Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Terrible Book I'm Glad I Read

I love writing about the books I love.  Sharing the novels I want other people to read is easy. 

Writing about the books I didn't love can be equally satisfying. 

Today, I'm talking about a book that I couldn't stand.

I was an English major and often heard people talk about Evelyn Waugh and Brideshead Revisited.  I can't tell you what the plot of that novel is, but I know it comes up in literary conversations.  I have always wondered about this book but never enough to actually pick it up. 

oh, yes, of course I know that book!   everyone knows that book!

Recently, I've been trying out different Page One subscription boxes.  They are my favorite.  I got my classics box and it came full of goodies and an Evelyn Waugh book, Vile Bodies.  "Yipee," I thought.  A book I had never read by an author I was unfamiliar with but wanted to read. #winning

The page count wasn't super high and the cover was gorgeous, so I dove right in.  I can be shallow like that.  

ooooh, pretty cover

After a couple of chapters, I started to get a bad feeling.  This was horrible.  I mean, the book is well written and Waugh does an excellent job of satirizing his world, but there was nothing good.  No likable characters, no relatable circumstances, no hope.  Waugh was merciless in this depiction.  

Because I am an English major (with a focus on literature *ahem*), I finished it.  I can do hard things.  

Yes I can

Page One is an amazing company that offers to send another book if you didn't like the one they don't even have to send the dud back.  But, I won't be taking advantage of that.  

Because I did like reading it.  I just didn't like the book.  Does that make sense?  Probably not.

I wanted to read Waugh.  I learned Evelyn Waugh was a man (who knew!) and he was married to a woman named Evelyn (what are the odds!).  How did they handle the mail situation?  What about when someone called and said, "Is Evelyn there?"  I have so many questions.  

I wanted to get a grasp of what Waugh wrote about.  Apparently, he had an intimate understanding of spoiled young Brits in the '20's.  

Reading this book helped me know myself better.  I realized I love Fitzgerald because there is a thin thread of hope and optimism despite the vapid, vain characters.  I love Wodehouse because he adds a healthy dose of humor and makes his characters laughable, not despicable.  

So, it was a good read for me, just not a good read.  


Vile Bodies is kind of all over the place but the central struggle is that of Adam and Nina--two young people who want to get married.  They need money and they need her father's approval.  Both of these require a herculean effort and lead them into some absurd situations that seesaw from hilarious to horrible.  I would find myself kind of chuckling at something a character had said and then: Boom--someone was dead.  

The pace was unnerving and frantic which feels like an accurate representation of the times.  I kept thinking, "The center cannot hold, the center cannot hold."  It was one of those books where I was holding my breath and clenching my jaw each time I picked it up.  

Within the first ten pages a character remarks, "'It's just exactly like being inside a cocktail shaker,'" and, dear reader, that is exactly how I felt reading this book.  Lots of alcohol and bruises.  

I checked goodreads reviews and they seem to be mixed.  If you read it and loved it, why?  how?  I'm still up for Brideshead Revisited, maybe after a little time passes, but I think Waugh is smart and scathing.  

If you like rich people problems or watching train wrecks, Vile Bodies just might be your next favorite book.  As for me, I'm glad I'm done with it! 

Friday, August 24, 2018


You guys, I read a book that you need to get to before the end of summer.  Fortunately, that gives you just under a month--the official end of summer is September 22, despite all this pumpkin spice business and back to school foolishness.  
not yet!

But, trust me on this, you gotta read this book in the summer.  It won't be nearly as enjoyable in any other season.  I mean you can read it in the winter if you really want, but its best read outside in harsh sunlight.

You've probably seen it on the internet if you frequent any book sites or on a bookstore display.  It came out in late spring and has been on most of the summer reading lists I've seen.  

So, without further ado...Go get yourself a copy of Sunburn by Laura Lippman.  

Before I tell you anything about the plot, let me tell you about the structure.  The book has short chapters and it's not terribly long (292 pages).  The words are not crammed on the page and there is a single narrator.  This is enough to sell me on a summer book.  

Short chapters propel me through and since I'm likely reading somewhere that a kid is also talking/screaming/playing a book with less than 300 pages seems like a realistic commitment.  A single narrator means I can just jump in without having to adjust to many different voices.  My reading time is precious in the summer.  

Ok, so the plot.  It's complicated and twisty and turny.  At the start, Polly decides to leave her husband and child at the beach.  Just walks away and out of their lives.  I read this while on the beach with my husband and kids and joked about doing the same.  The author delves into the comparison between a mom leaving and a dad leaving and the way society views the difference.  I found this so interesting and true.

reading sunburn while getting sunburned

But, it's not really about that.  It's really about Polly trying to set up a new life and what happened to her before.  She meets a man in this small Delaware town where she's decided to land for a while.  Adam and Polly are keeping tons of secrets from each other but they somehow manage to get intertwined, both literally and metaphorically, if you know what I mean...😉

Adam and Polly weren't great people.  They made questionable choices and you couldn't trust them, but somehow Lippman made you care about them.  I got to the last 75 pages and decided to ignore my family and the fact that I needed to make dinner and just finish.  It was the right decision.  

my son: challenge accepted

Sunburn was like reading an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  It wasn't gruesome but some bad things happen.  It was modern noir, a bit mysterious, and psychologically compelling.  And it made me crave a really good grilled cheese sandwich.  

"Still, he has to admit that yellow, the color used for warnings and caution, suits her."  

Have you read it too?  What did you think?

Monday, August 13, 2018

How to Disagree About Books

Everyone talks about how books bring us together.  But sometimes I'm reminded that they can also separate us.

It's happened to all book lovers (I think).  Your friend discovers that you love to read.  They tell you a few of their favorite books.  You read one.  You think it's terrible.  How can you still be friends?

Or, you are part of a book club.  You feel confident that the book you just read is the best/worst.  You go to the meeting giddy with the anticipation of loving/trashing the book as a group.  You sit down.  Everyone around you begins hating/raving.  Should you find a new book club?

Or, a book you see all over bookstagram, the best-seller list, and Facebook makes you angry because you think the writing is poor, the plot thin, and the character development non-existent.  Can you share this on social media without being called a heretic?

Surprise: these little scenarios are from personal experience.  

In the early stages of our friendship, a very dear friend recommended a book that I could hardly stand.  She thought I would absolutely love it and checked in on my progress regularly.  I read the whole thing despite my aversion so that I could list specifically the things I didn't like about it.  But in a nice way.  I am happy to report that years later, we are still friends.  

Just this month I went to a book club meeting super excited to discuss a book I enjoyed.  As I sat down the other women were chatting about how annoying they found the writing, how they couldn't stand the characters, and how glad they were to be done with it.  I had to think on my feet about what I was going to say.  Should I defend it or succumb to peer pressure?  In the end, I did a little of both.  I heard their main critiques of the book and could see where they were coming from, but I did add in my two cents and explained why I enjoyed it.  Now, we are all looking forward to our September book and no one is leaving the book club.  Well, except for the teachers who can't meet during the day anymore.  😢

In January I read a book that was getting so much praise.  Everywhere I looked I saw it lauded as the next great thriller.  Before it was published, it was optioned for a movie.  It seemed like the whole world loved it.  But I didn't.  When I saw posts talking about how wonderful it was, I would begin to question my own views.  Being alone in your opinion really makes you think about your reasoning.  And, after much thought and self-reflection, I realized I needed a break from novels centered on unreliable women who drink waaaaaay more than anyone should.  

who am i and why don't i like this dumb book???

Disagreeing over books is the natural result of reading.  It shouldn't turn us away from books or each other.  There is an implicit understanding--there should be, anyway--that reading is subjective.  I like what I like.  You like what you like.  Our reading tastes are dictated by life experiences and what we've read lately.  AND THAT IS OK.

wise advice, genie.

We often look to others to confirm what we believe, but reading is unique because this is not necessary.  One of my favorite people to talk to about books has very different taste than me.  
We avoided talking about books intentionally.  Now, we've learned that it's ok to tell your friend about a book you read without the hint of a recommendation.  "This is just a book I love and I'm so happy to tell you about it,"  not "This is a book I love and you must read it and love it too."  

Liking/disliking a book that everyone else hates/loves can be a lonely place and that is part of why I love goodreads.  When I'm wondering if I'm the only person who hated that bestseller, I can click on the title and filter the ratings to see if there are at least a few other people who felt the same way as me (in the case of my January book 5,064 other people rated it like me, hallelujah I'm not alone).  Seeing that makes me more likely to share my opinion with a little more confidence.  

How about you?  Have you ever been in an awkward situation because of a book?  

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Reading Recap: July Edition

Today on Instagram (bookstagram to be more precise) I saw someone posting about the 24 books they read last month.  I don't really know how that is humanly possible and I found myself both jealous and repulsed. 

I didn't read 24 books, or 12 books, or even 6 books.  In July I was able to finish 5.  I'm hoping you feel neither jealous or repulsed.  4-6 seems to be about where I land every month and I'm proud of that.

Here's what I read when I wasn't refereeing a fight, finding food for my children to eat, or washing another load of wet towels from the pool:

Convenience Store Woman
"And here was everyone taking it for granted that I must be miserable when I wasn't." 

I preordered this book and then read it in one day.  You might say I was a little excited.  There was something about the cover, the culture (Japanese), and the premise that had me so intrigued. 

Convenience Store Woman is about a woman in Japan whose only aspiration in life is to work in a convenience store.  This is troubling to her family.  She considers making a change to satisfy social norms. 

There is a lot of food for thought in this slim little novel.  Family, work culture, what does success mean, is success the same for everyone, loneliness in a hyper-connected world...these themes were rattling around in my brain long after I finished. 

The book is quirky and definitely not for everyone.  It's a translation and so some of the words and phrases weren't completely natural, but I love that.  It reminds me that I'm reading a book whose primary audience is a different culture from me.  It's refreshing.   

One of my dearest friends, who also loves books, was headed to Japan in July and I gave her a copy of the novel before she left.  She said it was fun to talk with her Japanese friends about the translation.  One of the things she mentioned is that the Japanese title is Convenience Store Human.  Interesting choice.  We both agreed that Keiko, the protagonist, probably has some form of Autism, but the author never explicitly tells us.  Another interesting choice.

Hum If You Don't Know The Words
"When in doubt, just do what I do, Robs.  Hum if you don't know the words."

There were many good quotes from this book, but I really like this one from the title.  The characters in this book, just have to keep humming despite the ups and downs of life.  

I wrote a long post about this book so I will just go ahead and link to it here.  The gist of the post is that I really didn't want to read the book and was determined not to like it.  But then, I completely fell in love with the story, the characters, the writing.  It was seriously so good that I keep wondering why is this book not getting more attention.  So read it, and spread the love.

Henry and Beezus

I drive a lot in the summer.  And the fall.  And the winter.  And the spring.  So, every now and then the kids and I listen to an audiobook.  Last month we picked Henry and Beezus because I bought the whole Henry Huggins collection on audible.

When I was a kid I read all of the Ramona books and they are still some of my favorites.  I really missed out on Henry back then but I'm so glad I get to experience new material from one of my favorite authors with my kids.  

Henry wants to buy a bike and it'll cost him $50.  He and Beezus scheme different ways to get the cash or find other solutions.  Hilarity ensues.  We were all laughing at the different vignettes and the kids enjoyed thinking about their own business opportunities like Henry and Beezus.  

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Beverly Cleary is a national treasure.  

The Widows of Malabar Hill
"And for the first time, she'd realized what her power as a lawyer really meant."

I'm a member of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book club.  I think I may be involved in too many book clubs because I'm always reading a book for a club and not because I just want to read it.  It's just that FOMO gets me every time.  

This was the July pick and I really enjoyed it.  It's a novel about the first women lawyers in India during the 1920's.  Perveen is a fictional version of the women who fought for more equality in Inda and she is a delight.  You get to see her struggle up close and it really made me consider how hard women all over the world have to fight for equal rights.  

The story flashes back and forth between before she was a lawyer and after she started working with her dad at his law firm.  The author definitely did her research and in order to build a complex, interesting mystery she included some of the legalities of India in the '20's.  I found this very interesting but thought that some readers might be turned off by the minutiae.  

Perveen's friends and family are great.  I looked forward to every scene that included her parents and her friend Alice, from England.  The descriptions of food and location had me dreaming of a trip to India...I settled for a date night with my husband at a local Indian restaurant.  I love that palak paneer.

The resolution of the mystery wasn't terribly shocking, but I didn't need it to be.  The story was well told and I found myself glad the mystery wasn't uber dramatic so I could focus on soaking up the setting, the characters, and learning about how women have lived in a different time and place.  

The Screaming Staircase
"His face was uniquely slappable—a nun would have ached to punch him—while his backside cried out to heaven for a well-placed kick. He slouched, he slumped, he scuffed his way about the house like something soft about to melt."


Another book club book...this time my mother/daughter book club.  One of my daughters picked this and just like last month's book, I found myself grateful for YA's ability to immerse me in a magical world.  It's just so much fun!

The Screaming Staircase is about a big problem: the world is dealing with ghosts and lots of them.  Children are the only ones who can fight them.  Lucy is a girl who has the ability to sense ghosts.  She goes to work at a ghost hunting firm run by Lockwood, an eccentric teenage boy, and his assistant George.  They get a very crucial job that deals with...drumroll please...a screaming staircase.

This was creepy and fun and well done.  Again, I'm not sure how this book isn't getting more attention.  The writing was humorous and intelligent.  There wasn't any smooching.  It was good, clean ghost fighting fun.  

We haven't had our meeting yet, but early reports show that the girls love it as much as me.  

And there you have it.  My five books.  I'm hoping that I can read 6 in August and I just saw this meme that may help me put my phone down and get it done:

I read all 4 🌟books this month which seemed a little odd.  Nothing made my all time favorite list, but they were all solid reads.  Spoiler alert for August: this will not be the case.  I'm almost done with a book I can barely stand to look at. 

What did you read in July?  Anything good on the horizon for August?  Let's finish summer reading strong.