Another #10booksofsummer update and other bookish things

We’re right at that part of the #10booksofthesummer challenge where I start to lose momentum. So far I’ve read seven out of the 15 books I chose to give myself a variety of options. Ha, variety. I know the books left in the stack are all probably all range from good to great, but I all I want to do is read something else. I’m kicking myself for not including any nonfiction, for example, at least a couple of options. And then I did a bad thing and bought a bunch of new books for my birthday, and they just look so shiny compared to those tired old books in the (other) stack on my desk.

Shiny new books

I bought Where the Crawdads Sing because I thought Delia Owens sounded interesting in an interview I read; also, I was intrigued by the fact she’s a debut novelist at 70! However, she’s apparently even a bit more intriguing than that…not sure what to think about this. I read the first few chapters of the book, and the writing is quite good.

I won’t lie; I took a bit of a break and read Dreyer’s English, which was just fantastic. I’m happy to report that we agree on everything EXCEPT putting “an” in front of words like “historical.” He says don’t you dare do it, but I will die on that hill because I like how it sounds. Also, in text to be read aloud, that’s one that can be easily misheard: a historical document can too easily become ahistorical document—amirite? You know I am. One of my favorite, favorite things he hates as much as I do: setting long sections (anything longer than a sentence, really) of prose in italics. It drives him as batty as it does me. Why? It’s just kind of cheap, and it also implies the reader isn’t smart (or the writer can’t find a better way to handle whatever they’re using italics for). Also, did you see what happened there? I used “they” with a singular referent and also ended my sentence with a preposition. All Dreyer approved!

Speaking of books with long sections of prose in italics, I also took a break to read Laura Lippman’s new book, Lady in the Lake. I’m going to write a full post on that one! I swear. Short version: solidly entertaining as always, although large parts of it (and not just the WHOLE CHAPTERS in italics) didn’t work for me. Okay, that’s it. That’s all you get for now.

I also re-read Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted and upgraded it from four stars to five. It was sort a whim, re-reading that one. In addition to all the shiny new books I’ve acquired, the other thing I’ve been wanting to do is go back and re-read everything. Okay, not everything, but the list is long. Sometimes I think I could spend a whole year concentrated on re-reading novels and stories and only reading new nonfiction. Notice the “sometimes.” Don’t think it will ever happen. Anyway, if you haven’t read The Enchanted or The Child Finder, I’d say get on that, pronto, so you’ll be ready for her new book, The Butterfy Girl, which comes out in October. It’s the second in the Naomi Cottle series (The Child Finder is the first), and I know it will be amazing. She writes beautifully, but I won’t lie: the subject matter is dark. That said, she writes with such beauty and humanity and hope and empathy, the darkness never takes over.

Finally, back to #10booksofsummer. I read two more books, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Power of the Dog. Each probably deserves a post of its own, but in short: I can see why TLHOD is a sci-fi classic, and I can see now what other (lesser) authors have been trying to do. Also, LeGuin writes quite cleanly and beautifully. Still…well, let’s save that for later. The Power of the Dog was like if Kent Haruf decided to write a psychological thriller. I’m sure Thomas Savage must have been an influence for him. I highly recommend it, but you stand warned: the quiet suspense will make you squirm.

How’s your summer reading coming along out there? Any big hits or duds?

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#10BooksofSummer Check-in

Hello All! I hope your summer is going well. I figure we’re somewhere around the mid-point of #20BooksofSummer (but am too lazy to do any actual counting), so I thought I’d check in and share how things have been going so far.

I’m happy to say that I’ve read five books on the list: Oral History, Truly Devious, Florida, Less, and The Guest Book. I started The Immortalists but didn’t make it very far before setting it down. Right off the bat it felt cliché to me, and the writing was uninspiring. Sometimes our instincts serve us well: I’d never added that one to my TBR because I suspected I wouldn’t care for it, and when it was voted as the choice for book club, I was wary but hoped for the best. I guess I’ll try to sell it back at some point. I’ve also only cheated on my stack once! I re-read Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted, just because. It was even more beautiful the second time around. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest it.

Of course I’d planned to write reviews for all the books I read, but June was a hellish work month and July has been busy with other things. And frankly, I’ve gotten lazy. I’ve stopped thinking as deeply as I used to about what I read. I would love to get back on track with that, but then something else always gets shorted. What a first-world problem! I have time to read. That’s the most important thing, period.

Here’s a quick rundown on what I’ve read so far:
Oral History. Ever got halfway through a book and realized you’ve read it before? That was me with Oral History. I cannot for the life of me remember if I read this book seven years ago or seventeen years ago. Oral History is the story of the Cantrell family, whose stories are told through multiple characters in first or third person, bringing us up to present day, which is the early 1980s (the book was published in 1983). If you aren’t one for reading stories in dialect, this book (and many of Smith’s other books as well) will not be your jam. Several sections are written in what you might call Appalachian English; however, this is no amateur’s [read: citified MFA student’s] attempt at crappy dialect to make the story seem “more real.” Smith, a native of the region, has an empathic and exacting ear for the region’s dialect, as well as for the people who live there.

Truly Devious. This first book in Maureen Johnson’s YA mystery trilogy was solidly smart and entertaining. Stevie Bell gets accepted into the eccentric Ellingham Academy, where she wants to solve the mystery of what happened to the disappeared wife and daughter of the school’s founder, Albert Ellingham. However, soon after she arrives at the school, someone is murdered. Is there a connection? Hm. This book is such great fun. I loved, loved, loved The Westing Game when I was a kid, and this book has some of that same spirit. Johnson deftly weaves in current political and social themes without letting them overtake the central story.

Florida. I loved Delicate Edible Birds and was so hoping to love this—but no. There’s no question that Groff can write beautiful sentences. But there’s something performative about these stories. I felt like I could see her working the lines for effect, which made these stories feel the opposite of effortless. The narrators in three or four stories are interchangeable—middle-aged, professional white women, usually writers or professors, and weirdly, all with two young sons—and the stories overall are filled with middle-class, white malaise. Ultimately, this book didn’t open up or examine anything I haven’t seen before, which I found strange. I expected a more interesting take on location and landscape and especially the people, but I was disappointed. If anything, this felt like the sort of self-conscious prose styling that makes a lot of people avoid picking up short stories.

Less. Arthur Less is about to turn fifty, and his younger ex-lover is marrying another man, so Less embarks on an around-the-world journey over the better part of a year to distract himself. I chortled and hooted my way through this book until the end, when I cried. It took some time for me to warm up to Arthur, but when I did, I could not put the book down. To write a story that is at once funny and also melancholy is no easy feat, and Greer manages to work that delicate balance so cleanly. That means the sadness can cut so sharply through a funny moment, and the humor arises where you might not expect it. This book got so many raves I was a bit wary, but it earns every five-star rating and prize it’s been awarded.

The Guest Book. If this book had been the New England family saga I had expected, complete with top-drawer family secrets and sailing and madras and seersucker, I would have been just fine with it. However, Blake has written a book that’s much deeper–and much more current–than I expected. She takes an unflinching look at the dark side of white privilege, especially WASP privilege, and how so many people who had a hand in shaping America failed to right so many wrongs, mainly because they couldn’t see that they were a huge part of the problem.

I’m currently about halfway through The Left Hand of Darkness. I won’t spoil it, but I will say I can definitely see why readers and writers of all genres hold Le Guin up as a great writer.

I don’t want to brag (or jinx anything), but I think I might actually make it all the way through the challenge this year! How about you? How’s your summer reading going?

10 Books of Summer Challenge

10Well, hello there! Nothing like getting back into the swing of things like joining a challenge. I’ve been itching to get back to the blog, so when Cathy at 746 Books announced her annual 20 Books of Summer challenge, I decided this might be a prime opportunity. Now, I’ve failed to complete this challenge before, so I decided to go easy on myself and commit to 10 books. You’ll notice, however, that I have 15 in my picture. I got a little carried away before I realized that I needed to consider that I’ll have at least three additional books to read for book club, plus I’m bound to go off script and read at least one or two unplanned books, probably re-reads. I average about five books a month, so this should be doable, even though I have a few chunksters there. Let’s get to the list, shall we?

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin. I don’t read a lot of Sci Fi, but I’ve always felt like this was a standard must-read for any person who considers themselves well-read. (For the record, I do not consider myself well-read because my reading has always been all over the place, so I have a lot of gaps.) But this is #4 in a series? Oof. Well. Anyone read it? Do I have to read the other three first? That’s a lot of Sci Fi for this reader, ya’ll, even if I am trying to better myself.

The Dog of the South, Charles Portis. True Grit is one of my favorite books of all time, and I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for several years.

The Power of the Dog, Thomas Savage. Ha, I should have listed this and The Dog of the South first in an attempt to make you all believe I was only going to read books with dog in the title! Anyway, I just added this dark, modern Western about two brothers vying for the same woman to my list after seeing a review of it on Goodreads a few weeks ago from someone with very similar tastes. Plus, I’m a total sucker for a Western.

Truly Devious, Maureen Johnson. I don’t read a lot of YA, but I’m familiar with Johnson because I used to follow her on Twitter. Her exchanges with the Brothers Green (John and Hank) were always so amusing. Larry from It’s Either Sadness or Euphoria (honestly this guy cannot be human—he reads and reads and then produces the most incredible reviews of everything) reviewed this on Goodreads a few weeks ago and it looked so cute I thought this boarding school mystery (the first in a series) would be a fun summer read.

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin. Honestly, I have been on the fence about this one, but my book group picked it to read for our next meeting, so the decision was made for me. Let’s hope it’s worth it. It does have a gorgeous cover.

The Guest Book, Sarah Blake. An East Coast multi-generational family saga.                 Sorry, did you need more explanation than that?

A Brightness Long Ago, Guy Gavriel Kay. I’m not sure if it’s just Game of Thrones ending or what, but I got the itch to read some Fantasy, and apparently this guy (see what I did there) is amazing. My MIL really enjoys his books and the description sounded fun, so I thought, why not try it?

Oral History, Lee Smith. Ever since reading Fair and Tender Ladies (oh, how that title makes me cringe, but it is such a wonderful book), I’ve wanted to read all of Lee Smith’s books. But since I have the attention span of a……..what was I saying?

Florida, Lauren Groff. I used to read short stories almost exclusively. Now I can’t remember the last time I picked up a collection, other than to re-read something. I’m not a huge fan of Groff’s novels, but I did love her collection Delicate Edible Birds, which was one of the first books I reviewed here. I’m a little worried about the hype, but we’ll see.

Red Clocks, Leni Zumas. Honestly of all the books on the stack this is the one I am least likely to read. I got it as part of a first editions/new releases subscription through Powell’s last year. I had just read The Power, which was alright, and was not in the mood to read another feminist dystopian novel. I’m still not, truth be told (and I already have Le Guin!), because we’re all just living the dream…er, nightmare…right now, aren’t we?

Less, Andrew Sean Greer. I bought this right before we moved to Amsterdam, so it was on a boat and then in storage and then it went on the shelf and I forgot about it until I went hunting for books to read for this challenge. It’s supposed to be laugh-out-loud funny, so sign me up.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne. There was so much hype around this one I tried to resist it, but then I read the first few pages at the bookstore and thought, yes. Then we moved and see Less by Greer, Andrew Sean above.

Marlena, Julie Buntin. If I remember correctly, this came out right around the same time as Emma Cline’s The Girls (which I thought was fantastic), so I bought and I’ve tried several times to read it and…meh. But maybe there will be some sort of cosmic convergence and I’ll not only actually finish this 10 Books of Summer challenge but I will do so by reading this book! I love it when things just work out, don’t you?

The Italian Teacher, Tom Rachmann. I wholeheartedly enjoyed both The Imperfectionists and The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, so when I saw this on sale at the book store I bought it. And then I went on to read something else. Not that it’s a pattern or anything.

The Gunners, Rebecca Kauffman. Honestly, I think it was on sale? Like The Immortalists, this is one that got a lot of hype and I felt sort of wary about but obviously I had a brain fart and now look at me, proud owner of this book.

So there you have it. Is anybody still out there? Have you read any of the books on my list? Please share in the comments…and stay tuned to see if this will be my year!

#10BooksofSummer: Womp Womp

10 booksWell, okay, so back in June I joined Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer, except that I only signed up to read ten books. Here was my list, which indicates also what I actually read:

Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell (read)
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead (read)
My Antonia, Willa Cather (read)
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante (read)
Mind of Winter, Laura Kasischke
Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer (read)
After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman
Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff
Black Water Rising, Attica Locke (DNF)
Dirty Love: Stories, Andre Dubus III
False Mermaid, Erin Hart (This was my replacement for Black Water Rising)

So yes, you’re seeing that right. I read five books from the list. In addition to those, though, I also read Phillip Meyer’s The Son and A.S. Byatt’s Possession. Both of those are longer works and took some time to get through but were both absolutely wonderful in their own respective ways. So seven books. And only one review, for Annihilation. That’s a shame because even if I didn’t read a lot this summer, I read several other amazing books the aforementioned Annihilation, My Brilliant Friend, and My Antonia. The biggest disappointments for me? Well, I didn’t love Astonish Me the way I thought I would. While I loved everything about the world of dance and I enjoyed Shipstead’s writing, it just fell a bit flat for me. Joan was two-dimensional, Jacob starts off interesting but becomes a cliché (maybe the point, but it felt like it was handled clumsily), the more interesting characters are offstage for much of the book, and the whole thing sort of turned into a Lifetime movie there at the end.

The other disappointment? I was surprised to find I couldn’t get into After I’m Gone or False Mermaid. Typically in summer I love to read these lighter books, especially mysteries, but this year I just felt bored. That said, I didn’t get through Cleopatra, either.  I wanted something bigger, something denser, but I also wanted fiction. I kept trying to force myself into the books on my list, and finally I just gave up.

I probably read less this summer than I have in many, many years—maybe ever. Work was steadily busy, and I’ve been very committed about going to the gym, but somehow I just felt like I had less time in general. I think we all feel that way occasionally, but I need to do a better job of getting in some quality reading time (as in, not only before bed, where I am often so sleepy as I read that the next day I have to go back a few pages and re-read them).

And so there we have it. #10BooksofSummer fail. Womp womp. How about you? Was your summer reading better than mine? I hope so!

My #10BooksofSummer Update; or, I Resent Most of the Leftovers

10 booksIn the interest of fun and making an ever-so-slight dent in my TBR, I joined Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer challenge back in June (although I must remind everyone that I am only reading 10 books because I have become the world’s slowest reader). Below is the current list, updated to show what I’ve read so far:

Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell (read)
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
My Antonia, Willa Cather (read)
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante (read)
Mind of Winter, Laura Kasischke
Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer (read)
After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman
Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff
Black Water Rising, Attica Locke (DNF)
Dirty Love: Stories, Andre Dubus III
False Mermaid, Erin Hart

So in five weeks I’ve finished four books and abandoned one, Black Water Rising, at the 22 percent mark. I had high expectations for this one, but in all honesty the writing is clunky (with little tics of dialect like, “If he was gon’ do this, he was gon’ do it big.” and that’s the narrative, not dialog even. Ugh.), and the main character is a tired cliché (example: he’s older than his wife, and he’s reticent, and she suffers his silences because of what he’s been through in his life, but they are about to have a baby so she’s getting ready to give him an ultimatum and yadda yadda). I was interested in this novel because of the Civil Rights/racism perspective, and maybe I’ll pick it up again later, but a clunky freshman book is a clunky freshman book and I just didn’t have the patience. I’ve heard so many good things about her second one, The Cutting Season, so I think I’ll move on to that when I’m ready to pick another Locke. Ha. Not intentional. I replaced it with Erin Hart’s False Mermaid, the third in her Nora Gavin series. (You can read my thoughts about the first two in the series here and here.)

I also read about 25 percent (ah, ebooks) of Philipp Meyer’s The Son. I can’t remember why I started reading it, but wow it’s good. And violent. And good. I’ve been wanting to read this for so long because it’s set in the part of Texas where I was born and lived as a child, and also because I love Westerns. I’m a city person, I hate guns, I can’t stand Rick Perry (or Ted Cruz, that fake Texan), I drive an electric car, and so on, but my fascination with the Western U.S. (especially the Southwest) is strong. They probably did something to me in the hospital when I was born.

So yes, I have been cheating on my 10 books, but I have decided to get back on track and set aside The Son and read Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. I guess I could go on reading The Son, but something weird is happening with me this summer. All I want to do is read nonfiction. But if I had chosen all nonfiction it would have been more like the #3BooksofSummer challenge, because I read nonfiction so. very. slowly.  I tried to start both After I’m Gone and Mind of Winter because I thought I could get through them quickly, but they just weren’t holding my attention and I am starting to resent the remaining books on my list (except Cleopatra). Does this only happen to me?

I’ll also be working on a post about My Brilliant Friend and My Antonía (yes, together…they have some remarkable similarities). At least I’ve loved everything I finished, so here’s hoping that this most recent tweak helps continue the trend. Happy reading to all of you out there!