Reading kind of slowed down for me towards the end of June. I was worried I might be heading into a slump, but I managed to keep that at bay and things started to look up. Looking back at my Books Read list, my pace really didn’t slow down much but it just felt like things weren’t plugging along like they had been earlier in the year. I think the real problem was spending about 150 pages on a book that I decided not to finish. That always makes me feel like I am going backwards. However slow I think I might have been, I still have a backlog of six books I haven’t reviewed. So time to get cracking.
The Gattis and Lee have covers that deserve to be giant.
All Involved by Ryan Gattis
The story of various gang members and their families and friends in the days of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. This was one of Simon’s five books that he put on his summer reading list on episode 155 of The Readers. My first thought was that it was going to be a festival of violence. In some ways it was, but after getting into the rhythm of the book, the characters and the circumstances of their existence transcended the depiction of violence. Gattis does something clever in that each chapter is written from point of view of a different character. The result is that we not only get dozens of individual stories and perspectives, but we see how they overlap and intertwine with each other. All these individual stories are like mini-plots that help advances that hand together quite well and help tell the overarching plot of the novel. Kudos to Simon for this one. It is certainly a novel I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Particularly since I think the bookstore had it miscategorized in the crime/mystery section.
Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham
A 1936 look at the future of space travel and the space race. Since there wasn’t really a space race or the technology to get to space and survive in 1936, it was quite a bit of fun to see what a sci-fi writer thought things would look like in the future. The author was particularly on point when he described a mission to the moon that took place in 1969–of course the year humans actually made it to the moon. Originally published under a pseudonym and the laughingly bad title Planet Plane. As far as Wynhdam goes, The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, and Midwich Cuckoos are all places to start before you pick-up this one.
The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee
Three American expatriate women of different ages and backgrounds living in Hong Kong. I bought this new hardcover book on a whim and expected it to be a bit on the fluffy side. Might have been the frilly cover font or maybe a jacket blurb that made it sound fluffy. In addition to the compelling personal stories I was fascinated by the description of expat life. It was particularly interesting to see how the English-speaking expats colonize Hong-Kong, especially the experience of the youngest of the expats who is a Korean-American. Somewhat to my surprise I liked this book, not because it was the kind of fluff I was expecting, but because it wasn’t. Much more substance than I expected but really readable. And a perfect summer read.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
I have finally read this modern classic that might be more of a cultural icon than it is a book people have actually read. Which, when you come to think of it is true for so many classics. Lots of people talking about books they haven’t read. I knew exactly two things about Plath before I read this: she was a poet, she committed suicide. There is plenty that is dark in The Bell Jar, so no surprise there, but I expected something more poetic–which to me often means dense and unreadable. But it really was a very readable novel that didn’t require special pools of literary understanding. A fascinating, feminist time capsule that had to have been an influence on Lena Dunham. Parts of it gave me a Mary McCarthy vibe as well.
Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos
I picked this up on a whim from the remainder table and knew nothing about it prior to reading it. It’s a story of poor family in Mexico dealing with the vagaries of of political and economic unrest and rarely having enough to eat. But rather than depress, it’s a comic novel in which the kids have named each kind of their mother’s quesadillas based on how much cheese is inside, there’s an inflationary quesadilla, a normal one, as well as deflationary, and poor man’s. In the poor man’s quesadilla “the presence of cheese was literary” with nothing on the inside but the word cheese written on the tortilla. The book is the kind of madcap that could go wrong if it feels like the author is working too hard at being madcap, but Villalobos makes it seem effortless and thus avoids my knee-jerk response to whimsy. Oh, did I mention alien abductions? Alien abductions.
Prairie Tales by Melissa Gilbert
This is perhaps an example of my newly re-discovered library browsing run amok. I remember Andy Cohen talking about how she really names names and in a way she does, but overall I found it a little boring. It would be nice to read a celebrity memoir that doesn’t include chemical dependency and recovery.