Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Some of the Books I Read Over the Summer, and What I thought About Them

Well. Hello there. It's been a while. I hope you all had a glorious summer filled with love, light, and laughter (and just a little bit of spirits;)). Here's what I read during the long lazy days (disclaimer: don't expect anything highfallutin' in here; it's mostly mind candy).

#1: The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene. Nothing like a book about two kids suffering from debilitating cancers to liven up your family vacation. Honestly, though, I thought the book was tender and surprising, the voice memorable and authentic, and the mood at once sad and hopeful. Well worth the read.
#2: The Fifty Shades Books: Honestly, I mainly read these books to see what all the hubbub was about. I'm still trying to figure that one out. The sex is pretty tame (especially for so-called "erotica"), the characters lackluster (yes, Christian Grey, in my opinion, is just boring after a certain point), and the writing is atrocious. If I read the phrase "my inner-goddess whined/panted/cheered/etc." one. more. time., I thought I would lose my mind. But hey, James is the gazillionaire here, so she obviously knows something I don't. Also, while seemingly risqué, the books are so deeply traditional, it's unsettling. Much of it reads like a Twilight-Daddy-fantasy on crack. I rather prefer my significant other not to tell me what to do, down to what I will eat. I realize that part of the books' intrigue is about giving over control of oneself in a sexual situation, but they ultimately filter down to the young female character giving up all of her own dreams in order to make her man happy in and out of the bedroom. And that's the real ick factor of these books, in my opinion. 
#3: Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities: This book. Oh this book. It is absolutely fascinating. If you are interested in del Toro at all, and the ways in which his maniacally obsessive brain works, with its attention to macabre detail, you need this book. The end.
#4: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult: Yet another reading picture that involves my legs. Oh, well. I read this book on the recommendation of a few of my students after they read the novel Briar Rose by Jane Yolen in my Literature of Fantasy and Reality class. I have to say I was not expecting a whole lot. I had never read anything else by Picoult and had categorized her alongside Nicholas Sparks. But this book was very good, finely wrought and filled with detail. I found the conclusion jarring, but overall I enjoyed Picoult's style, especially in pages that I want to fill up my summer. I'll read more by her.
#5: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: The end of this book sucks. There. I said it. I mean, it sucks something horrible. But the rest of it is damn good. My favorite part of the novel was the juxtaposition of different voices and how each character toyed with his/her language in order to manipulate those reading the "documents" that make up the book's tale. Flynn's adept spinning of her characters' words made them at once thoroughly unlikable and utterly captivating. I can't wait for the film to come out, although I think someone like Mark Wahlberg would have been a much better choice to play Nick Dunne.
#6: On Writing by Stephen King: I re-read King's masterful memoir on the craft of writing this summer. As a teacher of writing (and a hack of a writer myself), I appreciate King's matter-of-fact, down-to-earth, pragmatic approach to writing. He doesn't attempt to mystify the reader or to settle himself among the writerly elite; in fact, he does quite the opposite. I imagine myself sitting down with him at a bar (pre-rehab), popping potato chip bags, and talking about words. He is that likable, that close to someone you just might know in this book. My favorite quote, by far?  Here it is, with King talking about the critique you might find at a creative writing retreat: "And, instead of pelting these babbling idiots with their own freshly toasted marshmallows, everyone else sitting around the fire is often nodding and smiling and looking solemnly thoughtful. In too many cases the teachers and writers in residence are nodding, smiling, and looking solemnly thoughtful right along with them. It seems to occur to few of the attendees that if you have a feeling you just can't describe, you might just be, I don't know, kind of like, my sense of it is, maybe in the wrong fucking class" (233).
#7: 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker: I picked this book up at a local Goodwill. That should have told me something (actually, I take that back; one can find a great selection of books at the Goodwill). Anyhow, I liked the premise of the book - that giving one thing a day can create an aura of good will surrounding the giver and change his or her life. That said, I found Walker as an author unlikable. There was a deep self-righteousness about the book that I found off-putting. I did appreciate her struggle with her disease and her efforts to deal with it by giving. But Walker, herself, I was not compelled by. Try her out for yourself and see what you think.
#8: Einstein' Daughter by Michelle Zackheim: If I'm being honest, I'm still reading this book, having just started it, but I love Zackheim's method of storytelling, blending biography, letters, and historical narrative.
#9: Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and Haunting by W. Scott Poole: This book has been living on my shelves for a while, and I have started and stopped it several times. I finally made it through this summer. I appreciate Poole's style. He writes in a manner that is accessible and thought-provoking. I like it when an academic writer talks straight.
Here's the new stack. I want to re-read both Anne of Green Gables and Huck Finn, and I love these pretty Puffin editions. I'm also super-excited for the third one down, see below.

I mean, doesn't this one sound interesting??
See you tomorrow!! Promise. Pinky swear. A/J

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