of Westerners encountering hurricanes fascinating, but the politics surrounding the Weather Bureau was a tad confusing, and sometimes I wasn't sure if the author was injecting his opinion into the text. The description of the hurricane itself, though, was vivid and absolutely terrifying. I got a real sense of what it must have been like to live through such an ordeal.
This book has inspired me to look for other such true stories. I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but I kind of like having a nonfiction book as my "day reading."
I went to the library today and took back all my unread books, and came home with... three books. But they're all short! Together, they only make about one book! I swear!
Your library addiction is a problem for me too. I can't pass the "new books" shelf without picking up something, usually more than one. The worst is that they are rarely renewable because holds are placed on them soon after. If I can't read them right away then they have to be returned unread. However, my wishlist is expanding exponentially!
The new books shelf was far more tempting when I lived in Cincinnati than where I currently live. I really wish our local library would build a new building because the current one is so dysfunctional, but I doubt they will anytime soon.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas: I seem to be reading a lot of books in the "Angry Women" category this year, which seems appropriate. This one takes place in an alternate United States (or in the near future?), when a Personhood Amendment to the Constitution has made abortion and in vitro fertilization illegal. It alternates among four women, who are named but who, in their narratives, refer to themselves by role rather than name. The biographer is single and wants to have a child but is having difficulty conceiving. The mender gave up her child for adoption long ago and now helps women with various issues, including unwanted pregnancies. The wife is chafing in her traditional role as wife and mother and longs for an identity of her own. And the daughter is underage, pregnant, and desperate. A fifth woman is the biographer's subject, a nineteenth-century explorer who studied Arctic sea ice and never wanted either a husband or children. Zumas explores the interior worlds of all of these women through the lens of the restrictions placed on them by society, and even though her premise is somewhat dystopian, it also feels all too possible. What seems more shocking than young girls being jailed for contemplating aborting their pregnancies is how accepting everyone seems of the situation. The men in particular float through the story like jellyfish, untethered from responsibility, completely unaware of the struggles the women in their lives are dealing with. But Zumas does not make this a story of either hopelessness or victimhood. These women may struggle with indecision, but they do have agency and they do take charge of their own lives. Zumas's writing is often poetic, very absorbing, and both frightening and inspiring.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell: I read a lot of ghost stories, so many that it's rare I come across something truly new and disturbing. And then I read something like The Silent Companions, which is creepy and atmospheric and builds the suspense to unbearable levels, finally delivering a satisfying but unexpected twist at the end. The companions of the title are fundamentally unsettling; I could picture them as if in a movie in my mind, but a movie that would freak me right the eff out. If you love ghost stories, as I do, then don't miss this one.
>129 sturlington: I am always on the look out for a good ghost story so I have already rushed off to Amazon and picked up a copy for my Kindle. Looking forward to getting to it.
>130 DeltaQueen50: Looking forward to your thoughts. I didn't want to give too much away!
Read for book club: Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi
At first, I thought this slim book of letters written by a Jewish man living in Israel to a Palestinian living just behind the wall that separates them would not have much of anything to say to me, a nonreligious woman living in America with no personal connection to either Israel or Palestine. But Halevi's writing drew me in, and he had much to teach me about the history of Israel, the history and worldview of the Jewish people, the fundamental nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and possible resolutions he could foresee. It was a very interesting read for all people who are interested in history, the world, and progressing toward peace.
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