PERSONAL: Reading Update September 2014

I gave a reading update last month, as usual. This round, I polished off a lot of books ahead of my move back to Toronto to prevent having to tae them with me, which resulted in some pretty nice results…

Books I’ve Finished: Since last month, I’ve finished 12 books: Jesse Andrews‘s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Ginn Hale‘s Wicked Gentlemen, Jeff VanderMeer‘s AuthorityPierce Brown‘s Red Rising, James Nickle‘s Monstrous AffectionsEdan Lepucki‘s CaliforniaAndy Weir‘s The MartianGinn Hale‘s The Rifter Book 1: The Shattered Gates, Claire North‘s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Anna Godbersen‘s The Blonde Sarah Tregay‘s Fan Art and Rainbow Rowell ‘s Eleanor & Park.

Based on my strong showing so far, I’ve decided to up my challenge by 5 books. Bringing me to a total of 40/45 books so far for 2014. Even with the increase, I’m still nine books ahead of schedule.

How would I rank these 12 books? Best to worst, off the cuff…

  1. Red Rising
  2. California
  3. The Martian
  4. Eleanor & Park
  5. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
  6. The Rifter Book 1: The Shattered Gates
  7. The Blonde
  8. Authority
  9. Monstrous Affections
  10. Wicked Gentlemen
  11. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  12. Fan Art

These really can be divided into a couple distinct groups:

The Excellent: Red Rising, California, The Martian and Eleanor & Park were all fantastic. Vivid worlds, whether new worlds entirely, future post-crisis semi-civilization, Mars, or even a 1980’s neighbourhood in Nebraska. Their characters were sharp, meaningful and engaging, and I couldn’t wait – and couldn’t bear – for these books to end. Red Rising is pulse-pounding adventure with lots to say about classism and leadership; California is a survival story in an eerily believable future version of our world; The Martian is a an ode to ingenuity and to the value of a human life; and Eleanor & Park is a sweet ode to young love where the teenagers have problems that are neither petty nor hyperbolic.

The Good: I enjoyed The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, The Rifter 1, The Blonde, and Authority quite a bit, but they are were undermined by specific issues. Harry August has an amazing world and mythology and is well crafted, but often lacks energy even when the pace gets going because the main character just isn’t that compelling. The first book of The Rifter is excellent once it gets going, but the first third or so is such a slog that I was tempted to abandon it. An unnecessarily confusing sequence not-far-in doesn’t help things. I doubt the other two books of the series will be this low. The Blonde was anchored in a really interesting POV, Marilyn Monroe embroiled in the world of espionage; but ultimately its consistently good, enough to read and enjoy but not really competing with the upper echelon here. Authority begins strong, ends strong and has some great character work and beats in the middle, but it spends a lot of time in the middle of the book running through its protagonists paranoias.

The Okay: Wicked Gentlemen, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Fan Art were all enjoyable in their own way, but a clear cut below the others here. I love Ginn Hale, and her debut, Wicked Gentlemen had all the pieces to be excellent – it was just too short and the plotting too messy and abrupt. The central characters, the world, the writing itself were there. The plotting just wan’t strong enough, something she would go on to improve greatly on in subsequent novels. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a breath of fresh air, denying even the sentimentality of The Fault in Our Stars for a more realistic look at how we are affected by the tragedies of those around us; that is, not as much as you’d think. But the humour is pretty exhausting, and the narrator’s voice is so quippy and disaffected that he’s kind of a pain to read.

As for the book not in those sections? The short story anthology Monstrous Affections whose stories could be distributed all through these sections. I don’t have the book at hand (part of why I finished it off), but standouts included “The Sloan Men” and “The Tar Baby”. Both so damn good.

Books I’ve Abandoned: Not quite an abandonment, but I’ve decided to hold off on Sally Green‘s Half-Bad for now, if not until the sequel comes out next year. My sister read it this past week and advised me that not much happens and that it might work better with more of the story in hand. Also, similar semi-abandonments: in my move, I was forced to leave behind some of the books in my below list. Though they should re-enter my possession in Nov/Dec, I’ve removed them from the lists for now.

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…

I haven’t yet abandoned The Quick, a new pick-up by Lauren Owen, but I am sorely tempted. The first 100 pages were promising, followed by 170 pages (so far) of slog. Owen builds a sympathetic, interesting dynamic between the lead and the love interest, and then tosses it aside for a messy jerking narrative featuring a cast of nondistinct thousands, including a dozen vampires whom I could name but not describe. Even a character who showed promise early on, the lead’s sister, has lost all spark upon returning to the narrative. Sigh.

I’m integrating my fiction reading list with my Nonfiction Reading List of Doom, which means some fun new additions to both the current-reading and to-read lists.

The list of in-progress books:

  • 50% of the way through The Quick by Lauren Owen.
  • 41% of the way through The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters.
  • 38% of the way through Perdido Street Station by China Miéville.
  • 32% of the way through One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez.
  • 27% of the way through The Rifter 2: The Holy Road by Ginn Hale
  • 27% of the way through Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
  • 25% of the way through The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes.
  • 23% of the way through Marshlands by Matthew Olshan.
  • 20% of the way through Underground by Haruki Murakami.
  • 17% of the way through Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.
  • 13% of the way through From Chinese Exclusion to Guantanamo Bay by Natsu Taylor Saito.
  • 12% of the way through Irregulars by Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Astrid Amara & Ginn Hale.
  • 11% of the way through A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava.
  • 10% of the way through The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith.

And the To Read list….

  • Christopher Andrew‘s Defend the Realm
  • Tara Bennett‘s Showrunners
  • Lauren Beukes‘ Broken Monsters
  • Paul Bushkovitch‘s A Concise History of Russia
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s Demons (translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky)
  • Andrew Feinstein‘s The Shadow World
  • Lynn Flewelling‘s Luck in the Shadows
  • Shelby Foote‘s The Civil War Vols. 1-3
  • Neil Gaiman‘s The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  • Misha Glenny‘s The Balkans
  • Daryl Gregory‘s Afterparty
  • Brian Greene‘s The Hidden Reality
  • Ginn Hale‘s The Rifter:  His Sacred Bones (#3)
  • David Hajdu‘s  The Ten-Cent Plague
  • Kalevi J. Holsti‘s Peace and War
  • Khaled Hosseini‘s A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • Kameron Hurley‘s The Mirror Empire
  • Alaya Johnson‘s Moonshine
  • Michio Kaku‘s Physics of the Future
  • Claude Lalumiere‘s (ed.) Tessaracts Twelve
  • Josh Lanyon‘s Strange Fortune
  • Maureen F. McHugh‘s After the Apocalypse
  • Jo Nesbo‘s The Son
  • Helen Oyeyemi‘s Boy, Snow, Bird
  • Lincoln Paine‘s The Sea & Civilisation
  • Richard Powers’ Orfeo
  • Christopher Priest‘s The Adjacent
  • Nicholas Proferes’Film Directing Fundamentals
  • Benjamin Alire Saenz‘s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  • Kyung-Sook Shin‘s I’ll Be Right There
  • Brendan Simms‘ Europe: The Struggle For Supremacy 1453 to the Present
  • Studs Terkel‘s Hard Times
  • Studs Terkel‘s “The Good War”
  • Studs Terkel‘s Coming of Age
  • Peter Tomsen‘s The Wars of Afghanistan
  • Jeff VanderMeer‘s The Steampunk Bible
  • David van Reybrouck‘s Congo
  • Stephen Wade‘s Spies in the Empire
  • Tim Weiner‘s Legacy of Ashes
  • Alan Weisman‘s The World Without Us
  • Judith Weston‘s Directing Actors
  • Robert Charles Wilson‘s Spin

So. Lots to read. School’s started, but I’m excited to finally dig into my nonfiction collection.

What are y’all reading?

One response to “PERSONAL: Reading Update September 2014

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

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