The last 6 months in books

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
–Groucho Marx

MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood

maddaddam

The last book in the MaddAddam trilogy, this finale offers an ending to a series that has given me nothing but nightmares. I’m not crazy about the excessive violence towards women that Atwood is famous for, yet her storytelling is too compelling for me to ignore altogether. Creepy, thrilling, and deeply unsettling, Atwood’s near-future science fiction paints a dark world ahead of us. 6/10

 

 

 

Theft by Finding – David Sedaris

theft

Sedaris has been recommended to me by countless people and for good reason– this guy’s brain is wired in such a way that humor is found even in the most quotidian of stories, then shared with expert precision. An assortment of vignettes taken from his various diaries, this collection made me laugh out loud many, many times. By the end of it, I felt as if he was an old friend who could never catch a break, like we were laughing about it all over a nice drink somewhere in France. 8/10

 

 

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green

turtles

When I heard John Green was publishing a new YA book, I immediately requested that my library back home purchase an ebook copy of it so I could read it (this is a classic Rae move if you couldn’t guess). It’s an easy read and enjoyable enough– Aza, the main protagonist, is a 16 year old suffering from crippling social anxieties that feed off of each other. Despite this struggle, adventure ensues and friendship sparks and Aza finds a well of deep inner strength to draw upon. It doesn’t offer a nice, neat ending– something Green is famous for withholding– but nonetheless gives the reader a lot to chew over when it’s all over. 7/10

 

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

norwegian

This novel is dripping with a deep sense of nostalgia– something I am normally drawn to– yet I found it unsatisfying in many ways. Following a Japanese student named Watanabe through his intimate relationships with several women (and himself of course), Murakami weaves together a story that ultimately just lands flat for me. The women depicted in this tale fall in to the virgin/slut dichotomy a little too neatly, while also portrayed as overly emotional and unstable in ways that never feel genuine but always feel like plot devices. I finished this only because the prose is so beautiful but ultimately feel very eh about it. 5/10

 

Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

metalkpretty

This book will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to learn French and had a miserable time doing it. It will also resonate with anyone who has lived abroad and found themselves choosing to laugh at their circumstances rather than being broken by them. There aren’t enough good things to say about Sedaris’ writing style, the way he gives rich background to an event before building up to a laugh, the way he casually drops in nuggets of humor that you have to be quick to catch, the way he makes you feel just as awkwardly amused as he must feel. 9/10

 

 

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – Caitlin Doughty

smokegets

This book is couched in the larger death positivity movement that is happening worldwide at this very moment. The author, Caitlin Doughty, hosts a show on Youtube called “Ask a Mortician” and as an avid watcher, I was thrilled to discover she has written several books about death acceptance. Doughty takes you through her early experiences working at a crematorium– the good, the bad, the awkward– and ultimately to her decision to start The Order of The Good Death, an organization seeking to educate people about what happens when a person dies (ie how we can prepare for the inevitable), normalize death acceptance and advocate for natural burials whenever possible. This book is an inside look at what happens behind-the-scenes of an industry that largely goes ignored, dispelling many myths and offering actionable ways that you can take control of the end of your life. Which, by the way, everyone needs to be planning for. PS this book is irreverently funny and may not be funny for everyone, just a heads up 10/10

Fantasyland – Kurt Andersen

fantasyland

Part history lesson, part political science crash course, this book seeks to explain Trump’s America by digging up all of our ugly past and airing it out. From early settlers and their fantastical thinking (witches, bad science, racism galore) to our recent, counter-culture hippy self (cults and way more bad science), to our present situation (“choose your own reality”, outright disbelief in science, and the rise of Evangelicalism), Andersen asserts that America was built by people who have deluded themselves time and time again with pure fantasy. Our culture is steeped in thinking things that simply aren’t objectively true (hello pre 2008 housing crash, slavery-was-forever-ago-and-racism-is-over, The American Dream, etc.). His claim is that to be an American, you are necessarily subscribing to a special kind of make-believe– and this is a much more dangerous variety than the game we played as children, because in this game of make-believe, actual lives are on the line. 9/10

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

fatesfuries

This book tore my heart out and helped me rebuild it, somehow all simultaneously. Beautiful prose, heartbreaking rawness and compelling characterization made this a very undemanding read. On one level, this is the story of two people and their marriage and all of the trappings that go with it. But on a deeper level, this is a parable for how unceremoniously we often slip from understanding another person’s lived experience, even when we love them and live with them and tend to them. How ultimately, we can never fully grasp at another’s lived experience. 9/10

 

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-13 – Lemony Snicket

seriesofevents

Apologies to everyone who has already heard me rant about these books– I’ll keep it brief. I love that Snicket/Handler delivers engaging post-modern literature that anyone can access, no matter how young. I love that death and grief in childhood are the locus of this series, because all too often we forget that children grieve just as we do.  And I love that these books reward readers with a plethora of easter eggs and intertextual jokes, which serve to treat the audience as intellectually capable– I was 22 before I picked up on all the Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf in these books. 8/10

The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen

sympathizer

Nguyen has crafted something so dark and sinister that picking this up without being ready for it is a mistake. Often heralded as a response to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, this novel seeks to undermine the prevalent western notions of the so-called Vietnam War and its aftermath. The narrator, half Vietnamese and half European, cleverly sits on the fence between the two opposing sides of the conflict– both a spy and a soldier, his life perfectly split down the center as a perfect metaphor for what happened to Vietnam. Nguyen is an expert storyteller– descriptive to the point of nausea and holding nothing back, this book was impossible to put down and left me thinking about it weeks after I had finished it.  “Now a guarantee of happiness—that’s a great deal. But a guarantee to be allowed to pursue the jackpot of happiness? Merely an opportunity to buy a lottery ticket. Someone would surely win millions, but millions would surely pay for it.” 10/10

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’engle

wrinkleintime

I thought this book was creepy and difficult to read as a child. Re-reading it now, I must admit I don’t love it as much as I hope I would. It’s fun and it’s an adventure, but the ending is so anti-climatic that when I first finished it, I was sure my copy was missing an extra chapter. 5/10

 

 

 

 

The Girls – Emma Cline

thegirls

This piece of fiction flips the true-crime genre on its head by telling the perspective of a young cult member on a ranch somewhere outside of LA instead of following the detectives in pursuit of the truth. While the evil cult leader is called Russell in this tale instead of Charles, it’s almost deed-for-deed aligned with what Manson and his family did in the late 60s– young girls isolated from their families, raped, brainwashed, forced to scavenge food and oh yes, commit murder on behalf of their beloved patriarch. The perspective from one of the girls is a new twist and gives some insights as to how a person may end up falling for such a preposterous and abject lifestyle, which humanizes the girls in a way I’m not sure I’m comfortable with. But I’m not sure comfort is really the point after all. 7/10 

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race – Beverly Daniel Tatum

whyareallthe

This evergreen book is educational, persuasive and salient as hell. Dr. Tatum works to explain race identity formation in the context of US schools– how students come to learn who they are, how society shapes young people of color, and how ignoring race in the classroom works to hurt all students. This is required reading for anyone looking to teach in a US classroom because without this context and background information, teachers (particularly white teachers) cannot hope to serve their students as well as they deserve. 10/10

 

 

Currently reading:
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn’t)- Brene Brown

Suggestions always welcome!

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