September 2018


So, I’ve still be in a bit of a slump reading-wise. I just want to be home, under a blanket, not required to interact with any other humans, but somehow this has translated into rewatching a lot of The Office instead of reading… I have read the second book in The Broken Earth trilogy, The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin and I’ve started on the third book, The Stone Sky. More on the third book when I get back from vacation… (where I will likely read many books).

Mostly this week I was slogging through Everything Happens for R9780399592065eason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. Slogging not because the book is long or bad, but because it is yet another grief memoir. I have never read a book about grief that I regretted reading. And yet, after my Mom died, I told myself, enough. Time to try living. Because reading about grief can be life affirming and helpful, but it can also just plunge you further into that pit.

Boweler’s book is about her life in the immediate aftermath of her diagnoses with a type of colon cancer (at 35). Her cancer is basically incurable, but responds well to immunotherapy, so that she continues to have cancer, but continues to live, in this weird middle space. She happens to be a strong Christian and a Duke professor (you might have heard of her first book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel) This books is lovely (talking about mail she received after writing for the NY Times, “These letters sing with unspeakable love in the face of the Great Separation. Don’t go, don’t go, you anchor my life“). And at times, funny:

The chemotherapy drugs are cracked up so high that my feet are tender. I’ve been plagued with lockjaw and cold hypersensitivity, so that every time I touch anything cool it feels like I am being zapped with electricity. I am so forgetful about this that [my husband] hangs a sign on the freezer with a picture of MC Hammer that reads: GIRL, U CAN’T TOUCH THIS.

And also:

[I tell my friend] where all the diaries are kept that I would rather not leave for posterity. The diary of twelve year old Kate will be allowed to remain, because it is a daily account of what a boy named Colin was doing and I convinced that if Colin committed a crime in 1992 and is later put on trial, my diary is so thorough that it would either convict or exonerate him.

It’s a little disingenuous of me to highlight the funny parts of this book, because I wept over it.  At only 166 pages, it took me days to read because I could only read it during the day. It is a sad book, a book about loss, and fear and making peace with terrible things that just shouldn’t happen.

I had this one on my ‘to read’ list for a long time, and finally decided to pick it up, but it was kind of the wrong time for me. I love lots of grief memoirs, but they just are pulling me back into feeling worse I think.

So, currently reading: The Stone Sky, and taking Crazy Rich Asians and The Bookshop of Yesterdays on vacation with me.

Hello friends, still not having the best weeks of my life. I’ve never really been a big reader of thrillers, but I seem to be gravitating to them this year (Fever Dream, White Tears, The Haunting) and they certainly do take your mind off of things — I can see why

so many people unwind with thrillers and mysteries.

This week is was The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero. I read it because I LOVED Meddling Kids by Cantero. The book is told in snippets of diary entries, letters, telegrams, transcripts, descriptions of video tape, post cards, and a dream journal. You will either hate this or love it I think. At first, I didn’t really like it, and it made it hard for me to get into the story, but then I stared to enjoy it. There’s also a lot of cryptography – which the book actually does a cool job of explaining how they work. The end was super weird.

THERE WILL BE SOME SPOILERS BELOW! YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO READ THEM! PART OF THIS BOOK’S CHARM IS THE UNEXPECTED TWISTS!!

Essentially, this is the story of “A.” who writes most of the letters, diary entries, and dream journal entries that are in the book, and his “friend?” Niamh as they live the classic horror trope – inheriting a huge, allegedly haunted, house from a second cousin A. didn’t know, and the cousin belonged to some sort of secret society and killed himself. A. and Niamh are trying to unpack the mysteries of the house and figure out what the second cousin was into.

As they live in the house A. begins to have odd dreams which are incredibly powerful (and horrifying), additionally there is clearly a ghost in the bathroom. Cantero likes to play with, is this supernatural, is it not supernatural in his books — and seems to like to come down on the side of, supernatural things are really happening, but perhaps not as many you thought. There does turn out to be a secret society, and it is super interesting and super weird (it involves an all seeing eye, al la Lord of the Rings, and crystal balls that can transmit memories/dreams). Then things take two additional twists! I didn’t really care for either of them. I think the most common criticism I saw of this book on Goodreads was that the end was sort of jarring, and kind of didn’t fit with the rest of the book, and I will agree with that.

But, I still recommend this because I find the format interesting, I like the cryptography, and I wasn’t too frustrated by all of that. Cantero does tie things up pretty neatly, not everything makes sense, but what’s left hanging isn’t to frustrating. Apparently he is thinking about a sequel or sequels, although apparently he’s just got tons of ideas for novels and isn’t sure when he’ll write it. Oh, and also he wrote this book himself in both English and Spanish. So, he’s not an overachiever or anything.

Oh, also as a reader I loved this:

A.: [Y]ou must know how it works. An artifact containing … raw feelings, unprocessed sights and sounds and pains that the brain interprets – is that too crazy?

Dr. Belknap: No. It has existed for thousands of years. It’s called a book.

Currently reading: Everything Happens For a Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved and Like A Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy, and off to the library to get the next book in The Broken Earth trilogy.

So my September reading has been a little slow, it’s not been the best few weeks and I let myself do some re-reading and possibly watched the BBC 5 hour Pride and Prejudice mini-series multiple times. Until I started challenging myself to read a certain number of books a year and arbitrarily decided re-reads wouldn’t count, I definitely re-read a few books many, many times. It’s an odd mix —  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, all the Harry Potter books, the Outlander books, The Thurber Carnival, perhaps most embarrassingly, the Gracelin O’Malley books. Oh geeze. If you like historical romance like Outlander, you will like those books.  So, I let myself re-read some books.

But, never fear, I also read three new books – Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neal Hurston, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me by Bill Hayes
and The Position by Meg Wolitzer.

You should read Barracoon, it is very short, and I think it’s a helpful reminder that slavery both wasn’t that long ago and that slavery was a choice, made by white people. Literally, Cudjo Lewis became a slave because a couple white guys made a bet that even though it was at that point illegal to import slaves from Africa, they could get away with it:

[Tim Meaher] bet ‘any amount of money that we would import a cargo in less than two years, and no one be hanged for it.’ It was Meaher’s dream to own land and become wealthy and to use slave labor to do it. He believed it was his birthright.

It is a very depressing, but very short book. I think if I’d been feeling less sad, I would have read this book too quickly, I’m actually glad I read it over a few sittings. The book doesn’t actually talk too much about Lewis’ time as a slave, I think at least a third of the book is his stories about his family and growing up in his village in Africa, and then a good chunk is about the decades he spent in America after he was free.

Insomniac City is a very different book, although also sad, and also a memoir. Bill Hayes was Oliver Sach’s partner for many years and book is about Hayes love of New York City and his life there, but it is also about Sach’s illness and death. And I knew that was coming for the entire book, so the whole thing made me sad. Hayes is actually pretty upbeat though. I’ve read a lot of memoirs, a lot about grief and death this year, and I actually though Hayes’ postscript made the most sense in terms of “what is the point of all this?” The point of life is to be alive. And so, we live. Sadly, I got the second most comforting thing of the year from Hope Never Dies, although I think Biden actually wrote something along these lines – it will never make sense that someone is dead, that they are gone, that they aren’t here. You just learn to live with that feeling. So, those two pieces are kind of my philosophy for moving through grief and trying to live your life: it’s not going to make sense, just focus on being alive yourself. And alive is a pretty low bar. Like, when people start talking about living your best life, about not wasting time, ug, that stresses me out. Just be alive. That’s the point.

That doesn’t really tell you much about the book. Basically if you like New York, Oliver Sachs, or memoirs, you will enjoy this book. Hayes is also a photographer and there are many interesting pictures of New Yorkers. The book actually reminded me a bit of the Humans of New York.

I won’t say too much about The Position. I continue to enjoy Meg Wolitzer, this wasn’t my favorite of her books. It was a little different than others I’ve read by her because there were significant male characters who got to narrate.  Basically, this is a book about the four adult children of a couple that in the 70’s (when their children were children) wrote a very famous book about sex. The book is sort of a, where are they now, how did this impact everyone story set as they are considering re-releasing the book in a 25th anniversary edition. The four adult children were all interesting characters, I was invested in them, I found the sad stuff that happened in the book a little much for my current emotional state.

Currently reading: So You Want to Talk About Race and The Supernatural Enhancements, still waiting on many hold books from the library 😦

Also, should I read Bob Woodward’s new book? I feel like I should because you know, everyone is going to. But, ug. I kind of don’t want to – I read Michael Wolff’s book and I feel like my time could have been better spent. But hey, maybe you were hoping I would summarize it for you?

So, last week was one of the worst weeks of my life — my grandma died and there were two separate ER trips with my Dad. Of course, I looked to books to get me through.

When things were only lightly terrible I tried reading Marrying Up by Wendy Holden, which is, if you like this sort of thing, a perfectly fine escape book. I liked it significantly less than The Royal We or Eligible, but beggars can’t be choosers and I was looking specifically to shut my brain down a big. As you may or may not recall, I’m working on a goal of 100 books this year, I did not count this one, reading it was a totally different thing.

I also read Whiskey and Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith, The Parking Lot Attendant  by Nafkote Tamirat, and The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Both Whiskey and Ribbons and The Parking Lot Attendant came from the list of 46 books by women of color in 2018.

And honestly, Whiskey and Ribbons is the second one from this list that I haven’t liked much. Although, considering how many amazing books I’ve read from this list, I still highly recommend the list if you’re looking for something to read. This is the story of Evie, whose husband Eamon is a police officer killed in the line of duty shortly before she gives birth to their son. I don’t think the author of this book could have been influenced by An American Marriage (both books came out in 2018), but the format of the book is very similar, which I think actually made me like Whiskey and Ribbons less because it just doesn’t match up well in the comparison. Like An American Marriage, Whiskey and Ribbons is told from the perspective of a husband, a wife, and another man who is a love interest of the wife.  The different perspectives intersect, with Eamon’s sections taking place from before he met Evie to his death while the other sections are in the future where he’s already died. Evie’s sections mostly take place over the course of one weekend during a snowstorm, although she’s also looking back, and this gives the whole book sort of this small, locked in, snowstorm feel. There’s nothing but this one story for a little bit.

The Parking Lot attendant is a super odd book, but I liked it, I think I should have read it more slowly. This is the story of an unnamed narrator and her unnamed father and it’s a frame novel — the story opens with the two of them living on an island in a strange sort of utopian/cult community, and then flashes back to tell the story of how they came to the island, coming back to the island at the end. The narrator is an American, but her parents were both Ethiopian immigrants and she is very connected to the Ethiopian community in Boston (where the middle of the story takes place). The father/daughter relationship and the narrator reminded me a little bit of Call Me Zebra, although thank goodness it wasn’t quite so meandering and nonsensical. The narrator does a fair amount of musing:

I marvel at people who have made a living out of seamlessly appearing to be someone other than themselves. I haven’t done a particularly bang-up job of being me, and if I can’t manage that, it seems unlikely that I’ll ever do better by taking on someone else. I suspect that on the whole, I am untalented at the art of existence.

I’m not sure what I can tell you of the plot without spoiling it, because the mystery is really most of the book’s allure. I guess, I enjoy how the author sort of messes with your expectations, nothing much happens for so much of the book, then you realize there’s a lot you don’t understand at all, the book turns into a thriller, but leaves you without everything neatly tied up in a bow. Also, I think this was less than 300 pages, so not a long read.

Finally, I read The Fifth Season, which was my favorite of everything this week. It’s a sci-fi book which won the Hugo (I don’t read a ton of sci-fi, but if I hear it won the Hugo, I’m willing to give it a shot), as did EACH of the two sequels in the trilogy. I am pretty excited to read the next two. This was a great escape book, but it also didn’t feel like I was wasting my time reading garbage. The book is set on Earth, but on a super continent called The Stillness, which is anything but still due to lots of geothermic and seismic activity. All this activity creates the fifth season, death — which is what they call it when something happens, like a volcano spews ash into the air so there’s nothing but darkness and cold for years or decades.

The world is somewhat sparsely populated and everyone lives in “comms” or communities and they are sorted into different common use categories based on their skills – so  people who are “resistant” are good at surviving and useful during that fifth season. The story is told from three women’s perspectives, although primarily you have Essun, who on the day the earth splits open for what may be the worst fifth season ever, also finds that her husband has murdered their son and stolen their daughter. I could just summarize the whole book for you, but it’s so good, so fun, so dark, but so interesting, that you should really just go read it. And then let me know what you think. Maybe it will get you through some bad days too.

Currently reading: Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me, and getting the next book in The Broken Earth series ASAP…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marrying Up – wendy holden