Books: What I’ve Read This Past Spring

I’m still on track to get to my goal of reading 50 books by the end of the year, and here’s a round of up the books I’ve read this past quarter/season. Although I’m starting to wonder about the virtue of choosing quantity over quality when it comes to reading. Should I be aiming for X amount of books or should I be aiming for really challenging reads? Some books are super quick reads, but they’re the written equivalent of a milk chocolate bar, satisfying and sweet, but don’t really do much for you in the end. I think this list is a fair balance of high and low reads, some candy mixed in with more mentally nutritious stuff.

April

Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl is pretty much the fictional version of her memoir How to Be a Woman. Here we have a young woman from a poor family in the West Midlands who goes about reinventing herself after a big embarrassment on local TV. Our lead character, Johanna, renames herself Dolly Wilde and sets out to be a rock n roll journalist in London. She gets a gig, starts writing, and quickly loses sight of who she really is, lost in all the sex and anger and Mad Dog that goes with being a teenager at any time and particularly goes with being a teenager who wants to escape herself.

 

April was a bit of a feministy reading month for me. Next up was Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, her memoir.  Another short, fun read, but also a bit of a dark one, or at least darker than the other funny women memoirs I’ve read. By which I mean, Poehler talks about drugs and sex and also a bit about taking charge of your life. I momentarily turned into a bitchier person after reading this book, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

Will people ever stop writing stories about missing kids? Will I ever stop reading novels and watching television shows about them? Remember Me Like This has a bit of a different ending compared to most child’s gone missing stories, in that the story focuses on the aftermath when the kid reappears after several years. Will the family seek revenge or let the law do its job? Is the impact of the son’s return worse than if he had stayed gone?

Another way that Remember Me Like This stood out from similar stories is that it was a lot more clinical and cold feeling. It felt more journalistic in style, as though the author were presenting the facts instead of creating a story.

 

More feministy stuff. Bad Feminist is an amazing book. I’m so glad that Roxane Gay shares my love of Sweet Valley High, even while recognizing that it’s bad stuff, and that she also read the terrible Sweet Valley Confidential. I’m so glad she loves Scrabble and that she plays in tournaments. I’m also glad that she’s able to write deeply nuanced essays on the more serious things in life just as well as she’s able to write thoughtful essays on pop culture crap. The book is probably the most genuine thing I will read all year.

 

 

I felt that what I was reading April was a little too light-hearted (feminism and missing kids aside), so I finally read the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I have nothing to add to what’s been said about the book before, but it was a worthwhile read and I learned a lot about medical ethics from it.

May

 

If April’s reading was light hearted, May’s was anything but. I started out with Elephant Company, about James Williams, aka Elephant Bill, who trained elephants in colonial Burma in the early 20th century. I know, I didn’t really want to read it either, but it was a book club selection, so I figured, why not?

The book surprised me and was actually pretty engaging. Elephants are magnificent creatures and I feel glad to have read it just to learn more about them. I could take or leave the bit about traveling across Burma during World War II, but I feel that way about any “war” section of a book.

 

I owe a lot of my political thinking to reading Naomi Klein at a young age. I enjoy her work, but that doesn’t mean that This Changes Everything was an enjoyable read. Instead, it’s a walk-through of missed opportunities and frustration at government actions that undermine any good work that has been done, seemingly, to fight climate change and destruction. It is a challenging and at times frustrating read, but it ends on a positive note. Klein argues that the people are starting to shift the tide and take action to keep climate change from being as terrible as it could be. There’s a lot of work to be done, but she gives us  hope.

 

Yeah, this is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic, season 10, volume 1. I guess the series is getting a little played out at this point, but I’ll probably keep reading them. Dracula returns in this one, Xander gets to do his sad slave to Dracula bit, Dawn (who was nearly erased when magic went away (spoilers, by the way)), doesn’t remember loving Xander, and now some vampires can go out and about in the sunlight. What will we do? Read the rest of season 10, I guess.

 

There are a lot of great books that were published when I was in college that I completely missed. We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of them. (Look at Me, which I just finished reading, was another). The book is told in letters from a wife to her husband after their son does something absolutely terrible. She’s using the letters to trace their story together. It’s not so much that she needs to make sense of what her son (Kevin) has done, but to prove to her husband that she was right about him all along. At least, that’s how I read it. Some argue that she’s working her way through blame or that she feels really guilty about how her role as a parent led to Kevin’s violence. It’s an in-depth look at what can happen when a person who doesn’t want children has them and has to deal with the fact that she doesn’t love her child the way she’s supposed to.

June

After all that gloom and doom in May, I started off June with a bit of post-modern historical fiction, in the form of the novel Viper Wine. Featuring historical characters and a lot of anachronism, the novel focuses on Venetia Stanley, who was once a great beauty. At the start of the story, she’s in her early 30’s, fat from having children, and feeling less than her best. In an attempt to regain her magic, she seeks out a potion, called viper wine, which does make her more youthful looking and prettier, but at a high cost.

Although the book was an enjoyable read, I’m not sure that the anachronisms (Venetia’s husband, an alchemist, is able to reach forward in time, and regularly  hears snatches of pop songs, for example) really did much to help it. It felt a little too pedantic and as though the author was trying  a bit too hard to make a connection between the often out-there things women did for beauty back then (belladonna in the eyes, snails, viper wine), and the things women do for beauty today (Botox, fat dissolving shots, and vampire facelifts). The characters might be based on people who really lived, but they did end up feeling a bit flat and undeveloped.

 

The Girl on the Train is one of those books you can’t really discuss in depth without giving away some of the plot. I can’t really get into a discussion about the depth of character here or how the author really played with your perceptions of things without telling you all who did it. So, I won’t. But, know this: my first thought when reading this was that all of the women characters were over the top, female stereotypes, which annoyed me. But, in the end, I think that was part of the point, to demonstrate the way they were played and manipulated by someone throughout the book.

 

I really like Ian McEwan’s books, and Sweet Tooth is no exception. This was the second time I’ve read it. Like some of his other works, there’s a twist at the end that plays with your perception of who is telling the story. The book is narrated by Serena Frome, a just-graduated-from-university (Cambridge) young woman who is recruited to MI-5 in the 1970s. She doesn’t expect much from the job, as back then, women didn’t really get to do much, but soon finds herself running an agent, in the form of a talented young writer (who seems to write stories that bear a lot of similarity to McEwan’s early work) the ministry wants to use to promote anti-Communist ideas, all while not appearing to have any role in at all. It’s a pretty clever book.