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

I wrote some mini-reviews of the books I had read in January, February and March a few months ago. And then I wrote some more about the books I read in April, May and June. So, here’s the third edition, covering the months of July, August and September.

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

July, August, September Books

JULY

A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement by Anthony Powell (1951-1955)

What’s it about?

In this first volume of this twelve-novel cycle, the narrator, Nick Jenkins, navigates public school and early adulthood in Britain. His story is intertwined with those of schoolmates Templer, Stringham and Widmerpool.

Did I like this book?

I found this book difficult to get into at first – it can be kind of boring – but started enjoying it more as I got to the second novel in the volume. By the time I finished it, I was ready to move on to the second volume but…I had other books I’d planned to read this summer, so it will have to wait.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you like a challenge, go for it. Also, I would recommend this to anyone who is into early- to mid-twentieth century English society. (I assume that you are if you’re reading this blog post.)

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (2012)

What’s it about?

This is Caitlin Moran’s memoir/feminist manifesto.

Did I like this book?

Yes! I read it while I was in San Francisco and I absolutely flew through it. There are a few bits I would complain about, of course, but I found Moran’s personal essays to be very funny and unsurprisingly full of very good advice.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes! It is magnificent and every woman should read it. (Because there are too many women who are not “women”. You know?) Men should read this, too. Maybe more than women.

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg (2013)

What’s it about?

A Chicago family is affected by their mother’s obesity.

Did I like this book?

Yes. I was actually kind of surprised. I had read a lot about this book right after it came out and didn’t think I would pick it up, until someone loaned me a copy. I thought it was funny and devastating and a very interesting portrait of modern family dynamics.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you’re a literary fiction fan, sure. (If you haven’t read it already.) I’m not sure it’s a book I’ll be raving about in years to come, but it was good and worth a few days of my reading time.

AUGUST

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence (2013)

What’s it about?

A boy, who happens to be the son of fortune teller, gets hit by a meteorite and lives. He makes unlikely friends, goes on an adventure, etc.

Did I like this book?

Nope! There are a lot of reasons for this. I hated the voice. I was not a fan of the prose. And most of all, I thought the story and characters leaned much too heavily on the work of other authors and familiar coming of age tropes. I mean, there are parts of the book that are basically essays about Kurt Vonnegut novels. Also, I think one of the characters was wholly lifted from About a Boy.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

No. See above.

In the Woods by Tana French (2007)

What’s it about?

Dublin Murder Squad detective Rob Ryan gets the chance to investigate the disappearances of his childhood friends when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods where he last saw his friends.

Did I like this book?

Yes. Just as well-done and suspenseful as The Likeness. Rob wasn’t as likeable a narrator as Cassie, who appears in this book as his partner. However, I thought that the story was compelling and just the right amount of crazy.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. I think Tana French’s novels are lovely distractions from heavy reading, but are literary enough to satisfy the snobs among us. (I consider myself a snob, I guess.)

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (2011)

What’s it about?

Jon Ronson sort of accidentally investigates psychopaths: who they are and how we diagnose and treat them.

Did I like this book?

I did. I thought the individual stories Ronson tells and the storytelling in general were interesting, though I did struggle to figure out how a few of the chapters fit under the umbrella of the book’s premise.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yeah. I mean, everyone wants to know more about psychopaths! And this book is especially good if you want to constantly wonder if your friends, family members or self are psychopaths all the time.

Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin (2011)

What’s it about?

The author moves to Paris with his wife for a job at an advertising firm. Hilarity ensues.

Did I like this book?

I think I loved it? Now that I think about it, there wasn’t anything particularly special about it. But it ended up being one of those books I wish went on for longer, which is something kind of special. It was just funny and charming and, for me, relatable, since I was in Paris during the same time as the author.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you like personal essays and travel memoirs, definitely read this. Also, if you’re an American who has spent any significant amount of time in Paris, definitely read this.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (2013)

What’s it about?

This is a medieval fantasy starring a musically gifted, unusually talented teenage girl. The story features murder and dragons that take human form.

Did I like this book?

Eh. I found myself liking it toward the end, but I just wasn’t into the world, which surprises me because medieval fantasy worlds are my jam. It’s not that it wasn’t well-planned. I just think it would have captured my attention more if I had read it as a kid rather than as an adult. (Though, I am saying this as an adult who is totally into young adult fiction so that’s probably not true.) Also, I didn’t like the main character that much. That was a pretty huge problem.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Unless you’re a big YA fan who has been meaning to read this, I wouldn’t go out of my way to pick this up.

SEPTEMBER

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

What’s it about?

It almost doesn’t matter. This book is about so many things. But it’s mostly about this dude who gets tangled up in a group of sweetly, intelligently alternative Classics majors who turn out to have a dark side.

Did I like this book?

Oh my God. I was so obsessed with this book while I was reading it that the whole experience feels like it wasn’t real. And I was so sad as I was nearing the end of it, it felt like I was losing a friend. Those, by the way, are my two favorite feelings to have about books.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. The prose is wonderful, the story is batshit crazy, it takes place on a college campus and there are characters who speak Latin (and also write their diaries in Latin). And, again, the story is crazy.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989)

What’s it about?

A family of carnival freaks. I don’t think I need to say any more.

Did I like this book?

This book is one of my all-time favorites. I just finished rereading it for the first time since college.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

A very emphatic yes. The writing is spectacular, as is the Binewski family’s carnival world. This book is almost as old as I am and everything it has to say about society and humanity is still relevant. If you read this book and don’t like it, please tell me. You’ll be the first person I know who hasn’t liked it. (Full disclosure: I know three other people who have read it).

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Geeking Out

On Sunday, I met my friend Alli in my old neighborhood to do some writing. I’d intended on working on a short story that I’ve been revising – well, mostly deleting and rewriting – for a few months. Of course, I didn’t end up deleting or writing another word of it. Instead, I started writing a sort of sad sack essay on being lonely in Paris when I was studying abroad there in the fall of 2007. I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently because, well, it’s fall and I was in Paris in the fall and I just happen to be thinking about that time rather than the falls of my childhood or high school or college. Anyway, I mention this because someone else published an essay on Paris and loneliness this week. You can read the beginning on The Hairpin but to read the rest you have to buy the story – it comes with all of the other ones in the same series about travel – on Amazon. (After I’m done writing this post up, I will go back to trying to turn my own essay into a not-super-depressing piece of garbage.)

Also on Sunday, I went to The Strand, as I like to do when I’m in that neck of the woods, to buy my book club’s next read. We’re reading Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, which I read, I think, after my freshman year of college. It’s one of my favorite books, but somehow I’ve never acquired my own copy. Now I do have one of my own, which I got by asking one of the booksellers at The Strand to climb a ladder and take it from one of the higher shelves. I usually don’t even get books from the high shelves because I mostly  go to the Strand to browse and end up with too many books anyway, so I always tell myself that I don’t need the ones I can’t reach. (Also, I am afraid of ladders.)

Anyway, I started rereading Geek Love yesterday and was flooded with memories. First of all, I am still in awe of the prose. I think I got the same giddy feeling I had while reading the first chapter when I was 18 or 19. And secondly, I have been thinking about Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea pretty much constantly since I opened the book. I happened to be super into that album while I was reading Geek Love the first time and it was perfect. Like, I have never been simultaneously obsessed with two pieces of art that, I thought, so complemented one another. But I’m staying away from that album for now. Making the same magic happen again seems pretty unlikely and I don’t want to be disappointed.

While I’m on the subject of music…I don’t write enough about it. I usually write about what I read here every week, but what I’m listening to takes up just as much space in my brain. My fall soundtrack has been inspired by a few things:

1. Music for Maniacs: I’d totally forgotten about this blog. But then I noticed that WFMU was linking to it on Twitter and…I fell down a Music for Maniacs black hole. This dude mostly covers eccentric/outsider music and puts together some pretty great mixtapes. He also made me see Annette Funicello in a whole new light.

2. Kurt Vile’s KV Mixtape: I saw this on Stereogum yesterday and haven’t stopped listening to it. Well, haven’t stopped listening to most of it. The songs on here inspired his recent album, Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze, one of my favorite albums this year. (Back in April, I wrote something about going to a Kurt Vile show.) I highly recommend! (The mixtape and tracklist are at the link, on Soundcloud).

3. Wikipedia: Sometimes I just re-go-through this list of Jangle Pop Bands. Like you do.

4. Modern Vampires of the City: I have listened to and seen a lot of Vampire Weekend in the last few years. (Most recently, I saw them perform at the Barclays Center this past Friday.) I didn’t really listen to Modern Vampires of the City until the middle of this summer, but I’ve found that it’s one of very few albums released this year that I keep going back to, so.

5. Stuff that sounds like Broadcast: So, mainly Broadcast. And also The Postmarks. (Who, incidentally, I was very into when I was in Paris six years ago.)

That’s that. Except I have a few other quick links to share today!

I read a two week-old New York Magazine on the elliptical last night…I got through an article on the GOP’s plot to kill Obamacare and this other one on Rebel Wilson (which was not as good or as enlightening as I had hoped, though I found out that she also likes Hello Kitty, so that’s a thing).

And today I’ve been reading this Paris Review interview with Woody Allen, which was conducted between 1985 (mostly at his table at Elaine’s) and 1995.