The Half Year Book Report (#5)

Here are the books I finished from January 1 through June 30 2019. Of particular note is that I just discovered Curtis Sittenfeld and clearly enjoy her work, since I read two of her books this period and am in the middle of a third. And then got to meet her at LitFest, along with some other wonderful authors Helen McDonald, Erika L Sanchez, Melissa Febos, and Ross Gay. Curtis was as lovely as her writing is. But…the highlight of LitFest was meeting my favorite, favorite, favorite essayist Sloane Crosley! She came right up to my table as I was enjoying the pre-panel discussion catering and we chatted for a few minutes. If I lived in NYC, I’d want to be her best friend. She’s just so cool! 

Title: The Rape of Nanking

Author: Iris Chang

Date Finished: 1/1

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: This is an extremely important story in the history of our common humanity, but one that isn’t often told in American history classes. The book presents a full picture of many sides and experiences (Chinese, Japanese, Nazis, and foreign correspondents). It’s a hard book to read and not want to throw up constantly. I only marked it down a point because it was too graphic in terms of repeating some of the atrocities. At some point, I felt the repetition was for shock value.

 

Title: Priceless

Author: Robert K. Wittman

Date Finished: 1/9

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: I listened to this after listening to the Last Seen podcast about the stunning Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which I got to visit many years ago. This book provides a fascinating look into the world of art and artifact recovery. The author is not afraid to call out the problems in the FBI and other institutions, and all the internal politics that came above the goal of recovering the works. It’s well written and pulls you right into his work with international art thieves.

 

Title: China Road

Author: Rob Gifford

Date Finished: 1/11

Finished: No

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: This book provides a great look into China in a way that is enjoyable and easy to understand, while not being superficial. If you want to be knowledgeable about the country, this book is the one. I only had about a half hour left when it expired, so I didn’t bother to renew it, but that’s not a commentary on my interest in it.

 

Title: Crazy Rich Asians

Author: Kevin Kwan

Date Finished: 1/21

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: Sometimes I need a junk food book and this story got so much publicity that I caved. The writing was bad – full of cliches and even some grammar errors – but it’s really good storytelling. I was completely into the story and invested in the outcome the whole time.

 

Title: Bird Box

Author: Josh Malerman

Date Finished: 2/3

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: This is another one I gave in to because the Netflix movie got so much publicity. So gripping and so intense! It seemed a little formulaic with all the obstacles that came at Mallory, but it certainly kept me engaged and I was amazed at how it all came together. I’ve heard the book and movie are nothing alike though, and I have no plans to watch the movie, so if you’re trying to decide, definitely go with the book because I’ve heard the movie was pretty hokey. The book was terrifying.

 

Title: The Female Persuasion

Author: Meg Wolitzer

Date Finished: 2/5

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: I loved this book! Wolitzer proves it’s possible to write a political book that isn’t political at all. This book was so in my head, and probably in the head of many young, modern women trying to make their way. We had a great discussion about it in my book club, but even without that, I think every young (or any-aged) woman should read this book.

 

Title: Blind Descent

Author: James M Tabor

Date Finished: 2/19

Finished: No

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: I love true life adventure stories like this and was into it for a quite a while, but eventually, the different expeditions all started sounding the same. I just lost interest because of the repetition.

 

Title: Music for Wartime

Author: Rebecca Makkai

Date Finished: 3/9

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: Like most short story collections, this one was hit or miss. But the difference is that the good stories really, really sucked me in. Others I skimmed through. I liked how the collection had a clear theme, yet still had a lot of variety. For example, some stories were very fairytale-esque. I also loved how Makkai writes from the point-of-view of the person in a situation you would least expect.

 

Title: I’m Fine…And Other Lies

Author: Whitney Cummings

Date Finished: 3/13

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8 

Notes: This was an interesting audio book experience because Cummings didn’t just read it, she interpreted it. She was doing some meta-commentary as she read, and even let herself get really emotional. I loved the chapter on pitbulls and I loved how sassy and sarcastic, yet open to the reader she was. One big ding though – her upspeak. Honestly, it drove me insane. So yes, you should read this, but no, probably not in the audio book format.

 

Title: Bullshit Jobs

Author: David Graeber

Date Finished: 3/24

Finished: No

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 5

Notes: I loved the idea of this book but the writing style was too academic. I skipped around and read some of the anecdotes, which were comically depressing, but I didn’t get too far into the meat of it.

 

Title: You Think It, I’ll Say It

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld

Date Finished: 3/24

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9 

Notes: This is a collection of stories about relationships. They are solid stories that get into your mind and make you think about your own life and romantic relationships. That makes the stories sound really serious, but they are also enjoyable and funny and sweet.

 

Title: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Author: Erik Larson

Date Finished: 4/29

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: The writing in this book was incredible, so many wild facts and also beautiful prose. Larson has a real talent for putting the reader right in the moment. My favorite bit was about Buffalo Bill meeting Susan B Anthony. Two worlds and eras of America colliding in the most awesome way. Then there was the whole section about the construction of the first Ferris Wheel. And the new products that were put on display at the fair. And so much more! But the book was more about the fair than about HH Holmes. Honestly, it felt like two separate stories – the World’s Fair and the HH Holmes story. It was kind of like the author wanted to present all his research about the fair, but needed to throw in a story about a murderer to make sure people would read it. Also, there were too many people in the section about the fair and it was impossible to keep them straight.

As the firm grew, so did [Chicago]. It got bigger, taller, and richer; but it also grew dirtier, darker, and more dangerous. A miasma of cinder-flecked smoke blackened its streets and at times reduced visibility to the distance of a single block, especially in winter, when coal furnaces were in full roar. The ceaseless passage of trains, grip-trolleys—surreys, landaus, victorias, broughams, phaetons, and hearses, all with iron-clad wheels that struck the pavement like rolling hammers—produced a constant thunder that did not recede until after midnight and made the open-window nights of summer unbearable. In poor neighborhoods garbage mounded in alleys and overflowed giant trash boxes that became banquet halls for rats and bluebottle flies. Billions of flies. The corpses of dogs, cats, and horses often remained where they fell. In January they froze into disheartening poses; in August they ballooned and ruptured. Many ended up in the Chicago River, the city’s main commercial artery. During heavy rains, river water flowed in a greasy plume far out into Lake Michigan, to the towers that marked the intake pipes for the city’s drinking water. In rain any street not paved with macadam oozed a fragrant muck of horse manure, mud, and garbage that swelled between granite blocks like pus from a wound. Chicago awed visitors and terrified them.

 

Title: On Being 40ish

Author: Lindsey Mead (Editor)

Date Finished: 4/30

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: This is not a book I would have picked up on my own, but what a great birthday gift it turned out to be. I saw so much of myself reflected in the different essays. After each once, I felt solidarity with all women and a happiness about entering my 40s, not that I was feeling down about it to begin with. This is a very well-curated collection from women in all walks of life (including Sloane Crosley!).

 

Title: F*cked: Being Sexually Explorative and Self-Confident in a World That’s Screwed

Author: Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson

Date Finished: 5/4

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: This is a great book for any sexually active woman to read. The authors cover every topic imaginable about sex and relationships, they answer your questions and help you understand that anything you are thinking about is normal. The book did sound a bit inappropriately therapist-y at times, or like they were acting like medical professionals, but overall, I think this book could benefit of lot of women.

 

Title: Upstream: Selected Essays

Author: Mary Oliver

Date Finished: 5/6

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: I loved, loved, loved this collection. It evoked a lot of emotions and put me firmly into every situation she discussed. It has a million quotes I wanted to copy. Interestingly, I didn’t care for her analyses of other writers similar to her (Emerson, Whitman, Wordsworth) but the one on Poe was awesome.

And now my old dog is dead, and another I had after him, and my parents are dead, and that first world, that old house, is sold and lost, and the books I gathered there lost, or sold—but more books bought, and in another place, board by board and stone by stone, like a  house, a true life built, and all because I was steadfast about one or two things: loving foxes, and poems, the blank piece of paper, and my own energy—and mostly the shimmering shoulders of the world that shrug carelessly over the fate of any individual that they may, the better, keep the Niles and the Amazons flowing. And that I did not give to anyone the responsibility for my life. It is mine. I made it. And I can do what I want to with it. Live it. Give it back, someday, without bitterness, to the wild and weedy dunes. (from Staying Alive)

 

Title: Eligible

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld

Date Finished: 5/12

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: This book is a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice, which I’ve actually never read, so it took me fifty or so pages to catch on. But it’s very modern and a fun read.

It was Mary’s firm belief that any woman capable of satisfying her own desires—which, though not all of them knew it, was any woman anywhere—would never need to disgrace herself in the pursuit of a man.

 

Title: Book Towns

Author: Alex Johnson

Date Finished: 5/21

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: This is not a book you read so much as skim and absorb and drool over. What a wonderful idea, to be a book town. I’m going to have to consult this book every time I travel now to see if I can work in a visit to one of these places.

 

Title: If Cats Disappeared From the World

Author: Genki Kawamura

Date Finished: 5/24

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 3

Notes: Why is this a best seller? It was like an extended Chicken Soup for the Soul Story, all sappy flashbacks and predictable garbage. But yes, I still finished it because it took less than two hours to read and I was skimming a lot after the first 50 pages when I realized what a disappointment it was.

 

Title: Spinster

Author: Kate Bolick

Date Finished: 6/4

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: I found out about Kate Bolick because she had an essay in On Being 40ish, which is listed above. Even though I’m not single and have been married, I’m still very independent and this book resonated deeply with me. Kate was reading my thoughts, about the struggle to be one’s own person and wanting to accomplish certain things in life and having a fear that being with someone (even if you want to be with someone) will hold you back. It’s about life as a woman and what we are supposed to do versus what we want to do with the little time we have. I also like that part of the framework for this book revolved around strong female writers, some of whom were new to me.

Each of us is a museum that opens for business the moment we’re born, with memory the sole curator. How could a staff of one possibly stay abreast of all those holdings? No sooner does a moment occur than it’s relegated to the past, requiring that it be labeled, sorted, and filed into the appropriate cabinet. Given this ceaseless deluge of paperwork, it’s no wonder we have such a tenuous handle on the present.

 

Title: The Little Stranger

Author: Sarah Waters

Date Finished: 6/5

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: Every time people give you all these rules for writing and what is and isn’t allowed, I see more and more books that break all those rules and are incredibly successful. This is one of those. I’ve tried to read different Sarah Waters books at times and never gotten very far because they are so dense. I made myself finish this time and have to say about most of this book, I don’t get it. Nothing seemed to happen for well over the first third of the book. We just read about some people’s lives. Waters could have easily trimmed out 100 pages and had the same story. It was slow, slow, slow. I guess it’s supposed to be psychological horror but there’s so much drag in the book that it’s impossible to get pulled in.

 

Title: The Contenders

Author: Erika Krouse

Date Finished: 6/19

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: The subject matter of this book (MMA fighters and hood rats) aren’t something that normally interests me, but I’ve taken several classes with Erika and heard a lot about this book, so I had to read it eventually. It was an enjoyable, fast read. I skimmed the parts that took place in Asia and weren’t part of the main story, but I was drawn into the main action more than I expected to be and definitely invested in seeing it through.

 

Title: The Inner Life of Animals

Author: Peter Wohlleben

Date Finished: 6/23

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: This sweet book has small, easily consumable chapters, so you can read one in just a few minutes and then set it aside. It’s full of all the reasons that animals are just like us – they feel empathy and fear and confusion and attachment – and that we should respect them and be kind. It really makes you think about all the ways we misinterpret or don’t think anything of their complex behaviors.

 

Books I Started But Didn’t Get Far Enough Into to Rate Before I Quit: Moo (Jane Smiley), When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi), Kudos (Rachel Cusk), Coming of Age in Mississippi (Anne Moody), The Architecture of Happiness (Alain de Botton), Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides), Against Everything (Mark Grief), The Island of Sea Women (Lisa See), Swearing is Good for You: The Science of Bad Language (Emma Byrne), The Genius of Birds (Jennifer Ackerman)

Books I Read for YA Research: They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera), Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell), Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (Chris Crutcher), Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have (Allen Zadoff)

Books of Poetry: Take Me With You (Andrea Gibson), Pole Dancing to Gospel Music (Andrea Gibson), Garments Against Women (Anne Boyer), The Man Suit (Zachary Schomburg), The Goblin Market and Other Poems (Christina Rossetti), Collected Sonnets (Edna St. Vincent Millay)

4 Comments

  1. I have finally got a minute to read this! Always love your recommendations…and by quirky coincidence I was reading a Peter Wohlleben at the same time as you — except it was the Hidden Life of Trees one. Looking forward to checking some of these out.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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