Wednesday, June 17, 2015

April & May Reads

Like most intentions when it comes to this blog, I've fallen behind on my goal to chronicle what I read each month. (Though I'm mostly keeping up with Goodreads - I'm almost caught up there.) Before things get too crazy, here are the books I read in April and May. Not included: the second draft of Erica's book, which was better than all of these books combined. 

This book is a post- and also pre-apocalyptic story about a flu that wipes out 99% of human life. What's interesting about this book (as opposed to the other 19294746 apocalyptic stories out there) is that it takes place in the time before the flu and 20 years after it hits, when the worst is over and people are beginning to rebuild their lives. The twenty years in between are hinted at, and the reader knows it was a Very Bad Time, but we don't waste too much space dwelling on those days, and neither do the characters. I thought this choice, for the author, was particularly brilliant. It allows the characters to deal with conflict rather than catastrophe. Instead of seeing them react to the flu, the mayhem, the pain and confusion of those first years, when the goal of each person left is most certainly survival, we see instead the choices they're now (mostly) free to make, the ways in which they rebuild, how they create new families and new homes. I really liked this book - beautiful language, compelling story, creepy post-apocalyptic landscape, and so many thoughtful passages about what it means to be an artist and a survivor.

I'm not a huge fan of self help books but I love thinking and reading about routines and habits, and I'm always searching for ways to improve my own. So when I saw this book by Gretchen Rubin, I decided to give it a try. While I enjoyed the book, I don't think it was anything especially groundbreaking. I kept describing it as "pop psychology." While it's well researched and thoughtful, and I enjoyed the way she wove personal experiences into the narrative, I also felt as if she was building a sort of house of cards, what with all the tendencies, distinctions, and strategies. That said, while reading this book, I had probably the best week of my life, habit-wise. I woke up early, I worked out, I wrote, I ate healthy meals, I even called my mom. Clearly, this book had a good influence on me. And for those struggling with habits, it does have some great tips for improving your quality of life and being "better than before." Overall I enjoyed it, and I will definitely think about whenever I'm trying to form good habits and steer myself away from bad ones. 

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, by Courtney Maum

Richard had an affair - 7 months long, passionate, and ended not because he came to his senses and remembered he was married, but because his mistress got engaged to someone else. Then Richard's wife finds out and he must spend the rest of the book trying to win her back. It would be an understatement to say that Richard is unlikeable, especially in the first 3/4 of the book. Despite the fact that I like unlikeable characters, I felt very little pity for him and there were many moments when I hoped his wife would realize she was better off without him and move on. But, as the book progressed, Richard started to win me over. His voice remained sort of annoying and whiny, but he did mature. He accepted responsibility for his actions. He tried very hard, in many misguided ways, to make things right. And he had a sense of humor, which I appreciated. I was actually rooting for him by the end, which tells you something about how well this book was written. Besides my complicated feelings about the narrator, I really enjoyed the way this book complicates the idea and realities of marriage. By the end, it felt like a very honest, very nuanced look at love and - as Richard asks in the beginning - "how to make love last." I've seen a number of other reviewers say the ending of this book was predictable, but I disagree. It surprised me very much - not just how it ended, but how much I liked the book by the time I reached the last page.

How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, by Lydia Netzer

I loved the premise of this book. Two women have babies at the same time (on the same day!) and then raise those babies apart, so they can fall in love with one another when they're grown. The mothers try to ensure that the children - a boy, George, and a girl, Irene - share as many of the same rare books, music, and experiences as possible, so they'll feel like soul mates when they finally meet again. While the idea of taking such a scientific approach to true love is intriguing, the realities are not quite so cut and dry. When George and Irene meet, they do feel a connection, but it's not as simple as their mothers once hoped. The same goes for the book itself - while the premise is great, it falters in moments. That said, I also enjoyed huge parts of this book. Like the fact that Toledo, in this world, is the center of space exploration and study. The prose, which was sweeping and exaggerated in a really satisfying, epic way. The sex scenes, which were tender and funny and strange, all at once. This is an ambitious book filled with big ideas, and at times it felt like it was brimming over. I respected and appreciated the risks the author took, even if a few of them didn't pan out.

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters 

This was my first time reading a Sarah Waters book, and it wasn't at all what I expected - in a good way! This book takes place in 1922, in England, and is about a woman, Frances, who falls in love with her (married) lodger, Lillian. Obviously a queer romance in 1920s England is probably not going to be al rainbows and sunshine, and very bad things happen as a result of their illicit love affair. Things I liked: From dialogue to setting to descriptions, the prose especially seemed so very real and rooted in the 20s and of England in a perfectly immersive way. There were some very great sex scenes in this book which were awesome, especially compared to how buttoned up the characters and the prose were the rest of the time. Apparently, Waters is known for some crazy plot twists. I had no idea, and so there were moments when my mouth was hanging open in horror and shock at what had just happened. It didn't feel exploitative though, because the book builds in a really natural way, so the horror feels inevitable, which is a different kind of terror. Some sections dragged a bit, but overall I really enjoyed this book and can't wait to read more from Waters. 

Whew! Thanks for making it to the end of this very long book report. Now it's your turn - what are you currently reading?