Subjectivity and Books

For over a year now, I’ve been slowly making my way through a Twilight saga reread at the pace of one chapter per day, on days I feel up to it. The purpose of the reread is to note how my reading tastes and critiquing abilities have changed in the last 10 years. By this point, I realize that I’m also reading so that I can box these books away– the Twilight saga was important to me once, but I don’t think I will ever be reading it again. For a shameless hoarder, I’m surprised by how happy I am to be saying goodbye to an entire series.

I’ve always thought there are (arguably) two reasons to read a book– for merit, or for enjoyment. Sure, sometimes the two overlap, and sometimes a reader is disappointed to stumble upon a dud that fits into neither of those categories. And of course, reading is highly subjective. One person will find art in a book that another will not, a plot arc will be enjoyable to one reader and boring to another. And yet, I picked up Eclipse this year without expecting to find merit in the story or have much fun with it– I expected to learn about myself. I can’t say that I’ve ever read with that intent before outside of assigned biology textbooks and the like, but here we are.

eclipseI suppose the first time my twelve year-old self read Twilight she thought there was merit in that book. I believe it was the first book about vampires I had read, the first book with an “awkward” narrator, the first book that was almost entirely about the romance. And it was also a major phenomenon at the time that all of my friends bought into, which was hard to resist.

I’ve always been loyal reader. I forget characters and plot and details easily, but I remember forever how I felt about a book. For a long time, I’ve remained loyal to my first bookish impressions, and am finally submitting to the possibility that while first impressions are important, they don’t need to dictate a my entire future with a book. Just because I loved Twilight in my embarrassing tween years does not mean I need to love it forever. But nor do I need to bury that experience so deeply that I can pretend that past naïve version of myself did not exist. I can grow from this.

Even when I was eventually convinced that the Twilight saga’s merit stemmed from its ability to generate a wide YA audience and start a sort of revolution for better teenage books, I still found enjoyment in the series. As I mentioned, I’m a loyal reader. Even last year when I began rereading Twilight, I found some enjoyment in the nostalgia for a long-gone era of my life and the magic that I thought I saw in this series when reading it for the first time. But now, three books in, I’m resigned to changing my mind. Eclipse was my favorite book in the Twilight saga in all of the years that I could say I still remotely liked these books. This time, Eclipse has been my least favorite read of the series so far. I find Jacob’s behavior in this volume abhorrent, Edward and all of his controlling issues boring, Bella at once overdramatic and spineless. The love triangle feels forced, the villains are hardly present in the story, and the romance no longer makes sense to me.

It’s hard to admit I may have been wrong about a book or series. It’s hard because if I was wrong once, if I need to change my mind about this one thing, how can I rely on all of my previous opinions about all of the other books I’ve read? Should I reread everything? But what if in another ten years I’ve grown enough mentally that my opinion will no longer match what it is even now? Would I have more accurate results if I simply reread the same book over and over and over until I die, noting every nuance of every opinion on every reread and trying to form one solid opinion from that massive log of data? How can I trust anyone else’s reviews when I can’t even trust my own?

The time when you read a book for the first time matters. Everything matters– your personal background, your present circumstances, the list of every book you’ve ever read before, including the ones you can’t exactly remember. Everything influences your reading of a book, to the extent that even if you reread a book immediately after finishing it the first time, you will no longer be the same person with the same opinion about that same book that you were a week ago. A review, a rating, a private impression of a book– these are snapshots that reveal as much about the reader as the text. And that is why, despite the fact that it seems an older version of myself cannot “trust” my earlier reviews, I will continue to rate and review and add to my mental store of impressions about the books I read. They’re a documentation of my reading life, and of my self.

Admitting that I no longer find any merit or enjoyment in Eclipse is a change for me (though admittedly, I’ve been completely avoiding the subject ever since I began to suspect this might be the case). Allowing myself to accept that I simply no longer feel the same about a book as I once did is a bigger change, an alteration that shows how my experience with books has changed even in the year since my post about rereading Twilight (you can also check out my thoughts on rereading New Moon this past spring). These are good changes, I think, and I’m glad that such a dismal reread inspired such a level of introspection. Perhaps there is merit in reading a book that has no merit in itself.

I do intend to continue this series reread with The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (a between-the-books novella) and Breaking Dawn, at the same rate of one chapter per day on days that I’m interested. And I hope that those rereads will be just as fruitfully self-reflective, before they free up some much-needed space on my shelves.

Do you have a hard time rereading books that you think you’d feel differently about after time has passed? Is it easier to accept a positive opinion change, or a negative one?


The Literary Elephant


Review: Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating

Occasionally (admittedly very rarely) I’m in the mood for a romance novel. The last time the mood struck was June, so I suppose I was due for a relapse. I’m not entirely sure why I keep trying with romance novels because they’re never exactly what I want them to be in the way that other novels can be exactly what I’m looking for even before I know what I’m looking for. But there’s something very freeing about picking up a book I have absolutely no expectations for, so I keep coming back. This time, I tried my first ever Christina Lauren (an author duo) novel, an adult romance that was published in September: Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating.

joshandhazel'sguidetonotdatingAbout the book: Josh is in a relationship with a woman who makes no effort to be a part of his life, a woman his family and friends dislike; the relationship has no future, as Josh is discovering. Hazel is a lively elementary school teacher who tries with men, but mostly sees herself as undateable because she can’t stay with anyone who is embarrassed by her, but she can’t change her personality, either. Even Josh, who she met in college, laughs at the idea of a serious relationship with Hazel. But now that Hazel is working with Josh’s sister, a new bond is formed; Josh and Hazel try to help each other out by setting up blind double dates, but the more time they spend together the more they realize that their assumptions about each other may have been wrong, and that their burgeoning friendship matters more than either ever expected it would.

Unfortunately, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating was the least impressive contemporary romance I’ve read all year. Granted, I’ve only read three. But before I get into the complaints…

This book does have several good points. It is considerate and inclusive of minorities, the central romance is healthy and non-problematic, and the characters stay true to themselves. Ideally, these are components for a perfect romance, right?

“A tiny voice reminds me that Josh didn’t bother to blow smoke up my butt and tell me what a lovely place I had. He never lies, or fakes enthusiasm. He just accepts me.”

But the plot is predictable (as often happens with romance novels), and worse, it’s rather uninteresting. The entire premise of the blind double-dates made me cringe– I missed that part of the synopsis and might not have picked this book up if I had caught it– and it only gets worse as every single contender turns out to be more awful than the last. I don’t have much faith in blind dating to begin with and have not bothered with it in real life, but are people really so horrible? Do real people behave this badly over a single meal with a stranger? There is no angst or spark in Josh and Hazel’s growing connection because there are literally no other people in their lives to stand in their way. Between their uncaring exes and their new rude acquaintances, Josh and Hazel are all but forced together. There is no resistance.

Let’s take a closer look at Hazel. It’s admirable of Christina Lauren to include a female character that is so entirely confident and herself that she would rather keep trying over and over and end up alone after every failure than consider changing who she is. But she feels more like a type than a character– Hazel is the epitome of the “quirky girl,” although most of her wildness comes out in the stories from her college days rather than her present behavior. Every time she takes a drink, she makes a show of telling someone they need to basically staple her shirt to her body so that she can’t drunkenly take it off, but nowhere in the book does she actually have to be stopped from undressing in public.  Hazel is boisterous and unapologetic, but there’s a disconnect between how “crazy” everyone seems to think she is and the way she is actually presented in this novel.

“I’m Crazy Hazie and he’s Awesome Josh (hangover prevents me from finding something that rhymes with Josh) and nothing– I mean nothing— scares me more than the idea of us dating and him deciding that I’m too wild, too weird, too chaotic. Too much.”

And yet, in all of the time that they’re spending together, they’re dating each other in all but name and she has no reason to think that he could be scared away. This is just one example of how nonexistent the obstacles are between Josh and Hazel. Every now and then they think they have a reason to hold back, but the reader knows it’s bogus and not going to last. And that gets in the way of emotional investment in these characters.

Fortunately, the books speeds up toward the end as the drama passes from dating games to more serious life challenges, and it does end with a lot of positive commentary about kindness and acceptance in a variety of relationships– romantic, familial, and friendly.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. There’s nothing actually wrong with this book, it’s just… boring? Usually even if I don’t have a lasting appreciation for romance novels they do at least offer some instant amusement, but I was losing the will to finish this story as I read. There was nothing in the writing or plot to inspire actual hate for this book, it just seemed lackluster. I might try one more romance before the mood dies, but I’m feeling less interested after this one. I might even try one more Christina Lauren novel, as there was potential in the intent, even though this book didn’t impress me in the end.

Further recommendations:

  • For a more engaging “dating” game, try Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game, an adult romance about competitive co-workers who love to hate each other.
  • For diverse romance, try Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient, an adult gender-bent Pretty Woman romance between a mixed-race man and an autistic woman. This book is a Goodreads Choice Awards winner!


The Literary Elephant

Novel Progress 12.18

In January of 2018, I set myself a goal– well, several goals of course, but one that mattered more to me than the rest: to finish my first novel. There have been some bumps in the road, and I didn’t expect it to take this long. But here we are in the last month of the year, and… I’m on track to finish.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I’ve had a phenomenal time of it the last month or so. Between my road trip in July/August and my insane work hours in October/November, I got stuck in the middle portion of the book. But I’ve broken free. I’ve moved on.  And now I’m in the last chapter.

My book is a soft paranormal/sci-fi that’s mainly focused on the ways the characters cope with the bizarre and unfair hand they’ve been dealt. It includes two supernatural elements, but the reader should be able to relate realistically to growing and changing through the unavoidable (and often non-magical) circumstances life tends to throw in one’s path. I’ve divided it into nine chapters, each of which is subdivided into various character perspectives. In the past month, I’ve thoroughly revised and edited chapters 1-7 to fit my final image for the book. I’ve written the missing half of chapter 8. And I’ve begun work on chapter 9.

I’m currently at only 2k out of my goal of 10k words; most of the 2k I already have consists of bare structural notes that need to be expanded into proper writing. When I’m satisfied with chapter 9, I want to do a final sweep through chapters 7-9 since I’ve written new content into those chapters most recently and I’ll want to brush up my edits and make sure everything stands. And then I’ll want to read the whole thing through, because I’ve never actually done that. Since I’ve been revising and editing as I go, this first/only draft will be finished very abruptly, almost as soon as I hit my target word count. Also, I’ve been focusing so single-mindedly on one chapter at a time through much of this process that I haven’t seen it all fit together. I have checked the transitions between chapters for coherency, but I’ve not yet read more than two chapters of the book at a time. I’ve been saving that experience.

But don’t let me get ahead of myself. I still need to finish writing chapter 9 before I get to any “final sweeps.” There are a lot of characters and a lot of details that need to come together in the finale, and I’ve got plenty of notes but it will still be an tricky balancing act to make it all play out right. It’s a little stressful, but also… I’m so excited about the way it’s turning out and how close I am to the end! I’m trying not to think much about 2019 goals until this 2018 goal is wrapped up.

It’s definitely been a learning process. I started this project in the summer of 2016, and have been on-and-off with it ever since. I’ve believed in the story from the start, but not always in myself. It’s hard to make forward progress when you’re convinced you’re going to fail. It took me a long time to realize that even if it never gets published or even read, I won’t be any worse off for having tried with this novel. In fact, I would say I’ll be better off. I have read hundreds of books and written hundreds of pages in the last two and a half years, not always on track with this manuscript, but pages that have shaped who I am as a reader and writer all the same. I understand so much more about how stories work now that I’ve been experimenting. My writing has developed in leaps and bounds, and I’m proud of it. And that’s been worth the journey, no matter what happens with the story.

And the story– it is such a different creature than it was when I started. I’m a pantser. Nothing gives me greater pleasure in writing than starting a story that I don’t know how to end, but I have never followed an idea so far down the path of discovery. It’s funny to look back at notes and paragraphs I cut out of the story and see how much has evolved. I don’t think a draft will ever take me so long again, now that I know I can do it, and how.

But first, to finish chapter 9. In fact, I had best get back to it now.

This year, I’m going to be a finisher.


The Literary Elephant.

Review: The Lies We Told

I’ve been having some bad luck with thrillers this year; or perhaps, I’ve gotten too good at seeing through the clues to be impressed with anything mysterious/suspenseful that I’ve picked up this year. And yet, they always tempt me. So from Book of the Month’s October selections, I chose another thriller: Camilla Way’s The Lies We Told. I read this book at the end of November.

thelieswetoldAbout the book: Clara wakes up one morning in the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Luke, and discovers that he never came home. He doesn’t show up to work that day, either. Clara checks with his friends and family, and then she calls the police. But things keep getting weirder, especially with Luke’s family. What Clara doesn’t know is that there’s a connection between Luke’s disappearance and another family’s tragedy years earlier. In the 1980’s, Beth notices that her young daughter is behaving strangely, even before the girl learns a devastating secret about her parents. As the two narratives merge, long-standing lies (and more recent ones) might ruin everything for Clara.

“She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong. Despite his colleagues’ laughter, she didn’t really think he’d been with another woman. Even if he had, a one-night stand didn’t take this long, surely. She made herself face the real reason for her anxiety: Luke’s ‘stalker.’ “

My main problem with the thrillers I’ve been picking up in 2018 is that I read them expecting to be surprised, and am let down when I can predict what’s going to happen. Whether this is a fault of the books I’ve been reading or a recent proficiency in mystery-solving, I’ve been disappointed. Fortunately, The Lies We Told was a welcome deviation from that cycle. Though I was able to put some of the pieces together ahead of the characters, none of the clues struck me as so blatantly obvious that the puzzle was all but assembling itself. The Lies We Told kept me thinking, and a correct guess felt rewarding rather than frustrating. Furthermore, the big twists connecting the book’s two narratives did take me completely by surprise.

Another boon is the fact that both story lines held my attention completely, even before they started coming together. Clara’s present-day search for Luke is very different than Beth’s odd experiences with her young daughter, but I never found myself hurrying through one to get back to the other. There are a few clear red herrings meant to trick the reader who tries to figure out the way that the two stories connect, but despite seeing a few answers that were not going to pan out for Clara, I was no closer to stumbling upon the correct answer myself. I would be incredibly impressed by any reader who’s able to solve this mystery ahead of the characters, as the hints are extremely subtle.

But perhaps the best feature of all is the unique, trope-defying details of the crimes involved in this novel. We’ve seen the jealous girlfriend, the abusive husband, the missing wife that many thrillers incorporate. But I can’t think of a single other thriller in which it’s the boyfriend who’s kidnapped, there’s no female-female hate inspired by some unhealthy romance, and the villain’s motives are explained by trauma and disorders rather than unexplored cruelty. The Lies We Told is full of strong women who don’t always make the right choices but do stand up for themselves, and men who get what they deserve when they’ve crossed someone.

” ‘Funny,’ she said, ‘how it’s always us women who are left to deal with the shit men leave behind, isn’t it?’ “

Let’s talk briefly about the quotes that I pulled. Maybe no one pays attention to the lines I like to include in my reviews for a sampling of the author’s writing, but I’d like to point out that today’s quotes were chosen solely for their content. The first gives a glimpse of the book’s premise, and the second demonstrates the kick-ass nature of the women who impressed me in the story. But I didn’t mark a single line in this novel that stood out to me just because it sounded nice or resonated with me. That’s pretty rare. Though the plotting of The Lies We Told is undeniably competent, the writing on a sentence-by-sentence level does not try to impress. That’s not a deal-breaker for me, but it is something I noticed fairly early.

My only real complaint is a lack of suspense. So many of the dangers in this book crop up quickly and don’t give the reader a chance to be scared for the characters before disaster strikes. The villain’s acts are calculated, not crazy. There’s a lot of tragedy in this book, but not many real thrills; until the final, disturbing implication at the end of the novel, I was never worried about Clara’s safety at all. That said, Camilla Way does nail the ending.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Though I still haven’t found a new favorite thriller this year (but hey, there’s still time), it was such a relief to read one this solid and engaging after a string of duds. Way strikes me as an author to watch, though I’m undecided about picking up her previous thriller, Watching Edie. I’m curious, but I don’t have any strong feelings one way or the other yet so I’ll keep my options open.

Further recommendations:

  • Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go is a great mystery/thriller for readers who like to be surprised. The first half might seem a bit slow, but there’s a twist at the halfway point that’s practically impossible to predict even when you know something’s coming. And then that first part looks a lot more interesting, just as the pace picks up for the second half. It’s wonderfully constructed.
  • But if you’re looking for a bit more suspense, nothing beats Riley Sager’s slasher thriller Final GirlsThis one also has a bold twist that managed to surprise me, but also every weird clue along the way is engaging and intriguing. This one would make a great film.

Any 2018 thrillers that have disappointed you this year?


The Literary Elephant

Review: A Ladder to the Sky

I’ve seen John Boyne’s name on book covers for years, but it wasn’t until so many readers adored The Heart’s Invisible Furies that I felt like I was really missing out by not having picked up any of his titles. Admittedly, I still haven’t gotten around to The Heart’s Invisible Furies, though I do have a copy at the ready. But when his 2018 release, A Ladder to the Sky came out, and when BOTM made it available as a November selection, I could not put off reading some of Boyne’s work any longer. So I read A Ladder to the Sky at the end of November… and I kind of wish I hadn’t.

aladdertotheskyAbout the book: Maurice Swift started his adult life as a waiter in a hotel restaurant, where he had the good fortune of waiting on a prestigious author who graciously (if somewhat selfishly) took Maurice under his literary wing. Maurice has aspirations of his own literary fame, but isn’t having much luck with writing- his style is competent, but he cannot think up any original plots. Thanks to his new mentor, he is able to pick up a trick or two from inside the publishing industry… and he finds his first great plot while mixing with great writers. The problem is that the idea didn’t originate in his own brain, and so his dubious career as an author is built on stolen plots that he passes them off as his own.

“This is what a writer does. Uses his or her imagination. Tries to understand how it feels to be alive in a moment that never existed with a person who never lived, saying words that were never spoken aloud.”

Unfortunately, I think this was a bad case of right-author-wrong-book. Though Boyne’s skill at shaping and narrating a difficult story shone through clearly, A Ladder to the Sky was not a particularly enjoyable reading experience for me. You know those characters people talk about loving to hate? Apparently I just hate them. Maurice is so awful, selfish, and manipulative that instead of appreciating his terribleness I found myself so often uncomfortable with his actions to an extent that I had to put the book down and was reluctant to pick it up again.

One thing that helped me make it through is that this book is divided into three main segments, and between those segments are shorter “interludes.” I liked the interludes better than any of the larger sections- the first one is told from a perspective far enough away from Maurice’s poison that I could observe him more objectively. The second interlude does show Maurice’s perspective, but as a largely powerless child; I did enjoy seeing him discovering his own personality and finding his limits (or lack thereof) at that stage of his life. But the three main sections built up horror after horror.

“I’d only been at their table a few minutes but had already managed to insult them both and make them each feel like shit, so I was beginning to feel that my work there was done.”

Part of my problem with the larger narrative sections is that they’re a bit predictable. All I knew going into this book is that Maurice is an ambitious writer who steals plots. This is not a spoiler; I don’t know why anyone would pick up this book without knowing that part of the premise and feeling intrigued about it (excepting the readers who pick it up because it has Boyne’s name on the cover; perhaps if I was a fan of his previous works I would have had a different reaction to this one, hence regretting picking this one as my first Boyne novel). But by knowing that Maurice is a plot stealer, I spent the entire first section seeing right through his flimsy ruse and spotted the soon-to-be-stolen plot immediately. Then I spent the entire second section knowing he was about to do it again, and seeing exactly where the new plot was coming from. By the time I got to the third section, there was absolutely no mystery in seeing Maurice falling into the trap of a new version of his own game.

The dramatic irony keeps the narration interesting even when the plot seems obvious, though. Maurice is constantly telling hypocritical lies and disturbing half-truths to characters who either don’t understand or can’t do anything to stop him. Maurice’s fate in the final section is so rewarding that I couldn’t look away despite its transparency. This is a book to read for the character study rather than surprise– I just didn’t want to study the character of Maurice.

” ‘You’ve let me down, Maurice, you really have.’ ‘Well, I wouldn’t take it personally,’ he replied. ‘I’ve done that to quite a few people over the years.’ “

But another saving grace was the interesting insight into the publishing industry. Of course this is a work of fiction, but it’s so amusing to see how even fictional writers and editors and publishers pursue their professions and interact with each other inside the small sphere of that world. Anyone interested in writing is probably going to appreciate the literary references. Even if the publishing industry on display here is biased and corrupt.

“The irony was that, in 1939, I had seen something beautiful and told its creator that it was a travesty. And now, almost fifty years later, I had read something terrible and, when asked, would surely praise it. Really, it was unconscionable behavior.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I experienced some extreme ups and downs with this book, but I am absolutely looking forward to picking up another John Boyne novel. I’ve got The Heart’s Invisible Furies on my shelf and it’s calling my name. I think any Boyne book that doesn’t include Maurice Swift is going to be a hit for me and I can’t wait to test that theory.

What’s a book you’ve read that you didn’t like but made you think you’d like the author anyway?


The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 11.18

November: also known as The Month of My Worst Reading Slump of 2018.

Even though I was incredibly busy in October and the 8 books that I managed to read felt like slacking, November was a whole different beast. I started The Bachman Books on the 28th of October, read half of it before the 1st of November, and then spent more than half of the month reading the second half of that book. Why? Because I’m stubborn, I guess. I couldn’t let the book win, so I just kept trying even though it was dragging me down. It wasn’t even a terrible book. Let’s just take a look at what happened.

Personal Trends:

  • The first week or so of November was spent finishing the seasonal job that kept me so busy in October, and by the time that was over I had been away from my writing project for about 6 weeks and was dying to get back to it. Between the reading slump and the upsurge of motivation to finish writing my novel (more on that later this week), I just wasn’t reading as much this month. It was my worst reading month of the entire year. But I did manage to finish a lot of writing and editing.
  • November was also a catch-up month for me with blog posts; so many of the tags and reviews that went up this month were from last month, but I’m finally pretty close to being back on schedule.

Book-to-Film Adaptations:

  • The Haunting of Hill House, ssn 1. I read Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name last year, and though it was only a 4-star read for me, I really loved some things about it and couldn’t pass up this Netflix adaptation. This first season was nothing like what I remember from the book, although I could see how it might set up the show for a more faithful season in the future. It didn’t seem like there was much of a common thread through all of the different character arcs, so it felt a bit like a conglomeration of every possible horror element rather than a cohesive storyline; everyone was haunted in different ways, which was weird. I also found some of the relationships pretty soap-opera over-dramatic. But parts of the season were delightfully creepy, and it was fun to watch something like this around Halloween.
  • Outlander ssn 3. This season corresponds with Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager, which was one of my favorite novels of the series back when I did a guilty-pleasure binge in 2016. The first two seasons of the show were better than the books, in my opinion, but this third season fell flat for me. For one thing, it seemed like a transitional season, with a lot of flashbacks and a long voyage, but there’s not really a big plot arc that connects the different parts of the season. There’s more focus on the romance  than the wacky adventures, which makes the romance feel cheesier to me. I have higher hopes for season 4, but I’ll wait to watch it until all of the episodes are out.
  • Dark Places. I read Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name possibly in 2013? It was my second of Flynn’s 3 novels and my least favorite, but I was in the mood for it after Hill House. This movie follows the novel fairly closely, as far as I can remember, but I liked the film even less than the book. I found adult-Libby grating in the film, and Ben’s involvement/noninvolvement in the murders a lot more obvious. I did like the portrayal of the day leading up to the murders, but the later timeline wasn’t as satisfying. I would definitely recommend the novel over the film.
  • Under the Dome ssn 1. I read Stephen King’s novel of the same name in 2011, and for several years it was the longest book I had ever read. It wasn’t one of my favorites of King’s books, but parts of it have stuck with me more than I expected and I think I would like it more on a reread now that I’m older. It’s a very character-driven story, both in the book and the film. There are some differences in the storyline between the formats, and the film seems to have more of a supernatural bent than I remember from the novel; the Dome is practically a character itself in the film. But it was enjoyable and addicting to watch, but I do recommend reading the novel first. Even though it’s long, it knows where to end– the show gets weird after the first season (more on that next month) but there’s not a good end point to the story before it veers off.

Finished Books:

(All titles linked to my full reviews, if I’ve posted them)

  1. Sabrina by Nick Drnaso. sabrina3 stars. This is a graphic novel, the first ever nominated for the Man Booker Prize. I read this in early November over a single afternoon, hoping it would break me out of that reading slump. It didn’t. There are some great concepts about modern engagement with media, but I knew too much going in to enjoy it as much as I could have. Some aspects I really liked about it, some I really didn’t.
  2. The Bachman Books by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King). 3 stars. thebachmanbooksThis is the one that inspired my reading slump. The third story (Roadwork) was a big bore for me, though I did enjoy stories 2 (The Long Walk) and 4 (The Running Man) quite a bit, and 1 (Rage) mildly. All of the stories were reasonably short, about 200 pages or less, and it was a different look at Stephen King’s writing than I’d ever seen before. Some of these concepts are truly bizarre and disturbing in true Stephen King fashion, and his characters are just as weird and compelling even in these earlier works. But ultimately this collection did seem like the works of someone just starting out, who hadn’t completely grown into his own style of writing yet.
  3. Elevation by Stephen King. 3 stars. elevationFrom old works to new– this is Stephen King’s latest 2018 release, a novella around 150 pages. The sci-fi element is unique and interesting, but I found the character dynamics surprisingly cheesy for King. The political commentary is very on-the-nose and honestly a bit old-fashioned; I know there’s still plenty of prejudice in the US and elsewhere, but “we need to accept the lesbians” is not exactly a groundbreaking message.
  4. Normal People by Sally Rooney. normal people4 stars. Another Man Booker nominee. I was hoping to finish my trip through the longlist in November, but I’m having some issues getting my hands on In Our Mad and Furious City. Anyway, Normal People was definitely one of the highlights of the longlist for me, though it hit me in the emotions pretty strongly. Both of the main characters (and Rooney’s writing in general) resonated with me so well, and I won’t be forgetting this book any time soon.
  5. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne. aladdertothesky3 stars. I think this was a tragic case of right-author-wrong-book for me. I loved Boyne’s writing and the way he handled this story, but the characters and the plot were so frustrating and uncomfortable to read that I did not exactly enjoy the reading experience. I was trying to read some of this on my way to Thanksgiving dinner and had to put it down because it was killing my holiday buzz. Maurice Swift is an awful thief of a character, but Boyne does handle him well, and it was intriguing seeing the publishing industry through this light. I’ll definitely be trying again with Boyne. Full review coming this week.
  6. The Lies We Told by Camilla Way. thelieswetold4 stars. Despite the mediocre writing, this was an excellent thriller. I was able to guess some of the twists with an appropriate amount of puzzling, but was still surprised by others. Nothing is too obvious, even when I could figure out what was going on ahead of the main character. Furthermore, I loved the way the characters turned some thriller tropes around, with the kidnap victim being a male, the girlfriend being practical instead of just knocked over by love, the evil villain having a realistic motive for said evil villainy, etc. It was pleasantly solid, which I needed. Full review coming up this week.

Some Stats:

  • Average Rating – 3.3
  • Best of the Month – Normal People
  • Worst of the Month – The Bachman Books
  • Books Hauled – 5
  • Owned Books Read for the First Time – 3, and 2 of the books I hauled were titles I’d read previously, so my owned-unread TBR did not grow this month. Hurrah!
  • Total Read in 2018 – 104. I’m hoping to top last year’s total of 112 before the end of the year, though I’m not changing my reading plans for the month to try to fit any certain amount of books in.

And that’s that. I didn’t have a single 5-star read this month, but just getting past that reading slump felt like a 5-star experience! Even though I’ve had a ton of 3 star ratings in November with a scattering of 4s, it has felt so good just to be reading regularly again and enjoying my time with words. And I’ve already finished 2 books in December, so I think it’s safe to say the reading slump has truly been vanquished. Which is good, because there’s still so much I want to do and read before the end of the year!

Have you read any of the books I mentioned, or watched the films? What did you think?


The Literary Elephant

Book Haul 11.18

This is the prequel to what will probably be my largest book haul of the year. I ordered a ton of books that haven’t arrived yet this month, especially with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, so I’m already expecting December to be a doozy and it hasn’t even arrived yet. In the meantime, here’s one of my more reasonable monthly hauls of 2018:

(Titles linked to my reviews, if they exist)

  1. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne. This was my BOTM selection for November. There were several good-looking selections this month, but since I was too busy in October to read my last BOTM choices I managed to pick only one book. Boyne’s latest novel gives a look at the publishing industry, and at one selfish writer who steals others’ ideas for himself. I did read this one already, and will have a full review up soon.
  2. Finders Keepers by Stephen King. I read King’s Mr. Mercedes, the first book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, in October. I ordered this second book in the trilogy right away, but it took a long time for my copy to arrive. Thankfully, it finally did. I won’t say much about the synopsis because this is a sequel, but I’ll say it’s a crime series that follows a retired detective and his whimsical band of assistants as they attempt to put a stop to a crazy mass murderer that the police couldn’t catch in the wake of his first spree. I’ll probably pick this one up in January.
  3. Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare. I read this one earlier in the year and enjoyed it as much as I’ve enjoyed any other Shadowhunter novel in recent years. I’m definitely not as interested as I was in my teens, but it’s a world that I’ve spent a lot of time in and I’m not quite ready to let it go yet. Especially since I finally caught up with all of Clare’s books. I’m collecting them all in the paperback editions with the characters on the spines, though I’ll probably borrow a copy of Queen of Air and Darkness to read before the paperback release, like I did with Lord of Shadows.
  4. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve been slowly collecting the film tie-in covers of this series as they’re released because I originally read library copies and want to own them for guilty pleasure rereads. It’s possible I like the TV show more than the books, for once. But in any case, I’ve read this book already, and now I own paperbacks of the first 4 novels in the series. This is the first Outlander book that takes place primarily in America, but since it is the fourth book I won’t say more about the plot. It was not one of my favorites from the series, but I am definitely looking forward to watching the corresponding season of the TV show.
  5. The Crimes of Grindelwald by J. K. Rowling. This is the screenplay, in a matching edition to the Fantastic Beasts screenplay. I have not yet read either or watched the films, but I need to because I’m extremely out of the loop and the rock I’ve been living under to avoid spoilers on these isn’t going to protect me forever.


Clearly I overshot my monthly 2018 goal of 3 books or less (again), but I don’t feel overwhelmed about it this month. Two of these five books I had read before purchasing, and another one I read within the month.  I’m excited to read the remaining two as soon as possible, and even if I don’t get to them before the end of this year (still trying to meet a few 2018 goals), I don’t imagine they’ll be sitting unread on my shelves for long. So at the end of the month, there are two new books on my owned-unread TBR, but I did read two books from last month’s haul in the meantime, which evens out the numbers. This is getting to be a lot of math, let’s go back to new books…

I was also expecting my copy of In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne to arrive in November, but no luck so far. I was hoping to be able to receive and read that one within November, to finish the Man Booker longlist before the last month of the year. Things always go awry when I try to plan my reading schedule. Hopefully the mail will get sorted out and you’ll be seeing In Our Mad and Furious City in December’s haul instead! Along with a hefty stack of other exciting purchases on their way.

Did you pick up any great new books this month? Have you read any of these titles? Tell me what you thought!


The Literary Elephant