top 5 wednesday: Books I Disliked But Love to Discuss

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

I haven’t done one of these in a while!

March 7: Freebie: Since these are posted a bit later than usual, you get a freebie! Was there a previous T5W topic you are bummed you missed? Now would be a good time to do that topic!

I’ve decided to go with a topic that I missed when I was busy in Houston in January: Books You Disliked but Love to Discuss: Some books we disliked or they were just okay, but they still have a lot of discussion points to sink your teeth into.

820689The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I know, I’m practically the only feminist who isn’t crazy about Margaret Atwood, but I really, really do not like this book.  I know it’s deliberate, but I don’t like how the narrator is held at an arm’s length from the action, and how none of the reader’s questions about how and why this society formed are ever answered… it made for a very dissatisfying read for me.  And then there’s the fact that women of color are sidelined by the narrative while their own historical experiences (i.e., slavery) are appropriated for Offred’s narrative (a white woman)… I don’t know.  I think this book was progressive and important in a lot of ways when it was published in the 80s, but I’m not really sure that it holds up as the contemporary feminist bible that a lot of people see it as.  But I find it interesting to discuss, because I don’t think it’s a 100% perfect or a 100% worthless book – I think it has a lot to offer and a lot to critique.

59716To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.  I will gladly talk to any and everyone about this book because I’m still waiting for someone to explain it to me.  I had to use Sparknotes when I read this (last year, when I was 24, holding a lit degree) and I still don’t even begin to understand half of what was going on here.  Someone please tell me what the lighthouse represents.

 

9889Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.  I had to read this for a book club, and I thought it was tremendously boring.  And if there’s anything worse than reading a boring book, it’s reading a boring book for a book club.  But this ended up being one of the more interesting discussions we had, particularly because someone brought up the question of the narrator’s sexuality.  I remember reading this quickly and not putting too much brainpower into it, but I just assumed that the narrator was in love with Holly and it was a voyeuristic, male-gazey narrative… but then someone started talking about how they read the narrator as gay, and I started realizing just how much evidence there was to support that, and it added an entirely new dimension to the novel that I hadn’t even realized was there.  I still think it’s an interesting subject to ruminate on.

32283423American War by Omar El Akkad.  This is a book that tested my resolve to never DNF if ever I read one.  This was painfully dull and long-winded.  However, it did raise several rather interesting questions about the possibility of a second Civil War in the US, and I think it’s interesting to consider whether or not El Akkad’s vision for how this war would develop is a likely one.

 

22522805The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.  As you know, I’m a pretty big fan of almost everything Kazuo Ishiguro has written, but this was easily my least favorite of his books.  What I didn’t like about it was that it took a simple concept that would have suited a short story, and inexplicably drew it out to fit a full-length novel.  Much boredom and repetition ensued.  But I do find the central concept fascinating, and I loved the ending a lot, so I’m glad to talk about this book as I do see the merits in it… it just wasn’t my favorite reading experience.

What books did you dislike that you still like to discuss?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Books I Didn’t Get To In 2017

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

January 10th: Books You Didn’t Get to In 2017: These are books you didn’t end up getting to in 2017, but really want to prioritize in 2018.

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Himself by Jess Kidd.  I bought this on a total whim a few months back, but I’ve been excited to read it ever since.  I’d wanted to read it around Halloween time, as it’s supposed to be very atmospheric and creepy, but oh well.  It’s about a young man living in Dublin who was orphaned at birth, who goes back to his remote Irish village to find out the truth about his birth mother.  It sounds exciting and compelling – hopefully I’ll get to it soon.

 

28187230The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware.  I got this off the free shelf at the library a few months back, and I meant to read it immediately and return it (I don’t really feel the need to own thrillers, because I only ever read them once) but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.  Maybe I’ll bring it to Houston with me.  Anyway, my mom just read it and quite liked it, and we have pretty much the exact same taste in books, and it was recommended to me again in the comments on my review of The Woman in the Window… so all things considered, I’m excited!

15995144The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan.  I’ve owned this for a while but felt no immediate urge to read it, and then I read Donal Ryan’s novel All We Shall Know and was blown away by it, so I meant to read The Spinning Heart right after.  Sadly I didn’t get around to it, but hopefully soon.  It’s supposed to be a candid look at rural Ireland post-financial collapse, which sounds fascinating to me.  I loved Ryan’s style of prose so much in All We Shall Know, so I’m especially curious how this will compare.

33641244The Power by Naomi Alderman.  This is one of those books that I feel like I should read, more than I actually want to read it.  I’d been curious about it since it won the Baileys prize earlier this year, so I ended up choosing it for my October BOTM (I think it was October?), but then I just didn’t get a chance to read it.  I always read my BOTM picks straight away, but I think I was busy with War and Peace at the time… anyway, after not getting the chance to read it immediately, I read some negative reviews (including Steph’s, and we agree on just about everything) so my desire to read it kind of plummeted… but I do own it, so I still want to give it a try.

18907479This House is Haunted by John Boyne.  After adoring The Heart’s Invisible Furies I made it my mission to read another John Boyne novel, and then after adoring The Absolutist I made it my mission to read all of John Boyne’s novels.  I’ve heard mixed things about This House is Haunted, but I have to say, I’m excited – I love a haunted house story.  And I’m fascinated by the fact that John Boyne writes across so many genres.  His literary and historical fiction has wowed me, so I’m excited to see how he handles horror.

What books are you hoping to read this year?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: 2018 Reading Resolutions

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

January 3rd: 2018 Reading Resolutions: Self explanatory. Let us know 5 of your reading goals for the year.

  1. Read at least 75 books.  Like last year, I purposefully set my Goodreads challenge goal on the low end of the spectrum of what I think I’m capable of.  But I know myself and my tendency to obsess over arbitrary goals and numbers, so if I set my GR challenge to 100, I know I’d purposefully sacrifice longer books out of fear of not reaching that goal, which is silly.  75 gives me some more leniency.  If I reach 100 again, great, but if I only read 75, that is perfectly respectable.
  2. Read at least one book in Italian.  One does not sound like a lot, but I told myself I’d do it this year and I didn’t, so I’m starting with a low goal to hold myself accountable.  I’m thinking I’ll start with Fosca by Ugo Tarchetti, which I’ve read bits of, but which I have not read in its entirety.  I also have Il nome della rosa by Umberto Eco on my shelf taunting me, but I’m intimidated by its length.  Forse dovrei praticare con un libro più breve…
  3. Use the library more often.  Self-explanatory.  I almost never use my library and there’s no excuse for it.
  4. Request fewer Netgalley ARCs/spend more time reading books I already own.  This goal is hard to quantify, because I don’t intend to quit ARCs altogether… but basically, I have a tendency to browse Netgalley, think ‘oh, that looks cool,’ and click request, and I want to stop doing that, because I’ve found some of my absolute worst books that way.  I only want to request books that were already on my radar, either from general community hype or word of mouth from my friends.  Also my shelves are overflowing, so I really need to put aside some time to read books I already own.  I want to spend at least one straight month reading only books off my shelves at some point.
  5. Read at least one classic and at least one play each month.  Or maybe I’ll occasionally have them overlap by reading a classic play.  Basically, I love classics and I love plays, but I tend to not read them as often as I’d like.  Classics because I do have to deliberately set aside time for them as they tend to not be quick reads, and plays because they’re SUCH quick reads that I take it for granted that I can read them whenever I like, and I end up putting them off.

What are your 2018 reading goals?  Let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Bookish Things I’m a Grinch About

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

December 6th – Bookish Things You’re a Grinch About: Since being a grinch is a funny thing, try not to make this serious topics that make you angry (like lack of diversity or abusive relationships in fiction, etc) as this is supposed to be more of a petty bookish things you hate. This can be stuff about covers, dumb tropes, etc. Have fun with it.

Ok, I’ve gotta admit it, I love this topic.  I am nothing if not petty.

1. Quirky names in contemporary fiction.  Like when your character’s called Tulip or Beansprout or some nonsense it’s just like… what’s wrong with Sarah???  What annoys me about this that a lot of the time I feel like quirky names are used for the sole purpose of trying to make a book stand out (both in YA and adult contemporary fiction… obviously names in SFF adhere to different rules).  But if your book doesn’t have anything going for it other than your main character being named Cinnamon Stick for no discernible reason, maybe reevaluate your storytelling priorities.

2. The ‘you two are SO CLEARLY IN LOVE why aren’t you together??’ trope.  I recently ranted about this on twitter, so apologies if you follow me on there, but basically what I’m talking about: when two characters have a ~will they/won’t they~ relationship and some unbiased third party has to comment on their off the charts chemistry.  My problem is when this trope is used in lieu of actual chemistry between the characters, it’s just lazy writing, like in the most recent series of Game of Thrones when Tyrion had to comment on the supposedly insane chemistry between Jon and Dany on like twelve different occasions.  Maybe instead of telling your readers or viewers that your characters have chemistry, show it.  (Since I just used an example in tv, one literary offender I can think of is The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  I loved that book, but I was quickly losing my patience with how often the American character kept commenting on how Sean and Puck were clearly in love with each other.)

3. Twists that exist only for shock value.  What’s so tricky about writing in the mystery/thriller genre is that you want your twists and reveals to shock the reader, but sometimes writers prioritize that over their twists actually making sense in the context of the narrative that they’ve created.  An example offender: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen.  Chances are you’re not going to guess that twist, but only because it was so out of left field.  I’ll take predictable reveals over shock value reveals any day, but the ideal is obviously finding a way to balance these two – by shocking your reader, but having them say ‘of course, why didn’t I think of that???’  No one does this better than Agatha Christie – I think a lot of contemporary thriller writers should turn to her example.

4. Mysteries/thrillers with ‘Girl’ in the title.  (First I just want to acknowledge that I realize authors – especially debut authors – do not always have the final say in their book’s title.  I realize this is largely a marketing trend.  That does not make it any less irritating.)  Okay, so, my annoyance with this trend is twofold: (1) How the fuck are we supposed to keep all these ‘Girl’ books straight – Gone Girl, Pretty Girls, The Good Girl, Cemetery Girl, Final Girls, The Girl BeforeAll the Missing Girls – what even are all of these??????  (2) It’s a trend that infantalizes women, which is especially disturbing when you consider that so many of these books are about rape and murder.  Let’s take one of the more popular examples – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, translates to ‘Men Who Hate Women,’ which really gets to the heart of what that book is about.  But instead, when it was translated and published in English, we get The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which makes Lisbeth Salander sound like some quirky alternative protagonist, not an abuse survivor in a novel which deals with some seriously dark and twisted themes.  But it’s gotten to the point where we see ‘Girl’ in a title and we almost instinctively know it’s going to be a thriller about rape, abuse, violence, murder – except these books are often dressed up with an alluring cover which includes an image of a sexy woman.  Which is so unbelievably twisted.  Can we please stop this.

5. Sex scenes written as awkwardly as possible for no other reason than to be deliberately provocative.  I feel like there’s a certain type of literary fiction that attempts to rebel against sex being portrayed as this ~magical~ event, but they take it so far as to try to shock the reader into thinking ‘isn’t this profound?’ when really, no???  It is not profound????  Describing a guy’s stomach as resembling crème brulée is not profound???  A guy comparing himself to an orangutan during a threesome is not profound???  (I’m looking at you guys – Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and White Fur by Jardine Libaire.)  But also, if you’re not already familiar with it and you need a laugh, check out the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

What are some bookish tropes and trends that irrationally annoy you??  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Authors I Want to Write Like

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

November 29th: Authors You’d Want to Write Like

rehost2f20162f92f132f299a903d-6b20-45a5-a38d-37370b6d0286Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life is the book I want to write.  I mean, not literally, because Hanya already did it, but the incisive and thoughtful quality of her prose is exactly what I strive for in my own writing; there’s such an effortless quality to it that I admire so much more than overly flowery prose.  Her characters are nuanced and multidimensional; her story is utterly devastating… all of the elements that come together and make A Little Life extraordinary are things I hope to achieve with a book some day.

“He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.”

– Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life


8719Donna Tartt: Okay, maybe I lied – if there’s any book I wish I could have authored more than A Little Life, it’s The Secret History.  I mean… I live in Vermont and it’s the setting I’m most comfortable writing, and I have a huge interest in the classics, and I love academia-based narratives, and I love literary thrillers… but Tartt got there first, alas.  But I’m not mad because I think she is such a tremendous talent.  I know that some people think her prose is pretentious, but I find it absolutely mesmerizing.  If I can write a paragraph half this good in my lifetime I will be very happy.

“It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”

– Donna Tartt, The Secret History


7195John Boyne: The aspect of Boyne’s style that I admire so much is his ability to flit back and forth between gravity and levity – The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the only book I can think of that made me actually laugh out loud, and cry on different occasions.  Sometimes I think I should write a book as unapologetically dark as the two I mentioned above, but then sometimes I think I should try my hand at dark humor, and Boyne would be the model I would turn to in that case.  I mean, even The Absolutist, as depressing as it was, had some unexpectedly comedic moments.  Although I usually think I’d rather make readers cry than laugh, I think doing both would actually be ideal.

“Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.”

– John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies


994Hannah Kent: Kent’s prose is superbBurial Rites is one of the most atmospheric novels I’ve ever read – I would love to write a book like this where prose and setting and characters all come together to create something so striking and devastating.

“Now comes the darkening sky and a cold wind that passes right through you, as though you are not there, it passes through you as though it does not care whether you are alive or dead, for you will be gone and the wind will still be there, licking the grass flat upon the ground, not caring whether the soil is at a freeze or thaw, for it will freeze and thaw again, and soon your bones, now hot with blood and thick-juicy with marrow, will be dry and brittle and flake and freeze and thaw with the weight of the dirt upon you, and the last moisture of your body will be drawn up to the surface by the grass, and the wind will come and knock it down and push you back against the rocks, or it will scrape you up under its nails and take you out to sea in a wild screaming of snow.”

– Hannah Kent, Burial Rites


 

585John Steinbeck: Okay, so, I used to think I hated Steinbeck.  I couldn’t stand The Grapes of Wrath or The Pearl, and I was very surprised when I enjoyed Of Mice and Men but quickly wrote it off as a random blip – so no one was more surprised than I was when I fell so in love with East of Eden earlier this year.  So when I say I want to write like Steinbeck, I mean, I want to write like Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden.  Everything about that novel’s construction is a masterpiece.  (I can’t take Steinbeck haters who haven’t read East of Eden seriously.  I mean.  Give it a chance.)

“When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Honorable mentions to Kazuo Ishiguro and W. Somerset Maugham who both nearly made the cut.

Which authors would you like to write like?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Books I’m Thankful For

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

November 22nd: Books You’re Thankful For: For whatever reason, big or small.

There aren’t going to be any surprises on this list… these are books I’ve talked about over and over, but it’s only because they’re so important to me.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.  This series had the most concrete influence on my life of anything I’ve ever read.  I wouldn’t say that this is what got me into reading since I’ve been a pretty huge reader ever since I was very young, but it’s definitely the first series I remember being this passionate about.  I mean, like so many HP fans, I was obsessed.  I read and wrote fanfiction, I spent hours on the internet every day in middle school discussing theories, I went to all the midnight releases for the books and the films, and I literally met about ten of my closest friends through the Harry Potter fandom (shout out to Hadeer!).  I could reread this series a hundred times and never get bored of it.

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Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.  After Harry Potter Les Mis has definitely been the most impactful book on my life.  I decided to read it on a total whim when I was 17 (having absolutely no knowledge of the story or the musical) (honestly I don’t even remember why I chose to read it) and fell completely in love with it.  It then introduced me to the musical adaptation, and musical theatre in general which is now a pretty huge part of my life, AND I met a ton of my other close friends through our love for this story (shout out to Chelsea!).

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.  This book destroyed me unlike anything else I have ever read… which seems like a pretty bizarre thing to be thankful for, but reading this book was so cathartic for me??  I’m not a very visibly emotional person, so there was something kind of freeing about the big emotional response that this book elicited from me??  Anyway, this story has stayed with me in a way that so many other books have not.  Also bonding with people over this book is a very intense experience so I am thankful for that (shout out to Steph!)

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  So, I’ve talked about this a lot, but I read this book when I was a freshman in high school, and it was one of the first adult books I read as a teen that hadn’t been assigned to me in school.  At this point in my life I’d mainly been reading what my friends were obsessed with (a lot of Sarah Dessen and things like that) which never really did much for me, so I was starting to think I may not be the avid reader that I was when I was younger.  And then I read this book, and it opened up a whole world of adult literature for me, and I will always be thankful for this miserably depressing book I read at a time in my life when I could not abide happy endings.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  This is the book that singularly reignited my love of reading in 2015.  Basically, when I was in college, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to read for fun.  I graduated in 2014 and then spent most of the year meandering through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, which took forever, and I do like that series a lot but I wouldn’t say that I was particularly passionate about it – I think it took me over a month to read each of those books.  Anyway, after I finally finished that series, I read The Secret History, and reading this book in a lot of ways felt like coming home (not only because it’s set in my home state of Vermont and I’d never read a book set here that captures the atmosphere so perfectly).  It reminded me how much I love the classics, and how much I love depressing literary fiction.  This was the book I had been wanting to read for years, and after I put it down I just… haven’t stopped reading.  I would not have this blog right now if it weren’t for The Secret History.

BONUS because I couldn’t not include it:

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The Iliad by Homer.  I’m thankful for this story in a big way; I’m thankful for its influence on western literature and scholarship, I’m thankful that we have access to something composed in the 8th century BCE.  And I’m thankful for the role it’s played in my life; i.e., keeping me passionate about the classics, and introducing me to the works of poets and scholars and translators (Anne Carson, Caroline Alexander, Robert Fagles, et al.) who have worked with this story in some way over the years.

I’m also thankful for all the wonderful people I’ve met through this blog and through our shared love of books.  Happy Thanksgiving, friends!  What books are you thankful for?

 

top 5 wednesday: Problematic Faves

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

November 8th: Problematic Faves: Characters you don’t want to love, but you can’t help liking.

Before I get to my list, I just want to talk for a second about how much I hate the word ‘problematic’.  It’s a pointless catch-all word people use when they don’t want to think too critically about the things they’re criticizing.  I think it’s so important to engage critically with media, but I find that ‘problematic’ barely skims the surface of the issues that lie beneath it.  We shouldn’t be afraid of words like ‘racist,’ ‘sexist,’ ‘transmisogynistic’ – these issues are too important to write off with the lexical equivalent of a vague wave of the hand.

Moreover, I cannot tell you how much I hate the false equivalence between fictional characters and real people.  I feel like there’s a lot of very bad discourse on the internet which condemns the actions of fictional characters (and worse yet – condemns people who consider themselves fans of these characters) as though they were real.  Here’s the thing – flawed characters make good stories.  What’s the point of reading about a group of faultless individuals?  Stories need conflict, they need characters who exist in moral grey areas.  Characters like Snape and Dumbledore are fantastic examples – you don’t need to ‘like’ these characters (I sure don’t), but before dismissing everyone who does, consider that ‘I like Snape’ does not necessarily mean ‘I condone every one of his actions, and if he were a real person I’d like to shake his hand and take him out to dinner,’ but rather, ‘in a fictional universe populated by people who are mostly Good or Bad I enjoy examining the nuances of this character who exists somewhere in the middle, whose ambiguous loyalties provided a stimulating element that the Harry Potter series would be rather lacking without.’

So with all that said, I love ‘problematic’ characters.  I love books about horrible people.  I love fiction that digs into human imperfections.  Here are some problematic faves who I embrace, whose narratives would be nothing without these characters’ fascinating flaws.

41cigepew5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Henry Winter (The Secret History by Donna Tartt).  I could easily have comprised this list entirely of characters from The Secret History, but if I had to choose just one, I have to go with Henry.  Henry Winter is one of the most intriguing characters from anything I’ve ever read.  The fact that he’s a murderer barely scrapes the surface of his faults, and yet….. The Secret History would be nothing without his evil genius propelling the story forward.  From the second he’s introduced, how utterly frustrating and enigmatic and ruthless and unknowable Henry Winter is becomes one of the most compelling things about this book.

29441096Ryan Cusack (The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney).  Ryan Cusack begins this story as a teenage drug dealer, and it only gets worse from there… but still, he breaks my heart.  What The Glorious Heresies does so exceptionally well is depict the nuances of inter-generational crime and poverty in Ireland – how it’s such a difficult cycle to break.  Ryan finds himself right in the middle of that, striving to be a good person and only failing because his socioeconomic status is preventing him from succeeding.  Add that to That Thing that we find out happened to him at the end of the novel, and it’s no wonder he’s so messed up.  But never beyond redemption.

22299763Kaz Brekker (Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo).  Kaz is the leader of a ruthless gang, driven singularly by a need for revenge that stems from a tragic childhood.  Though he has a reputation for being monstrous, the more Leigh Bardugo reveals about this character, the more we discover how tragic circumstance has made him the way he is.  The softer side he shows with Inej also makes it difficult to utterly condemn him as heartless.  I have to say, I have such a weakness for characters who lash out or pull up a wall around themselves only because they’re hurting – from the minute Kaz was introduced I knew he was going to be my favorite, and even had the thought ‘I’m probably not supposed to like this character at this point before I reach the tragic backstory, am I.’

33253215Julian Woodbead (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne).  I was initially going to choose the novel’s protagonist, Cyril Avery, but I’m writing this post rather late and Chelsea already did a great job writing about Cyril, so I’m going to instead choose Cyril’s best friend and the object of his affections – Julian.  Julian is ostensibly awful.  He’s a bit of a womanizer, he doesn’t really care about anyone but himself, and yet, he’s so funny, so charismatic, you can’t help but to fall a little in love with him the way Cyril does.  The real strength of The Heart’s Invisible Furies is how simultaneously hilarious and aggravating all of the characters are, and Julian is such a good example of Boyne’s brilliance in this regard.  If Julian were a ‘better’ person, this book wouldn’t be what it is: such a startling reflection of life’s imperfections.

752900Medea (Euripides/classics, Bright Air Black by David Vann).  In one of the most harrowing climaxes in literary history, Medea murders her children.  So.  I don’t think we’re gonna get more problematic than that.  But to write off her character as a monster is to entirely miss the point of how tragic this character is – she leaves her home and betrays her family to help Jason, who she falls in love with, only in turn to be betrayed by him.  She’s wild and ruthless but not utterly soulless, which is the most haunting thing about this character.

Who are some of your problematic faves?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Genre Benders

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

November 1st: Genre Benders: Books that defy genre or are hard to place in a certain category.

I haven’t done one of these in a while… and this post will be rather hastily written since the prompt was only posted today, but I like this topic, so let’s see.

18142324All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.  This book is difficult to describe… it’s about an Australian sheep farmer who’s living in isolation on the English coast, running from a mysterious event in her past.  It combines elements from several genres: mystery/thriller, magical realism, literary fiction, paranormal fantasy (sort of)… it didn’t quite come together in a completely satisfying way for me, but I’m struck by how ambitious this novel is for being so short.  If this sounds like it appeals to you, it’s worth a read, because it has many glowing reviews from people who really connected with it.

97808129953431Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.  I still can’t work out how I felt about this book, but I’d be remiss not to include it.  This year’s Man Booker winner is a bizarre fusion of historical fiction and literary fiction, and then Saunders takes it a step further by experimenting with the format of the book itself.  It’s part novel, part poetry, part play… it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read.  Lincoln in the Bardo is ostensibly about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, but it’s also more than that – it’s kind of an elaborate rumination on life and death and the afterlife.

30319086If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.  A group of Shakespeare students at a classical conservatory fractures when their group dynamic is forcefully changed, and one ends up dead.  Rio is hardly the first to write an academic literary thriller (the notable pioneer of this subgenre is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History), but If We Were Villains is still noteworthy as it’s infused with references and direct quotes from the works of Shakespeare, adding another dimension to this novel’s tricky classification.  It’s one of those books where thriller fans may expect a bit more thrill, and literary fans may expect a bit more Literature, but if you embrace the balance that Rio strikes, it’s a fun and rewarding novel.

33871038Bright Air Black by David Vann.  Another novel that deals in experimental prose, Bright Air Black is a retelling of the story of Medea and Jason.  Part historical fiction, part literary fiction, part mythology, I’m not sure how I’d ultimately end up classifying this book… Another interesting element to it is that it frames Medea is ultimately a sympathetic and redemptive light (without minimizing her vengeful nature), so there’s also an undoubtedly feminist spin to this novel – so it’s also worth reading from the perspective of anyone who’s interested in feminist fiction.

41nsvhy8t2bl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The Vegetarian by Han Kang.  I guess in a way this book is easily classified as ‘literary fiction,’ but I can’t help but to feel like that label is a gross simplification of this novel’s contents.  This is unlike anything I’ve ever read before or since.  It’s about a woman who reacts to a violent dream by deciding to become vegetarian… which sounds simple, but this is a book which doesn’t adhere to genre conventions.  It’s really a series of three novellas, each of which are from the POV of a different character, and rather than plot and character development, the focus of this novel is much more metaphorical and cerebral, raising questions about mental health and societal expectations and female sexuality.  (Which – if you read my recent review of War and Peace – you know I usually prefer character development over anything.  But somehow, the way Han Kang pushes boundaries in this novel is so rewarding to explore.)

What are some genre benders that you’ve read and enjoyed?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Fancasts

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

T5W: September 20th: Favorite Fancasts:  Discuss your preferred fancasts for some of your favorite characters. (Fancasts means actors you’d like to play your favorite characters or imagine your favorite characters as.)

This is something I think about a lot when I read, and I was having a really hard time narrowing it down, so we’re doing 5 men and 5 women!

The women:

Tatiana Maslany as Miranda in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  I absolutely love Station Eleven – I’ve read it twice and it has such a theatricality to it that I’d love to see it play out either on stage or on screen.  The character that I connect to the most in this novel is Miranda, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about who would do a good job at playing her, and I think Tatiana Maslany fits the bill perfectly.  Their physical descriptions match, and Tatiana has that intelligent, artsy look about her that I think would be able to easily embody the spirit of Miranda.

Jessica Brown Findlay as the narrator in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.  The unnamed narrator in this novel is youthful, romantic, kind, and a bit naive, and I think Jessica Brown Findlay would play her with the appropriate sort of charm and humility.

For the role of Rebecca, I’m torn between Rachel Weisz (love of my life) and Eva Green.  Thoughts?

Shoba Narayan as Inej Ghafa in Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.  Shoba is a theatre actress most recently seen as the Natasha understudy in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.  While Inej and Natasha are two entirely different types of characters, I still think Shoba would rock it.  Just look at her expression – she’s got that Inej-esque ‘I’m adorable but I could still fight you and win’ thing.

Rosamund Pike as Cathy Ames from East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  There was news about an East of Eden remake in 2014 with Jennifer Lawrence cast as Cathy, and I’m really hoping that doesn’t happen, not least of all because Rosamund was born to play this role.  She’s got the ‘I will charm you and then kill you’ thing down pat.  And she’s just a fantastic actress that I think would bring the appropriate sort of depth to Cathy’s very complex character.

Saoirse Ronan as Camilla Macaulay in The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  I’m obsessed with Saoirse Ronan and pretty much fancast her in everything, but this role in particular I think is perfect for her.  Camilla is quiet, intelligent, subtle – all qualities that Saoirse has shown time and again that she can play brilliantly.  I’m not sure who I’d cast as her twin brother Charles, though – thoughts?

The men:

Cillian Murphy as Cyril Avery in The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne.  This is a tricky role to cast, because even though Cyril is the heart and soul of this novel, he also manages to be eclipsed by the larger personalities around him.  I think it’s important to cast an actor who could play the role with a sort of subtlety and quiet humor, as well as being the kind of person you just want to root for through everything, and Cillian Murphy seems perfect for it.

Dev Patel as Saeed in Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  I’m obsessed with Dev Patel, he’s another one of these actors who I fancast in everything.  I think he would be perfect as kindhearted, idealistic, sensible Saeed – that seems to be his personality anyway, so casting him is kind of a no-brainer.  Any ideas for Nadia?

Matthew Beard as James in Tender by Belinda McKeon.  (I’m risking my life in certain friend circles by not putting Domhnall Gleeson here, and I agree that Domhnall would have been perfect for the role ten years ago, but the fact is, he’s too old now.)  Matthew Beard is a sort of lesser known actor whom I love a lot – I got to see him in Skylight on Broadway in 2015 alongside Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy, and the energy and youth and vivacity that he brought to his limited stage time makes me think he would be absolutely perfect as James.  Side note: he is also my Francis Abernathy fancast, but I decided to stick to one character per book for this post.

John Boyega as JB Marion in A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.  There’s something about this book that resists fancasting, to me.  I know last year Scott Rudin signed on to adapt it as a tv show (sigh), but I’m selfishly hoping that doesn’t go anywhere…  I think if A Little Life has to be adapted, it would best work as a play – I don’t think a tv show or film would be able to capture the heightened drama and theatricality of the narrative without coming across as melodramatic.  All that said, there’s one actor that I think would work really well in this story, and that’s John Boyega as JB.  John seems like such a nice, warm person and JB is… not quite that, but John’s proven that he’s able to act in roles where he has more of an edge (Imperial Dreams, etc) and I think he’d be able to capture what makes JB so frustrating and sympathetic simultaneously.  I mean, I still don’t want to see A Little Life adapted – but if it has to be, I want John Boyega in it.  (I wouldn’t be able to cast Willem or Jude if my life depended on it.)

Colin Farrell as John Proctor in The Crucible by Arthur Miller.  And obviously, we can’t wrap this up without including my man… it is my dearest wish in life (okay maybe not my dearest, but top ten) that Colin Farrell start to do more theatre, and ever since seeing Ivo van Hove’s production of The Crucible last summer, I can’t get the idea of Colin as John Proctor out of my head.  It’s the kind of role that Colin usually goes for – leading man suffering some kind of existential crisis – but I also firmly believe that Colin’s the kind of actor whose performance depends on the quality of the script he’s working with (I’m allowed to say this, I’ve literally seen 31 of this man’s films as of this weekend), and you can’t get much better than The Crucible.  I think he would give a really dynamic and engaging performance, playing this role either on stage on or screen.

So what do you think of my choices?  And do you have any ideas for the ones I asked about?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Books that Aren’t Set in the Western World

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

July 19th: Books That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World

I love this topic.  For whatever reason I’ve had a really strong interest in books set in East Asia for as long as I can remember.  I didn’t have to look further than my ‘east asia’ shelf on Goodreads for this topic, so my list isn’t going to be very broad geographically (I realize ‘non-Western’ encompasses a much wider area), but I’ve selected a couple of my favorites set in Korea, Japan, and China.  Here they are:

29983711Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: I haven’t stopped talking about this book since I read it in February, and with good reason.  This is an outstanding family saga set against the backdrop of Japan’s annexation of Korea in the early 20th century.  It features a handful of Korean characters who face an onslaught of discrimination when forced to relocate to Japan.  This is not only an incredibly moving story, but a really educational read.  Min Jin Lee integrates historical detail into her narrative with masterful precision – it never overwhelms, but still constantly edifies the reader.  I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the complicated history of Japanese-Korean relations, the history of either of those countries, or just anyone looking for an entertaining family saga.

41nsvhy8t2bl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The Vegetarian by Han Kang: Korean writer Han Kang made waves when her first novel to be translated into English, The Vegetarian, won the Man Booker International award last year.  This novel is outstanding and thought-provoking.  It raises questions about gender and sexuality, a woman’s role in society, social norms, violence – in a lot of ways this novel offers generalized insights into the human experience, but in other ways, context is key.  You can’t remove this novel from its contemporary South Korean setting, especially as Han Kang’s own experience growing up in Gwangju was such a heavy influence on the content of this novel.  She goes onto explore the 1980 Gwangju uprising in a much more tangible way in her novel Human Acts, but The Vegetarian offers a much more abstract meditation on similar themes.  I highly recommend both novels.

18169712Three Souls by Janie Chang: Admittedly, I didn’t like this book as much as I liked the rest on this list.  I had a lot of nitpicky problems with it, but I still found it entertaining and incredibly informative.  Set in 1935 China, this provocative novel follows the journey of a young woman called Leiyin – except, the twist is that the novel begins moments after Leiyin’s death.  We follow Leiyin in the afterlife and get flashbacks to her childhood, and eventually adulthood – and we find out how she died.  The reason I’m including this novel on my list even though I didn’t love it was that I think it’s a really phenomenal look at the sociopolitical climate of mid 20th century China, and I recommend it more from a historical rather than a literary perspective.

1103Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: Lisa See is one of my favorite historical fiction writers, and I think Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of her strongest novels. Set in nineteenth century China, Snow Flower is a devastating story about a friendship between two young women.  It features the writing system nu shu, which was developed by Chinese women in the Hunan province to communicate with one another, as they were often denied a formal education.  In typical Lisa See fashion, she both educates and entertains with this novel, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Chinese history.  (Beware of very graphic descriptions of foot binding, though.)  My favorite Lisa See novel (though it’s a toss up with Snow Flower) may have to be Shanghai Girls, but as it’s partially set in California, it doesn’t fit the category.

13640447After Dark by Haruki Murakami: And finally, it seemed requisite to include a Murakami on this list.  After Dark is actually my favorite of his novels that I’ve read, though it’s a lot shorter than the novels which are often associated with him.  So if you haven’t read Murakami but are curious about his writing style without wanting to commit to a 500 page book, After Dark is a great place to start.  After Dark takes place in the span of one night, between the hours of midnight and dawn in Tokyo and follows an eclectic group of characters.  It’s a very mesmerizing and atmospheric novel which draws the reader into Tokyo nightlife in an almost voyeuristic way.

What are some of your favorite non-Western novels?  And have you read any of these?  Comment and let me know!