What I Read: December 2018

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As usual, it was a sprint to the end of December, but I survived and even managed to do a fair amount of reading.

In the month of December, I read five books:

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen–This one was pure escapism. I love a good book about domestic drama, especially if the twists are ridiculously over-the-top in a Lifetime Movie kind of way. I think this one is best read without knowing anything about the story. I’ll just say it’s about marriage gone wrong.

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne–I really loved Boyne’s previous book, The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I liked this one just as much, but the main characters in the two books could not possibly be more different. Cyril Avery in The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a delightfully plucky narrator who wins your heart as soon as you meet him. Maurice Swift in A Ladder to the Sky is a deliciously unrepentant sociopath and plagiarist. The comparisons to Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley are apt.

Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction by Chris Bailey–This is a helpful book if you need a reminder about all the things you let hijack your focus every day. The second half of the book, about creativity, was particularly helpful to me. I sometimes forget that you can’t be creative if you never let your brain “un-focus.”

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell–This is another domestic thriller filled with middle-class people behaving badly. Lot of secrets and unrealistic plot twists make the book enjoyable–as long as you don’t expect anything too deep. I read a lot of psychological thrillers, and I thought this one presented one of the more original plots. I haven’t seen the movie. Let me know if you have.

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard–I love all of Candice Millard’s nonfiction because she knows exactly how to perfectly merge together facts and narrative. Everything she writes is just so propulsive–even when you know the outcome to the story. This one is an interesting portrait of Churchill in South Africa as a young man. He sounds like an unsufferable ass, but that explains a lot about his later life. My brother doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll be getting my copy in the mail. Nobody tell him that Churchill does escape.

Happy reading in January!

Currently Reading

White Spiral Book

I’m currently reading two things:

First, a stack of student papers fifty-three miles high. I’m counting the days until I’m done with those–not because they are bad but because I’m just ready to let my brain have a break.

Between papers, I’m reading John Boyne’s newest book, A Ladder to the Sky. It’s everything I hoped it would be. It may end up being my favorite book of the year. I can’t wait to get back to it.

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.