Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Month In The Life: May 2017

I had a good run there in the early part of session, but with the lengthening work days, my reading is starting to slow down (the first book listed below I mostly read last month but didn't finish until the first day of this one). I know most of the rest of y'all just enjoyed a nice Memorial Day long weekend, but with less than a week to go to wrap up the state's business for the next 18 months, there was no holiday here in Nevada's Legislative Building. Otherwise, we're in full glorious spring in northern Nevada and I'm looking forward to actually being able to enjoy being outdoors very soon.

In Books...
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: It's hard to evaluate this on its own merits because it's so deeply rooted in Dave Eggers' personal style of writing. If you're not into this ADHD-panic-attack kind of thing, you'll hate it. If you love it, you'll love it. For me, I'm okay with it in small doses but 400 pages was A LOT. 
  • The Highest Tide: This coming-of-age story about an undersized 13 year-old boy, obsessed with the ocean, whose small seaside town starts seeing a lot of unusual marine life the summer before he goes to high school, was the book club pick for the month. It didn't do much for me, unfortunately. I got where it was trying to go, but I thought it tried to pack too many plotlines into 250 pages and ended up underdeveloping all of them.
  • Friday Night Lights: I loved the TV show, but hadn't ever read the book. It wasn't the same, obviously, but it was a well-told tale of not just a football season, but the context around it in a hardscrabble oil town in the late 80s. 
  • The Skies Belong To Us: I'd had no idea at all that during the 60s and early 70s, there were a TON of airplane hijackings, nearly all of which were resolved with no harm to the occupants of the planes in questions. This book talks about the broader trend, as well as a specific hijacking by an American couple who took the plane to Algeria, and it's incredibly interesting.
  • If We Were Villains: This book is good, but suffers for being clearly inspired heavily by The Secret History. If you're going to go into extremely similar territory to a beloved novel, you better make sure you're doing it as well or better. And while it's enjoyable, it's not as good, so the inevitable comparison isn't especially flattering to this new release. 
  • Migraine: I've had migraines since I started taking birth control in college, and have struggled to control them ever since (I've gotten a pretty good method down for now). So of course I'd read a book by one of my favorite authors focused solely on migraines! This text is definitely science-heavy, but if you're interested in this malady that's plagued people for thousands of years and which we still don't completely understand, it's fascinating reading. 
  • The Panopticon: Not all books focused on a teenager protagonist are YA books, and this one illustrates that perfectly. The young protagonist of Jenni Fagan's debut fights, steals, screws, and does a ton of drugs. But over the course of the book, you come to feel for the life that made Anais that way and there's a hopeful ending even though the rest of the book is pretty bleak. 

In Life...
  • Still in session, but in the home stretch! We're due to adjourn sine die on June 5, so less than a week and it will be none too soon. I can't even tell you how much I am looking forward to sleeping in later and walking to work and seeing my dog at lunchtime and getting off at 5 at night. Oh my god it's going to be amazing.

One Thing:
  • Bryan Fuller, with his sense of visual storytelling, was the perfect person to take on Neil Gaiman's American Gods as a television show. Combine that rich symbolism with some incredible casting (Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday alone is fantastic) and it's something I'm eagerly looking forward to every Sunday!

Gratuitous Pug Picture: 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books For The Second Half of 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week, we're looking at books coming out in the back half of 2017 that we're looking forward to. I know I've mentioned this before, but I'm not a big "looking forward" reader and don't pay an especially amount of attention to new releases. So these ones tend to be a little hard for me. But here are ten books coming out later this year that I really want to read.

The King Who Had To Go: I love the British royal family and all of their drama and the abdication crisis is really the height of that kind of upper class drama so I am HERE for a book about it. 

Our Little Racket: I always wonder how much the families (especially the spouses) of white-collar criminals actually know. This novel explores the impact of a Bernie Madoff-type's downfall on his family and it seems like something I'd just love.

Heather The Totality: This was on my most-anticipated-of-the-year list, because it's the guy who made Mad Men a thing and I loved Mad Men and I will read whatever he writes. 

See What I Have Done: Lizzie Borden was tried (and acquitted, although practically no one remembers that) of the brutal axe murders of her parents, and this book looks to tell her story.

Sing, Unburied, Sing: My three years in the South left me with an enduring fascination for a part of the country to which I have not returned since I graduated from law school. This tells the story of a black family in Mississippi and I really want to read Jesmyn Ward, I've heard such great things.

Shadow of the Lions: Twisty boarding school novels are like catnip for me (probably because I went to a deeply boring public school).

Worth Dying For: I'm always interested in the symbols humans adopt and cling to, and this nonfiction looks at a symbol loaded with meaning: flags.

The Goddesses: Intense female friendships are another insta-read category, and this seems Single White Female-y in a delightfully dark way. 

The River of Consciousness: Oliver Sacks is one of my favorite authors, and this is a book he was working on when he passed and I want to read some of the last words he left behind.

Hunger: I've got Bad Feminist on my shelf but haven't read it yet. Nevertheless, I've heard great things about Roxane Gay's writing (and she's an A+ Twitter follow, if you haven't already). This memoir about her relationship with her body has gotten amazing reviews so far. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book 78: A Passage To India

"He longed for the good old days, when an Englishman could satisfy his own honor and no questions asked afterwards. Poor young Heaslop had taken a step in this direction, by refusing bail. but the Collector couldn't feel this was wise of poor young Heaslop. Not only would the Nawab Bahadur and other be angry, but the Government of India itself also watches- and behind it is that caucus of cranks and cravens, the British Parliament. He had constantly to remind himself that, in the eyes of the law, Aziz was not yet guilty, and the effort fatigued him."

Read: August 12-15, 2016

Rating: 4/10

Lists/Awards: Time All-Time 100 Novels, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2012)

When I was in law school, I had a part-time job manning the circulation desk at the law library. I mostly worked evenings and weekends, which was great since it was almost always slow and I got a lot of homework done. Often the library would have been empty for hours by the time we closed up and I needed to go around and turn off all the lights and make sure everyone was out. There was always something unnerving about the library was so quiet and still, and sometimes my imagination would get the better of me. I'd reach down to pick something up that had fallen from the shelf and be sure that I felt someone's eyes on my back as I rose. Or I'd swear I'd seen movement out of the corner of my eye. There was never anything there, of course, but imagination running wild can be a powerful thing.

It's just that, the power of the imagination to create an experience in the mind that may or may not have actually happened, that drives the central conflict in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. Plain young schoolmistress Adela Quested ventures to India with her friend, Mrs. Moore, to possibly arrange an engagement to Mrs. Moore's son Ronny, a small-town official in the British administration. While there, Mrs. Moore comes across a young widowed Indian Muslim, Dr. Aziz, in a mosque and they strike up a quick and easy friendship. When she and Adela express a desire to the "the real India", Aziz arranges a trip for them to see some caves outside of town. The trip is supposed to be joined by a British school principal, Cyril Fielding (one of the few unprejudiced members of the white community and a friend of Aziz's), but he misses the train and Aziz takes the women out with just a few servants and a guide to accompany them. In the first cave, Mrs. Moore is shaken by the experience of the echo inside and opts out of further exploration. Aziz and Quested proceed, but become separated, each in a different cave. Aziz frantically searches for her, but emerges only to find that she's running away and getting in a car, going back to the city. When he arrives back in the city himself, he's arrested for assaulting her in the cave.

Since we see the story from his point of view during that section of the novel, we know he didn't touch her. He couldn't even find her! But what did happen in that cave that scared her so badly? And will he be convicted even though he's innocent? The Anglo-Indians, as the British administration expats refer to themselves, are deeply racist, and there's a great deal of consternation that there needs to be a trial at all. The incident stirs up a lot of enmity on the parts of both the British and the Indians, who come together despite their own religious divisions to support Aziz. The only Briton that supports Aziz is Fielding.

Racial divides and the inherent injustices of colonialism are the main themes, and there's nothing really new or interesting in how Forster presents them. In 1924, when the book was published, it was possibly pretty progressive (for context, the British didn't leave India until 1949), but in 2017, it's not going anywhere unexpected. What I found to be the most interesting angle on it from today's perspective is the relationship between Aziz and Fielding. It raises the question of what it means to be a good ally to an underprivileged group, and if there can ever be real friendship between people society holds as unequal. The book posits that as much as they like each other, the answer is ultimately no. Fielding stands by Aziz during the trial, but then seeks to keep him from suing for recompense from Quested...recompense he deserves, but will ruin her. Even though he's presented to us as a fair-minded and fundamentally decent person, Fielding can't help but let his own perspective as a member of the privileged group drive his thinking, and that undermines his ability to really understand where Aziz is coming from.

Honestly, though, I didn't find much to like here. Coming at it from the world of now, the themes are tired and have been done before and better. Forster doesn't have especially lovely prose, nor does he create particularly well-drawn or resonant characters. In its time, it was a major work, but I didn't find anything all that compelling about it. I read it really quickly not because I liked it, but because I wanted to get through it and go on to something more interesting.

Tell me, blog friends...what "groundbreaking" books don't hold up for you?

One year ago, I was reading: Devil in the White City

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer Reads For 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's theme is summer reading! I'll freely admit my perception of a beach read is kind of like my perception of a bikini body: while the latter is a body in a bikini, the former is a book on the beach. But I recognize that most people don't plop down on a towel with Jonathan Franzen or Toni Morrison and want something a little lighter to go with their sun and sand, so here are ten books to throw into your beach bag!

Big Little Lies: Before it was an HBO smash (I still haven't watched it yet, but hopefully soon!), it was a book. There's some frothiness and mommy politics, but do be prepared for some darker stuff about domestic and sexual violence. It's easy to dip in and out of and an enjoyable read.

Chemistry: This book is fairly short and never feels heavy, even though it deals with some pretty heavy themes. An unnamed narrator, a Chinese-American Ph.D. student, drops out of her chemistry doctoral program and tries to move forward with her life while examining her past. There's a lightness to the prose and structure that makes it perfect for beach reading.

City of Thieves: A journey and adventure...usually something that makes me roll my eyes and reach for the next book, but this one is executed with charm and verve. The setting is a little grim: Leningrad during the siege, in the dead of winter, but the relationship that grows between the two main characters is lively and fun and friendship stories are a beach read basic. 

The Girls: The heat of summer is all over this book, about a teenage girl who finds herself involved in a Manson-inspired cult and the ways that experience continues to reverberate throughout her life. You can practically feel the sultry warmth of her days on the ranch.

Under The Tuscan Sun: Frances Mayes' memoir about renovating a home in Italy is NOT the same as the movie (there's no real romance element, most importantly), but it is a well-written, pleasant book about something precious few of us will ever do. It's lightweight stuff, so nothing to keep you from remembering to turn over to even out your tan.

The White Queen: Philippa Gregory's historical fiction books are kind of like brain's not high quality stuff and there's a lot of fluff, but it goes down easy and tastes good. This is the first in her series about the Wars of the Roses and it's not great, but is perfect for some easy reading in the sun.

The White Tiger: For those who enjoy their humor on the dark side, we know from the outset that the hero of this novel is a murderer living in India. How he came to be one, and what became of him afterwards, is the interesting part. It's quick-paced and funny in a twisty way.

The Last One: This was one of my favorite books I read last year, a story about a woman on a Survivor-on-steroids reality show who is in the middle of the wilderness when a catastrophic pandemic strikes. She has no idea and believes the devastation she sees is the result of sadistic producers. It's great.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: This book follows a Bieber-esque 11 year-old pop star on his second nationwide tour and the voice that Teddy Wayne creates for his protagonist is amazing. It made me think harder about the way I perceive child stars, for sure.

David and Goliath: I do love me some non-fiction, and this Malcolm Gladwell book about the ways in which we think about strength and weakness and how and why those ways fail is intriguing. He also has an excellent podcast, Revisionist History, if you're into him.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Book 77: The Lords of Discipline

"To walk in the spire-proud shade of Church Street is to experience the chronicle of a mythology that is particular to this city and this city alone, a trinitarian mythology with equal parts of the sublime, the mysterious, and the grotesque. But there is nothing to warn you of Charleston's refined cruelty. That knowledge must be earned. No gargoyles hang from the sides of St. Philip's or St. Michael's. No messages are in the iron scrollwork of its gates to warn visitors like Poe, Osceola, me, and you."

Read: August 7-12, 2016

Rating: 10/10

When I'm grabbing my next book to read, I'm not reaching into a bookshelf and snagging whatever catches my eye. I have a spreadsheet. I have SO many unread books that it's really the only way to keep it together. I try to alternate hard copies and Kindle titles, and try to read about three ARCs for every five backlist titles. Since I've bought a lot of books over the years, it's the only way I'll be able to make sure I actually read all of them...without making myself do it, a lot of the older stuff would just pile up as shiny new things stole my attention away. Sometimes this means I read books I'm not actually super interested in anymore. That's okay, because it also means there are some total gems, like Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline, that I snagged on Kindle sale years ago and forgot. I honestly don't even know what drew me to buy the book in the first place, military school coming-of-age doesn't really speak to me, but I'm really glad that I did buy it because I loved it.

Will McLean is about to start his senior year at the Institute, a military academy in Charleston (based on the Citadel, Conroy's own alma mater). He didn't really want to go, but promised his father he would before his father died and gets a basketball scholarship anyways. He's not distinguished himself as a military man during his time there and doesn't plan to enlist and ship out to Vietnam as so many of his classmates intend, but he's almost made it through and is closely bonded with his three roommates, especially native blue-blooded Charlestonian Tradd St. Croix. Will is a quasi-outsider...while he's Southern and from an Institute family, he's also Catholic and an athlete, and probably the closest thing to a liberal on campus. Which is why he's assigned to look after incoming student Tom Pearce, the first black student to ever enroll, and protect him from the threat of a mysterious group called The Ten, who are deadset against integration. As Will's final year unfolds, he relives his own traumatic freshman year and we see how he's been shaped (sometimes against his own will) by the experiences he's had at the Institute as he tries to look out for Pearce, investigates The Ten, and falls in love with a troubled young socialite.

First of all, Conroy is an incredible writer. His plotting and pacing are masterful. He covers a lot of territory (freshman hazing, two suicides, a love affair, an investigation into a shadowy group, the experience of participating in organized athletics), but it never drags, nor does it feel overcrowded. Drama drives not from the mystery plot (which really only picks up in the last 20% or so of the book), but from experiences and relationships. The prose is strong and sure, lyrical without verging into purple territory, poignant and resonant. I have to imagine that Conroy loves Charleston as much as his protagonist does, because much of his most sweeping and sentimental prose is dedicated to the city and made me want to take a visit there myself.

The characters Conroy creates feel real...we obviously spend the most time with and are asked to identify the most with Will, but he's not perfect or beyond reproach. Even the person who's ultimately revealed as the "bad guy" has motivations that make sense. He places those characters in high-stakes situations without turning it into the lurid melodrama it could spill over into with less control. It's just a fantastic novel and I'm adding everything Conroy wrote to my TBR and I recommend this book highly to anyone, even if you don't think you'd like it.

Tell me, blog friends...has an author ever painted such a lovely picture of a place you feel inspired to visit there?

One year ago, I was reading: We Need To Talk About Kevin

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Interesting Mother-Daughter Relationships In Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! Since we just had Mother's Day this past weekend (hi Mom!), I thought I'd look at some mother-daughter relationships in fiction. Some are good, some are bad, all are interesting.

White Oleander: Astrid has many mothers- primarily, her biological one, Ingrid, whose reckless murder of a faithless lover leaves her daughter to the mercies of the foster care system. The relationships she has with the various women who take her in change her in different ways.

The Red Tent: This book tells the story of Dinah and her mothers: Leah, who birthed her, and Leah's three sisters, all of whom became the wives of Jacob. It's a lovely story focused on the relationships between women and the ways each of her mother-aunts leaves indelible fingerprints on Dinah.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Katie Nolan prefers her son and plays favorites in a way that feels a little jarring to a modern audience (maybe just me?), but that doesn't mean she loves her daughter Frances any less fiercely.

Pride and Prejudice: Mrs. Bennett is always scheming to get her five daughters married off and makes many blunders/faux pas along the way, but her love for her girls is always obvious.

The Golden Compass: This is really across the entire His Dark Materials series, but the growing relationship between Lyra and her mother, Mrs. Coulter takes lots of twists and turns over the course of the series.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: While I prefer to view this novel by itself (rather than along with its companion Little Altars Everywhere), I find the complicated relationship between Vivi and her daughter Sidda fascinating...remembering that our family members are people with stories that go far beyond any particular bond is always helpful.

Chocolat: I love this book, and the way Joanne Harris draws the relationship between Vianne and her daughter Anouk with such devoted love and tenderness is definitely a part of why I enjoy it so much.

The Guineveres: Each of the four main characters in this book has a different story about her own mother...each of which leads to being left at a convent as a teenager, which are revealed only piecemeal as the story progresses. By the way, this book is only $2.99 right now on the Kindle!

The Joy Luck Club: The story of four immigrant Chinese ladies and their American-raised daughters (and the inevitable clashes that result from that tension, along with the natural ones that come along with being mothers and daughters), it's an emotionally perceptive look at the way the told and untold stories of the mothers' lives play against the lives of their daughters.

Beloved: This story asks an impossible question- how far could a mother's love go? Escaped slave Sethe commits an unspeakable act when she believes she and her child are about to be captured and forced back into bondage, which figuratively and then literally haunts her for years. I tend to be wary of magical realism, but this book uses it powerfully. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Book 76: Reading Lolita in Tehran

"The worst crime committed by totalitarian mind-sets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. Dancing with your jailer, participating in your own execution, that is an act of utmost brutality."

Read: August 3-7, 2016

Rating: 7/10

I was allowed to read pretty much whatever I wanted growing up. Which was awesome! My mom definitely encouraged my sister and I to read whatever we liked, which often meant things she wouldn't have picked out for us (my brief Lois Duncan phase comes to mind), but it was more important to her that we were reading and enjoying it than that she put a lid on what we wanted to read. I've always been suspicious of people who want to exercise a lot of control over what other people read. Sure, there are some books that have themes that are more mature and younger readers might benefit from being able to talk about, but books are just books. They develop your imagination, hone your curiosity, open you up to experiences outside your own. What's so bad about that?

Totalitarian regimes tend to believe everything about that is bad. An uninformed, incurious population is much easier to control. Theocracies, too, tend to be interested in suppression of alternate ideas. So a totalitarian theocracy, like the modern-day Republic of Iran, is doubly suspicious of books. So when native Iranian but American-educated former university professor Azar Nafisi starts teaching Western literary classics to a small group of past students in her home, she's doing more than assembling a book club with promising young minds. She can't even get enough black market copies of Lolita for everyone to have one...some of the girls use photocopies to read from.

Nafisi uses four major works of the literary canon as lenses through which to tell her story: the titular Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, and Pride and Prejudice. She touches relatively briefly on her childhood in Iran, her emigration to the United States to study, and her brief, unhappy first marriage followed by her second, much better one. The book spends much more time discussing life when she returns to Iran with her husband and begins teaching as the Islamic Revolution unfolds, and the restrictions on female and literary life under the ayatollahs.

Nafisi has a unique perspective on the Islamic Revolution as both insider (she was born and spent a large portion of her childhood in Iran, and married a fellow Persian and moved back) and outsider (she spent her early adulthood in the United States and got a Western education before she came back). It's fascinating and horrifying to read about how women's roles and rights were pushed back and back as time went on...Nafisi is never run out of the workplace per se, but she is threatened with an anonymous note and was subject to constant harassment over not wearing her headscarf properly, and eventually decides that continuing to teach is more trouble than it's worth. As she watches her students struggle to make their own lives and raises her daughter, it becomes obvious to her that she can't stay in Iran even though she doesn't want to leave, either.

It's useful to come in with a working comprehension of the novels Nafisi focuses on, since she discusses them and how their themes relate to situations she deals with at length. I'd read three of the four coming in (no Daisy Miller for me), and while it's certainly possible to understand the book without the literary references, it's definitely richer and deeper if you can follow along. For the most part I enjoyed the way she used the focus novels, though I did get a little irritated in the section on Lolita when she claimed repeatedly that she wasn't comparing the ayatollahs to Humbert and Iranian women to Lolita and then went on to do just that over and over. I think it's an interesting and valid way to look at Lolita, but if you're going to go there don't pretend that's not what you're trying to do. On the whole, though, it's a very interesting memoir, especially for a bookish audience!

Tell me, blog friends...have you read all four of the classics that Nafisi uses in this book?

One year ago, I was reading: The Witches of Eastwick

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Things I Want To See More Of In Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week, we're highlighting things we'd like to see more of in books. This one was a little hard for me to distiguish from things that I really like to read about, because obviously I want to see more of those things too, but here are ten things I'd like to see more of at bookstores!

Female anti-heroes: Part of the reason, I think, that Gone Girl was such a runaway success was that it presented us with a creature rare in pop culture...the female sociopath protagonist. While it's not uncommon to be shown a ruthless man who we're supposed to root for, it happens far less often that we see the same situation around a woman. More like Amazing Amy please!

Own voices: While all fiction is based on imagination on some level, I'm starting to find myself very skeptical of books about a particular subgroup (women, minorities, people who aren't heterosexual, etc) written by people outside of these groups. It's not that it can't ever be done well, but how about having black female stories written by, well, black women?

Environmental non-fiction: I think we're all growing more aware of the effect that our actions have on the environment, and there hasn't been a major work of environmental nonfiction that I can remember since An Inconvenient Truth. I'd like to see more information about the ways our world is changing.

Politically aware characters: I know that political references can date a work, and I'm definitely an outlier since I work in politics, but most of the people I know, even outside of work, are at least somewhat aware of what's going on at least in D.C. I'd like to see more books where characters are actually paying attention to politics.

Two sides to the story: There are two (or more) sides to every story, and I always really like books where we get to see the same interactions and events from multiple viewpoints to emphasize the need for perspective.

Stories that follow groups of friends over time: I know that my friendships have been my most enduring relationships over time, and have changed and grown as we ourselves have. I really like books like The Group or The Interestings that follow friends as they grow up.

Realistic marriages: As a recently-married person myself, I'm really interested in reading stories about marriages that are based in reality...not high-octane domestic dramas, but stories that deal with the actual day-to-day of what makes up a marriage.

Adult fiction about professional dancers: I've always loved stories about rarefied sports worlds, like figure skating or gymnastics or ballet. And while there's YA fiction about that kind of thing, it's hard to find stories about professional dancers all grown up. I'd love to read some if I can find it!

Characters with chronic diseases: It seems like popular fiction never deals with people in wheelchairs, or with diabetes, or even something as basic as migraines. Plenty of people go through life with these kinds of conditions, though, and I think it would be eye-opening to read about it more often.

Anthropological looks at modern society: I bought (but haven't yet read) a book called Watching the English that looks at modern British society through the perspective of an anthropologist, looking at the rituals that define life. I think it would be really interesting to see more of these for other countries (including the good old US of A and all our subcultures!)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Book 75: The White Tiger

 "If I were making a country, I’d get the sewage pipes first, then the democracy, then I’d go about giving pamphlets and statues of Gandhi to other people, but what do I know? I’m just a murderer!"

Read: August 1-3, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Lists/Awards: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2012), Man Booker Prize

Here's a weird thing: I am actively pro-spoiler. Which you've probably noticed reading this blog...I try not to be gratuitous, but I will spoil things if it's necessary to talk about what I want to talk about regarding a book. I maintain that if your work (and I'm including movies and TV here) doesn't hang together if you know the Big Plot Twist, it's because it's not very good in the first place: the characterization, the quality of the writing, the dialogue, the pacing...if those aren't there, you don't have a well-told story, you just have a plot twist. Discovering the why is always more compelling for me than discovering the what.

Which is why I have a soft spot for books, like Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, that tell you their big plot twist right up front. We know at the end of the first chapter that our narrator Balram, a former servant turned entrepreneur in India, killed his former master. What unfolds over the rest of the book is the story of why. It's the story of India in the modern day, a place of desperate poverty but also extravagant wealth, where ancient temples are just as much a part of life as smartphones. Balram is born into poverty in a rural area, and even though he seems destined to become a laborer, he resists the forces (including his family) that try to keep him in the underclass as long as he can. He finds himself a position as a driver for an upper-class landowner, and eventually moves with one of the landowner's sons to New Delhi to be his driver there.

New Delhi fundamentally changes both that son, Ashok, and Balram. Ashok has been educated in America, and treats his servants more or less like people. As he gets more and more sucked into the mire of his family's business (they're in the coal industry, and Ashok does a lot of running around with briefcases full of money to drop off with various politicians and officials), he becomes harder and harsher. When Balram is nearly forced to take the fall for a bad accident caused by Ashok's wife's drunk driving, Balram realizes that even as far as he's come from his roots, he's still not really safe. As long as he's poor and a servant, he'll always be expendable. But in order to get out of his situation, he needs money, and the money he has the easiest access to? Those briefcases that he's driving Ashok around with.

It's a dark satire, and after reading a lot of Serious Literature, I appreciated its wit and liveliness even more than I otherwise might have. But I would have enjoyed it no matter what. It's an epistolary novel (Balram writes to the prime minister of China, who is visiting India at the time, to explain India's entrepreneurial spirit), which allows it to skip around in time a little for maximum impact...we know that he's committed murder and gone on to start his own business, but how (and why) did he do it? How did he get away with it? What exactly does he do now?  The organic tension propels the book forward without being too mysterious. Balram is an indelible character, and I really appreciated the way that Adiga developed Ashok as well, portraying his moral decay even though we only see him through Balram's eyes. It's a quick read that manages to be thought-provoking while still being entertaining.

 Tell me, blog do you feel about spoilers?

One year ago, I was reading: Enchanted Islands

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Haven't Read Yet, But Want To Because Of Their Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishSince I talked about my favorite covers of books I've read fairly recently, I decided to take a slightly different tack and look at books on my TBR with especially intriguing cover art! So here are ten of my favorite book covers from my upcoming reads.

The Sense of an Ending: There's something very evocative about the image of dandelion seeds blowing.

In the Woods: I've heard this is actually the weakest of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, but the cover art creates a foreboding, spooky mood on sight.

Stiff: This I just find delightfully clever, using the toe tag as a place for the title of the book

Boy, Snow, Bird: That image of the snake winding among greenery is a subtle biblical allusion and is eye-catching besides.

Life After Life: The simple image of a double sided rose is striking and intriguing.

The Luminaries: I love the way this cover moves through the phases of the moon.

The Goldfinch: The little 3D-esque effect, with the painting being "revealed", is neat and I'm super excited about getting around to reading this after all the praise.

Wild: The dirty, crusty, broken boot speaks to the central hiking/breakdown and self-discovery narrative of this memoir.

The Vacationers: The vivid aqua of this cover is unusual and it creates a sense of intrigue about what will happen to those floating people.

Dear Thief: The broken face of the bust, combined with the title, immediately makes me ask a bunch of questions, which makes me want to read the book.