Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (and Whether or Not You Should Read Them, Too), Part Two

I wrote some mini-reviews of the books I had read in January, February and March a few months ago. Here’s the second edition of that, covering the months of April, May and June.

Did any of you read anything great this year that I should read and review in the next one? I’m looking for suggestions!

APRIL

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro (2012)

What’s it about?

There are fourteen stories by Alice Munro in this collection. If you are a Munro-head, then you already know that these stories are usually about people, most often women, whose lives, which are lived almost entirely in Canada, are invaded by some kind of sadness. If you are not a Munro-head, well, now you know what this book is about.

Did I like this book?

I did. There is something about her writing that always satisfies me. I’ve learned so much from her ability to say a lot with a few words, her dialogue and her structure. This isn’t to say that I model my writing on hers, but reading her as a writer has been truly helpful in my development. And reading her as a reader has almost always been enjoyable. I had read a bunch of these stories in The New Yorker during the past few years and liked most of them even more upon second reading.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes, I think so. There are other collections that I like better. (Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage or Runaway are my favorites.) But I think that you can probably read any of her collections and get a sense as to whether or not you’d like her writing, if you’ve never read her before.

Tenth of December by George Saunders (2013)

What’s it about?

There are ten stories in this collection. I guess most of them are satirical in nature.

Did I like this book?

More than I thought I would! I had never been able to finish a George Saunders story before reading this book for my book club. After trying to read one of his stories in Best American Short Stories 2012, I cursed his name and declared him overrated and horrible. Of course, this story ended up becoming one of my favorites in the collection. I still found his particular style grating at times, but reading so many of his stories in a short period of time made me respect and appreciate his work. I think I would read another one of his collections.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t just like, recommend this to anyone. For example, if you are my mom, who enjoys reading murder mysteries almost exclusively but sometimes enjoys other stuff, I would say, “NO! Don’t read this!” But if you’re someone who likes being challenged by the fiction you read, or has always wanted to read George Saunders, or has liked reading George Saunders in the past, then I would say, “Yeah, go for it.”

MAY

Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker (1962)

What’s it about?

This book is about Cassandra Edwards, who is hyper-intelligent, insecure, paranoid, gay, and trying to ruin her twin sister Judith’s wedding. (I think I’ve read the description of this book so many times, because I had considered reading it for so long, that I originally wrote it out almost verbatim here.)

Did I like this book?

Eh, I feel ambivalent about this book. What I liked about it: the interesting structure, the extreme intelligence of the characters, the exploration of very complicated family dynamics. What I didn’t like about it: Cassandra (almost everything about her). It’s still really difficult for me to like a book when I find the main character unlikable. I wanted to be on her side throughout the novel, but her actions and general way of being made that impossible.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I struggled though this, but I definitely learned from this novel in terms of structure, mechanics, and writing an interestingly unlikable protagonist. I don’t think I’d recommend it, though.

The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier (1963)

What’s it about?

This is a memoir. A young Swiss journalist and his artist pal set out to travel from Geneva to the Khyber Pass in a really shitty car.

Did I like this book?

Parts of it. I found the details about the Balkans and the Middle East in the 1950s to be fascinating. I found that I didn’t care about Nicolas or his friend Thierry as much as I cared about, say, Patrick Leigh Fermor, who wrote the Introduction to this book, in his travel books.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t bother. Unless the subject seems terribly interesting to you, but I’m not totally pleased that I spent almost a month reading this.

JUNE

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (2012)

What’s it about?

This Pulitzer Prize winner is about the  journey of Jun Do, a man who grows up an orphan and faces danger, violence and death as he climbs the ranks in totalitarian North Korea.

Did I like this book?

Well, since I didn’t finish it, I’m going to say that I didn’t. The prose was beautiful, but I just couldn’t get into it.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I mean, you’re going to anyway. So go right ahead. And then please convince me to try it again? I hate not finishing things.

The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford (1947)

What’s it about?

This coming-of-age novel follows a brother and sister duo, Ralph and Molly, through their childhood in California and on their uncle’s Colorado ranch.

Did I like this book?

Oh my gosh, yes! This portrait of two children who exist uneasily within their family and the world at large is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. There is a lot to love about this book and I’m sad that it seems to be mostly forgotten. It’s the first novel I’ve read by Jean Stafford and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. I think this novel is unique in its intelligence and unexpected brutality. It is definitely worth reading. Also, it’s not a huge commitment, as it’s pretty short.

The Likeness by Tana French (2009)

What’s it about?

Dublin Detective Cassie Maddox goes undercover as a murdered woman who looks like her twin.

Did I like this book?

Oh, boy, was this ever a page-turner! Yes, I did like this a lot. I thought it was a very smart thriller and a perfect summer read for those who aren’t big fans of “light reading”. Actually, it was perfect read for the rainy weather in June.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Do it! Especially if you’re in book club with me and haven’t started it yet. Our meeting is next week-ish!

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (1954)

What’s it about?

Jim Dixon is an underqualified junior professor at a second-rate English university. During the course of this novel, he must navigate the horrible sea of academia, put up with his on-again off-again girlfriend who is recovering from a suicide attempt and write a lecture on “Merrie England” while trying to remain in the good graces of Professor Welch and steal Welch’s pompous son Bertrand’s girlfriend.

Did I like this book?

This was a re-read for me. I love this book. So, so much. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, right up there with The Dud Avocado.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes, yes, yes. I think we can all find something to relate to in Jim.

(All images via newyorkbooks.com)

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (and Whether or Not You Should Read Them, Too), Part Two

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s