Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (2015 Edition), Part Two

My reading round-up for the second quarter of the year is a little late, of course. I’ve been busy reading other, newer books and writing some things that I hope to show you soon and watching television that I would be better of not watching. (The Crimson Field is really not very good, but it’s a British period drama, so.) Anyway, here are the five books that I managed not to put down between April and the end of June!

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The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

If you know anything about Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” you probably know that the narrator – a woman suffering from postpartum depression – goes crazy. The story is very good. And weird and scary and ultimately, sad. It’s also very different from the other stories included in this collection, which are, for the most part, optimistic about women’s ability to overcome societal expectations in late nineteenth century America in order to, in a sense, have it all. (The other stories can be a little hokey, too, but that didn’t bother me so much.)  I wouldn’t say this was a read that I savored or relished by any means – I read it the few hours I had before we were supposed to discuss it at book club – but I did find it to be educational. It made me think about how different my life is from the American woman a century ago, but also how much it is the same.

Here’s my original post about The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories.

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Okay, so. I feel like I say this a lot so I don’t want you to think I’m exaggerating but…this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. (I think?) With Life After Life, Kate Atkinson transported me to another world so completely that I found myself thinking about it and only it during the rare moments I wasn’t reading. I finished the book in under 48 hours. I’m sure I thought about work – a little bit – when I was working, but otherwise I was pretty much just obsessing over Life After Life.

When the novel opens, it is 1910 and Ursula Todd has just been born to a wealthy family in England. Suddenly, she dies. And then she’s born again, with another chance at life. The novel continues like this, with Ursula living and dying and living again slightly altered versions of her life.

Even though I have loved reading Kate Atkinson in the past, I was initially put off by the premise of the book when my friend Katie first told me to read it last year. Katie, I will never ignore your recommendations for so long again.

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People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

I chose this book for my book club to read in the midst of our national obsessions with Serial and The Jinx. I think all of us who read it were just as fascinated by the story of a young British woman who mysteriously disappeared in Tokyo in 1999. While I think that some parts of the book were overwritten, I found People Eat Darkness to be a dark and unexpected journey in the best possible way. I was especially interested in the explorations of hostess culture and the Japanese legal system, both of which play large roles in the book.

Here’s my original post discussing People Who Eat Darkness. 

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Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

Every time I read a Dickens novel, it is a special experience. I have, since I was a young teenager, been working my way through his books ever so slowly. The last one I read was Bleak House, back in 2010. It took me six weeks and will probably ruin all other Dickens for me, because I find it hard to believe that he could write something better than that. Dombey and Son, the story of the rise and fall of a wealthy London shipping family, is no Bleak House. It’s not even close. But it is Dickens and if you enjoy reading him, then there’s a lot to like. (My personal favorite thing about this book really had nothing to do with the book at all. Rather, it was the appearance of the phrase “dank weed” at the end of an otherwise very boring chapter.)

Here’s my original post discussing Dombey and Son.

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The Group by Mary McCarthy

As soon as I finished it, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I know to read The Group. I wrote a gushing post about it a few weeks ago and am still a little high off of devouring it so quickly. I felt I’d been in sort of a reading rut before I picked it up. But more than satisfy my need to actively enjoy what I’m reading, The Group comforted me. The eight women who made up “the group” felt so familiar to me that reading about their post-collegiate lives in New York City felt like reading my own journal entries or having conversations with my closest friends. However, they were living during the 1930s. (Mary McCarthy, who graduated from Vassar in 1933 just like her characters, wrote the novel in the 1960s.) This book, like The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, made me consider how different – and how very much the same – the lives of American women (of a certain race and class) are today when compared with decades past. The Group was so much more real to me, though. The writing is modern and McCarthy didn’t labor like Gilman did to make a point about women’s potential in society. She simply told a story and left it up to us to see what we would see.

Here’s my original post on The Group.

Friday Reads: Don’t Murder Me

Friday Read: So Many Roads by David Browne

I talk and write pretty often about my fascination with the Grateful Dead. Their music has been pretty important to me since I was a teen. Maybe earlier? I probably absorbed enough of the Dead’s music at my aunt and uncle’s house when I was a kid that it’s always sort of been with me. (An early memory: sneaking up into my uncle’s attic, where I don’t think I was allowed to be, and seeing, among other paraphernalia, a street sign that said “Shakedown Street” on the wall.) Anyway, there’s been a lot written about the Dead around last weekend’s Fare Thee Well shows in Chicago, all of which I’ve eagerly read. But I’d totally missed, until this week, the fact that a new history of the Grateful Dead had been published. I picked it up the same day I read about it.

I’m still working my way through So Many Roads, but so far it’s highly readable. Author David Browne focuses each chapter on a single important day for the band. (For example, the first chapter is about the final day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which affected Jerry Garcia deeply.) It’s full of interviews with people who were around the members of the band at various points in their lives and seeks to sort out a lot of the lore that’s developed around the band since they first became famous in the 1960s. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about the Dead. I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to a Deadhead. Actually, I would, but they’d have to promise me that they’d set aside their own knowledge and opinions about the band and its culture until they finish it.

Here’s an excerpt from the Prologue of the book.

Also, if this isn’t quite what you want to read about but you like popular 1970s rock, I would recommend Browne’s last book, Fire and Rain. It’s about four bands/artists – The Beatles, James Taylor, CSNY, and Simon and Garfunkel – who were making albums in 1970. I read it a few years ago and really liked it.

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Otherwise…

I’m actually gonna keep with the Dead theme this week. I read some reviews of the Fare Thee Well shows, during which Trey Anastasio of Phish “filled in,” I guess, for Jerry Garcia. Here’s Jon Pareles writing about them in the New York Times. (I mostly like the photos in this piece.)

While reading a section of So Many Roads that talks about the song “Dire Wolf,” I started thinking about all of the Grateful Dead references in A Song of Ice and Fire. I know, I know, dire wolves were real animals that are now extinct. BUT. There are other things like the Mountains of the Moon and Gerold “Darkstar” Dayne. I don’t think Martin has admitted to putting these things in his books on purpose but he does say he has “Grateful Dead lyrics rattling around in [his] head all the time.” I turned to Reddit to read up on references that I may have missed and wound up finding this thread, in which someone asks this very interesting question: “Is Benjen Jerry Garcia?”

And Longreads linked to this profile of the Grateful Dead from a 1974 issue of CREEM. I found it kind of hard to get through – the writing is, uh, not my thing – but it did make me laugh a few times, mostly in cringey ways.

Music So Far, 2015

2015 is now more than halfway over and I’ve been keeping this running list of all of the new music I’ve liked so far so I figured I would share it here. No rankings. Just a whole lot of stuff I want to recommend! And there’s a Spotify playlist at the end.

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Natalie Prass, Natalie Prass
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, “Careen”
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
Chromatics, “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around”
Colleen Green, I Want to Grow Up


Hot Chip, “Huarache Lights”
Toro Y Moi, “Empty Nesters”
Yumi Zouma, “Catastrophe”
Belle and Sebastian, “The Cat With the Cream”
SOAK, “Sea Creatures”

Lower Dens, Escape From Evil
Rae Sremmurd, SremmLife
Twerps, “I Don’t Mind”
Makthaverskan, “Witness”
Jessica Pratt, On Your Own Love Again



Waxahatchee, “Air”
Jazmine Sullivan, “Dumb”
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Think and Sit, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer
Westkust, “Swirl”

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
Chastity Belt, Time to Go Home
Bully, Feels Like
Upset, “Glass Ceiling”
Grimes, “REALiTi (Demo)”

Metro Thuggin, “Free Gucci”
Girlpool, Before the World Was Big
Jamie xx, “Loud Places” ft. Romy
Chromatics, “In Films”
Leon Bridges, Coming Home

Panda Bear, “Crosswords”
Marissa Nadler, “So Long Ago and Far Away”
Diet Cig, “Scene Sick”
Rich Homie Quan, “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)”
Yumi Zouma, “Song For Zoe & Gwen”

Kero Kero Bonito, “Picture This”
Ryn Weaver, “The Fool”
Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”
Post Malone, “White Iverson”
Miguel, “Coffee (Fucking)” ft. Wale

Miami Horror, “Real Slow”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Multi-Love
Tame Impala, “Eventually”
Nao, “Apple Cherry”
Kacey Musgraves, “Biscuits”

Vince Staples, Summertime ’06
Young Thug, “Constantly Hating” ft. Birdman
U.S. Girls, “Damn That Valley”
Carly Rae Jepsen, “All That”
A$AP Rocky, AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP

Hudson Mohawke, “Ryderz”
Empress Of, “Water Water”
Destroyer, “Dream Lover”
Jamie xx, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” ft. Young Thug & Popcaan
Strange Names, “I Can’t Control Myself (Doss Remix)”

Tei Shi, “Go Slow”
Cuushe, “We Can’t Stop”
Shamir, Ratchet
Sia, “Elastic Heart”
Stealing Sheep, “Not Real”

Susanne Sundfør, “Fade Away”
iLoveMakonnen, “Whip It (Remix)” ft. Migos & Rich the Kid
Wet, “Deadwater”
Neon Indian, “Annie”
No Joy, More Faithful

Allie X, “Good”
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Janet Jackson, “No Sleeep”
Samantha Urbani, “1 2 3 4″
Eskimeaux, “Broken Necks”
swim good x Merival, “since u asked”

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Friday Reads: Some Progress

Friday Read: The Group by Mary McCarthy

Some mysterious force led me to read Mary McCarthy’s The Group this week. I didn’t know anything about it, though I’m familiar with its author, and the only time I can remember seeing anyone reading it was on an episode of Gilmore Girls. (Rory reads it while waiting to buy tickets for the Chilton formal in the season one episode, “The Dance.”) But I saw it on the shelf when I was browsing at my local bookstore on Monday, looking for something engrossing to distract me from the awful cold I’ve been battling, and felt like I had to pick it up. This was my method for choosing books until about age 16, looking up and down the shelves of the bookstore or library until I felt a tingle looking at a spine or reading the jacket copy. Since then, I mostly know what I’m looking for when I go to pick up a book. The description on The Group‘s back cover was fairly simple: Basically, a group of eight Vassar graduates take on adulthood in the time between the World Wars. I didn’t know if it would be the consuming read I was looking for, but I took it down from the shelf and carried it with me as I continued to look around. The only other book that I considered buying was Edward St. Aubyn’s The Patrick Melrose Novels, but ultimately decided that it was darker than I was feeling. So, I bought The Group and hoped for the best.

I finished it within roughly 30 hours. It begins as seven members of the group watch the eighth, Kay Strong, get married in St. George’s Church in Stuyvesant Square, just weeks after their Vassar graduation in 1933. They don’t know the man she is marrying, Harald Petersen, and many of them are not even sure that they particularly like Kay. But, they were a group in college and are therefore obligated to be there. This feeling, a sense of obligation to keep up friendships that may not exactly be right for you, was the first of many that I identified with as a young adult. As the book continued – the following chapters, for the most part, focused intimately on one or two of the women – I found that I recognized myself in each woman as she confronted the realms of sex and relationships, career, friendship, and family. (Of course, my white, privileged, East Coast upbringing had a lot to do with my basic identification with these characters, who were all white and privileged and, if they weren’t from the East Coast, very much embraced an East Coast mindset, which was probably much more of a thing in the 1930s than it is now.) In the later chapters, several of the characters become mothers, which is not something I know anything about yet, but I was able to imagine that I would be just as terrified as Priss Hartshorn Crockett – incidentally, one of my favorite character names ever – was of caring for a newborn. During the moments when I wasn’t reading The Group, I kept thinking about how very similar the lives of women – of a certain class – are 80 years later, even though so much “progress” has been made.

The big differences I spotted mostly had to do with attitudes toward sex and careers. If The Group took place today, I don’t think Dottie Renfrew would hastily get engaged to near-stranger out of shame and regret for losing her virginity to a roguish man to whom she develops an attachment. And I don’t think Polly Andrews would have had to settle for a career as a medical technician, where she didn’t have much chance for advancement. In fact, I think all of the women would have a much wider array of career options, though they still might face pressure from their families and romantic partners to pursue certain lines of work. They would certainly still have to deal with sexism in the workplace, though it might not be so obvious today as it was then. One of the characters, Libby MacAusland, is told that she should become a literary agent rather than an editor, because editing is a man’s job. And so she becomes a successful literary agent. If that same scenario were to happen now, it would be more likely that a woman would be told that her character or attitude was not right for the job, and that would be that.

What I loved most about The Group, though, were the character studies and the social history. The women are all easy-to-recognize types, just like the main characters in The Group‘s successor, Sex and the City. But that doesn’t mean that their inner lives aren’t interesting or surprising. And while they grapple with the same problems that women do today, though from a different place in society, their vocabulary and frame of reference for those issues are completely different. I paused often as I was reading to look up literary references, historical events and figures, and even food that was mentioned. That experience alone would have made this an enriching read for me. Luckily, The Group had much more for me to chew on.

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Otherwise…

I finally finished Dombey and Son and was very happy to find the phrase “dank weed” in the text.

And now I’m just getting into Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titanas well as Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism By a Living Female Rock Critic.

What else should I be reading? I’m taking suggestions.

Friday Reads: Too Much Code

Friday Read: “What Is Code?” by Paul Ford (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Well, I read all* 38,000 words of this piece and I think I understand computer programming now! Or, at least, better than I did. Check this out for the knowledge, but also the writing and the great design work. And if you finish it, you’ll get a very cool Certificate of Achievement. Mine features me looking angrily at my monitor because I forgot that my computer camera is on my actual computer, which sits at an (unflattering) angle on my desk. You also might have a dream where people say “Python” and “Ruby on Rails” over and over again, which is something I experienced this morning.

certificate-of-participation

*Most. Sometimes my eyes just looked at the words in some paragraphs and nothing really registered, but I did make a very big effort to read and comprehend this whole thing.

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What else?

I don’t know. I kind of hated everything I read this week! I literally have nothing to recommend other than this list of “99 Things All Yuccies Love” – even though it also made me feel bad about myself – and this New Yorker piece about reproduction, marriage, and the Constitution.

I’ve been ending these things with songs lately, so here is “Broken Necks” by Eskimeaux.