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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A Few Things to Do When You Have a Stomach Virus

– Begin watching Orange Is The New Black – even though you feel like a tiny, invisible demon is stabbing your abdomen with a tiny, invisible knife over and over again – not because you heard it was good but because you are deeply competitive and see that your roommates have already watched ten episodes while you were on vacation. Then, of course, realize that it’s really good and watch all 13 episodes in a little over 24 hours.

– Lay on the couch all day, sweating, with a fan set on the highest possible level blowing almost but not quite directly on you. Do not wear pants.

– Spend so much time in your closet of a bathroom that you begin to think of it as more than a bathroom. The bathroom is your friend. Your friend who you tolerate in spite of his many flaws – he is at least 20 degrees hotter than the rest of your apartment, he doesn’t have enough floor space for you to dramatically writhe in pain, his window overlooks someone’s little backyard that you wish was yours – because you really, really need him for his toilet.

– Google all of your symptoms. Diagnose yourself with gastroenteritis.

– Drink a lot of water even though you’ve become convinced that it’s poisoning your body.

– Strap an athletic ice pack to your head.

– Google all of your symptoms again. Decide that you’re experiencing the early stages of sepsis and check your body for some type of rash that you’re supposed to get that you are pretty sure signals the early stages of death.

– Mentally write a will but stop yourself before you write it out for real.

– Watch the second half of the first season of New Girl and ask yourself the following questions: How did this show actually pull off a great second season? Am I really sexually attracted to Schmidt? What if I die at the exact moment when Zooey Deschanel sings “It’s Jess!” in the opening?

– Take like seven naps a day because you get tired every time you sit up for more than ten minutes.

– If you are feeling sort of OK, put on a sports bra and some gym clothes so you look normal (like you’re going to the gym) and walk two blocks to the grocery store. Buy the essentials of the BART diet (bananas, applesauce, rice and bread (for toast)) and as much Gatorade as you can carry because you forgot that it’s not actually that great for you when you’ve lost a lot of fluids.

– Discover that Lemonade Gatorade might have unseated Blue Frost as your favorite flavor.

– Read an entire book in a day. (I read The Middlesteins, but you might like to read something else.)

– Watch The Hunger Games for the first time since you saw it, drunk, the night it came out. Realize you remember a lot less about the movie than you thought.

– Read this amazing New Yorker piece on wily British egg collectors.

– Think a lot about the mysterious pain in your elbow. Is it tennis elbow? Is it a blood clot? Is it the pain in your joints you may feel before you die of sepsis? Google it but don’t self-diagnose because you’ve been taking your pulse and your temperature every hour for two days and you’re FINE.

– Watch The Fall on Netflix. Gillian Anderson with a British accent is the only kind of Gillian Anderson you need these days. (Briefly consider watching Bleak House (2005) for the ninth time but don’t because that would be a bit much.)

– Fall asleep every night hoping you’ll feel better the next day. And then, little by little, start to feel better. Also, come to the conclusion that you are not dying of sepsis as you didn’t really have any of the symptoms.