Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’ve Decided I’m No Longer Interested In Reading

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This topic, about books we meant to read at one point, but are no longer interested in, is a hard one for me. I rarely change my mind on reading something once it's made my list. But these are ten that I've decided to let go on.

My Absolute Darling: Bad reviews, particularly from Queen Roxane Gay, turned me off.

Heather the Totality: A trusted reviewer (Jessica Woodbury) said that it wasn't only bad, it was offensively bad and very reductive about its central female character. The book turned out to be a massive flop so this was apparently the right call.

I Am Charlotte Simmons: My rule is that I give authors two tries. If I don't like one book, it just might have been that particular book, or the time that I read it. Twice, though, almost certainly means that author isn't for me. Tom Wolfe has two strikes.

Nutshell: I'm usually here for Ian McEwan, but I heard this novel is very weird and not in a good a "fetus judges the crap out of his mother" way. Which doesn't sound like anything I'd particularly enjoy.

Portnoy's Complaint: There are several other Roths on my TBR, but given that I've heard this book is basically about one guy obsessing over sex for a couple hundred pages...unless I start to read him and turn into a completionist, I think I'm good.

My Sister's Grave: This was a book I got from the Kindle First program, but realized I don't actually want to read and I don't have to.

The Killing Kind: Pretty much exactly the same as above. I don't really like mystery-thrillers, so no reason to force myself to read mediocre ones just because I got them for free.

Younger: Same.

(R)evolution: Same.

King of Taksim Square: I thought I should keep this on my list just to get some more exposure to Turkish literature, but honestly, the not-great Goodreads reviews turned me off. I'm sure there is much better Turkish work out there (I've read some of it!).

Book 116: American Heiress

"What made the moment even more extraordinary was that it took place because of something else that had never happened before in the United States: a political kidnapping. The nation had always prided itself on the nature of its civic discourse; lone gunmen might assassinate our leaders, but this was not a place, like Europe or South America, where political outlaws kidnapped their adversaries or robbed banks. So the Hearst kidnapping and its aftermath suited the hallucinogenic moment, where America looked less like itself and more like a foreign country."

Dates read: January 6-10, 2017

Rating: 6/10

The way that the brain reacts to trauma is unpredictable. I've been fortunate enough that I haven't experienced much in the way of major trauma in my adult life, but it's not uncommon to remain oddly calm in the face of the actual event only to break down later. As we've come to understand more and more about post-traumatic stress disorder, it's become more obvious that difficult experiences can have actual biological effects on the brain and its processes. Neuroscience is weird and fascinating, y'all.

So if you look at a case like Patricia Hearst, the heiress who was kidnapped from the Bay Area apartment she shared with her fiance in the early 70s by a radical leftist group that called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), could it be possible that she would have professed to join them of her own free will? Author and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin's American Heiress examines the Hearst case, from the formation of the SLA, through Hearst's kidnapping, her year and a half with the SLA, the trial, and the aftermath. The trial brought the concept of "Stockholm syndrome", although that term was not yet coined and was never used, into the pop culture consciousness. And Toobin presents the story, as fully as he can, to try to answer the question I posed above: did she join the SLA for real, of her own volition, or was her behavior a result of her trauma?

Hearst herself didn't cooperate with the writing of the book, and one wonders if that's what leads to Toobin's all-but-stated conclusion that her claim of duress was made in bad faith. I had been only vaguely aware of the entire situation before I read this book...I knew that she'd been kidnapped, and seen the pictures from her bank robbery, and that she'd been tried for her role in it, but I honestly didn't even know if she'd been acquitted or convicted. I'd been vaguely under the impression that her time with the SLA was relatively short and that after the bank robbery, she and the SLA had been quickly apprehended. Turns out, that wasn't the case at all: she was with the SLA for a year and a half, and the bank robbery that produced the pictures we've all seen was just one of the crimes she was involved in the commission of on their behalf. And, as Toobin points out, she had multiple opportunities to flee her situation or reach out for help, even being encouraged to go home on occasion, and she refused to do. But why? That question is never satisfactorily answered.

It's Hearst's time with the SLA that makes up the substantial majority of the book. Since his prior books that I've read have been focused on the courts, I went in expecting a greater focus on the trial, but that makes up maybe a quarter of the narrative or less. I didn't enjoy this book as much as I've enjoyed Toobin's other books, in part because of his bias against Hearst (one of his primary sources were the records of another member of the SLA, which may well explain this tilt), but one thing this book does really well is setting the events in the context of their time and place. The Bay Area, where most of it transpired, had seen the hope and promise of the late 60s counterculture sour into the suspicion and paranoia and politically-motivated bombings of the 70s, mirroring the larger national climate in the same direction. I think I've mentioned it before, but I feel like US history in the 1900s outside of World War II is a sizable gap in my knowledge, and I really liked getting perspective on a time in the recent past that I was less aware of than I realized. It's a well-constructed book as his always are, but it's not as good as some of his others that I've read. If you're interested in the case, it's worth a read, but it's not worth an unqualified recommendation.

Tell me, blog friends...what pop culture event are you only vaguely aware of?

One year ago, I was reading: Zealot (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: Ahab's Wife

Top Ten Tuesday: Couples I Did NOT Root For

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we've got a "love freebie" in honor of Valentine's Day coming up tomorrow. I'm going to twist this a bit to talk about the couples that a book tried to make happen but I never really bought.

Anna Steele and Christian Grey (50 Shades of Grey): Yes, I read these books. Yes, all three of them. And I never quite figured out what was supposed to be especially romantically compelling about them. I think most of us have had enough good sex with bad partners to know that just banging alone doesn't make a relationship.

Tess Durbeyfield and Angel Clare (Tess of the d'Urbervilles): It's supposed to be tragic when he learns about her past, and instead of understanding because his own past isn't spotless, ditches her. But he basically never saw her as an actual person in the first place. She was always an object. Not romantic.

Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet): Two teenagers who've known each other for like a second and a half but then of course they get married and then kill themselves over each other. That's not love it's hormones.

Madeline and Leonard (The Marriage Plot): The love triangle in this book has a weak third leg, but honestly even the central relationship didn't really work for me. They never seem suited to each other at all...I know that early-20s-mistaking-drama-for-passion but I couldn't understand what either of them thought they were getting out of their relationship.

Sookie Stackhouse and Quinn (All Together Dead): Sookie has plenty of boyfriends over the course of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, but Quinn was my least favorite. Maybe because their relationship never really gets off the ground? I'm not sure, it just never really worked for me.

Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility): I love this book for the relationship between the sisters, but it felt kind of crappy for the lively, intense Marianne to end up with this much-older, buttoned-up dude. It felt like he was a better match for Elinor, actually.

Rachel Chu and Nick Young (Crazy Rich Asians): For two people super-in-love, they barely seemed to talk about anything important. How can you be dating someone seriously enough to be living together and just never really talked about your family?

Elise Perez and Jamey Hyde (White Fur): Despite some good quality prose, this book fell flat for me because I never really bought into the desperate, crazy, take-no-prisoners love affair that's supposed to hold everything together.

Anne Welles and Lyon Burke (The Valley of the Dolls): These two just want such different things out of life. Also they're both pretty boring.

Natasha Rostova and Pierre Bezukhov (War and Peace): Pierre is such a nerd and Natasha is such a delight and she can do so much better than him I hate that they end up together.

Book 115: The King Must Die

"Man born of woman cannot outrun his fate. Better then not to question the Immortals, nor when they have spoken to grieve one's heart in vain. A bound is set to our knowing, and wisdom is not to search beyond it."

Dates read: January 2-6, 2017

Rating: 6/10

Lists/awards: NY Times Bestseller

Every society has rules. There's usually quite a lot of similarity on the major points: no murder, no stealing, that kind of thing, but outside of that there's a lot of variation. Making sure everyone knows and understands and (for the most part) plays by those rules is one of the most important roles a society has. We can learn a lot about a place by learning about their rules: what they chose to forbid or allow and how they enforce it.

Mary Renault's The King Must Die takes place in a world where the rules are in flux. We're in Ancient Greece, and a matriarchal society with an earth-based religion is in the process of changing to a patriarchal one that worships sky gods. She uses this background to re-tell the Greek myth of Theseus. Briefly-ish, the myth version goes as such: King Minos of Crete angered Poseidon by refusing to sacrifice a particular bull. To punish him, his queen, Pasiphae, is made to be overwhelmed by lust for that bull. She engages Daedelus, the legendary craftsman, to build a cow she can fit inside to, er, consumate her love. What results is a half-bull half-man monster that eats human flesh: the Minotaur. Daedalus is commissioned again, to build a maze, the Labyrinth, in which the beast can be hidden. Crete is a powerful city-state and demands tribute from other Greeks: seven young men and seven young women to be given to the Minotaur every year. Theseus is the son of the King of Athens, and is one of the youths sent to Crete. When he arrives, Minos' daughter, Ariadne, falls wildly in love with him and gives him a ball of yarn that he can tie near the entrance of the maze so he can find his way back out. She also gives him a sword, which he uses to kill the Minotaur. He flees with Ariadne, but abandons her on an island on his way back home. Theseus forgets to change the color of his sails when arriving back in Athens to signal his father that he's returning home safely, and his father commits suicide in despair over his "death". There's more, but that's the portion covered in this book.

Renault takes that structure and constructs a story that could have been the basis for the myth. In her tale, Theseus is raised by his mother, a priestess devoted to the earth goddess, and her family outside of Athens. As a teenager, he starts to return to Athens to be reunited with his father, who nearly kills him accidentally. He does volunteer to be sent to Crete, but for different reasons: in this version of the story, based on something more like actual history, the young people are sent to Crete to become "bull dancers", a team-based sort of sacred ritual bullfight. The labyrinth is the enormous palace of Minos, Ariadne is a priestess. Although the Olympians are mostly taken out, Theseus is gifted with an ability to sense pending earthquakes, kind of big deal in a seismically active region.

Reading this book actually reminded me a lot of my slog through The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell, a series which details the development of religions all over the world. Campbell traces the same transition in Western religious belief that Renault highlights, with earlier people just starting to form groups based around farming often believing in an earth goddess, who required human sacrifice in order to produce agricultural bounty, while later societies with more stratification turned to worship mostly-male sky gods. Renault portrays a Greece which is dealing with this exact movement, with Theseus himself working to convert a city where he finds himself from the latter to the former. The story is entertaining enough and Renault's prose is solid, but Theseus is a bit of a Mary Sue. He always has the right answers, for the right reasons (in his mind anyways), always does the correct thing. It made him kind of boring as a character...I wanted him to face more conflict from within, struggle against forces internal as well as external.

Theseus is motivated strongly by devotion to his religious beliefs, especially his sense of moira, or fate. This got to me thinking about the role of religion in public life. In Theseus' world, religion is a constantly part of daily life, both inside and outside the home. Today's Western world, on the other hand, is becoming progressively less and less religious. This is often treated as a reason for some sort of moral decline, which I find obnoxious as a non-religious but perfectly moral person. But it does have me wondering about something else that comes up often in The Masks of God: ritual, and its purpose of enforcing social structure and rules. We have some secular rites of passage: drivers licenses, high school graduation, college graduation, but these lack the solemnity of religious ceremonies. I certainly don't think that secular culture is incapable of creating meaningful rites to acknowledge maturation, but I don't think it's necessarily done so effectively yet. Anyways, to close out with the book itself: it's a decent read, but not a can't miss, and I don't feel any compulsion to seek out the sequel.

Tell me, blog you think our cultural markers of maturity are as significant as they could be?

One year ago, I was reading: Flowertown (review forthcoming)

Two years ago, I was reading: Creative Mythology

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Have Been On My TBR the Longest and I Still Haven’t Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! For this topic, about books that we've been meaning to read for foreverrrrrrrr, I went back into my Goodreads to see what's been hanging around for the longest. The most shameful part is that I own every single one of these so they're right there I just haven't actually opened them yet!

East of Eden: I've hated the two Steinbecks I've read, but everyone tells me this book is incredible, and I haven't tried him since high school, so I'm going to read it. Soon.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: The movie is really good, and as someone who majored in psychology, I'm always interested in stories about mental health treatment facilities.

Catch-22: This shows up on every must-read list, so read it I shall.

The Count of Monte Cristo: Another one where I saw the movie and really liked it and while I was not down for a long-ass book set in the Napoleonic age as a high schooler I am down for it now.

All The President's Men: I've seen this movie, too, but this time I wanted to read the journalism classic before I even watched it. And I still do...eventually.

The Cuckoo's Calling: Ever since I found out these books were actually written by J.K. Rowling I've been wanting to read them and that was...a while ago.

The Goldfinch: Donna Tartt's The Secret History is one of my all-time favorites, AND I'm a shameless award-book reader, so double the reason!

Everything Is Illuminated: My law school boyfriend loved Foer's work and recommended it really highly. I think we broke up in 2010? So it's been on my TBR for a bit.

Revolutionary Road: I liked the movie, but I remembered hearing a bunch of people say that the book was better, so...I'm going to read the book one of these days.

Catherine The Great: I love non-fiction about royalty, and I also like getting outside of my Tudor wheelhouse and I feel like it was optioned at some point and then never got made and I probably heard about it then?

Book 114: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

"Mom disappears into thin air two days before Christmas without telling me? Of course it's complicated. Just because it's complicated, just because you think you can't ever know everything about another person, it doesn't mean you can't try. It doesn't mean I can't try."

Dates read: December 30, 2016- January 2, 2017

Rating: 3/10

I'm big into both the page (obviously) and the screen. Some things work beautifully in one medium, but not nearly as well in the other. Some, like Game of Thrones, manage to be fantastic both ways, but those are relatively few and far between. There's a reason The Great Gatsby has had such a hard time being adapted well as a movie...the story isn't hard, but that elegant expressed feeling of longing and loss is hard to depict visually. And the madcap antics of Arrested Development are so dependent on amazing cast chemistry and perfect comic timing that in another format that another format would likely collapse that souffle.

Arrested Development is a perfect one to mention here, since the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple, previously wrote for that show. In Bernadette, she uses the same kind of absurdist humor lens to tell the story of Bernadette Fox, a deeply unhappy wife and mother living in Seattle with her Microsoft-rockstar husband, Elgin Branch, and their daughter, fiercely intelligent and independent Bee. Bee was promised whatever she wanted if she achieved perfect grades at her private school, and she claims as her prize a family trip to Antarctica.

This is a problem for Berndadette, whose anxiety and depression has manifested as intense agoraphobia. In an effort to make her daughter happy, though, she engages an Indian virtual assistant to help her both prepare for, and as the trip grows nearer and her fear of it grows, avoid the trip. Her decompensation, including a feud with the busybody mother of one of Bee's classmates, finally breaks through her husband's workaholic fog and he prepares an intervention to confront her, from which she escapes, prompting Bee's search for her (and the title, of course).

It's a satire of the original tech bubble scene, Seattle, complete with a prep school consultant engaged to attract the "Mercedes parents" to the school, a self-help group called "Victims Against Victimhood", and Elgin's status as a TED talk celebrity. And I know a lot of people who loved this book and found it outrageously funny. But the central family story is where it failed hard for me. I think we're supposed to be giggling at Bernadette's "antics" and her clueless husband's attempts to "deal with" them. But all I saw was a story about a tightly wound woman whose deepening unhappiness with the environment in which she found herself should have long since been noticed by her husband and dealt with as a family. Instead, he's spent years ignoring her worsening problems to bask in workplace glory and develops an inappropriate relationship with his secretary, who he tries to bring to his wife's mental health intervention? What? This is supposed to be funny?

Then again, Arrested Development on paper would probably rub me all wrong, too. After finishing it, I actually found myself wishing I'd seen it as a movie first, because I think the right cast could mine real comedy gold from it. But as it was, I thought it was playing a genuine, understandably developed mental health crisis as being the sufferer's fault, laughing at her rather than with her. I don't think that was the intention, at all, but I couldn't shake that reading. If you like Arrested Development-esque zany humor, you'll probably love this book...I'm honestly the only person I know who didn't. But it wasn't for me and I can't in good faith recommend it.

Tell me, blog friends...did you like Arrested Development?

One year ago, I was reading: Marlena (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: Creative Mythology

A Month In The Life: January 2018

One month down, eleven to go! After basically hibernating to end 2017, this month had a lot more going on. Which was nice! I usually enjoy the indolence of the holiday season, but by the end of it I'm ready to get back to more structure and activity. And this month featured a holiday weekend visit from my best friend and my first trip to a new state, so it was extra exciting!

In Books...

  • Fourth of July Creek: My first book of the year! This book, about a messed-up social worker in rural Montana and the even-more-messed-up people he tries to help is beautifully written, but a super downer. 
  • Pond: This was our book club selection for the month, and it's structured's more a string of loosely connected vignettes than a novel, per se. The writing is lovely, but it never really goes anywhere as it meanders along, which would have been more frustrating but it's also quite short.
  • Ghost Wars: This book took me about a week and a half to get through, which for me is quite a long time. About the modern history of American involvement in Afghanistan, it is very well-researched to the point of being dense. I'm glad I read it, but whew!
  • An Untamed State: This book was at the same time very hard to read and very compelling...Roxane Gay is really a master of her craft and told an incredible story about a woman who lives through almost two weeks being kidnapped in Haiti, both how she's broken and how she puts herself back together. 
  • An American Marriage (ARC): This book, about a young couple whose marriage is strained when the husband is wrongfully convicted and sentenced to over a decade in prison, tells a story made more powerful by author Tayari Jones' refusal to make either of them the hero or the villain. It didn't quite get to great, for me, but it's very good and certainly provoking. 
  • Mansfield Park: I love Jane Austen, but I'm glad that I read this one now as opposed to earlier. Its heroine, Fanny Price, is quiet and reserved and very concerned with moral virtue...she's not the sparkly and witty Austen heroine we tend to imagine. But as always, Austen's keen observations about people and society are charming and delightful and I really liked this book.

In Life...
  • My best friend came to visit: My best friend lives back home in Michigan, but she found a cheap flight so she and her son, who's almost two now, came out over MLK weekend! We went to the park and played, we hung out and ate pizza, and we went to the Discovery Museum (which the baby was generally more excited about than he looks in this picture), and it was super fun and I can't wait to see them again the next time I'm there or they're here!
  • Work retreat in Seattle: I'd actually never been anywhere in Washington before, so I was excited to take my first visit to the state to spend a long weekend in Seattle. It was very fun but it was also very cold by the waterfront and we definitely want to go back when it's a little bit warmer and explore more! 

One Thing:

Tracking my reading is something I just started to do in earnest since I started this blog, but I think it's been super interesting to see what patterns do or don't exist. I've always thought about getting more hardcore about it, but I'm much too lazy to do the formula stuff in Excel to make that happen. And then Sarah's Book Shelves, one of my favorite book bloggers came out with her Rock Your Reading Tracker and did it all for me! I've only been using it for about a month but I think it's going to be super helpful for me in understanding my reading better (and pointing me towards my best sources for suggestions on what to read next!). I paid for this with my own money and I'd do so again and if you're looking for a tool like this, I'll heartily recommend it!

Gratuitous Pug Picture: