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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.