PERSONAL: Reading Update August 2014

I gave a reading update last month, as usual. Since then, I’ve been pushing myself to read as many books as possible before summer ends and I move back to the city. And it seems to be working!

Books I’ve Finished: Since last month, I’ve finished 4 books: Rainbow Rowell ‘s LandlineAlex London‘s Guardian (Proxy #2), Shyam Selvadurai‘s The Hungry Ghosts and Tina Fey‘s Bossypants. Bringing me to a total of 28/40 books so far for 2014.

I’m currently three books ahead of schedule. Now, I only need to read three books a month to hit my goal, with a week left in August and numerous books partway to completion to boot. I’m pretty happy with how this has been going.

Two surprises in this batch: that The Hungry Ghosts was so engaging and powerful after I’d read so many tepid reviews, and that Guardian was such a poor follow-up to a genuinely decent YA in ProxyBossypants was, as expected, a delight.

Guardian, I struggled to finish after blowing through its predecessor in a day. I read half, winced, and set it down for two months. When I finally picked it up, it was to push myself to get through it, even as I considered abandoning it multiple times. Only the fact that it was such a technically easy read kept me going, as I refused to be defeated by such a technically simple book. It wasn’t bad, per se, but I found it terribly hard to get through.

Meanwhile, The Hungry Ghosts threatened early on to be too bleak and mean-spirited for me (a la Franzen), but I found a beating heart in Selvadurai’s depiction of growing up in the shadow of emotional abuse. Shivan is as much abuser as abused at times, thanks to a childhood of confusing power dynamics within the family – particularly between his widowed mother and demanding, complicated grandmother. And once he gets to Canada, Shivan’s experiences in the gay community of Toronto – the loss of his virginity to an older, man who ignored all sense of reasonable emotional boundaries; the loneliness of not fitting to the gay community’s demanding beauty standard; his struggles with coming out to his family – all hit me right where I lived. And ultimately his tragic romances, dashed by violence and trauma, and his final decision tie up the book’s themes beautifully.

Boosypants was fantastic. The first time I encountered, I stood in Walmart reading it for probably a half hour, completely losing time. I didn’t have the money to pick it up then, and it was only this summer that I finally decided to get a copy of my own and finish it. Not only was it very funny – because, come on, Tina Fey – but there were bits of insight and wisdom that I adored. An inside view of the Sarah Palin SNL work, for example, was great. And I loved Fey recounting Amy Poehler’s hardcore “I don’t CARE IF YOU LIKE IT!” from the SNL writer’s room.

I knew I’d have a very specific reaction, good or bad, to Landline. As a wannabe TV writer who’s thought a lot about the conflict between the intense demands of my career and the needs of a someday relationship/family, I came into Landline hoping it would touch a nerve… and it did. Georgie’s genuine love for her career, entangled with her just-as genuine love for her family, made me ache with empathy. It’s exactly the type of situation I expect to find myself in someday, and I can only hope to stumble upon a magic phone that will help me survive it. The first half of the book is a lightheartedly bleak take on the quiet collapse of a once-happy marriage, and it’s so convincing that when Georgie stands on the crossroads between saving her marriage and erasing it utterly, you understand why. I won’t spoil the end, but I was really happy with Landline, and devoured in in one sitting.

Books I’ve Abandoned: None this month! Though Guardian almost defeated me.

Next Up: I’m partway through a number of books at the moment, any (or all!) of which I could finish in the next month. The in-depth list below, but first, some quick thoughts…

My most recent acquisitions, alongside Landline, were Edan Lupucki‘s California and Matthew Olshan‘s Marshlands, both of which I’ve dug happily into. I’m about a third into California and I adore the world Lepucki has built, a realistic mid-apocalyptic look at what happens when the fuel crisis and changing climates really start changing things for humanity. Much of what I’ve read has been the careful and wonderful development of the leads’ current situation and the dynamic, and ongoing tension, between them. I was sad to see the book shift directions a third of the way in, and a twist I’ve just encountered has tempered some of my early enthusiasm with a touch of doubt, but I’m definitely still expecting to love this book. Meanwhile, I’ve only barely dipped into Marshlands, but it’s lovingly-written and spare. A beautiful piece of work. I very much hope it adds up to more than the sum of it’s well put-together parts. Reading these two alongside the classic A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez makes the experience even more magical. All three start in places of isolation, wonder and the natural world; it’s interesting to see how each evolves.

I’ve dug back into The Martian, by Andy Weir, and it is just as delightful as it was when I left off a couple months ago. I initially blew through the first third of the book, then stepped back a bit to save the rest of it for later. Well, now later has come, and I am really enjoying the story of Mars’ miracle survivor and his brilliant technological improvisations to save himself and get home. Some of the novels I talk about below either have protagonists or narratives that don’t quite excite me, whereas The Martian has both in spades. Tension, excitement, wonder, and a protagonist you can’t help but love for his tenacity, ingenuity, and good humour in the face of near-certain death.

I continue to advance steadily through Anna Godbersen‘s The BlondeJeff VanDerMeer‘s Authority, and Claire North‘s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. All three of these fall into the same niche for me: none are livewires like California or Landline were to me, pulling me in and keeping me captive… but I’m enjoying all three of them plenty anyway. The Blonde has the benefit of being told mostly through an intriguing and enjoyable Marilyn Monroe perspective, especially as I don’t know enough of her or JFK’s histories to get bored.  Authority is the drier, espionage-focused follow-up to the hallucinatory dreamscape that was Annihilation; unfortunately, trying to tell a more cogent story in this ‘verse saps some of the magic from it. And Fifteen Lives has a fascinating premise with some brilliant concepts, anchored by a just-good-enough protagonist and similarly ‘pretty good’ narrative. I expect now I’ve crossed the halfway mark things will start to amp up, but for now Fifteen Lives – much like the other two noted here – sits in my ‘pretty good, will keep reading’ list. All of them need a kick in the pants to really land among my top list, but for now, they’re solid additions to my shelf nonetheless.

The list of in-progress books:

  • 64% of the way through Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale.
  • 63% of the way through The Martian by Andy Weir.
  • 55% through The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.
  • 51% of the way through Monstrous Affections by David Nickle.
  • 44% of the way through The Blonde by Anna Godbersen.
  • 41% of the way through The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters.
  • 38% of the way through Perdido Street Station by China Miéville.
  • 37% of the way through California by Edan Lepucki.
  • 35% through Authority by Jeff VanderMeer.
  • 27% of the way through Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
  • 26% of the way through One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez.
  • 23% of the way through Marshlands by Matthew Olshan.
  • 21% of the way through Rifter #1: The Shattered Gates by Ginn Hale.
  • 17% of the way through Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.
  • 13% of the way through Defenders by Will McIntosh.
  • 11% of the way through A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava.

These are my current books that I’m actively making my way through. After those? The many products of both a healthy appetite for online book-buying and digging through boxes of books I bought forever ago and never read. The full list – fiction, that is, as nonfiction would double its length…

  • Jesse Ball‘s Silence Once Begun
  • Pierce Brown‘s Red Rising
  • Peter Cawdron‘s Feedback
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s Demons (translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky)
  • Glen Duncan‘s I, Lucifer
  • Lynn Flewelling‘s Luck in the Shadows
  • Ken Follett‘s Pillars of the Earth
  • Neil Gaiman‘s The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  • John Green‘s Paper Towns
  • Sally Green‘s Half-Bad
  • Daryl Gregory‘s Afterparty
  • Ginn Hale‘s The Rifter trilogy: The Holy Road (#2) & His Sacred Bones (#3)
  • Alaya Johnson‘s Moonshine
  • Nicole Kimberling‘s (ed.) Irregulars
  • Claude Lalumiere‘s (ed.) Tessaracts Twelve
  • Josh Lanyon‘s Strange Fortune
  • Scott Lynch‘s The Lies of Locke Lamora
  • China Miéville’s Railsea
  • Helen Oyeyemi‘s Boy, Snow, Bird
  • George PelecanosA Firing Offense
  • Richard Powers’ Orfeo
  • Christopher Priest‘s The Adjacent
  • Rainbow Rowell‘s Eleanor & Park
  • Benjamin Alire Saenz‘s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  • James Smythe‘s The Machine
  • Sarah Treguy‘s Fan Art
  • David Foster Wallace‘s The Pale King
  • Robert Charles Wilson‘s Spin

So. Lots to read. There’s two weeks left of summer, and I’m hoping to finish off a good chuck of my currently-reading list by the time I move. Here’s hoping! What are y’all reading?

One response to “PERSONAL: Reading Update August 2014

  1. Pingback: PERSONAL: Reading Update September 2014 | The Diversionist

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