Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (2016 Edition)

Hi. Um, hello. I’m having a little trouble opening this post because, well…it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. Really, I’ve written nothing – not even a (private) journal entry – since my last post here. So this is pretty hard to start, even though it’s just a recap of what I’ve read so far this year.

While I haven’t felt much inclination to write – actually, it’s more like, I haven’t felt able to write, because I can’t decide which writing projects are realistic and worth pursuing and am worried about having the time and motivation to complete them – I’ve wanted to read pretty much constantly. My new job takes most of my energy and six months in, I’m still adjusting to its pace and the time commitment it requires. Reading – on the subway, on the chopped salad line at lunch, in bed before I go to sleep – makes me feel good. It temporarily removes me from the cycle of worrying about work. Engaging with a book or an article brings me back to myself and reminds me that real life exists  outside the walls of my cubicle.

I could continue with this sentiment, but I’m sure I’ve written thirteen versions of this post in the last four years, so I won’t. In short, I still love reading! And I still would rather get paid a decent salary (plus benefits) to do nothing but read and generally consume the hell out of all kinds of art and, of course, eat good sandwiches. Anyway, here are some brief reviews (five sentences or less! (or is it “fewer”?)) of what I did read in my spare time between January 1 and March 31 of this year.

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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona is a young shapeshifter who is hellbent on becoming the sidekick to the notorious villain Lord Ballister Blackheart. Together, Nimona and Blackheart set out to expose their kingdom’s Institute of Law Enforcement and Blackheart’s sworn enemy, Sir Ambrose Goldenloin. Even though those two sentences probably mean nothing to you, I don’t want to tell you much more about this delightful and witty graphic novel that’s a little bit fantasy and a little bit sci fi and a lot wonderful.

To get a taste, you can check out the original webcomic here.

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Outline by Rachel Cusk

This slim novel contains so much wisdom, I literally want to read it again just to make sure that I’m not overstating. Each of its ten chapters focus on a single conversation that the protagonist, a writer traveling in Athens to teach a weeklong workshop, has with friends, colleagues, or strangers. Cusk brilliantly demonstrates how necessary storytelling is to living and the common experiences that bind us all together. Out of everything I’ve read so far this year, this is the book I’ve recommended the most and the one I’m most likely to reread.

 

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The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Did you see the movie Carol? Then you know the entire plot of this book.

If you didn’t, it’s about an innocent-ish shopgirl in 1950s New York City who begins an affair with an older housewife that turns, well, kind of dangerous. It’s a smart, satisfying mystery (it is Highsmith after all) and I couldn’t put it down. Best of all, it gave my book club a lot to talk about.

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Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon

Even though I’ve been a “fan” of Kim Gordon since I decided to become cool in college, I never knew much about her beyond basic biographical details gleaned from Wikipedia and what I remember of the Sonic Youth chapter in Our Band Could Be Your Life. On second thought, I probably knew more about her prior to reading Girl In A Band than I know about some of my friends today.

ANYWAY, her memoir candidly explains how she became a founder of a very important band and a rock goddess, from her youth in 1960s southern California to her artworld days in Dirty Old New York City, and really goes in on her ex-husband and co-founder of Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore, who cheated on her for years like a fucking scumbag. Also, she has met or is friends with like, everyone ever. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, even though it reads like it was dictated, which I think is my only big complaint about it.

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Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves

As a female Brooklynite of a certain age, it probably doesn’t surprise people when I tell them that one of my favorite books of all time is Good-Bye to All That. Except, gotcha, I don’t mean Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That” – which isn’t even a book, it’s an essay – I mean poet/novelist/critic/classicist Robert Graves’ only memoir, which he published while he was still in his thirties, in 1929. It covers his childhood during the final years of Queen Victoria’s reign, his often cruel experience at boarding school, and his time serving with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in World War I. Good-Bye to All That is a beautiful, funny, terrifying (there’s a lot of war stuff), name-droppy (in a good way, though) farewell to English life. Reading it as a twenty-eight year-old amateur historian (and Robert Graves fangirl) was just as wonderful as reading it the first time around, as a twenty-one year-old history student who almost skimmed it but figured she’d get more out of her class if she actually did the assigned reading.

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The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

I was so happy when I finally read Drinking at the Movies, Wertz’s first graphic memoir, that I couldn’t wait to read more of her work. The Infinite Wait didn’t have the same impact for me, but it was still super funny and relatable and, I think, a really great way to spend a few hours. Wertz is a talented storyteller and a delightful weirdo and I will gladly read anything she puts out. (Check out some of the New York history comics she did in the last year and also her site.)

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Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

Holy hell, I forgot how much I loved reading about the Romanovs. Actually, that’s not quite true, as it’s hard to forget something that’s been one of one’s favorite pastimes since the age of ten, but I hadn’t read anything about them in quite a while and was quite glad that I read this particular book because it was immensely satisfying. It helps that Massie’s subject, the last Romanov tsar and tsaritsa, have one of the most interesting and tragic stories of anyone born into great wealth and fame in modern times. It also helps that Massie writes like a novelist, is more sympathetic to Nicholas and Alexandra than many historians, and gets to share the tale of RASPUTIN, who I still can’t believe isn’t made up. If you’re looking for an entertaining history book, pick this up immediately.

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Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I don’t think I would have ever read this if my book club hadn’t picked it. It’s been on my list for years and I couldn’t bring myself to ever start it. It seems I was right to fear reading Wide Sargasso Sea. Though very short, it was both hard for me to get through and nightmare-inducing. Jean Rhys knows how to write a phrase, though, and I would still like to pick up one of her earlier novels, which seem like they would be more up my alley.

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High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

Speaking of nightmare-inducing, here is another book that is just that. High-Rise is about the inhabitants of a luxury apartment building on the outskirts of London, who are compelled to go to actual war with each other. That sentence doesn’t really accurately describe just how intense and gory and scary this book is, which is why I am writing another sentence to tell you that this book is intense and gory and scary. Ballard wrote High-Rise in the 1970s, but reading it today, I felt like he was describing our current society in so many ways, from our government to social media. Also, this is about to be a movie with Tom Hiddleston – it comes out next month – so read it quick.

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Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

This graphic story collection destroyed me. And I didn’t even really like two of the stories that much. I mean, I still liked all of them but it’s just that I liked some of them soooo much that some of the others seemed not really that good. My favorites were “A Brief History of the Art Form Known As Hortisculpture” and “Amber Sweet” and “Killing and Dying”. I’m realizing that I’m not really reviewing Killing and Dying or telling you it’s good and instead I’m just stating “I really liked this” in different ways, so how about I just stop right here and you go read it and then we can talk about what you think about it, OK?

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The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that this book is about a couple who lives in a lighthouse on an island off the coast of Western Australia in the 1920s, finds a baby washed ashore in a rowboat, and decides to raise her as their own. And there are consequences for their actions. The Light Between Oceans is dramatic in that so-so period drama kind of way. It’s entertaining, but it doesn’t always make sense. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone except for my grandma, who would probably think it’s “too sad” anyway, but it did keep me distracted during an entire flight to Austin, which is saying something.

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Coming Up Next Time (Probably):

I’ll definitely “review” A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, as well as a soon-to-be published novel that I liked a whole lot. And I will possibly review Morning Star by Pierce Brown, Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt, and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, provided I finish them before June is over. 

One last thing: When I was typing “War and Peace” before, I accidentally typed “Wart and Peace” and it made me laugh.

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