This year our local bookshop is conducting a reading challenge. Now that Moira goes to bed at 7:30pm, I thought, well, why not! Reading is quiet, portable, and doesn’t require me to get into a “mode” the way that writing does. As January revealed, I like a structured challenge, and I have been enjoying the Twig’s reading challenge since January 2. I’ll be reporting on my progress periodically. This quarter’s reads have reviews in this post, previous quarters’ reviews are on the previous Twig posts.
AND I still need a 500 word page turner to close her out! (if you’ve already recommended, please remind me, as social media tends to bury these things)
Twig Book Challenge
Number in the title: Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel 6/25 For some reason I’ve found myself caught up in the post-apocalyptic genre. This was one representation of how to do the genre well. Rather than going into the wide scope look at the total demise of the planet, the mechanics and national responses, this imagining was very personal. It focused on the survival of art, looking largely like it did in medieval times. St. James did a great job of keeping the reader oriented as she bounced around in time and place. I imagine it to be the kind of book that would come about if you took one incident (which she did) and imagined the timeline of the characters going forward and backward. The apocalypse is almost incidental, just something (albeit a major something) the characters all had to deal with in the course of their stories. I liked that. The story was about their fates, not necessarily the fate of the world.
Became a movie: Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy 8/3- l loved this. It was everything I want in a love story. I had to resist seeing to movie so as not to spoil the ending (have since seen and enjoyed), because as much as I hoped it would end the way it did, you just can’t trust British literature. Bathsheba is my new favorite heroine. She’s a total mess, but she’s giving it an honest go, and I love that.
Written by someone under 30: The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath 9/7 While I was reading this one, Lewis asked, as he usually does, “Do you like it so far?” I couldn’t really answer. It was exactly like when someone asked me if I liked the movie “Black Swan.” Is “like” something we really say about chronicles of women’s descent into madness. I don’t know. I like pictures of puppies on Facebook. I like fries with my burgers. I appreciate the grim insight of artifacts like The Bell Jar. Of course, we all know that half the intrigue of the book was the author, and the sad way her life ended quite differently than her semi-autobiographical heroine. People who kill themselves are endlessly fascinating, as is mental illness, really. Especially in the age of lobotomy and shock treatment. It had a couple of pages of some of the best writing I’ve ever read, and the rest was stark and styled and very very good. So I appreciated, admired, and valued the book. But I did not like it.
Non human characters: Norse Mythology 2/10
Female Author: The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins 5/26 oooooh such a good thriller. This one really did have to be written by a woman too. The marginalization and “crazy” in the narrators was essential to the suspense, as well as the deep understanding of what motivated the female characters. The men were a little flat, honestly, but after centuries of rather bloodless women in this genre, it’s okay to have some pallid men advancing the female-driven plot. You can’t say too much about this book without giving it away. Suffice it to say I read it in three days, and relished every page.
Supposed to read in high school: Silas Mariner, George Elliot – Okay…I didn’t finish this one.
Mystery or thriller: Ripper, Isabel Allende 3/6
Mom loves: The White Queen, Phillipa Gregory 8/27 Picking a book my mom loves was easy. She loves to be entertained. She loves quick moving books with lots of action and intrigue. She loves Carl Hiassen and Phillipa Gregory (she also likes E L James, but I just couldn’t do it). Phillipa Gregory is fantastic. She knows that just because you know EVERYTHING about a subject, doesn’t mean your readers need to. She knows how to create an atmosphere informed by pertinent details, without dryly spelling them out in prose. She recreates the world and shows more than she tells. It makes a book readable, but it does justice to the history, because I always find myself on the computer, looking up family trees and crests and whatnot, following rabbit trails across English history. I really do think that historical fiction is at its best when it makes you want to learn more, not when it tries to teach you everything.
One word title: Euphoria, Lily King 5/3
Short Stories: Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood 1/8
Own but never read: Secret Pilgrim, John Le Carre 1/23
Texas Author: Aransas, Stephen Harrigan, 3/20
Popular author’s first book: Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver, 3/25
Author you love: Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood 4/12
Memoir: On the Road with Janis Joplin, John Byrne Cook 5/19 I am totally fascinated by 1) California in the late 60’s, 2) the 27 club, and 3) talented boundary busters like Janis. This was actually her road manager’s memoir. Which sounds pedestrian until you realize it was rock’n’roll in the 60’s and 70’s and it took a lot of people to create the saying “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.” The other thing that struck me was the sort of wide-eyed innocence of all these strung out, promiscuous, rockers. They weren’t industry machines or tabloid royalty. They seemed pretty sincere about wanting to rock.
More than 500 pages:
Award winner: Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole 2/1
Graphic Novel: The Sculptor, Scott McLeod 8/5 This book took me all of 6 total hours to read, and it was lovely. It also helped me keep up my tradition of buying the heaviest, unwieldiest, hardback I can find when we’re on vacation. It was a little heavy handed at times, but a great graphic novel for people who don’t usually read graphic novels. There were TONS of unanswered questions, but as the only other graphic novel I’ve read is The Watchmen, I guess that’s just a genre thing.
Based on a true story: Wife, Maid, Mistress, Ariel Lawhon 2/16
Scares you: One Nation Under God, Kevin Kruse The whole time I was reading this, I just wanted to shout, I knew it! I knew it all along! Something about the sanitized, syncretism of political and religious belief just felt manufactured. Like at some point someone had to have engineered it. Imagine my surprise to find out that it was the church, NOT the politicians who started it. Though politicians did take it to the super corrupt and creepy place that “ceremonial deism” is today. It bothers me more as a Christian than as an American. I got the same creeped out feeling about Billy Graham. I was right all along.
Funny book: Native Tongue, Carl Hiassen 4/21
More than 100 years old:
Set in a country you’ve always wanted to visit: The Slap, Christos Tsioklas 3/28
From childhood: Chicken Trek 2/28
Set in the future: World War Z, Max Brooks 7/11 This was a good example of an apocalyptic genre novel that took the wide sweeping “what became of humanity” approach. It was incredibly clever about it, delivered as a series of interviews conducted by a journalist telling the story of the Zombie Wars. It was a really fun, harrowing book. I felt like I was reading an actual history, with tons of texture and emotion.
Set in high school: Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell 1/10
Written in different language: Gunnar’s Daughter, Sigrid Unset 2/4
Banned book: Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger 8/15 – I went to a tiny Christian school where everything was banned, so I had my pick of most of modern literature. But I went for a classic banned book, since it was high time I read this anyway. Throughout the first half of the book, all I could think was: ugh, what a little sh**. However in the second half all I could think was: undiagnosed ____. I don’t know if this book was all about how society was violated of its innocence by the war, or if that really was supposed to be the universal teenage angst we were seeing, or if it was an early plea to diagnose depression? Everyone seems to agree it was just about the widespread ennui of 1950s teenagers. The vernacular jarred me in a funny way. It was like a cynical foul mouthed Opie Taylor. If it really was a teen angst novel, then it’s timeless. If it really was a wider statement about society (I’m just saying, the kid had seen a lot of death for a 16 year old. True teen angst should be a little more vague, in my opinion. This rebel didn’t seem totally without cause.) it was brilliant. So either way, glad I persevered through the mood swings.
Started but never finished: The Warrior Ethos, Stephen Pressfield 9/12 SP’s books have spurred my creative endeavors ever since Jack Simons recommended the War of Art in 2004. I read the first couple chapterettes in The Warrior Ethos when I gave it to Lewis, and liked it, but was somehow distracted from finishing. It was a super quick read to pick up and finish. I loved it. Art really is war, and with some big opportunities on the horizon, I felt the need to get into the warrior spirit.
Recommended by Twig: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple 9/2 Easily my favorite book of the challenge. It was the perfect mixture of quirky, smart, sassy, and funny. I want to read it over and over. Way to go, Twig!