The last 6 months in books

Reading is such a blessed respite for me in Thailand. I’ve been reading a lot of darker things (as you’ll no doubt find below) so if you have any comedies you love, please let me know! Here’s volume two of some mini-reviews of the things I’ve been consuming:

The Road — Cormac McCarthy

the road

I had not read this book in a long while and am grateful that I picked it up again. Beyond the very bleak setting of this story there is a very warm, human feature that so elegantly illustrates the best of people. I cry throughout most of the last 1/3 of this read because it makes me reflect on my own humanity in such a simple way. “The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night. The last instance of a thing takes the class with it. Turns out the light and is gone. Look around you. Ever is a long time. But the boy knew what he knew. That ever is no time at all.” A very solid 9/10

 

 

Helter Skelter — Vincent Bugliosi

helter

My friend David got me hooked on true crime books and this is the monster of all true crime stories. Bugliosi is an incredible writer and has the law background to really give a full sense of the demon that was the Manson Family. I had never looked in to the murders beyond what I had come to know from the news but wow was I shocked to read more about the humans capable of such violence. Shocked to read about people whose sense of the world was so perverted they truly believed the Beatles told them to frame black people with murders in an effort to incite the race war (???) and oh yeah, Manson is Jesus Christ reincarnate. There are some people we will never be able to make sense of. 7/10



Oryx and Crake — Margaret Atwood

oryx

Weeks after reading this book, I am still thinking about it. Atwood loves to say that she writes speculative fiction, i.e. things that may await humanity in the near future– this tale is no exception to that rule. At its core, this story is a creation story with heavy Biblical themes. Atwood explores the ethical dilemmas we face regarding the future of genetics/eugenics/GMOs in a tale told by the last human on the planet. Or so we think. 9/10

 

 


Ishmael — Daniel Quinn

ishmael

Reading this was a chore because the argument is made in a very rigid allegorical method– you have to be in the mindset for heavy philosophy to really enjoy this text. That said, the content is so compelling– it will make you reflect on the destruction of the world and force you to admit that we humans are not separate from the natural world, but rather one in the same. “You’re captives of a civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live. … You are captives—and you have made a captive of the world itself. That’s what’s at stake, isn’t it?—your captivity and the captivity of the world.” 5/10 for style, 10/10 for message

 

Welcome to The Monkeyhouse — Kurt Vonnegut

monkeyhouse

This collection of short stories from Vonnegut was fairly fun to read, though I take issue with the short story that shares the cover title. The short story centers around a man (Billy the Poet) who is going around raping women (specifically virgins) in some kind of effort to liberate them (???) because they live in a world where sex has lost its pleasure. Because the government. Naturally. And the assumption is that somehow, Billy is freeing these poor lost women and opening them up to the real world. I really love Vonnegut sometimes but this was a big fat no for me. 3/10

 

 

Hunger — Roxane Gay

hungerTW: rape
This powerful memoir centers on food, big bodies, and trauma in such a raw manner– at times, it made me both joyous and nauseated, hopeful and deeply sad. Gay opens herself up in such a vulnerable way, depicting her rape at a young age and how her life trajectory was forever altered.. She details how eating came to feel like a comfort in a time when she was so unsafe, so alone– how one’s coping never looks the same as another’s. She does all of this while demanding her humanity, her dignity, at every corner– she reminds us that being fat is not the summation of a person’s life, but instead just another feature of humanity, for better or worse. 10/10

 
Harry Potter Books 1-7

harry

I re-read these books just about every year and it’s such a treat for me that they have aged as well as they have. Truly timeless, simply magic. Nothing makes me feel quite at home like revisiting these old friends, even when I’m in the tropics under a bug net trying to avoid Malaria. 10/10 points for Gryffindor

 

 

In Cold Blood — Truman Capote

incoldblood

This piece of non-fiction is so completely and devastatingly haunting, words fail me. Capote is a gifted writer in the purest sense– without frills and metaphor, he conjures up so much feeling that you feel entirely immersed in this history. The book centers on the true murders of the four Clutter family members in a small town in Kansas. The men who murdered them, Hickock and Smith, are humanized in the most decent kind of way– that is, Capote makes us reckon with their humanity without absolving them of their terrible sins. 9/10

 

 

Holes — Louis Sachar

holes

I’ve been reading a lot of dark material lately so to break it up, I’ve been revisiting happier favorites from my childhood. Sachar is a prolific YA author but Holes remains his best known work and for good reason– it’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s adventurous. Zero and Stanley have a beautiful friendship that is emotional and honest in ways young boys rarely get to be portrayed. And the ending to this book is so damn warm and fuzzy. 7/10 

 

 


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running — Haruki Murakami

murakami

I started running when I joined the Peace Corps because I knew I would need an excuse to leave the house every day and do something active. Unfortunately, I have struggled to run as often as I would like because of the street dogs, but that’s another conversation. This memoir by Murakami is a pleasant reflection on the joys of running– how such a simple and inexpensive hobby can really enhance one’s personal life, at any age/weight/ability level. I enjoyed this book for what it is– a love letter to running outside. 6/10

 

 

Sapiens — Yuval Noah Harari

sapiens

This beast of a book is a fascinating meditation on how we have come to be and what futures may lie ahead. I appreciate how much this book made me think about my own mortality– Harari holds no punches, so to speak. I would say that I am critical of some of the generalizations he draws here– things like “a huge gulf is opening between the tenets of liberal humanism and the latest findings of the life sciences” are a little difficult to ground in real evidence. Also I think it’s dangerous that Harari is one of many voices insisting that science is at odds with human concepts like equality, poetry and literature (I would argue they are complementary, not contradictory). Additionally, a lot of this book is less grounded in history and more built up on speculations– this can be a good thing but can also be a very dangerous thing in the world we live in. Overall, it’s still a worthwhile read but I am hesitant to give it the praise so many else have. 5/10

 

Hillbilly Elegy — JD Vance

elegy

Where do I even begin with this book? This book starts off fairly neutral, with Vance chronicling his early life in the poor working class parts of Appalachia. He comes across as very personable with his intimate storytelling, the way he opens up about his family and their many faults– drugs, domestic abuse, and violence galore. However this book takes a very dark turn, as Vance moves from explaining his poor family to analyzing them quite harshly. The thesis at work here is that he was able to escape their way of life by going to Yale and later, Silicon Valley– with nothing going for him, he was able to “pull himself up by his bootstraps” as it were. At no point does Vance entertain the idea that he may have been the exception and not the rule– instead, he writes hundreds of pages damming the poor and just about every choice they make from his now-well-to-do vantage point. I find his arguments reductive at best– having personally grown up on food stamps and free and reduced school lunches, I vehemently resent any person making blanket statements about how poor people should/shouldn’t behave. Yet this book is being heralded as important because it perhaps explains how many people actually think about poverty in the US– the ways that powerful people are able to carefully, insidiously corral poor people back in to nothingness. Sadly, poor people already know how little everyone thinks of them. 0/10

Currently reading:
Smoke and Mirrors- Neil Gaiman
The Year of The Flood- Margaret Atwood
Turtles All The Way Down- John Green

 

Send me your book suggestions! ❤

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