Quarterly Book Report: July 2015

These last three months were tough for reading, in part because I got stuck on a couple books that I still haven't finished and in part because garden season began. Sadly, I finished only three books since March, though I'm partially through a few others. And the ones I did complete - all audiobooks. Sigh. 

Do you do that? Get stuck on a book? I'll get a little bit bossy with myself  - "You can start that book after you finish this one, but not any sooner!" - as if I'm in need of strict parenting about my leisure reading habits. And I'm desperate for a good escapist novel, so I've got to either make it through these books or let it go! 

For now, here's what I "read" April - June. 

I Can't Complain: (all too) personal essays*
Elinor Lipman

"Perhaps I live in an overly frank family. My husband has an expression that I call 'evaluative.' His features rearrange themselves into something that is part squint, part frown, a look I've seen on the faces of judges at the Westminster Dog Show. Occasionally he undergoes a moment of delicacy before blurting out what the offense is, but most often he diagnoses and prescribes without much soul-searching. My son will say, 'Ma? You're not planning to wear those pants outside the house, are you?' Not now, I won't."

It took me a couple of essays to get into this simple little collection by Elinor Lipman, with some of the early essays in the collection feeling a bit dated (they're reprinted from pieces she's written throughout her career). But by the end, I was completely in love and wanted to take her out to lunch. Her witty and matter-of-fact take on culture, marriage, and friendship were refreshing and often had me laughing out loud. And on a couple rare occasions, I was wiping back tears. When it ended, I missed her. 

Bad Feminist*
Roxanne Gay

"We need to stop playing Privilege or Oppression Olympics because we'll never get anywhere until we find more effective ways of talking through difference. We should be able to say, 'This is my truth,' and have that truth stand without a hundred clamoring voices shouting, giving the impression that multiple truths cannot exist."

I had a love-hate relationship with Gay's book of essays on feminism and her relationship to it. For starters, I went in with the wrong expectations. The title and a few things I'd read about the book gave me the impression that I'd be cozying up to another How to Be a Woman - a funny take on the journey of being a modern-day feminist. But she actually takes books like that to task for demanding that feminism always be funny in order to be swallowed. There are some amusing moments in Bad Feminist, but it is, for the most part, a very serious book about serious issues. Many of the essays are lengthy academic pieces of literary criticism, and in many I found myself zoning out a bit (not the fault of the book but of my atrophied lit crit muscles). I liked best the pieces where she delved into her own personal experiences. I'm glad I read the collection because it gave me insight I wouldn't otherwise have - into the life of a black female academic grappling with her place in the world and our society's handling of race and gender from that perspective. I found myself arguing with her often, which I think told me as much (or more) about myself as it did about her. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette*
Maria Semple

"Those East Coast kids are a different breed, on a fast track to nowhere. Your friends in Seattle are Canadian in their niceness. None of you has a cell phone. The girls wear hoodies and big cotton underpants and walk around with tangled hair and smiling, adorned backpacks. Do you know how absolutely exotic it is that you haven't been corrupted by fashion and pop culture? A month ago I mentioned Ben Stiller, and do you know how you responded? 'Who's that?' I loved you all over again."

I read a ton of great reviews of this one from some of my favorite bloggers, and I was prepared to really love this quirky novel about a teenage girl's search for her mom who suddenly goes missing from their Seattle home. While it kept my interest, I wasn't head over heels. The writing and the characters were fun and unique, but I was bugged by some character choices that seemed not understandable or believable to me. Each person in the book behaved at times in ways that were incomprehensible but were not really addressed by others in the book, something that is arguably not a flaw but bothered me nonetheless. On the other hand, I adored the epistolary style and the frame of the main character's detective work. The book is told from the viewpoint of Bee Branch, a 15-year old girl, and all information is revealed through the documents (most emails and letters) she is combing through on the search for her mother. It was original, and it totally worked.

*Listened on Audible

p.s. April's Quarterly Book Report

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