top 5 tuesday: Books for Non-Readers

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm.  This week’s topic:

SEPTEMBER 12TH – Top 5 recommendations for non readers

If you’re not a reader, I’m not sure what you’re doing on my book blog, but hello!  I have some recommendations for you!  What kind of non-reader are you?

“I don’t read because books are boring.”  Try:

32796253Final Girls by Riley Sager: This novel is essentially a love letter to the horror genre, and while it may not be the most terrifying thing you’ve ever read, I guarantee that it’s going to be one of the most addicting.  I find that a lot of the time people who don’t read get bored with books easily and put them down after a few chapters, so my remedy for that is to suggest a book that’s going to be impossible to put down.  Look no further than Final Girls!


“I don’t read because I don’t have enough time.”  Try:

518f2bgo8wyl-_sx312_bo1204203200_The Grownup by Gillian Flynn: For any non-readers who are find high page counts daunting for whatever reason – try a short story!  This is the only Gillian Flynn that I’ve read so far, but I loved it.  It grabs you from the very first unforgettable sentence, and takes you on a crazy ride.  It’s part mystery, part thriller, part horror – a sort of modern, contemporary spin on the haunted house premise – and it ends up being nothing like you expect when you start it.


“I don’t read because I don’t like fiction.”  Try:

5096865In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  Capote tells the true story of the murder of the Clutter family in 1959 Kansas, focusing on the capture and the execution of the killers.  While there’s a bit of fictionalization in the way Capote spins this story (notably including bits of dialogue that he couldn’t possibly have been privy to), it’s a mostly faithful and thought-provoking account.  If you’re someone who doesn’t like a lot of fiction, try a true crime book like this one, or a biography or memoir.


“I don’t read because I just want to relax at the end of a long day.”  Try:

259912The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice.  I had to wrack my brains to come up with something outside my usual tragic and depressing tastes, but we got there in the end.  This is actually one of my favorite books ever – I read it several times as a teenager and it is just so damn delightful.  It’s a sort of coming of age, romance, vaguely chick lit-y thing set in 1950s London.  If you’re looking for something that makes you feel happy and isn’t terribly intellectually rigorous, look no further!


“I don’t read because I’m more of a visual person.”  Try:

220px-funhomecoverFun Home by Alison Bechdel: And finally, I feel like it would be remiss to not mention a graphic novel.  Admittedly it’s the only one I’m familiar with, but I still love it a lot.  In Fun Home Alison Bechdel recounts what it was like to grow up in a funeral home, though it’s mostly a story about her relationship with her father, and coming to terms with her sexuality.  The illustrations here are gorgeous, so if you’re a visual person, you’ll love it, though the prose is strong on its own.

What books would you recommend to non-readers?  And have you read any of my choices?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Things That Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini

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THINGS THAT HAPPENED BEFORE THE EARTHQUAKE by Chiara Barzini
★★★☆☆
Doubleday Books, August 2017

What an aptly titled book: “Things That Happened.” This is a book about things happening – one after another in monotonous succession. Well, it’s actually about an Italian girl, Eugenia, who relocates to Los Angeles with her family in the 1990s, but where it endeavors to be a candid coming of age story, it falls short with a pace that languishes and a promise of emotional poignancy that never really delivers. I was unable to form an emotional connection with any of these characters, and the whole thing came across as rather trite.

Where Things That Happened Before the Earthquake failed for me was the style of narration. It was cold and detached in a way that I’m unable to reconcile with the POV of a teenage girl who’s been uprooted from her home and transported into a different culture. Eugenia envelops herself in what she refers to as her “rubber suit” – she remains purposefully detached from a lot of what transpires around her, and the narrative result is that it’s almost impossible to understand her behavior or personality. She seems more mature than your average 15 year old while also making a lot of terrible teenage decisions.

Having read this, I now completely understand why no one seems to know whether to classify this novel as adult or YA. On the one hand, it deals with teenage issues – sex, love, identity – but on the other hand, there’s some seriously dark and graphic stuff in here. Trigger warning for animal abuse, and… kind of rape? I guess? Minor spoiler: Eugenia’s first time having sex is… potentially non-consensual but then swept under the rug by the narrative and never really addressed again, and that whole thing made me really uncomfortable.

But onto the good – this is a 3 star review after all. Contrary to my chronic tendency toward negativity, I didn’t hate this book. Chiara Barzini is a fantastic writer, and even through Eugenia’s detached narration, Barzini’s prose shines. This story is told with unflinching honesty and humor, and at times it’s a delight to read.

Ultimately: I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. This was just a kind of monotonous read that I wanted to end much sooner than it did.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Doubleday Books, and Chiara Barzini.

book review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng
★★★★☆
Penguin Press, September 12, 2017

Celeste Ng has done it again. Like her stunning debut, Everything I Never Told YouLittle Fires Everywhere is a book that grabs you from the first page, but it isn’t until you’re fully immersed in the story that you begin to realize what an accomplishment it is. There’s something about the careful construction of her novels that calls to mind a tapestry – how each element adroitly fits in to complement the whole.

The premise of this novel is this: Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl move to a small, progressive town in Ohio called Shaker Heights, where they befriend a wealthy family, the Richardsons. Meanwhile, one of Mia’s friends, a Chinese woman named Bebe, abandons her infant daughter in a fit of desperation in order to provide her with a better life. The Shaker Heights community is divided by the fate of this child, and Mrs. Richardson digs into Mia Warren’s past as a schism forms between them.

At its core, this is a book about motherhood, and I’ll be honest, that is usually not my favorite subject to read about. I’m burned out with the ‘how far would a parent go to protect their child’ premise – I think I read too many Jodi Picoult books in high school. But Little Fires Everywhere offers a subtler examination of this theme, which dovetails with several others – conformity, race, belonging, and the cost of community.

As always, Ng’s prose is light and effortless. She blends third person omniscient prose with an unnerving intimacy, drawing you into the heart and soul of her characters in a way that’s difficult to accomplish in such a short novel.

I didn’t put this novel down feeling quite as stunned and breathless as I had after Everything I Never Told You, but that’s only because Ng’s debut was such a tour de force. Little Fires Everywhere is an extraordinary follow up, just as intelligent and thought-provoking and nuanced as I knew Ng was capable of. Ng has solidified her position as an auto-buy author for me. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

4.5 stars – changed from 5 to 4 on Goodreads after a few days upon further reflection!

I chose this book as my September Book of the Month selection.  If you’re interested in checking out this great subscription service, use my referral link!

book review: All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan

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ALL WE SHALL KNOW by Donal Ryan
★★★★★
Penguin, 2017

This book was stunning.

I’m struggling to give a brief summary of the plot, because although it’s a relatively simple story, everything I write feels reductive of the emotional journey that Donal Ryan takes the reader on, and the larger themes that he explores in his narrative. The bare bones of the novel are this: 33-year-old, married Melody Shee finds herself pregnant by a 17-year-old boy who she was teaching to read. But it’s not really a book about marriage and affairs. At the heart of this story is the bond that Melody forms with a young Traveller girl, Mary, as the focus shifts to their weird and unconventional friendship as Melody seeks atonement for something that happened in her past.

Ryan’s prose is lyrical and gorgeous. It’s the kind of carefully constructed writing that forces you to slow down and really take in each word. It’s a short novel, but one that’s not to be rushed through. I loved the experience of reading this as much as I love the impression it left me with.

This is ultimately a story about guilt, redemption, and betrayal, told with a searing and brutal honesty that made my heart race. This is one of those books that isn’t afraid of confronting the ugliness of human nature – how we’re capable of hurting those we love, how we lie to ourselves to cope with bad decisions we’ve made. I felt Melody’s pain and regret so acutely while I was reading this.

All We Shall Know is an intense, draining, and emotionally exhausting read – and all in under 200 pages. This was my first Ryan novel, but I have The Spinning Heart sitting on my shelf, and I think I need to bump it up on my TBR after how much I loved this.

top 10 tuesday: Worth the Effort?

Hey guys!  I just got back from a fantastic Labor Day weekend in NYC, where I didn’t spend much time online (though if you’d like to see some of my US Open pictures, you can check out my Instagram).  I did a quick scan of my dashboard on here this morning, but if I missed any posts you’d like me to see, let me know!

Now let’s get to it.

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish – to join in the fun, check out their blog here!

September 5Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Loving or Ten Books That Were A Chore To Get Through or Ten Books I’ve Most Recently Put Down (the theme is…books you had a hard time with…tweak it how ever you need)

I’m going to interpret this prompt as asking the question ‘Is this book worth the effort?’  We’ve got a few different answers.

NO:

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  I had to read this book for my eleventh grade American literature class.  Maybe I’d get more out of it if I read it now… but I don’t know.  The symbolism didn’t go over my head – I ‘got it,’ but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s like seven hundred pages of a dude following a whale around in a boat.

 

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Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  Maybe I just don’t like books set on boats.  Hmm.  There’s probably something to that.  Anyway, I found this book insufferable.  I read this for my twelfth grade AP Lit class, which is a shame because I loved every other book I had to read for that course.  Another one that I ‘got’ but hated every minute of reading.  I found it pretty pretentious and impenetrable… and I am a self-proclaimed lover of all things pretentious, so if that’s a criticism coming from me, you know it’s probably pretty extreme.

32283423American War by Omar El Akkad.  This is one of those books that I had to really push myself through, and when I finished it, I felt nothing but relief that it was finally over.  I wanted to love it because the premise is fascinating and seems relevant, but I struggled with El Akkad’s world building and narrative structure.  It wasn’t compelling, it didn’t feel half as tragic as he meant for it to be, it was just an overwhelmingly bland reading experience.  Some people love this book, so if it hooks you from the onset, you are probably good to go.  But if you struggle with the beginning, you should probably just put it down, because it doesn’t get any better.

59716To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.  Okay, I’ll admit it.  I didn’t get it.  And it’s not a case of me reading the book when I was too young, I don’t think, seeing as I read it last year when I was 24.  It still completely went over my head.  This is I think the first and only book I’ve read in my adult life where I’ve needed to consult Sparknotes to make sense of what the heck I was reading.  The Sparknotes analyses made it sound interesting… but I would be lying if I said I got any of that from the text itself.  Another one that I’d suggest putting down if you’re struggling early on.  I may give Woolf another try at some point, but I have to admit, this one was pretty rough going for me.

MAYBE:

168668Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  I never know how to explain my experience with this book.  It was… difficult.  It’s a very, very, very, very long-winded satire about the American military during WWII, and while I found some of the humor absolutely hilarious, a lot of it totally missed the mark.  Basically, here’s the bottom line with Catch-22: if you’ve started it and you’re finding it challenging but rewarding, keep going.  If you’re hating every second of it, put it down immediately, because it’s just going to be more of the same.  But I can never decide which of those sides I’m on.  Maybe a bit of both.

10664113A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin.  I love the A Song of Ice and Fire series.  I’m very invested in these characters and this narrative.  But this book… while I devoured the first four books in this series in a matter of days or weeks, I was slogging through ADWD for months.  The fourth and fifth books were initially meant to be one massive novel which GRRM’s editors suggested splitting into two books along geographical regions, and it just so happened that all of my favorite POV characters ended up in A Feast For Crows and all of my least favorites ended up in A Dance With Dragons.  Is it worth it to push through this book?  I don’t know.  The next book in the series famously has not been published yet, so it’s hard to say if the struggle with ADWD was worth it.  It entirely depends on the direction that the series takes from here.  But I’m crossing my fingers.  I want to continue loving these books.  I’m hoping this was a random blip.

YES:

227463A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.  I know I keep talking about this one lately, but that’s only because it’s so good.  There’s no denying that this is a difficult book to read, but it is 100% worth the effort to persevere.  This book is a fascinating look at youth violence, toxic masculinity, the relationship between the state and the individual, and ultimately, the question of whether it’s better to choose to be evil or to be forced to be good.  My advice is to just stick it out, and don’t look up literally every single Nadsat word in the glossary, because that will start to drive you insane – just hone in on the ones you see the most often, and it will all start to make sense sooner than you think.

12938King Lear by William Shakespeare.  I’m not a Shakespeare expert by any means, but I think this is one of his more difficult plays, both in terms of accessibility of language and depth of themes.  But it is one of the most fascinating and tragic things I’ve ever read.  Advice: just take it slow, get an edition like Folger (pictured here) that translates some of the trickier phrases on the opposite side of the page, read it aloud when you need to, and just enjoy it.

1371The Iliad by Homer.  While it’s often overlooked for its more accessible peer, The Odyssey, I prefer The Iliad a thousand times over.  I don’t even know how to explain what it is about this book… the epic scope of it and the larger than life characters and the tragic and fascinating conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans – everything about this story is gorgeous and cinematic and compelling.  My advice: SKIM (OR JUST SKIP) THE ‘CATALOG OF SHIPS’ CHAPTER.  As we all know, The Iliad started out as an oral poem, and the infamous ‘Catalog of ships’ was basically the Homeric equivalent of being at a rock concert and the band going ‘any fans from Toronto?  from Los Angeles?  from Boston?’ and the crowd cheers in response.  Don’t read through it and try to memorize names or places, because you will lose your mind and they ultimately don’t matter very much to the narrative.  But once you’re through this chapter, it’s smooth sailing.

24280Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  This book isn’t difficult to read, at all, it’s just long.  My advice is to choose an accessible translation (my favorite is the Signet classics Fahenstock & McAfee translation, pictured here, which is also the most famous and easiest to find) and just go for it.  This is my favorite book of all time – the story is gorgeous and heartbreaking and immersive and wonderful and I guarantee that you will not regret the time you put into this incredible book.

What are some books that were worth the effort for you guys?  And what about the ones that weren’t?  What do you think of my choices?  Tell me in the comments!

The Unpopular Opinions Book Tag

I’ve seen this tag around so many times and I always want to do it but I never remember to.  Steph just posted it and I couldn’t resist this time.  I’m sure this goes without saying, but, beware of unpopular opinions?!

1.) A popular book or book series that you didn’t like.

51gy2mlxabl-_sx328_bo1204203200_All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.  Alright, here we go.  People love this book and defend it so passionately, but the whole time I was reading it I felt like my skin was crawling.  In this novel Greenwood depicts a relationship between an adult man in his 20s and a child who’s aged 8-13 for the bulk of the story, and I just could not get on board.  This crossed a line for me.  Because of power dynamics inherent to that kind of age gap, a child is not capable of consenting.  Period.  I don’t care how mature she is, how much life had screwed her out of a proper childhood.  I failed to find the romance and the magic in this story.  Greenwood certainly brought more nuance to the subject than I had thought was possible, but this just wasn’t for me.  I was also very underwhelmed by the writing style, alas.

2.) A popular book or book series that everyone else seems to hate but you love.

9669332I sorted my read bookshelf on Goodreads as rating – low to high, and it made me sad to see that this was the lowest. Donnarumma all’assalto is an interesting examination on industrialism and the working class in 20th century Italy, which was the focus of my modern Italian lit course that I read this book for.  But since I sincerely doubt that this book has been translated into English, it’s kind of a lame answer. So I will also include….

30753832The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo.  I’m not sure why the Goodreads rating on this one is so low.  Maybe the comparisons to Room and Everything I Never Told You ended up hurting it.  Granted, it’s not much like either of those books, but I thought it was strong in its own right.  It’s about a high school girl who witnesses the kidnapping of one of her classmates, and struggles to come to terms with it.  It’s a quick, interesting read.

 

3.) An otp that you don’t like.

31931941Shamelessly copying Steph here.  Eliza and Wallace from Eliza and Her Monsters.  I loved this book, but I hated the way Wallace treated Eliza throughout it.  To me it felt like he was projecting his ideal of the dream nerd girl onto Eliza without actually getting to know her.  And then his behavior at the end was beyond uncool.  Sorry dude, but I do not sympathize.

 

4.) A popular book genre that you hardly reach for.

YA.  I only read YA when a book has been recommended to me by someone who gets my reading tastes.  Because for every YA book I like, there are about ten that I don’t.  The odds aren’t very good, so I have to be discerning about which ones I choose to read.

5.) A popular/beloved character that you do not like

23437156 22299763Matthias Helvar from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.  Oh, Matthias.  It’s not that I hate him as much as I think that he is one of the most boring characters who’s ever existed.  His redemption arc is so straightforward and basic, and while the rest of the characters in this series feel like real, three-dimensional people, Matthias just feels like a YA trope.  A YA trope with the personality of stale bread.

6.) A popular author that you can’t seem to get into.

10956 2187Jeffrey Eugenides. I’ve only read two of this man’s books (The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, in that order), and they remain two of the worst books I’ve ever read.  There’s just something about his writing style that is so grating to me, and I can’t help but to feel like his books address themes and subjects which are somewhat outside of his grasp.  Not a fan.

7.) A popular book trope that you’re tired of seeing.

The beauty and the beast trope: attractive woman sees the inner beauty of an unattractive man and they live happily ever after.  Funny how it never seems to happen the other way around.  Why is the concept of a handsome man falling in love with an unattractive woman so uncomfortable to us?  (If this is something that interests you, I’d recommend the Italian novel Fosca by Ugo Tarchetti!  Which inspired the musical Passion by Stephen Sondheim.)

8.) A popular series that you have no interest in reading.

Anything by Cassandra Clare or Sarah J. Maas.  Again, I will occasionally dabble in YA fantasy… but both of these authors strike me as being a bit too YA fantasy.

9.) The saying goes “the book is always better than the movie,” but what movie or tv show adaptation do you prefer more than the book?

4954833Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.  The book was… okay.  Toibin is a good writer, but I thought it was sort of difficult to get into the head of the main character, Eilis.  In the film, Saoirse Ronan’s fantastic performance brought this character and this story to life, and made me care in a way that I really hadn’t while reading the book.  It’s not a bad novel, and I’d recommend reading it, but it’s just missing that ‘it factor’ that the film has.

Tagging Chelsea, Callum, and Hadeer.  But feel free to pass, obviously.

What did you guys think of my choices?  Comment and let’s discuss!