For nearly two years, I’ve been on a mission to read the books on my “to read” shelves. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve purchased since the beginning of last year. And yet it’s still shocking that I have dozens of books I haven’t cracked open since purchasing them (sorry, 1984.)
Last weekend, I started The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor. Since I don’t often read thrillers, I wasn’t expecting much from this debut novel, but the synopsis on the dust jacket seemed interesting and I was in the mood for something creepy.
The Chalk Man is divided into two time frames. In the summer of 1986, a group of teenage friends begin drawing chalk men throughout their neighborhood to communicate with one another. When they notice several white chalk men leading them into the forrest, they follow them, and discover a dismembered body. Questions arise as to who would kill this girl, but when the main suspect commits suicide, the case is put to rest. Thirty years later, the narrator, Eddie, reconnects with an old friend who is convinced he knows who the real killer is. Eddie begins to question his own experiences and decisions he and his friends made in the past.
The book is a bit slow starting off, but the last 50 pages are so filled with plot twists that it was a very exciting read. I think I’ll revisit this in a couple of months because Tudor tied everything together so perfectly at the ending, there’s bound to be foreshadowing I completely missed.
*** I do feel I should include a Trigger Warning because there’s a very graphic rape scene in the book. As someone who’s quite sensitive to depictions of sexual violence, I wish I had skipped over that section because it’s absolutely horrific. If you have the hardback edition, it will fall around pages 66- 71.
The Chalk Man. C.J. Tudor. Crown Publishing Group, 2018.
Last weekend, my parents came to visit me in Kansas. We spent our time touring new places, visiting old friends, hiking trails, and relaxing. While I loved seeing my parents, the highlight of their visit was that my mom brought me my last Book of the Month selection. I was so excited to begin David Sedaris’ newest collection of essays, and I was not disappointed.
I’ve mentioned before that I adore Sedaris. He’s hilarious, his writing is quippy, and his descriptions of living in North Carolina and France are similar to my own experiences. His writing made me love reading essays and I’ll read anything he suggests. I’ll go as far to say he’s my favorite living author (sorry Margaret Atwood, you’re my number 2.) Although he released a collection of his diaries last year, his last book was released over 5 years ago. Needless to say, I was eagerly awaiting this book and was so happy to see it on BotM.
The essays in Calypso mostly center on Sedaris’ family. There are many stories from his beach house in NC and the time he spends there with his family. Also mixed in are a few pieces on his adventures in England, namely his trash collecting and his fox pal, Carol. Sedaris doesn’t shy away from painful memories, like his sister’s suicide, or descriptions that don’t paint him in the best light. Rather, he painstakingly chronicles it all, in a way that is sometimes funny, but always insightful.
If you’re a fan of Sedaris, I think you’ll love this one, and if you’re new to essays, this collection would be a great place to start.
Calypso. David Sedaris, Little Brown & Company, 2018.
If you’ve been on this blog before, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t often dabble in science fiction. It might be unfair to lump all sci-fi and fantasy books together, but I generally find that they have too much jargon and not enough world building. I also don’t have the patience for drawn out sagas (I make an exception for Harry Potter.) I’ve been on a dystopian kick for the past three years, and, somehow, Ready Player One made it onto my list of books to read.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. While it has a lot of references to 80’s pop culture, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. For some reason, reading the book was really nostalgic, despite having never experienced the 80’s first-hand. There were a lot of technical terms, but I found that Ernest Cline was really deft at explaining those ideas without being heavy-handed.
The story is set in a futuristic America where the majority of citizens interact in an online universe called the OASIS. The death of the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, brings an action-packed quest to find his Easter egg and win control of the universe. Ready Player One focuses on contemporary issues in society as well. The hunt for Halliday’s egg quickly becomes dominated with those who wish to monopolize the OASIS (the Sixers), and keep poorer citizens from accessing it.
After several years of searching for the key to the first gate, Wade Watts, or Parzival as he is known in the OASIS, becomes the first player to get on the scoreboard. As he continues on the quest, he finds that the Sixers will stop at nothing to win control of the OASIS and must trust people he’s never met to help him win.
Ready Player One. Ernest Cline. Crown Publishers, 2016.
I’ve been in a reading slump recently, what with working overtime, expanding my social circle, trying new recipes,
and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy. Despite the lack of books I’ve been reading, I have managed to add several to my list of books I need to find time to read. Thank you Dear Fahrenheit 451. This book is a short collection of essays/ open letters to one librarian’s favorite books.
What I love about this book is that it covers a wide range of literature. While classics like Anna Karenina and Fahrenheit 451 get attention, so do collections of poems, popular fiction, and children’s books. The letters are short and quippy, perfect for reading when you don’t feel like reading. What’s more, it sheds light on whether or not librarians judge you when you check out certain books (I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades of Grey.)
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks : A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life. Annie Spence, 2017.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not technically read this book. Rather, I listened to the audio version and was completely blown away. My new job affords me eight glorious hours of audiobook/podcast listening. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve listened at least a dozen of audiobooks since starting my job at the beginning of April.
Cristina Henríquez’s novel chronicles two immigrant families’ experiences in the U.S. I adore books told from multiple perspectives, and the characters who mold this story are so sympathetic. The story revolves around two teenagers, Mayor Toro and Maribel Rivera, children of immigrants who meet after Maribel’s parents move into the Toro’s apartment building. Unbeknownst to Mayor, Maribel’s family emigrated from Mexico to seek treatment for her brain injury. As Mayor falls more in love with Maribel, their families face the difficulties of living in the U.S.: racism, low wages, and language and cultural barriers. As the two continue their relationship, their families must face the repercussions caused by it.
This has been one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. The story was great, the characters were complex, and their experiences are important. The audiobook was read by multiple people, which really helped me get into the narrative. If you’re interested in topics like identity in America, you should read this book.
The Book of Unknown Americans. Christina Henríquez, Knopf, 2014.
If novels had theme songs, the one to Naomi Alderman’s The Power would be “Electric Feel” by MGMT. But in all seriousness, The Power centers around the idea that women have awakened a biological power that allows them to dole out electric shocks, causing massive pain towards others and leading them to take power away from men.
Now, I love a good dystopian novel, especially one that focuses on women’s experiences. One of my favorite books of all time is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and I’m constantly looking for books that contemplate women’s roles in an oppressive patriarchy. I was prepared to like this book. Reviewers have said it was innovated and even my girl Maggie Ats applauded the book. It was such a letdown.
The premise is certainly interesting; women are suddenly able to tap into a biological power that makes them stronger than men. Taking a note from patriarchy, women overtake the world, subjecting the men to sexual harassment, physical abuse, and general misandry. The story follows five characters, as they experience this newfound power and the social order that becomes of it.
My problem with the book is not the premise. Alderman’s examples of misandry are well-chosen mirrors of the unfair treatment women face on a daily basis. There were scenes of sexual harassment and rape in which the perpetrators (women) claimed the victims (men) were asking for it. At some point, the government of a newly formed country mandate that all men be registered under a female keeper who will dictate how they move about the country. The examples throughout the book certainly have parallels in both history and modern-day and were effective.
However, the book seemed undeveloped. There’s so much time spent on describing how women become powerful and not enough time developing the characters or building the world in which this happened. I found it unbelievable that male dominated societies, with militaries, weapons, money, and political power could not find a way to stop these women. While I was intrigued by the ideas that people with power will abuse those without it regardless of their sex and that matriarchies can be as violent as patriarchies, I felt that those ideas were not completely fleshed out. In short, the world in which The Power takes place still seems really hazy to me, which is really disappointing.
The Power. Naomi Alderman, Viking, 2017.
When I was in college, I read Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec. I was absolutely stunned that Perec’s 500 page tome takes place in a single moment. The Dinner by Herman Koch follows a similar pattern, and while it’s not as long as the aforementioned, it still manages to build tension and stay interesting.
The premise of the book is simple: four adults, two brothers and their wives meet for dinner together. The tension over their meal builds, as they anticipate the impending conversation about their children. There’s a hint that something horrible has happened, and Koch slowly shares details that illuminate the events that transpired. Over the course of their meal, the parents come to realize that their three sons are capable of heinous acts and their parental instincts take over as they attempt to formulate a plan to deal with the repercussions of their sons’ actions.
Koch has a real talent for developing characters and building anticipation. The narrator, Paul, is unreliable af, but I found myself trusting him. Although I didn’t find any of the characters to be sympathetic or likable, I still found myself invested in their story. And, yes, the book was slow paced, but I really enjoyed Koch’s writing and didn’t mind that the book essentially builds to a single conversation.
The Dinner. Herman Koch, Horgarth, 2013.