RidgewayGirl Reads in 2018

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RidgewayGirl Reads in 2018

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Bearbeitet: Apr. 19, 2018, 11:25am

I like to open my thread with something visual and so I thought this year I'd post pictures of art I liked that I discovered wandering around museums.

This one's called Kalte Nacht (Cold Night: Thunderstorm) and it's by Hans Grundig. You can see it in Dresden's state collection. It was painted in 1928. Less than a decade later, Grundig's work was declared "degenerate." He was banned from painting, but continued to work. He would spend the war in a concentration camp in Sachsenhausen.

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Bearbeitet: Apr. 19, 2018, 11:28am

Bearbeitet: Jan. 1, 2018, 5:53pm

An assessment of 2017's reading -- overall, it's been great and I'm content that I did increase the diversity of my reading and will continue to work on that as it never fails to also increase the quality of what I'm reading.

A few statistics:

64% of the books I read were by women.

I read books by authors from 23 different countries, although the vast majority (62) were American.

Most of my reading was newer books, with only two books published in the last century and none before 1985. A whopping 36% were published in 2017. This is what happened when I realized that not only to I love new, shiny books but I also realized that that's fine and I should read the books I want to. I'm happy with that -- I enjoy the conversations going on around new books. That said, the books waiting on my shelves to be read were neglected and I'd like to read more of them.

The best books I read in 2017were:

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The Trespasser by Tana French

Autumn by Ali Smith

Transit by Rachel Cusk

And the very worst were:

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña and Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald - this is me eternally learning that when it comes to crime novels, an intriguing blurb is not a guarantee of good writing or even a decent plot.

Jan. 1, 2018, 5:49pm

Oh my goodness, I love the Soviet Bus Stops book! I may have to break my vow of "read what you have" after one day.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 1, 2018, 5:56pm

Kris, it's an amazing book. I put that on the public amazon wishlist I prepare for all the relatives who dislike getting me a bookstore gift card, and my husband got it for me. It's a fantastic glimpse at both very bad and yet oddly imaginative architecture, and at obscure corners of the world I may never see.

Jan. 2, 2018, 10:47am

Trell tells the story of a fourteen-year-old girl who lives in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston with her mother. Her father has been in prison since she was an infant, wrongly convicted of the drive-by murder of a young girl. Trell has seen her father only once a week during visiting hours. When a lawyer agrees to take on her father's appeal, Trell helps out at the law office, filing papers and learning about the legal system. As she learns more and more about her father's case, she has to confront the reasons he was convicted and find more help, in this case, a jaded reporter, to get the publicity needed to draw attention to her father's wrongful conviction.

I'm not a YA reader, but this book held my attention and I didn't feel as though the author, a former journalist with The Boston Globe's famous Spotlight team, overly simplified things. Dick Lehr is telling a complex story here, one that addresses the crack epidemic of the 1980s, police malfeasance, why communities of color mistrust the police, what it's like to be an outsider, the experience of a child who has a parent in prison, along with the central story. Despite the central story being about gangs, drug dealing and cops, the novel was refreshingly centered on women, from the lawyer doing the work to win an appeal for Trell's father, Trell's mother who is strong and does a lot to help with the case while supporting her and Trell, to Trell herself, plucky but scared. Lehr based this book on actual events that reported on so there's a depth to the characters and events that comes from reality. I liked that he allowed Trell to be an independent character while not downplaying the danger involved in investigating the case.

Jan. 2, 2018, 11:41am

Looking forward to following your reading again this year. I love that you read so many of the new books - your reviews help me decide which ones to prioritize.

Jan. 2, 2018, 4:39pm

Jennifer, realizing that I love new, shiny books and that that is fine and I should read what I want marked a big change in my reading. I do like 'em fresh. (I like old ones, too, but nothing is as alluring is a new book to me.)

Jan. 3, 2018, 8:25am

I love the Klimt at the top! I'll be keeping an eye on your reading.

Jan. 3, 2018, 9:23am

It's 1995, Selin is a freshman at Harvard and she's chosen an odd mix of classes for herself as she explores how languages work, interact with each other and influence how their speakers think. She has roommates, which is an adjustment, and she meets two people in a beginning Russian class; the enigmatic Hungarian math major, Ivan, and a charismatic Serbian girl named Svetlana. Svetlana forces Selin out into the world of Harvard as she lives her life more colorfully than the careful scholars around her. Selin and Ivan begin a charged email correspondence but Selin is unsure about where their relationship is going, or even if they have a relationship. In the second part of the novel, Selin travels, first to Paris with Svetlana, then to Hungary, where she has signed up to teach English in a rural village at the suggestion of Ivan, and then to visit family in Turkey.

This novel hit my reading sweet spot. I do love a well-told story about a person discovering themselves and the wider world when they go off to university. And Selin is an intelligent, curious person to follow as she explores both her new environment and her intellectual world. She is simultaneously cautious and prone to rushing headlong into new situations. She refuses to cede her agency, even when she has no idea what she should do. And the language stuff is fascinating. Selin's an observer and she notices how different languages approach the same object or concept, and how words travel across languages.

All of The Idiot was brilliant fun. There were some small bumps in the pacing, but the novel soared as Selin set off on her summer travels. She's a fish out of water, but an intelligent fish who is willing to see what life on land is like. Elif Batuman is a fierce, intelligent writer. I suspect that readers who don't have an interest in language might be less delighted than I was by this wonderful book.

Jan. 3, 2018, 9:49am

>11 avaland: Lois, Klimt may be best known for his portraits, but his landscapes are marvelous. There's one of a hedge in the MoMA that can be stared at for hours.

I've begun, at long last, The Luminaries. I'm very happy so far. Thanks to all of you who told me to get to it.

And The Morning News Tournament of Books shortlist is announced today. I'm on tenterhooks, waiting.

Jan. 3, 2018, 5:15pm

>12 RidgewayGirl: A good one to start the year with. How strange to title a novel The Idiot which of course is one of the most famous titles in Russian literature (in translation).

Bearbeitet: Jan. 3, 2018, 5:20pm

Bas, her last work was The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them and she thanks Dostoevsky in the afterword to the novel.

Jan. 3, 2018, 7:06pm

I’m looking forward to your review of The Luminaries. The structure of the book was so interesting, and the story was pretty darn good too.

Jan. 3, 2018, 7:46pm

Colleen, I love it so far. Which, admittedly, isn't very far.

Jan. 3, 2018, 8:35pm

I've just finished The Luminaries, so I am definitely interested in hearing your thoughts as you read it!

Jan. 3, 2018, 9:31pm

>14 baswood:, >15 RidgewayGirl: I was going to ask how/if this novel related to the Dostoevsky novel of the same name. :)

Jan. 5, 2018, 10:52pm

Hi Kay. I started Mrs. Fletcher this morning on audio. I was just going to listen a bit while I waited for another book to come free, but I’ve gotten to like it and suspended the request for the other book.

Two great reviews to start off here. Cool about Batuman’s connection to Dostoyevsky.

Jan. 6, 2018, 6:31pm

Cait, I'm not even a hundred pages in but I like is so far.

Liz and Dan, you sent me down an internet rabbit hole in which I look for Batuman explaining her love for Dostoevsky, but instead end up looking at lists of books coming out soon. I did discover that she has a PhD in comparative (but mainly Russian) literature.

Dan, I'm really curious as to what you think of Mrs Fletcher.

Jan. 6, 2018, 6:41pm

The internet is a dangerous thing...

I like how Perrotta writes, that's why I've kept it. it's not ingenious or deep, but he seems to have a relaxed and confident sense that he will get his humor across when he wants and then everything can build off that. Perfect for a commute. That is, mind you, like a one-hour-of-listening-analysis.

Jan. 7, 2018, 12:57am

Interesting reading so far! Definitely intrigued by The Idiot.

Jan. 7, 2018, 5:02pm

>12 RidgewayGirl:, The Idiot sounds amazing. I didn't realize it was about language.

Jan. 7, 2018, 8:05pm

>12 RidgewayGirl: The language aspect makes this sound really interesting to me. You're adding to my reading list already!

Glad to see Autumn on your list of favourite books from last year, since I'm reading it right now.

Jan. 7, 2018, 11:14pm

>23 mabith:, >24 fannyprice: & >25 valkyrdeath:, Batuman has a lot of fun talking about language - Selin, the protagonist, is Turkish American, so her world already involves two languages, then she adds Russian, then travels to Paris and Hungary, so there's plenty to discuss. She does think that the language you speak does, in part, inform how you see the world.

Gary, I'm so eager to read Winter. I may have to go and buy a copy.

Jan. 9, 2018, 6:57pm

I'm wanting to read Winter now too. I enjoy Ali Smith's writing so much that I'm torn between wanting to race through all her books and wanting to spread them out to make them last.

Jan. 10, 2018, 1:42pm

Very much looking forward to your review of Luminaries, which I have on my TBR list.

Jan. 10, 2018, 4:38pm

I know, Gary. I'm trying to be patient with regards to Winter, but I have to stop by the local bookstore tomorrow. Maybe they won't have it on display so I won't be tempted.

Marge, I have to finish it first. That will take some time.

Jan. 10, 2018, 5:39pm

It didn't take a genius to see this was not a good proposition, but it did take an idiot not to see it.

Kevin Pace is an artist. A successful artist. He's done well enough to own an ample house, with outbuildings and to send his children to a private school. And he's not happy, because of course. But there's more to it than that, and Everett takes us through three times in Kevin's life that shaped him.

The first is in 1979, when the brother of his best friend and college roommate disappears in El Salvador and his friend convinces him that they need to go there and find him. This is, as anyone with the slightest knowledge of Central America at that time, is a terrible, terrible idea. But Kevin doesn't require much convincing, because Richard is his best friend and needs his help. He's certainly a lot more attuned to the potential dangers than his suburban-raised white friend, but he goes anyway. And so they walk into a burgeoning war zone.

The second is when his children are small and he and his wife go to Paris when a French gallery is going to show his work. He stays behind for a few weeks after his wife returns home to prepare the show, but really because he has met a French woman half his age.

And finally, back in Kevin's present, in his comfortable middle-age, as he continues to mess up his life. He has a painting; an enormous work that sits alone in its own outbuilding. No one, including his wife, is allowed to see it and his desire to protect that work from anyone's eyes but his own is another way in which he distances himself from those who love him. And when his daughter needs him, he wants to be there for her, but a lifetime of distance means he can't see the obvious answers.

For awhile now, I've been bored with the WMFuN* because of the sheer number of them I've read in my life. So I should have hated So Much Blue, which is, after all, about a well-off guy who makes a mess of things. But Percival Everett writes so well, and does such a wonderful job in bringing the main character to life, that I was drawn into the novel despite myself. That Kevin wasn't another white guy did help, but mostly it was that he was so clear-eyed about everything he did. Kevin never blamed anyone else for the situations he found himself in and he was so aware of how the things he did affected others that it was impossible not to like him. Everett is an assured writer, who knows exactly what he's doing every step of the way. I enjoyed this book enormously.

* WMFuN: white male fuck-up novel. A genre with a long and illustrious history. After all, it's the default plot for much of literature. And it's a tired and overdone genre in which it's nearly impossible to say something new.

Jan. 10, 2018, 6:22pm

Lovely image at the top by Klimt.

Looking forward to your reading again this year. Les Parisiennes also came into my house recently, so that's one to read fairly soon.

'...when it comes to crime novels, an intriguing blurb is not a guarantee of good writing or even a decent plot" Oh too true!

Jan. 11, 2018, 3:42am

WMFuN - not heard of that genre before, I don't think I have read one recently.

Jan. 11, 2018, 7:33am

WMFuN - kind of fun to rethink classics through this perspective. The Book of Samuel (on David) comes to mind... and then there’s Achilles, and really all of Greek mythology, whether Apollo or Oedipus

Jan. 11, 2018, 8:34am

SL, I adore Klimt's landscapes. And I'm eager to read The Parisiennes, too.

Bas, I think it's a new and somewhat irreverent take on a mainstay of novels from everyone from Dostoevsky to Philip Roth, but which only became obvious recently, as we began to notice that not all writers need to be white men. I am delighted to hear that medieval literature isn't rife with men who destroy their own lives through arrogance, or kings who reach middle-age and ask themselves what does it all really mean, and then go have an affair with a very young woman.

Dan, it is a pillar of respected literature, slightly off-color label notwithstanding. During my senior year of high school I found Christ-figures in everything I read (my English teacher: "Kay, Badger from The Wind in the Willows is not a Christ-figure." I still disagree.) The WMFuN is what I'm seeing everywhere now.

Jan. 11, 2018, 3:05pm

>34 RidgewayGirl:

Made me LOL!


Hi, happy new year, looking forward to your thread as ever.

Jan. 12, 2018, 12:32am

Thanks, Lola. Happy new year.

Jan. 14, 2018, 4:03pm

Hans and Sophie Scholl are regarded as heroes in Germany. Celebrated for their resistance to the Nazis that resulted in their executions, Munich (and the rest of Germany) is riddled with places and buildings named after the Geschwister Scholl (the Scholl siblings). There were others who died resisting Hitler's regime, but the tireless work of their sister Inge after the war and their youth have made them powerful symbols of principled resistance.

At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl takes the private writing of these two siblings written between May of 1937 until February, 1943, just a few days before they were executed. Even in their diaries, they were careful to omit any references that might put them under suspicion, and they operated under the assumption that their letters were read by the Gestapo. This isn't a book about their resistance, but rather about what they were thinking and feeling and reading. Editor Inge Jens provides some brief paragraphs placing the letters in context of what was going on at the time, but the reader is expected to have a basic knowledge of the story of the White Rose.

These letters tell the story of young people living in untenable times. They've been forced to defer their dreams; Hans of studying medicine, Sophie of finding out what she wants in life. They have to hide their books and watch their words with ever-increasing vigilance. Sophie begins 1937 as a somewhat self-involved teenager, full of enthusiasm and by November of 1942, she writes:

But I can't feel wholeheartedly happy. I'm never free for a moment, day or night, from the depressing and unremitting state of uncertainty in which we live these days, which precludes any carefree plans for the morrow and casts a shadow over all the days to come. When will we finally be relieved of the compulsion to focus all our energy and attention on things that aren't worth lifting one's little finger for? Every word has to be examined from every angle before it's uttered, to see if it carries a hint of ambiguity. Faith in other people has been forcibly ousted by mistrust and caution. It's exhausting -- disheartening too, sometimes.

What made this book so fascinating is seeing how two people slowly began to see the rot in their country and how their conviction was nurtured and strengthened by others; each other, but also their family and the people they knew who gathered together to talk about religion, nature and philosophy and why the regime they lived under was wrong. These people joined the Scholls in their resistance and were arrested, imprisoned and murdered as well, but they drew strength and determination from each other and from their faith. This book is powerful evidence of how important it is to stand for what is right and good, even when the inevitable consequence is death. The Scholls had no idea that they would one day be celebrated as heroes. From where they were, they knew only that unsuccessful resistance was better than comfortable compliance.

Jan. 14, 2018, 5:27pm

>37 RidgewayGirl: how interesting. I’ve never heard of these siblings but I put the book on my wish list.

Jan. 14, 2018, 7:06pm

>37 RidgewayGirl: Excellent review, Kay. I will check for this one.

Jan. 14, 2018, 7:39pm

Excellent review and back story of Hans and Sophie Scholl

Jan. 14, 2018, 9:34pm

Jan. 15, 2018, 12:02am

>37 RidgewayGirl: did you pick this up from being in Germany? I have never heard of the siblings, so thanks for highlighting their story. Wondering what it says about where we are now.

Jan. 15, 2018, 10:53am

I have never heard of the siblings

It's not surprising, it used to be somewhat awkward to use them as proof that Germans too "resisted", as it only demonstrates how rare and ineffectual "German resistance" was. But since Americans and the like-minded aren't going to sing praises of the organised, intense and long resistance of the leftist parties that actually fought the brownshirts before and after Hitler's coming to power, especially the Communists who bore the brunt of Nazis' persecution and ended up en masse in extermination camps, the resistance of such scattered individuals, no matter how spare the examples, gets endlessly advertised.

The Scholls and their friends deserve to be called heroes, but they are not emblematic of anything--unfortunately just a handful of decent kids in a nation of conformists, opportunists, and worse.

Jan. 15, 2018, 11:42am

>42 dchaikin: >43 LolaWalser: My niece (when she was doing German “A” level in a British school a few years ago) had to do an assignment on the White Rose. I don’t think they were ever mentioned when I was at school, so there must have been a shift in fashion since then. Understandable - I should think it’s a lot easier to get teenagers to engage emotionally with the Scholls than with Rosa Luxemburg...

Jan. 15, 2018, 12:06pm

For anyone who is interested in the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl, here are a few articles telling their story. It's a fascinating one.



Dan, I was struck by parallels, especially in how Hans slowly sees his patriotism change into concern.

Jan. 15, 2018, 12:54pm

Mark - i’m Thinking Rosa Luxemberg is pretty fascinating...although perhaps she demands some context.

Lola - Admittedly not something I know much about. And it suddenly feels like a hole that should be filled. Thanks for the post here.

Kay - I’ll check out those links. Thanks! And interesting conversation your review has generated.

Jan. 15, 2018, 1:22pm

>44 thorold:

Politics rather than fashion, I'd say! People wish the Scholls and friends represented something "bigger"--facts show they did not. I find the manipulation of their memory to "symbolise" some imaginary general resistance increasingly distasteful, as the notion that Germans were Hitler's greatest victims has been gaining tract again in the last few decades. This is not a good development, in my view.

Not that it's odd that Munich, specifically, would want to place the greatest possible emphasis on the White Rose. Advertise your face to the world as the city of the Scholls, or the birthplace and spiritual home of Nazism--it's hardly a dilemma.

>46 dchaikin:

I'm not familiar with sources in English, but I bet you can find lots about the individual religious resisters, Dietrich Bonhoeffer for instance. Most of the fiction in English that I've seen that gets marketed as from people "resisting" the Nazis has come from the "internal exile" types such as Hans Fallada. Compared to that, a Sophie&HansScholl-Stadt wouldn't be overkill.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 15, 2018, 4:11pm

Rosa Luxemburg is a fascinating individual. The book about the Scholls felt more immediate to me because they attended the university in Munich and there's something about walking in the same places as someone else, but Luxemburg was an activist and a campaigner and her story is, if we're being truthful, more interesting and extraordinary than that of the Scholls. For the Scholls, it was their very ordinariness that makes them noteworthy - while both Hans and their father did prison time under the Nazis, for the most part they were very typically German.

Lola, Munich's pretty clear about the role it played in the rise of Nazism. If you get a chance, the new document center is worth seeing, as well as the Jewish museum, which is smack in the center of town. And Munich was a socialist republic for a very short time, too.

Regarding Bonhoeffer; Hans Scholl was supposed to meet with him, but was arrested a few days before that was scheduled to happen.

And it would be Geschwister-Scholl-Stadt if you want to be pedantic.

Jan. 15, 2018, 5:15pm

>47 LolaWalser: >48 RidgewayGirl: I’ve certainly noticed over the last few years - in Munich and elsewhere - that Germany makes much more effort to draw attention to places associated with the Nazi period than used to be the case. There are information panels all over the place. Of course, you could read that as a sign that they don’t feel the past is near enough to hurt them any more, but I think it’s more to do with reminding each other that these things happened here, in our town, and we shouldn’t forget them. Even little villages have been rediscovering the places where the synagogue used to be or where the camps for forced labourers were.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 15, 2018, 7:05pm

>48 RidgewayGirl:

No, definitely don't care for pedantry, I was making a joke (since that wasn't clear I better point out that I don't think the ampersand, for instance, is actually a viable character in names of cities). Although your remark ends up being funnier than my ridicule. Great spoof of pomposity stereotypically associated with things German. ;)

>49 thorold:

You are almost certainly right about new pointers to the past popping up (I say almost only because I don't know how far our reference points coincide), and there are several reasons for that; main thing, though, is that this is part of the ongoing historical effort to shape German "cultural memory"--I don't want to hog Kay's thread with lengthy posts, but if interested look into the field of "memory studies"* as pertaining to Germany for the problems and anxieties related to current trends and changes as the last generations of direct culprits and victims go extinct.

*The field received great impetus at the end of the 20th century when it was discovered that less than 2% (IIRC) thought their ancestors had supported the Nazis--what do you know, everyone had been the "resistance".

Jan. 15, 2018, 7:49pm

Lola, feel free to hog my thread. This is interesting stuff.

That rewriting of history to paint one's own relatives as better than they were is surely a common thing? Between the Nazis and the Soviets, there's hardly a European nation who doesn't have to examine that fine line between survival and complicity.

In the American South there's a more pernicious rewriting going on in which one's ancestors were genteel plantation owners rather than the vastly more common barely-scraping-by subsistence farmer. It's pernicious because it makes slave owning less shameful than poverty, all the mythology of the benevolent owner making it worse.

And returning to why the Scholls resonate, when the many socialists and communists are over-looked as resistors has to do, I think, with both guilt and resonance. The Scholl family looks like their own great-grandparent and grandparents. And their family didn't resist. And the reasons for that need to be examined.

Jan. 15, 2018, 9:38pm

>51 RidgewayGirl:

Thanks for the encouragement, I'll try not to abuse it. One could so easily go in twenty directions with these topics, but to stick to the points you bring up--in reverse order:

The Scholl family looks like their own great-grandparent and grandparents. And their family didn't resist. And the reasons for that need to be examined.

I can't disagree with your conclusion, but I think people generally like (have a natural tendency to) to latch onto examples like the Scholls because it gives them an alibi and a reason NOT to examine the past. It is very tempting to think (as those surveys of opinions have uncovered, shockingly to many) that actually practically no one "really" supported Hitler, but hey, opposing him openly meant persecution and death (certainly not false, by and large) so not many ventured that far--but they were "good" people all in all. So what is there to examine? At worst, some "good" people have less courage than some other.

I'm aware that in places, at least, educators impose more complex ways of looking at these things, calling for some painful examinations--but I'm afraid that's simply not how the majority understands them today (and it's highly unlikely the majority ever did, even back in the days when Allies were forcing German civillians to excavate mass graves and clean up the camps in their neighbourhoods with their own hands).

In the American South there's a more pernicious rewriting going on in which one's ancestors were genteel plantation owners rather than the vastly more common barely-scraping-by subsistence farmer.

Would this mean that the poor white farmer who didn't own slaves is considered innocent of, incapable of racism? Boy is there a huge debate right there.

Finally on the general point of rewriting history--I'm sure we all know various examples of "correcting", hiding, downright erasing history.

But I think something else is going on here. The "rewriters" considered aren't historians, politicians etc. but ordinary people. It's not a question of deliberately constructing lies, so much, as of telling stories, to themselves and others. Little by little, a myth emerges that carves out a "safe" place for our conscience and self-esteem. Surveys have found that after decades of exposure to WWII footage, people readily associate atrocities with the Nazis--but not with their own, private histories. The Nazis have become "the other", always someone else, never "us". And to bring this back to starting point, heroicisation of brave but rare individuals, commemorating them as symbols of the imaginary collective rather than commemorating their individual actions, abets that process of isolation from the evildoers.

(I don't agree much with Tzvetan Todorov, even in this work, but I can nevertheless recommend Memory as a remedy for evil for the most succinct exposition of the dangers in identifying with heroes and "good" people rather than the perpetrators of crimes.)

Jan. 16, 2018, 9:43am

Lola, regarding the American South, most poor white residents were indeed racist and that racial animus was nurtured and exploited by the wealthy landowners and industrialists. It was used to stop the unionization of workers. It was used to get white workers to accept overly low wages and poor working conditions and it was used to keep a large poverty-stricken population quiet and complicit in their own exploitation. The people hurt by racism were not only its intended victims and I'd argue that it is such a stain that all who encounter it are harmed.

Jan. 16, 2018, 9:43am

Refuge by Dina Nayeri is a story of immigration told in the fractured relationship between a woman and the father who remained behind in Iran. Niloo was eight when she was bundled into a car and left Istafan, Iran forever. Her mother, a Christian, was in danger and her father remained behind, his successful dental practice and opium addiction keeping him there. Over then years, there were a few brief, unsatisfactory reunions.

Niloo is a success story. Her mother works long hours in menial jobs to support them and Niloo attends Yale, where she meets her French husband. They settle in Amsterdam, but as Geert Wilders gains popularity as the head of a xenophobic and right wing political party, Niloo's insecurities become less manageable and she becomes involved with a group of Iranian refugees trying to survive as they fight for legal status in a country becoming increasingly unwelcoming.

Nayeri does a wonderful job showing how the uncertainties of refugee life reverberate in a person's life years after they've settled in a new country. Niloo needs rigid rules to survive and carries a backpack around with the documents she finds necessary to proving that she belongs where she is. Nayeri is also effective in describing the relationship between father and daughter, with all the layers of disappointment and love.

This is a debut novel and this is very much evident in the novel, as well as the autobiographical nature of much of the contents. Nayeri has important things to communicate about what being a refugee means and for this, the novel is worth reading.

Jan. 16, 2018, 1:30pm

Great reviews and thoughtful discussion. Nayeri sounds like an author to watch.

Jan. 16, 2018, 10:32pm

Sounds like an important book that should be read by a lot of people who would never read it. If my library had this on audio I would check it out.

Jan. 17, 2018, 10:17am

Jane, her descriptions of the lasting harm being a child refugee were the strongest parts of the book, as well as when she talks about how harmful hateful political rhetoric can be to people who are already marginalized. We need to do better and understand more.

Dan, it is, if only for the story she's telling. She's not a great writer and I was wondering partway through if it might have been more effective as a memoir, but in the end I think that fiction allows us to connect emotionally with characters and ideas and that's what's needed. I'm glad more stories about immigration, refugees and dislocation are being published now. Representation matters.

Jan. 21, 2018, 1:33pm

Roddy Doyle can write. He writes in a way that makes it all look so effortless; dialogue that flows as naturally as though you were overhearing a conversation in a bar, boys in a classroom written so that the reader can see the chalk dust floating in the air and feel the ennui, all without a wasted word or an unnecessary adjective. In Smile, he's a master writing at the top of his game and I didn't even notice it until I read the last paragraph and closed the book.

Smile tells the story of Victor Forde who, as the novel opens, is newly single and moving into a flat a few miles from the Dublin neighborhood where he grew up. He's feeling his way into his new life, searching out a pub he can consider his local, meeting an old classmate along the way. Victor remembers his schooldays, where he attended a school run by the Christian Brothers, with fondness, for the most part. But there are darker memories underneath the ones of boys goofing off. He remembers growing up in a home where his father dies in his first year at the school, and he remembers his mother trying to cope. He remembers making a name for himself as an up-and-coming young writer and he remembers meeting Rachel, who will eventually leave him when he's in his fifties, bringing him back to the flat in the building not too far from the sea.

Jan. 21, 2018, 4:43pm

>58 RidgewayGirl: I haven’t read anything by Roddy Doyle for about five years. The last I read was A Star Called Henry which was terrific. You’ve put him back on my radar.

Jan. 21, 2018, 7:37pm

>58 RidgewayGirl: I've never read any Roddy Doyle yet, though Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha has been on my list to check out for quite some time. From your review, it sounds like Smile might also be a good starting point.

Jan. 22, 2018, 7:15am

Colleen, Doyle had fallen off my radar, too. I'm glad this book made it onto the Tournament of Books longlist.

Gary, this would be a good introduction, although really any of his books would serve. He has a historical trilogy that begins with A Star Called Henry and he has a few set in modern day Dublin.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 23, 2018, 9:47pm

So, I won an informal contest to guess which books would make the Tournament of Books shortlist. My prize was a book from everyone else who entered. It was perhaps the best prize ever. Day after day of mystery books arriving in my mailbox. This is the glorious haul.

Jan. 23, 2018, 9:51pm

>62 RidgewayGirl: Nice prize!

Jan. 23, 2018, 10:05pm

Colleen, it's the best prize ever. I'm thrilled with every single book. The only problem is that I'd like to read them all immediately.

Jan. 23, 2018, 10:06pm

Cool that you won...and what a fun way to get books.

Jan. 23, 2018, 11:08pm

>62 RidgewayGirl: What a delightful thing to happen!

Jan. 24, 2018, 3:15am

>62 RidgewayGirl: How fun! And how awesome that they all interest you so much! :D

Jan. 24, 2018, 7:11am

Jan. 24, 2018, 8:56am

Thank you, everyone. I can best describe myself as delighted. Opening a package to find a book I'd long wanted to read, or a book I'd never even heard of before is pretty much my favorite thing.

.Monkey., since the contest involved people who (like myself) are interested in the same kind of book, it was inevitable that the books chosen would be ones I'd like to read.

Jan. 24, 2018, 9:48am

The earth is dead, populated only by a few dying survivors, the environment reduced to desert. A handful of wealthy people live in a space station tethered to the earth, called CIEL, using the last few resources to live increasingly futile lives. The sudden, dramatic environmental changes as well as the new living conditions have brought changes to the people on CIEL; they are hairless, devoid of pigmentation or genitalia. Without the usual physical markers, people have turned to grafts and scarification to ornament themselves. Christine is one of CIEL's residents. She made her name for her skill in creating elaborate stories on people's bodies. More and more, her mind is on Joan, the young woman who led the armies opposing CIEL's dictator, Jean de Men, and who was burned to death in a public display. There are whispers that Joan isn't dead after all and that rebellion might be possible.

I read the first four chapters and then wondered if I'd be able to read the entire book. Christine and her soulmate show their independence by pantomiming sex acts and shouting out Shakespearian-style insults. When they're imprisoned for this, Christine bravely rebels by miming masturbation. I was left wondering if I could find it in myself to be interested in people who, in the face of great evil, reacted by being naughty. The book did improve once the story turned toward earth and to what led to its desolation. There were some fantastically inventive ideas in this book, which in the end were able to pull me through, although they were certainly not enough to make me like The Book of Joan. Primarily, there were two aspects of the book I struggled with. One is that any event that occurred in the novel was slowed down so that the author could point out how Christine and/or Joan felt and how they felt their feeling really, really deeply, perhaps more intensely than any other person has ever felt a feeling. And the other thing was that this book had so many extra words in it.

But her beloved's voice -- Trinculo's -- it is in her. His voice so rings Christine's corpus that she feels she might faint. Every bone in her body vibrates with his language.

It's not a long book, but there's not a simply described scene in it. And while neither of those qualities is a flaw, they are things that I find annoying. I'll chalk my dislike of this book up to personal taste, while recognizing that many of the ideas put forward were thought-provoking and impressive.

Jan. 24, 2018, 11:49am

70> Sounds very disturbing.

Jan. 24, 2018, 4:06pm

>70 RidgewayGirl: Well, now I don't want to read The Book of Joan. I does sound disturbing.

Jan. 25, 2018, 5:03am

Slowly catching up with everyone's threads. Is it possible for everyone to stop posting for a month or two so I can properly catch up? Ha, ha.

I also used to read a lot of Roddy Doyle but haven't lifted one of his books in probably 20 years or so. I don't know why, as I always enjoyed his writing.

Jan. 25, 2018, 7:32am

Jane and Margaret, there are a large number of people who think this novel is extraordinarily good, so take my reaction to it as one of many. It is one of those books, though, that people have strong reactions to, which will make for a good conversation when it comes up in the Tournament of Books.

Alison, I read a bunch of Doyle years ago, and then hadn't for years. I need to think about why that is, as his books are always wonderful. I read A Star Called Henry years ago, loved it and then never read the other books in that trilogy. I should remedy that.

Jan. 25, 2018, 6:08pm

>70 RidgewayGirl: I read the first four chapters of The Book of Joan too--but I did in fact quit there. Your review is good, and I'm sort of thinking maybe I should try again, but it sounds like it might not really be worth it.

I'm very jealous of the books you won!

Jan. 25, 2018, 6:25pm

>70 RidgewayGirl:

That's one of those books that had been on my radar since it came out - I pick it up almost every week in the library, look through it and leave it back on the shelf. Sounds like my gut feeling was correct...

Jan. 26, 2018, 10:45am

Deborah, the book did improve for me after those first four chapters.

Annie, I recommend reading Lois's (Avaland) review. She loved the book.

Jan. 27, 2018, 5:55am

>70 RidgewayGirl: I did love the book...in hindsight, mostly for its inventiveness, but I did have that same initial reaction you did. And both the hubby and I had a similar feeling when we finished (maybe a kind of stunned, what-just-happened to me feeling). I need a book like this once in a while to shake me up a bit (that's probably why I'm reading Nicola Barker's latest now).

Jan. 27, 2018, 5:58am

>76 AnnieMod: It's coming out in paperback mid-February, as it happens. Yuknavitch has a TED talk about being a "misfit," she has quite a life story (as opposed to the more often I-got-an-MFA-and-now-live-in-Brooklyn author story).

Bearbeitet: Jan. 27, 2018, 12:06pm

>79 avaland: I've reached the point where if the author blurb mentions an MFA and an apartment in Flatbush, I'm much less likely to want to read the book.

There were some really interesting and inventive ideas in The Book of Joan.

Jan. 27, 2018, 1:14pm

I’ve been trying to get this book on audio from my library ever since I read Lois’s review, but even though I’m next in line, it hasn’t come free (and then I get into the book I’m listening to and suspend my request).

All that is to say I’m interested in your review. I’ll still try it (if I can) and try to get to at least chapter 5.

Jan. 27, 2018, 3:41pm

Dan, if you do get to it, definitely give it time to get to you.

Jan. 28, 2018, 1:27pm

>80 RidgewayGirl: Oh, that's definitely me, too. I am believer that going out an living something makes for far more interesting books. BTW, I'll think twice before I get any skin grafts....

>81 dchaikin: I'm not sure you'd like it, Dan....well, maybe I'm nervous you won't.

Jan. 29, 2018, 5:34pm

I read the first short story in this collection by Flannery O'Connor and sat back, astonished. If you haven't read A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, grab a copy right now and read the title story. You'll know then exactly where you stand with O'Connor's stories after that first one has slammed into you like a hammer to the back of the head.

In A Good Man is Hard to Find, a family prepares for and sets off for a vacation in Florida. Even Grandma, who has much to say about how much better it would be to visit family in east Tennessee and how the trip might be dangerous, what with escaped felons and other perils, comes along to narrate the ride. And off they go, stopping at bbq joints for lunch and staring at the sights outside the car windows. It begins as one sort of story and ends as quite another and it's one of the most brilliant things I've ever read.

Each story is finely honed and reads as surprisingly contemporary, for all it's written about a rural South that is long gone. O'Connor is insightful and cutting and unafraid to allow the worst to happen. There is a dark comedy underlying her work and a deep understanding of people, albeit a somewhat grim one. People in this collection die. They're drowned, or shot, or simple run over. They look into someone else's eyes and see how badly they've misjudged things. They are callous and cruel and lonely and disillusioned. Their hopes are inevitably dashed, usually because of their own flaws. There's so much packed into each of these tightly written stories that each feels like an entire world.

Jan. 29, 2018, 5:54pm

>84 RidgewayGirl: Well, Kay, you really hit me with that one. Wonderful review, and onto the wishlist it goes.

Jan. 29, 2018, 6:49pm

Colleen, I can't believe I've never read anything by O'Connor before now. I have so much catching up to do.

Jan. 30, 2018, 8:00am

>86 RidgewayGirl: O'Connor is an excellent, excellent writer!

Jan. 30, 2018, 11:20am

Great review of A Good Man Is Hard to Find. O'Connor's stories are indelible.

Jan. 30, 2018, 1:03pm

I could not agree more! I'm certainly going to read more of O'Connor this year. I'd like to read more Southern Lit this year.

Jan. 30, 2018, 2:36pm

>84 RidgewayGirl:
I read the short story A good Man is hard to find at the end of last year, as part of a list of best 20 horror stories that are available online.

It didn't strike me as a horror story, though the atmosphere is definitely dark. Though I enjoyed it, it didn't make me feel as if somebody slammed a hammer in the back of my head, unfortunately. Maybe the fact that it was advertised as horror had something to do with that.

BTW I had no idea O'Connor was female before reading your review!

Jan. 30, 2018, 3:26pm

chlorine, she was not only a woman, but an educated Catholic woman living in rural Georgia at a time when both of those things were rare and regarded with suspicion. She also had lupus at a time when there was no treatment. All of those things inform her writing in interesting ways.

I wonder if including it in a collection of horror stories isn't doing it a disservice. It's not horror, and including it in such a collection does take away the sheer impact of that ending - you'd be expecting something bad to happen.

Jan. 30, 2018, 3:39pm

>70 RidgewayGirl: I go back and forth on reading The book of Joan and so far have not picked it up because other things call my name. I suspect it's one I won't get to, but I appreciate hearing from those of you who have made the effort.

>84 RidgewayGirl: I read "A good man is hard to find" in high school, and was initially horrified. Yet it's funny too. A little bit of Flannery O'Connor at a time is all I can take. There is definitely a dark understanding of people, and great comedy. There is, also, often, a sense of hope or of grace. She's an interesting character, too.

Jan. 31, 2018, 8:45pm

>84 RidgewayGirl: Flannery O'Connor is yet another of the authors I've been long intending to read but never have got round to. I've heard about A Good Man is Hard to Find so many times. Your review has certainly made me want to get to her sooner rather than later. I really love short stories when they're done well.

Feb. 2, 2018, 5:02am

Enjoyed your brilliant description of Flannery O'Connor's short stories.

Feb. 2, 2018, 6:45am

>83 avaland: Lois - I’ve been listening all week (to The Book of Joan). Wavering in opinion, but I’m still listening.

Feb. 2, 2018, 6:52am

>84 RidgewayGirl: I have her complete stories, and I’m tempted to follow your advice. Well, maybe just now, but...(Enjoyed reading everyone’s comments).

Feb. 2, 2018, 8:26am

Ardene, O'Connor does look into the dark heart of people. I was in Athens last week and from what I gleaned, O'Connor is required reading in Georgia high schools, but she's not always taught well.

Gary, if you like a well executed short story, O'Connor's a writer you'll like. I'm going to read a lot more of her this year.

Thanks, Bas.

Daniel, surely one wafer-thin short story won't derail your reading plans.

Feb. 2, 2018, 9:34pm

I love the Klimt.

I am another O'Connor fan. She was a devout Catholic and said that in each of her stories, there's a "moment of grace." I always find that is a good discussion point for her stories.

Great comments on The Book of Joan; I'm wavering.

Feb. 3, 2018, 12:05pm

Beth, I'd spent much of my adulthood regarding Klimt as the sort of artist who is mainly good for greeting cards and calendars. It took actually seeing his work in person to see how very, very brilliant it is. I have to see a work in person to get much out of it. I've been so lucky as to have lived in places with great art museums, or to have been able to travel to others.

Bearbeitet: Feb. 4, 2018, 3:53pm

And then winter settled down and I realized that defeat, like morale, is a lot of little things.

In The Egg and I, Betty MacDonald remembers the first two years of her marriage, in which she and her husband create and run a chicken ranch located in the wilds of Washington state. Originally published in 1945, the writing style reminded me of Jean Webster (who wrote Daddy-Long-Legs), with its mix of charm and dry wit. MacDonald finds the humor in any situation and is as willing to poke fun at herself as she is at the people around her. She has to fight to adjust to rural living and to the hardships and constant work involved, but she's game.

There is one aspect that mars this outrageously delightful memoir; MacDonald mixes in a large helping of racism aimed at the local Native Americans, which culminates in her being glad that their land was being taken from them. Given that the flaws she sees in them are exactly the same flaws she sees in many of the men around her, it's surprising that she never notices that she only sees white people as individually flawed. I'd like to give her the benefit of simply being a product of her own time, but as her own husband asks her to take it down a notch, it seems she was bigoted even by the standards of her time.

I loved this book until I didn't. I can see why it's been allowed to sink into obscurity and at the same time I'm sorry about that -- it's such a vivid, insightfully rendered picture of a specific time and place.

Bearbeitet: Feb. 3, 2018, 12:20pm

99> I'm with you. I saw Klimt as merely decorative until I saw his paintings at the Belvedere in Vienna.

100> I read The Egg and I as a kid, probably when it first came out, maybe in the Readers' Digest version (my grandparents had a lot of those lying around), and only remember thinking it pretty funny. Too bad about the racism.

Feb. 3, 2018, 12:54pm

>100 RidgewayGirl: ooh, no no no. Couldn’t handle that kind of racism.

>97 RidgewayGirl: I picked it up, the O’Connor. It’s about 500 pages, older fragile paperback. A little intimidating. But it’s on my mind.

Feb. 4, 2018, 3:57pm

Jane, I expect that had I read the book as a child, I would not have noticed the racism. Then again, Reader's Digest might have chosen to condense those passages right out of their edition.

Daniel, it was really jarring, given the good-humored way she poked fun at everyone else.

Feb. 5, 2018, 12:33pm

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran tells the story of Ignacio, from his mother's journey from a dying Mexican village to Berkeley, California and her struggles to make a life for herself as an undocumented immigrant and housekeeper/nanny, to how he came to live with Kavya and Rishi Reddy, an Indian American couple and what happened to him and to the people involved in raising him.

This is a novel with a message. It's well-researched, but the writing is only serviceable and instead of just telling a story, Sekaran is intent on getting a message across. It's not a great book, although it's not a bad one, either. It's just so intent on sending a message about the inhumanity in how we treat undocumented immigrants that even as I agreed with her whole-heartedly, and could clearly see that she'd spent time researching -- each element of Soli's story was, as they say, ripped from the headlines -- but the heavy-handedness, as well as how Soli was never fully fleshed out as a character detracted from the book. Kavya and her life in an affluent Indian American culture felt real and interesting and there were descriptions of her interactions with her mother, for example, where the novel gained a liveliness that was very enjoyable to read about. I would really like to read a novel by this author set entirely within this world she clearly knows and understands.

Bearbeitet: Feb. 11, 2018, 3:01pm

Writing a brief description of the plot of Savage Theories is to miss most of what goes on in this odd book that spends most of its time going off on tangents and assuming the reader is a lot more knowledgeable than this particular reader is. Basically, there are two stories; a young woman stalks her professor while justifying it in all sorts of philosophical ways, which hides the creepiness somewhat and; two teenage friends, who believe themselves to be physically repulsive, negotiate their social world with an angry sense of inferiority, even as they engage in orgies with beautiful people.

This is one weird book. It revels in a sort of intellectual ping pong, where the reader is assumed to be not only aware of a broad swath of philosophy, sociology and Argentinian history, but that they are also able to keep up with Pola Oloixarac's frenetic jumping around between topics and references. This is the aspect of the book I liked - after a lot of looking up of things, I eventually just relaxed into enjoying the ride. It's a wild and fun one, even as I missed most of the references and asides.

I did have a problem with the author's cavalier attitude toward sexual violence, which is approached as a source of humor, including a gang rape in a nightclub bathroom which is played for laughs and also no big deal. There's more to feel uneasy about here, and much that was interesting, but in the end this was a book I'm not happy to have read.

Feb. 11, 2018, 6:25pm

>30 RidgewayGirl:, WMFuN explains exactly what I hated about the first half of Fates and Furies. Brilliant turn of phrase!

>70 RidgewayGirl:, I felt very similarly about The Book of Joan - It sometimes seemed shocking or crass for no greater purpose other than to be shocking or crass.

I'm also very much enjoying the discussion about historical memory and revisionism here.

Feb. 12, 2018, 9:42am

Hi, Kris, WMFuN isn't my designation, but one I ran into in a discussion about The Tournament of Books. It is wonderful, isn't it? And it describes so very many novels.

Feb. 12, 2018, 9:42am

When you listen to an old record, there can be no illusion that you are present at a performance. You are listening through a gray drizzle of static, a sound like rain. You can never forget how far away you are. You always hear it, the sound of distance in time.

I didn't want to read White Tears. Two dudebros meet at a prestigious university and through their shared love of old school methods of recording music and their authentic love of the blues, open a recording studio and do well for themselves. Which is, I discovered to my delight, not actually what happens. Yes, there are two dudebros, wealthy, out-going Carter and passive, detail-oriented Seth. They do become friends in college and, after graduation, they do move to New York and create a recording studio, which specializes in using old equipment for a more authentic sound. But there's more at work here. Seth and Carter aren't really friends. Seth is Carter's sidekick, the faithful friend who tags along and who does the actual work. Carter is wealthy, of the kind of wealthy that can buy himself a recording studio, fill it with obscure and expensive equipment and then run that studio badly, without having to worry about paying the bills. He's wealthy enough to become a collector of old, hard to find blues recordings and to allow that hobby to fill up his time.

Seth spends a lot of his time wandering around the city, recording the ambient sounds. He records a small segment of a song sung by a man leaving a chess match and that piece of music becomes the basis for a recording that Carter and Seth made, intended to sound like it had been made in the 1920s. That recording sets off something much deeper than either man are prepared to handle.

There's a lot addressed in White Tears, from classicism to the appropriation of black culture, but Hari Kunzru's skillful handling allows him to hit these issues hard, while never sacrificing the forward momentum of the story. The last third of the novel is relentless and frightening, with every thread and character trait developed in the opening chapters bearing fruit in the final ones. This is a brilliant book that deserves a wide readership.

Feb. 12, 2018, 12:04pm

>108 RidgewayGirl: Ok fine, I'll add it to the library wishlist.

Feb. 12, 2018, 7:00pm

108> Sounds fascinating.

Bearbeitet: Feb. 12, 2018, 7:31pm

>108 RidgewayGirl: I had a reader's copy of the Kunzru kicking around the house for quite a while before I took it back to the store. I had read his The Impressionist and listened to Transmission and thought I might get to the new one. Sadly, I did not but I did very much enjoy your review!

Feb. 13, 2018, 7:49am

Liz, ha! You sound like my daughter, forced to perform an onerous task like picking up her coat from the floor.

Jane, it really was, and I went into it expecting not to like it much. I didn't like any of the characters and there was one who really irked me - a young woman who was trying to be an artist, while living in a faux artist's studio created for her inside an expensive building with a doorman in Manhattan. The idea of putting on a show of authenticity while going home each night to a simulacrum of discomfort was a jarring one.

Lois, working somewhere with an over-abundance of ARCs does mean you can't read them all. How do you manage to choose which ones to bring home?

Feb. 13, 2018, 9:41am

>112 RidgewayGirl: I suppose the same way everyone shops for books? Right now the pickin's are kind of slim.

Bearbeitet: Feb. 13, 2018, 10:09am

>84 RidgewayGirl: Can't say short stories usually appeal to me, but you've convinced me to try A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

Feb. 14, 2018, 3:13pm

Lois, were I not constrained by a budget, my bookshelves would not be sufficient to hold even a portion of the books I'd bring home.

Margaret, she's brilliant. I hope you love the stories.

Feb. 15, 2018, 7:18am

>108 RidgewayGirl: Great review of White Tears.
I'm curious: if you didn't want to read this book, what made you read it in the end?

Feb. 15, 2018, 7:33am

Clémence, it's one of the books on the shortlist of the Tournament of Books, which is a literary competition in which books compete head to head. There are several people who read the books ahead of time and the conversation in the comments section is fun to participate in. It's also been a way to stretch my reading into books and authors I would not otherwise encounter.


Feb. 15, 2018, 3:01pm

>117 RidgewayGirl: oh I see now! You already mentioned the tournament of books and I had looked it up. It sounds both interesting and fun!

Feb. 16, 2018, 8:21am

>108 RidgewayGirl: Sounds great. And as someone who's in the market for a record player, quite apropos.

Incidentally, >104 RidgewayGirl:/>105 RidgewayGirl: Is painty style text the new headless woman for covers? Seem a lot of this lately.

Feb. 16, 2018, 9:57am

Jane, I've noticed that books that are seen as literary and important do get the typeface heavy covers. The last three books here share that characteristic. Sadly, I think that they'll keep the headless woman for awhile.

Feb. 16, 2018, 6:20pm

I'm not generally a quitter, but I've made a half dozen tries to review Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward's National Book Award-winning novel and I can't do it. It's brilliant and it burrowed into the heart of me and I can't tell you the specifics of why; the lyricism of the writing and the heart with which Ward writes are insufficient explanations of why this book is so very good.

Jojo is thirteen. He lives with his Mam, who is dying of cancer, and his Pop, in rural southern Mississippi. He has a three-year-old sister he loves, a father up in Parchman and a mother who is more attached to drugs than her children. When his father is released from prison, Jojo, his sister, his mother and his mother's friend drive up to pick him up.

Sing, Unburied, Sing is told in chapters that alternate between Jojo, his mother, Leonie, and a ghost named Ritchie, that they pick up while leaving Parchman. This novel is intense in so many ways and I think we'll be reading it for decades to come. I'm certain I'll return to this book in a few years as it's one that is sure to reward multiple reads.

Feb. 17, 2018, 4:30am

Now there's praise for a book indeed. Onto the wish list it goes...

Feb. 19, 2018, 5:26pm

Running away was my only chance. It was all I had left.

The End of Eddy by French author Édouard Louis is a memoir that is classified in France as "autofic," a designation whose definition ranges from the idea that the minute one begins to write about one's life it becomes fictionalized, to long, dense definitions about identity and the lens through which we see the world being necessarily uncertain. In any case, The End of Eddy tells the story of Eddy Bellegeule, a sensitive, gay boy growing up in a harsh, working class village in northern France. It's a place where men work in the factory, women work as cashiers or home health aides, and they all live in decaying homes where the television and alcohol are the primary sources of entertainment. Masculinity is overt and performative and Eddy struggles to behave in the ways he's expected to. As he grows up, he endures bullying, both at school and from his family, but his greatest pain lies in his desperate struggles to become the man he's expected to be.

This book begins as quite a grim one, but hope leaks in as he eventually understands that places exist where he might be able to be himself. Still, the story is a bleak one, and Louis's account is stark and often very hard to read. There is one scene that made me physically gag. The ending made up for that somewhat. This is a good book, but not a fun one.

Feb. 22, 2018, 5:07pm

"Rise and shine, ladies!" shouts the warden in a voice that used to be a woman's, and bangs on the iron door with an iron key.

Maria Alyokhina was a member of the punk group Pussy Riot, and one of the women who performed their song Punk Prayer in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Along with a few others, she went into hiding, but was eventually arrested, tried and sent to prison in a part of Russia that was formerly used for the gulag. Riot Days is her account of that time and it's fantastically punk to its core. Alyokhina is fiercely devoted to resisting Putin's dictatorship and she is uncompromising in her unwillingness to comply or keep quiet. Even her time in various prison camps is marked by her determination to protest and to improve conditions for the people around her.

Her memoir is told in the form of short segments. From the beginning, as they plan various performances - performances that were necessarily short and unannounced - she is both scared and determined. And as the state takes action against them, she clearly describes what is happening and the dire conditions she and the other prisoners live in, but she never complains or fails to stand up for those around her. We should all have her clear convictions and sheer perseverance.

Feb. 23, 2018, 9:34pm

"Autofic" is that another word for "Creative nonfiction"? it's apparently become a hot "genre" now but it seems the phrase developed after the James Frey's Million Little Pieces memoir made news for being fictionalized in '06 and other memoirs came under scrutiny.

I recently sampled a crime story labelled creative nonfiction - a real crime that happened in Florida but some part of the story fictionalized by the author. I don't like that mix, I think. What part is being fictionalized? Some modern manifestation of what is done with historical fiction? I took it back to the ARC pile.

Feb. 23, 2018, 11:21pm

Riot Days seems to be compulsory.

Feb. 24, 2018, 11:02am

>107 RidgewayGirl:, sooooo many novels.

>124 RidgewayGirl:, Riot Days sounds awesome and I love the cover.

Feb. 24, 2018, 11:43am

Lois, I tried to find a solid definition for "autofic" but was instead given a selection of widely varying definitions to choose from. It runs the gamut from pure memoir (with the reasoning that once we begin to tell our own stories, they become fictionalized to some extent) to largely fiction, with some autobiographical details.

Jane, it was well worth reading. I found the combination of a punk outlook and resistance to be an effective one.

It's really good, Kris. I'm going to read more by Kunzru.

Feb. 24, 2018, 12:46pm

Major book bullet with Riot Days.

Feb. 24, 2018, 1:00pm

>124 RidgewayGirl: Riot Days is now making its way to my wishlist, Kay. Not sure whether to thank you. :) my wishlist is ridiculous.

Feb. 26, 2018, 9:23am

I enjoyed catching up with your thread just now - what a great variety of books. I like what you’re doing with the Tournament books; I don’t feel up to challenging my reading in quite that way for the moment, but it sounds like an excellent way to take yourself out of your literary comfort zone. As for your comments on Sing, Unburied, Sing, that’s one I’m looking forward to reading anyway (I have loved Jesmyn Ward’s work since reviewing her first novel for Belletrista), but you make me want to run out and get a copy today!

Feb. 26, 2018, 10:21am

Meredith and Colleen, it was so interesting to get both a look at resistance within Putin's Russia and such a punk outlook in one book.

Rachel, it's really good. Ward has just signed a two-book deal and one of those books to be for middle school-aged readers. I'm looking forward to seeing what she writes next and I've got a copy of Salvage the Bones to read soon.

I just finished Lincoln in the Bardo. I'm going to have to think about this one for a while.

Feb. 26, 2018, 12:09pm

For the first few months of the year, my reading has focused on the Tournament of Books shortlist, which has been an enjoyable, but challenging collection of books, all of which have claimed a more than average amount of attention and thought as I read. So this next book came as a bit of a break from that.

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud is the story of Cassie, as seen through the eyes of her best friend, JuJu. The two girls were inseparable, and during the summer before they began middle school, they wandered all over their small Massachusetts town and the woods around it, but beginning in middle school, the girls drift apart, a process that JuJu finds confusing and painful. She's been put in all the advanced classes, while Cassie falls in with the crowd of popular kids who party. From a distance, JuJu watches Cassie change and when she gains a stepfather, the speed at which she embraces a risky lifestyle increases.

Messud has done a good job in writing her adolescent characters. JuJu is intelligent and insightful, but she's also full of the drama of the situation. The book is told from JuJu's POV and the author restricts the level of information the reader is given to what JuJu knows, which means we are getting Cassie's story in random sudden lumps and through hearsay, which was surprisingly effective, even as it meant that a lot of the questions remain unanswered.

Feb. 27, 2018, 4:07pm

I was going to read this when it was first released and then there was a big deal about how great the audiobook version was and so then I was deciding between listening to Lincoln in the Bardo and reading it and then the moment passed and newer books were flaunting themselves in front of me. Which is why I'm a year behind the rest of the world. I ended up just reading it on paper in the end, so who knows what that whole debate in my head was about anyway.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a book you probably have heard of, if you don't already have a pretty good idea of the basic premise, which is that the bardo is a Buddhist term for a sort of in-between place that a person passes through on their way to death/the afterlife. In this case, the Lincoln in question is Willy Lincoln, who died when he was twelve and his father was President of the United States and the Civil War was just beginning to make its terrible cost clear.

He is temporarily placed in a mausoleum and as he waits for his father to visit again, the other entities who haven't gone on are affected by his presence. There are three primary narrators of this novel, three ghosts who tell their own stories, the stories of those around them and recount events as they happen, but there are also several other ghosts who interject their own stories and opinions, as well as segments taken from various published works talking about young Willy's illness and death as well as details about the life of the Lincoln family in the White House. These historical accounts often contradict each other.

George Saunders is already known for writing short stories that don't adhere to the usual conventions and with Lincoln in the Bardo he has created something unusual and fresh and yet still full of heart.

Feb. 27, 2018, 5:03pm

>134 RidgewayGirl: Another excellent review of the Saunders novel. I doubt I'm ever going to get to it at this point, but I appreciate the review.

Feb. 27, 2018, 5:09pm

Lois, I only got to it because of the Tournament of Books. Since I embraced my love of reading books before the ink's fully dry, I've become aware of just how many new books are published every single month, as I grab a few and watch the rest recede into the distance.

Feb. 27, 2018, 6:32pm

>134 RidgewayGirl: Great review. I've had the ebook for a year, but like you, the new and shiny jumped ahead. TY for reminding me to get on this!!

Feb. 27, 2018, 7:59pm

Tess, Lincoln in the Bardo is shorter than it's page count indicates and quite the page turner. Since you're a history teacher, you might be amused by how the contemporaneous accounts often contradict each other.

Mrz. 1, 2018, 10:46am

Two lonely Asian boys living in the American midwest bond over a shared love of comic books. Three superheroes meet for lunch and swap stories. A woman leaves her husband and young child and joins a protest. A mysterious supervillain named Ms. Mistleto haunts her adversary's thoughts.

There's no linear story in Dear Cyborgs, no way to give a tidy synopsis of the plot. People meet and tell each other stories in which they meet someone and tell stories. I've run into descriptions of this book that compare it to reading four random comic books in a longer series, or to the act of internet browsing, where one thing leads to another and you end up reading about Japanese internment camps after starting out with a trailer from the newest Marvel movie.

Dear Cyborgs is all about the journey, where each segment is another interesting, yet tangential off-shoot of the one before. Eugene Lim's writing is clear and direct, which makes the random nature of this short novel an enjoyable journey. And, yes, he does sort of tie everything together in the end, in a way that is both clever and suits the novel well. It's a book where the journey is the point, not the destination.

Mrz. 1, 2018, 3:17pm

>139 RidgewayGirl: Intriguing! How did you come to read it?

Mrz. 1, 2018, 4:13pm

Rachel, it was the last book I needed to read for the Tournament of Books. Every year, it gets me to read at least a few books that I would never otherwise have picked up, or even heard of.

Mrz. 2, 2018, 12:16am

>142 rachbxl: I thought it might have been!

Mrz. 6, 2018, 8:55am

In The Facts of Life and Death, Ruby Trick lives in a decaying cottage in a tiny village on the coast of north Devonshire. Her parents are struggling, both financially since her father's employer shut its doors and in their marriage. Ten year-old Ruby, who is both plump and red-haired in addition to being poor, is friendless at school, but she dreams of owning a pony and loves her father deeply, and shares his love of American cowboys with him. When the bodies of young women start turning up, Ruby and her father go on patrol, looking for the killer, but mostly ferrying young women safely home late at night.

DC Calvin Bridge only became a detective because he was tired of keeping his uniform clean. A man content to drift through life, he's ended up engaged to be married without really understanding how that happened. And now he's partnered with DCI Kirsty King, an ambitious officer who is going places. He finds it all exhausting, especially how King insist he not daydream his way through the day and actively help the investigation.

Belinda Bauer is often compared to Ruth Rendell in the blurbs to her novels, which is shorthand for how her characters are often drawn from the people we are likely to overlook. But Bauer's writing goes more deeply into character, while keeping the tension in her stories high. She doesn't travel the predicted path, but her unexpected endings are well plotted. This isn't her best novel (that would be Blacklands), but it is a well-written and solidly plotted crime novel that was a great deal of fun to read.

Mrz. 6, 2018, 10:54am

>143 RidgewayGirl: I haven’t read anything by Belinda Bauer, Kay. This sounds interesting. I’m adding to a list of books to check out.

Mrz. 6, 2018, 2:00pm

Colleen, she's a reliably good crime writer -- which is hard to find!

Mrz. 11, 2018, 11:29am

>136 RidgewayGirl: I also struggle with this, Kay. Even on my own shelves, I look at books I bought a couple of years ago and haven't read yet, and wonder if, in fact, I'll ever get to them. There seems to be a perfect time to pick up certain books, and I'm not sure I have figured out what that is.

I will definitely be checking out the Messed. I haven't read Lincoln in the Bardo yet, either, and don't know that I will.

Dear Cyborgs also goes on the list.

I have Blacklands on my shelf, so perhaps it should move up to the top of the pile.

Mrz. 12, 2018, 5:19pm

Polly shows up in a small town in Delaware decides to stay, getting a job in the local tavern. Shortly after, Adam shows up and settles in, getting a job as the cook in that same tavern. They are clearly attracted to each other and eventually begin a relationship, but both are keeping some pretty big secrets and the past is about to catch up with them.

Sunburn is pure noir, it has the taste of an old movie, full of private investigators and women with shady pasts, of crime and passion. It's also the best thing Laura Lippman has written.

Mrz. 12, 2018, 5:52pm

>147 RidgewayGirl: And the woman on the cover even has most of her head!

Mrz. 14, 2018, 4:39pm

>147 RidgewayGirl:, Well that's an endorsement if there ever was one! Running to the elibrary to place a hold!

>148 janemarieprice:, lol. Another bad trend in book covers.

Mrz. 15, 2018, 8:32pm

>139 RidgewayGirl: Dear Cyborgs sounds an interesting and unusual book. I hadn't heard of it before but your review has got me tempted by it. I'm about to finish up a book, and that one is available at the library, so it may well be my next read.

Mrz. 16, 2018, 10:29am

Most, but not all, Jane. And her eyes are hidden. They did get her hair color right, though.

Kris, it's a lot of fun to read. And I can't find it anymore, but there was a funny article positing that the new taboo in publishing was showing a woman's nose, as demonstrated by a dozen book covers of women's faces in which their noses were hidden.

Gary, it really is fascinating and different.

Mrz. 21, 2018, 12:57pm

In Promise, Minrose Gwin explores the aftermath of a tornado that struck Tupelo, Mississippi on April 5, 1936, through the experiences of two women. Jo McNabb is the sixteen-year-old daughter of a local judge living in a comfortable brick house and Dovey Grand'homme is a grandmother and a laundress who works for the McNabbs. As their paths intersect, the connections and divisions between them become clear and what the path forward might be.

This novel is a straightforward historical account based on the stories the author was told by family still living in Tupelo, as well as meticulous research. Gwin has done her homework. There are two very different stories being told here; a coming of age story of a girl who finds her strength in getting her injured mother and infant brother through the crisis and figuring out where the truth lies, and the much grittier story of Dovey and her family and their survival despite the callous indifference and sometime hostility from the white half of town.

He fired a second shot. She felt it whizz by her head. The first shot hadn't much to say except get the hell out of Dodge, but this second one sang in her left ear, over the drumbeat in her head, over the sound of the train whistle no signaling the arrival of another Frisco, over all the shouting and crying out in the streets. It sang to her like an opera singer. It sang to her like a blues singer. It sang all the nastiness of white folk, all the ugliness of the world. It sang of dirty linen, the spots that won't come out, the tears in the fabric.

While Promise was often predictable and sometimes smoothed over the rougher events, it was nevertheless a highly readable novel about an event I'd known nothing about.

Mrz. 21, 2018, 10:22pm

152> Wonderfully powerful quote. Sounds like an interesting historical novel.

Mrz. 23, 2018, 9:10am

Jane, it's interesting mostly because of the historical research involved. The above passage was the first instance in which I saw the author cutting loose and letting her writing sing. It occurred on page 155. I appreciate this as a book that tries to nudge the reader into an awareness without alienating even the most conservative of a reader.

Mrz. 25, 2018, 10:51am

Carmen Maria Machado's book of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties is an extraordinary collection that references fairy tales with a dark and woman-centered slant that brings to mind both Angela Carter and Kelly Link. From the opening story The Husband Stitch, a dark take on a familiar fairy tale, to a weird and haunting summary of 272 episodes of Law & Order: SVU, to Inventory, a remembering of past sexual relationships against the background of a world ravaged by a pandemic, each story was so different than the one before, although they all shared a stark vision of a world not entirely friendly.

Mrz. 26, 2018, 1:50pm

Let me just start out by saying that Alissa Nutting doesn't care if you're uncomfortable. There's not a page of Tampa that doesn't make somebody unhappy. Celeste Price is a twenty-six year old middle school English teacher. She's also a pedophile, relentlessly fantasizing about boys and then using her position to prey on them. Like Humbert Humbert, she's full of rationalizations about her behavior; unlike him, she's devoid of the cultural wrappings that served to make what he did palatable. She's perfectly aware of the potentially devastating consequences to herself if she is unmasked and utterly unconcerned about the effects on the boys she manipulates.

Tampa is told from Celeste's point of view. It's an unpleasant place to be. She's a consummate manipulator of everyone from her victims to her husband to her co-workers. She knows how to use her youth and beauty to distract people. She's also deeply insecure as her ability to lure victims is entirely based on her youth and beauty.

Nutting is doing some interesting work here. She's written a compelling, compulsively readable novel about something terrible. She makes the reader look at what Celeste is doing and the excuses she makes, even as she confronts the reader with how differently we would regard the same narrative from a middle-aged man.

Mrz. 28, 2018, 9:55am

Set in the near future, Red Clocks pictures an America where a Personhood Amendment has been passed, criminalizing not just abortions, but most fertility treatments as well. Canada has agreed to erect a "pink wall,' where they detain women of child-bearing age at the border until they've taken a pregnancy test. Those that are pregnant are arrested.

Despite the overt political aspects, this is a novel about people. Ro is a high school history teacher. Now in her forties, she desperately wants a child and she's writing a biography about a female polar explorer. Susan is the wife of one of her co-workers. She's a stay-at-home mom who is struggling with that role even as her husband blithely insists that nothing is wrong, but she does need to clean the bathroom more often. Mattie is one of her students and Mattie is in love with a boy who wears a fedora. And Gin has removed herself from society, living outside of town, in a small cabin in the woods, she provides herbal remedies and simple cures to women. Each woman, but especially Ro, is a living, breathing presence.

Leni Zumas handles the plot-lines with the same skillful nuance that she writes her characters. Children have become commodities in this world she's written, where who has children and who doesn't is a political weapon, but this is addressed with care. This book took over while I was reading it, demanding that I ignore daily tasks in favor of another few pages. I look forward to reading more by Zumas.

Mrz. 30, 2018, 2:53am

Your last two covers have a similar approach...

Mrz. 30, 2018, 7:37am

Yes, and isn't interesting how easily recognizable that is, and how rare? I think the buttonhole is particularly effective.

Mrz. 30, 2018, 1:22pm

If you haven't heard of Tayari Jones's new novel, An American Marriage, you haven't been paying attention. Oprah picked this one out, it's already heading every "most anticipated" list and the publisher has printed enough copies to put generous stacks on the tables of every book-selling outlet in America. Which is a lot of hype to put on a book by a largely unknown author. Can it possible live up to the expectation? Happily, the answer is, for the most part, yes.

Celestial and Roy have been married eighteen months, living together in Atlanta and both succeeding in their fields; Roy's a businessman with the world in front of him and the suits to prove it, Celestial's an up-and-coming artist, when Roy is arrested from the Louisiana motel they're staying in while visiting Roy's parents. What follows places intolerable strains on their fledgling marriage.

Jones is audacious and clever in how she uses a small story about very specific people to address some huge issues. And she manages to pull it off with a deceptively light touch.

Mrz. 30, 2018, 2:45pm

>157 RidgewayGirl: Red Clocks keeps showing up on lists of interesting books, but I'm not sure I want to read it - I had a very hard time with The Handmaid's Tale and wonder if this book will make me just as uncomfortable. I don't mind bloody murder mysteries, but there's something about institutionalized brutality toward women that makes my skin crawl. Would you find them comparable in that way?

>160 RidgewayGirl: An American Marriage sounds excellent, though.

Mrz. 30, 2018, 3:25pm

Margaret, I thought Red Clocks was easier to read than The Handmaid's Tale. For one thing, it's a less terrifying vision of the future, although one much more plausible. And the way Zumas explorer the ramifications of a personhood amendment were more nuanced than Atwood - the main character is a woman who desperately wants a child but the new laws about what fertility treatments are legal, as well as a soon-to-be-enacted law about only couples can adopt makes that increasingly less likely and how that affects her. It was well done, with a good amount of hope.

Mrz. 30, 2018, 7:08pm

>157 RidgewayGirl: Several interesting reviews of this around lately. I just finished The Handmaid's Tail so am quite intrigued by this one.

Apr. 3, 2018, 6:59am

Great review of Tampa. You got it in one - uncomfortable reading yet compelling at the same time. I thought the humour in it was pretty clever at times, especially in the second half of the book.

Apr. 3, 2018, 4:30pm

Jane, it would be interesting to read them close together, although I wonder if that would amplify how different the two books are, or just make any woman reading them too worried to leave the house.

Thanks for the push to read Tampa, Alison. It was definitely different. I'm really interested in reading more by Nutting.

Apr. 4, 2018, 4:26pm

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is set during a gold rush in New Zealand, where men (and a few women) come from all over to make their fortunes. One of these men is Walter Moody, a young man who arrives in the port town of Hokitika under stressful circumstances; the ship he sailed on ran aground near the harbor and so he arrives without his luggage, settling into a mediocre hotel and then heading to the public sitting room to relax. A group of men have already gathered there, intending to discuss some pressing issues and they are left to loiter unconvincingly when Moody shows up.

The pressing issues include the captain of the ship Moody sailed on, a prostitute with an addiction who attempted suicide and the disappearance of a young and successful miner. Catton takes her time here, not to stall the momentum of the novel, but to give it depth. Each man's point of view is accounted for, building a story that becomes more complex with every telling.

The Luminaries is not so much sweeping as it is thorough. It has the feel of a Victorian novel, not just in the length and setting, but in its willingness to take its time. It was a great deal of fun to read.

Apr. 4, 2018, 4:46pm

>166 RidgewayGirl: I’m glad you enjoyed it Kay. I think it is one of my favorite books.

Apr. 4, 2018, 4:56pm

It was wonderful, Colleen. I was sorry to turn the last page.

Apr. 4, 2018, 7:06pm

>130 NanaCC: I'm surprised that the Jones novel is not jumping off the shelf at our store, considering it's on the NY Times bestseller list. It might just be that our clientele will wait for the paperback.

>166 RidgewayGirl: Good to know about the Catton. I think it's around here somewhere.

Apr. 5, 2018, 4:30pm

>166 RidgewayGirl: Great review of The Luminaries. It was a five star read for me too earlier this year.

>157 RidgewayGirl: I keep reading good things about this book and it still didn’t appeal to me until your review. I’ll add it to my wishlist.

>160 RidgewayGirl: I liked this one (not as much as you did I think) but was especially charmed with Jones’s writing style, so good! I then read Silver Sparrow which I can recommend!

Apr. 6, 2018, 9:15pm

Back in the olden days, surgeons were valued not by their skill with a knife, but by their speed. Without anesthesia, surgery was the last resort of those in terrible pain and, indeed, most would die either from the surgery or soon afterwards from infection. One story has a surgeon completing an amputation in a mere 28 seconds, although he also managed to remove a testicle, three of his assistant's fingers and slice open a bystander's coat in the process. The patient died. As did the assistant and the bystander.

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris begins with the first uses of ether, which allowed surgeons to operate on more complex cases. Unfortunately, this new ability did not increase the chances of survival, since infection was still an unsurmountable danger in a world where surgeons would move directly from the autopsy table to the operating table to examining patients in hospital beds, all without changing their clothes or even washing their hands. Medical students were known for being fancy dressers and also by the filthiness of their shirts.

Into this world stepped Joseph Lister who, influenced by the work of Louis Pasteur, began to work with the idea of keeping wounds clean and free of contamination. This was a controversial stance to take in a world that thought that infection was caused by bad air and essentially unavoidable. But through patience, working to persuade people and by constant improvements in his own strategies for keeping wounds and incisions infection-free, Lister gradually changed how surgeries are performed and hospitals maintained.

Fitzharris does a good job in communicating the importance of Lister's work. The book loses momentum after Lister's methods became accepted, and she was mainly accounting for Lister's final years, but the story itself is compelling as long as the reader has a fairly strong stomach for the details of amputations and the varieties of bacterial infections common in nineteenth century hospitals.

Apr. 6, 2018, 9:19pm

Lois, I hope it does very well in paperback as it's a book that deserves a wide readership. And I'm glad to find that I'm not the last person to read The Luminaries.

Barbara, I've heard good things about Silver Sparrow. I'll have to read it soon. And, yes, The Luminaries is a glorious book. I'm so glad to have finally picked it up.

Apr. 9, 2018, 1:54pm

Katie works for a marketing firm in London. She's the low man on the totem pole, she's underpaid, her commute is long and complex, her boss is a nightmare, but she loves working in marketing and living in London and she's working to move up in the firm. And then her boss fires her and she's back home at her father's farm in Somerset, helping her Dad and stepmother set up a business running deluxe "glamping" holidays for Londoners.

My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella is the literary equivalent of having a milkshake for dinner. It's light and fun. Kinsella is good at writing dialogue and coming up with ridiculous situations that make complete sense in the world of that novel. I did like that this was a novel about a young woman with career dreams that weren't made light of. Katie earns her happy ending in a way that was refreshing and new. Of course there's a love interest, this is, after all, Chick Lit, but that definitely plays second fiddle to the more important story of a young woman receiving recognition for her own hard work and talent.

Apr. 9, 2018, 3:22pm

So many great reviews for The Luminaries. Looking forward to getting my hands on a copy one of these days.

Apr. 9, 2018, 4:08pm

You've made The Luminaries sound much more tempting. The author has rubbed me the wrong way a bit with comments about negative reviews (on places like Amazon, not from professional reviewers) of the book being thin and not deeply probing reviews. Well, that's the case for basically almost all of the most-negative reviews on sites like Amazon, and the book was still a great success. I could have sworn there was something about positive reviews not being deep enough as well, but I can't find it at the moment. She is very young, but surely familiar enough with how reviews of anything go to not get so caught up in those aspects?

Bearbeitet: Apr. 9, 2018, 4:58pm

It's worth reading, Alison.

Meredith, authors are notoriously thin-skinned about their work. And The Luminaries has had some reviews where the only conclusion is that the reviewer didn't manage to read much of the book. The Tournament of Books had a particularly terrible judge for it the year it competed, who dismissed it as being too male-centric (which is a possible complaint if you don't get past the first section). I'm touchy on its behalf, so I'll give Catton some leeway. Also, I really liked her weird debut novel, which is so utterly unlike The Luminaries that it's impossible to see how she went from writing The Rehearsal to writing The Luminaries. It also means I have no idea what Catton will write next and I like that a lot.

But I certainly see your point -- there are a few authors who have rubbed me the wrong way -- most recently I listened to an interview with the author of a book I really wanted to read and, by the time she'd finished telling the interviewer how very unique and special she was, I was no longer of a mind to read anything she writes. Also, while I liked the two books of hers that I have read, Emily St. John Mandel gets on my nerves. I'm sure she's lovely in real life.

Apr. 10, 2018, 11:39am

Catching up on your reviews. Count me in with those who loved the Luminaries.

Apr. 10, 2018, 3:11pm

"You can't murder Indians," Dicky said.


"Murder is a legal concept. You can kill an Indian, but you can't murder one. You've got to have a law against it before it's murder."

Robert Hawks is a hydrologist, taking a little time off to spend at his cabin north of Denver, Colorado, to fish and also to get away from a relationship he'd like to end but can't manage to do so. It's in an out-of-the-way location near an Indian reservation and one cold evening he gives a ride to a small Native American woman, an act that will involve him in a conflict generations old.

With Watershed, Percival Everett gives a masterclass on how to write a novel, from the carefully crafted plot and the slow revelation of the protagonist's personality and past, to the perfectly crafted sentences. Watershed opens with a bang; Hawks sits in a small cold church on the reservation, across from an FBI agent who is tied to a chair. Around him sit several other armed men while outside the church, a large number of law enforcement have gathered near the bodies of three other men.

From there, the story moves to how Hawks reached this point, from his past as the son and grandson of doctors active in the Civil Rights movement, to his life in Denver, involved with the wrong woman, to how he is gradually drawn into a conflict between members of an Indian tribe and the FBI. There's a lot going on in 200 pages, but it never feels hurried or anything less than deliberate.

Apr. 10, 2018, 5:13pm

>178 RidgewayGirl: That one sounds intriguing. Onto the WL it goes.

Apr. 10, 2018, 5:22pm

Deborah, Percival Everett is an author I would never have known about were it not for the Tournament of Books, which had his newest novel, So Much Blue, on their shortlist. I was impressed by the quality of his writing and how well he crafted his main character and thought I'd like to read more by him. I'm glad to have found him and also glad he has quite a body of work for me to dive into.

Apr. 10, 2018, 5:45pm

Oh, that sounds excellent. BB here too.

Apr. 10, 2018, 6:24pm

So many good books! I want to read Promise, The Red Clocks and The Luminaries, to start with. Great comments.

Apr. 10, 2018, 6:43pm

>180 RidgewayGirl: I have one book by him on my TBR shelf, Glyph, and it has been there for years without my getting to it. As I recall, what appealed to me is that it's about a baby with a monstrous IQ (my vague recollection, not even sure if this is an accurate description). But in my mind, withut ever having read anything by him, I've thought of him as a "quirky" writer and he's appealed to me for that reason.

Apr. 10, 2018, 6:47pm

>178 RidgewayGirl: I think I get hit with a B.B. every time I stop by. I’ll never get to everything I want to read, but it isn’t a bad problem to have.

Apr. 12, 2018, 10:33am

It has not escaped us that older generations must do all they can to improve the lives of future ones, but we had believed ourselves to be the future. We were under the impression that we were the owed ones. We had not counted on this debt of service.

Nafkote Tamirat's debut novel, The Parking Lot Attendant, begins on an unnamed sub-tropical island, where the narrator and her father are living with a cult-like group for reasons that are unclear. The novel then jumps to the central story, a less fantastic one about a teenage girl, the child of Ethiopian immigrants, who becomes drawn to an older charismatic man who manages a Boston parking lot, but who is also involved in some other stuff, stuff the girl knows nothing about.

At heart, this is a small story, of a girl figuring out her world and how she fits into it, as a second generation immigrant, as a daughter being raised by a single father, as a black girl in a school with nobody like her, as a girl growing up. The titular parking lot attendant, Ayale, is a mysterious figure and the attention he pays to the protagonist is equally inexplicable, although she is bright and interested in the world around her and he seems pleased to have someone so obviously fascinated by him without wanting any favors. The framing device of the cult living on the island is not effective, nor does it add anything to the story. Fortunately, it takes up only a few pages at each end of the novel.

Apr. 12, 2018, 7:06pm

185> Love that quote.

Apr. 13, 2018, 12:26pm

Jane, the writing in The Parking Lot Attendant was uneven. It was sometimes over-written, sometimes it was hard to tell what the author was trying to communicate, and then there were occasional passages that were beautifully written.

Apr. 13, 2018, 12:27pm

The Golden State Killer is an uncaught man responsible for over fifty rapes and/or murders across California. Until recently, law enforcement were not even aware that the unknown rapist known as the East Area Rapist was the same person as the serial killer working further south, who was known as the Original Night Stalker. Author Michelle McNamara became fascinated by unsolved crimes after a young woman was killed in her community when McNamara was fourteen. She would eventually start a blog and become a well-known amateur sleuth who used the internet to find clues and to look over the original police work, becoming knowledgeable enough to be accepted by the detectives and forensic scientists who had worked or are still working on finding the criminal. I'll Be Gone in the Dark is the result of years and years of work.

There's a lot of hype and publicity surrounding this book. The author died before the book was finished, but her husband and fellow researchers worked to put together a finished book from what she's already written as well as drafts of magazine articles and her notes. The result should be a mess, but instead makes for fascinating reading. McNamara takes a series of crimes in which the perpetrator varied little in his approach and methods, and crafted a well-paced and insightful book. Her writing combines accounts from survivors, family members, and law enforcement with the story of her pursuit of the killer and how it affected her, as well as how advances in forensics have allowed clues and evidence to be found that was unavailable when he was committing his first crimes. McNamara's writing shines and stands in startling contrast to the plodding prose of the final chapters put together by others.

Apr. 14, 2018, 4:36am

>173 RidgewayGirl: I'm very fond of Sophie Kinsella although I have only read the Shopaholic books. I might branch out into this one.

Apr. 15, 2018, 2:55am

>178 RidgewayGirl: I loved So Much Blue.. is this one as good? The storyline doesn’t appeal to me much but then again, the one of Blue wasn’t thats special either. It is the way he writes about it, I think.

Apr. 15, 2018, 11:56am

>189 wandering_star: I prefer her non-Shopaholic books, but the light tone and general fun are equally present.

>190 Simone2: Barbara, Watershed was written over 20 years ago, and is smaller in scope than So Much Blue. But the quality of the writing and the way he builds the character of the protagonist are the same. I'm going to be working my way through his body of work.

Apr. 15, 2018, 3:55pm

>191 RidgewayGirl: I’ll follow your thoughts on his book and will pick up the ones you love!

Apr. 18, 2018, 10:57am

Barbara, I hope that works. I'm so taken with Everett's writing style that I may have no perspective.

Apr. 18, 2018, 10:57am

I have always enjoyed reading, but I've never been sure how to select appropriate material. There are so many books in the world--how do you tell them all apart? How do you know which one will match your tastes and interests? That's why I just pick the first book I see. There's no point trying to choose. The covers are of very little help, because they always say only good things, and I've found out to my cost that they're rarely accurate. "Exhilarating" "Dazzling" "Hilarious." No.

Eleanor Oliphant is pedantic and humorless. She works as an accountant at a marketing firm, where she corrects her co-workers and endures office social occasions with ill-grace. She lives alone and can spend an entire week-end without speaking to anyone. She isn't popular. But the new IT tech, an out of shape, sartorially-challenged guy, refuses to be anything but friendly, forcing Eleanor out of her comfort zone.

Gail Honeyman's debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is written in the light, breezy style common in Chick Lit novels, but here is applied to what would otherwise easily be a very dark story. The novel has a similar feel to A Man Called Ove and Goodbye, Vitamin, addressing mental health issues and unhappiness with humor and compassion.

Apr. 18, 2018, 3:20pm

>194 RidgewayGirl: I think this might be one I’d enjoy. I’ll have to check it out.

Apr. 18, 2018, 5:54pm

Colleen, it's an entirely enjoyable book, despite some of the issues addressed. Hard to believe that this is Honeyman's first novel.

Apr. 27, 2018, 1:13pm

>194 RidgewayGirl: also wanting to read this one at some point. Sounds interesting.
Dieses Thema wurde unter RidgewayGirl Reads in 2018, Part Two weitergeführt.