End of Year Survey 2017

Before we get to the survey, a few statistics for my reading year:

READING GOAL: 60
BOOKS READ: 106

January: 9 (favorite: East of Eden by John Steinbeck)
February: 11 (favorite: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee)
March: 10 (favorite: Bright Air Black by David Vann)
April: 8 (favorite: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid)
May: 7 (favorite: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell)
June: 7 (favorite: The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney)
July: 11 (favorite: Human Acts by Han Kang)
August: 9 (favorite: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne)
September: 6 (favorite: All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan)
October: 7 (favorite: Bird Box by Josh Malerman)
November: 9 (favorite: The Absolutist by John Boyne)
December: 12 (favorite: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis)

1 star: 6
2 stars: 11
3 stars: 25
4 stars: 35
5 stars: 29

Books by men: 38 (36%)
Books by women: 68 (64%)

Now here’s a survey that was created by Perpetual Page Turner, that I think is going to be a good comprehensive end of year review, so let’s do this.

2017-book-survey

2017 READING STATS

Number Of Books You Read: 106
Number of Re-Reads: 0
Genre You Read The Most From: I think I would lose my mind if I actually tried to do an official tally of this, so I’m just going to go out on a limb and say literary fiction.

BEST IN BOOKS

1. Best Book You Read In 2017?

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  Runners up here.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Several.  Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman, All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, Yesterday by Felicia Yap…

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

In a good way: Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge.  This was such a simple book that had a really strong effect on me.
In a bad way: White Fur by Jardine Libaire.  Ugh.  I’ve talked about this enough.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

Oh god, so many.  I think The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne probably takes the cake, though…

5. Best series you started in 2017? Best Sequel of 2017? Best Series Ender of 2017?

Series I started: the Alexander the Great trilogy by Mary Renault.
Best sequel: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin I guess, though I didn’t love it unreservedly.  I just didn’t read many sequels this year.
Best series ender (also technically a sequel): Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2017?

John Boyne, Agatha Christie… more here.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone? 

A Fugitive in Grass Valley by I.M. Flippy.  Before this year I would have said that I don’t read romance, ever, but then my friend wrote this book and I thought ‘okay what the heck let’s give it a go’ and I ended up loving it unreservedly.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

I’m not sure why this has such a low rating on Goodreads, but I sped through When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn – I literally could not put it down.

9. Book You Read In 2017 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year? 

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh.  It’s a play, not a novel, but anyway, I think I’ll reread it in the next couple of weeks.  I love it a lot.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017? 

I know how lame it is that I’m not actually including an image in this post, but for some reason my browser keeps freezing when I go to the ‘add media’ thingy, so whatever.  Human Acts by Han Kang.

11. Most memorable character of 2017? 

I can’t possibly pick one… Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Tristan Sadler from The Absolutist by John Boyne, Cyril Avery from The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, Pyrrhus from An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis, Melody Shee from All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan, Edmund from King Lear, Ryan Cusack from The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney, Ava Antipova from Dead Letters by Cate Dolan-Leach, Noa from Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Cathy Ames or Cal Trask from East of Eden by John Steinbeck…

Do you think that’s enough?!

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2017? 

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2017?

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read?

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  This is easy.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2017? 

“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.”

— David Mitchell, Black Swan Green

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2017?

Shortest: Medea by Euripides.
Longest: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most? 

I just finished Confessions by Kanae Minato, and the end of the first chapter made me yell “OH MY GOD” out loud, which I think is a new one for me.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!) 

Kaz/Inej from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo or Tristan/Will from The Absolutist by John Boyne (though their ‘relationship’ was not really what I had expected).

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year? 

Maybe Oliver and Filippa from If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2017 From An Author You’ve Read Previously. 

Human Acts by Han Kang and East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

21. Best Book You Read In 2017 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure.

When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen, which was a lot of fun – thanks, Hadeer!

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?

Hmm.  I’m not big on book crushes, but I’ll say James from If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.

23. Best 2017 debut you read? 

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Anything by Martin McDonagh because I am a very morbid individual who only enjoys black comedy as far as humor is concerned.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2017?

Human Acts by Han Kang, The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, The Absolutist also by John Boyne.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year? 

Translations by Brian Friel.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2017? 

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, hands down.  It’s told in Joycean stream of consciousness prose, and it is… interesting to say the least.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.  Explanation here.

BLOGGING/BOOKISH LIFE

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2017? 

This is actually the year I started blogging!  This is so difficult because I literally love all of you guys, but the two blogs that stand out to me are Steph‘s and Callum‘s.  Steph has become a good friend outside of blogging (we got to meet up in October and see depressing theatre together, friendship solidified) and her blog is wonderful; and Callum has been the source of many of my most interesting bookish conversations this year, and has provided me with nothing but excellent recs!  Go follow them both.

(For the sake of simplifying this answer for myself I’m not including people I already knew before blogging, i.e., Chelsea, Hadeer, Patrick.  All of whom have excellent blogs as well.)

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2017? 

Don’t ask me why, but maybe my review of Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn.

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

I’m very partial to my Top 5 Wednesday Fancasts post.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)? 

Hmm, pass, I think?!

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2017? 

Does starting my blog count?  I think it does.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year? 

Pushing myself through War and Peace when I was so unenthusiastic about it.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

Um, apparently it’s my 3-star review of Roses of May by Dot Hutchinson.  I… have absolutely no idea why.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love? 

I have no idea, but I’ll take this opportunity to say that I did work very hard on my Greek and Roman Mythology recommendations post.

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)? 

This bookstore in Montreal where you literally need to inch your way around overflowing towers of books was quite interesting.  I don’t actually remember what it’s called, but I remember what street it’s on so I could look it up on google maps.

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

I only participated in the Goodreads reading challenge, and I set my goal for 60, which I think I completed as early as July!

LOOKING AHEAD

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2017 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2018? 

Hadeer lent me The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander ages ago but I haven’t gotten around to it – definitely soon, though!

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2018 (non-debut)? 

Circe by Madeline Miller – I loved The Song of Achilles so I can’t wait to read this!  I actually have the ARC, I just need to make time for it.

3. 2018 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi sounds excellent.

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2018?

Hmm, pass, not a big series reader… though I guess I’ll finally get around to reading The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin at some point, so let’s go with that.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2018?

I’m working on a resolutions post, but one of my resolutions is to read more books I already own.  My shelves are overflowing.

6. A 2018 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee was a lovely and thoughtful book about mental illness and the toll it takes on the relationship between two Chinese-American sisters.  It comes out in January and I recommend it very highly.

Happy New Years, everyone!  I hope you all have fun tonight if you have plans, but if not, I hope everyone has a really excellent 2018!  I’m very happy that I joined this community this year and met so many absolutely wonderful people.

wrap up: December 2017

  • Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis ★★★★★ + review
  • The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride ★★★☆☆ + review
  • Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee ★★★★☆ + review
  • The English Wife by Lauren Willig ★★★★☆ + review
  • The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin ★★★☆☆ + review
  • Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman ★★★★☆ + review
  • Very Good Lives by JK Rowling ★★★★☆
  • A Skull in Connemara by Martin McDonagh ★★★☆☆ + review
  • The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn ★★★☆☆ + review
  • milk and honey by Rupi Kaur ★☆☆☆☆ + mini review
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen ★★☆☆☆ + mini review
  • Confessions by Kanae Minato ★★★★☆ + review

Best: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Runner up: Confessions by Kanae Minato
Worst: milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

DECEMBER TOTAL: 12
YEARLY TOTAL: 106

Only one 5 star book, but not a bad reading month overall!  And definitely one of my more prolific months of reading – having time off work for the holidays certainly didn’t hurt.

I think I’m going to post a separate yearly wrap up, so I don’t have much more to say here, but here’s what I’m currently reading: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (I really thought I was going to love this but it’s like pulling teeth, I have considered DNFing more than once but I think I’ll stick it out) and Elmet by Fiona Mozley (I barely started this but I think I’m going to like it).

I think I’m going to indulge my mood reading habits a bit more in the new year, so I can’t promise what I’m reading next.  But I am doing a group read of The Game of Kings (the first book in the Lymond Chronicles) by Dorothy Dunnett in January with Chelsea, Steph, and Hadeer, so I’m looking forward to that!

What’s the best book you read in December?  Comment and let me know!

Best Books of 2017

I had a pretty great reading year, so narrowing this down was kind of torturous, but here we go.  Here are my favorite reads of 2017!  As with my least favorite books list, these are books that I read in 2017 – they were not necessarily published this year.

Honorable mentions: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, Bright Air Black by David Vann, The Absolutist by John Boyne, Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Translations by Brian Friel, An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia, King Lear by Shakespeare… it took me a very long time to narrow this list down, as you can see.

2323003010. The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh.  I came very close to not including this, because it’s a play, not a novel, unlike everything else on this list… and yet.  The books I was considering talking about in its stead just didn’t have the same impact on me.  The Pillowman is one of the darkest and most macabre things I’ve ever read, but also one of the most stimulating and fascinating.  A writer, Katurian, living in some kind of totalitarian state, is interrogated about the content of his stories, which bear a striking resemblance to a series of child murders that have occurred recently in this society.  In his typical style of black comedy, McDonagh examines the relationship between those who create art and those who interact with it – what responsibility does an author have over how his work is received?  Grim, devastating, twisted, and mind-blowingly entertaining.

Right at this moment, I don’t care if they kill me. I don’t care. But they’re not going to kill my stories. They’re not going to kill my stories. They’re all I’ve got.

and-then-there-were-none9. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  I couldn’t be happier about discovering Agatha Christie this year – so far I’ve read six of her books and I haven’t given a single one a rating lower than 4 stars.  But the standout for me was actually the first one I read, And Then There Were None, her acclaimed murder mystery set on an island off the English coast.  Ten strangers are invited to a mysterious dinner party on this island, and then one by one, begin to get picked off – and they each believe the murderer is one of their fellow guests.  Rather tragically, I’d already seen the BBC miniseries and knew the twist before I read the book, but I suppose it’s a testament to Christie’s skill that I still loved the novel so much.  It’s delightfully creepy and atmospheric, and even knowing the resolution ahead of time, it still blew me away.

In the midst of life, we are in death.

184985588. Bird Box by Josh Malerman.  This wonderfully creepy book is everything I could have hoped for in a horror novel.  Rather than trying to scare the reader through monsters and gore, Malerman takes a simple premise and taps into a primal fear – that of darkness and the unknown.  In Bird Box, there’s something outside that’s causing civilization to collapse, because when people see it, they lose their minds and commit acts of violence against themselves and against others.  Forced to stay inside in a house full of strangers, twenty-something-year-old pregnant Malorie does whatever she can to survive in this new world, and her story is tragic and harrowing and unexpectedly moving.  This is hands down the best horror novel I’ve read, and one of the scariest.

You can smell it, too. Death. Dying. Decay. The sky is falling, the sky is dying, the sky is dead.

329685587. All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan.  This is a book that crept up on me.  From the very first page I was struck by the mastery of Donal Ryan’s prose, but it wasn’t until I was pretty far into this book that I realized just how strong of an effect it was having on me.  All We Shall Know is a contemporary Irish novel about 33-year-old Melody Shee, who finds herself pregnant by a 17-year-old boy – the novel chronicles Melody’s pregnancy as well as her developing friendship with a young Traveller girl.  Seeking atonement for an event in her past, Melody is one of the best anti-heroines I’ve ever encountered, and one of the characters who’s haunted me the most from any of the books I’ve read this year.  Donal Ryan’s storytelling and insight into human nature is fiercely, unnervingly realistic, and this book is as unsettling as it is beautiful.

I could still fly to London and end this, and come back and say, Yes, Pat, I was lying, and he could persuade himself to believe me, and we could take a weekend break somewhere and be massaged together, and walk along a river hand in hand, and stand beneath a waterfall and feel the spray on our faces and laugh, and think about the cave behind the falling water, cut off from the world, and all the roaring peace to be found there, and have a drink in the bar after dinner, and go to bed, and turn to one another’s flesh for warmth, and find only a hard coldness there, and no accommodation, no forgiveness of sins; and we’d turn away again from one another, and lie apart facing upwards and send words into eternity about babies never born, and needs unmet, and prostitutes and internet sex and terrible unforgivable sins and swirling infinities of blame and hollow retribution, and we could slow to a stop as the sun crept up, and turn from each other in familiar exhaustion, and sleep until checking-out time on pillows wet with tears.

173436. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.  I am in complete and utter awe of this book.  Though it begins as a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, C.S. Lewis instead focuses on the story of one of Psyche’s sisters, Orual, and tells an absolutely heart-wrenching story that meditates on beauty and ugliness, on a woman’s role in society, and on man’s relationship with the gods.  Orual is one of the most complex female characters from anything I’ve ever read, and this book made me realize I’d been severely underestimating C.S. Lewis ever since I disliked Narnia when I was younger.  This book is an absolute masterpiece.  I lost track of the amount of times I had to go back and re-read a passage because I found it so striking.

“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

294410965. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney.  This book in set in modern day Cork, Ireland, and follows five characters – a teenage drug-dealer, his alcoholic father, a notorious gangster, his elderly mother, and a former prostitute taking refuge in religion.  This story is told with biting and irreverent humor, and I found it wickedly entertaining – but more than that, it’s an unflinching and powerful look at crime in contemporary Ireland, and the inter-generational cycle of poverty that drives it.  Despite the pervasive humor, this is a rather bleak and depressing read, culminating in a positively harrowing conclusion for at least one of the characters, but if you can stomach the bleakness and the profanity, this book is so rewarding and thought-provoking.

I hold onto her and tell her I love her and tell her I’ll do anything she wants me to do but beyond my words and her weight in my arms there’s the knowing we fucked this up. There was something beautiful here once.”

9781101906729-us4. Human Acts by Han Kang.  This is the most brutal book I have read, ever.  As in, graphic descriptions of decaying corpses type brutal.  But it’s also one of the most beautiful.  Set in South Korea during the Gwangju Uprising of 1980, Human Acts is told in a series of vignettes that center around a boy, Dong-ho, who is killed in the massacre.  In this novel Han Kang examines the question of whether it’s possible for human beings to live without violence, or whether violence is an inherent part of the human experience (a theme also present on a more microcosmic scale in The Vegetarian).  Human Acts is powerful, thoughtful, and unsparing.  I couldn’t stop thinking about this book for weeks.

Every time I recall the blood that flowed in the small hours of that night – literally flowed, gushing over the stairs in the pitch dark – it strikes me that those deaths did not belong solely to those who died. Rather, they were a substitute for the deaths of others. Many thousands of deaths, many thousands of hearts’ worth of blood.

299837113. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.  Set against the backdrop of the Japanese annexation of Korea in the early twentieth century, Pachinko is a multi-generational family saga that follows one family from a small Korean village to Japan.  In their new home, Sunja and her family face systematic discrimination for being Korean – they’re forced to navigate their new life never fully accepted by this society in which they’re made to live.  Not only is Pachinko a gorgeous, immersive, heartbreaking story, it’s also incredibly informative – Min Jin Lee provides an unflinching look at Japanese-Korean relations, and paints a detailed portrait of the Korean immigrant experience.  But history never overpowers the narrative or these brilliant, vibrant characters who take center-stage.  Pachinko is a beautiful novel and a nuanced exploration of national and cultural identity, and even though I read this book in February, I still think about it all the time.

Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.

332532152. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne.  A sweeping epic about the life of a gay man growing up in twentieth century Ireland, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.  Boyne balances humor and gravitas with aplomb – I’ve never read anything else that strikes this balance so masterfully.  The novel follows the life of Cyril, adopted and raised by the wealthy Avery family but constantly reminded by his adoptive parents that he’s not a real Avery, and he happens to be in love with his only friend, Julian.  Cyril is an aggravating yet incredibly well-crafted protagonist – he makes arguably unforgivable mistakes, but never out of malice, only out of a desire to find his place in a society that refuses to accept him.  In this novel Boyne also examines the sociopolitical climate of Dublin in the twentieth century, exploring themes of religion, sexuality, the hypocrisy of the Irish Catholic church, and the way social attitudes change over time.  It’s a stunning and ambitious book, both heartening and heartbreaking.  I sobbed a grand total of three times while reading this, but even though it emotionally wrecked me, I had tears in my eyes from laughter much more often.

Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.

img1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  This book is a masterpiece.  I don’t even know what to say about it that hasn’t already been said – I don’t think I ever even wrote a proper review of this because I just have no idea how.  Set in Salinas Valley, California in the early 20th century, East of Eden follows two families – the Trasks and the Hamiltons, whose intertwining fates reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the story of Cain and Abel.  Spanning across multiple generations, the scope of this novel is huge, but it’s a page-turning story that I found myself incapable of putting down, until I finished all 600 pages in less than a week.  This book is somehow both larger than life and intimately personal – these characters and their fates seem so much bigger than my own reality, but I also saw so many echoes of myself in these pages.  Though it’s undeniably a sad story from start to finish, East of Eden is ultimately about choosing to rise above darkness, and it ends up being an unexpectedly compassionate and hopeful commentary on human nature.  Intelligent, thoughtful, passionate, beautiful, and an absolute masterclass in storytelling.  Read this book.

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?

Have you guys read any of these?  And what were your favorite books of 2017?  Please let me know!

book (play script) review: A Skull in Connemara by Martin McDonagh

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A SKULL IN CONNEMARA by Martin McDonagh
★★★☆☆
Heinemann, 1997

 

A Skull in Connemara is playwright-director Martin McDonagh’s second play in his Leenane trilogy – three unrelated plays set in the same Irish village. It follows Mick Dowd, who each year disinters bones from the local cemetery to make way for new arrivals. When he’s forced to dig up the remains of his late wife, questions arise about his possible involvement in her death.

What I enjoyed about A Skull in Connemara is exactly what I enjoy about all of McDonagh’s plays: morally corrupt characters, the banality of small-town life highlighted with humor and irony, morbid humor, razor sharp dialogue. I mean:

MAIRTIN: What kind of questions, Mary beag?
MARY: Questions about where did he put our Padraig when he dug him up is the kind of question, and where did he put our Bridgit when he dug her up is the kind of question, and where did he put my poor ma and da when he dug them up is the biggest question!
MAIRTIN: Where did you put all Mary’s relations, Mick, then, now? The oul bones and the whatnot.

That’s pretty great.

Anyway, this isn’t one of McDonagh’s stronger stories. His characters aren’t as well-developed as usual – the relationships between them and their motivations remain hazy, and the result is that I’m just not as invested as I’d like to be. In typical McDonagh fashion, his characters are all distinct and wacky, but none here are as memorable as Katurian from The Pillowman or Padriac from The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Maybe the right cast and the right production could breathe some life into this. I enjoyed reading it well enough, it was an entertaining enough way to spend an hour, and the final scene was definitely thought-provoking, but there was a certain lack of gravitas that McDonagh usually is able to incorporate into his black comedies. The biggest problem here is that the stakes in this play are low and they feel low, and I know McDonagh can do better.

book review: Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

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CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by André Aciman
★★★★☆
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007

 

I think I would have found this book insufferable had it been written by an author with even a sliver less skill than André Aciman. It’s fraught with clichés, as well as an abundance of elements that usually irritate me – characters being preternaturally gifted at everything, talk of sex on just about every page, at times tedious introspection, being told rather than shown how characters feel – but somehow Call Me by Your Name is greater than the sum of its parts, or maybe André Aciman knew exactly what he was doing with this book’s at times infuriating construction, because he ultimately won me over against my better judgment.

Call Me by Your Name is less romantic than I had been expecting. Instead, it’s charged with sexual tension, and the relationship between Elio and Oliver is characterized less by romance than by passion and obsession (which isn’t to say it’s not intensely intimate). Aciman chronicles the somewhat contradictory nature of young love with precision – the fear, the hesitation, the desire that Elio felt were all achingly real. Though it’s a story that builds very slowly, Elio is a compelling narrator, and his struggle for self-awareness a well-crafted thread that holds the novel together.

I think I mainly liked this book for two reasons. The first is that it’s one of the most evocative things I’ve ever read – it transported me back to summer nights in Italy with an unnervingly convincing atmosphere. And the second is that André Aciman’s prose is exquisite. This book is unapologetically pretentious in a way that I found more stimulating than irritating, though I’m sure many would disagree with that assessment. I was reminded of The Secret History in a way – Aciman’s writing is nothing at all like Tartt’s, but the comparison is that some people hate that book for its abundant intellectualism, and some people (myself included) can’t help but to love it for it. I thought the intertextuality in Call Me by Your Name was nothing short of brilliant – references to Paul Celan, Emily Bronte, Michel de Montaigne, Dante, and Claude Monet abound – which for me served to give an understanding of how these characters interacted with the world, or in Elio’s case, hid behind literary references instead of interacting with the world.

I still don’t really know what I’m trying to communicate with this review. This book was nothing like what I’d expected, but I was still utterly swept away by it. I guess I’d been expecting a slow burn romance and instead found myself reading intellectually charged literary soft-erotica, so I think I have to give Aciman credit where it’s due for winning me over, because if that is the book I’d been expecting to read, I don’t think I would have picked it up in the first place. This was a beautiful novel, especially for a story that’s more about the ugliness of love than the beauty of it.

Also, this is the 100th book I finished this year. Yay!

Worst Books of 2017

Obviously I’ll also be compiling a list of my favorite books from 2017, but of the handful of books I’m reading now to finish out my year, I doubt any of them are going to make my worst of 2017 list, so I thought it was safe to go ahead and post this now.  I gave 1 star to exactly five books this year, so this list practically wrote itself.  Note: these are books that I read in 2017 – they were not necessarily published this year.

Disclaimer: these are just my opinions, you do not have to agree with me, I apologize in advance for any hurt feelings if I insult your favorite book.  If you are ready for my complaining, read on.

51o3rh1onbl-_sx331_bo1204203200_5. Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen.  This is arguably the worst book I’ve ever read from a purely objective level, but the reason it doesn’t get the #1 spot is that it was at times so (unintentionally) hilarious.  It’s a thriller about a woman whose boyfriend leaves her – literally vanishes without a trace – and she has no idea why he left.  Now, I love thrillers, but I don’t exactly go into them expecting the next Great American Novel.  I wasn’t expecting that of Gone Without a Trace.  (Not least of all because it’s British.)  But I had been expecting something fun, fast-paced, creepy, and addicting… it was none of those things.  It was 300-odd pages of the main character’s insufferable whining in prose that was at about a 14-year-old’s creative writing level, and it culminated in arguably the stupidest twist in thriller history.  The last 50 pages have just about everything you could ask for if you’re trying to write the silliest and most melodramatic book of all time: characters conveniently falling into comas, ‘shocking’ (aka not shocking at all) affairs revealed, a central plotline being rendered completely inconsequential, the main character withholding information from the reader until it becomes convenient to divulge it, even though it’s written in first-person… I don’t say this a lot, because even when I hate a book I can usually find some merit in it, but how did this get published?!  Full review HERE.

51c0y8b0dtl-_sy344_bo1204203200_4. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay.  Oh boy, this is going to be a controversial one.  But I hated this book.  In Gay’s debut novel, Mireille, the daughter of one of the richest men in Haiti, is kidnapped, and repeatedly raped by her captors.  The novel is split into two halves – the first covers the kidnap in truly gruesome detail, and the second follows the aftermath.  Where do I even begin… the prose and dialogue in this book were straight out of a Lifetime movie, so corny and hackneyed it was hard to believe that they were actually in such a purportedly serious novel and not a cheesy YA romance.  Gay’s attempts to address racism, sexism, and classism, as well as relations between the U.S. and Haiti, were half-baked at best, and offered essentially no depth or nuance to an extremely complex subject.  The graphic depictions of Mireille’s sexual assault were virtually unreadable, not because they were so awful or chilling, but because they felt so voyeuristic.  I want to make this clear: I have so much respect for Roxane Gay as a woman and a feminist.  Though this is the only Roxane Gay book I’ve read, I don’t equate my dislike of it with how I view her as a person.  I just don’t think her fiction is for me.

51gy2mlxabl-_sx328_bo1204203200_3. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.  I don’t even know where to start with this book.  So, here’s the premise: this book is a romance between a grown man and a child – Kellen and Wavy.  Greenwood attempts to dig into grey areas (it’s okay because he’s a good guy, really!  it’s okay because she’s mature for her age!  it’s okay because he’s the only person she’s ever loved in her life!  it’s okay because he’s not actually a pedophile!  it’s okay because Wavy is WAVY, not some little girl!) (that last one is actually a quote from the book) and I just… I am all about digging into grey areas, exploring moral ambiguity – most of my favorite novels explore this theme in some way.  But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I draw it at a romantic relationship between a 20 year old man and an 8 year old girl – or 25 and 13, respectively, if we’re talking about their first sexual encounter.  Because of age and power dynamics, a child is unable to consent, ever, period, the end, I don’t care about the circumstances, I don’t care about the exceptions, the ‘what if’s, any of it.  We’re meant to see this novel as romantic, we’re meant to see Kellen as sympathetic, and we’re meant to malign the one character who constantly tries to get Wavy out of this situation, but all of it just made my skin crawl.  People also praise the writing in this book, but I was very underwhelmed by it.

325086372. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt.  This whole maddeningly insufferable book is written like this: “I thought of Father, my stomach growled hunger and I went to the pail of water by the well, let my hands sink into the cool sip sip.”  I can’t believe I actually made it through this whole thing.  It’s also the most viscerally disgusting book I’ve ever read – graphic descriptions of vomit and rotten mutton abound.  Sarah Schmidt takes one of the most notorious unsolved crimes in American history – the Borden murders of 1892 Massachusetts – and fictionalizes this story for… some reason that I fail to understand.  I truly do not get the point of this book.  It isn’t entertaining, it isn’t informative, it renders Lizzie as downright pathetic… I don’t know what I was supposed to take away from this book, but it was probably supposed to be something other than the frustration and nausea I was left with.  Full review HERE.

51mh8qgdc4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_1. White Fur by Jardine Libaire.  And finally, the book that I loathed above all others this year.  White Fur… where do I begin.  White Fur is a sort of gritty and sultry Romeo and Juliet-esque love story about Jamey, who’s rich, and Elise, who’s poor.  Congratulations, you have now read the book.  Because there is nothing else there.  Jamey’s personality is that he is rich.  Elise’s personality is that she is poor.  At some point in this book we’re told that they’re in love with each other, which sort of took me by surprise, because until then, all we’d seen was them having a lot of really badly written sex.  There is no character development in this novel, no nuanced approach to the subject of class differences, no plot (no, seriously, there is no plot), and literally, not a single thing to make slogging through this horrible book worth my time.  The dude also compares himself to an orangutan during a threesome, so, there’s also that.  I want every memory of this book to be scrubbed out of my brain.  Full review HERE.

What were your least favorite books from 2017?  Comment and let me know!

book review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

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THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin
★★★☆☆
Putnam, January 9, 2018

 

I’m so conflicted about The Immortalists. On the one hand, it was compulsively readable and at times rather hard-hitting, and on the other, I found the effort as a whole rather trite. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t particularly striking or memorable.

In the novel’s prologue, in 1969 New York, the Gold siblings – Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon – visit a Romani fortune teller, who tells each of them the date they’re going to die. The Immortalists is told in four sections, one for each of the siblings, and one by one, we see a snapshot of each of their lives, ending in each of their deaths.

It’s a chilling and intriguing premise, but Chloe Benjamin doesn’t really do a whole lot with it. My problem with this book is that it was just so… obvious? Imagine you’re told beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re going to die young. You’ll probably shape your life decisions around the short-term, and live in the present, and these are the very careless actions that will probably end your life. This is the premise of the book, and each of the Gold siblings’ fates unfolds in a similarly straightforward manner. I really wanted something more, I wanted Benjamin to dig in a bit further, to explore this theme from a less obvious vantage point. But I ultimately didn’t get much more out of this book than if I’d stuck to reading its summary.

As a whole, the four sections are rather well balanced. I think everyone is going to have a preference for which sibling’s story they prefer, but each is similarly well-researched, and I don’t think there’s a clear objective frontrunner, or one that’s notably weaker than the others, which is a good thing for a novel of this format. Unfortunately I did find that each of the sections suffered from the same issues – unclear timeline, emotionally manipulative plot points, the role of certain characters being ridiculously contrived (notably Eddie).

Though this book is relentlessly depressing, the only part I found viscerally difficult to read was Varya’s section, and the descriptions of the experiments Varya’s lab conducts on primates. Though it was a comparatively small part of the book (if each of the siblings’ sections comprises 25% of the book, the plight of Frida the monkey is only about 25% of that 25%), I found myself so upset by this one scene that I almost regretted reading this book at all. Thankfully Chloe Benjamin acknowledges her passion for the welfare of primates who have been used for lab research in her afterward, but animal lovers, approach this section with caution.

I have no doubt that many others will love this book, but I can’t help but to be somewhat underwhelmed. One last thought – maybe people with siblings will feel a stronger connection to this story than I did?

Thank you to Netgalley, Putnam, and Chloe Benjamin for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.