The Sunshine Blogger Award

Disclaimer: If you’ve noticed that I’ve basically fallen off the face of book earth lately (or if you haven’t), it’s just because fall is a crazy busy time in my life, and I do plan to catch up on what I’m not posting now when I have time again later. But A few weeks ago Rachel tagged me for The Sunshine Blogger Award, and answering some bookish questions is just what I needed this week. Thanks, Rachel!

sunshinebloggeraward

Rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog to this post
  2. Answer the eleven questions asked by your nominator
  3. Nominate eleven bloggers
  4. Ask them eleven questions, different to the ones you’ve answered
  5. List the rules
  6. Display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post and blog

Rachel’s Questions:

What’s the worst book you had to read for school?

Grand Opening by Jon Hassler. I actually liked most of the books that I had to read for school, but this one immediately comes to mind. I went to high school in Minnesota even though I lived in Iowa, and we were assigned this book because it was set in Minnesota and was written by a Minnesotan, so in addition to just finding the story pretty boring it also felt irrelevant to me in the spirit of supporting home-state authors that it was presented to me with.

Within your own country, where would you most like to visit that you haven’t already been?

New York City. For most of my childhood, I wanted to live in New York after graduating high school, but then I was pretty depressed around that time and gave up a lot of things. I’m not really interested in setting up my life there anymore, but for as badly as I wanted to go then, I owe it to myself to at leas visit.

What’s the best first line of a book you’ve ever read?

I have no idea. I tend to savor them in the moment and forget them, I guess. But I just flipped through some favorites from my shelf to see if anything jumped out, so I’ll mention this opener by Lauren Slater in Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir – “I exaggerate.” That’s the whole first chapter. It’s a perfect fit for the book. (And arguably for all books. What are writers if not exaggerators?)

Do you have any tattoos and do you want any?

I don’t have any yet. I would like to get at least one, but I’m the most indecisive person alive, so I’m just waiting until I’m sure that I won’t end up hating my choice.

If you watch booktube, who’s your favorite booktuber?  If you don’t watch booktube, what’s your favorite thing to watch on youtube?

Currently Ariel Bissett, but it fluctuates. I would rather read than watch/listen to book reviews, so I like that Ariel isn’t really reading and posting about the most popular books at the moment, though her content’s still bookish. I especially liked her recent documentary about Instagram poetry, and her “books I want to read that nobody cares about” videos.

Which classic do you think more people should read?

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I had to read this one for school, and it didn’t sound like anything I would be interested in so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It’s a sort of dual look at what a person will do for money, and what a person will do for love, in a great mirrored structure. I’ve recommended this one to a lot of people who don’t ordinarily read classics, because it’s easy to read and surprisingly resonant and I don’t know why more people don’t know about this book?

What would you consider the most overhyped and the most underhyped book you’ve read in the last year?

Overhyped = The Power by Naomi Alderman. I wanted to love this one because so many others seem to, but in the end I thought it had some great concepts but poor execution.

Underhyped = Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. I thought this was a brilliant novel about identity and African culture, and was sad to see it fade out of sight after its release this spring.

Would you like to work in the publishing industry, or do you prefer to keep books and reading strictly a hobby?

I actually tried (pretty half-heartedly) to get a job in editing/publishing after finishing college, but I was so burned out at the time and it was only ever second-choice to writing. So I’m taking the rest of this year to finish my first novel, and depending on how that goes I’ll regroup before moving forward, but I plan to always be doing something with books, so I would love to make a career of that in some way.

If you’re a writer, which author’s style do you think is most similar to your own?  If you’re not a writer, which author’s style do you connect with the most as a reader?

Oh gosh, it’s hard for me without ever having been published to compare myself to anyone who has been; although I’m pretty sure I’ll still have imposter syndrome long after my name is printed on books. But maybe a bit like Caroline Kepnes? Fast-paced, mysterious, contemporary, but the focus is mostly on all the weird stuff that’s going on.

What’s your least favorite book cover?

There are so many bad covers out there, it’s hard to choose. But lately I talked with my Stephen King book reading buddy about some bad covers of his books, and this is one that immediately comes to mind:

petsematary

Who’s your favorite actor/celebrity?

Can I say Evelyn Hugo? I’m fickle about non-bookish celebrities, and don’t have a go-to at the moment.

 

My questions:

  1. What was your first dream job as a kid, and did that dream get realized in any way?
  2. Are you a library person?
  3. What’s the longest book you’ve read, and was it worth the time?
  4. Is there a genre you never read? (Why?)
  5. Which book do you feel like the only person who hasn’t read yet?
  6. Do you judge a book by its title?
  7. What’s your favorite mythological creature?
  8. Is there a book you’ve loved especially because of where or when you read it?
  9. Would you be satisfied or disappointed to reach the end of your Goodreads (or other long-term) TBR?
  10. What is your favorite subject (outside of books/language) to learn about?
  11. Do you have an irrational level of fear for going blind and not being able to read any more (or is it just me)? Or another irrational fear?

Tagging:

Read Voraciously, Failing at Writing, Book Jotter, The Cozied Reader, Jenna Bookish, The Reading Chick, I’ve Read This, and anyone else who wants to answer these questions!

If you’ve already been tagged for this award recently or just aren’t interested, no pressure. If you do decide to post, please link back to me so I can see your answers! 🙂

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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Review: Washington Black

Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black was my 7th Man Booker longlist title (of 13), and my 3rd read from the shortlist (of 6). So I’m officially halfway through. Washington Black was just released in the US last week, so I chose this one next based on availability.

washingtonblackAbout the book: Wash is a young slave on Faith Plantation in Barbados. His life is hard, but he’s got a friend, and he will follow where she leads. At least, until the new master’s brother visits, and selects Wash as his new assistant in scientific endeavors. Removed from the life of a field worker, new opportunities open for Wash– though he is still another man’s property. Titch is against slavery morally, but his attempts to remove Wash from hideous treatment in the sugar fields does not necessarily lead Wash to a better life. Circumstances lead Titch to escape Faith in a flying ship– a “Cloud-cutter.” Wash leaves with him, beginning a grand and terrifying journey through a harsh world that shows little respect for him, no matter how learned Titch has made him.

Washington Black is one of those books that I was happier to reach the end of than I was during any point while reading. The first section is a promising introduction to the story, detailing life on the Barbados plantation and ending with the odd pair– Titch and Wash– setting off through the sky in their own invention. But from there, the story wanders a bit aimlessly as years pass before Wash finds a sort of goal to work toward as well as the additional emotional complexity of a forbidden love. But much of the middle sections– indeed, much of the entire book– relies on telling rather than showing, as Wash seems to be relating his adventures from some point in the future. From this perspective, Wash notes moments of confusion or misunderstanding in his younger self, though he offers little in the way of explanation or growth that he may have gained through further experience.

“I was young and terrified and confused, it is true. But it is also true that the nature of what happened isn’t fixed; it shifts and warps with the years.”

I had two main issues with this book, issues that indicate this simply wasn’t the right book for me rather than that the novel is flawed. First, this is a very specific story. The events of Wash’s life are probably not events that have happened to any other people or characters ever in existence– and I found little to relate to or to learn from such specificity of experience nearly 200 years past. It’s not a broad look at culture or personality so much as a close-up of one man’s suffering. Some of the underlying messages might apply more widely, but the generalization of the underlying messages was my other issue with this story– I didn’t find that Washington Black had anything new to say on the injustices of slavery it highlighted. A white man taking credit for a black man’s work. A black man taking the blame for a white man’s actions. A white man trying to end slavery at least for one child, by giving him tools the world will not allow him to use. These are important pages in history, but I’ve encountered them before, in other stories. I found it frustrating to read such a unique tale to find only familiar morals.

“I felt Titch was trying to liberate himself from me. And again he would do it under the guise of granting me safety.”

But there is no mistaking the competency of Edugyan’s prose or the intelligence behind her words. There are bits and pieces of this story that will stay with me long after the plot fades, abstract ideas and emotions.

“There was but a thread between life and death, and he had stumbled blamelessly onto the wrong side of it.”

I’ll also remember the scientific aspects of the story: primarily the cloud-cutter and Ocean House. I didn’t look too closely at the premise of Washington Black before diving in, but with such a focus on science so early in the story I was hoping for something a little more zany, like The Underground Railroad. I knew there was no magical realism aspect to Washington Black, but I was disappointed with how quickly the cloud-cutter seemed to fade from its pages. I think the biggest failure of this novel is its hesitance to follow the science to more adventurous conclusions; Edugyan introduces some fascinating concepts, but lets them linger in the background of Wash’s life as he turns his attention instead to the scientist: Titch.

I probably would never have read this book if it hadn’t turned up on the Man Booker longlist the year that I decided to read every nominated book. Its spot on the shortlist led me to pick it up even sooner. But because I did find and read it because of the Man Booker longlist, I can’t help but compare my experience reading it to my similarly disappointing experience with Warlight. Though I preferred Ondaatje’s prose to Edugyan’s, I was pleased that Edugyan offered more directionality of narrative– and yet despite these minor differences, I spent much of my time with both books waiting for a reason to care about the main character and closing the book in the end without any real sense of connection.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I don’t regret having read this book, but I don’t think I’ve gained anything from reading it beyond crossing off another title on my trek through the longlist. My goal is to finish reading the shortlist before the winner is announced (I still have The Overstory, Milkman, and The Long Take to read), and then wrap up the longlist titles I have left (Sabrina, Normal People, and In Our Mad and Furious City). Next up for me will be The Overstory, which is really the only title I have left that I have doubts about enjoying. If I can get through that one, I should have no trouble with the rest.

In lieu of further recommendations, I’m linking the rest of my Man Booker reviews (so far) here, in order of favoritism: Everything Under, The Water Cure, From a Low and Quiet Sea, The Mars Room, Warlight, and Snap.

Is there a book you’re glad you read even though you didn’t enjoy reading it? Why did you feel that way?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: November Road

Lou Berney’s new historical fiction/suspense novel November Road was a Book of the Month selection for September. I did not choose this book through BOTM, but I did add it to my Goodreads TBR to keep it on my radar. I saw that there was a giveaway going on for it, so I thought, “Why not?” and entered. And won! I received an advanced copy a couple of weeks before publication (it releases October 9) and read my first ever ARC. I usually prefer finished copies and don’t even seek out ARCs, but who knows, that could change.

novemberroadAbout the book: Mobster Frank Guidry is just doing his job, but his boss has put him in a bad situation. John F Kennedy has just been assassinated, and Frank knows that what the public knows isn’t the truth. He dropped off the getaway car for the real assassin, and now he’s got to destroy it– before his boss destroys him. Frank is on the run, fully aware that his boss has connections in every major city of the US and that none of his old friends can be relied on to resist cashing in on the reward for turning Frank over to his boss. He’s going to need some help getting out of the country, and finds the perfect disguise when he meets a woman fleeing her drunk husband with her two daughters and their dog. They set off on the road as a “family,” dodging trouble along the way.

The most interesting feature of this book is that it is told in alternating chapters between the perspectives of Charlotte (the woman leaving her inadequate husband), Frank (the man who’s using her to escape his own problems), and Barone (the hitman sent to take Frank out). The timeline jumps a bit to allow the characters to explain what’s happening on their end at the same time as something is happening with one of the others, but the chronology is easy to follow and the characters are distinct. Seeing all sides of the situation removed some of the suspense for me, perhaps because I found Barone’s character the most interesting (he’s like a cat with nine lives, nothing keeps him down) and found myself rooting for him against all odds. I just couldn’t connect with the other characters– Frank is a bit of a macho man, and Charlotte, despite her willingness to leave her life behind, is a somewhat passive character who exists in this novel mainly to increase Frank’s vulnerability as he falls in love with her on the road.

Frank is clearly the main character, which is perhaps why I didn’t love this book. I don’t know exactly how to articulate what I didn’t like about him other than he’s simply very male. He’s in love with his power, and his life is a string of days spent exercising that power and nights spent in bed with women he has no interest in seeing again. He’s charming and he knows it– everyone knows it– but… I wasn’t charmed. I know this book is set in 1963, a time with a considerably different feminist atmosphere than I’m familiar with today, and Charlotte is certainly an attempt at including a strong woman. But there are a few gross male-dominance moves that I just can’t get past: the worst being Frank’s scheme to separate Charlotte from her car. He wants her to ride along with him, so he pays off the mechanic to tell Charlotte her car is totaled even though it could have been easily fixed. It’s a slimy thing to do, and the year doesn’t excuse that sort of character flaw. I had a hard time caring about him after that. For more context, here are his first thoughts about Charlotte:

“The woman by the pool wasn’t bad. He’d had a look at her yesterday when they crossed paths at the pay phone. Big serious eyes, rosebud lips. She needed to let her hair down, switch to a brighter shade of lipstick, and get out of that dress– a modest high-waisted number that Donna Reed would consider square. At another time, in happier days, Guidry might have enjoyed warming her up, feeling her melt in his palm.”

But beyond a few issues with gender dynamics (and these weren’t prevalent), Berney’s story is solid. The twists are unpredictable, though I would hesitate to classify the book as a thriller. Each character’s motives are specific and clear, their paths entertainingly tangled. The ending isn’t neat and happy, though everyone gets what they deserve. It’s a readable page-turner with plenty of casualties to keep things interesting. I was not at all reluctant to continue picking it up once I’d started reading.

“He thought about what Leo had said: With every decision we create a new future. We destroy all other futures. Guidry had made his decision. He’d destroyed all futures but this one.”

Before I close, I want to mention something that may have influenced my opinion of this book– I’ve read JFK assassination fiction before: Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I had such a good time reading King’s novel that the assassination conspiracy in November Road‘s premise was a big part of what drew me in to Berney’s. But there’s so little about JFK, and what few details are mentioned seem an afterthought, the alternative explanation thin and far-fetched. Sure, the point of this novel is that Frank is on the run, but I expected when JFK’s assassination came up in the first sentence of November Road’s synopsis to be immersed in details from that political atmosphere. I felt that way with 11/22/63, but not with November Road. Frank could have been running from any crime, though the clothing and dialogue is clearly (sometimes cringe-worthily) 60’s; but after the first news of Kennedy’s death, he’s hardly mentioned. Granted, King’s novel is more than twice the length of November Road, and preconceptions are rarely beneficial to one’s reading experience.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. This one just didn’t make much of an impression on me either way. It was perfectly easy and engaging to read, but it didn’t excite me. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it, and it probably won’t stick with me very long. I’m not interested in reading more from Berney, though I did appreciate the chance to read this book early. I think I just wasn’t the right audience for this book, and I hope it finds more suitable readers.

Further recommendations:

  • I highly recommend Stephen King’s 11/22/63 if you’re interested in JFK fiction, though King’s novel has a strong science fiction element tied into the history. Namely: time travel, and a sort of personification of the past. But it’s an incredibly character-driven story with plenty of 60’s details and conspiracies, and one of my favorite King novels.

Have you read a book recently that you wanted to like but just wasn’t to your taste? What do you do when an ARC you were excited about disappoints you?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

2018 Reading Challenge: Update 3

There are 3 months left of 2018 (how did we get here already?), which means we’re getting down to crunch time for yearly reading challenges. My priorities have definitely changed as the year has progressed, so I’m pretty sure I will not be completing every part of this challenge this year, though I still have high hopes for some aspects of it. But it’s time to take a look at where I stand so I can make some decisions about my reading plans for the end of the year.

Bold means I’ve completed the task, (parentheses) means I’ve designated a book for the slot but haven’t finished reading it yet.

Here is the first set of challenges: individual books.

  1. A book you didn’t get around to in 2017 = Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  2. A book with a blue cover = Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
  3. A Stephen King book = (Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King – currently buddy reading)
  4. An illustrated Harry Potter book = (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling)
  5. A book you’ve loved in the past = Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
  6. A book at least 1000 pages long = It by Stephen King
  7. The last book in a series = (Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)
  8. A book recommended by a friend = Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  9. A prize-winning book = Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  10. A non-fiction book = Night by Elie Weisel
  11. A book picked up on a whim from the library = Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard T. Chizmar
  12. A book at the bottom of your to-read list = (Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen)
  13. A book with a strong female lead = The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  14. A book from the staff recommendations display at a bookstore = (Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan)
  15. A book in which a beloved character dies = The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  16. A Shakespeare play = (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  17. A book that takes place in space = (The Martian by Andy Weir)
  18. A book by a new-to-you author = The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
  19. A new book by an author you already love = Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  20. A book of short stories = You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
  21. A memoir = The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  22. A true-crime book = In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  23. A book with a five-word title = (The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clematine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil)
  24. A book set in another country = The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  25. A book of poetry = (The Long Take by Robin Robertson)

And for the second set: the big categories. Books that count for this part of the challenge can also be counted for a category in the set above or below.

  1. Twelve classics
    1. Emma by Jane Austen
    2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    3. 6 Penguin Moderns by Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Camus, Shirley Jackson, Italo Calvino, Jack Kerouac, and Betty Friedan
    4. 6 Penguin Moderns by Daphne du Maurier, George Orwell, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, and Wendell Berry
    5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
    6. The Iliad by Homer
    7. (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide by Robert Louis Stevenson)
    8. (6 Penguin Moderns by Patrick Kavanagh, Audre Lorde, Chinua Achebe, Susan Sontag, Jorge Luis Borges, and Truman Capote)
    9. (The Waves by Virginia Woolf)
    10. (Dracula by Bram Stoker)
    11. (Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen)
    12. (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  2. Twelve books within a month of their US publication dates
    1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
    2. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
    3. The Philospher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    4. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    5. Red Rising Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, and Eli Powell
    6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
    7. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    8. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    9. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
    10. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    11. The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey
    12. The Line That Held Us by David Joy
    13. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
    14. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
    15. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
    16. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
    17. November Road by Lou Berney
    18. (Washington Black by Esi Edugyan – currently reading)
  3. The rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series
    1. (A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin)
    2. (A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin)
    3. (A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin)
  4. All of my unread Book of the Month Club books
    1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    2. (Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich)
    3. (Artemis by Andy Weir)
    4. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    5. Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King
    6. (Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng)
    7. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    8. (Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane)
    9. (One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul)
    10. (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood)
    11. (Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller)
    12. As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
    13. (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne)
    14. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    15. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    16. The Oracle Year by Charles Soule
    17. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    18. (The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya)
    19. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    20. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    21. The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey
    22. The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
    23. The Line That Held Us by David Joy
    24. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
    25. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
    26. (The Lies We Told by Camilla Way)
    27. (The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton)
    28. (November selection)
    29. (December selection)
  5. Nine books by Victoria/V. E. Schwab
    1. (The Archived)
    2. (The Unbound)
    3. (This Savage Song)
    4. (This Dark Duet)
    5. (Vicious)
    6. (Vengeful)
    7. (A Darker Shade of Magic)
    8. (A Gathering of Shadows)
    9. (A Conjuring of Light)

Final set: some specific titles I wanted to read in 2018. These can also count in the sets above.

  1. (The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien)
  2. (Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng)
  3. (The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah)
  4. (The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern)
  5. (Dracula by Bram Stoker)
  6. (The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett)
  7. (Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor)
  8. (The Martian by Andy Weir)
  9. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  10. (Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman)

So here’s where I stand:

  • I’ve filled 56 slots in this challenge. Some of those are books that counted in more than one category, and some of those (the books within a month of publication) are superfluous, more than I needed to complete the category.
  • There are 47 slots left to fill to complete the challenge. But some of those can be doubled up by single books that count for multiple slots.
  • I’m predicting I’ll fill 31 of those 47 slots by the end of the year. I can probably finish the first set, the 25 books with specific prompts. I’m really hoping to finish the classics, and it seems possible, but I’m not entirely sure it will happen. I’ll probably only read one George R. R. Martin book before the end of the year rather than 3. I’m still intending to finish my BOTM backlog, but again, I’m not entirely sure it will happen. I’ll probably only read one V. E. Schwab book before the end of the year. And there are only a couple more from the 3rd set of specific titles that I’ll likely read, titles that will double up to fill other slots also.
  • But I’m happy with what I’ve read this year, and whether I finish this entire challenge or not, it has served its purpose– I’ve branched out and tried new things, and I’ve read some unread books from my physical TBR, even if not the exact same titles I thought I would at the beginning of the year. And perhaps not finishing the challenge proves that I’m meeting my overall reading goal for 2018: quality over quantity. I’ve read books I expected to love or learn from instead of reading for numbers.
  • I have no idea what this challenge will look like at the end of the year, but I already have a simpler idea for next year’s challenge and I’m looking forward to seeing where I end up by the end of December!

Are you working through a 2018 reading challenge? Do you expect to complete it or have your goals changed over the course of the year?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-up 9.18

What a fantastic month! I read so many things, including some especially good things. I wanted to start diving into a bunch of the new titles I was excited about from my last three giant book hauls (yes, every one of those links goes to a different giant book haul I’ve posted in the past couple of months), but I ended up using September as more of a catch-up month. I think that was a good choice.

Trends:

  • I’ve gotten back into the habit of checking how long a book is, deciding when I want to finish it, and assigning myself a number of pages to read per day to fit that goal. This method doesn’t always work for me, but I’ve gotten through a lot of books this month by setting a specific page goal every day.

Book-to-Film Adaptations:

  • This month I read The Iliad and The Silence of the Girls (more on both below), and watched the film Troy. There are pros and cons to each adaptation of the story, and it’s hard to say which of the three I prefer most. I liked Patroclus best in The Silence of the Girls, Achilles best in The Iliad, and Briseis best in Troy. Hector is a solid favorite throughout. Troy is the farthest from the main plot, but the easiest to engage in emotionally. Also Troy is the only version that includes the Trojan Horse, which I enjoy.

Finished Books (with titles linked to full reviews):

  1. From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan. fromalowandquietsea4 stars. This was my third Man Booker 2018 longlist title. I loved this book, though I didn’t entirely love its formatting, which was a bit on the short story collection side. I read it in one day, between 2 sittings, which is something I haven’t done much of lately and it felt pretty good. Ryan’s prose is absolutely beautiful, and I loved the way these characters’ stories fit together in the end.
  2. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson. everythingunder5 stars. My fourth Man Booker longlist title. This is one of very few magical realism stories I’ve really loved. It’s a great retelling of some familiar classic stories, wonderfully dark and yet almost whimsical. I loved the focus on words, the complex relationships, the magical twist, and everything about it, really. I’m so glad to see this one on the shortlist!
  3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close extremelyloudandincrediblycloseby Jonathan Safran Foer. 4 stars. There was a lot I loved about this book, and it might have been a 5-star read if I had read a physical copy in a timely manner rather than periodically picking up the ebook. Very little of this surprised me, though I was very emotionally engaged all the way through. I don’t always click with stream-of-consciousness writing, but these characters hooked me.
  4. You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld. youthinkiti'llsayit2 stars. I’m trying to pick up more short story collections throughout the last few months of this year, so I thought I’d start with this new collection by an author I’ve enjoyed before (albeit in a novel); it started out promising, but I ended up so disappointed that basically every story was the same with different surface details. The underlying message is solid, but I felt like I was being hit over the head with it by the end.
  5. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. themarsroom4 stars. My 5th Man Booker longlist read. I was wary going into this one because I had seen reviews stating that some of the perspective sections seemed pretty unnecessary to the overall story, and unnecessary info usually bores/frustrates me in a novel. I did find the unnecessary info suggestion to be true, but enjoyed the rest of the story far more than I expected to. So it balanced out.
  6. The Pisces by Melissa Broder. thepisces5 stars. I wasn’t sure about this one at first, but it really won me over by the end. Despite the plot being pretty weird and the main character somewhat unlikable, I loved the narrative voice and its subtext, as well as the Greek parallels. It was definitely an interesting and surprising read that I’ll be thinking about for quite a while. I’m so glad I picked this one out of the influx of mermaid books that were published this year.
  7. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough. crossherheart2 stars. I suppose I should have foreseen my frustration with this one, after so many thriller disappointments lately and knowing going in that this new Pinborough novel lacked the genre-bending twist that I loved in her last thriller. Maybe I’ve read too many thrillers. Maybe my bar is too high. All I know is that this one disappointed me on every level, even though there was nothing seriously wrong with it. It just fell flat.
  8. The Iliad by Homer. theiliad4 stars. I’ve not been keeping up with my classics goal for this year, and I’m not sure why. They’re so rewarding to read. This one took me quite a while because I didn’t love the translation I have, and also because I already knew the story so there weren’t surprises in the plot. But it’s still beautiful and I’m glad I’ve finally read it in its entirety. I’ll stick with this volume long enough to finish The Odyssey as well.
  9. The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg. theemigrantnovels4 stars. I’m probably not going be able to generate much interest in this series, but it taught me how important it is for narratives from all countries and cultures to be written down– because it’s the first time I’ve read something that feels like a part of my heritage. Though I didn’t love the writing style, it was fascinating to read about emigrants from Sweden (fiction based on real diary entries) as some of my own ancestors were. The first book was an incredible reading experience and I’m looking forward to continuing.
  10. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. thesilenceofthegirls4 stars. This is a great modernization of The Iliad, but the plot follows Homer’s original so closely that I was left a little bored since I knew most of what would happen after recently finishing the classic. Briseis didn’t stand out as much as I expected her to for being given her own perspective chapters, but I did think characterization was the strength of this novel.  But it’s possible that my expectations were too high going in.
  11. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh.thewatercure 5 stars. This was my 6th read from the Man Booker longlist and another highlight of the list for me (so far). Despite a few flaws, I was completely sucked in by the atmosphere and read the entire book in two sittings. I thought the character dynamics were incredible and the ambiguity kept me thinking about this story long after I finished reading– I loved the way it ended.
  12. Evidence of the Affair by Taylor Jenkins Reid. evidenceoftheaffair3 stars. I’m not doing a full review of this one because it was only a single short story. I didn’t spend much time with it and it didn’t make much of an impression on me either way. It’s an epistolary story, which is a format I sometimes enjoy. As often happens, some of the content feels forced into a mode that doesn’t entirely fit all of the plot developments, but it’s a nice break from more traditional writing styles. The plot’s a bit fluffy and predictable, though it didn’t end exactly as I expected so I wasn’t totally bored. I wasn’t even planning to read this, I just came across it one evening, started reading, finished within an hour, and was ready to move on with my life. I’m looking forward to Reid’s 2019 publication, but this one affirmed that I don’t really want to go back and read the novels she’s previously published because I don’t think I’m going to find another Seven Husbands among them.
  13. November Road by Lou Berney. novemberroad3 stars. This was a BOTM selection that I didn’t choose in my box, but I did enter (and win!) a giveaway for it on Goodreads. It’s the first ARC I’ve ever received (I’m not big on ARCs). This one was a page-turner, but I didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it either, but I think there’s probably a better audience for it among the male population. I’ll have a full review up soon.

Some Stats:

  • Average Rating – 3.8
  • Best of the Month – Everything Under
  • Worst of the Month – You Think It, I’ll Say It
  • Books Hauled – 17 (link in intro)
  • Owned Books Read for the First Time – 7. My physical TBR grew by 10 books this month.
  • Total Read in 2018 – 90. My Goodreads goal for the year was 90 books, so I’ve just completed that challenge!

Usually my reading months have ups and downs, binges and slumps. I had a wide variety of ratings this month, but for the first time in a while it just felt like an all-around good reading month. I was disappointed by a few titles, but I didn’t actively hate anything, and I found several books I really loved. And I mentioned that I used September as a catch-up month: I managed to finish 3  books that have been on my currently reading list for way too long (and made good progress on a 4th), I got all of my library books returned on time, I made a dent in the Man Booker longlist, I kept up with my BOTM selections, and I read a book that I borrowed months ago. I feel like I’m getting into a good position to be wrapping up more things that I want to finish reading before the end of the year– from my reading challenge (update post coming tomorrow), from the Man Booker longlist, from my BOTM backlog, and from my still-too-long list of books I’m currently reading. But my October TBR is out of control, so we’ll see what happens!

How was your reading month? Any stand-outs? Have you read any of the books from my list?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant