mini reviews #3: short stories, memoirs, and novellas

I don’t always feel like writing out multi-paragraph reviews for every single book that I read, but I do post all my reviews – long and short – over on Goodreads.  I’ve started transferring these mini reviews over onto my blog in groups of 5 – you can check out the first two installments here.  Next up:

32855689

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT by Daniel Kehlmann
originally published in German, translated by Ross Benjamin
★★★★☆
date read: October 25, 2018
Pantheon, 2017

A delightfully sinister novella that essentially puts a bunch of tried and true horror tropes into a blender but still rewards the reader with its almost unbearably tense atmosphere. Though the creepy house in the woods setting does most of the legwork – I’m afraid this won’t be winning any awards for creativity any time soon – it was a fantastically entertaining way to spend an hour. The translation is excellent; really poised writing that convincingly unravels with the main character’s mental state.

 

535225THE WHOLE STORY AND OTHER STORIES by Ali Smith
★★★★☆
date read: October 15, 2018
Anchor, 2004

This is a rather unassuming short story collection that gave me such joy to read for reasons I don’t know how to articulate. Only my second Ali Smith and I reckon it’s not one of the more essential ones to read but I really enjoyed this.

 

 

34848808THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD by Maude Julien
originally published in French, translated by Adriana Hunter
★★★★☆
date read: September 18, 2018
Little, Brown, 2017

The Only Girl in the World is every bit as disturbing as you’d imagine, but it’s also the single most inspiring story of resilience that I’ve ever read. This is what I was hoping Educated was going to be; the difference for me is that Maude Julien seems to have an appropriate amount of distance and perspective from her horrifying past, whereas Tara Westover’s story still felt too close to allow for much analysis. The Only Girl in the World certainly is description-heavy, and it’s not until you head into the home stretch that you see the ways in which her childhood impacted the person she was to become, but it’s well worth the wait, especially in seeing how her feelings toward her mother shift over time. Only recommended if you can handle reading about very extreme cases of mental and physical abuse; it’s almost viscerally painful to read at times.

 

16032127REVENGE by Yoko Ogawa
originally published in Japanese, translated by Stephen Snyder
★★★★★
date read: August 26, 2018
Picador, 2013

Revenge is a gentle and unsettling collection of interconnected short stories focused mainly on death and grief and an inner darkness that plagues its eleven different narrators. Both melancholy and macabre in tone, these stories range from heart-wrenching to disturbing, each narrated in an eerily calm and poised tone. This was absolutely engrossing and I’m keen to check out more of Yoko Ogawa’s work.

 

25733983LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren
★★☆☆☆
date read: August 24, 2018
Knopf, 2016

This is a textbook case of ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’ I understand the appeal, and in a lot of ways I’m thrilled about this book’s mainstream success (women in STEM fields and healthy, platonic relationships between men and women are two things we need more of in media), but there were only so many loving descriptions of trees I could take after a while. There was just too much science and not enough human interest to keep me engaged, and while I wouldn’t say you need to be knowledgeable about biology to approach this book, a certain amount of interest would be helpful, and I just don’t have that, at all. And the audiobook was a mistake; the author narrates it with a positively bizarre amount of melodrama (like, actually in tears at multiple points, and I’m sorry if that makes me sound callous but I really don’t react well to overly sentimental narration), so I can’t say it was a pleasant listening experience… But anyway, really not a bad book, just not my kind of book.

Have you guys read any of these, and what did you think?  Feel free to comment if you’d like to discuss anything in more detail.

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12 thoughts on “mini reviews #3: short stories, memoirs, and novellas

  1. Great review of Only Girl in the World, I’m so glad you liked that one! But sooo disappointed to see you didn’t like Lab Girl! I have it but haven’t read it yet and it sounds like the things you didn’t like might also bother me. If some biology knowledge helps I’m definitely in trouble. And I don’t think it sounds callous about the overly sentimental narration, that seems like it would be downright uncomfortable to listen to. I’ll read it at some point anyway since I already bought it but at least I’ll be prepared for copious tree descriptions 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you recommended Only Girl in the World, that was such a harrowing read and definitely one of the best memoirs I’ve read all year.

      The tree descriptions were KILLING ME! Shortly after Lab Girl I also had to read The Overstory for the Man Booker which was basically Lab Girl’s fictional counterpart and I was like, what is with the universe’s conspiracy to force me to read tree books?! I like trees as much as the next person but my god, enough is enough. I positively hated biology (and all of the sciences really) in school so I just failed to connect with Jahren’s passion for the subject and the whole book left me rather cold, so I have concluded that nature books are just not for me… Everyone else seems to adore this one though! I’ll be very curious to hear your thoughts on it, hopefully you have now been sufficiently prepared for the tree descriptions!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lolol what a weird thing to keep cropping up in your reading! I like some nature writing but it can’t be too purple prosey or abstract. But I guess I don’t have all that much experience with it either. I also hated biology and all the other sciences in school, they were just so tough for me to grasp, so I can see that being a problem for me here too in connecting with or feeling interested in it. I noticed that it had so many glowing reviews, that’s why I thought it was such a safe bet when I was going through a big memoir phase. Another Educated situation, it sounds like.

        But totally agreed, Only Girl in the World is one of the best memoirs I’ve read this year too, I just loved it. I’m so glad I could recommend you something!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Incidentally the book I’m reading right now (The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker) has a character who’s a biology professor and he started explaining how trees communicate with one another and I just thought DEAR GOD NOT AGAIN!!! But thankfully we moved on from that quickly. I’ve had about all I can take.

        That’s the reason I took a chance on Lab Girl as well, everyone was raving about it so much I thought for sure it was going to be one of those books that transcended its premise, and for me it REALLY didn’t. I guess the general reader population is much more interested in biology and ecology than we are…??

        I find it funny that we seem to have a fair amount of overlap in our reading when you only read nonfiction and I mostly read fiction! But I feel like we look for similar things in the books we read so I definitely trust your tastes.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh no!!! by the time it’s coming up in a third book you really have to wonder…but yeah, I think you may be right about general readership being more interested in those topics than we are. I think it’s why nature writing is so popular too, it seems to have a broad audience. I’m still trying to give that genre a cautious chance but I’ve accepted that I’m going to be hopelessly lost when it’s too sciencey or trying to make me understand why someone else loves science.

        It is funny how that works out and we end up having so many overlaps! but I’m glad we can find so many to share and discuss. If I ever get back on fiction I’m taking your recommendations for sure!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know what you mean – I feel like there has to be a certain kind of nature writing for me, because I DO like nature, so some of that genre is going to have to resonate eventually, right?? But yes, the ones that are primarily driven by science are just such a slog to get through. I know that I should care more about scientific phenomena but I just don’t. Unless it’s psychology. Psychology can stay.

        Yes, I’m so glad there’s this slight overlap! Obviously I’d be super glad to see you return to fiction eventually, but for now the nonfiction works!

        Like

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