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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Reading Week: Psycho Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est?

Here’s a new thing that I’m going to start doing: posting more things regularly. A while back, I had been writing about what I had been reading during the week on Fridays. And then I stopped. Fridays tend to be not-the-best posting days for me since Thursday nights are not-the-best writing nights for me. So, now I’m trying Wednesdays. Let’s see if this works.

I’ve lately been on a real tear when it comes to reading books. Last week, I was in such desperate need of a new non-fiction book that I went to the Barnes & Noble by my office. I don’t generally shop at Barnes & Noble because I prefer to give my money to independent bookstores, like Word, but I was leaving on a mini-trip the next day and wouldn’t have time to get there. I picked up The Psychopath Test and Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.

I read The Psychopath Test first. And very quickly. It took me like 24 hours. Because it’s very good! I have friends who’d read it and raved about it when it came out two years ago and I’d been meaning to borrow it and then I never did. And I hate borrowing books anyway because I’m such a…psycho, I guess, about taking care of my own books that it’s too painful for me to carry around someone else’s book knowing that I could potentially maim or ruin it. Anyway, I read The Psychopath Test while at my friend Gerilyn’s house in Quogue with 24 other people. Reading a book that makes you think about whether everyone is a psycho is an interesting experience while you’re around a ton of people you don’t know on an overnight trip. Also, I had to explain what the book is about approximately 89 times because everyone kept asking me. I tried not to get frustrated though, because none of them knew that that’s one of my pet peeves. (The book is about…ugh. Just read the synopsis on Amazon. It’s by Jon Ronson so you already know it’s good.)

I started Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down immediately after I finished The Psychopath Test on the LIRR. I had read parts of this book on The Awl a while back and was immediately drawn in by Rosecrans Baldwin’s account of his year and a half in Paris as an American Francophile. I found that I could relate to a lot of it. I spent almost four months in Paris during the same period (September-December 2007). I remember well what it was like to be excited almost every day just because I was walking around Paris. I also remember well what it was like to be completely unable to shake the feeling of being foreign and doing everything wrong, even when I thought I was blending in or doing things right. Reading a book that allowed me to experience those emotions again was kind of exhilarating. I was sad when I finished it. I wish Baldwin and his wife had stayed in Paris a little bit longer. I wish I had stayed in Paris a little bit longer.

I’ve now moved on to Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. It’s a young adult fantasy novel that heavily features dragons. I’ll let you know how I like it when I’ve finished.

In terms of reading things around the internet, there have been only a few things I’ve really liked (or had time to read in full) in the past week or so. “Murder By Craiglist” by Hanna Rosin (in The Atlantic this month but available online) really stands out. She investigates the Ohio murders of several middle-aged white men by another middle-aged white man, who had found his victims by posting an ad on Craigslist for a farm caretaker. Her motivation for writing this story is really interesting and I won’t spoil it by explaining it here.

And I hope that maybe one of these other things will strike your fancy:

Funny: I Want to Make Love to You Like in the Movies by Josh Gondelman (McSweeney’s Internet Tendency)

Beautiful Essay About Family History: Knight of the Swan by Molly Minturn (The Toast)

A Celebration of T.I.: The Making of T.I.’s “Trap Muzik” by Insanul Ahmed (Complex)

An Introduction to a Feud Between Famous British Literary Sisters: “A Narrative of Jealousy and Bafflement and Resentment” by Katy Waldman (Slate)