This isn't an easy book to read, psychologically, emotionally, or physically. It's an experimental novel. McBride has cut thoughts and sentences down to their bare minimum, leaving just what the reader needs in order to feel and understand the mind of the narrator. The characters are never named. Everything that happens is described by the narrator's conscious--and sometimes maybe subconscious--mind. It has its funny moments (just a few), but it is more often gritty...brutal...frustrating...I wish there was one word to describe the intensity of it. This book took more out of me than any book has in a long time, but it was worth it.
April is Sex Month at Insatiable Booksluts, and today I'm there talking about why I don't (or more appropriately, can't) read erotica or romance novels...
Join me, won't you? It should be a...rousing...conversation. Heh.
Last night at midnight in the UK, the longlist for the 2014 Desmond Elliott Prize was announced. What is the Desmond Elliott Prize, you might ask? Here's a quick description from the prize's website:
The Desmond Elliott Prize is an annual award for a first novel written in English and published in the UK. Worth £10,000 to the winner, the prize is named after the literary agent and publisher, Desmond Elliott.
When choosing the winner, a panel of three judges will look for a novel which has a compelling narrative, arresting character, and which is both vividly written and confidently realised.
Stella is a fifty-year-old woman who has lived a pretty ordinary life in England. Her story starts in the late 1950s, where she lived in a small, rundown apartment with her single mother. Each chapter in Clever Girl reads like a vignette about a certain time in Stella's life, from her time in that tiny flat through her adult years as a single mother herself. The majority of Stella's experiences are rather ordinary--nothing that lots of people haven't gone through themselves at some point--but Tessa Hadley (through Stella) has a way of making those experiences and Stella's life seem interesting and a little exciting, in a way. Stella's inner life has a lot to do with that.
Clever Girl is not only about Stella, though--it's also about England in the second half of the 20th century. Class and its influences on the characters play a huge role in this book.
I'm on the fence about whether or not I truly enjoyed Clever Girl.
When I was offered Ripper by TLC Book Tours, I was really looking forward to reading it. Isabel Allende is well-known in the world of literary fiction and I'd heard lots of good things about her books. She had never written a mystery novel before, but Ripper sounded really cool: it takes place in San Francisco; Amanda is seventeen years old; her mother is an holistic healer; her grandfather is her best friend; her father is the deputy chief of homicide for the San Francisco Police Department; her godmother is a famous astrologer in California; and Amanda sets out to solve a string of murders that are taking place in the Bay Area. Amanda seems to be fascinated by violent crime--she, her grandfather, and a small group of teenagers from around the globe get together online to play a role-playing game called "Ripper," based on Jack the Ripper's time in England. When the murders start (supposedly foreseen by her astrologer godmother), Amanda takes the role-playing game from 1888 into 2012 (with the consent of the other players) so they can work on solving the modern-day killings.
Sounds pretty cool, right? Teenage RPGer-turned-crime-solver, interesting-sounding characters, murder mystery...I thought this would be a really good book coming from an author like Isabel Allende.
In The Free, Vlautin tackles issues that average Americans are dealing with on a daily basis: poor health insurance and insurmountable medical bills; jobs that don't pay living wages; homelessness; mental illness; war and its effects on soldiers and their families; emotional detachment. Vlautin's characters are going through some seriously depressing shit, and although I knew without a doubt that I wanted to read the book, I was also afraid that it would be depressing as hell. It wasn't.
Vlautin is so good at writing about these issues without making them feel exceptional or fantastic. Leroy, Freddie, and Pauline are all just regular people going through things that lots of regular people in this country go through every day. And they're saying to themselves, 'Look, this is what I'm going through. This is what I'm trying to deal with. But I won't let it ruin me completely. I won't. I will cling to [this person] or [this idea], and it or they will get me through. One day at a time. I can do this.' Even Leroy, who takes the most drastic measures out of desperation, finds some inner peace through the things and people he loves. So while The Free could have been a wholly dramatic, depressing experience, Vlautin kept it realistic by showing that small drops of hope here and there can still be found in a sea of despair, and can be used to survive some of the worst circumstances.
I don't have a whole lot to say about January. It's the hardest month of winter for me--it's dark, it's cold, it's long--and all I really want to do is read and sleep (which is pretty much what I do the entire month). I still vote for hibernation. Who do I need to speak to about that?
I got lots of reading done between naps, though...
It's a new year, which means taking a look back at my reading stats for 2013 and looking ahead at plans for 2014. I'm going to be as brief as possible because I really want to just sit down and read, which I haven't had a chance to do a whole lot of lately. So instead of typing out all my stats for 2013, I took some screen shots of the app I use to keep track of my reading:
The numbers for 1001 Books (You Must Read Before You Die), The Classics Club, and The Non-Fiction Adventure are all-time totals, but the rest are my totals for 2013. I did a lot more reading on my Kindle this year than I've ever done since I bought it, and I used the library way more than ever. This also means that I spent quite a bit less money on books this year than I usually do. That's a plus in the banking department. 2013 ended up being the year of rereads, which was a lot of fun, although I didn't read as many books from my TBR
pile mountain as I would have liked (understatement of the year). I have over 500 books on that mountain (the curse of the library book sale), so I really need to put a bigger dent in it this year. 2013 was also the year of 21st-century fiction, apparently, and I usually read more nonfiction than that. I'll have to get back into the nonfiction this year if I want to meet my goal for the Non-Fiction Adventure. I also totally slacked off on the classics this year--I need to get back into those, too. I'm pretty happy with my male to female author ratio this year, but disappointed in my authors of color stat. I also need to work on reading more LGBT literature (by LGBT authors). The entire list of books I read in 2013 can be viewed here.
I still have my 2013 Year End post to write, so I'm going to make this one quick. December was fine...except we got a bazillion inches of snow and I had to shovel four times in two days at one point. Thankfully the snow has now melted and I can see the ground again. I did get my Green Christmas.
Speaking of which, Christmas was nice. My parents came to visit a couple of days later and we had a nice time. On the bookish front, my mom got me THIS:
...and it is FANTASTIC. It's called The Book Seat, and I love it. I read about them on someone's blog, but I can't remember whose. Thank you to whoever blogged about them and brought them to my attention!
Ben Solomon is watching a TV program one night when he recognizes the big-name Chicago philanthropist, Elliot Rosenzweig, for who he really is: Otto Piatek, a German man who grew up in Solomon's childhood home in Poland, then went on to become a ruthless Nazi during World War II. Solomon confronts Rosenzweig in public, then enlists the help of attorney Catherine Lockhart to sue Rosenzweig for return of some family property that Rosenzweig (as Piatek) stole from Solomon's family during the war. But first, Solomon has to prove his claim of Rosenzweig's real identity and convince Catherine that he's not just some crazy old man trying to smear Rosenzweig's good name.
Once We Were Brothers moves back and forth between the present (Catherine's personal story and the progression of Solomon's case against Rosenzweig) and Solomon's story about what happened in his childhood home of Zamość, Poland, during the war. Solomon is adamant about Catherine hearing the whole story from beginning to end in order to make sure she is fully invested in his case. In this way the reader learns about the atrocities that took place in that part of Poland during World War II.