Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (2015 Edition), Part Two

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.

***

People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

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.

Advertisements

Friday Reads: Crime Wave

Friday Read: People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

I just finished reading People Who Eat Darkness – full title People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up – for this month’s book club. I highly recommend it to fans of true crime and also to people who want to read sentences like, “The summer brought out the fart smell of Tokyo’s shallow sewers, an unexpected stench of the Third World, which blended with the smoke of pizzas, grilled chicken, fish, and perfume.” Parry investigates the 2000 disappearance of Lucie Blackman, a British twenty-one year-old who worked as a hostess in a Tokyo club. The story is chilling and not what I expected at all (in a good way). I almost couldn’t put it down, but I was a very busy lady this week.

I have the true crime genre on the brain. My younger brother, who is home for the summer, didn’t exactly ask me to tell him what to read in his downtime, but he was looking for good books in our parents’ house and I felt very strongly about him not reading The Great Gatsby, which I hate, so I told him to pick up Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. I can picture the yellowed paperback, the same copy I devoured while lifeguarding the summer after my freshman year of college, on my dad’s bookshelf. Even though I would count it among the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, I’ve never really wanted to revisit Helter Skelter. Reading about the Manson Family murders and trial made me feel literally crazy. However, now it’s on my mind and I’m thinking maybe I’ll get my own copy to read this summer. If only the experience could be similar to the one I had the first time around, reading poolside at the country club where I worked and also at another country club where I was a member, where I spent all of my free time tanning on a lounge chair. But alas, those days are gone.

Otherwise, I have Mad Men on the brain. And not just because of that theory a few years ago about how Megan is actually Sharon Tate or whatever. The series finale airs on Sunday and I feel like everything I’ve read on the internet this week has been about the show. I haven’t been too interested in trying to figure out what’s going to happen in the finale. Rather, I’ve enjoyed reading TV writers and fans reminiscing about the experience of watching the show. (I’m enjoying privately reminiscing about my own Mad Men-watching experiece.) Today, I’ve been working my way through Kate Authur’s ranking of every Mad Men episode “from good to perfect” on BuzzFeed. I also liked Matt Zoller Seitz on How the Mad Men Pilot Predicted the Final Episodes of the Series.”

That’s all I’ve got for this Friday. Come back next week to read more about what I’ve been reading (or not reading).

I’ll leave you with a question: If you could be any Don Draper lady love, who would you be?

(I would be Dr. Faye Miller.)