Books: What I Read in January

Well, when it comes to books, my year is off to a great start. I read three fantastic novels in January and two social science/pop anthropology/sociology books last month. Let’s review:

Primates of Park Avenue

 

I put Primates of Park Avenue (written by Wednesday Martin) on my holds list at the library when it first came out, nearly a year ago. The book was so popular, it took until the end of December for a copy to become available. Was it worth the wait?

Eh, kinda. The press for the book and excerpts I read from it before reading the whole thing definitely tried to make it seem like some sort of salacious tell-all. But, it wasn’t really. It was one woman’s experience living in a culture that was strange to her, at least at first. Sure, there were some moments were the tone of the book was like “oh no, she didn’t!” But in all, I thought it was a pretty level-headed assessment of what life is like up on the Upper East Side.

The Coldest Winter Ever

The Coldest Winter Ever was a book club pick. It’s not a book I would have chosen to read on my own, but I’m glad that I got to read it. The Winter in the title refers to the narrator and main character in the book, as well as to the challenges she faces in her life when her father, formerly a big drug dealer in the projects in Brooklyn, ends up arrested. The feds seize everything Winter and her family own, from their home to their designer clothing. Her sisters end up in foster care, her mother ends up breaking down. But, Winter remains strong through it all.

Reading the book, I wondered if it was a criticism and commentary on the drug dealing life or a criticism of the forces that act against that life. Winter’s father might have been doing bad things, but he was providing for his family. It’s only when the feds step in and take everything that the world starts to crumble around her.

 

The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last is the latest novel by Margaret Atwood. I picked it up when she was at the Free Library in October and only just a chance to read it. The world of the novel is one similar to our own, except that the great recession has destroyed more people’s homes and livelihoods.  Tired of living in their car, Stan and Charmaigne decide to move into the Poistron Project, which is half prison, half housing development They alternate between living in a normal house and living in the prison month after month. Their needs are taken care of, so what could go wrong?

Everything of course, and the novel gets progressively darker as it goes on. But, since it’s a Margaret Atwood story, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The story looks at the darkest depths that people can sink to while also reassuring us that there’s good in humanity.

The First Bad Man

Miranda July is a quirky strange woman, so it’s no surprise that her novel The First Bad Man is a quirky strange novel. It starts off in the office of a doctor who prescribes color to treat symptoms and falls down a rabbit hole of weirdness from there. There’s violence and strange sex and more violence, and some ideas that will deeply disturb people. I’ll say that I  enjoyed the book, and that there’s a chance you will either absolutely hate it or love it.

 

Modern Romance

I love Aziz Ansari, but I actually didn’t think I was going to read Modern Romance. I’ve been in a relationship for more than 11 years; I have no idea what the kids do in the dating field these days. I heard there’s something called Tinder.
But, the book appeals to more than just people who are single and frustrated with what dating apps hath wrought. It’s also insanely funny. I read it on a train to NYC, sitting across the aisle from a business-y looking guy, who was on his phone the entire, conducting important business, and I had to hold in my laughter.

Although the title is Modern Romance and the book is meant to look at the dating lives of a very distinct group of people (middle class 20 and 30somethings, though I wonder what they used to define middle class and if upper middle class or privileged, but not super wealthy might be a better term. Anyway.), I found that it was also relevant for modern relationships in general to some degree. Who hasn’t worried that their friends hated them or if they’d said something horribly wrong when it took more than an hour for someone to respond to a text message?

If you’ve seen Aziz’s stand up or watched his show Master of None, be warned that there is some repetition in the book. You’ll hear about that girl that never texted him back (which was a story line in Master of None) and he talks about food a lot. But, you’ll also get a lot of funny stories and an insightful look into what people who are single and dating are thinking and going through these days.

Cold Mountain

Maybe including Cold Mountain here isn’t fair, because I only read about 10 pages before deciding that I just didn’t want to read it and there was no point in continuing. It’s the One Book, One Philadelphia pick for the year and one of my book clubs is reading it, so I thought I’d give it a try.

The language is very pretty, but it’s set in the Civil War and I just couldn’t care about it. So I stopped and returned it to the library right away, so that someone else can enjoy it.

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