Sunday, January 29, 2017

Recent Reads | January

In my January goals post I said I wanted to read 10 books this month, knowing full well that as I was in the midst of several short books I would easily read that many. My final count this month was 12 - not a bad start to another year of reading. I tried keeping my selection varied, and ended up with a poetry selection, a couple short novels, some new big hits, and several celebrity memoirs, along with some miscellaneous books I picked up on a whim.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
I coincidentally picked Fisher's newest memoir just days before she died and read it immediately after hearing of her passing. It was the first of her books I'd ever read, and after hearing so much about her sharp-witted style I was a little underwhelmed. I felt that much of her good material must have been previously published as The Princess Diarist takes 250 pages to essentially say nothing at all, other than to tell the previously unknown story of her affair with Harrison Ford whilst filming Episode IV. I'd say fans are much better off reading one of her earlier works if they want the "real" Carrie Fisher.

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher
After the disappointment of The Princess Diarist I wanted to test another one of her works and found Shockaholic. It was a complete turnaround; Shockaholic is hilarious, even laugh-out-loud hilarious at times. Told with brutal honesty and dry sarcasm, Fisher's explanations of her childhood with divorced parents, her experiences with shock therapy, and her history of drug use make her ever more endearing even as she tells her faults.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Yet another Carrie Fisher book. After loving Shockaholic I read her most famous work, Wishful Drinking, the piece from which the phrase "drowned in the moonlight, strangled by her own bra" was pulled from (it makes sense in context). Wishful Drinking is Fisher at her best, and contains her most self-deprecating, sarcastic, dry jokes. I read it in one sitting whilst riding the metro and had to work to contain my smile the whole time. If you only read one of Carrie's memoirs, make it this one.

Felicity by Mary Oliver
I don't know why I picked up this collection of poetry as (1) I don't usually like reading poems and (2) I'd never heard of Mary Oliver before, but I checked it out from the library on a whim and read it all in one sitting. Oliver usually writes poems about nature but Felicity is a collection about love and human emotional connections. As I'm unfamiliar with Oliver's work I have nothing to compare this collection against; a few poems stuck out to me, but overall it was a fairly standard stack of love poems.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
I've read a fair number of Wells' works in the school, but as it'd been a while I decided to read one that I didn't really remember. The Island of Dr. Moreau is the horrifying tale of a man stranded on an island who discovers that the island's resident scientist, Dr. Moreau, has been experimenting on animals to make them more humanlike. It's an unsettling take on evolution and genetic modification, and is certainly not a book I'd pick up again anytime soon.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran
This is a bit of a cheat as I read the bulk of this book in December and finished it this month. I've read two of Moran's works in the past and felt a little iffy about both of them - I loved her personality but didn't always agree with her stances on current issues. Moranifesto is a collection of her Times columns and cover any and every topic you can think of, from Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" to the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Some pieces I didn't care as much for, but the ones I did I loved so much I wanted to cut them out of the book and hang them on my wall. Moranifesto is a brilliant collection of articles and makes me very excited for anything Caitlin writes in the future.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
Continuing on to my next du Maurier work, I chose My Cousin Rachel. The book is about a young man named Philip who, after his older cousin Ambrose dies, welcomes Ambrose's Italian wife Rachel to stay with him. The circumstances of Ambrose's death are suspicious, and as Rachel starts involving herself in Philip's life he wonders whether she is truly as nice as she seems or if she is a murderer after her late husband's money. My Cousin Rachel is much more ambiguous than du Maurier's other novels which I found surprising, but otherwise it is a solid part of du Maurier's canon.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I started Morgenstern's debut years ago and though I remember liking it I for whatever reason never made it past the first few chapters. After finding it again on my library's shelf, I gave it another shot and ending up loving it. The Night Circus is about a circus that appears on the outskirts of a town without warning and is full of mysterious, magical tents. Within the circus, however, is a competition between two skilled illusionists, Marco and Celia, as they are locked in a lifelong fight to the death. The book is by no means a challenging work, but is still nonetheless well written and makes for compulsive reading.

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett
Stream-of-conscious writing has never been particularly appealing to me, but after seeing so many critics praise Bennett's work, I decided to read it anyway. I found myself very disappointed; the story - if you can even call it that - has nothing extra to recommend itself to readers who aren't fans of the genre, and I found it to be 200 pages of randomly-fitted nonsense (which is the point, but still). Unless you are already a fan of reading the rambling thoughts of a character, I would steer clear of this one.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I read this on the recommendation of a coworker and quickly fell in love with it. It's rare to find an "adult" novel so full of the joy of living, and the entirety of the book was an enchanting read. A Gentleman in Moscow follows Count Alexander Rostov, who in 1922 is deemed by the Bolsheviks to be an unrepentant aristocrat and must spend the rest of his life in the Metropol Hotel. Far from being a depressing tale of isolation, the Count delights in the small things in life, and Towles' descriptions of each character is crafted with lyrical magic.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Anyone and everyone has been talking about this one, so my expectations were high - usually not a good sign, but in this case not only were they met, they were exceeded. Homegoing begins with two half-sisters being separated: one is sold into slavery and shipped off to the Americas, and the second is married off to a British slaver. Each chapter jumps a generation ahead, first from one sister's lineage and then the other. Even with such short numbers of pages dedicated to each character, Gyasi expertly creates people that are rich and dimensional. It's an unflinching look at slavery and its complicated roots and consequences, and is so brilliantly crafted that I cannot wait for more of Gyasi's work.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
I've been hearing about this Korean narrative ever since the English translation hit American bookshelves, and I finally read it this month. The Vegetarian is split into three sections and tells of one woman's decision to become a vegetarian and the consequences that follow her declaration. The events in the book are shocking and disturbing at times and seem extreme by my American standards, but the symbolism explored in each section and the inevitable conclusion are worth pondering well after the book is finished.

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