This past fall was a bit of a rough time for me, and I escaped into books with abandon. I got way behind on podcasts and local news on the radio because every time I was in the car, I was listening to a book on Audible. But there are definitely worse vices than reading, so I'm not apologizing for having eight books to report!
"I've always been able to see the savageness beneath the veneer of society. It's not so very far beneath the surface, no matter where you go."
Delving into the emotional strife of three anthropologists battling their own demons as well as each others’, King’s historical novel set in 1930s New Guinea gave insight into a time and place that had been previously unknown - unthought of, even - by me. I was intrigued by the particularities of their lives - the trunks of books carried by boat onto remote islands, the tiny incestuous circle of fellow anthropologists, the divorcing from “traditional” society, and the drive for notoriety and that one big discovery. But I also found the triangle of behavior between the three main characters deeply disturbing, and not in a way that felt titillating and made me want to read more. Rather, I plodded through, hoping that each reading session might reveal some hidden meaning. But in the end, the book, ironically, left me feeling empty and sad.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post*
Emily M. Danforth
"I still didn't have any of the right words. 'It's more like maybe I do know and I'm still confused too, at the same time. Does that make sense? I mean, it's like how you noticed this thing about me tonight, you saw it, and you already knew it - it's there. But that doesn't mean it's not confusing or whatever.'"
When Cameron, a middle school girl in rural Montana in the mid-90s, kisses her best girl friend the night that her parents die in a car crash, those two events - her secret shame and her parents’ death - become so inextricably linked in her head and her heart that she must spend the next half a decade - and perhaps longer - trying to pull them apart. One of the must frustrating elements of the book is one of Danforth’s biggest strengths: inhabiting the confused, ashamed, and grief-stricken mind of a teenager. I found myself begging her to be rational, to say what she thinks, to stand up to people who were harming her. But I was forced to remember my own teenage self, my own inability to know, much less say aloud, what I needed. Cameron’s eventual expulsion to a gay conversion camp is heartbreaking but also holds a place of compassion for those who believe they’re doing the right thing. A compelling young adult novel. Note: I enjoyed this book in spite of the narration on audible - the narrator's tone sounded like a high class 40 year old rather than a middle school/high school kid.
Ask the Passengers*
"Look, this is a loan. I don't know if love is something I'll run out of one day. I don't know if I should be giving it to all you guys or not. Today, I feel like I should have kept some for myself for days when no one else loves me."
I wanted to love this book, and I did appreciate the concept - a young girl attempting to come to terms with not only her sexuality but also her feeling of teenage isolation talks to the passengers on the planes flying overhead in an attempt to find connection in the world. But, as much as I wanted that idea to take off, I thought the dialogue was often stilted or didn't ring true, and the plot felt forced. While King worked to develop the emotional life of her main character, the others in the book were archetypes of family villains or high school mean kids. Unless you’re a despondent teenager looking for an LGBT book, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Why Not Me?*
"When you are entitled, you are the most insufferable person ever. If you are entitled and hardworking, which I am, you are still pretty insufferable, but at least you somewhat earned your entitled behavior."
I love Mindy Kaling, so when I didn’t love her first book, I was a bit disappointed. When Why Not Me? Came out, I decided to listen on Audible so that I’d hear the book in her voice and perhaps increase my enjoyment. While I wish this one had been a bit longer, I absolutely enjoyed it more than her first book. Some of my greater appreciation was due, I’m sure, to listening to her reading it. But I think Kaling opened up a bit more in her second book, with essays that touched closer to her personal life and emotions. There were a few sections that really struck me. She talks about her body image issues in a way that made me want to pull over on the side of the road (I was listening while driving) and applaud and then cry. The section on her alter ego’s life in New York City as a teacher that’s just trying to make friends was so delightful I wished it were its own audiobook. And her final bit on confidence really got me thinking about how I want to spend my time (spoiler alert: working hard at the things I want to feel confident in).
Her Royal Spyness*
"Of course, I was more than a little curious to know why I was being summoned.... In truth, I felt as Anne Boleyn must have done when Henry VIII asked her to drop in for a flagon of ale, and not to wear anything with a high neckline."
It’s 1932, and Lady Georgiana, 34th in line to the English throne, must find some way to support herself now that meager times have forced her brother to cut off her allowance. Enter a dead body, a dashing young Irishman, and demands from the queen, and you’ve got yourself a smart little murder mystery, a la Sherlock Holmes meets Murder She Wrote meets Downton Abbey. Bowen creates a world of vibrant and memorable characters that I could see as I read. Mysteries have not traditionally been my genre of choice, but I got a hankering to read some in the historical/chick lit vein. This one captured my interest, completely held my attention, and often had me laughing at the characters’ delightful turn of phrase. I will note that I listened to this one on Audible, and the narrator is FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC. If you are able to listen, do it.
"'What's the plan?' she asked. He grinned. 'My plan is to do things that make you want to hang out with me again tomorrow. What's your plan?' 'I'm going to try not to make an ass of myself.' He grinned. 'So we're all set.'"
Oh Rainbow Rowell. I feel as though I should be ashamed, at least a little bit, of how deeply I fall in love with the questioning glances and the hand-holding and the impossibly perfect young loves in Rowell’s books, but I’m not. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and she does it perfectly. I was initially put-off with Cath's (the main character) hatred for…well, for all things. But, page by page, Rowell pulls the reader into Cath’s inner world, that confusing first-year-of-college world, so that you begin to understand why she hides her fears and insecurities behind a mask of indifference and judgment. And in comes Levi, all tall and gangly and as perfect as any 21 year old boy has ever been, and even a grown lesbian can’t help herself from swooning. I can’t give any bigger recommendation than to say that I listened to the second half of this book twice. Just because I wanted to hear it again.
Shine On, Bright & Dangerous Object
"We discussed these things in short takes, over a long time. But the rest of the time we put our hands over our eyes, with only a space between our fingers to see the other. Both of those stances, we felt, were right. We would have been silly if we had not been so serious, so dedicated to caution, so careful to see if we were right, since we both felt our position to be risky and assailable."
More a beautiful character study than a plot-driven novel, Shine On is worth reading simply for hours spent with Colwin’s exquisite descriptions of the physical and emotional world. Her words hold the appeal of an earlier literary style where prose flowed more like poetry, and I found myself highlighting (on my Kindle) passages every other page. Through the internal journey the main character takes in the months following the sudden death of her husband and her young widowhood, Colwin shares the depths of marriage and what draws us to another person. That being said, the descriptions did start to wear on me as I began to want more plot and action and fewer epiphanies over the nature of love. Her language is gorgeous, and had the ratio of action to description been switched, I’d probably count this among my favorite books.
Killing and Dying
"I had not thought ahead to that moment somehow. Standing there alone, I wanted to be invisible, to evaporate."
I should begin by saying that I’ve never read a graphic novel or graphic short stories, and this seemed like a big leap into the genre. The stories were dark, filled with characters who, for the most part, seemed to embody the worst of human nature and the human experience. And, if any of my above reviews didn’t make it clear, I’m mostly in a not-dark place in my literary desires at the moment. Also, I had to remind myself to focus on the pictures, since my inclination was to just rush through the words, so I’m sure I didn’t absorb the full impact of the book.
*Listened on Audible