9

#15BooksofSummer – Books 1 and 2

For someone who has pledged to read a certain number of books already in her possession, I sure spent a lot of time picking out more books at the library this week…

That said, I have made progress on my 15 (or 20 or 10) Books of Summer project as hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books. The idea is to choose X number of books to read between June 3rd and September 3rd and then review those you read. You can find my list here.

Last week I started the project for real by reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. From Goodreads:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

exit west

The first half of the book looks at how they meet and what their lives look like in their country. The second half takes place after they have stepped through the door, what happens as they try and build a new life, the other refugees they meet who have no status in the new countries they inhabit.

I didn’t expect the magical realism part of the novel, which goes to show how much I read about this book ahead of time. Apparently not even the inside cover…Magical realism is rarely my jam but I didn’t mind it in this case. I thought the doors was a clever way to look at immigration and refugees, the reaction of those countries that take in those that flee their homelands and the experiences of those who leave their homes. The story became much more about Saeed and Nadia’s relationship because Hamid has managed to find a way to remove a lot of the process of getting to another country.

And while beautifully written, as a novel Exit West felt like a stretch. Once the aim of leaving their unnamed home has been achieved, the story faltered for me. As a short story I think it could have packed quite the punch but as a “full length” novel (is 231 pages a full length novel?) it seemed to limp through the final third of the book.

But still, I finished it!

tender

Which is more than can be said for my next attempt, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Years ago I read Villa America by Liza Klaussmann which purported to tell the story of Fitzgerald’s friends Sara and Gerald who Tender is the Night is based on. It made me more curious to read this novel and I thought that this project would give me the impetus to finally do that.

However, 73 pages is as far as I made it. In all that time I had no idea what was even happening. I couldn’t keep the characters straight, my mind kept wandering off and I had to keep reminding myself that the story takes place in 1920, not 1934 when it was published.

Like I said, I went to the library this week so there are other books that have been tempting me and I couldn’t see the point in slogging through another book by a Dead White Guy.

But at least Tender is the Night has migrated out of my TBR cabinet.

Are you doing this challenge this summer? How are you doing so far?

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2

SSDGM

I don’t remember if someone recommended it, or if I was looking up more content about murder but in early 2017 I found the My Favorite Murder podcast. I very quickly felt like hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark were my friends and in a time where I could barely get out of bed every day, where not even Schitt$ Creek could make me laugh, they cracked me up.

(Don’t worry, I’ve gone back and fallen in love with Schitt$ Creek since)

I listen to them every time I’m in the car (they are the reason I don’t mind my 40 minute commute), anytime I have to do chores, if I have time to do my make up, I’ve connected with fellow murderinos, I’ve seen them live and I own merchandise.

And yet, when Karen and Georgia announced the release of their dual memoir, I was skeptical.

ssdgm

The book, Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide, is a collection of stories that have been touched on on the podcast with nuggets of wisdom the women have learned the hard way. It’s billed as a dual memoir but I feel like it’s more essays that include personal stories. Georgia’s story about letting a photographer take pictures of her alone in a remote location has a lot of value for those of us who still feel uncomfortable being ‘rude’ and Karen’s chapter on her mother’s Alzheimer’s and what it was like for her family to spend years saying goodbye had me in tears. As an aforementioned long time fan, I enjoyed this book. It provided context on stories that I’d only ever heard the broad strokes of before.

But I’m not convinced that this will be a book that works for those who have no idea what My Favorite Murder is or why anyone would think of a title like that. The expands on the podcast’s themes (F*ck Politeness, Stay out of the forest, Buy your own sh*t) in ways that I found illuminating but my relationship to these women and their work is longstanding. On the podcast and in the book, both women are huge proponents of going to therapy and mention it frequently. On the podcast this seems like a reasonable thing to reiterate as required but in print, it’s repetitive (without the recognition that it’s not possible for all).

Still, if you are a fan or you’ve just dipped your toe into the wonderful world of MFM, you’ll probably like this one.

SSDGM.

8

Literary Wives: A Separation

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read A Separation by Katie Kitamura! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

a separation

A Separation takes place in the aftermath of the implosion of a marriage. The unnamed narrator (right? She doesn’t have a name?) is separated from her husband, Christopher, but he asked her to keep it a secret for now. Six months in and he’s missing in Greece. His overbearing mother calls the wife to ask her where he is and sends her to Greece to find him. The wife travels to Greece, stays in the hotel Christopher was at and waits for him to return, the staff at the hotel telling her that he was traveling inland to research his book.

While she waits for him, she ruminates on her marriage, on her separation, what she wants for her life moving forward. She decides that she is going to ask him for a divorce when he returns but when his body is found, she’s suddenly the widow even though she feels like the ex. His parents come to take his body back and the wife is involved in their grief while trying to figure out how she feels and what she should tell them or not tell them.

My Thoughts

Before I read the book, I kept seeing it be described as ‘searing’ and ‘suspenseful.’ I think it was also called a ‘whodunit.’ For me, it felt more like a critical darling, the kind of spare prose that usually marks a book as a Man Booker contender.

For the first 100 or so pages, I was just waiting for the story to present itself. Was Christopher just off researching his book? Was this going to be about the divorce request? Was he messing around with someone in a Greek village? Did something more sinister happen? Was it going to turn into a mystery?

Well Christopher is found dead and foul play is suspected but because it’s in Greece and there are no funds for anything, the police are like ‘yeah we’re probably not going to figure this out’ and the family is like ‘that is not acceptable but we will go home and accept it.’ The whole thing was kind of a letdown after Kitamura introduced us to a few unsavoury characters and set up the infidelity that was an open secret in the marriage.

I thought maybe the story would go somewhere once the husband was found dead but no, not really. The wife struggles for a minute about whether or not to tell her in-laws that she and Christopher were separated, had been for months. But she quickly decides not to and then she winds up gaining an apartment and an inheritance from his estate.

There was a brief moment where I wondered if she killed Christopher. But even if that were the case, the reveal was so buried that it was basically pointless.

Overall the book felt smug and pretentious, too slick to be enjoyable. And I am very much over a stream of consciousness narrative like this. Can we just clearly mark dialogue and who says what? Is that so basic that we can’t do it anymore?

I’m grateful that it was a short read.

What does the book say about being a wife?

In terms of what the novel said about being a wife, it felt more like it was about what kind of a husband Christopher was. He was unfaithful many times over, he withheld information about how she was viewed by others, he looked down on the work that she did. Right from the beginning it was about what her obligation was to Christopher, to his family and not really about what her life looked like without him. It felt like we knew so little about her without Christopher.

Perhaps wife and husband and marriage itself are only words that conceal much more unstable realities, more turbulent than can be contained in a handful of syllables, or any amount of writing.

I think their marriage was an uneven one from the very beginning and she will likely carry the same mistakes into her new relationship. Along with a nice apartment and inheritance.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! Join us in August when we read Ties by Dominic Starnone.

17

15 Books of Summer

We went away for a big chunk of May and as a result I only finished two books. I knew it would happen and I’m not upset about it but it does have me looking at my bookshelves feeling that old restless reading feeling.

So when I saw that Cathy @ 746 Books was doing a summer reading challenge, I started thinking that maybe I should join in!

The 20 Books of Summer challenge has you reading 20 (0r 10 or 15!) books on your list and posting reviews of them between June 3 and September 3. It’s a great way to focus your reading and clear out some of your TBR backlog which we all need. September 3 is the day I go back to work (finally right?) and 20 Books of Summer feels like a last mat leave hurrah.

15

Here are the books on my list – I’ve chosen 15 because that feels a little more manageable to me!

  1. Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba. This book has been on my shelf since before it came out and I feel horrible about it. Especially because I know I will enjoy this book about Parisians who fought Nazis by an author whose work I have enjoyed in the past!
  2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I’ve only recently added a copy of this to my shelves but the book has been on my virtual TBR list for ages. A friend recently highly recommended it to me so that’s bumped it back up.
  3. The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway. In 2016, a friend of mine was visiting and we bought matching copies of this book to read. Neither of us have read it as far as I know.
  4. 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph. I meant to read this for Non-fiction November and didn’t get to it.
  5. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I don’t even know how long I’ve had a copy of this one. When I bought it I think it was because I felt like I should have a copy but I wasn’t super interested in Fitzgerald or the 1920s. Since then I’ve changed my tune…about the 1920s. Jury’s still out on Fitzgerald.
  6. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver. A friend of mine left this in my possession – she doesn’t keep books once she’s read them. And even though I don’t have to return it, I still feel pressure to get it read.
  7. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. I don’t even remember how I got a copy of this one!
  8. Solitude by Michael Harris. I have TWO copies of this one. And since I spend a lot of time solo these days (solo-ish…but my constant companion doesn’t have great conversation skills yet) it might be nice to read about the benefits.
  9. Fresh Complaints by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’ve pretty well loved every book that Eugenides has written but when this collection of short stories showed up, I didn’t feel like reading it. I appreciate short stories more these days.
  10. Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil by John Berendt. I took this one from my sister when she was giving away all of her things to move to Scotland. Now that she is back, I suspect she will come asking for her books back. Plus, this is true crime??
  11. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I bought it when there was all the hype for it and then didn’t feel like reading it. The hype seems done so now feels like a good time to get back to it.
  12. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Someone on instagram was recently raving about this one and that made me go “oh right, I still need to read that” so it’s on the list.
  13. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I think I stole this one from my sister as well. I think Georgia Hardstark was talking about it on My Favorite Murder and that made me go “I have that book!” Now I guess I will try to actually read it.
  14. The Book of M by Peng Shepherd. Not a book that I would have picked for myself but a friend insisted I read her copy and she hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
  15. The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. This book won Canada Reads in 2016 which is when I bought it. For some reason I always resist reading Hill’s books and when I finally do, I love them. Here’s hoping for more of the same this time!

Bonus: The Strays by Emily Bitto. This project means I will likely actually finally read it.

acs_0371

I think that’s a good mix of genres and styles. I’m a bit of a mood reader so it can be difficult for me to read from a prescribed list. But if I manage even half of these, it will have made a dent in my cabinet of unread books.

There’s still time to join! Check out Cathy’s post for more info. And thanks Laura @ Reading in Bed for inspiring me to join.

 

4

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Occasionally I will come across a book that I’m not sure I can do justice to, that I’m not sure I have the right words for.

Such is the case with Alicia Elliott’s blistering essay collection, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. But I’m going to try because I think this is an incredibly important work.

a mind

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground touches on an astonishing number of issues: mental illness, residential schools, racism in Canadian literature, Reconciliation, abuse, sexual abuse, poverty, parenthood and love. I was immediately struck by how much rage there is in her work. In every essay, sometimes simmering just below the surface, other times taking center stage, Elliott’s anger is a force to be reckoned with. And why wouldn’t she be angry? An Indigenous woman in a country that turns a blind eye to her missing and murdered sisters, that refuses to take accountability for the damage done by residential schools, that likes the sound of Reconciliation but won’t take any actual steps to make it happen.

Instead of actually dealing with the consequences of historical genocidal policies – policies that are still in place – they can pretend that assimilation settled over our people like a gentle fog. It was entirely natural; no one is to blame. Certainly not them. They like Indians. They named a few sports teams after them, after all. They also read The Orenda and it, like, changed their lives. But these same settlers will not listen to the voices of real-life Indigenous people and, further, seem unable to realize that by expecting us to be their Ideal Indian Caricatures, they’re adding another layer of colonial trauma to our already overburdened peoples.

I didn’t realize it until about half way through the collection, but I’d been aware of Alicia Elliott on Twitter for a while. Hers was a voice that was popping up on my timeline in the aftermath of the Coulten Boushie verdict. In fact, if there’s only one essay that you get to read out of this collection, it sound be Dark Matters, an examination of the trauma inflicted on people by justice systems set up to benefit the people who have historically abused her people. It is hard to read but Elliott isn’t here to make me feel comfortable.

Reading about Elliott’s mother and their relationship in Crude Collages of My Mother almost broke me. It is filled with such longing and love and hurt. Each essay slides another piece in the foundation that holds up the punishing conclusion that requires some soul searching.

What I’m trying to say, not at all well, is that you should read this essay collection. It is beautiful, important, uncomfortable and profound. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Alicia Elliott becomes a celebrated Canadian voice. I’m excited to see what she does with that platform.

5

Daisy Jones & The Six

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

In my last post, I talked about how I was feeling the urge to read non-fiction and today I’m going to talk about a fiction book that I really loved hahaha

Nothing if not consistent right?

To be fair, I read a couple of non-fiction books (back-to-back!) when we were at my in-laws’ and I felt zero guilt about it which was nice.

But I had been waiting and waiting for a copy of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & The Six to show up at my door and when it did, I needed to read it RIGHT AWAY.

reid_9781524798628_jkt_all_r1.indd

Daisy Jones & The Six is the story of a fictional 70’s band. It’s told in a series of interviews from the band, their stories don’t always match up as time changes the their memories. Their road to stardom, the groupies, the dynamics within the band, how songs were written and what contributed to the end of the dream are all laid bare.

This book is surrounded by a LOT of hype. If you spend any time on bookstagram, you’ve definitely seen it in your feed many times over. It’s a Reese’s Book Club pick and Reese is also producing it as an Amazon miniseries.

So by the time I finally got my hot little hands on this book, I was also a little bit worried that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations I had built for it.

Twenty pages in:

Daisy: I had absolutely no interest in being someone else’s muse.
I am not a muse.
I am the somebody.
End of fucking story.

Yeah, this book was very much in my wheelhouse.

I. Loved. This. Book.

I loved that, despite the number of men involved in the story, set in a masculine time in a masculine industry, this story was a feminist one. I loved that the women decided their own futures, were in charge of their own destinies. I loved how fully formed each woman was – even a ‘peripheral’ character like Simone came to us as a whole person with her own story.

I loved that Jenkins Reid told an entire story via interview. I loved how layered this made the story, how the events were told from different perspectives, experienced differently by the players. I loved that it was a story about falling in love with yourself, about understanding one’s weaknesses and finding a way to live with them anyway. I loved what the novel had to say about love and marriage and working together and rock ‘n’ roll and what it’s like to be the girl in the room.

Such is Jenkins Reid’s talent that I forgot at times that I was reading about a fictional band. I definitely had to stop myself from googling things more than once. Daisy is a flawed heroine, someone who makes terrible decisions and hurts the people around her but you still can’t help but root for her, to be dazzled by her (fictional) talent. I miss her already.

Daisy Jones & The Six made me laugh, cry, cringe, gasp and everything in between. Taylor Jenkins Reid has the ability to make me care so much about the characters she creates – this was true when I read After I Do, still true for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and it holds up now. If I had to pick a favourite between Evelyn and Daisy, I honestly don’t think that I could.

If you’re worried the book won’t live up to the hype, don’t be. This is a book that will sit with you long after you finish the last page. It’s the kind of book that you’ll see on the bus, the beach, at the park – in short, everywhere.

 

5

Scratching the non-fiction itch

Like any self-respecting book nerd, I have a physical TBR stack. A cabinet, actually. My little blue cabinet sits in the living room housing all the stories that I’ve collected in the last several years, always meaning to read them until I get distracted by newer, more hyped books.

Some are books that a friend has loaned me, that I haven’t been in the right mood to read. Some are books I pilfered from my sister when she sort of left the country and was selling all of her possessions. A lot are books I’ve bought on sale or as the mood struck and a lot of these are non-fiction.

I have biographies of royals, books about WWII, movie stars, Kennedys, feminist essay collections, social sciences, and writers. More than fiction, I can never not buy the non-fiction I stop and look at. Ever since I passed on a book about Stalin’s daughter and went back only to never be able to find it again, my policy is not to pass up the non-fiction titles.

But so much of the reading I do is fiction. So once I bring these tomes home, they go into the blue cabinet and there they stay.

Except that recently, my reading has been leaning towards non-fiction. And for some reason, I’ve been fighting that. It’s probably a result of having been on maternity leave for nearly a year, feeling like my brain is withering, like I need something to try and stay sharp. I crave learning and my blue cabinet is well supplied with an education.

dumb

So why am I fighting it? Why when I finish a non-fiction title do I feel like the next few have to be fiction? Why am I resisting the back-to-back non-fiction reading if that’s what I feel like right now?

I’ve spent the week with a very-hyped fiction title and I didn’t love it. I felt like I was reading so slowly, that my brain was atrophying, like I wasn’t sharp enough to keep up with the story. Before that, I spent the same amount of time with a non-fiction title (so long strong April reading numbers) and it felt like I’d lived three lifetimes – in a good way!

I’m heading to my in-laws’ again soon and I’m not fighting the urge to bring non-fiction. I’m going to lean into it. Eventually, I’m sure the desire to read fiction will come back. Until then, I have a lot of non-fiction to get through.