Happy Spring: March, April, & May Books

Hello again! As promised, I’m ready to review some books. In my last post, I had just wrapped up book #9 of the year; I’ve read 16 more books since then, and my reviews of them all are below. I did my best to keep these short, but you know how that usually goes…

 

Book #11: ANOTHER BROOKLYN by Jacqueline Woodson

Wow, this book. I read it in one sitting. It is pretty short, but I think I still would have had it been 3 times as long. This was the first book I’d read by Woodson, and since finishing it I’ve been hungry to get my hands on everything else she’s written — which is (fortunately) a lot, but which is all YA; Another Brooklyn is her first adult novel. It’s about a group of childhood girlfriends growing up in the ever-changing, magical and sometimes dangerous world of Brooklyn in the 1970s. It’s about female friendships, about belonging, about childhood and the pain of growing up, dysfunctional families and making your own family, beauty and the sharp ugliness that it often covers, and so much more. Just writing about this book makes me want to reread it, I loved it so much and would highly recommend it to anyone.

Book #10: THE MAN WHO SHOT MY EYE OUT IS DEAD: Stories by Chanelle Benz

This was a really great short story collection by a debut author who I can’t wait to read more from. It was a unique collection, some stories combining historical themes with Old Western violence, other incorporating magical realism and contemporary issues of privilege. It feels hard to explain now that I’m trying to do so, but I really loved this collection and flew through it. I was so impressed by the range that Benz was able to pull off; each story and every single character from all of these incredibly varied settings had such distinct voices, it was insane. I can’t wait to see what Benz does next. Sidenote: remember when I didn’t really like short stories? Lately, I can’t get enough of them.

Book #12: MILK AND HONEY by Rupi Kaur

This is the most beautiful, relatable, manageable collection of poetry that I have ever read. I feel like I don’t need to go too in-depth, this book has been on the bestseller list for weeks upon weeks and everyone and there sister seems to be following the “InstaPoet” (if you’re not, you should be). I will just say that I think Rupi Kaur is a genius, and I’m in awe of her, especially because she wrote this book at such a young age. She’s incredible and this collection is incredible and if you haven’t read it yet, please go buy it because I guarantee you will want to read it over and over again.

Book #13: THE EMPATHY EXAMS: Essays by Leslie Jamison

The Empathy Exams is a collection of essays by an author I was previously unfamiliar with, honing in on empathy. It was fascinating. Jamison comes at this topic from all sides, first writing about her experience as a medical actor, acting out symptoms for medical students to practice their empathy on. Later, she writes about her experiences on a tour through LA’s gang scene from a school bus. The collection digs deeply into empathy as a feeling, in practice and in theory, and asks really startling and important questions about how we relate to one another and what that means for our basic understanding of the human condition.

Book #14: ALL GROWN UP by Jami Attenberg

This was a lovely, surprisingly touching and funny book about Andrea, a woman living in New York, who is of a certain age but acting as if she’s a very different age. The narrator is a very lovable woman, just trying to get by in life as a childless 39-year-old without a serious partner. She has a best friend who’s married and having a baby, a brother and sister-in-law with a terminally ill baby, and a mother whom she doesn’t like but loves fiercely. Attenberg uses sparse prose throughout, creating the best deadpan narrative voice. This book make me laugh out loud in public and cry only a few pages later. I loved it.

Book #15: PUSH by Sapphire

Speaking of books making you cry… Push is the book on which the movie Precious is based. I haven’t seen the movie (I wanted to read the book first) but I of course knew what type of subject matter I was going to get. While parts of the book are extremely painful to read — Precious Jones being molested by her mother and impregnated (twice) by her father, for example — the victories she experiences with the help of her determined, loving, strong teacher make the book a rewarding one of hope. It’s a powerful and important story, and now I want to watch the movie. I got to see Gabourey Sidibe (the star of Precious) speak recently at the “Women of the World” convention in Harlem, and she was amazing. Can’t wait to see her in her standout role.

Book #16: EUPHORIA by Lily King

This feels like one of those books that everyone knows about, whether or not they read it or had any urge to read it, because the cover is so strikingly beautiful and it was getting coverage everywhere when it came out in 2014. I now see all the coverage was well-deserved. When I picked this one up, I had been craving a really good story, and this was exactly that. It’s the fictionalized story of anthropologist Margaret Mead. The story delves into the tenuous marriage between a husband-and-wife anthropological team working their way through New Guinea region tribes. They find themselves caught in a passionate and dangerous love triangle with an anthropologist colleague, but it’s about so much more than the romance and betrayal. King’s writing is so good that I felt like I was there as tensions built, brilliantly mirroring the bubbling chaos of their anthropological work and ultimately resulting in tragic loss.

Book #17: A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan

Again, this is one that I feel like everyone knows of. A Visit From the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2011. Sometimes, I’m a bit “meh” about the Pulitzer winners, but I absolutely loved this one. Each chapter is a different character’s perspective, and all the characters are very loosely connected. The story jumps time and place a lot, but it’s a testament to Egan’s storytelling skill that it was never overly confusing or difficult to follow. It’s also one of those stories that’s kind of hard to explain, because there is so much jumping around and weaving storylines, so take my word for it and please read this book if you haven’t. It takes place mostly in New York City, and is about love and life and loss and suffering and pain and temptation and family and mental health and… etc. Life. Everything. It was beautiful.

Book #18: MADAME ZERO: 9 Stories by Sarah Hall

Another short story collection! This one comes out in July, so I’m sorry to tempt you with something that isn’t quite available yet, but I highly recommend reading it when you can. It’s a short collection of only 9 stories, and they are all completely thrilling. All of them are creepy in a below-the-surface-extreme-suspense type of way. They are also all very weird, but Hall’s writing is so beautiful, and that often goes hand-in-hand with the oddest parts of the oddest stories in a very cool way. One touches on a married couple in which the wife one day turns into a fox for no obvious reason. Another is about a woman, also in a marriage, who suddenly experiences an erotic personality shift that results in shocking and abrupt tragedy, culminating in a terrifyingly hedonistic scene. Not all of the narrators of the stories are women, but women are the central characters in all 9 stories. I loved it. I want to read everything Sarah Hall has ever written/said aloud/thought in her fascinating and disturbing mind.

Book #19: SWING TIME by [Queen] Zadie Smith

I love Zadie Smith, she is one of my top-three all-time favorite authors, so I was very excited for this book. It didn’t disappoint. Swing Time is about two childhood friends in England, and their respective stories as they grow older and farther apart. The narrator (I don’t think we ever get her name) and Tracey are both dancers, but only Tracey has the necessary skill to advance her career. The two have a falling out after Tracey reveals something embarrassing and shameful about the narrator’s father, something that she lets tarnish her relationship with him until his death. The girls go on to live their separate lives, Tracey having to quit dance and giving birth to several children by different fathers; the narrator traveling with a pop-star-turned-philanthropist who’s taken a keen (and cliche) interest in building a school in Africa. This book was beautiful, Zadie Smith is perfect, please everyone read it and love her as much as I do.

Book #20: SUBMISSION by Michel Houellebecq

This book was… good. I almost feel like it was too smart for me, though. You know those books? When you start getting into the story and then realize it’s some kind of deep political satire or philosophical manifesto or something? Maybe it’s just because it’s a French novel. Anyway, it’s set in the near future (2022) and is about a lonely professor who is generally bored and unsatisfied. Politics play heavily into the story, as their election is proving to be unlike any other election yet (sounds a little too familiar…) and the Islamic Party essentially comes to power and changes the landscape of his life. It’s a bleak book, but an interesting concept? But mostly it made me feel dumb. I need to brush up on my Parisian political/religious history, I guess…

Book #21: GIRL THROUGH GLASS by Sari Wilson

Girl Through Glass was a nice, quick read about a girl who comes of age in the cutthroat world of ballet in New York City. The main character’s name is Mira, and we shift back and forth between her childhood life in dance and her adult life as a dance professor in Ohio. While training as a very young girl, she meets the 47-year-old Maurice, who is passionate about dance, and (creepily) about Mira. Their relationship is intense and unsettling, and culminates in a violent encounter when Mira is only 14. The story dances around this apex until the vary end, when present-day professor Mira returns to New York to try and figure out what happened to Maurice. It was a suspenseful novel, if a bit predictable, and the dance scenes were gorgeously described.

Book #22: THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET by Becky Chambers

THIS BOOK WAS SO LOVELY. I needed a novel to escape in, and this was the perfect one. Rosemary Harper is joining the crew of a rusty, dysfunctional tunneling ship when this book begins (tunneling = tearing holes in the universe’s lining and exiting elsewhere to make safe and stable connections, by the way). The ship is called the Wayfarer, and Rosemary finds a home and family there unlike one she’s ever experienced. She’s escaping from her dishonest father, and has found the perfect oddball family in the Reptilian Sissix, the rebel engineers, Kizzy and Jenks, a warm Artificial Intelligence program named Lovey, and Ashby, the constantly disgruntled and fiercely loyal captain. As I’m thinking back on this one, I’m realizing that nothing really happens. There’s a plot, of course, but the heart and soul of this book was in the ragtag cast of characters. I loved it. The especially science-fiction-y concepts were incredibly well-broken down and easy to digest. It was a very well-done Sci-Fi novel that I would highly recommend to fans and strangers of the genre alike.

Book #23: THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A.J. Finn 

If you’re at all involved in or connected to the world of publishing in any way, you may have heard of this book; it has been getting endless amounts of buzz, especially since the author made an appearance at Book Expo America this past weekend. It doesn’t come out until January 2018, so I’m going to be sparse in details, but I really enjoyed it. The narrator is Anna Fox, the agoraphobic, alcoholic, maybe-delusional, movie-loving homebody of an untrustworthy narrator. Anna watches her neighbors like her neighbors watch TV, and when a new family moves in across the park between their apartment and her back window, she starts observing some increasingly disturbing things. Replete with endless twists and fascinating characters, it fits right into that genre that female-narrated-psychological-suspense genre that people can’t seem to get enough of. If you liked Girl on the Train and/or Gone Girl, you’ll probably love this one.

Book #24: AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie

I’m not the biggest mystery reader, so I didn’t realize this was considered a classic until discussing it with my roommate (who isn’t the biggest reader). She was shocked that I hadn’t read it, and I hate knowing that there’s a genre staple out there that I’ve overlooked. It was great. This book kept me guessing until the end, and was satisfyingly rich in character detail without getting bogged down. It was a quick, clever read, and if you haven’t read it you should. I’m still not the biggest mystery fan, but I think I’m an Agatha Christie fan now.

Book #25: CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP by Jeff Chang

This book took me FOREVER to read. I started it months ago, then took 2 long breaks and read different books in between. I tried to jump right in after Dark Money, but that was way too many dense, non fiction history-of-something books in a row. The reason it took that long was not because I didn’t enjoy it though, I swear. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is about the history of hip-hop, and it’s fascinating. Jeff Chang delves into hip-hop from every imaginable angle, covering reggae, graffiti, Bronx block parties, California gang violence, and everything in between. This book should be required reading for anyone willing to write off this undeniably important genre of music.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. I’ll have more reviews for you soon! I’m currently in the middle of The Handmaid’s Tale (kicking myself for waiting so long to read it) and I am obsessed, but is anyone surprised? ◊

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