Sunday, July 3, 2016

Books: 2016 Quarter 2

As you probably already know, I've been reading a classic a month for the last two years. It started as a one-year project in 2014, but I've enjoyed it enough to keep going with it & will probably continue until it starts to feel like a chore.

Here's my second set of classics of 2016:

April: Ulysses, by James Joyce (1904, 810 pages). I'm not going to rate this one because in two and a half years of the whole classic-a-month thing, this is the first book I've ever abandoned. Not because it was bad or I didn't like it, but because I was trying to listen to it as an audio book I and just don't think Ulysses lends itself particularly well to that medium. There's a lot of stream-of-consciousness and a lot of word play and a lot of "I bet there's something deeper there I'm missing, I should read that part again and/or look it up in the Cliff's Notes" or whatever, and you can't really do that when you're driving or out running. So, I'd still really like to read this, but I'm putting it off until I'm feeling up to attacking this beast in hard copy (probably with a pencil, highlighter, & Cliff's Notes in hand. It's just that kind of book).

May: Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arhur Golden (1997, 434 pages). 4 stars. The story follows the life of a young Japanese girl in the early-to-mid 20th century who is sold by her desperate parents to a man who in turn sells her and her sister to a tea house to potentially be trained as geishas. For all that the details of the geisha's lives are not perfect, I still learned a lot about the general history of how the whole geisha/tea house system and how it functioned, even up through the 40s and 50s and 60s. I enjoyed this book & was glad I read it, but I have to admit my enjoyment was tainted a bit when I learned that it was not biographical and in fact not even terribly accurate (though it was loosely based on conversations Golden had with a real Geisha. Who later sued him for writing this.

June: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov (1955, 378 pages). 5 stars. I think a lot of people will probably be put off by the subject matter (there's just no getting around the fact that it's about a forty-something dude banging a 12/13 year old), but it is worth noting that it's not an explicit or graphic book, and there's only a couple of scenes early-on that you actually "see" as a reader that are kind of gross (though they're described in very poetic, metaphorical terms). The rest of the book is more about the impact that Humbert's & Lolita's relationship has on both of them as they rove about the country together. I can definitely see why people have described it as one of the most breathtaking novels ever composed in English. Don't avoid it because you think you'll be puking the whole way. It's not like that


Here were my favorite reads for April through June:

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart. (2014, 242 pages) 5 stars. Cadence Sinclair Eastman is a 17 year old member of the Boston Sinclairs, "old money Democrats" who spend every summer on a private Massachusetts island with her grandfather, the family patriarch. Smart, pretty, athletic Cadence led pretty much a charmed life until her 15th summer on the island when she apparently went swimming alone and suffered some kind of traumatic head injury. Back at the island two years later, most of her memories of that summer are gone, including the accident. Her family refuses to talk about the accident or anything else that happened that summer, insisting that it's better if she remember on her own. One of THE most brilliantly written YA books I've ever read; as soon as I finished it I immediately flipped back to the beginning & started over again. Avoid spoilers *at all costs*.

The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks. (1988, 293 pages) 5 stars. This book made me glad I didn't give up on the Culture series after Consider Phlebas. 'The Player of Games' refers to this one dude in the Culture, Gurgeh, who's, well, really good at playing games. Which, how convenient, given that the Culture has encountered a new, rather primitive civilization whose entire society and system of government is based on this insanely complex game. Every six years there is a great tournament where a player's performance determines their role in society, and circumstances conspire such that Gurgeh ends up on a ship bound for this civilization to play the great game. Brilliantly written, and cleverly devised from the first page. Not only accessible but actually COOL AND INTERESTING for a non-sci fi geek (which I couldn't say about Consider Phlebas.)

Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind, by Dan Charnas. (2016, 304 pages) 5 stars. This book really spoke to me, probably because it jives simultaneously with a lot of my life philosophies & neuroses. Basically, it takes the principles of mise-en-place used by professional chefs & looks at how non-chefs can maybe become more productive/happier by employing them. Some are more applicable than others and I'm not saying I immediately implemented every strategy in the book, but I did spend half a day stripping down my office & getting rid of the stacks of papers & books that tend to accumulate, another half day cleaning out my work & personal email inboxes (not quite at zero, but close), & have gotten super rigorous about using time efficiently, working harder at not wasting things (especially food), & constantly cleaning up after myself. I have a feeling that if you enjoyed Marie Kondo, you'll probably like this one.

Us, by David Nicholls (2014, 400 pages). 4 stars. Middle-aged (boring, uptight, plain vanilla) husband & father Douglas Petersen is about to take his wife Connie & son Alfie on a European tour before Alfie leaves for college. Between his already-strained relationship with Alfie & Connie's sudden admission that she is considering leaving him, Doug spends the trip feeling as if his life is crumbling around him. The book flashes back and forth between the precarious Petersens' misadventures in Europe and Doug & Connie's entire history together as Doug reflects on his life and relationships. Not life-changing or super deep but cute & really well written.

Old Man's War, by John Scalzi (2007, 362 pages). 4 stars. Definitely, like, 9 stars for unique/interesting premise: in the not-that-distant future, at age 65 people can register for the Colonial Defense Force (CDF) & then officially go enlist any time after that, which basically means becoming legally dead on earth & flying out into space to go defend human space colonies/fight in space wars/etc. (the details of which are all kept strictly secret from normal earth people). Why would you want to do this at age 65+, and why would anyone be recruiting old folks for soldiers? Because by some mysterious process, everyone knows that the CDF turns recruits young and hearty again. It's kind of a mind-blowing premise and Scalzi explores it thoroughly. A quick, fun, & entertaining read.

Disapperance at Devil's Rock, by Paul Tremblay. (2016, 327 pages) 4 stars. Paul Tremblay is an amaaaaaaaazing writer and I 100% plan on gobbling up everything he writes as quickly as it appears; also this book was right up my alley--dark and creepy and all about mysterious happenings that are all the creepier for the fact that the weirdness is subtle and ambiguous and plunked right down in the middle of normal, everyday people's normal everyday lives. For the first 80% of the book, I could not put it down because OMG WTF is going on?!?!?!11!? Alas, I was a bit disappointed in the last bit for reasons that I don't think I can explain without spoilers. It was all built up so incredibly skillfully and with such perfect tension and crazy expectations that there was just no way any real, actual ending could have lived up to it. (Also I'm not sure anything could have lived up to A Head Full of Ghosts.) That said, I still enjoyed reading it & Tremblay is still for sure one of my new faves.

* * *

Currently Reading:
House of Secrets
, by Brad Meltzer

Currently Listening To:
The Marriage Plot
, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Up Next:

And who knows, whatever else tickles my fancy. (Taking future suggestions as always!)


  1. "We Were Liars" is on my to-read list. Curious to hear your thoughts on "The Marriage Plot". I read it a few months ago and loved it but everyone on Amazon says it pales in comparison to "Middlesex" (which I still haven't read).

    1. So far, I think I would say that TMP & Middlesex are just really, really different (except that they involve disaffected young people). In TMP, I kind of want to just shake all the main characters & yell "YOU HAVE PROBLEMS STOP MOPING & GET A THERAPIST!!"

  2. I am also still waiting for the new Patrick Rothfuss...and Brent Weeks...and @#(%&@#%(*& George R R Martin. Also keen to hear your thoughts on Marriage Plot - I enjoyed both Middlesex and Virgin Suicides. I am, of course, horribly behind on all of my reading.

    You've never read Gravity's Rainbow? It's one of those novels that captures a very specific cultural moment in time and is...kind of...a head trip. I'd also read it in paper, not audiobook.

    1. Ahhhh yes Brent Weeks!! Also desperately waiting on that.

      I keep chickening out on GR, not sure why. But I'm determined to knock it out this year (definitely in paper)!

  3. oh, love this list! i am looking for a new book to read. i just started The Girl with All the Gifts and have really enjoyed it so far. also loved lolita (classic!) and memoirs of a geisha. highly recommend all of the light we cannot see. even though i've read a bunch of wwii books, this was still refreshing.

  4. oh, love this list! i am looking for a new book to read. i just started The Girl with All the Gifts and have really enjoyed it so far. also loved lolita (classic!) and memoirs of a geisha. highly recommend all of the light we cannot see. even though i've read a bunch of wwii books, this was still refreshing.