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: 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!

Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Elevator Pitch: A bookish girl, Greer Kadetsky, heads off to college and discovers all of the ways the world is sympathetic to men (especially rich white men), often at the expense of women. After meeting Faith Frank, a famous feminist in the vein of Gloria Steinem, Greer devote herself to feminist cause. Greer’s exciting new life upends all of her plans, including her plans with her high school boyfriend Cory, who has an awakening of his own.

My Tagline:  Hmm, this is tough because the novel is really quite original. I’d say The Feminine Mystique meets Lean In meets Backlash (with a teeny-tiny dash of The Devil Wears Prada–but just the good parts).

My Opinion: Every once in a while, you come across a book that says things you’ve felt and thought but that you’ve never been able to give voice to. Or that you’ve struggled to arrange in any coherent way. Wolitzer is one of those authors who keenly says all the things you didn’t even know you wanted to say.

The novel itself takes on problems with white feminism and calls out lack of intersectionality. But it also reckons with what that means in a world that’s financed (largely) by old white dudes who, if they even support women’s causes, are far more interested in charismatic and conventionally attractive white women figureheads.

I know some readers were bored or frustrated by the plot. It’s definitely not a plot-driven book, though I think it’s compelling enough. I felt like Cory’s story was muddied Greer’s at times, and I was more interested in her and her relationship with Faith than I was with him. He might have needed his own book, actually.

What kept me reading was the characters, especially Greer. She’s a stand-in for millennial (or post-millennial?) feminists, and I really wanted to see how she would square second-wave feminist with her own views. Ultimately, I think Greer’s conclusion is a little depressing and doesn’t leave a ton of hope for major structural changes, nor does it offer much hope for intersectionality. But I think it’s a pretty realistic portrait of what feminism actually looks like now–and why we need to keep talking about these issues.

Wolitzer points out all the ways that the world is made for men. Here are some of my favorites:

Referring to badly behaved men: “How could men like this even hold their heads up? Yet they did”  (277). [Seriously. How do some of the dudes of this world not just die of embarrassment??]

Describing a meeting with men and a woman: “Faith, when she spoke, was perceived as smart and articulate too, but the men felt free to cut in and interrupt her” (282). [Yup.]

Discussing why women are so hard on ourselves: “Faith thought, it’s not that I’m so hard on myself exactly, it’s that I’ve learned to adopt the views of men as if they were my own” (284). [Yup.]

Talking about feminism in general: “She was reminded by older activists that the vanguard had to be extreme so that the more moderate people could take up the cause and be accepted” (287). [I’d never thought of it this way before.]

Describing privileged men: “Men like him romped through the world, and it wouldn’t be possible to take away his sense of freedom or security” (300). [I’d like to romp.]

Writing about the things men “let” women do: “Men give women the power that they themselves don’t want” (325). [So true. ]

Questioning what it means to be a “good” girl: “Good girls could go far, but they could rarely go the distance. They could rarely be great” (352). [Definitely. Being a “good girl” is not a goal.]

Verdict: Definitely read it if you are interested in feminism. It would make a great high school or college graduation gift, in fact.

If you loved Wolitzer’s other books, I think you’ll like this one too. My favorite remains The Wife.

Review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl AliveElevator Pitch: Ani FaNelli has a secret, but she’s not going to let that stop her from getting the life of luxury she wants. She’s going to marry a blue blooded New Yorker, continue working at a glamorous women’s magazine, carry designer handbags, and make you so jealous of her perfect life that you’ll want to weep. But what if her past collides with her present?

My Tagline: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson meets Sex and the City 

Genre: I’m going to call it contemporary fiction. I found it on a psychological thriller list, and I don’t think that’s a good fit. It’s definitely not cotton candy, either. So let’s just call it fiction.

My Opinion: It’s hard to find novels that deal responsibly and authentically with issues surrounding consent. I love that Knoll isn’t afraid to write a character who is angry, oftentimes unlikable, and brutally honest with readers about who she is (even if she isn’t honest with anyone else in her life).

While it isn’t a YA novel, I think it gets at important issues in ways that are more complex, more nuanced, and more mature than you might find in YA lit. It would pair well with Speak.

Verdict: Buy it. You’ll want to give it to someone else in your life,  preferably a mature young adult reader.

Review: Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Elevator Pitch: Crappy husband plans exciting vacation day for his hot wife with a bad digestive system. Psychological thrills ensue.Best Day Ever

My Tagline: Sleeping with the Enemy meets Anthony Weiner

My Opinion: I love a good unreliable narrator, and Paul Strom is pretty unreliable. He’s also arrogant and socially clueless, which makes him an even more interesting character. You know he’s up to something, but you’ll keep reading to find out what it is.

Paul’s wife, Mia, is wholly sympathetic. (Of course, I would think that: I too have been in a relationship a Paul Strom.) But Mia throws a few curveballs that will make you wonder if you really know her at all.

Verdict: Borrow it from the library when you have an entire weekend to read it in big gulps. Pairs well with sweatpants and slippers.

 

What I Read: May 2018

I had a big reading month, in part because I finished two weighty nonfiction books that I’d been reading since December. The other reason I read so much is that I submitted grades the second week of May and let myself fall into a pile of books as a palate cleanser. I read quite a few fluffy books that didn’t take much time.

I usually only manage about five or six books a month, but I read a whopping twelve books in May:

The Wife by Alafair Burke
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Confessions by Kanae Minato
The Power of Happiness by Sara Ahmed
Dark Matter by Black Crouch
Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham
Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda
Post-Truth by Lee McIntyre

I’ve been trying to diversify my reading in terms of genre and publication dates. I’m also trying to read more fiction by non-American writers. Here’s what May looked like for me:

Genre 
3 Contemporary Fiction
4 Mystery/Thriller
1 Short Story Collection
4 Nonfiction

Publication Dates
4 Published in 2018
5 Published in last five years
3 Published before 2013

Author Identity/Nationality
9 Women
3 Men

7 American
2 British
1 New Zealander
1 Japanese
1 Singaporean

I liked everything I read this month, but I do have superlatives:

Most Entertaining
Did You See MelodyDid You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah
Everything Sophie Hannah writes is so readable because she is so specific and vivid in the development of her characters and settings. Plus, her plots are bonkers, which means that you can never figure it out until she ties the ends together.

In this one, Cara Burrows flees her husband and children in England for reasons that we learn  later in the book. Cara arrives at a five-star spa/resort in Arizona, a vacation she’s secretly booked. Not a soul in the world knows where she is. When she arrives, the desk clerk gives her the wrong room key, and she enters a room occupied by a man and a teen girl. After a night of sleep (in the correct room), Cara realizes that the girl she saw the night before was America’s most famous murder victim. So how can she be alive?

Most Disturbing
Confessions by Kanae Minato
ConfessionsIt was disturbing in all the right ways–exactly how I want a taut psychological examination to play out. Yuko Moriguchi, a middle-school teacher, is mourning the accidental death of her young daughter, Manami. But we soon learn that Manami’s death was no accidental. Yuko knows she was murdered. And she knows that two of her students did it. The rest of the book is a twisted tale about what happens when guilt, evil, and vengeance fester.

My Tagline: The Secret History by Donna Tartt meets Black Mirror

Anne Perry and the Murder of the CenturyHonorable Mention goes to Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham, a true crime account of a heinous murder by two teen girls in New Zealand in the 1950s. The murder is disturbing enough to begin with, but it’s even more unbelievable when you find out that they killed the mother of one of the girls. One of the cold-blooded murderers grew up to be novelist Anne Perry. True crime can be lurid and objectifying; this one was neither. It’s an interesting portrait of two girls who somehow feed into each other’s madness into they spiral out of control.

My Tagline: My Favorite Murder (the podcast) meets Ann Rule

Most Educational
The Promise of HappinessThe Power of Happiness by Sara Ahmed
If you think happiness is an uncomplicated emotional state, think again. Happiness is every bit as hegemonic as any other cultural institution that’s used to justify and reinforce marginalization of the least powerful. Ahmed does a masterful job of unpacking all of the ways that happiness–and our understanding of what it means in our lives–is deeply rooted in problematic ideas about race, class, and gender.

Happy Reading in June!