Compared to my pleasure reading amount over the past few years, I have been binge reading lately and loving it. Of course, if my Dad reads this post, he'll say, "But where are the classics?!?!?" Right here, Dad, right here. Well, maybe not but I've enjoyed (mostly) all of them and here's my little synopsis.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: Ok, let's get this one out of the way first. I read this book based on the Powell's Bookstore list of 25 Books to Read Before You Die and based on this one, I'm going to say nope, nope, nope. The book is set in the present, but mainly focuses on the Binewski family carnival in the form of flashback. The story is told by Oly, one of the daughters. She is the most ordinary of the five children and she is a albino hunch-backed dwarf. Her parents, you see, conceived all of their children with the purposeful intent of creating little freaks, which mainly meant that the Mom took lots and lots of drugs. The story has several strands but unifies around the main story of Oly's relationship with her brother Arty, a megalomaniacal, narcissistic boy with flippers for arms and legs. He is truly one of the most loathsome characters I've ever read in fiction and was just a huge "ick" factor through the whole book. It kept getting worse too…he's truly a character to revile. I didn't like this book but it was like a train wreck I couldn't look away from so I finished it. Also, the part of the story set in the present…meh. It,too, was purposefully weird, but it wasn't too hard to see intention of drawing parallels between Mary Lick and Arty but it still didn't make me care about either of those two characters.
Recommendation: Be careful of Powell Bookstore recommendations.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: This young adult book about two kids who don't fit in at school in his/her own special way find each other and fall in love. The book is fine and a sweet testament to the validity of first loves and high school loves, which may be trivialized as we reach our "wiser" adulthoods. The most standout portion of the book to me was where she cuts off contact to Park for a certain period of time and reminded me of the main character in Americannah not writing to her love after an incident America. In both cases, I wanted to tell the characters, "No, it's ok! Don't wall yourself off!" But it's a book and books do what's been foretold.
Recommendation: Good, but it's definitely a Young Adults book which I didn't realize when I read it.
The Circle by Dave Eggers: An insecure woman goes to work for a Facebook/Google megalith company and manages to find insane success within her workplace but only at the expense of everything's that's real- family, friends, privacy. The book is a dystopian novel focusing on the incredible, insidious pervasiveness of social media in our lives. The worst part of it is that we willingly acquiesce to our loss of privacy and real connections, except for some true stand-up individuals. Who die. This book kept me off Facebook for a few days but then like a little addicted lemming, I'm using it again but conscientiously!
Recommendation: It's not anything you couldn't read in editorial form in a newspaper nostalgically bemoaning the way it was.
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman: This book was good but the TV show is so great that it was hard to compare. I thought her discussion of the current imprisonment statistics and minimum sentencing requirements was interesting but I would get more out of it in a more academic book rather than a memoir trying to add gravitas and relevance.
Recommendation: Watch the series!
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami: I loved this book. I loved what he said about exercise, running, habits and life. The organization is the beautiful series of narratives that are like an interlocking chain, lazily progressing to the narrative finish line, which is the writer's run in the NYC marathon and his final recollections after that race.
Wildwood by Colin Merlot: Written by the lead singer of The Decembrists, this book focuses on Prue, a young girl who lives in St John's, Portland and must venture into the fantastical Wildwood to save her brother, who's been carried off by the crows at the behest of the Dowager Countess. This book is a pleasant read but not enough that I feel the need to read the sequel.
Recommendation: Sure, why not?
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: If I haven't put myself in permanent timeout with my book club because of recommending Geek Love, I'm going to recommend this book. The book is told through June Elbus, a 14 year old girl who is grappling with the recent death of her beloved uncle from AIDS in the late 1980s, when fear and misunderstanding about the disease was still rampant. While there are other books who have dealt with teen's grief better (that was the biggest strength of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt), I was most captivated by the relationship between June and her older sister. They had once been the best of friends but through misunderstandings, jealousy and the insecurities of being a teenager, they drifted apart into a dysfunctional dynamic that they seem powerless to stop, despite both of the wishing it were different. Brunt does an excellent job of tapping into the complexities of being a young adult and while I identified with June in my own recollections of high school, her sister Greta was also a sympathetic character. It's one of those relationships where I wished everyone could just get together, have a sit-down and get it all out. But life doesn't work that way and relationships have to evolve and progress in fits and starts.
Recommendation: High, but it's not the most intellectual book in the world
Whew and that's it! So, as you can see, I haven't been overwhelmed by my recent reads but I also have to stop getting young adult recommendations from blogs! Blog rec lists tend to focus on lighter reads, especially in the Summer when people are looking for beach reads. Maybe I should listen to Dad and read! all! the! classics!
[BTW, I will definitely write a separate entry for Americanah by Chimamanda Nogozi Adichie. That book was incredible!!! I also enjoyed the non-fiction Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.]