Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (And Whether Or Not You Should Read Them, Too)

Finally! The first quarter of the year has passed and I can share the first of my reading roundups. I did not, as I had anticipated, start this year in reading off with a bang. It’s been hard for me to keep my usual pace, but I was able to get through a bunch of books, some of which I’ll recommend that you read!

JANUARY

hild

Hild by Nicola Griffith

What’s it about?

Hild is a historical novel, the imagined story of St. Hilda of Whitby, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who became instrumental in converting England to Christianity during the 7th century.

Did I like this book?

Yes. It wasn’t a page-turner, but it’s one of the best examples of historical fiction I’ve encountered in a while. I was really impressed with the period details and the amount of research that undoubtedly went into this book.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I’ve encountered few characters as complex and fascinating as Hild. She’s obviously the main event, but I think it’s worth noting that Griffith does an incredible job developing Hild. Also, the world of the Anglo-Saxons was not something I was intimately familiar with and I really enjoyed getting lost in Griffith’s imagining of it.

I highly recommend this novel to lovers of historical fiction or, even, fantasy, since the setting has a lot in common with something like The Mists of Avalon. 

***

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

What’s it about?

This is about the life of Gary Shteyngart, author of novels such as The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan, as told by Gary Shteyngart himself.

Did I like this book?

I did. I liked it more than his novels. I thought it was funny and touching and I wrote a little something about all that here.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you’ve read his other work and liked it, definitely! If you’re not a Shteyngart fan, I’d probably skip it. But if you’re neutral and also happen to be a writer looking for inspiration or just like funny memoirs, you should check it out.

***

FEBRUARY

Berlin: City of Smoke by Jason Lutes

What’s it about?

This is the second volume in a planned trilogy of graphic novels about Berlin during the Weimar Era. This chapter takes place after the 1929 May Day demonstration, picking up with main characters, art student Marthe Muller and journalist Karl Severing, in addition to several other Berliners. The focus here is not only on the tense political climate, but also on Berlin’s nightlife and party scene.

Did I like this book?

I didn’t like it as much as I liked the first volume, Berlin: City of Stone. (You should start with that one anyway.)

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you’ve read the first volume, well, you’re probably going to read this eventually. I highly recommend reading the first volume to anyone who is interested in German culture, the Weimar period, or World War II, as I think Lutes does a really fantastic job of portraying what it was like to live in Berlin – across class, religion, gender, and race – in the decade before the war.

***

Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

What’s it about?

Bechdel explores her relationship with her mother and her understanding of herself through psychotherapy in this graphic memoir.

Did I like this book?

I loved this. Many of you may have read Bechdel’s Fun Home, which I liked very much when I read it. However, there were things about Are You My Mother? that I related to on a much deeper level, specifically the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship and the focus on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. Especially if you’ve ever been in therapy for a significant period of time. Also if you’ve ever had a mother.

 

***

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

What’s it about?

This book, based on the blog of the same name, is a collection of graphic essays about cartoonist and writer Allie Brosh’s life.

Did I like this book?

As I had expected, this book made me laugh. It also made me feel a lot of other things, which I wrote about here. And Brosh’s ability to tell a story in her own unique way makes me feel not-a-little-bit jealous.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yeah! I mean, if you hate reading about someone struggling in the funniest way possible, don’t. But otherwise, yes.

***

MARCH

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What’s it about?

This novella is the story of how a man was murdered in a Caribbean backwater.

Did I like this book?

I did not. I felt it was heavy-handed and surprisingly boring for a short book about murder. I wanted to think it was good, probably because of who wrote it, but…it was frankly a chore to get through and I’m pretty sure I only finished it because we read it for book club.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

No. For the reasons I stated above.

***

We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley

What’s it about?

Frank, a middle-aged London man, attempts to connect with his lover Johnny, a married, working class man who has been jailed for theft, by caring for his beloved dog Evie. In the process, he must navigate relationships with Johnny’s wife and mother and sort out his growing attachment to Evie.

Did I like this book?

Yes? I think. I read this while I was at jury duty on-and-off over three weeks because I was reading a non-fiction book at home, so I had kind of a slow and weird experience with this one.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. I thought it was a bit difficult to get through and, at times, made me uneasy. But I think if the premise sounds interesting to you, you should give it a try.

***

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

What’s it about?

Oh, God. Okay. It’s about an elderly Chicago man, a Holocaust survivor named Ben Solomon, who decides that another elderly Chicago man, another Holocaust survivor who is a wealthy philanthropist named Elliot Rosenzweig, is actually a man he grew up with named Otto Piatek, a Nazi known as “the butcher of Zamosc.” From there, the reader experiences both a modern-day legal drama as Ben sues “Otto” over stolen property and the story of Ben’s experience during the Holocaust.

Did I like this book?

To be honest, this was one of the worst books I’ve read in a very long time, if not ever. It’s not all bad, but…much of it is. The way the story is told is ridiculous, as most of the stuff that takes place in the past is told in dialogue. Pages and pages of dialogue. Also, the history is super basic. (Like a character who is supposed to be smart asks what a ghetto is because she doesn’t know. And that’s just one offensive detail.) And I could have done without the legal drama, which seems jammed in here merely because the author was looking for a way to make this about the law, as he himself is a lawyer.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Nope. Don’t do it. If you find yourself wanting to pick it up, just call me and I’ll recommend another book. (Even another book in the same genre, if you want!)

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4 thoughts on “Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (And Whether Or Not You Should Read Them, Too)

  1. Still amazed how much you hated Once We Were Brothers and to go so far as saying one of the worst books you’ve ever read!? Would you say that Chronicle of a Death Foretold was BETTER than Once We Were Brothers?!?

    • I haven’t read a book that I had so many problems with in a VERY long time! I thought that the story at the heart of it was compelling, but the overall execution was really off the mark. In my opinion, the success of a novel isn’t at all dependent on whether or not the idea for the story is good. The novel is successful if the story is told well. I found that the prose and the structure of Once We Were Brothers needed a lot of work. The plot was needlessly complicated. The modern-day action was distracting and many of the characters in those portions were poorly drawn or confusing. And the best parts of the book – those about the past – were bogged down by history lessons and were told almost entirely in dialogue, which might have been OK if the dialogue was written well or believably.

      Would I say Chronicle of a Death Foretold was better? I think I’d have to. I still had issues with that book, but I don’t think it was technically flawed and I wasn’t offended by it. Rather, I was bored at times and found myself having to reread some passages for clarity. I also think it might be unfair to compare them — the first novel of a non-career writer vs. a minor work by an internationally acclaimed literary superstar.

      Thank you, as always, for asking the tough questions! It’s nice when someone makes me explain myself. 🙂

      • Always a pleasure having an intellectual conversation with ya, Haley!

        You could say I might be more simple to be affected by a book more for its story, which I think is where my main surprise lies in your hatred for Once We Were Brothers. I found Chronicle heinously unreadable, case in point that I wasn’t even able to finish it (and not only for its storyline but for its structure as well!) But alas, different strokes for different folks. I see your faults with Brothers, I just don’t think they are as criminal as you make them to be. I just bought the next book though, so looking forward to see if we can get back to the same page with A Tale for the Time Being!

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