Recent-ish Book Reportfeatured

Let’s catch up on the book front. Around the end of 2016 and this year, I’ve been making even more of an effort to make time for reading every day. I moved the apps on my phone around so the Kindle app is ahead of Instagram and I’m trying to open that instead of Instagram when I’m in line at Trader Joe’s or have a couple minutes to spare, with mixed success so far. It might take me all year to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings that way, but I will read it.

I love reading books reviews and reading recaps on blogs because, of course, I’m always looking for more reading recommendations (my husband suggested I stop buying books until I’ve read all the ones I currently have. I laughed at him). I’m so impressed by the people who share them monthly and regularly include 5-10 books in those posts because, damn, I wish I could read that much/that fast. I mean, I think I’m a decently fast reader, but it still takes me at least a week to read your standard 300-ish page book.

Anyway, I’m thinking about sharing book reviews and reading recaps roughly quarterly. Since it’s been awhile, this one goes back…six-ish months or so?

I Am Malala
I’ve wanted to read this ever since I saw her on The Daily Show and she left Jon Stewart speechless. What an incredible young woman. So thoughtful and well-spoken. I was struck from the very beginning when she describes her home, the Swat valley, as fertile and beautiful, because my Middle East heuristic is just that everything is a barren desert. Such an important book. Read it.

Sorceror to the Crown
One of the best books I read in 2016, hands down. 1800s-ish England, sorcery and magic, two fantastic characters fighting against patriarchy and racism, so delightful. I think it’s the first of a trilogy so I’m eagerly awaiting what’s next.

Longbourn
For a long time, I resisted any books that delved into Jane Austen’s worlds–anything like “sequels” to Pride & Prejudice or “companion” novels. I’ve gotten over that and loved the idea of Longbourn, which basically tells Pride & Prejudice from the point of view of one of the Bennet’s housemaids–or rather, you get peeks of the events of Pride & Prejudice while the maids have their own thing going on. I loved most of it, but I thought the section that goes into James’ past dragged on. I was so much more interested in Sarah’s journey and felt a little robbed at the end.

The Handmaid’s Tale
I’ve been on an off-and-on kick for a couple years now to read the books I “got away without reading” in high school and college (see: anything of Hemingway’s novels or above-mentioned I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) or the books I sort of or reluctantly read but didn’t really get (see: Jane Eyre, Lord of the Flies, anything by Dickens). The Handmaid’s Tale fell in the first category, and I wanted to read it before watching the show on Hulu. Of course I loved it, but man did I miss my college lit courses while reading it. So much to discuss! I want to write an essay examining Offred as an unreliable narrator. No, really, I do.

Born a Crime
First, Trevor Noah is just two years older than me, and he’s a billion times smarter and more thoughtful and articulate than I’ll ever be. I absolutely loved this, which is less a straight autobiography or memoir and more a collection of vignettes from his childhood in South Africa with his indomitable force of a mother. I appreciated that he wrote this for a younger western/American audience, who’s probably not too familiar with South Africa or apartheid–he starts each chapter with what you could call an “explanatory comma” to share some facts or insights about the country’s history to help readers understand his experience. So much good stuff, but I literally laughed out loud at the chapter about his breakdancing buddy Hitler (and woke up my husband so I could read him the whole passage).

The Goldfinch
Generally I liked this, but it wasn’t exactly an easy read. Especially the whole (rather long, slightly dragging) section where Theo’s in Las Vegas and I was like, man, I get that you lost your mom tragically and you’re in a complete shit situation, but please, please stop making terrible decisions! What I loved most were the descriptions of Hobie and his work. I love when a book takes something I have zero interest in–like restoring antique furniture–and makes it utterly fascinating.

Hag-Seed
I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when I grabbed this at the library, but I loved it. It’s Margaret Atwood’s interpretation and modern retelling of The Tempest, which I’d read in college but didn’t really remember. What’s great was she incorporated the original play into the novel–here, “Prospero” is a former creative director for a theater who was run out by his protege of sorts and winds up teaching Shakespeare to inmates, and during the bulk of the novel, he has them performing The Tempest so we get a decent summary of the plot and characters. So enjoyable, and this is part of a project from the publisher to get modern authors to rewrite some of Shakespeare’s plays and I want to read all the other books now. Actually I want to take a college course where we read the original plays and their corresponding retellings side by side and compare them. Can someone make that happen for me?

Sweetbitter
I heard so many good things about this, but it was a little meh for me. Possibly because I’ve never been a server? Possibly some of the characters’ pretension rubbed me the wrong way? Possibly because it was a little hard for me to get into the mind of a naive 22-year-old? Or maybe I just found it weird that you have to read over half the book to learn the main character’s name.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
I had a professor at Cal Poly who raved about this book. She spoke about it, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez in general, with such a reverence that I just assumed it was completely magical. And I guess you could say it was, but I think maybe I’m just not that into magical realism? Or I need more experience with that genre?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
This has probably already been discussed and dissected to death, so all I’ll say is I am LITERALLY DYING to see it performed live because I cannot imagine how they make actual magic happen on stage.

The Magicians
Oh God did this one suck. I had such high hopes for it; it’s commonly called a “grown-up” version of Harry Potter or whatever–the “magic school” is for college-age students and there are secret portals to other worlds that they discover and it all sounds wonderful. But I have SO MANY problems with the execution. Allow me to rant for a minute:

  • The main character, Quentin, is a privileged middle-class white dude who does nothing but whine about how hard his life is.
  • Alice, one of the secondary characters and Quentin’s girlfriend for part of the book, is SO MUCH more interesting than him and why couldn’t it have been told from her point of view?
  • For well over half the book, I had no idea what the plot was. Like, okay, they’re in school and learning magic and it’s hard and they get turned into geese and fly to Antarctica, but why? There’s one weird episode where a villain-like character appears and does something horrible, but the next chapter it’s like, everyone move on, business as normal. There’s no threat, there’s nothing they’re moving toward, even towards the end when they go through a portal to another world, you still have to wait and wait and wait until you finally figure out what’s going on and even then, I just didn’t buy it.

Basically, I only finished this because I’m still not one of those people who doesn’t finish books. But it wasn’t worth it. Quentin was such a terrible, unlikable, uninteresting character and there wasn’t anything else making me care about the other characters.  

The Mockingbird Next Door
After the fiasco with The Magicians, I asked my husband to pick out my next book for me, and he grabbed this off the shelf. Good choice, Husband. Part biography-ish of Harper Lee (and her sister, Alice), part memoir of the author’s time living next door to them in Monroeville, all around wonderful reading experience, especially if you like To Kill A Mockingbird (and who doesn’t?).

Whew. So, just a little TL;DR recommendation list:

Definitely

I Am Malala, Sorceror to the Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, Born a Crime, Hag-Seed, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Mockingbird Next Door

Maybe

Longbourn, The Goldfinch, Sweetbitter, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Skip

The Magicians

What are you reading? I still have (some) space on my bookshelves and an open library queue.