The Half Year Book Report (#3)

January through June 2017

I didn’t read very much during the first half of this year. If you follow my blog, you know I’ve gone through a major life change and, as a result, haven’t had the concentration for reading that I normally do. I’ve set aside the printed word for a lot of Netflix binges. But that’s OK. Books aren’t going anywhere. Despite the grim state of civil liberties in this country we aren’t that Orwellian/Soviet…yet.

 

Title: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Author: Katherine Boo

Date Finished: 1/2

Finished: Yes

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: Beautiful book about a group of slum dwellers in Bombay and how their lives affect one another and how they are affected by the politics of poverty. It’s hard to read at times – Boo does a great job of bringing you into the terrible reality of their characters’ lives, their struggles, and their brutality towards one another in the effort to improve their own lives. I wasn’t a big fan of the ending, which is mostly why this didn’t get a perfect score. **Update: I found out about three months after I finished this that it is non-fiction. I have a hard time believing that. She knows too much about too many people’s lives and the dialogue and inner thoughts and retelling of certain situations is too vivid and real. There’s just no way half of this can’t be made up.

 

Title: Tropisms

Author: Nathalie Sarraute

Date Finished: 1/21

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: I read a few segments of this in an online flash fiction class I took a year ago and loved them. Very insightful little snippets into the lives of strangers. But I didn’t enjoy the book as much. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for it, but most of the snippets seemed to abstract for me. As if they were just on the other side of the line between concrete and abstract. Some I loved – like the one about the women shopping – but others I just couldn’t get into. It’s only 52 pages, so I’ll most likely give it another chance some time.

 

 

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Date Finished: 1/23

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: I went through this audio book in just three days, so it certain is engaging. But I’m a little disappointed because it seems there was a lot of hype for a book that is just a basic whodunit. I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe something a little darker, something with more twists? I don’t know. The first quarter of it was gripping and I guess I just thought it was going somewhere other than where it did. But great book overall and some excellent use of language. Higher caliber writing than other whodunits, that’s for sure.

 

 

Title: The Corpse Walker

Author: Liao Yiwu

Date Finished: 2/2

Finished: No

Format: Hard copy

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. The premise is great – oral histories of 27 unique people in China, like a corpse walker. But the style of the writing was so uninviting. I’m sure that’s because it’s an oral history book, but I wish the author (or translator, not sure which is responsible here) had made it more story-like. It was too…I don’t know, whimsical? And half the stuff sounded like a lie, too far-fetched. I know people exaggerate when they tell stories, but again, I think the author should have done something to make it more readable.

 

 

Title:  Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

Author: Leslie T Chang

Date Finished: 2/10

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: This book has been on my to-read list for a long time and I’m happy I finally got to it. It is fascinating. The author talks to Chinese women who go to the cities in search of opportunities and the chronicles their experiences from making friends, to finding and quitting jobs, to having boyfriends, to dealing with their parents back home. It’s a detailed and highly readable account in the wild west of China transitioning into capitalism. Anyone with even the slightest interest in China would enjoy this book immensely.

 

 

Title: Mr. Bridge

Author: Evan S Connell

Date Finished: 2/11

Finished: No

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: My life went a little haywire while I was in the middle of reading this, or I surely would have finished it. I enjoyed it almost as much as Mrs. Bridge. Almost. I thought she was more interesting that he was, but the style of writing and style of the book is still the same. It’s also a neat concept to give us the other side of the goings-on in the Bridge household.

 

 

Title: Schroder

Author: Amity Gaige

Date Finished: 2/15

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: Oh my! When I wrote about Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies last month, I had my doubts I would ever read something equally amazing, but I was wrong. Schroder is a divine breakup/divorce story. It has a plot, but to me, the plot was beside the point. The narrator’s memories of meeting and being with his wife, though the good times and the birth of their child and when things started going wrong and the divorce were stunning. So beautiful and intensely written. It’s sad, but it’s not sad at the same time. It’s just phenomenally moving. Gaige puts you right into the protagonist’s mind. He’s not snarky or petty. He’s wistful and loving and you feel everything he feels. What a talented author.

 

 

Title: Leaving Before the Rains Come

Author: Alexandra Fuller

Date Finished: 4/1

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: Hmm, another Fuller book that didn’t get it done for me. Sadly, I’m starting to think that Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight was an anomaly. I loved that book so much and became obsessed with the author because of it, but now here’s another book of hers I read that I more or less skimmed through because it didn’t grip me. Some individual parts of it were wonderful, but overall, I think it lacked a balance of personal story and universality. And it wasn’t as much about her relationship with her ex as I thought it would be. I understand she needed to bring in a lot of bits about Africa because those are part of who she is and why she related to Charlie as she did, but I found the book disjointed and I couldn’t get close to her as the main character.

 

 

Title: O My Darling

Author: Amity Gaige

Date Finished: 4/11

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard copy

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: Another disappointment! After Schroder, which was amazing, this book fell flat all around. As with the Fuller book, I couldn’t get into the characters. I wasn’t invested when I reached the climax of the story and simply didn’t care about what was happening to the husband and wife. Maybe I wasn’t in a reading kind of mood at this point in the year. I don’t know.

 

 

Title: Love Invents Us

Author: Amy Bloom

Date Finished: 4/29

Finished: No

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 3

Notes: Nope. Another disappointment. I really couldn’t tell if this book was written for teenagers, young adults, adults, who? The subject matter is mature but it’s written in a way that I don’t think appeals to adults. I couldn’t get through it.

 

 

Title: Commonwealth

Author: Ann Patchett

Date Finished:

Finished: No

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: Ok, not a total disappointment like the last few books, but as far as Ann Patchett goes, yes, kind of a disappointment. I loved Bel Canto so much and some of her other work, but this one not as much. It took me a while to get into, though eventually I did. It picked up about a third of the way in and then kind of tapered off again for me. Isn’t that the opposite of how books normally work? Don’t they have exciting beginnings and ends, but saggy middles? I think I had 30 minutes left in the audiobook when my loan expired and I didn’t care enough to renew it to finish. Please let me know if I missed something monumental at the end.

 

 

Title: The Folded World

Author: Amity Gaige

Date Finished: 5/19

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: Back to loving Amity Gaige. This one still wasn’t as a good as Schroder, but was way better than O My Darling. I connected with these characters and the reality of their experiences. And I love what the “folded world” is. I won’t spoil it for you but it’s a wonderful metaphor.

 

 

Title: Big Little Lies

Author: Liane Moriarty

Date Finished: 6/6

Finished: Yes

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: Junk food book! I read this for a book club and never would have read it on my own. It was a fast read, a beach book, trashy. Rich housewives, ridiculous drama, all that. But entertaining. Despite myself, I usually find these books entertaining. I’m too serious and these books give me a much needed break.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

I dusted off a few favorites over the last six months. I rarely reread anything, just as I rarely rewatch a movie or travel to a destination more than once, but these books were calling me again, offering something familiar, something I knew was good. Books affect you differently depending on what’s happening in your life, and the second time around with these was nothing like the first: Fates and Furies (Groff), Man v Nature (Cook), Pnin (Nabokov)

 Books I Started But Didn’t Get Far Enough Into to Rate: Extremely Pale Rosé (Jamie Ivey), White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (Nancy Isenberg), The Dog Stars (Peter Heller), Rust: The Longest War (Jonathan Waldman), Where the God of Love Hangs Out (Amy Bloom)

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