I’ve been reading so much all year, but changed day jobs and haven’t had time to do serious thinking about what I’ve been reading, never mind writing about it. Every once in a while I pull up the blog and see the most recent old post from last summer and it makes me anxious and sad about not participating in rich booktalk conversations here and elsewhere online.
Today as I was driving a daughter home from week 2 of her summer theater program and realized we’re already talking about the end of August, I decided I really have to put something up over the “Summer Reading” post from August 2015. To anyone who receives a notification and takes a minute to read this, my apologies that it’s such a lame post!
The other thing that is prompting me is that just two days ago I wrote an email in response to a friend who wrote asking “Do you read novels? I need something new to read. What have you been reading?” Actually it took me over a week to finish the response that I sent her (which is ridiculous because it was nothing brilliant, just that I am constantly interrupted these days and juggling too much at work). And then today I realized, the thing about the blog was, it was just supposed to be like writing to friends about books I’m reading….
So anyway, here’s some of what I wrote to my other friend (we haven’t known each other very long):
I read a lot, across many genres and eclectically in terms of the literary/lowbrow divide. I am always looking for the immersive reading experience and actively resist judgments about literary merit based on distinctions between genre and literary fiction. I read mystery, romance, some thrillers like The Girl on the Train (though I didn’t much like it and don’t know why I stuck with it), lots of historical fiction, memoir (I am a huge fan of Barbara Ehrenreich’s oeuvre! especially how far out in front she was about the whole inequality conversation), and a smattering of nonfiction, along with novels that I think of as more traditionally “literary.”
I do care (a lot) about the quality of the writing, and I love finding wonderful sentences, themes, and imagery in “unexpected” places (eg. the much maligned romance genre). I mostly read on weekends and early in the morning with my coffee (I should be exercising then, but have begun using it as reading time since I can’t stay awake reading at night as much anymore). I don’t read much so-called chick lit, which just goes to show that even an open-minded reader may be prone to dismiss books according to various marketing categories and criteria.
How interesting that we all have a recent experience of All the Light We Cannot See! I did read this book (in the traditional manner, with my eyes, not my ears) and loved the prose and the feat of it as sort of puzzle-box storytelling. It wasn’t one of my top books of recent years, however, and I’m not even really sure why. I remember thinking that the girls might like it; in spite of the serious subject matter, it had a fable/fairytale quality.
In no particular order, a short list of books I’ve read in the last year or so that either (a) I loved, or (b) stuck with me to the point that I think about themes or characters long after finishing the book, or both.
(Blog friends may note that some of these are in fact books that have been mentioned here in 2015)
We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas
The Traitor’s Wife, by Kathleen Kent
Overwhelmed, by Brigid Schulte (nonfiction)
Perfectly Miserable, by Sarah Payne Stuart (nonfiction)
The Likeness, by Tana French (and all the others in this series)
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Children’s Crusade, by Ann Packer (I may have loved this so much simply because of its sense of place; it’s set in the 70s very near where I grew up in northern California)
I do love historical fiction and always have; I haven’t read Room, but I loved Emma Donoghue’s first big book, Slammerkin. Have you both already read Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks)? I also think Sally Gunning is an underappreciated and beautiful writer of spare and powerfully moving historical novels set on Cape Cod. The Widow’s War is the first in a wonderful trilogy.
My aunt and cousins are all raving about the Elena Ferrante books, and I received the first one as a Christmas gift, but I haven’t started it yet. Another book I have on my TBR pile is Hild, by Nicola Griffith – probably appealing for a reader who already likes medieval historicals, and perhaps less so if not.
In a way, I think my email morphed into a draft catch-up post as I was writing it. I think my friend probably just wanted a couple of titles to look for at the library, but she gave me the opportunity to get the wheels turning again in my rusty writing-about-reading brain. Now I really am curious who else has been reading Ferrante? Does anyone else wonder why they have such “romance novel” covers? And why was The Girl on the Train such a big deal?
May I suggest The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, by Jodi Taylor, for light and funny history? I’m also a big fan of anything by Elizabeth Hunter, starting with “A Hidden Fire”. They are both as different from the interchangeable paranormal romances I read as a good Italian meal is from junk food.
Thank you! What a treat to receive new reading recs since books (and binge-watching) have been essential escapes for me this year. I do still keep my eyes open for a good paranormal romance (and now my teens are bringing home all YA equivalents so romance reading remains alive and well here at my house…. 😉
I’m still reading and reviewing romance, with a bit of mild crime fiction, and rom with romantic elements. I’ve really missed you on Twitter and your blog too. I’m so glad to see you back! I hope you’re well and happy! Congratulations on the new job!
Thank you! I have missed this a lot too, and trying to figure out how to work it back in now that I’m adjusting to new rhythms and routines, both in my work life and as a parent of fundamentally teens-no-longer-tweens….(they turn 13 in less than a month but sometimes I look at them and see myself at 15 or 16, in terms of their cultural and social sophistication; growing up and adolescence seem to be on fast forward these days).
I am so delighted and impressed by the excellence and consistency of your reviewing prowess…you remain a wonderful inspiration to me!
“Growing up and adolescence seem to be on fast forward these days” is true. As fast as change is for us as Western society, thus it is for the young. Not sure it’s a good thing.
But it’s wonderful to see you here again! And you’re welcome of course. I’m onto new responsibilities too for the next few years, so I don’t know whether I’ll be able to preserve my prowess. 😉 But, blogging’s supposed to be fun and for YOU, so no pressures!
So lovely to catch up with your reading list! The Ferrante books are on my TBR stack too. Most of my recent reading has been speculative fiction. Slade House was great creepy fun. Brian McNaughton’s House Across the Way might be the most terrifying horror novel I’ve ever read. And I’m re-reading (or being re-read since my husband is reading it to me in the bath) Jack Vance’s To Live Forever.
Your bath time read-aloud sounds like something you should definitely put in as a scene in a novel — how perfect! I have not read much SF but would really like to try Neil (Neal?) Stephenson… have you read the Baroque novels? I have Quicksilver on my TBR and just discovered that one of my friends is reading these this summer, so maybe I will this will be the year (I did pick it up originally a few years ago and I ran aground trying to keep track of all the characters, but I want to try again).
Good to hear your voice! I read the first of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and liked it enough to by the second, but not enough to have read the second yet. It’s really interesting on female friendship, I thought.
I just read this column about “female” covers that discusses Ferrante (Russell Smith often gets up my nose, but I think this is pretty good): http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/russell-smith-why-publishers-think-pink-for-book-covers/article30770526/
Glad you’re finding time to read, and I hope the new job is good as well as lots of work.
The Atlantic article linked in the Globe and Mail piece is also worth reading.
Hello! Thank you, and I can’t wait to catch up on what else you’ve been reading this year. I suspected I would be far from the only reader to wonder about the disconnect between the rom-com Ferrante covers and the sharp and serious writing they enclose. I am particularly interested in how young women (college and post-college age daughters of my cousins and friends) have adopted these books as emblems of a politics and worldview about female competition and friendship; I have seen instagrammed images of forcefully underlined pages and passages from the text, eg. “The solitude of women’s minds is regrettable…”