The Half Year Book Report (#6)

Well, well – the last six months have certainly given us all a lot of time to read. But honestly, in the first few months of the year, I didn’t finish a lot of the books I started. I have certainly mastered the art of dropping books and never returning to them if they don’t capture my interest. That’s a far cry from the person I was in my twenties who felt like she had to finish every book no matter what. But life is way too short and there are too many good books out there to waste time on the boring ones. But eventually, I settled back into book reading after being homebound for so long, so buckle up for quite the long list.

But first, in other literary news, LitFest went virtual this year (obviously). I love LitFest but it’s a slog to get down to Denver for events, particularly that part of Denver, so having the events virtual was really nice. And all the salons and readings were free, since usually the cost is only to cover the food and booze. (But yes, I did make a donation. I could go on and on about the moral obligation those of us who haven’t been financially affected by Covid-19 have to support their communities, but that’s not this kind of post.) It was weird though to see authors in their homes…like they are real people!

salon5

And before Covid-19 struck, I got to see the fabulous romantic poet Andrea Gibson do a show at Mercury Cafe in March. She is the most wonderful performance artist and her poetry tugs at my heart so hard.

They say the womb is where we learn love is knowing the chord that feeds you could at any moment wrap around your neck.

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Now, on with the list!

Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Author: Michelle McNamara

Date Finished: 1/4

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: Quite an interesting story about hunting a killer as an individual, not a member of law enforcement. The tale of her search for the Golden State Killer is woven in with bits of her life and how this hunt became an obsession. If you’re into true crime, this is well worth a read.

 

Title: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Author: John Berendt

Date Finished: 1/16

Finished: No

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: Somehow, I didn’t realize this was a work of journalism and not a novel. It has wonderful character portraits and scene setting, and definitely made me want to visit Savannah. But the real action didn’t get started until half way through, and then it wasn’t that interesting. I read about two-thirds and then decided to just Google the outcome of the trials.

 

Title: My Favorite Half-Night Stand

Author: Christina Lauren

Date Finished: 1/31

Finished: No

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 3

Notes: I’m kind of embarrassed to put this on my list, but sometimes I need “junk food.” If I’m honestly rating it for what it is, it’s a 10. I wanted a beach read, ultimate chick lit book for my flights to Havana and that’s what I got. But as a generally discerning reader, I found this book terrible. It was predictable from the first ten minutes and had lots of “as you know, Bob” dialogue to explain to the reader how online dating works. If this book had come out in 2012, when online dating was revolutionary and bizarre, it might have been a better hit for me. Maybe.

 

Title: Bashan and I

Author: Thomas Mann

Date Finished: 2/8

Finished: No

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: This book is almost 100 years old now and may be the first book devoted to a dog, although there are heavy elements of nature in it as well. It’s a 250 page essay, which is a bit too much. There’s no story. It’s interesting in small chunks here and there, and the writing is beautiful, but it’s just too dull to sit and read straight through. I read about half and then skimmed through bits and pieces of the rest.

 

Title: The Lady in the Lake

Author: Laura Lippman

Date Finished: 2/27

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: Also trying to rate this for what it is – a mystery story – this was pretty good. It was entertaining, even though mystery really isn’t my genre. I finished it because it was a book club book, but I wouldn’t even have picked it up if it hadn’t been.

Turns out that even if still waters run deep, there’s no current, they can’t take you anywhere. All they do, eventually, is close over your head.

 

Title: The Starless Sea

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Date Finished: 2/27

Finished: No

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: Okay, this one kind of kills me that I didn’t finish it because I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED The Night Circus. I anticipated this book and was SO excited when I got it. It starts off setting an beautiful, mystical tone, just like the Night Circus. But then there were quite a few instances of bad writing, like she didn’t have a professional editor. Too many random story lines, too much description, and it should have been shorter. The odes to The Neverending Story, Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and other books were fun since these were my childhood favorites. But ultimately, the story failed to completely hold my attention. I had about ten percent left when my loan expired, but I wasn’t interested enough to request the title again.

 

Title: The Phantom Prince

Author: Elizabeth Kendall

Date Finished: 3/1

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: This is no great work of literature, but it is an interesting story. I was on a slight Ted Bundy kick because I got a free month trial of Netflix and binged a whole bunch of movies before cancelling it again. One of those was Extremely Evil, Shockingly Wicked, and Vile. This true life account from his ex-girlfriend was mentioned at the end of it, so I had to give it a read. Be sure to read the updated version because the afterword is key. It gives author’s modern perspective on her own words when she wrote the book and was still in denial about a lot of what happened.

 

Title: Imaginary Friend

Author: Stephen Chbosky

Date Finished: 3/1 

Finished: No

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: This was a huge disappointment, much more so than the Morgenstern book. From the man who wrote the touching and intense Perks of Being a Wallflower, this book was a wild departure and not a good one. I’m all about writers writing whatever they want and not being boxed into a genre (Kazuo Ishiguro is a master of this), but this book confused me. I thought I was reading a Stephen King book. From the massive size of it (over 700 pages), to the style of writing, the child protagonist, to the plot line about being drawn into the woods to build something and having weird physical ailments as a result (Tommyknockers, anyone?), I really thought I was reading King, not Chbosky. And I wasn’t interested. I quit about one-third of the way through.

 

Title: American Dirt

Author: Jeanine Cummins

Date Finished: 3/31

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8 

Notes: This reminded me a bit of a Joyce Carol Oates “ripped from the headlines” novel. There were some cliches and stereotypes, and, like the Christina Lauren book, there was too much “as you know, Bob” dialogue. However, for this novel, I’ll concede that maybe it felt that way to me because I’ve studied Mexico and migration and read books like Enrique’s Journey. Maybe for people who are unfamiliar with the home reality of illegal immigrants, the forces that drive them to seek refuge in America, that dialogue feels more natural. And understanding the situation is crucial to understanding the story. The story itself is gripping! I firmly believe one of the major benefits of fiction is to build empathy and understanding across people, and this book really does that. The controversy around this book is really unfortunate because I feel like this is an important story and and presents the side of a terrible situation that a lot of people don’t understand or care about.

 

Title: Trust Exercise

Author: Susan Choi

Date Finished: 4/4

Finished: No

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: This was a book club book back in January but I disliked it so much that I couldn’t finish it. I knew before starting there was a big reveal in the middle and that a lot of the things I disliked in the beginning were intentional because of what happens in the rest of the story, but I couldn’t even get myself to that point. After hearing other people’s opinions at book club, I thought that maybe I should keep going, so I finally picked the book back up again a few months later but then still decided that I just didn’t care. I gave it 4, instead of 0, because I do think it’s actually kind of brilliant, but brilliant in the way that people do something solely for the applause and not in a way that can actually be enjoyed. Like Choi was bending the rules and playing games just to see what she could get away with and to see how awesome of a writer people would tell her she is, which is really off-putting. However, I have to say that her use of language is masterful. So many sentences made me pause to absorb them, but individual gorgeous sentences do not make a compelling story. If you’re intensely into experimentally literary works, give it a try. Otherwise, don’t bother.

I was the person she’d most hoped to avoid, just as she was the person I’d most hoped to avoid, so that, thinking and acting the same way, our efforts cancelled each other. And right away, her gaze went hard with the anger we always feel at the person who spoils our idea of ourself.

 

Title: Fleishman is in Trouble

Author: Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Date Finished: 4/10

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: Yep, book club book. And I liked this one! An entertaining read, for sure, and the way the author wove a few different story threads together was impressive, especially for her debut novel. Some of the sex stuff, especially at the beginning, felt unnecessary and only there for shock value, although I suppose it could have been to help demonstrate the evolution of the main character. The narrator the author created was unusual and, near the end, helped the author reveal a theme to the book that was something other than what I felt it was. That last part felt a little heavy-handed, but overall, it a was a good story about humans and relationships.

 

Title: The Silent Patient

Author: Alex Michaelides

Date Finished: 4/12

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: Ahhhh!! When I got to the twist/big reveal, I shouted out loud to my condo “Wuuuuuuuuuuuuuut????” So, yes, this book was really good. I only marked it down from a perfect 10 because a significant portion of the story is told through one of the character’s diaries, which I feel like it kind of cop-out to get a bunch of information to the reader, although it did actually serve the story well.

 

Title: A Person of Interest

Author: Susan Choi

Date Finished: 4/19

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8 

Notes: Yes, it might seem strange that, after the way I lambasted the other Susan Choi novel on this list, I gave her another chance, but I had to. She is well respected as a writer, so I couldn’t believe that all her novels were as pompous and ridiculous as Trust Exercise. One of my fellow book club participants said American Woman was very good, so I gave this one a shot. It’s a great story! It’s maybe a touch too intellectual (the protagonist is in his own head a little too much), which is why I only gave it an 8, but the story is still engaging and covers a lot of ground in terms of American culture, politics, race relations, and relationships.

 

Title: Patron Saint of Liars

Author: Ann Patchett

Date Finished: 4/21

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: I was so into this book for about two-thirds. I read it quickly and was totally absorbed in the story. But the narrator changes throughout the book, and we never get back into each person’s POV, so at the end, there were a lot of questions unanswered and actions left unexplained. I feel a bit angry about this. However, I still adore Ann Patchett, and this was her first novel, so don’t let that be a deterrent from reading literally anything else she has written. Or this book – try it. You might feel differently.

 

Title: The Third Rainbow Girl

Author: Emma Copley Eisenberg

Date Finished: 4/24

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 7 

Notes: This is another true crime story, but I’m still not entirely sure what I think of this book. The author’s personal story is so deeply a part of this book and she spends a whole lot of time at the end actually trying to explain to the reader why she felt her own experiences in Appalachia had to be told along with her telling of these murders, but I’m not convinced. It was kind of like she didn’t have enough material for a full book, but at the same time, I was kind of interested in her own story, so I read it. It was like Devil in the White City, two stories in one book that were only vaguely connected. But I’m always interested in reading about this region of America because it’s so maligned and forgotten and misunderstood.

 

Title: Privileged Information

Author: Stephen White

Date Finished: 4/27

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: I would never, ever buy or read this kind of book. But then came Covid-19. I am an avid library user because I read so much that I’d go broke if I bought everything I read, but again, I believe it’s my moral obligation to financially support my community during this time, so I ended up buying a lot of books. This one came in a mystery book bag from a local, independent bookstore, Trident. They were selling 4-6 books in a mystery bag (you entered some titles/authors/genres you liked and they picked from there) plus some amazing coffee for $50. They actually did a great job with my books, except this one. This is my second “junk food” title for this half-year. White is a local author. I don’t read this genre, so it’s hard for me to tell if the writing was so cringey because of the genre or because it was written in 1994 and things were different then. But the main character was so unlikable in his characterizations of women and the way he talked about them, and I don’t think he was meant to be unlikable. The plot is good, but the writing made me feel disgusted, even down to the very last line of the book. The main character thought he was hot shit and women were objects. The depiction of women’s behavior is despicable, which I think has to be more attributed to the author and not the story. But, things were different in 1994.

Side note, these were the books I bought from Boulder Book Store, Trident, and Parnassus Books, which is owned by Ann Patchett. I later bought more from BookBar and Tattered Cover in Denver. Amazon? No. But don’t expect to see most of these on my next book report post. As soon as the library opens back up, the allure of new books will be too strong. Yes, I suffer from a strong case of tsundoku. And no, I’m not interested in a cure for it.

Books

 

Title: An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives

Author: Matt Richtel

Date Finished: 5/8

Finished: No

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: This was a timely read, although I had added it to my holds about two months before the country starting shutting down. It’s only about a year old and I’m so curious what the author is thinking now, if he’s going to come out with a second version soon. It was weird to hear him talking about Dr. Fauci and other people who have been all over the news now but were unknown to most of us at the beginning of the year. Anyway, this book is incredibly interesting and does a great job of holding interest by blending science and fact with narrative about the lives of a few people with immune issues. The only reason I didn’t finish is my hold ran out when I had just 40 minutes left and I was too lazy to place a hold again.

 

Title: Verge

Author: Lidia Yuknavitch

Date Finished: 

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 3

Notes: I’m sorry to say that this not a good collection. The first story was a let down, but the next one, The Organ Runner, was incredible. So I was hopeful. Turns out that The Organ Runner was the only story I liked in the whole collection. There are genre books (plot driven) and literary books (character driven) but I feel like there should be a third category for books like this. Like Trust Exercise, this is writing that exist only for the writer to be able to play around with language and stretch the conventions of writing. It’s like haute couture – it’s art. Meant to be seen on the runway and admired as a piece of creativity, but not clothes anyone would ever wear in any context. Some MFA students might salivate over this book and hoity-toity literature people might ooh and ahh, but it’s not meant to be read by normal readers.

 

Title: Salvage the Bones

Author: Jesmyn Ward

Date Finished: 5/24

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 8 

Notes: This was a hard read. It took me months to finish. If the library hadn’t shut down and extended all loans through June 30, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. Another side note, as a result of Covid-19, I realized that I really hate having library books sitting around my house when I’m done with them. But back to the book. Sure, it’s fiction, but contemporary fiction is never just fiction. It’s inspired by something in reality and reading about kids in America living in such poverty and violence was difficult. Plus the dog fighting. I’m glad I finished it. I know that Ward is a highly respected author and I think her novels should be read in high school. And, like I said before, one of the benefits of reading fiction is to learn empathy, so I constantly read books about people whose life circumstances are different from mine, but I’m just saying that this one was hard. Really hard.

 

Title: The Farm

Author: Joanne Ramos

Date Finished: 5/22

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: This is another story about people whose lives are highly foreign to me, but the author does a fantastic job of putting me in their shoes and helping me understanding their decisions. The plot is excellent and I enjoyed the story. However, I had a hard time buying into the concern that one of the main characters had that propelled her to the climax of the book. I also had a hard time accepting the about-face of another main character at the end of the book and the related epilogue. Neither of those worked terribly well for me. This book hit on some really interesting themes and ideas, though, and is worth a read. And I’d bet a lot of people absolutely love this book and don’t have the same issues with it that I do.

 

Title: Sing, Unburied, Sing

Author: Jesmyn Ward

Date Finished: 6/1

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 7 

Notes: I wanted to try another Ward story. This one is more recent and was also a hard read about people with really hard lives, but didn’t feel as raw as Salvage the Bones, There was a supernatural element to it, which maybe softened the blow of reading about drug addicts (and their kids) living in poverty, but that supernatural elements was actually the main reason I didn’t like this book as much as I did the other one.

 

Title: Sea Wife

Author: Amity Gaige

Date Finished: 

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: Gaige is a master of stories about relationships. It’s been quite a while since she published anything, so I anticipated this book almost as much as I did The Starless Sea. This one was different from her others though. It was more experimental and had different elements that, for diehard Gaige fans like me, are unexpected from her. But her prose, ah, my heart. There was line after line after that I had to stop to think about. The form was…just…different. I’m not the biggest fan. It takes a big turn in plot about halfway through, in a good way at first because some things become clear or you realize they aren’t what you thought they were going to be. But then not in a good way because you wonder what the story is trying to be. And I didn’t like the political bits. And like Tana French’s The Witch Elm, when the story is over, it just keeps going. There was a lot of extra “story” that really didn’t need to be there. But you should still read this.

…every once in a while, you just want to send up a flare. I too am here. Everybody is sympathetic until you try to make your minuscule life interesting. And then they’re like, what’s wrong with you? You think you’re special?

 

Title: Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone

Author: Eric Klinenberg

Date Finished: 6/16

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: This is well researched and engaging, written in a style that a mix of interviews, anecdotes, and research. It covers everyone who lives alone, from young adults to the elderly, and covers numerous pros and cons. I’m glad to see books out there like this one and All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation because I had an epiphany about a year ago that I genuinely don’t want a relationship. I was four months into a relationship with someone who was wonderful and kind and thoughtful and attractive and had the same values and compatible life goals…and I wanted to scream and run away. And that’s what I did, with absolutely no regrets. I’m so much happier and more productive on my own. Maybe I’ll have a “living apart together” kind of relationship eventually, but I can’t see myself  in anything remotely like a traditional relationship. My thoughts can be summed up nicely in this quote from the book:

She thinks about the odds that she’d wind up the full-time caretaker of any man who’d be interested in moving in with her. She considers how busy she is already and recognizes that, like so many of her female contemporaries, she’s more interested in having someone to go out with than someone to come home to.

 

Books I Started But Didn’t Get Far Enough Into to Rate Before I Quit: Algorithms to Live By (Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths), All the Birds in the Sky (Charlie Jane Anders), The Lady in the Lake (Raymond Chandler), Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (Ernest Hemingway)

Books I Read for YA Research: Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)

Books of Poetry: The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins), Sailing Alone Around the Room (Billy Collins)

She teased me for going slow. I said I never want to catch up to the letting go.

– Andrea Gibson

Books I Read for Professional Development: The Product is Docs (Christopher Gales)*, Work Together Anywhere (Lisette Sutherland and K. Janene-Nelson)

* Ironic that a few months later, I started working for Splunk! I don’t work in Gales’s department, but I  do collaborate with his team.

Other: I did a beta reading of a speculative fiction novel for one of my critique partners, Kris Norbraten. It’s currently titled Lightning and you’ll have to read it when she gets published!

One thought on “The Half Year Book Report (#6)

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