What an up and down month of books!
I’m going to jump straight in:
Landline – Rainbow Rowell – 3.75* – (Apr. 2):
I may have deducted a quarter-star for naming a character “Georgie McCool.” This novel follows Georgie over the course of approximately a week leading up to Christmas 2013. She and her best friend Seth are on the verge of their big break (a meeting with a Hollywood big shot over a show they’ve been developing for years) – but it means Georgie has to choose between her planned family trip and work. Of course she chooses work and her husband, Neal, takes their children off to Nebraska without her after a fight. Cue misery and drama and a bunch of contrived circumstances revolving around phones. He never answers his cellphone, her phone has a dead battery so it doesn’t work unless it’s plugged in, and then she discovers the titular landline at her mom’s house actually connects her to Neal in 1998, just before he proposed. Too much contrivance, not enough understanding of motivations, etc. This isn’t YA but it felt borderline YA to me in many ways – some of the characters and situations (Heather, Georgie’s mom) read very young to me, as well as the style overall.
The Enchanted – Rene Denfield – 4.75* – (Apr. 7):
It’s a heavy book, a dark book. It takes place primarily in a prison, told in part from the POV of a death row inmate. The story also follows several other characters – the lady who works to have prisoners’ sentences reduced from death to life sentences, a fallen priest who administers unofficial last rites and reads letters to prisoners, the warden, a corrupt guard, other prisoners. Few characters receive names, adding to the detachment. Yet amid all that darkness and hopelessness, somehow there is some glimmer of hope. There are moments of transcendence above the bleak walls of the cells, the mangled minds of the criminals, the sad histories that have brought everyone to where they are as these events unfold. Even in the story of York, the prisoner the lady has been sent to “save” despite his desire to remain on death row and face his execution, there is reasoning, understanding, and a bit of peace. It was thoughtfully constructed, the writing was beautiful, and the theme will stick with me for awhile. I wouldn’t pick this book up on a whim and I wouldn’t approach it lightly, but it’s a solid book with real merit and while I’ve rated other books higher and found them more enjoyable overall, this may be the book that has made the biggest impression on me so far this year. I won’t soon forget “The Enchanted” and the characters within its pages.
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson – 5* – (Apr. 10):
Shirley Jackson knows how to tell a story without dragging it out forever. The best part of this ghost story is that it doesn’t jump right into things going bump in the night. She starts developing the characters and their relationships with each other so that by the time anything goes bump in the night, you care about their reactions. There’s also a nice mix of paranormal and psychological circumstances at work. How much of what’s happening is because of the supernatural, how much is due to Eleanor’s loosening grasp on reality? Sidenote: After finishing, I watched both movies based on the book. DO see the 1963 film directed by Robert Wise. DO NOT see the 1999 film directed by Jan du Bont...
Men Explain Things To Me – Rebecca Solnit – 3* – (Apr. 11):
This essay collection made me feel a bit like a bad feminist, realizing there are so many different types of feminists. I think maybe this just didn’t resonate with the type I am. However, I did learn about some interesting history and individual cases. I’ve made such an effort lately to approach all situations on a case-by-case basis that the circumstances she used to highlight larger issues instead just left me upset at the stories cited. It was still worth reading as part of my goal to read more widely this year and I did learn from it. Two essays did resonate more than the others. The last, “Pandora’s Box and Volunteer Police Force,” was interesting for its discussion of where we’ve come from and how far we still have to go, but also the idea that like Pandora’s Box, the lid has been removed on these ideas of equality and you can’t expect to put those ideas back in the box. The essay that made the biggest impression may have been the shortest in the collection, “In Praise of the Threat.” This focused on the push for marriage equality but she put an interesting spin on it by going back to just how unequal marriage has been historically in traditional male-female marriages. In same-sex marriages, there’s often more equality in the relationship because the gender-based norms don’t exist. They have more discussion about roles and expectations. It’s a very short essay (you can find it online in The Financial Times, published as “More equal than others”) and it really made me think.
We Are Not Ourselves – Matthew Thomas – 2.5* – (Apr. 19):
This 620-page book had some very poignant moments between a father and a son, as well as a husband and a wife as the family dealt with a man’s illness. However, approximately 580 pages were about a selfish, racist, stuck-up, unsympathetic, unempathetic, heartless woman who rarely put anyone ahead of herself. It wasn’t even fun to dislike her. Up until the very last page, I wanted her to choke. Each time the book seemed to be redeeming itself, I realized it was because she wasn’t in that section. The husband and son aren’t portrayed as saints either, but they have reasons to be “not ourselves” based on age or illness or other circumstances. Unfortunately, this woman proved who she was long before she had an excuse for her martyrdom. I rated the book a 2.5* instead of lower because of a few moments that will really stick with me, including the epilogue.
No Land’s Man – Aasif Mandvi – 3.5* – (Apr. 21):
I have a thing for snarky news guys. Anderson Cooper. Jon Stewart. Aasif Mandvi. They’re my tv boyfriends. I don’t know – smart is sexy. Something about at least seeming like you know more than everyone else in the room. I was super-excited to hear about Mandvi’s book. Which is probably why it was just so much less than I wanted it to be. Only the last chapter or so really delivered for me. Somehow, it lacked the depth and heart that I was looking for, touching on the issues it promised but staying at the surface. It played them more for laughs than for the difference it could’ve made. Ultimately, it’s one of the same things Stewart has been blasting back for years when he says The Daily Show is comedy, not news. Mandvi is a comedian, not Oprah. It was interesting to learn more about him but I’m disappointed to say it made me respect him less for the way the humor was played as opposed to more. I think we may have broken up, though we’ll still be friends. And maybe one day, we’ll get back together. A girl can change her mind!
High-Rise – J.G. Ballard – 3* – (Apr. 28):
I don’t often read dystopian because it makes me uncomfortable and I find it so hard to relate to both the world and the characters in it. This book was no exception. I found the characters horrible – there was no hero here. And I longed for just ONE strong woman character to put her foot down against the chaos, rather than submit. It was interesting and I’m often glad for book club because I certainly wouldn’t have read this otherwise, but I’m also glad it wasn’t a very long book.
The Art of Being a Kid – David A. Gildersleeve – 4* – (Apr. 29):
Somehow his illustrations are both simple and detailed at the same time. This collection is full of images that remind me of what it felt like to be a kid – Christmas morning, leaving behind all my summer fun to go back to school, taunting a younger sibling, paper airplanes… I love how in one moment, the brother is terrorizing his little sister, but in the next, they’re enjoying something together. He does a great job capturing the small moments of childhood.
Citizen Vince – Jess Walter – 4* – (Apr. 30):
I bought this book without much thought based on a great experience reading Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. This is a completely different book but very engaging. Vince is a complex character – the dedicated donut man is also a drug dealer and part of a stolen credit card operation. It gets worse it seems his past is chasing him down. What makes Vince interesting is he doesn’t always go with the obvious choice. All of this plays out against a presidential election (Nixon vs. Reagan), which Walter does in a way that becomes not just background noise but very relevant and even touching. It was a quick read and I really enjoyed it.
I read 9 books again this month, though I really pushed to get in those last two. Yay for being sick this week! I’m currently at 31 for the year, closing in on my goal of 40.
I read an autobiography, a book of feminist essays, a comic book, and a dystopian novel.
And since I assembled a star-rating list last month, might as well keep it up-to-date! Again, this is based on the flat stars Goodreads displays in list-view, not the quarter-star system I assign in my reviews.
- 5 stars: 5 books (including one re-read and 2 5-star reads this month!)
- 4 stars: 15 books
- 3 stars: 6 books
- 2 stars: 4 books
- 1 star: 0 books (not sure why I don’t use this rating more often)
- 0 stars: 1 book (book I edited but didn’t rate)
One last stat – pages read:
- January – 2010
- February – 2166
- March – 2419
- April – 2349
Total is 8944 pages for the year.
I don’t think I acquired many new books last month. Maybe just one? I received so many as gifts at the end of March for my birthday, I wasn’t tempted to do much buying. But I couldn’t resist adding another Shirley Jackson to my collection last weekend.
Have you read any of these? This month, I’m looking for suggestions of books based in or about France. Leave your recommendations in the comments below!