What I Read: November 2018

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November was a rough reading month for me. I found myself reading more articles, probably because I can read them in one sitting. I’ve also been listening to more podcasts, something I do when I can’t concentrate on books.

Nevertheless, I did manage to read a few and I enjoyed most of them. Here’s my November list:

1. Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage–Hanna’s father loves his sweet angel and would do anything for her. Hanna’s mother sees the real Hanna, a diabolical, plotting, scheming, bad-seed of a kid. The underlying message here–that kids are sometimes just rotten–is troubling, but I always like a book that’s willing to complicate an archetype. I’ve read so many books about wealthy white families with troubled children who just need love and understanding. Hanna has no redeeming qualities at all. There’s nothing misunderstood about her. She’s a living nightmare that suggests no matter what you do as a parent, you might just be at the mercy of your kid’s biology. The fact that I find that a satisfying narrative might say more about me than the book itself!

Other books about rotten children that I liked: We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver and The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing.

2. An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena: A group of strangers converge at a remote mountain lodge in the midst of a snowstorm. Nobody is getting in or out as the storm rages around them. One of the guest dies the first night. Then another dies. Then another. Is one of them the killer or is there a maniac lurking in the shadows? The novel was quite obviously an homage to Agatha Christie, and while I didn’t love the ending, I appreciated the atmosphere.

3. The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher–What happens when you take a bunch of people with low self-esteem, undiagnosed personality disorders, delusions of grandeur, and underdeveloped social skills and put them to work in the same place with limited resources? You get Payne University, a pretty searing (and disturbingly accurate) satirical portrait of academia.

Other books about unhinged academics that I liked: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis and Kill Your Darlings by Terence Blacker.

4. The Secret Place by Tana French–Eight girls in a boarding school, one murder. Somebody knows something she isn’t telling. I’ve liked some of Tana French’s books, but I’m in the minority because I don’t love everything she does. I think sometimes her books are a little overwritten and then style gets in the way of substance. In this case, I think the balance between style and plot was good. The Likeness is still my favorite, though.

5. The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker–Two girls meet in college, make art together, and struggle to figure out who they are in a world that doesn’t make sense to either of them.

Here’s a longform article I admired this month: “Blood Cries Out” by Sean Patrick Cooper.

Here’s a bookish podcast that never fails to make me laugh and cringe (linge?): Double Love.

Happy reading in December!

Finished, Reading, Will Read Next

December 6 2018

I just finished The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker. The writing was fantastic, but the story didn’t pull me in as much as I hoped it would. I’d recommend to anyone who likes books about art and artists. In some ways it reminded me a lot of The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.

I’m currently reading The Wife Between Us. It’s the perfect type of brain-candy-psychological-thriller book that I need at this time in the semester when I’m generally too preoccupied with grading to concentrate on anything else. I know some readers found it derivative and not riveting enough. It’s working for me in part because it isn’t demanding much from me. I also love books about flawed women and rich people.

Next up is A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne. I really loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies when I read it last year. This one also seems to be getting a lot of praise by reviewers and bloggers I trust. NPR described it as Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife meets Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. I liked both of those books when I read them years ago. I figure this will be a slam-dunk for me. This book is my treat after I submit final grades.

Two Books That Made Me LOL

 

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It takes a lot to make me laugh. And even when I do laugh, it’s usually just an internal chuckle. I have a weird thing where I rarely laugh out loud. (I internalized ideas as a child about the importance of being silent.)

Anyway, I read a book over Thanksgiving that did make me laugh out loud; it’s a sequel to another book that I lol’d over twice.

The first in the duology is Dear Committee Members. The second is The Shakespeare Requirement.

The author, Julie Schumacher, masterfully captures how ridiculous and petty and outright vicious academia can be. She also lovingly captures moments of grace and kindness–helpful reminders that all is not lost even if we faculty are mostly clinically unwell.

I guarantee at least ten or twelve decorous laughs.

 

 

What I Read: October 2018

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Oh, October. You were so cruel. You gave me very limited time to read. And when I did find the time and energy, I didn’t love most of what I read. That often happens to me when I’m too busy to really savor books, so please accept all of my opinions with the knowledge that I’m a tired and cranky old crone.

How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price–The perfect book for anyone who has found herself spending upward of an hour a day mindlessly watching a fashion blogger try on clothes from Target. (I mean, just for example.) If you had any doubt that your phone (and your tablet) is ruining your mind, this book will be the final nail. We all have to put the devices down more often. We are messing up our brains.

The Fact of a Body by Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich–A beautifully written braided narrative that balances the author’s memoir of her own abuse with the details of a tragic murder case. I found myself wanted more on the murder case–and a stronger take on the justice system–but that might reflect my preference for nonfiction (especially about crime) over memoir in general. I did watch Season 2 of Making a Murderer after this, and the pair make good companion pieces. 

This Could Hurt by Jillian Medoff–This is a comedy-drama set in a dysfunctional workplace that I thought would be fun, but it turned out to be a lot like working in an office: not that exciting. Ultimately, the whole thing just didn’t come together for me. I became unnecessarily (and weirdly) hung up on how much information one character’s doctor openly provided to a co-worker. (Maybe what I wanted was a comedy-drama about HIPAA.) The characters felt two-dimensional at times, especially Rosa whose boss-character swung from Michael Scott to Leslie Knope to Montgomery Burns and back again. If you work in HR, read it. I suspect it might hit closer to home.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay–A horror story about a family (Eric, Andrew, and daughter Wen) who just want a quiet vacation on the lake. When some post-apocalyptic nutbags show up claiming that one of the family members has to kill the other to stop the world from ending, the family is understandably freaked out. I loved the suspense of not knowing how (and why) someone in the family murdering another could possibly save the world. I also liked the tension the author creates by never letting readers forget the invaders might be right or they might be totally insane. The ending didn’t pay off for me, but if you like your horror thoughtful and creepy, then this might be for you.

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler–Here’s another beautiful book by Anne Tyler. This one is about Willa Drake, a woman who has spent her whole life doing what men tell her to do. When a woman she barely knows calls on her for help, Willa leaves her home and husband in Arizona to go to Anne Tyler’s beloved Baltimore to play devoted grandmother to a child she’s never met. I loved how skillfully (and very subtly) Tyler shows all the ways that what we do in our early lives seeps out into our later lives. Willa’s triumph feels like the triumph of all women who have never been allowed to assert their independence. This book was my favorite of the month.

His Favorites by Kate Walbert–This one is about a teenage girl who makes a really stupid mistake, one that has life-altering consequences. Away at boarding school, she becomes the victim of a manipulative male teacher who targets her and a number of other “broken” girls who are too shattered and unsure of themselves to realize he is grooming them. I’ve read a lot of books lately about male predators, and this book is a fine addition to that sub-genre, but I didn’t feel like it brought anything new to the table. That said, I think it packs a huge punch in under two hundred pages. And it exactly pins down the structure that allows rape culture to thrive. (Hint: We’re living in it.)

Happy reading in November!