Liebster Award

Many thanks to Elysa for tagging me for this award! As a fellow wide-variety reader, I have a lot of fun seeing all the different genres/styles/titles she picks up and the tags she tries, and am excited to be nominated for this one!

liebsteraward

Post info from The Global Aussie:

“The Liebster Award is an award that exists only on the internet and is given to bloggers by other bloggers. The earliest case of the award goes as far back as 2011. Liebster in German means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.

The award is a way to be discovered but also to connect and support the blogging community. A great idea in promoting your own blog and others. Originally it was given out to blogs with less than 2000 readers but this has slowly lowed as the reward has gained popularity. It is now only 200 readers or less. It’s really an arbitrary number. If you like helping other blogs out go ahead and do it regardless of its size. If you are returning, the submission for the award can be found here.

Rules:

  • Say thank you to the person who has nominated you for the Award.
  • Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you
  • Nominate 11 people
  • Ask the people who you have nominated 11 questions

(A note on the rules: I’ve been looking around the blogosphere at this award and have found several different suggestions for number of questions to ask/answer and people to tag, so if you want to participate but 11 seems daunting, choosing another number seems perfectly acceptable!)

My Answers to Elysa’s Questions:

  1. What is your favorite book genre? – I am a firm believer in the theory that if a book is written well, it doesn’t matter what genre it’s in; a good book is a good book. If I had to take a guess, I think I’ve read more literary fiction than any other genre this year, but sci-fi and thrillers probably aren’t far behind, and I’ve been very interested in nonfiction in recent months as well!
  2. Do you prefer watching TV shows or movies? – Definitely TV shows. I love the theater experience, but content-wise I really prefer the character development and world-building that comes with a longer series.
  3. What is your favorite food? – Popcorn. It’s maybe not the food that excites me the most, but it’s the one thing I can eat anytime, anywhere, and never get tired of.
  4. What’s one thing on your bucket list? – To become a published author. This is probably more of an achievement goal than something you just go and do, which is what I think of as typical bucket-listing, but it’s been so firmly on my mind lately that nothing else is really calling to me at the moment. I’m actually sitting on a complete manuscript that I can’t stop fiddling with, and I need to just take the plunge and try to run with it!
  5. What’s a book genre you don’t like to read? – Again, a good book is a good book. But historical fiction has been trending downward for me in recent years, so maybe that one at the moment.
  6. Tea, coffee, or neither? –  If I’m going to a coffee shop with a friend and have to choose, I pick tea, but as a rule water is my favorite beverage.
  7. Do you have pets? Bonus points for pictures! – Yes! I’m currently living in rural Iowa, and have quite a few outdoor cats, a couple of indoor cats, and a few that were born indoors mid-winter just for safety and now think they should be allowed to go in and out whenever they fell like it, lol. Here are the current kittens (Maggie, Frida, and Georgie) and the indoor cats (Patchy and Matchy- the only way to tell them apart as kittens was by their face markings and the nicknames stuck).
  8. Have you ever traveled outside your home country? Where’d you go? – Not really, sadly. I’d love to travel basically everywhere when I can afford it, but so far the farthest I’ve been is a trip to the Bahamas with my parents when I was 3, which I hardly remember. I have done some exploring within the continental US though, and loved those trips!
  9. Where’s your favorite place to read? – In bed, on the couch, on a chair- anywhere I can sit quietly and comfortably. I get absorbed very easily and then don’t really notice my surroundings, so I’m not too picky.
  10. How many bookshelves do you own? – Only two at the moment, and it’s not nearly enough. I’m also using the top shelf of my desk (practically stacked up to the ceiling) and an old TV stand, and an old set of kitchen cabinets that’s been pulled off the wall (on a farm you don’t throw away anything that’s still functional), and saving up to move somewhere I can have a proper book room with plenty of shelf space. I’m basically doing the starving artist thing while I try to figure out what I’m doing with my career, so it’s a weird situation all around.
  11. Do you come from a family of readers, or are you the lone wolf of your pack? – Lone wolf, more or less. My mom reads a bit, but only for entertainment; we don’t have a lot of content or opinion overlap. I think my brothers could count on one hand the number of books they’ve ever finished between them, and I’m not sure my dad has ever read an entire novel. My family encouraged me to read as a kid, the way you encourage a kid to eat fruits and vegetables; I think they were all pretty shocked that I took it so seriously!

 

Tagging:

  1. Diana
  2. Ren
  3. Hannah
  4. Donna
  5. Portia
  6. Melanie
  7. Sarah
  8. Rachel
  9. Naty
  10. Hannah
  11. Callum

(If you’ve already done this award tag or don’t like the questions, no pressure! On the other hand, if you’re not tagged but do like the questions, feel free to participate! Be sure to link back so I can see your answers! 🙂 )

My Questions to you:

  1. What’s a book you LOVED but have never reread?
  2. Is there a genre (or subgenre) you tried recently and realized you’ve been missing out on and/or should read more often?
  3. How often do you visit your local library?
  4. What are your most and least favorite things (one each) about where you live?
  5. Is there a book you want to read eventually, just to say you’ve read it?
  6. What’s the best weather for an afternoon of reading?
  7. What book are you most anticipating with a far out publication date (or no date announced yet)?
  8. Buddy reads or readathons, and why?
  9. If you had to write/blog under a pseudonym, what would you pick?
  10. Would you feel satisfied or disappointed to actually reach the end of your TBR?
  11. Pet pictures! Or a picture of your favorite real-life creature from anywhere in the world.

 

And that’s a wrap! Thanks again to Elysa!

 

The Literary Elephant

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Review: The Turn of the Key

I’ve always had such fun with Ruth Ware’s thrillers (I think I’ve read all of them!) so of course I picked up her 2019 release, The Turn of the Key. I really liked this one, though I think I’m becoming a bit too familiar with Ware’s style… I saw through some of the mystery, though I still found it an engaging read!

theturnofthekeyIn the novel, Rowan answers a nannying ad that sounds like a perfect fit for her; in addition to great pay, she’d have a room in a private home in exchange for looking after 3 or 4 children (the eldest being away at school for part of the story) in a remote Scottish smart house while the parents are away for work. The catch is that between leaving her old job and moving from London for the new one, she has no time to familiarize herself with the house or the children before her new job begins. The smart system that runs the house seems to be acting up, and the children are fighting the presence of yet another new nanny- apparently the last few have been scared away by the house’s tragic history. Can Rowan brazen it out and find her footing in what could be a dream job, or will the house and the girls get the best of her?

“Maddie’s expression was very different, harder to read, but I thought I could tell what it was. Triumph. She had wanted me to get into trouble, and I had.”

In case you haven’t picked up on it by now, let me mention again that I love classic retellings. Ware’s The Turn of the Key is a loose retelling of Henry James’s eerie The Turn of the Screw, which I read and appreciated for its atmosphere and strangeness earlier this summer. The reader does not need to know anything at all about James’s original story to enjoy this thriller, which is more similar in setup than in plot, but I found the small connections quite amusing.

The Turn of the Key is formatted as a series of letters to a lawyer that the incarcerated nanny hopes will help her case; as the story opens, she has already been arrested for the death of one of the children. This structure, which assumes the lawyer already knows the basic facts of the sensationalized case (such as the nanny’s ulterior motive for applying to this particular job, and the identity of the dead child) allow our narrator to hint at but largely withhold key details from the reader and thus frame her tale as a mystery. Some of the nanny’s direct pleas to the lawyer and guesses at his reactions to the most controversial moments of her narrative felt overdone and pulled me out of the main story, but overall I found it an effective framing technique. There is some extra significance given to these letters at the end of the book that lends purpose to the structure. Once it gets going, the mystery flows well and it’s easy to retreat into Rowan’s experience with the children and the house until the letters become more essential to the story.

“It sounded… well… as if there was someone pacing in the room above my head. But that made no sense either. Because there was no room up there. There was not so much as a loft hatch.”

For readers new to Ware’s work, I think The Turn of the Key would be an excellent place to start. As usual, she gives us a remote location, a house that feels almost like a character in itself, a handful of side characters that are difficult to decide whether to trust, and a narrator with a secret up her sleeve. Intriguing  questions are introduced immediately. Some things seem “off” pretty early on- Rowan is a qualified nanny who does seem to care about children, but we know right away that she had another reason to apply for this particular job, and little details in the story she gives her new employers don’t quite add up. Then there’s the malfunctioning smart system in the house, which seems in perfect working order except that it seems to be following orders no one in the house is authorized to access in the control menu. But though some aspects may be a bit transparent, Ware still manages to hold the reader’s attention and offers a movingly human solution to the mystery of the unpredictable smart house. I was thrilled to discover this isn’t just another reiteration of technology going rouge with the belief that it knows better than the humans.

Though I did think the source of the novel’s suspense and ultimate solution seemed unique enough, this isn’t a ground-breaking thriller. I haven’t read any of the other titles from the recent nanny-thriller trend, but still found notable similarities to other recent thrillers I’ve read- the strain from lack of sleep, the too-good-to-be-true ad, the certainty that the culprit must be inside (or very near) the house, etc. It’s a fairly standard representative of its genre, though undeniably solid for its lack of flare.

My only real hold-up here is that I think I’m becoming too familiar with Ware’s style. I’ve read all five of her books now, with a bit less enthusiasm for each volume, though I think that trend comes down to my knowing Ware’s style well enough by now that she can’t quite shock me anymore, rather than a decline in Ware’s capability as a writer. I believe that if I had read her books in any other order, I would feel the same after finishing them as I do now- that the mysteries are becoming a bit too transparent to truly surprise me. And yet, even so, I always enjoy the creepy atmosphere Ware provides, the realistically flawed protagonists, the uneasiness over knowing that every strange occurrence is not a supernatural terror but the work of a malicious (or at least misguided) human hand. Though I saw through some of Ware’s slight-of-hand tactics here straightaway, I was nonetheless drawn in by the creepy noises and touchy technology, the difficult children, the dynamic between Rowan and the family/staff at Heatherbrae. I found this a quick, easy, and mostly satisfying read, despite its failure to stand out from the thriller crowd, and I would highly recommend it to the right reader.

“I did hate them- in that moment. But I saw myself, too. A prickly little girl, full of emotions too big for her small frame, emotions she could not understand or contain.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. There’s just something about Ware’s writing that keeps me coming back, and I did have a good time with this one just as all the others. I’ll probably pick up her next book, as well. But I’m also content to put the thriller genre aside for a little while- at least until I need something spooky to pick up in October.

What’s your favorite Ruth Ware novel?

 

The Literary Elephant

Mini-reviews: Faber Stories Pt. 6 (plus full series ranking)

Almost 9 full months after I read my first volume from the Faber Stories collection, I have finally succeeded in finishing off the set of the first twenty volumes! And just in time, as Faber has recently announced another batch of 10 stories to be added to the collection in October. I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with these little books so far, and do plan to continue with the collection. But for today, I’ll be reviewing the last three stories I read, and then having a bit of fun ranking my favorites!

If you’re interested in seeing my thoughts on more of the stories, you can check out the rest of my mini-reviews here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5. And without further ado…

 

Daughters of Passion by Julia O’Faolin. 3 stars.

In this story, a woman on a hunger strike in an Irish prison recounts the events that have led her there. In doing so, she also examines her relationship with a friend, and their involvement with the IRA.

Though every aspect of this synopsis intrigued me (hunger strike! prison! Irish! delving into f/f relationships!), somehow none of them managed to satisfy me on the page. I didn’t feel any emotional investment because O’Faolin tries to use the meatiest bits of the story as concluding surprises rather than mining them for the thematic depth I was searching for. Instead of giving me an interesting lens to reflect back on the story with, those late revelations felt more like the beginning of the story I had expected to find here.

Ultimately, an adequate plot with plenty of potential that just utterly failed to engage me.

Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss. 3 stars.

Much as the title suggests, in this volume we are given three short vignettes that feature entirely different characters and scenarios that each ruminate on solitude. Each main character is in some way alone, though others are affected by his choices. Two of the stories feature a sci-fi element.

The first story of this set was my favorite- a judge writes to his wife about a case he claims to be reviewing, in which a man relocates to an uninhabited island with his ventriloquist dummy, to disastrous effect. The epistolary set-up added an extra layer of intrigue, and I found the whole story immensely bizarre and enjoyable. The second story features a celebrity artist on the outs with the public; this one I found a bit slower paced and somewhat boring without a sci-fi element, but I did enjoy its irony, even if a bit overt. The third piece included another interesting sci-fi element: little electronic cubes that appear to converse with each other. The “lesson” of the story isn’t the most original, though I did appreciate the uneasy character dynamic between the couple at the heart of the story.

I flew through this book, found it very entertaining and readable, but didn’t rate it any higher because I’m sure the messages and even the simple plots themselves will fade quickly for me.

” The dummy broke the silence. ‘So what’s this “sad” business mean anyway? I mean, how often do you feel like doing it?’ / ‘Sad? Oh, sadness is just happiness in reverse. We humans have to put up with it. Just being human is an awful burden to bear.’ “

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. 4 stars.

My last Faber Story (from this first set, at least) also turned out to be one of my favorites! I might have read this one in high school because it seemed vaguely familiar, but that didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying the reread.

In this story, three generations- and one cat- pile into the family car for a road trip. What seems at first a satire- a rude family expecting great service and loudly complaining when anything fails to that meet their expectations- takes an even more interesting turn when their stubbornness leads them to encounter a dangerous wanted criminal.

The narration makes no attempt to tell the reader what sort of conclusion to draw from this family’s experience, though the main event of this trip is so momentous that there are plenty of conclusions available for the reader to draw. For me it was a story of two people (enemies, perhaps, or at least opposites) realizing that society is flawed, from opposite ends of the spectrum- one has faced injustice and been slighted by the strong voice of the law, the other has held herself up as righteous and lawful, only to realize that her own sense of morality won’t be enough to save her, either. For such a collection of unpleasant characters, this made for a very amusing and engaging read, and one that I think will only grow richer upon further visits.

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Concluding thoughts:

Though Daughters of Passion went a bit unrealized, these last two stories were entertaining both in content and style, and I’d happily read both again. I do have Flannery O’connor’s complete story collection sitting on my shelf, and after this positive experience I’m looking forward to reading more of her work!

And for fun, a full ranking of the Faber Stories I’ve read so far, from most to least favorite. This list is completely based on personal preference; I’ve just reread all of my earlier reviews and considered also how well different elements of the stories have stuck with me in the months since I’ve begun reading them. The order is:

  1. The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes by Alan Bennett
  2. The Forester’s Daughter by Claire Keegan
  3. Come Rain or Come Shine by Kazuo Ishiguro
  4. Mrs. Fox by Sarah Hall
  5. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
  6. Mr Salary by Sally Rooney
  7. Paradise by Edna O’Brien
  8. The Inner Room by Robert Aickman
  9. The Lydia Steptoe Stories by Djuna Barnes
  10. Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath
  11. The Victim by P. D. James
  12. Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss
  13. Dante and the Lobster by Samuel Beckett
  14. An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah
  15. Daughters of Passion by Julia O’Faolain
  16. A River in Egypt by David Means
  17. Terrific Mother by Lorrie Moore
  18. The Country Funeral by John McGahern
  19. Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine by Thom Jones
  20. Cosmopolitan by Akhil Sharma

 

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(The complete set, pictured in the order I read them.)

It’s worth noting that none of these stories rated below 3-stars for me, that the lowest on the list were simply the most forgettable and none struck me as problematic in any way. Almost all of them either delighted me or encouraged me to consider something from a new perspective, so the set was entirely worth the read for me! I’m eager to check out the next additions to the collection.

Have you read any of these stories, or other works by these authors?

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Top of the TBR 9.9.19

Top of the TBR is a weekly post I created that will showcase any books added to my Goodreads TBR recently, with a short explanation of why each title caught my interest. I’ll aim for 5-10 books per post; in weeks that I’ve added more than that, I’ll hold some back, and in weeks that I don’t have enough, I’ll include titles I haven’t discussed yet. Each title will be linked back to its Goodreads page for anyone interested in exploring further, as I’m not a fan of copy/pasting synopses. Anyone who wants to take part in this series with me is absolutely welcome! Please link back to any of my Top of the TBR posts so I can see what you’re reading! 🙂

I had to skip this post last week to fit in my August wrap-up and some Booker Prize content, but I’ve added so many books to my TBR since the last time I posted a Top of the TBR that I’ll just be picking and choosing the titles that catch my eye right now. And so, here are some of the new books I’ve added on Goodreads recently:

43289181Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis (Pub: Sept 2019)

How I found it: I’ve been seeing positive reviews for this one on Bookstagram!

Why I added it: This is a historical fiction novel about queer women in the tumultuous political climate of 1970s Uruguay. The narrative spans decades, following five women’s lives as they find sanctuary both on an isolated cape and with each other. I can see why this is getting high ratings.

Priority: Low, sadly. It’s not currently available at my library and I’m trying to prioritize books I already own (and haven’t read yet) for the next few months.

35605474Ask Me About My Uterus by Abby Norman (Pub: March 2018)

How I found it: I’ve seen this one before, but it wasn’t until hearing about it on a Reading Women podcast last week that I realized it was about endometriosis and doctor dismissal of female pain.

Why I added it: I’ve been talking with a friend for months about her belief that she has endometriosis, and her doctor’s unwillingness to take her requests for treatment seriously, so this sounds like a perfect way to learn more about a phenomenon I didn’t even know existed before this year.

Priority: High. I’ve got Three Women slated as my next nonfiction read, and I’m aiming to pick up this one after.

44142473. sy475 Milton in Purgatory by Edward Vass (Pub: Aug. 2019)

How I found it: I saw Kristen talk about this one in her August wrap-up!

Why I added it: I read Bottled Goods from this collection of Fairlight Moderns earlier this year, and enjoyed it enough that I wanted to pick up another title from the set. I’ve been slow getting around to it, as I haven’t heard much about the other books, but this one sounds mysterious and intriguing!

Priority: Low. Not available at my library, and I don’t want to buy right now while I’m trying to lower the percentage of unread books on my shelves.

46642254. sx318 Mostly Hero by Ana Burns (Pub: Oct. 2019)

How I found it: A friend and I discovered while browsing the current titles that Faber is soon releasing a new batch of Faber Stories.

Why I added it: I’ve just finished reading the final volume from the original set of 20 Faber stories (I’ll have the mini-reviews for my latest reads up tomorrow!) and am eager to see what more this collection will have to offer. I’ve actually added all 10 new titles to my TBR, but this is the one I’m most excited about, from the author of Milkman.

Priority: High. Since short stories don’t take much time out of my reading schedule (plus I had a goal to read more short stories this year), I probably will allow myself to purchase some of these and read them right away even though I’m trying to cut back on buying new books. Some exceptions must be made.

19194802Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (Pub: 1985)

How I found it: I just finished reading (and loved!) Winterson’s Frankissstein at the end of August, and wanted to pick up more of her work. Melanie recommended starting with this one!

Why I added it: Aside from the recommendation (thanks, Melanie!) this is one of Winterson’s titles that I’ve actually heard of, as well. I believe it’s semi-autobiographical.

Priority: Middling. I can read this for free on Kindle Unlimited; I don’t go for ebooks much, but free is convenient, so I’m hoping to get around to this one before my subscription ends in a couple of months.

44294958Midwestern Strange: Hunting Monsters, Martians, and the Weird in Flyover Country by B. J. Hollars (Pub: Sept. 2019)

How I found it: I saw Ren’s enticing review!

Why I added it: I have lived in the Midwest all my life, and love all things strange! The legends Ren mentioned in her review didn’t sound familiar to me, which means I expect to find some fun new content here. I appreciate that it sounds like the author neither believes these tall tales nor is trying to disprove them- objective reportage of folklore and its place in society is definitely appealing.

Priority: Low, sadly. I’d love to pick this up in October, but again, I’m trying not to keep buying a ton of new books at the end of the year and this one’s not at my library.

36723245The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir (Pub: June 2018)

How I found it: BOTM put this one on my radar last year, but it seemed like it could either be very my taste or very not, so I’ve just been patiently waiting for some indication of whether I should read it or not. Finally an irl friend I trust read it.

Why I added it: My friend rated it 4 stars and specifically recommended it to me, which is a very good sign. It’s about a religious reality TV show, and a girl who rebels.

Priority: Middling. I will probably borrow this from my friend in the near future, and I prefer to read borrowed books right away (they give me anxiety if I leave them sitting around). So, not sure exactly when, but soonish.

24612419All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (Pub: April 2014)

How I found it: I read (and quite enjoyed!) Toews’s Women Talking earlier this year and have been vaguely planning to pick up another Toews book but only recently remembered to actually add it to my TBR. I’ve talked with a couple of Toews readers now (including Karissa!) about where I should go next with her work, and this one sounds like the best first choice.

Why I added it: This is one of Toews’s most well-known works, from what I’ve gathered, and it features two close sisters- one a pianist, and one who wants to die. It sounds like it will make me cry.

Priority: Middling. This one is available at my library, and the synopsis sounds perfect for fall/winter.

39813948The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien (Pub: Sept. 2014)

How I found it: This one’s been on my radar for a long time, but I used to not read memoirs, and then I read The Glass Castle, which I liked but made me think I didn’t need to read more stories about women growing up in extreme families. Sarah’s recent review convinced me to rethink that assumption!

Why I added it: My parents were tough, but the synopsis states that Maude’s parents tried to “eliminate weakness” by subjecting her to awful tasks and keeping her isolated, so this will surely put my childhood into perspective.

Priority: Middling. Another title available through my library, and I am hoping to increase my nonfiction intake in the last few months of this year!

43261166Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur (Pub: Oct 2019)

How I found it: BOTM put this on my radar, as it’s one of their September selections.

Why I added it: From one difficult childhood memoir to another… I actually skipped my BOTM box this month because I didn’t feel the need to own this one or read it immediately, but I do think I’ll give it a try at some point. Complicated family dynamics appeal to me, and apparently The Glass Castle is not the only memoir out there with that sort of content!

Priority: Low. It might end up at my library, or I could add it to a later BOTM box if I see convincing reviews in the meantime, but right now I’m just not in a hurry. Interested, but patient.

 

I suppose ten titles is enough for now, but I’ve got plenty more in store for next week as well! I’m reading a few long books in September, so I’m looking forward to catching up on some of my tags and non-review content in the next couple of weeks.

Have you read any of these books, or recognize them from your own TBR?

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Wall

I’m sure that with its recent exclusion from the Booker Prize shortlist interest in John Lanchester’s The Wall may already be decreasing, but I didn’t quite finish reading in time to review it beforehand, so here we are. In any case, this review is more likely to make you feel relieved you didn’t get to this one before the shortlist announcement rather than persuade you to pick it up- I don’t have many positive things to say.

thewallIn the novel, Joseph “Chewy” Kavanagh reports for duty on the Wall (or, the National Coastal Defense Structure); it’s a two-year post of rotating shifts for training, defending the country’s border, and resting the eyes- the glare of the sun off the water makes watching the Wall surprisingly difficult. As the result of a major environmental and climate Change, beaches no longer exist and countries have closed their borders to outsiders- in this case, by conscripting all new adults into active service on the Wall, where they are tasked with shooting any Others who approach. As conditions worsen elsewhere in the world, contact becomes more frequent, and more dangerous for everyone involved- for every Other who crosses the Wall, a Defender is “put to sea.”

“I wanted this time to be over, yet when I tried to think hard about what would be next, there was a blank.”

I should start by admitting that nothing about this novel struck me as overtly problematic. Though I didn’t enjoy the read, I didn’t find anything about it infuriating or alarming- it just didn’t deliver.

Right from the beginning of the novel, the first sentences about Lanchester’s Wall are very reminiscent of George R. R. Martin‘s descriptions of another popular Wall; not in style, but in imagery and sensory detail, as well as purpose (holding back the Others). Though it certainly helps to plant a visual in the reader’s mind, the author’s choice to piggyback off of existing content indicated a level of laziness and lack or originality that sadly persisted throughout the rest of the novel. (Is it possible Lanchester didn’t know about Westeros and the Night’s Watch? Perhaps, but wouldn’t an editor or early reader have made the connection?)

“It’s cold on the Wall. That’s the first thing everybody tells you, and the first thing you notice when you’re sent there, and it’s the thing you think about all the time you’re on it, and it’s the thing you remember when you’re not there anymore. It’s cold on the Wall.”

The repetition and sluggishness to make a point persist as well.

In the second chapter, we begin to see small poems about the Wall (and one about a Christmas tree, completely unrelated to the story at hand) that are offered only as further descriptors of life on the Wall and then are abruptly dropped from the novel; these are the book’s only claim to an interesting structure or experimental style.

“cold:::concrete:::wind:::sky:::water”

The rest is so straightforward that I wonder if it might fare better with a YA audience. If there’s one good thing I can say about The Wall, it’s that I flew through it because of the fast-paced and easy-to-read prose. The catch is that it’s so quick to digest because its parallels to current social and political issues are obvious, but the narration fails to take them a step further by making any new observations or giving a fresh perspective to the real-world events it riffs off of. To me, the setting and basic scenario felt like a well-built home that no one had moved into yet; it lacks life.

I don’t want to say much about the plot, because that’s really all The Wall has going for it, and despite this ranty review, I don’t mean to turn anyone away from reading this book or spoiling it for anyone who is interested- it is a perfectly adequate read. I’m not sure it’s an adequate Booker Prize nominee, but I don’t doubt that readers will be entertained or will be able to find worthwhile messages between the lines. The author does none of the heavy lifting in conveying worthwhile themes here, but a determined reader could make just about anything from the bare bones of this story that they wanted to. Personally, I found the foreshadowing made the events of the novel predictable and the morals overly simplistic, but this isn’t to disparage anyone who takes more from the reading experience than I have. It simply didn’t work for me.

“I’d been brought up not to think about the Others in terms of where they came from or who they were, to ignore all that- they were just Others. But maybe, now that I was one of them, they weren’t Others anymore? If I was an Other and they were Others perhaps none of us were Others but instead we were a new Us. It was confusing.”

In spite of all of my complaints thus far, I might still have chosen a higher rating if the ending wasn’t such a non-ending. Again, I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll say only that it seemed to me like a convenient and temporary fix that offered no real substance to the storyline. It has nothing to say about the Wall or the Others, no lesson seems to have been learned or advantage gained, none of the core conflicts are in any way likely to be resolved by the main characters’ concluding decisions. They seem as devoid of emotion and opinion as they had through the rest of the novel’s events, and their lack of investment in any sort of future plan makes the derailment of their lives a cold reading experience with incredibly low stakes. “Chewy” doesn’t use his new circumstances to reflect on what he’s been through or the state of  his world. And perhaps this is a statement in itself, though it proved ineffectual for me.

Unfortunately, this title was another low point of the Booker Prize longlist for me.

My reaction: 2 out of 5 stars. I’d seen some disappointing reviews before I got around to picking this one up, but I do enjoy a good sci-fi/dystopian tale now and then and hoped at least to be entertained. Instead, I found myself counting pages until the end, even thought the experience was not particularly difficult or time-consuming. This was just… not at all what I expected from a literary prize nominee.

Have you read this one, or anything else from John Lanchester? What did you think?

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 8.19

I’m a little late with wrapping up my August reading, but as we’re still in the first week of September I didn’t want to abandon ship altogether.

Here’s what I read in August:

  1. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager. 4 stars. After the mild disappointment of last year’s The Last Time I Lied, Sager really delivered in his newest thriller release. Though I found the main character a bit insufferable, I loved this premise and the extremes Sager takes it to in the end, as well as the commentary on poverty and missing persons.
  2. The Need by Helen Phillips. 4 stars. This one’s slower paced for a thriller, but I would argue it’s more of a suspense novel than a proper thriller, which I enjoyed. Though I was somewhat disappointed to realize that this book’s biggest twist was one I’d seen before, Phillips used the set-up for a dark character study that was sadly missing the last time I read this trope. It’s a great exploration of identity and motherhood.
  3. Finders Keepers by Stephen King. 2 stars. This was the second book in a trilogy that I started reading almost a year ago, and sadly I found this volume a poor continuation of the Bill Hodges series. Not only does it barely relate to the overall arc of the trilogy, but the writing grated on me to such an extent that I couldn’t enjoy the story.
  4. Lanny by Max Porter. 4 stars. This short little gem had already been on my radar, but seeing it longlisted for the Booker Prize (sadly, not shortlisted) finally gave me the push I needed to pick it up. Though I didn’t entirely enjoy the magical realism element, I thought the structure and writing was such fun, and I appreciated the commentary on small town life and human nature.
  5. End of Watch by Stephen King. 3 stars. Though slightly less problematic than the second book in this trilogy and back on track with the main story arc, this conclusion to the Bill Hodges set just did not excite me the way the first book had. A reasonable conclusion and a nice return to SK’s most popular genre (sci-fi), this was a very middle-of-the-road read.
  6. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. 3 stars. Another title from the Booker Prize longlist (that didn’t make the shortlist); I picked this one up for its fascinating premise, but though the writing style exceeded expectations, the plot did not. A short book that I mostly enjoyed, despite some ups and downs.
  7. An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma. 2 stars. A Booker prize longlister (and shortlisted besides!) that also had a promising premise but turned out disappointing. Though in theory I liked the concept of this one, the execution fell flat for me in almost every regard- a weak Odyssey connection, an impenetrable language barrier, unaddressed misogyny/toxic masculinity in the main character, unexplored side characters, etc. Do not recommend.
  8. Human Acts by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith. 4 stars. The only title I managed to complete for WIT (women in translation) month, this was an excellent but emotionally challenging read. It offers a dark recap of a historical event and speculates on innate cruelty/vulnerability in human nature. So many trigger warnings, but worth the read if you can stomach it.
  9. Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss. 3 stars. This was one of my last Faber Stories read from the original collection of 20 individually-bound stories. My reviews of the final stories should be coming up later this week. Of this one, I’ll say now that I had a lot of fun with the three tiny stories in this volume but ultimately didn’t find much lasting takeaway.
  10. Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson. 5 stars. Yet another Booker Prize longlist title (which tragically missed the shortlist); this Frankenstein retelling is quite a mashup of Mary Shelley’s original themes, her (fictionalized) real life, a metafiction element, and a modernized continuation of the classic story. There is SO MUCH content and food for thought crammed into this novel that I don’t know how to sum it up briefly, so I’ll just say that each page was an absolute delight.

wrapup8.19

(Photo missing my 3 library checkouts from early in the month, Lock Every Door, The Need, and Lanny)

To be honest, I started the month strong and then flagged in the middle, meaning I didn’t get to everything I wanted to. But 10 book is still a great number for me, and everything that I read came directly from my excessive TBR list for the month (except for Three Types of Solitude, which is only a short story anyway and fit a previous TBR goal), so I didn’t go off track with content. I just had too many goals, as usual.

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.4

Best of month – Frankissstein, hands down, although Human Acts also left quite a strong impression.

Worst of month – Finders Keepers, which completely failed at its purpose of entertainment for me, whereas An Orchestra of Minorities at least conveyed an interesting topic under lamentable writing choices.

Books hauled 7, and I’ve already read 4! (You can check out the full list in my September TBR, or take a quick glance here) –>bookhaul8.19

Owned book read for the first time – 6 total, including 2 books that I’ve had on my shelf prior to 2019. Sadly, my owned-unread TBR increased again this month, though fortunately only by 1 book!

August TBR tally 0/11. This is abysmal, and I’m now aiming to pick up some of my August TBR books in September. –>tbr8.19

Year total – 87 books at the end of August, plus I’ve already finished 2 in September to put me at 89 currently! I might hit my Goodreads goal of 100 later this month if I’m lucky, but I have a couple of long books on my TBR so I’m guessing I’ll meet that goal in October. I’m more invested in reading great books than pushing for numbers, so I won’t be raising this goal no matter when I reach it.

All in all, a fairly average reading month for me, missed TBR goal and all. I’m still thrilled about my 5-star read, and the 2-star books were productive if disappointing (one from the Booker prize longlist/shortlist, and one as prep for a September SK buddy read.) Sadly I didn’t get to any nonfiction in August, though Three Women is now one of my top priorities for September.

I hope everyone’s September reading is off to a good start!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Booker Prize Shortlist 2019

The Booker Prize shortlist was announced earlier today, so this seems like a good time to check in with my progress and plans for the rest of the Prize this year.

As soon as I saw the 2019 longlist I knew I probably wouldn’t be reading all thirteen books this year, so I’ve been taking it easy. That said, I do have a lot of fun chatting with the book community about the nominated books, and eventually I want to read the entire Booker longlist “on time,” i.e. before the shortlist announcement, so it seemed like good practice to read at least a few of this year’s nominees.

At this point, I’ve now read:

  1. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – a fun spoof of a slasher thriller with an excellent sister dynamic and a strong undercurrent of feminist commentary. It’s short and readable but also offers some substance to sink the teeth into. Not an all-time favorite for me, but even so, 5 stars.
  2. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli – a dense book that perhaps takes itself too seriously at times, but ultimately offers a unique road trip story and a fresh perspective on the current border crisis in the southern US. I didn’t love every moment of my experience with this one, but it left a strong impression. 4 stars.
  3. Lanny by Max Porter – a dream-like story full of magic and experimental writing. The various parts of this book are very distinct from each other, and some of them seem stronger than others. Nevertheless, an interesting concept and an engaging read. 4 stars.
  4. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry – a brief look into the troubled lives of two Irish criminals. I found the prose evocative and exquisite, though the story itself didn’t quite live up to the strength of the premise. 3 stars.
  5. An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma – an intriguing concept of injustice in Nigeria that was for me completely muddied by poor characterization and an ineffectual attempt at connecting the story to Homer’s The Odyssey. Though I thought Obioma had an excellent idea with this one, the execution fell completely flat for me. 2 stars.
  6. Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson – a superb exploration and continuation of themes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This book lays an extremely readable fictionalization of Mary’s life alongside a modern retelling that speculates on the future of AI and includes a strong non-binary character. I loved every single page. 5 stars.
  7. The Wall by John Lanchester (full review forthcoming) – a quick dystopian read that pits natives against “Others” in a world that has survived a disastrous climate change. Though an intriguing concept, I found the plot and themes predictable and unexciting. Though not a problematic book, a sadly underwhelming one. 2 stars.

bookerprize2019

I chose these seven books to read (well, five, as I’d read two of them prior to the longlist announcement) primarily because they were the only titles readily available to me. I had to purchase two of them from Book Depository (so few of the longlisted books were published in the US at the time of the longlist announcement!) but I bought only the two I was most interested in at the time and only because they came at fairly low prices. I found the others through my library.

Since I had only read half the list and not found many titles I was invested in seeing advance, I posted a half-hearted shortlist wishlist to my Instagram feed rather than a thoughtful prediction post on my blog. I guessed three titles correctly.

In case you haven’t already seen the results, this year’s shortlist includes:

  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak
  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Image result for booker prize shortlist

While I am thrilled to see four women on this list, I am not particularly excited by the group as a whole. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the longlist in the first place, so I haven’t been feeling entirely invested in the result of this year’s Booker Prize. At a glance, I’ve only read one of the shortlisted books so far, and I strongly disliked it. I’m disappointed that neither Frankissstein nor Lost Children Archive advanced- both of which I thought had a good chance and would have deserved a spot on the shortlist. I would gladly have swapped the Obioma for either. Otherwise, it’s difficult to say I have any strong opinions when I haven’t read the rest of the list yet!

I’m not sure I’ll be reading the entire shortlist, though. Here’s where I stand on the longlisted titles I haven’t read yet (titles linked to Goodreads, as I can’t give any sort of synopsis on these):

  1. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy – This is the only longlisted title I haven’t read yet that hasn’t been shortlisted. The reviews I’ve seen for it have been mainly mediocre, and my interest in the synopsis wasn’t high to begin with (thought I still think I could be persuaded by the right review). It’s not out in the US until October 15. If my library gets a copy and it ends up being the only longlisted book I haven’t read, I might pick this up… someday. Definitely not before the winner announcement, which is scheduled for October 14.
  2. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann – The title I’m currently most excited about. I’ve heard some great things that make this 8-sentence 1000-page behemoth sound right up my alley. I’ve been waiting impatiently for the US release date of September 10. I’m planning to read it as soon as I get a copy this month.
  3. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – I’m certain about reading this one prior to the winner announcement as well; I’d pre-ordered (release date September 10) before seeing it longlisted, based on my general appreciation of Atwood’s writing and my enjoyment of The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago. I’m definitely curious about this book.
  4. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – My interest in this title has grown in light of several positive reviews from other longlist readers, so I’m confident that I will read this one eventually. I’m not committing to reading it prior to the winner announcement because it is not released in the US until December 3, but anything could happen with this one.
  5. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak – My curiosity for this book is growing as well, though I’ve seen enough mixed opinions that I don’t think I’m confident enough to buy a copy. If I pick it up, I’ll wait until it’s US release date of December 3, when (if) my library gets a copy.
  6. Quichotte by Salman Rushdie – I’m torn on this one. I love literary retellings (Frankissstein = case in point) and am interested in sampling this major author I haven’t read yet; but I haven’t read Don Quixote, and I want to read that original classic first. I think I will read both works eventually, but I already have a few long books on the docket for September and October (starting with Ducks!) which means I probably won’t have time to read both Don Quixote and Quichotte before the winner announcement. But this title is available at my library, and if it turns out that I’m reading the rest of the shortlist before the end of the year, I might make more of an efort to fit this in as well.

Clearly my plans are still not set in stone. What I know for sure is that I will read Ducks and Testaments before the winner announcement, which will mean I’ll have read at least half of the shortlist by that time, and 9 titles from the longlist. I’ll post a reaction to the winner and a progress update in October.

If you’ve read any of the titles I haven’t picked up yet, please share your thoughts and convince me one way or the other!

Are you reading (or have already read) anything from the shortlist this year?

 

The Literary Elephant