The Half Year Book Report (#2)

January through June 2016

 

Title: Good Christian Bitches

Author: Kim Gaitlin

Date Finished: 1/9

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 3

Notes: I’m so embarrassed that this is the first book on my list this year, although I was reading a few others simultaneously, which you can probably figure from the dates of the next two entries. I don’t know why I read this. Every once in a while, I just need to junk out. These books are my version of celebrity gossip magazines or reality TV. It’s either read something like this or zombie out to Netflix for half a day. I’d rather read because at least then I’m engaging my imagination a bit. Anyways, this book was like the Babysitters Club for adults. Seriously, even the quality and level of writing. But it kept me reading to the end.

 

Title: Just Like Us

Author: Helen Thorpe

Date Finished: 1/9

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: Let me start this by saying my position on how to treat and deal with illegal immigrants in America is the only issue out of every possible issue in the world that I don’t have a clear opinion on. I can see all sides of the argument and I just don’t know what the best solution is. Also, let me start by saying that when I pick up a book that has a very strong political bias one way or the other, and I didn’t know that in advance, I’m probably going to close it pretty quickly and not pick it up again. So I absolutely love this book because while Ms. Thorpe is clearly on the sympathetic, we-need-to-do-everything-we-can-for-them side, she presents both sides of the argument clearly and without mockery, condescension, or a snide attitude toward the side she isn’t on. Well worth a read (or listen) for anyone who is interested in the human side of the debate. Just the day to reality of what it is like to live without papers (through no conscious decision of your own) and yet be trying your absolutely hardest to make something of yourself.

 

Title: The Clasp

Author: Sloane Crosley

Date Finished: 1/10

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: This low rating pains me. I love, love, love Sloane Crosley’s essays and was so excited to get this novel. But it just didn’t keep my attention. I set it aside and read two other books midstream. It wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t what I expected. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected anything. A novel isn’t an essay after all. I just thought the writing tried to hard. Lots of bizarre analogies that seemed like attempts to avoid clichés gone way too far and a character with a name that no one is quite sure how to pronounce so the character has to explain it in the book, presumably for another character but really for the reader. Then, I couldn’t stop saying the name out loud every time I came across it for the rest of the book. Distracting. I did like all the French in the book.

 

Title: A Year in the Merde

Author:  Stephen Clarke

Date Finished: 1/22

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: Entertaining story. I don’t really have much else to say. Worth a read if you are looking for something humorous to pass the time.

 

Title: Dancing Dogs

Author:  Jon Katz

Date Finished: 1/23

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: I had thought these were going to be true stories about people with their dogs, but they turned out to be really sappy, hokey Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of fictional stories. I finished it just because it was a fast read and mildly entertaining, but this is definitely not my kind of book.

 

Title: Man v. Nature

Author: Diane Cook

Date Finished: 2/15

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: It has been a long time since I read a collection of short stories and had every single story thrill me. Maybe it’s been never. But this one did. Such a bizarre collection of stories that mostly seem to take place when the world is undergoing some kind of apocalypse/societal collapse, but the world condition isn’t the point. It’s there, and it allows unusual things to happen, but it really isn’t the point. The point is the people and their personalities and their relationships. They are so real that it makes the circumstances they are in almost normal. You can understand why they are reacting to their world the way they are and it all makes sense. And yet, the circumstances are there in the back of your mind and they are truly disturbing. This whole book is wonderfully disturbing.

 

Title: Plainsong

Author: Kent Haruf

Date Finished: 3/5

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: The title couldn’t possibly have been more appropriate, and I don’t mean that as an insult. It was just accurate and descriptive. This is a lovely story about a group of somewhat connected people living in a very small town. These people represent what America was meant to be, in my opinion. The main plot line is fairly predictable, but there are some great subplots and concern for the characters is really what kept me reading this book.

 

Title: Miss Timmins School for Girls

Author: Nayana Currimbhoy

Date Finished: 3/15

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: This book was written in three parts and each part brought it down on point from a 10 to a 9, 9 to an 8, 8 to a 7. I absolutely loved the first part. I couldn’t get enough of Charulata’s story. I can’t pinpoint exactly why I liked it less and less as the book went on. I think part of it had to do with Charulata’s character change. But by the last 60 pages or so, I just wanted to know whodunit and be done with the book. I feel bad writing that; I don’t want to deter people. I’m still giving it a 7 out 10, but it’s just disappointed because it was a 10 out of 10 for so long for me.

 

Title: Poster Child

Author: Emily Rapp

Date Finished: 3/25

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: This book was not exactly what I thought it would be, given the title. It’s actually not at all about the experience of being a poster child. But I quite enjoyed it anyways. She did a really good job of letting the reader inside her head to understand what she was feeling. And as a travel aficionado myself, I was very interested in her experiences abroad dealing with a prosthetic leg. I had heard some of Emily’s talks and readings on YouTube and the Lighthouse Writer’s podcast, so I knew what I was signing up for and was interested. Certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

Title: What Was Mine

Author: Helen Klein Ross

Date Finished: 4/16

Finished: Yes

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: A good read – what I’d call a beach book. Engaging but not intellectual or literary. But I read it in less than 24 hours, so the story must have been riveting!

 

Title: The Wonder Garden

Author: Lauren Acampora

Date Finished: 4/23

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: I’m 2 for 2 on short story collections in this first half of 2016. This is great! My love of short stories is being restored. While these are distinct short stories and each could be read in isolation, they are all also slightly connected to each other. Each story is about some of the people living in a fictional suburb and the secrets they have and the reality of their lives they hide from their neighbors. Brilliant plots and excellent writing.

 

Title: O Pioneers

Author: Willa Cather

Date Finished: 4/23

Finished: No

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: I’m officially giving up on this one. I listened to probably ¾ of it, but not terribly attentively. The library loan is expiring and I have no desire to renew. It just didn’t grab my attention. I wanted it to – Willa Cather has been on my to-read list for quite some time, but I just don’t care about this story. I did in the beginning, but as it went on and the characters got older and too much time in their lifespans was covered in too short a time in the book, I just stopped caring.

 

Title: Seating Arrangements

Author:  Maggie Shipstead

Date Finished: 4/30

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: I enjoyed this story and thought the character development was excellent. The characters were familiar and yet not cliché. But I think I enjoyed the quality of writing more than the story itself. So many well written sentences and unique forms of expression. I would definitely read something else by Shipstead to compare.

 

Title: To the Lighthouse

Author: Virginia Woolf

Date Finished: 5/1

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. I read this because I can’t call myself a serious reader or writer and not have read Virginia Woolf. She’s been on my to-read list for quite some time and I finally got around to something of hers. This is a story about people and emotions and feelings, and it rings as true today as it did 90 years ago.

 

Title:  Republic of Imagination

Author: Nazar Afisi

Date Finished: 5/2

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: Yes, yes, yes. I love this book. I loved Reading Lolita in Tehran and I knew I would love this. Afisi expertly weaves tales from her real life, teaching and otherwise, into lessons taken from classics of American literature and leaves the reader with an important message about what America was meant to be and how we have gone astray and how we can become what we should be. She is brilliant.

 

Title: The Story Hour

Author: Thrity Umrigar

Date Finished: 5/22

Finished: Yes

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes:  I loved The Space Between Us, so I was pretty sure I was going to love this one as well. I thought it didn’t quite live up to the emotional intensity of The Space Between Us, but I still enjoyed it. Interesting plot with good twists. I think what I didn’t like about it is how fast the end of the book went. The pace was so much faster than the rest of the book. I understand why, but it still threw me off.

 

Title: Teaching the Cat to Sit

Author: Michelle Theall

Date Finished: 6/5

Finished: Yes

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: High recommended memoir. It’s about the struggle of a woman who was raised Catholic and was very devout and loyal to church for a long time coming to terms with being gay and how that fits into her religion. She weaves experiences from both her childhood and adulthood into the tale to give the reader a full picture of her experience. She has a unique perspective being trapped in inside herself as a both a conservative and a progressive, which makes the book well worth any reader’s time.

 

Title:  French Milk

Author: Lucy Knisley

Date Finished: 6/11

Finished: Yes

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 3

Notes: I had high hopes for this book because I love all things French. This is basically an illustrated journal, neither characteristics of which I was aware before I started it. Illustrated is fine, even fun. But it really was nothing more than a journal. It’s not like a memoir or a “my year in/of/at…” style book that, while sometimes journal-esque, ultimately has a theme and purpose. This was just “on this day we did this” and “on that day we did that.” No point to it. Pretty disappointing. I finished it just because it was really short since it largely consisted of drawings.

 

Title: Rose Madder

Author: Stephen King

Date Finished: 6/14

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: At LitFest (Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop) this year I took a class on using your weirdness in your writing and the instructor raved for quite awhile about King’s The Shining, so I felt compelled to reread some of Stephen King’s older stuff. I was obsessed with him through a lot of the 90s but then didn’t read anything by him for almost ten years. I tried Under the Dome back in 2009 but didn’t care for it at all and haven’t picked up anything of his since. But after reviewing some of those passages in The Shining in that class, I thought I should go through some of King’s old stuff again and this is what I started with. Well, I also watched a bootleg version of Cujo on YouTube. The core of this book is so, so good. What is scarier than a horrifically abusive husband stalking his escaped wife across the country? But the supernatural elements really lost me. I like the idea of the painting talking to Rose in some way and having a special connection to her, and it is an essential element of the plot, but the stuff that happens in the painting really bored me for the most part. And then because of the painting, the ending of the book got dragged out a lot longer than it should have in order to tie up some loose ends. I just kept waiting for the ending, but the narration kept going and going.

 

Title:  The Housing Boom and Bust

Author: Thomas Sowell

Date Finished: 6/15

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes:  Anyone who knows my politics won’t be surprised to know that I am a fan of Dr. Sowell and so naturally, I enjoyed this book very much. Basically, it’s about how government interference messed everything up during the housing boom of the mid 00s. Recommended reading for anyone.

 

Title:  We Learn Nothing

Author:  Tim Kreider

Date Finished: 6/18

Finished: No

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes:  Another LitFest recommendation. We read a snippet of the beginning of one of his essays that shows how to set up a strong narrator. Based on that snippet I was sure I wanted to read this book. I got through about half before I realized I was more bored than not and decided to set it aside. The content of his essays is relatable, but there’s nothing magical or super engaging about his writing style. I almost felt like I was reading something I could have written, and since I’m not a professional writer, I want to read stuff that’s much better than what I can write. Just wasn’t worth my time.

 

 

 

I’m no longer including details on books that I get less than 10-15 percent of the way through. Here’s the list that didn’t make the cut: The Wide Sargasso Sea, The City & The City, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, Deep Survival, Busy Monsters, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. And I finally put Wide Sargasso Sea back on the shelf permanently. That book has been sitting on my nightstand for probably a year and a half and I’m only a third of the way through it. I don’t know why I’ve felt like I have to read it, but I’m finally saying no, I’m not interested!

 

3 thoughts on “The Half Year Book Report (#2)

  1. Interesting list, Jen! I must admit Wide Sargasso Sea took me a while to get into as well, but I was encouraged to by my Dad (an English Lit prof). He used to give it to any of his first years who hadn’t read Jane Eyre, and made the ones who had already read Jane Eyre already read that again. Then he would sit back, grinning, watching the fireworks as the two groups argued over the mad woman in the attic…just a thought in case you ever feel tempted to put it back on your nightstand…
    PS The Thrifty Fictionista recommends Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life if you haven’t already read it.

    Like

  2. Ack – no! Don’t make me put Wide Sargasso Sea back on my shelf. I don’t know why I had such a hard time giving it up to begin with. Should have ditched it a long time ago. But thanks for the new recommendation – A Little Life looks right up my alley. And I love the Thrifty Fictionista (and Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop)!

    Liked by 1 person

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