I recently signed up for a new email newsletter called Make America Read Again by Hillary Copsey and a standing section in the newsletter is called “Read Harder.” I love this sentiment. It aligns with what I’ve been trying to do this year in terms of reading classic novels and books that challenge me. The month of April included no classic novels, although one retelling of a classic novel that challenged me in unintended ways, but did include several books that pushed my thinking.
I love all novels by Matthew Quick. All. To my knowledge, the only one I haven’t read is the Silver Linings Playbook, but that’s only because I saw the movie first and it’s just so out of order. What I like about Quick is that he writes about mental illness and social awkwardness and general weirdness so well, so respectfully and with such a great infusion of humor. In Sorta Like a Rockstar, a YA novel, Amber Appleton lives on a bus and is surviving with little help from her mom but lots of help from an oddball support system she’s created for herself. Also, her pet dog is named Bobby Big Boy, or Thrice B, and I love that. If you don’t enjoy YA novels, skip this. Otherwise, I thoroughly recommend.
And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer
Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amanu Al-Khatahbeh
The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King
Here’s the deal. I read this book because it’s going to be a movie this summer starring Idris Elba. I think Elba is one of the most handsome actors out there, and that was motivation enough for me. All that said. I. Did. Not. Understand. ANY. Of. This. Book.
Maybe the movie will make more sense to me?
The Song Rising (The Bone Season #3) by Samantha Shannon
I read the first in The Bone Season series in 2014. In the introduction of the first book, Samantha Shannon stated it would be the first in a seven-part series. I thought that was such a audacious statement to say about your first novel that I was hooked before I started. The Bone Season series is dystopian fiction that pulls from all of the tropes you know, but it’s darker than many of the books I read and complicated without getting too bogged down in its huge cast of characters. If you’re interested in a new sci-fi series, check this one out.
Earlier this year I read Pride and Prejudice and just could’t see what the fuss was about. Eligible is a modern day retelling of that classic novel and set in my hometown of Cincinnati. It should have made the classic novel knowable to me, right? I hated it even more. I don’t think that’s the fault of Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing, though. If’ I am being picky about the writing itself, I’ll say that I thought placing the plot in Cincinnati was a bust because she included way too much detail. Had she tried less and maybe halved the localized details, I would have been more of a fan. Listening to characters running routes was like listening to Siri, in not a good way. That gripe aside, my main issue with the book, and the one it’s based on, is that I find the people to be deplorable. By setting the story in Cincinnati, Sittenfeld successfully pulled out every aspect I disliked about the wealthy girls at my high school and amplified those traits tenfold. I happily invite anyone to sit down with me and explain why either Eligible or Pride and Prejudice is beloved. Until then, yuck.
The Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets by Jan Moran
If you’re looking for a fluffy Summer read, check out The Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets by Jan Moran. It’s an entertaining romance that takes place in vineyards both in California and Italy. There is a near-incestual aspect of the plot that’s a little gross, but aside from that, grab a glass of wine, sit outside and enjoy.
Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins
Wonder Boy is obsessed with Phil Collins. Loves him. Named his car Phil Collins in homage. So when I started reading Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins, it was sort of a joke and sort of a way for me to expand my knowledge about my husband’s favorite musician. I was being a little glib, but also honest, when I rated this book as such: First half gets four stars and second half gets three, just like his career. Glib but accurate. The earlier part of Phil Collins career is fascinating and hearing him tell of it is like going back in time to great music history. As he aged, though, his insecurities got in his way. I don’t think that’s me being judge-y; he says as much. For music fans and people who love music trivia, I would at least suggest the first half of the book. When he gets to marriage number two, you can probably set it aside.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
I have a lot of friends and family who grew up poor and have their roots in Kentucky. Reading Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis gave me such insight into their life. I have increased appreciation and admiration for the people who “got out,” by which I mean moved out of poverty, earned an education and ended a cycle of poverty that potentially goes back generations. J.D. Vance, the author, is strikingly honest in this book. Because he grew up partially in Middletown, Ohio, which is just up the highway form me, a lot of his stories hit close to home, literally and figuratively. I can’t recommend this book enough, have already suggested it to many and am looking forward to hearing him speak in September at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
Long Ago and Far Away by John Coyne
Although the plan itself feel very long ago and far away, last Fall, Wonder Boy and I were planning on visiting Ethiopia. As in my norm, I started researching by getting lots of novels that take place in that country. And then the trip had to be cancelled due to political unrest and my books started collecting dust.
Well, our visas are still good and we’re planning for this Fall and Ethiopia could (unlikely) be on the table as a destination, so I went back to my bookshelf. Long Ago and Far Away is about a groups of young people’s experience in Ethiopia in the 1970s just before the Ethiopian Civil War, as told in flashbacks. By having the different characters reflect on that time in Ethiopia, just before the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie, author John Coyne is able to share the anxiety and danger of being a resident in that country at that time without distracting from the main plot line. Despite the fact that the book is really about murder and isn’t exactly happy, Long Ago and Far Away made me more excited to visit Ethiopia. Travel research success.
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
George by Alex Gino
My second favorite April read was George by Alex Gino. For whatever reason, I added all of the top ten banned books for 2016 that I haven’t yet read to my reading list. Common theme: people are scared. That’s the only reason I can think of for why anyone would ban books.
George is a delightfully sweet book about a girl who is born a boy. It’s a feat of playing with pronouns and challenging me to be more careful in how I apply the words she, he, his and hers. It’s gives guidance on how to be supportive, under the guise of a children’s book. I’ll be keeping this one in mind as I interact with questioning young folk and suggesting it to kids and adults who are doing the same. Banned by damned.
Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave
Do you like to be able to guess how a book will end? I don’t. I mean, I feel clever when I do, and sometimes it helps prevent heartache or reduce the terror. But in general, I want to be surprised. I like when I story doesn’t follow the tried and true course. A lot of people I know loved La La Land but hated the ending. I thought the movie was just okay but loved the ending. I don’t think it’s me being contrarian, although that’s certainly a possibility. Life just doesn’t always work out so neatly and I don’t believe books should either.
Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave is about a family at the brink of implosion. Georgia returns home because her relationship is falling apart. She’s in good company because her parents and brother are experiencing the same. The Sonoma County vineyard her father runs is in the process of being sold, which means the foundation Georgia could always rely on is going away. Throughout the story, pieces fall apart and fit together and people gets their acts together. If you’re like me, you’ll complete the puzzle in the first quarter of the book.
This was a nice story. A nice, forgettable Summer read that is great for any vacation or time in the park.