We read so much between April and June that we didn’t have a chance to write about it 😉 Here they all are. What have you folks been enjoying lately?
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I honestly had no idea what I was walking into when I picked this book off the shelves. “What is that book about?” people would ask me as I was reading, to which I would stutter and stumble. I want to tell you, I really do. I just don’t know how to describe it.
A jobless man’s cat disappears, and then his wife, and his possibly evil brother-in-law, who is also a powerful and magnetic young politician, might be responsible. There are some maybe-psychics in the mix, dream worlds, reality and unreality, a strange 16-year-old, faceless men and skin discolorations, and a few horrifying tales about Japanese occupation of Manchuria and Siberian concentration camps.
Reading this book was an experience – a surreal, visceral, complete experience. You had to surrender to your lack of comprehension. Until you did that the book was impenetrable; once you did, it was exquisite.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
I had wanted to read this book ever since zipping through Big Magic and reading about Gilbert’s experience writing it. It was one of those sweeping Victorian-style tales that spans decades in a comfortably grand fashion. It somehow made botany intriguing (so intriguing I bought a biography of Von Hombodlt… that I have yet to read). I loved that the story was Alma’s – a single woman and a sicentist, and deeply, unapologetically unattractive. In all her spinster glory, she is entitled to an epic.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
After hearing so much about the author who scored a 7-figure advance for pitching her tale of family drama to publishers right after Thanksgiving, I thought I’d give this book a try. I was staying at my grandparents’ cozy home in suburban Atlanta, where spring had fiercely sprung and smiles abounded. As I settled in with a slice of pie and cup of coffee out on the screened-in porch, I reflected with relish that I was in a position about as far-flung from the Plumbs’ wintry New York nightmare as one could possibly be.
The book was, as I’d expected, compulsively readable, but I have to say it wasn’t as explosively juicy as I had hoped.
The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
While discussing my fast-approaching departure to Hong Kong with my aunt while I was in Atlanta, she eagerly recommended I read this book. Lee is from Hong Kong but now lives in the US and told the melancholic stories of motherhood of three American women living in Hong Kong. It was a rather stark story, telling tales of woe and human vice, but the end delivered an ultimately uplifting if bittersweet message of the bonds between women. The vigorous pace of Hong Kong clashed dissonantly with the lethargic lifestyles of these expats. It was an interesting perspective on the city, to say the least.
Hitching Rides with Buddha (Hokkaido Highway Blues) by Will Ferguson
With this tome I was back to the travel memoirs in a big way, this time following along with a Canadian comedian as he followed the growth of the Japanese cherry blossoms from the southern tip of Japan to the north. It was deeply fascinating and illustrative of facets of Japanese society and the regional divides within it that I would never have learned about otherwise. There were moments when this politically correct reader felt perhaps he was a bit too… caustic? But living in a country that is not your own and dealing with the feelings of otherness that come with that can be grating in a way you can’t judge when you haven’t experienced it, so I let it go. Very enjoyable, very funny, but oftentimes, very melancholic.
You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
Honestly, I didn’t know much about Felicia Day before reading this book! I had seen The Guild and I had seen her in an episode of Supernatural, but I don’t think I could have picked her out of a lineup. The way she grew up – southern, home-schooled, isolated – could not have been more different from my own, and yet there were so many facets of her experience that were relatable. I breezed through this book in a single leisurely rainy day on the lake.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Bryson is such a character. His travel books are essentially lists of reasons why you shouldn’t do the very trip that he is embarking on. In this case, you shouldn’t hike the Appalachian Trail because there are bears, snakes, mosquitoes, molds, poison ivy, and murderers, and there’s not enough food, it’s really, really hard, and the National Park Service is actually screwing everything up, etc, etc, etc… He establishes all of this within the first two pages, and then continues to reiterate it all even as he slogs his way up the trail, quits, restarts, and then quits again. It’s hilarious. If you enjoy hiking, it’ll somehow make you itch for the trail. If you don’t, it will only reinforce your views. Either way, you will enjoy it.
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
If you’ve ever read a McCall Smith book (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, perhaps?) you have the general idea of what is going on here. It is a mystery in which the mystery isn’t really the main focus of the story. It is a meandering, mildly pleasant rumination on human nature that is somehow both shallow and insightful. Recommended for grandmothers and great aunts everywhere. And me, apparently.
Hitching Rides With Buddha by Will Ferguson
My dad happened to have a copy of this book, so when Kelly reminded me of it I sat down, ready to enjoy another wonderfully whimsical travel memoir. I can’t say I enjoyed every page- Ferguson walks a fine line between hilarious and insultingly rude- but, like Kelly, I discovered fascinating cultural peculiarities about Japan that I’m glad to be aware of, considering I’m planning on visiting the country later this year. Every so often Ferguson’s musings would strike me as absurdly amusing, and I would giggle to myself. His blunt and sometimes offensive descriptions, however, made me a tad uncomfortable at times- I kept wondering how the subject of his criticism would feel if he or she were to read the book? Overall, hitchhiking across Japan is an admirable feat and I would recommend the book to any travel genre lovers out there.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
This book has been on my to-read shelf for almost three years. One of my best friends recommended it to me, and dubbed it “one of the only contemporary fiction novels that actually has merit.” Obviously, I have a different opinion than my pretentious friend does (I say that in a loving way). I’ve read many contemporary fiction books that deserve high praise, but I was so curious about American Gods, so excited to discover why my hard-to-please friend loved it so dearly. I began the book on a road trip, which was oddly fitting considering the story. The book revolves around a recently released inmate called Shadow, who comes out into the world to discover his wife has just died in a car accident. Lost without his wife, Shadow is pulled into a war between gods. The story portrays religious culture in America, whether it be the worship of Egyptian deities or Irish spirits or television or random roadside attractions so common in small town USA. Its been a few weeks since I finished the book, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. The book is confusing and vague and chalk full of arbitrary details that may or may not be important, and very postmodern in its message- at the end, you’re left wondering what everything meant or whether there was any meaning at all.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
This is the first Hemingway novel I’ve read, and it definitely took a while to get used to his simple, unadorned writing style. I often found myself scanning through pages and pages of seemingly inconsequential dialogue, and then getting confused and realizing I missed something important. Written in 1926, the story follows a group of young expatriates as they attend a bull fighting fiesta in Spain. The book begins with a quote by Gertrude Stein: “You are all a lost generation.” This idea runs through the entire novel- young survivors of war that do little but drink, aimless and dull in the wake of a life changing tragedy. There’s so much more I could write about this book, as its much more complex than it may at first seem, but instead I’ll let you read it yourself- I definitely recommend it.