Reading Roundup: September/October

Read

A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I actually finished rereading the day after I posted my midway review in the last roundup. I found that I didn’t want to put it down.

All Grown Up by Jamie Attenberg. A fast phone read–I read about 40% while minding a boring post at a work event. I had so many feelings, not all of them positive. I respect and wrote about Attenberg’s earlier novel, The Middlesteins, which dips into a number of different characters’ perspectives. All Grown Up features just one–Andrea, thirtysomething and single and working a boring if stable job and trying and continuously failing to figure out how to be happy. I got so tired of Andrea, but her problems are my problems (barring the occasional dip into drug addiction and the extent of her tolerance for worthless men). There’s no lesson in the emotional ending, but part of the point of this book is that there isn’t a lesson. In this world, people don’t change for the better, they just get sadder and older. Perhaps that’s what I didn’t like about it–it offends the optimism I cling to for dear life.

What is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. It’s sort of cheating to include this book because it was several days into November when I finished it, but I enjoyed it so much that I can’t wait to talk about it. I felt let down by Oyeyemi’s last book, Boy, Snow, Bird, even before the rather dismaying plot twist. I think this author is at her best in structures like Mr. Fox, in which she can cartwheel between beautiful, mysterious fairytale-like short stories that are surprising but familiar. What is Not Yours returns to that format and opens up a series of captivating little worlds, some mundane and contemporary and others seemingly from times long past in lands where supernatural forces easily slip into daily life. But the stories mostly connect, so that characters you meet in one chapter might reappear decades later in another story, and you learn that the otherworldly student from the creepy puppet school grows up, falls in love, exists in the same plane as the contemporary teenager heartbroken over a celebrity crush. Each story is about longing, in some ways–wanting something that you cannot or should not have–and I found it reassuring that in the universe of these stories, one can recover from loss and yearning and magic and simply go on.

Reading

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I did it, I’m taking the class. Some of my favorite co-workers are in it. Now that I’m not reading it hungover on a stunning beach in Mexico, I’m able to appreciate the humor in it. It’s a challenge to read on my commute; Melville packs about three sentences into every one, with clauses and asides that make nautical jokes or fill in the picture of seafaring life two centuries ago, and if the bus jolts I lose my place and have trouble finding my way back. But I’m enjoying the ride immensely. Everyone is just so extra.
On the minus side, Moby-Dick is not a small book and reading it has considerably shortened my Read list.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. This is the only book I picked up at the book swap I hosted in August. I was more focused on given books away, but the book’s owner had written on a sticky note that the book about some medieval miniaturists trying to solve a murder, and I love me a good art history mystery. I was enjoying the story, too, but set it aside for by Moby-Dick and other distractions. Now the book’s previous owner has passed away and I wish I’d kept that sticky note. I am a little too sad to keep reading for the time being.

To Be Read

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Kindle, Amazon released pretty much all of Octavia Butler’s work for $1.99 apiece, and I downloaded everything I haven’t yet read. I am so excited.

I also picked up a copy of Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, which is the One Book One Philadelphia selection this year, and I am really looking forward to the experience of reading it at the same time that so many friends and neighbors are reading it. I loved that last year with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Book Blind Items

I started writing reviews for IndieReader.com. I can’t post my reviews anywhere else, but in way this is very liberating, because I can write here what I cannot say in my review, and just not mention which book it is.

The first book I received really troubled me, and I talked about it angrily to several friends before I tempered my response into a review format. During that time, I saw Colson Whitehead speak at the Wolf Humanities Center, and he said several things that helped me temper and modify my response. He quoted Toni Morrison in saying that the catastrophe of slavery makes it an inexhaustible subject. He also said that the very fine work of authors before him freed him from an obligation to social realism. In combination, these perspectives allows him to write a version of the Underground Railroad that involved a literal train: there was still more meaning to mine from that catastrophe, but no obligation to cleave only to the truth of what happened. Indeed, what factual recitation could really express the truth?

The first book I reviewed was set during the Civil Rights Era; written by a white author, the dedication said that she told this story so that her grandchildren would know the shadow history of the south (presuming, I guess, that they won’t read any of the high quality Civil Rights narratives by writers of color). The book, in addition to being poorly written, raped and maimed its black characters and peppered them with n-words, purportedly to show how bad things were Back Then. (One is reminded of the Game of Thrones defense: rape is historically accurate! that is definitely the only reason we are depicting it onscreen, and definitely not because we are trying to be edgy! also this has nothing to do with any sexual assault discourse today!) But why did we need a white author to write this story in this way? What do I, a white reader, gain by reading it? What on earth would a nonwhite reader get out of it?

The second book I received is just fic trash about some Yakuza assassins, but I’m not finished reading it and have not yet reviewed it.

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