Saturday, December 17, 2022

Time To Face The Facts

When I had my son in February, I thought I'd have a hard time for a couple months maintaining the blog, but it didn't really even occur to me that I wouldn't be able to get through such a period fairly easily. I'd followed other book bloggers through becoming mothers, several others were mothers already when I found them. Clearly book blogging and parenting weren't mutually exclusive for them, why would they be for me?

Well, he's ten months old now can see for yourselves the state of things around here. I tried to keep up with at least bi-monthly summary posting but even that's falling off now. I totally blanked on doing my Year in Review post at all this year on my birthday! And if I'm really honest with myself, it's simply not a priority anymore. I'm not at the same spot in my life that I was when I started this blog in 2015. If I find myself with free time, I've got a bunch of things I need to be doing, and if it's time where I get to do what I want, I'd rather be actually reading than writing about reading. I batted around the idea of just going on an indefinite hiatus, but I came up with another idea instead.

I've migrated everything that's been here to a new space: A Portable Magic. When the mood strikes me, I'll write about books. I may also write about parenting, or travel, or whatever else feels right at the time. I'm not intending to hold myself to any sort of schedule. As this blog itself is hosted through Blogspot and my only expense for it is the domain name, I intend to keep it up for a while. Thank you so much for reading here and leaving comments, having conversations with internet strangers about books has been such incredible fun over the years! If you're inclined, I hope I see you again over at my new spot. Either way, happy reading!

Friday, September 30, 2022

Two Months In The Life: August and September 2022


And now it's the end of September! Everyone told me that time flies when you have a kid but I don't think I really realized how fast it would go! This time last year my pregnancy was just starting to really show and now I have a baby who can sit up unsupported and babbles and laughs!

In Books...

  • Z: This was a book that had been on my list for a really long time, and it was obvious to me as soon as I started reading it that I'd actually grown past this phase as a reader. I would much rather read an actual biography at this point than a fictionalized one. Perhaps for this reason, it didn't do much for me. I didn't find Zelda herself all that compelling, and while her actual relationship with Scott was fascinating, it flattens here into high spirited wife v. controlling alcoholic husband in a way that's just not very interesting
  • Intimacies: I would describe this book as spare. Kitamura's writing is spare, the characterization is spare, the plot is spare. I don't necessarily mean this in a bad way. It largely works. But there were times I wanted more than mere hints at depth, so this was good rather than great for me. 
  • Candide: Historically, satire has not worked super well for me. This was one of the more enjoyable ones for me, but that's not saying a lot. It was fine. 
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin: A classic of American history, but whew. I often had to remind myself that it was less intended as a novel than as a persuasive piece to convince Christian white women of the immorality of slavery. It is often deeply patronizing and problematic, but it was seeking to portray Black people as human beings with souls in a way that was revolutionary at the time. 
  • The Bird Artist: A book club pick that was already on my TBR, this fell flat for me. The character names are ridiculous and the dialogue is studied and stilted. Margaret is a fascinating character, but it's hard to tell if that's organic or because she's the only one that resembles an actual person in the novel. 
  • Romancing Mister Bridgerton: I just do not have the time and mental energy to really sink into a big sprawling epic while I have a small baby, so this is definitely the time for romance novels in my life. This fourth entry in the series was much much better than the third, which I hated, but never really went anywhere besides "pleasantly diverting". 
  • Chime: I didn't have particularly high hopes for this, the cover was cheesy and I couldn't remember how it had gotten on my list in the first place. But it turns out I loved it! It drops you right into the middle of its world in a way that I suspect will make it a no-go for some readers, but I absolutely loved the prose and added Fanny Billingsley's other works to my list! 


In Life...

  • More solo parenting: I'm getting the hang of it, I think. There were a few days in August and then almost a week in September for the Lake Tahoe convention I've always gone with my husband to in the past but this time stayed home during.  
  • Fire season: We had a terrible week and a half or so of smoke coming over the mountains from a wildland fire in California, with air quality often hitting hazardous levels. Thankfully a storm system moved in that dumped a bunch of rain in the area or who knows how long this one might have lasted. I'm just glad to be able to take my baby on walks now that it's not a million degrees outside and/or smoky!
  • My husband started a new job: After seven years at his former gig, my husband got a new job! It has different hours, but it was time for something new and we're adjusting to our new normal as a family.

One Thing:

A Pure Barre opened up about a five-minute drive from my house and I think I'm a convert! It's done a lot to help strengthen my core again post-partum and I enjoy the low-impact but high-intensity aspect. Yoga and pilates often don't feel like enough effort to make me really feel like I've worked out but that isn't a problem here! I often have to stop to rest midway through sets but I can feel myself getting stronger!

Gratuitous Pug Picture: 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Two Months In The Life: June and July 2022


I'm just going to stop pretending I'm going to do these updates more often than every other month. I'm not reading enough, and I'm too busy. Hence why the actual posting is so erratic! I actually have several months worth of pre-written reviews but I just can't get the other bits together. Turns out having a baby is time-consuming!

In Books...

  • The Viscount Who Loved Me: I'd heard that the second Bridgerton book was better than the first, so I went ahead with the series and it turns out I'd heard correctly. It was entertaining enough, though silly in parts, and made an easy, fun read.  
  • Wojtek The Bear: I was interested in this book initially just because of the humor of the idea of a beer-swilling, cigarette-loving bear who goes to war in real life. But it's actually a more sensitive story than I'd expected. The bond between the bear and his Polish comrades, the trauma that all of them's very moving and I'm glad to have read Wojtek's story.
  • Violet & Claire: This story about an intense friendship between very different teenage girls was something I expect I would have very much enjoyed when I myself was a teenage girl and experiencing those big emotions firsthand. But as a thirtysomething it just felt very overwrought. 
  • Dataclysm: This was a fun nonfiction read! It's from the former data chief at OKCupid and is all about interesting trends that can be gathered from the data internet users put out there, particularly the one he used to work on. It's entertaining but also honestly pretty light/forgettable.
  • Bookends: A bit of a spiritual cousin to Bridget Jones's Diary, this is the story of Cathy, a single thirty-something Londoner who, successfully but unhappily employed, decides to open a bookshop with the wife of one of her good college friends and develops a connection with the real estate agent who helped them find the location. There are honestly too many plot threads in this book, with some of them feeling like they don't get the weight they deserve. It's more or less fine but it's hard to muster any enthusiasm about it. 
  • The Graveyard Book: I'm not usually a fan of stories told as a series of vignettes, like this one is, but Neil Gaiman can do anything. I just love his storytelling. A very small child, given the name Nobody Owens, is taken in by the ghosts of a graveyard after his family is brutally murdered, and gets into some typical childhood mischief in a very unorthodox way as he grows up. I just loved it. 
  • An Offer From a Gentleman: The worst Bridgerton book I've read so far (which is just the three). Quinn goes directly for a Cinderella story, and while Sophie is a perfectly enjoyable heroine, Benedict is mostly pretty unpleasant so there's no real enjoyment in the way the love story unfolds. Not surprised to hear they're skipping this book for the TV adaptation. 
  • Concussion: I quite like watching football, particularly college football, but it's become harder in recent years to enjoy the sport in the wake of the research about the damage done to the brain by playing the game. I was really interested in reading more about how that research came to be, but this was mostly a miss for me. It's as much an uncritical biography of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who made the discovery of the tangles in the brain that result from multiple concussions, as it is a science story. I wanted much more of the latter and less of the former.
  • Binti: A novella is a challenging form and hard to do right (Capote and Sparks come to mind as authors who really have a feel for what makes a good novella). This is a good story, but I wish it were a novel rather than a novella. I super enjoyed Okorafor's world-building and wanted more! I also feel like it would have given the character of Binti herself, and the events of the story, more time to breathe and get comfortable. I'm definitely reading the sequels though!


In Life...

  • My husband went out of town for the first time since our son was born: It was just a few days, and I'd had a trial run of solo parenting when my husband had COVID and we were trying to isolate, but whew it's exhausting trying to handle everything myself and so much respect to single moms who do this every day.
  • I've starting planning some trips of my own: I'll be taking some long weekends at the end of October and the middle of December to spend time with my good friends! It's both really hard to think about leaving my baby and really exciting to think about sleeping without a baby monitor on!

One Thing:

This story was fascinating, and also in a way mundane. I feel like every girl who ever went to high school remembers the one teacher who gave off weird vibes and seemed to get a little too close to his students.

Gratuitous Baby Picture:  

Monday, June 13, 2022

Book 326: Polite Society


"As Dimple waited for Fahim, she doubted Ania's wisdom for the first time. There was no convincing reason why Fahim would be attracted to a woman like her, obviously provincial, still at times cloddish, when he had the pick of those sophisticated gazelles at media parties. Ania had kept insisting that she could see the signs. but Dimple was worried about the dangers of being wrong. It had taken her months of discipline and training to calm the anxieties that assailed her—worries about her position as some kind of interloper—and now her equilibrium was again wrecked. Ania was too fearless and her friendship too effortless, spilling from her without consequence, leaving a trail of easy generosity and advice. For Dimple that same friendship offered elation and play, but also apprehension and uncertainty, a fear that it would all collapse and crumble to dust."

Dates read: July 9-12, 2019

Rating: 7/10

A few years before I started this blog, I started making a concerted effort to read the much-bemoaned classics. I wasn't an English major (Psychology for me!), so apart from the standard high school mandatories like Gatsby and Mockingbird, I had read actually quite few of them. And what a surprise it was! While some of them deserve their boring reputations, many others have survived the test of time because they're wonderful reading experiences. Turns out I love Jane Austen! Who knew?

When she wrote Emma, Austen famously described her as a heroine that she didn't think people would really like. A smart, pretty, rich girl isn't exactly the most sympathetic of heroines. Clueless proved that Emma could hold up well to adaptation, so when I read that Mahesh Rao had decided to transplant the book to modern-day India in Polite Society, I was curious. Instead of Emma Woodhouse, we have Ania Khurana, beloved daughter of wealthy businessman Dileep. Ania is bored with her socialite life in the most elite circles of Delhi, and when she successfully sets up her spinster aunt Renu, she decides her next project will be her new friend Dimple, who works in PR. Dimple grew up in the country, and though she met a nice guy, Ankit, when she first moved to the city, finds it hard to resist when Ania tries to steer her towards up-and-coming reporter Fahim.

While many aspects of the original are here, Rao puts his own, darker spin on some of the side characters: both the Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax types have very different storylines than Austen gave them, and Dileep is drawn dangerously into the thrall of a faith healer type called Mr. Nayak. The broad strokes of the story play out more or less as expected, though: Fahim does not fall for Dimple and marries impulsively shortly thereafter, Ania grows closer to her longtime family friend Dev (standing in for Mr. Knightly) even as she develops a flirtation with the Frank substitute, Dimple and Ankit come back to each other eventually. But while Austen wraps things up neatly and happily, it's much more unsettled at the end of Polite Society.

Taking a beloved story and adapting it is a tricky thing to do...too close to the original, and it barely seems worth the effort, but too far away and you risk enraging fans. I think Rao struck a good balance, adding plot twists that gave the story new complexity. I especially liked the addition of perspectives besides that of Ania, which had the effect of giving Dimple, Dileep, and even Fahim so much more richness and interest. I appreciated the generally edgier tone and the way it undercut a story that has a lot of romantic wish fulfillment and froth built into it. The story the book tells is compelling, and I think would work even without having read Emma (though the understanding that the heroine is supposed to be kind of annoying is definitely helpful to come in with).

While I enjoyed a lot of what this book did, it was not entirely successful. Rao's prose lacks the wit and verve that really mark Austen as a master of her craft, and is less charming as a result of the inevitable comparison. And while many of the side stories were a welcome addition, it felt like there were too many to give them all time to really develop. The generally lightweight tone of the book (even in the heavier way Rao rendered it) would be compromised by the addition of too many extra pages, but I think another 50 or so would have given it all a little more room to breathe. Overall, though, I found this book very good and would recommend it both to those who already love Emma and those who haven't experienced it yet!

One year ago, I was reading: The Death of Vivek Oji

Two years ago, I was reading: A Perfect Explanation

Three years ago, I was reading: The Coming Plague

Four years ago, I was reading: Love Medicine

Five years ago, I was reading: The Man Without A Face

Six years ago, I was reading: Zodiac

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Book 325: Washington Black


"How strange, I thought, looking upon his sad, kind face, that this man had once been my entire world, and yet we could come to no final understanding of one another. He was a man who’d done far more than most to end the suffering of a people whose toil was the very source of his power; he had risked his own good comfort, the love of his family, his name. He had saved my very flesh, taken me away from certain death. His harm, I thought, was in not understanding that he still had the ability to cause it."

Dates read: July 5-9, 2019

Rating: 6/10

It's been shown time and time again that dehumanization is a crucial aspect of the commission of atrocities. Calling other people animals, or insects, thinking of them that way, makes it easier to rationalize cruelties towards them. But we don't as often consider the other side of it. To be dehumanized has recognizable effects on the perpetrator, but what about the recipient? How do people come to absorb that conception of themselves?

What would it mean to be born into a system where your humanity wasn't recognized, to have no "before" to remember your full self existing in? Esi Edugyan's Washington Black explores the life of the titular character, called "Wash" for short, born into slavery on a sugar plantation in Barbados owned by a cruel man called Erasmus. His life changes forever when he's 11, when Erasmus's brother Christopher ("Titch") comes to visit, and Wash and his mother-figure, Big Kit, who work in the fields, are asked to help serve dinner in the house. Titch asks for the use of Wash while he's on the plantation, to assist him in his experiments, and this leads to the first time in his life that Wash is treated at all like a person. While Titch has tasks for him to perform, he's allowed to get regular sleep, to think about whether he likes the food in front of him, and a previously undiscovered talent for drawing is developed and acknowledged. But then there's a death, and Wash is blamed, and he and Titch are on the run.

Once they read the United States, Wash is given the opportunity to be transported to freedom in Canada through the Underground Railroad. But he sticks with Titch, and the two of them are pursued by a slave hunter while trying to uncover what really happened when Titch and Erasmus's father disappeared and reportedly died. Eventually, they are separated, and Wash is on his own for the first time in his life. He ends up in Nova Scotia, where he meets Tanna, the daughter of an oceanographer, and their growing bond, as well as Wash's gift for illustration, earns him an invite to travel with them to England, where Wash plunges deeper into a search for answers about his life.

The coverage I'd heard of this book before I picked it up made it sound like an adventure story, which I was not particularly excited about. And it partly is: the portion of the book where Titch and Wash are on the run, making up much but not all of the first half, is quick-paced and the atmosphere of suspense that Edugyan creates as they try to stay ahead of their tracker was engaging. But the back half of the novel becomes much more languid, turning inward as Wash begins to really examine himself and build a self-concept. This is usually the kind of thing I eat up, I love novels rooted in psychological realism! But I think the pacing of the book was damagingly uneven. After the brisk energy of the first half, the slow-down makes the book feel like it's dragging and it began to seem like a slog to get through.

Which is unfortunate, because Edugyan is a beautiful writer. Her prose is elegant and insightful, and she does wonderful character work with Wash, whose journey towards personal understanding is moving. I do wish she'd done more with the character of Tanna, who starts out dynamic and winds up in a role as Wash's emotional supporter that feels cliche and reductive. Once Titch leaves the narrative, though, so does much of the tension driving the plot forward, and to have that momentum built and then lost unfortunately undermines the strength of the work as a whole. It has brilliant moments, and I'd still say it was pretty good, but the pacing issues kept it from greatness. I'd look forward to reading more work from Edugyan in the future, and this book does have merit and is worth reading if you're interested in it, but it's too unbalanced to really affirmatively recommend.  

One year ago, I was reading: Throne of Glass

Two years ago, I was reading: The Moor's Account

Three years ago, I was reading: There There

Four years ago, I was reading: Motherless Brooklyn

Five years ago, I was reading: In The Skin Of A Lion

Six years ago, I was reading: The Name Of The Rose

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Book 324: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle


"But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drink, the very air I breathe, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning." 

Dates read: June 27-July 5, 2019

Rating: 7/10

Lists/awards: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Sometimes I feel like living in the era of technology has robbed the world of its magic. Anyone with an internet connection can have access to what once were locals-only "secret" places. A rational explanation for something odd is almost always just a google away. You can have access to scads of information about almost anyone you meet in minutes. There's so little room left for actual mystery.

I remember reading somewhere that Haruki Murakami's books are among the most-stolen from bookstores. I'm not sure why that is, but there's no denying that the Japanese author has very devoted fans. Reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was my first experience with him, and left me both sort of getting it and sort of not. It's a hard story to describe: there's a guy, Toru Okada, who lives outside of Tokyo with his wife, Kumiko, and their cat (which they've named Noboru Wataya, after her disliked brother) has gone missing. Toru has recently left his longtime job in a lawyer's office, but is unemployed while he tries to figure out what's next. Kumiko wants him to find the cat, and his searches for it lead him to strike up an acquaintance with a strange teenage girl, May, who lives down the block. That's when the phone calls start.

First, there's a woman who says she knows who he is and starts talking dirty to him. But then there's a psychic, a woman named Malta Kano, who explains that Kumiko has reached out to her to help with locating the cat. Kumiko and her family believe in things like psychics, having previously arranged for Kumiko and Toru to spend time with an old man called Mr. Honda, allegedly for spiritual consultations...but all that actually happens is that he repeatedly tells them about his experiences as a soldier in Manchuria during World War II. Toru meets with Malta Kano, and her sister, Cresta, but before long Kumiko herself disappears. She sends Toru a letter explaining that she's left him for a coworker with whom she's been having an affair, but he doesn't believe this and decides to try to find her, which brings him into contact with even more strange people, including a mother and son who he calls Nutmeg and Cinnamon. And appearing throughout is the sound of a bird, that sounds like something mechanical being wound.

This is a weird book, and I'm not sure I entirely understand it. It's one of those that you finish and almost want to flip right back to the beginning and start again, to see if it makes any more sense the second time through. I think there will be a second time through, though certainly not now. And there will definitely be more Murakami. If I had to chose a single word to describe it, it would be "dream-like". The way Murakami uses language and builds the world of the book create a feeling of constant loose connection, almost a structured free association, in which the concept that would tie everything together is just tantalizingly out of reach. It works well, and I found myself turning the pages and getting drawn further and further into it, though I suspected (correctly) that not everything was going to be tied up in a neat bow by the end.

Honestly, though, once I finished it, though I felt like I liked it, I have had a hard time articulating exactly why. It was obtuse, the female characters were largely underdeveloped (though I did love May), and it felt like some storylines were just dropped like hot potatoes. But despite its flaws, it's strangely compelling. There's something magical and mysterious about the world as Murakami creates it, and it did get me thinking about some of the deeper themes that were explored, like our obligations to each other as people and the nature of power in relationships. It's intellectually engaging despite the kind of haziness about it. If you're ready for something non-traditional, I would recommend this book.

One year ago, I was reading: Tooth and Claw

Two years ago, I was reading: Year of Wonders

Three years ago, I was reading: Delirium

Four years ago, I was reading: Boy, Snow, Bird

Five years ago, I was reading: Mrs. Dalloway

Six years ago, I was reading: Spinster

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Two Months In The Life: April and May 2022

I had such good intentions of getting back on a regular posting schedule! But life with a new baby is unpredictable so here we are again at the end of two months of radio silence, and this time I am not going to be dumb and promise anything about my posting schedule going forward! Things have been happening and I have done at least some reading though, so here's what's been going on.

In Books...

  • Bluebeard's Egg: I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but I AM a huge fan of Margaret Atwood, so I've acquired several of her collections. Like most short stories, I found these uneven, but her writing is so good that even the lesser stories are still very solid. 
  • Tuck Everlasting: Since my brain is still a little overwhelmed, I've been more inclined than usual towards less complex books. This is a childhood classic that I never actually read, and while I think middle school me would have found the question it raises about immortality to be powerful, adult me found the central romantic attraction between a 12 year-old and a 17 year-old to be kind of creepy. 
  • Everyone Wants To Be Me Or Do Me: I've long enjoyed Tom and Lorenzo's fashion blogging, so I was curious about their first book about celebrity culture, published nearly a decade ago. That it was pretty harsh, more so than is currently in vogue, wasn't surprising given the tone of their commentary at that point. What was surprising in a disappointing way was that it just...wasn't very funny. It was the same joke, essentially, throughout the entire book and it got old fast.
  • The DUFF: While there's definitely YA out there that has strong appeal across age lines, this is definitely one that will likely appeal most to actual teenagers. It's evident from the beginning where things will end up, and the drama feels silly in a way that's dumb even for high school.
  • The Princess Saves Herself In This One: I will freely admit that I am Bad At Poetry, but I really liked this collection, framing trauma through a fairy tale lens. It got a lot of flack for being more form than substance but I found it affecting.
  • Pointe: This is actually a great example of YA that's doing a bit more. In fact, my main criticism of the book is that it has a few too many layers. Theo is one of the very few students of color in her high school, the only Black ballerina at her studio, has a history of disordered eating, has a best friend who disappeared and suddenly returns, is coming to terms with the idea that the relationship she had with an older guy when she was 13 was not the consensual love affair she thought of it as, and is developing feelings for a classmate with a girlfriend. I wish it had been pitched as an adult novel, and given more room to breathe, because it's good even though it's a little underbaked in some respects.
  • The Virgin's Lover: I usually enjoy Philippa Gregory's Tudor books in a guilty pleasure kind of way, but this one was a miss. It dramatizes the love triangle of Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, and his wife Amy Dudley. Amy was a doormat, Robert was smug, and Elizabeth was a wreck, none of which makes for a compelling character.


In Life...

  • We all got COVID: After two-plus years of pandemic and vaccines and a booster shot, we finally ran out of luck and the virus went through the house. The baby actually had the easiest time of all, a brief low fever and sniffles. I felt like I had a bad sinus infection. My husband felt like he had a bad flu. But we all recovered, and I'm hoping with continued precautions we don't have to go through this again.
  • I went back to work: I was actually supposed to end my maternity leave the week I got sick, so I had an extra week at home with C. It's been weird to be back, in both good and bad ways. I'm quite lucky in that my retired in-laws are taking care of the baby, so I know I'm leaving him with people who love him very much, but of course I miss him terribly...but also appreciate being able to talk to adults about things besides diapers.

One Thing:

I love magazines but am terrible at actually reading them so I had a million back issues of Vanity Fair piled up that I started working my way through during maternity leave and honestly it's my favorite magazine...especially once I gave myself permission to skip the articles about things I don't really care about. But it's hard, because even if I think I don't care the writers for VF are GOOD and sometimes I wind up caring after all!

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Two Months In The Life: February and March 2022


Well, that was an unexpected hiatus. I thought to myself surely that I'd still have the time to work on the blog once the baby was here since so much of my content is pre-written and OF COURSE I'd be able to steal a little bit of time here and there for the rest of it. Ha. Hahaha! My life is lived on whims that are not my own so posting is going to be realllll slow around here for a while.

In Books...

  • Founding Mothers: This account of the Revolutionary War era based on the lives of the women (wives and mothers, usually) of the Founding Fathers was interesting enough but never actually compelling. I did learn more about what a crap husband Ben Franklin was (extremely) and was introduced to Eliza Pinckney, who was genuinely fascinating, but the reality is that there are few enough documents by these women in their own words that the ones for whom the most exist, like Abigail Adams, dominate the narrative.
  • The Inheritance of Loss: I had high hopes for this one, as a Booker Prize winner written by an Indian author (a micro-category that has historically worked well for me!). But it turns out it is mostly one straightforward thesis (more or less that colonialism/imperialism are bad because they teach the oppressed to love their oppressors and hate themselves) turned into a nearly 400-page novel with thin, underdeveloped characters and little in the way of actual plot. There are occasional beautiful turns of phrase, but not enough to salvage it.
  • Luster: This was a book club pick that I missed the discussion for because I was in the hospital! I found it to be more interesting in theory than actuality, if that makes sense. The idea of a story about a young self-destructive and underemployed Black woman who ends up in the middle of a white couple's open marriage feels rich, and while the narrative occasionally lives up to its potential, it also seems to rely a lot on the reader filling in additional context and nuance.
  • Made-Up: I don't know what I was expecting from this book that bills itself as addressing beauty culture in our current era, but it wasn't a collection of very short essays that touch as much on Grimes and the first child she had with Elon Musk as they do on YouTube beauty gurus. The writing quality is high, but the essays are too short to ever really go anywhere and often feel repetitive. 
  • The Duke & I: I knew I wasn't going to have a lot of time for my preferred ponderous bummers, so before I had the baby I downloaded a couple collections of the books that are the basis for the Bridgerton series on Netflix, which I very much enjoyed last year. The first book was honestly much less interesting than the show, which had more nuanced and complex characters. I've heard the second one is much better so I'm going to keep reading the series because my brain needs fun stuff right now.
  • Fire On Ice: This was the autobiography Sasha Cohen, one of my all-time favorite skaters, "wrote" (it seems like probably mostly dictated to a ghostwriter) after her silver medal in Torino. Y'all, it's basically a book-length Wikipedia article. No tea is spilled, no secrets are shared. The most interesting thing in it is that Sasha loves ice cream. 
  • Small Spaces: I loved Katherine Arden's Winternight series, so was curious about her MG/YA series and her writing has lost none of its charm despite the obvious reduction in narrative complexity. It's a kind of horror-lite (like, Goosebumps-level scary) with strong emphasis on family bonds and unexpected friendships. Definitely a book I would recommend for the actual audience that adults can appreciate as well!

In Life...

  • I had a baby: Cal was born on February 15th and he is the cutest and most wonderful and also most time-consuming. He's six weeks old and we are exhausted but happy that he is here with us!
  • Home repair hell: We had an interesting time of it after we got home with Cal! First our dryer went out, and it turned out it was because the heat sensor got tripped because there was a tiny fire in the lint vent! Scary! And then after that, our water heater (which we knew was old but found out was from 1996!) went on the fritz and it took about a week for it to get replaced through our home warranty and do you know how much it turns out you need hot water for when you have a newborn? It turns out a LOT! 

One Thing:

Let's talk about post-partum mood disorders, y'all. I have a long history of depression, and that was a part of what I felt after Cal was born, but more punishing than that was the incredible anxiety I was going through. I was terrified that every decision I made was the wrong one, that I was going to put my baby in danger because I wasn't washing my hands often enough (I was washing them so often I gave myself broken and scaly patches), or wasn't sterilizing bottles after every wash, or wasn't watching him closely enough and he was going to slump wrong and suffocate. I talked to my OB and was put on medication and I don't feel 100% again, but I feel like a person who is anxious rather than a bundle of anxiety with legs. I am a better mom because I'm not crying all the time. If you've had a baby and feel like you're not in a good headspace, there's help. Talk to your OB or pediatrician, or reach out for support. It's hard, but it's the first step down the road to feeling better.

Gratuitous Baby Picture (don't worry, we'll be doing pug pictures again too):

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Book 323: Amsterdam


“As far as the welfare of every other living form on earth was concerned, the human project was not just a failure, it was a mistake from the very beginning.”

Dates read: June 25-27, 2019

Rating: 6/10

Lists: Booker Prize, The New York Times best-seller

Few things are more satisfying than boiling hot self-righteousness. If there's a drug that gives you that feeling of someone else being not just incorrect, but morally wrong, and being about to shove it in their face that you're a better person than they are, please no one tell me. I will become an addict. Of course, we all know that it is almost inevitably followed by realizing that you are not quite in fact as heroic as you felt, nor is the other person the literal spawn of Satan. But it's a heady rush while it lasts.

Even long-standing friendships aren't immune from misunderstanding and resentments. In Ian McEwan's Amsterdam, two old friends meet at the funeral of a woman they each had loved once. But it isn't the free-spirited Molly, now gone after a brief but terrible bout of dementia, that drives apart Vernon, the editor of a struggling London newspaper, and Clive, a respected composer. They've long since come to terms with that part of their lives. Neither of them can much understand what she ever saw in another one of her former lovers, who also attends the funeral: Julian, a conservative politician whose policy stances would seem to be anathema to Molly's guiding principles of love and acceptance. Nor can they understand why she married George, who seemed bent on controlling her and molding her into conventional respectability. Like many friends, Vernon and Clive have gone through cycles of being more or less close over the years, and the funeral pushes them back into each other's orbit. Spooked by the circumstances of Molly's death, each promises that if the other were to be in a similar state of decline, they would help the end come quicker.

Not long afterwards, both men find themselves in a position to have to make a moral choice. Vernon is given photographs that Molly took of Julian during their that his support base would find shocking. These photos would solidify Vernon's position at the paper by boosting circulation and catapult him into the spotlight after a lifetime of toiling away in relative obscurity. Clive has received a prestigious government commission to compose a piece to celebrate the millennium, and struggles for inspiration until, when taking a hike while out of town, he sees a man attack a woman on the trail. Finding himself suddenly able to see where he wants his symphony to go, he ignores the situation and doesn't report what he saw to the police. Clive is aghast that Vernon would even consider publishing the photos of someone else's private, intimate moments. Vernon is insistent that Clive report what he saw and face responsibility for his failure to intervene on behalf of the woman and keeping what he witnessed from law enforcement. The two are bitterly estranged.

This book is so short as to practically be a novella. That doesn't limit the impact of McEwan's satire, though. If you have ever known a pompous middle-aged man, Vernon and Clive are pitch-perfect. Both ruminate on the clarity of the situation facing the other, while running themselves ragged in the mental gymnastics required to justify their own choices. Each can only see the ways in which they themselves have been good, devoted friends, while the other has taken advantage of their generosity. But that's kind of one of the issues: character. While obviously something this brief and with this perspective isn't out for a deep character study, Vernon and Clive are basically the same person. And George, who shows up to create havoc throughout, seems more like a plot device than a human. I never found anyone compelling enough to really care about how it would end up.

How it ends up is a little too tidy and convenient, for that matter. And the pacing is drags and feels bloated (despite its brevity) in places, but the conclusion feels rushed. It's not without its clever moments and witty turns of phrase, but it really feels like an excellent short story concept that got padded into a decent-but-unspectacular short novel. It's worth a try (the upside of having such a low page count is that even if it doesn't work, it shouldn't take long to finish), but there are sharper, funnier satires out there. 

One year ago, I was reading: The Eyre Affair

Two years ago, I was reading: The Year of Reading Dangerously

Three years ago, I was reading: Daisy Jones & The Six

Four years ago, I was reading: My Name is Venus Black

Five years ago, I was reading: Nefertiti

Six years ago, I was reading: The Namesake

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Book 322: American Psycho


"There wasn’t a clear, identifiable emotion within me, except for greed and, possibly, total disgust. I had all the characteristics of a human being—flesh, blood, skin, hair—but my depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that the normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure. I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning. Something horrible was happening and yet I couldn’t figure out why—I couldn’t put my finger on it." 

Dates read: June 21-25, 2019

Rating: 6/10

The trouble with having grown up prior to the YA boom is that when I was a teenager, once you ran out of the Lois Duncan, R.L Stine, and Sweet Valley High books, there wasn't a lot left. That's a bit of an oversimplification (the excellent Speak came out when I was in 9th grade, and obviously the Harry Potter series as well), but not too much. So I read a lot of adult literature. Some of which was just too complicated for me (I gave up about 60 pages into Anna Karenina), some of which went over my head, but a lot of which enriched my mind and expanded my boundaries! As a result of that experience, I've always been strongly opposed to any sort of censorship of teen reading...making sure you know what your kid is reading and talk to them about it, sure, but the reading is the important part.

I didn't think I would ever read anything that would make me think that an age restriction for a book could be realistically justified. And then I read Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho. Patrick Bateman (older brother of The Rules of Attraction's Sean Bateman) is a New York City banking bro in the 1980s. It would seem like he has a pretty great life: his job is prestigious and pays well, he has a pretty fiancee, he works out regularly and is in good shape, he has a nice apartment. But what Patrick also has going on is a gnawing emptiness at his center, and violent urges he's not quite able to control. He lashes out at first against the powerless: poor people, prostitutes. But his need to hurt people escalates farther and farther until he's committing actual atrocities against even people he knows, while somehow still trying to keep it together enough to go to work and live his life as normally as possible.

I'm not usually overly puritanical about depictions of sex and violence in books. Sex and violence are (fortunately and unfortunately, respectively) parts of life. And I'd seen the movie! I thought I had a handle on what was in store. But this book doesn't just flounce right over the line of being gratuitous, it goes into actively stomach-churning territory. There are things I read in this book that gave me pictures in my head I will never unsee and honestly gave me heaves. And part of it, I think, is deliberate...besides being just gross, the book is also a razor-sharp satire. A recurring motif are Bateman's much-stressed-about trips to the video store, where he rents violent pornography which desensitizes him both towards normal sex and violence against women. Living in a culture where depictions of outlandish acts of sex and violence are easy to access means that it requires yet more extreme examples to achieve the titillating/disturbing effect...examples, of course, that the text itself provides. It's clever, if also very off-putting.

I had a really hard time deciding how I felt about this book. As a cutting send-up of the consumer culture of the 1980s, particularly in the heart of the NYC finance scene, it was extremely effective and often entertaining. The agonies about getting a table at the latest bougie restaurant serving the most unappetizing-seeming "exotic" food combinations were dead on. The way the book played with identity, with Patrick both constantly mistaking people he sees for people he knows and being wrong, and himself being called by the incorrect name, because as seriously as he takes his outfits (most of which are described in detail), the end result is that he looks just like everyone else, was smart and insightful. I would be pulled in and admiring the craft of it...and then there would be a gruesome murder and I would pulled back out again.

Even just skimming much of the over-the-top portions of the book (it gets worse and worse as it goes along), it was a reading experience I found really difficult. This book has age restrictions for access in several countries, and I'm actually not mad about it. I might have found one of the few things I actually don't think a teenager should read without an adult having to be a part of the process. I don't know that I would affirmatively recommend that anyone read this book, it's that messed up. Which is a pity, because the parts of it that are satirical are incredibly well-executed (pun sort-of intended) and effective. But the rest of it is just too much. Yes, it's worse than the movie. Much, much worse. If your interest in still piqued and you have an iron stomach, there is merit here. But be prepared. 

One year ago, I was reading: The Leftovers

Two years ago, I was reading: The Lives of Tudor Women

Three years ago, I was reading: Forest Dark

Four years ago, I was reading: Wonder Boys

Five years ago, I was reading: Between the World and Me

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

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Book 321: The Coming Plague


"Overall, Swine Flu and Legionnaires' Disease boiled down to the same set of troubling perceptions for the American public, and, to a lesser extent, the Canadian, Mexican, Australian, New Zealand, and European publics: something new and very scary was coming; nobody was sure what it was, but the experts were certain it was dangerous; the federal government seemed quite distressed about the matters, but the experts and authorities didn't seem to agree as to what, if anything, should be done to protect the public; and it was all costing taxpayers a pretty penny. In both cases, public apprehension would eventually yield to impatience and allegations of incompetence, even scandal."

Dates read: June 10-21, 2019

Rating: 7/10

I just want to kick off this review by noting that I read this book well before "covid" was a string of letters I'd ever think to put together. I considered going back and re-writing this based on what we know now, but I thought it was more genuine to preserve my reaction to the book as of the time I read it. Anyways! Of all the times I've ever been sick, I don't know that anything has been as unpleasant as the times I've had the simple flu. The soaring fevers, the aches, the blocked up sinuses that make sleep so's several days of feeling just utterly wretched, followed by several more where you just feel weak like a kitten. But of course, I've never been really sick. I've had the odd bout with pneumonia, which I also do not recommend, but generally I've been in good health. I do appreciate living in the world of antibiotics.

Once upon a time, a simple strep throat or upper respiratory infection could literally kill you. And it wasn't even that long ago, really! Penicillin was discovered less than 100 years ago. What it might be like to return to a world in which there were not effective antibiotics is one of the many topics covered in Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague. In this large volume, Garrett investigates how the world continues to be vulnerable to infection, the consequences we might face for the widespread overuse of antibiotics in the modern world, and the way in which our own actions continue to bring us into contact with new agents of disease. She takes a broad look at trends in epidemiology: the emergence of Ebola, the discovery of Legionnaire's Disease, toxic shock syndrome, and of course, the spread of AIDS. And she doesn't shy away from an examination of the underlying systems that help perpetuate the spread of infection, particularly among the poor.

I found the most compelling portion of the book to be its examination of the AIDS crisis. I came of age in a world where AIDS was just a fact, and this is the first time I really got a sense of the fear that the beginning of the epidemic created. Hemophiliacs and gay men just...dying, in large and inexplicable numbers. The way that no one knew what was happening, or how this new disease spread, and (heartbreaking) the difficulty of getting government systems, controlled by conservative Republicans, to care about an illness that was affecting a group of people that they were just not interested in helping. There's an urgency there which really comes across strongly and made it hard to put down.

Garrett is a journalist by trade, and it shows in the writing of the book. The Coming Plague is strongest when she's focusing less on the recitation of facts (like she does when she talks about the process through which some microbes become antibiotic resistant, which feels like struggling through a science class) than on telling a story about people. There are some dynamic personalities, like Dr. Joe McCormick, that show up again and again in the fight against emerging infections, and this work shines when she lets them and the patients they treat take center stage. For the most part, she does keep the focus on people and the systems in which they operate in a way that keeps the book moving along, but it does occasionally bog down when she tries to get too heavily scientific, and in a book this long, it's a tricky bog to escape from.

I found myself wondering as I was reading this book who exactly Garrett had in mind as the target audience. It's got over 600 pages of text before endnotes, and the print on those pages is not large. It seems too long, and too detailed, to get wide traction in the general population of readers. But it's not scholarly or academic in nature, either. I'm a reader who is prepared to do some intellectual work, especially when reading nonfiction, and by the time I had only 150 pages left I was ready to be done even though the material I was reading was just as good as what had come before it. If she'd cut out some of the more science-oriented material, I think it would have kept the book moving better and more accessible to readers. As is, this is good, particularly if you have any interest in epidemiology, but feel free to skim through the more dense portions if they're not catching your interest. 

One year ago, I was reading: The Secret Life of Bees

Two years ago, I was reading: Whores of the Devil

Three years ago, I was reading: The Mind's Eye

Four years ago, I was reading: Thank You For Smoking

Five years ago, I was reading: Orange is the New Black

Six years ago, I was reading: Creative Mythology

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Character Names In the Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about books with character names in the titles. I've pulled these ones off my to-be-read list, and honestly it seems like this was more of a thing with the classics? SO many old books are named after their main characters!

Madame Bovary

The Last Temptation of Christ


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Violet & Claire

The Brothers Karamazov 

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Doctor Zhivago 


Monday, January 31, 2022

A Month in the Life: January 2022


I'm not even pretending with the new-year-new-me stuff in 2022, y'all. The world is still in the depths of a pandemic that has so profoundly disrupted our lives that the "normal" I once imagined getting back to feels strange. I'm going to have a baby in the next few weeks here at some point. I have no idea what my life is going to look like three months from now, much less at the end of the year. I'm just here to keep on keepin' on.

In Books...

  • Beyond The Pale: This was an impulse Kindle sale purchase, written by a folklorist about having a child with albinism. I thought it was going to take a more academic view of the condition, but it's a pretty standard "sick kid" memoir about coming to terms with the diagnosis and exploring her own family history to discover where it might have come from. I found it pretty boring.
  • A Long Way Down: Another Nick Hornby I found disappointing. This one tells the story of four strangers who meet on a rooftop that they've all come to jump from, and the subsequent tensions between them after they decide not too. The problem is that those conflicts don't really grow or change, just repeat, and virtually none of his characters is actually compelling. Dialogue, as always, is a high point but it's about the only one.
  • Tender Is The Night: I wish this classic, which I read for book club, was a straight-up depiction of the extremely complicated relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda instead of a thinly-veiled one. It's good, honestly, but not nearly as good as Gatsby.  
  • Olga Dies Dreaming: This started so well, with the story of two 40-something siblings of Puerto Rican descent living in New York living outwardly successful lives while continuing to reckon with the pain of their mother's abandonment when they were teens to pursue revolution catching me almost immediately with wit and well-drawn characters. It lets its storytelling fall by the wayside for a bit in the middle in favor of info dumps, but the ending was pretty strong. 
  • Feminist Theory, From Margin to Center: I'd never read bell hooks before, or taken any sort of gender studies course. This is an excellent book, which meaningfully conveys the major issues feminism as a movement was confronting at the time it was written (1984) in a way that's both rigorous and accessible. It was also kind of infuriating to realize how much these issues still plague the women's movement, nearly 40 years later.  
  • Northanger Abbey: This was my last unread Austen! It's interesting that it's one she apparently wrote when she was younger, though it wasn't published until after she died. Its humor is less sophisticated, broader, but honestly in many ways just as if not more actually enjoyable for all that. And I think Henry Tilney might be my favorite of the Austen men.

In Life...

  • Last full month before parenthood: It's hard to believe that by the end of next month, I'll have a baby! I can imagine few things less pleasant than going into labor while Covid-positive, so I've been kind of a hermit lately and go few places other than to the store.

One Thing:

Being extremely pregnant is extremely uncomfortable! A surprising number of my pre-pregnancy tops still fit, but bottoms are another story. My beloved Old Navy leggings are still going strong for daytime wear, but at night...leaving the waistband untied is not really cutting it anymore in the late months. I'm not sure how long they'll hold up, but these Amazon Essentials lounge pants have been my lifesaver for just hanging out being cozy at home. They are not thick or luxurious, but they're comfortable and have pockets and to be honest that's enough right now.

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Book 320: There There

"He moves in front of the mirror and his feathers shake. He catches the hesitation, the worry in his eyes, there in the mirror. He worries suddenly that Opal might come into the room, where Orvil is doing..what? There would be too much to explain. He wonders what she would do if she caught him. Ever since they were in her care, Opal had been openly against any of them doing anything Indian. She treated it all like it was something they could decide for themselves when they were old enough. Like drinking or driving or smoking or voting. Indianing." 

Dates read: June 7-10, 2019

Rating: 8/10

Lists/awards: American Book Award

DNA tests can do cool things these days. Not only does mine show me that I'm part Polish, it can even identify the area in Poland where my family came from! Does it actually matter, at the end of the day? Well, no. If I ever do visit Poland, it would almost certainly be to go to one of the major cities, not the tiny village in Podkarpackie Voivodeship that my great-grandfather left over a century ago. But it's interesting to be able to confirm that tie to the past, to get a better sense of where I come from and what my family's story is.

For Native Americans living on reservations in a community that includes elders, a sense of connection with the past is probably more tangible. But of course, that's not where all Native Americans live. Plenty of them live in cities, and it's an attempt to put together a pow-wow in Oakland that brings together the characters of Tommy Orange's debut novel, There There. Through changing point-of-view chapters from a wide cast, the book tells the story of how the pow-wow brings people together in unexpected ways...and what happens when a group of young men eye the prize money for the dance competition as a target for robbery. Common throughout are the questions the characters have about identity, and what it means to be an Indian in a large city.

The character wrestling most with identity and meaning is Dene Oxendene, who wins a competition for grant money that he intends to use to record Indian people telling their own stories about their lives. He sees the pow-wow as an opportunity to film many people at once. But there's also Edwin, whose interest in participating in the event, and breaking out of his self-imposed social isolation, is sparked by the discovery of his Indian father via social media. The internet is also how teenage Orvil tries to connect with his culture, as his stern grandmother Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield (who was taken to the AIM takeover of Alcatraz as a child, along with her sister Jacquie Red Feather, by their unstable mother) who is raising him and his brothers refuses to talk about being Indian with them. Orvil learns tribal dances from YouTube, and plans to enter the dance competition. But the internet also provides a group of young men (including Tony Loneman, angry at the scorn he's received because of his fetal alcohol syndrome) with the schematics to 3D print guns from plastic that could be snuck past the metal detectors at the pow-wow, so they can get money to remedy a drug deal gone wrong.

Tommy Orange is a dazzling talent and this is a very good book. I would say that the only thing holding it back from greatness, for me, is that I wished it was told with a more traditional story structure. While each character's perspective was distinct and important, I found it hard to keep track of who everyone was in relation to everyone else, and a more well-delineated central narrative thread would have, for me, made the book's impact even more powerful. But the reality is that it's powerful anyways. I really cannot overstate how good Orange's writing is. These characters feel like they actually exist in the world, like each one of them, no matter how small a part they play, have full lives and histories that we're only able to get hints of. He switches back and forth between first- and third-person perspective, and even writes one chapter in the second person, which didn't add anything narratively as far as I was concerned as much as feeling like the exuberance of an artist pushing at the boundaries of what he can do.

In a way, this felt like an answer to one of the most well-known writers of Native American adult literature today: Louise Erdrich. While Erdrich's work focuses primarily on women, particularly older women, on reservations in the northern Great Plains, Orange's novel highlights men, especially young men, in a large Californian city. What they share is a story structure in which there are multiple characters that are the focus of one chapter at a time in a non-chronological narrative, as well as a focus on how to live in the world as an Indian today. Erdrich, who has won the National Book Award and been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is a big name to invite comparisons with, but Orange lives up to it. This book is a must-read, and I can't wait to see what Tommy Orange does next.  

One year ago, I was reading: All Girls

Two years ago, I was reading: Followers

Three years ago, I was reading: Bad Blood

Four years ago, I was reading: Mansfield Park

Five years ago, I was reading: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Six years ago, I was reading: Creative Mythology

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I Discovered in 2021

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! Even as a power reader, I am always surprised at how many authors I end up reading for the very first time in any given year...and I'm not just referring to debut authors, who I don't count for these kinds of lists. 

Agatha Christie: I can't believe I'd never read any of her work before! I started with Murder on the Orient Express and was so impressed by her cleverness and storytelling that I can't wait to read more!

Elena Ferrante: I actually ended up reading two Ferrante books this year, the first of the Neapolitan Quartet as well as The Lying Lives of Adults. I liked the former much better than the latter so I'm glad I read it first or I might not have picked it up, but I do plan to continue the series!

Jasper Fforde: I'd seen his Lost In A Good Book series recommended on lists for forever, and finally got around to reading the first one this year, which I enjoyed enough that I'm intending to keep reading them/his work!

Sarah J Maas: I'm not much of a young-adult reader these days anymore, as I approach 40, but you can't participate in the bookternet without knowing about Maas and her multiple enormously successful series. I started the Throne of Glass series, which I enjoyed, and I also plan to try out her Court of Thorns and Roses series as well!

Ken Liu: Here's an author I tried for the first time that I don't think I'll be going back to. I'd been super excited to read a fantasy novel that worked outside of the familiar "medieval Europe" tropes, but found The Grace of Kings to be much too shallow on character-building to hold my interest.

Jo Walton: I'd heard good things about her fantasy and alternate history novels, and found her debut, Tooth and Claw, which is a Victorian novel of manners starring a cast of dragons, to be very charming and enjoyable. I'm definitely planning to read more of her work!

Awkaese Emezi: I'd had their novel Freshwater on my list for forever but my book club read The Death of Vivek Oji first. I'm actually not sure that based on Vivek Oji alone I'd be super interested in continuing to read their work, but since I have a copy of Freshwater I'm going to tackle it one of these days.

Naomi Novik: One of my favorite recent reads was the Winternight series, and I constantly read that if you like them, you should try Novik and her book Uprooted. I would have made some different choices in editing the book, but I generally liked the storytelling and am looking forward to her other work!

Maggie O'Farrell: Her novel Hamnet was so incredible that I'm absolutely going to read her entire backlist.

Drew Magary: This one is kind of cheating because I've been reading him on the internet (at Deadspin and Defector, among other places) for forever, but this year was the first time I read one of his published books so I'm counting it!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Book 319: Good Riddance


"I was never someone to let things go, and I wasn't going to start now. Besides being furious and impatient, I was worried that word would have gotten around Pickering. What if some bigmouth wrote to my father with misguided congratulations about how his late wife's yearbook had made the big time?" 

Dates read: June 3-7, 2019

Rating: 2/10

I think Facebook has destroyed the high school reunion. Where once upon a time people might have shown up to find out who got married, who got divorced, who succeeded and who didn't, now all of that information is available online on demand. If I want to know if the girl who was awful to me my freshman year had her life turn out okay, I can click over to her profile and see what she looks like and her husband and kids and where she works. It takes the mystery out of it. And once you get that primal gossipy urge satisfied, is there really a reason to go? Aren't you probably still in touch with the people from that time in your life that you want to be in touch with?

I do still have all my yearbooks, and when I go home I like to fish them out from my mom's attic or garage or wherever she has them now and look back at them, at the teams and the teachers and the classmates who managed to avoid social media, and read the notes from the people who I sat next to in fifth period Spanish and then never spoke to again. In Elinor Lipman's Good Riddance, Daphne Maritch inherits her mother June's cherished yearbook after she dies and isn't really sure what to do with it. It isn't from her mother's own high school years...rather, she served as the faculty advisor for the yearbook staff for the class of 1968, when she was herself a very young teacher, and kept detailed annotations on the lives of the students of that class. In a fit of decluttering, Daphne decides to toss the book. Only to have it turn up back on her doorstep, in the arms of a neighbor, Geneva, who thinks she wants to make a documentary out of it.

Though initially upset by the purloining and potential commercial exploitation of her mother's once-prized belonging, Daphne agrees to accompany Geneva to the next reunion so she can begin research into the students in the class. While there, she learns a secret about her mother that calls into question everything she thought she knew about who her mother was. With the help of her cute, younger across-the-hall neighbor Jeremy, things escalate into increasingly wacky hijinks as she tries to stop Geneva's plans from moving forward...and tries to help her now-widowed father cope with his move to join her in New York City and maybe find love again himself.

There's a good story to tell based on this general concept, I think, but it's not this one. I've always maintained that truly funny books are some of the most difficult to write, because it's so easy for the humor to land wrong, for the balance of real feeling necessary for people to care about characters and the funny stuff to wind up off. Lipman's book is not all successful in finding a balance, mostly because it seems to forget that it needs to be grounded in reality at all. She gives Daphne a sympathetic story (swept away by a charming man...who, it turns out, needed to be married to fulfill a condition of inheritance and had no interest in anything like fidelity, and so is now divorced), but barely gives us any time to get to know her or care about her before getting into the machinations of the plot, so I never connected with her. Which meant that I didn't really care about her relationship with her father, or her budding relationship with Jeremy, or if she'd ever put a stop to Geneva's yearbook schemes.

I can tell the plot is supposed to be madcap and absurd in a funny way, but it turns out the idea of having life-changing revelations delivered to characters in bathroom stalls with virtually no build-up just doesn't really work. The stakes are too high to be this breezy about it. It at least moves along briskly, but that's more because it doesn't seem to care to develop any of its plot threads in favor of just making new things happen instead. And the prose, while not actively bad, is deeply mediocre. There's hardly any wit or verve. I don't know who the target reader is for this kind of book, but I know it's not me. I hated it and wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

One year ago, I was reading: American War

Two years ago, I was reading: Mozart in the Jungle

Three years ago, I was reading: A Tale for the Time Being

Four years ago, I was reading: An American Marriage

Five years ago, I was reading: Snow

Six years ago, I was reading: Creative Mythology

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: 2021 Releases I Was Excited to Read But Didn’t Get To

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about the releases that hit the shelves last year that we were really pumped for and just never got around to actually reading. I like to give new releases a little time to settle, so these are the ones that I'm still the most hyped to read!

The Rain Heron: One of my best recommendation sources (Jacyln Day) gave this five stars so I will read this book about two lonely people coming together.

Intimacies: This book, about an interpreter getting lost in a world where meaning is increasingly in question, seems to attract strong opinions, but enough people have fallen on the "good" side of the ledger that I'm excited to read it.

The Babysitter: The reviews of this one haven't been mind-blowing but I'm still just intrigued enough by the concept of this memoir (finding out as an adult that someone who babysat you as a child was a serial killer!) that I'm going to read it.

A Net for Small Fishes: I mean, frenemies at the British royal court is just something I have to read.

Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine: This is a book in translation, something I am trying to read more of, and it promises the kind of dual-timeline structure that I love so much when it's done well.

Dava Shastri's Last Day: If you knew you were going to die at a particular time, wouldn't you be curious to see if you could finagle a way to find out how you'd be remembered? Reviews for this are mixed but I'm too curious about the angle to abandon my plans to read it.

Assembly: America is, of course, far from the only society that wrestles with the impact of racism and this book deals with the relationship between a Black woman and a wealthy white man in the UK. I don't always love everything Maris Kriezman loves, but she has interesting taste and really liked this one.

Once There Were Wolves: This book, about a woman reintroducing wolves into Scotland and drama ensuing when they are blamed for a death, has gotten good word of mouth with people I know so I'm really excited to read it!

Ariadne: It's a Greek myth retelling. I will read it.

What's Mine and Yours: This book is a character-driven story about school integration, and it's gotten good reviews so I definitely want to make sure I get to it.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Book 318: Delirium


"Love: a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That’s what it is: an edge; a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side."

Dates read: May 29- June 3, 2019

Rating: 5/10

In a way, I wish I'd had my first serious relationship in high school. I had some big crushes then, but didn't fall in love for the first time until I was in college. It was an often dramatic relationship, and without much experience of dating, I had no idea how to really manage my feelings. Which meant that I usually let important things, like my social life with my friends and school itself, take the hit while I was trying to figure it out. I survived, I learned, but I think having had less at stake while I was floundering around would have been a better case scenario.

There have to be more songs written about love than about anything else. Love of family, love of country, and most of all good old fashioned romance. It's a powerful force, which is why the leadership of the society in Lauren Oliver's Delirium has sought to outlaw it, defining it as a disease to be avoided and/or cured. They've developed an operation (basically a lobotomy) that divorces people from their emotions, and Lena can't wait to have it. Her mother had refused the procedure and died by her own hand when Lena and her older sister were young, leaving them alone in the world, to be raised by their aunt and uncle. Lena's sister has had the procedure, is married, has a child and a normal life...just what Lena wants for herself. She's always afraid of putting even a toe out of line and drawing negative attention, so even though her wealthy and beautiful best friend Hana rebels in small ways, Lena stays on the straight and narrow. But on the day Lena is to be evaluated to determine her future, she meets Alex, and everything changes.

Alex, it turns out, is an Invalid...he did not have the procedure performed, and though he's disguised himself so he can "pass" in normal society unsuspected, his true home is the area outside the border fence, called the Wilds. Despite her fear of falling in love and developing the deliria, Lena is drawn to Alex, and as they continue to spend time together she begins to fall for him. She tries to continue towards the normality she's always craved, but as the date of her operation draws nearer, she's less and less sure that she wants it after all. And when a secret about her family is revealed, she knows she can't stay. But how do you escape from a police state?

It often seems that teenage-girl oriented young adult lit has a pattern: a vulnerable heroine, a totalitarian regime in a dystopian future, a love story. And there's a reason for's an appealing story structure! I sometimes regret a little that I grew up in a time before the real YA boom, because I would have read and relished so many of these kinds of books. As an adult, though, there starts to be a same-y quality to reading them. One of the ways Oliver sets this one apart is that the person who seems like the "typical" heroine, the high-spirited Hana, is just the best friend. Lena herself is quiet, introverted, fearful. It's not a personality type that usually gets to play a starring role, and I think that'll be appreciated by the less-assertive girls who read this and get to see themselves reflected on the page as capable of daring and bravery.

Despite some bright spots, this was still too formulaic for my personal tastes. It's engaging, though, without being especially intellectually demanding, so it would be great for a reader looking for something like a beach or airplane read, or who simply doesn't have a lot of extra mental energy for a book and just wants to be entertained. There are sequels, but I wasn't invested enough in the world Oliver created to feel like I need to pick them up despite the cliffhanger ending. If you're looking for something immersive or complex, this isn't for you. Otherwise, keep your expectations reasonable and this could be a pleasant, easy reading experience!

One year ago, I was reading: Go Went Gone

Two years ago, I was reading: Queen of Scots

Three years ago, I was reading: Astonish Me

Four years ago, I was reading: Ghost Wars

Five years ago, I was reading: Americanah

Six years ago, I was reading: Approval Junkie