We were all over the map this month, both in terms of our adventures to Toronto, Boston, and Florida, and in terms of what we were reading. In our minds we traveled to Paris, to Rio de Janeiro, to Hong Kong. We even traveled through space and time. Here’s what we got into:
Almost French by Sarah Turnball
An Australian journalist takes a break in Europe that turns into a new life with a new man. This book was dripping with clever Australian wit and fascinating cultural observations. The most interesting dimension to this book was the fact that I related to her Anglo-saxon point-of-view so much and so often that I would forget she was Australian, not North American, and then she would say something that would remind me that I was actually observing a foreign culture through the eyes of yet another foreign culture. I learned about both through reading about the ways these two cultures both meshed and clashed. Very fascinating and entertaining.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
This book had been on my shelf for almost a year and I hadn’t touched it. When I finished Almost French I felt a real reading void and needed a book, stat, so I finally picked this one up and slogged through it. Guys, this book is long, and for a YA book with a plot so meandering it practically doesn’t exist, I would argue it’s just too long. Sam had read this book before me, so I would keep her up to date with what was happening. Both of us nursed mild contempt for the protagonist, Cath, because of her active contempt for almost everyone she ever interacted with. This book is about a severe introvert with social anxiety navigating her first year of college. College and anxiety are things both of us have had to deal with in varying degrees, and there’s one thing we both know makes both of those things better. Be kind. It would have been okay if Cath had learned that lesson in the end, but the actual resolution to the book is that there’s this magical boy who decides he likes her despite her total lack of effort or reciprocation and everything is made alright. In fact, her friendly sister is the one who has to learn a lesson – be more like Special Cath! Sam and I just couldn’t believe the message this book was peddling.
And yet I couldn’t stop reading it. Paradoxically, this book drove me crazy and almost everything I had to say about it was a frustrated complaint, and yet I was thoroughly entertained. So, there’s that.
Perfect Days by Raphael Montes
Ah, kidnapping. The perfect fodder for a breezy beach read, no? Regardless of any tonal incongruity, I tore through this book while we were relaxing in Florida. It is by a Brazilian writer who is just 25 years old, and it is chilling. This book broke all rules of convention and comfort. There are some things you just don’t do, but this book did them, and every few minutes I would turn to Sam with my mouth open wide but unable to tell her about what had just happened because she simply has to read this book soon.
No City for Slow Men by Jason Y. Ng
After discovering that I would be living in Hong Kong for four months next term I zoomed to the bookstore, intent on learning all I could about the fantastically colourful and culturally rich Asian city. Unfortunately the Hong Kong literature section was pitifully meager. I grabbed the only two books I could find: a Lonely Planet travel guide and No City for Slow Men, a collection of musings from a Hong Kong native. Although I didn’t enjoy the entire book, I can safely say I know a lot more about Hong Kong than I used to. The little pieces of Hong Kong culture I picked up will no doubt prove immeasurably useful down the line, such as the deeply complex tension between Hong Kong and China, or the slightly unnerving reputation of Cheung Chau island. Ng’s book is starkly honest, pointing out the worst problems within Hong Kong as well as celebrating the city’s uniquely amazing qualities.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I finally got around to reading this darkly amusing anti-war classic (after a bit of prodding by Kelly), and I’m so glad I did. The story is jumbled and disjointed, somewhat following the life of Billy Pilgrim, a laughably ludicrous soldier/optometrist who also happens to believe in his ability to time travel and in the existence of aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. Ridiculous, right? It all serves to highlight the terrible absurdity of war itself, and the utter senselessness of widespread massacre. But so it goes.
What did you all read in February? Any recommendations?