Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Recent Reads | September

September marked the return to Raleigh after a summer in DC, which also meant the resumption of checking out real, tangible books from my local library after a season of e-books. Over the summer months, I kept a list of books I wanted to read that my library at home had in hard copy but not on their e-book catalogue. The second I returned home I drove to my local branch, shed a tear of joy (not actually), and brought home a thick stack of books to read. I read quickly anyway, but especially as I'd spent the whole summer with a list of titles I wanted to read, I sped through these thirteen titles this month.

Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin
While I call myself a feminist I do have many concerns with the modern feminist movement, and as such I was interested to read Crispin's critique of modern feminism. Crispin's style is that of a standard manifesto - tight, controlled, angry language - and her thoughts go too far to the extreme side at times, but she does have some solid points about who is ultimately to blame for many of the issues of gender inequality in the world (humans as a whole, not only men) and how to begin solving them.

How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
This book reminds me of Phoebe Robinson's You Can't Touch My Hair in that both are hilarious yet poignant looks into modern day issues that black people face. How To Be Black is different though, in that Thurston employs heavy sarcasm throughout to tell his story in a way that the point of the book could be completely missed if taken literally. With chapter titles like "How To Be the Black Friend" and "How To Speak For All Black People," How To Be Black makes fun of how black culture is thought of by mainstream America without being too heavy-handed.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
I picked up a copy of this at my library on a whim; I haven't seen either of the movie adaptations and generally don't have an interest in this type of fiction. Most know the basic idea of a Stepford wife - or have at least heard it used as a pop culture reference - and the book's length is just a 175 page explanation of the basic idea. Though there is a plot, it's very simple, and while Levin is good at adding an eerie tone to the story, I didn't find it a compelling read but rather an easy one.

The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr
I loved Doerr's most recent work All the Light We Cannot See, so when I saw his 2002 debut short story collection at a bookstore I added it to my list. His stories carry readers all across the globe and invoke wonder of the natural world, its dangers and its beauty. Each one is a finely crafted tale of the human condition, some better than others, but all emotionally moving in their own way.

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss
Like The Shell Collector, I put this one on the list after falling in love with the paperback edition's cover in a bookstore. Prentiss' debut follows a synesthetic art critic, an Argentinian painter, and a small-town-girl-turned-NYC-bartender as they unintentionally become entangled in each other's lives through NYC's art world in the 80s. It's full of beautiful language and intricately composed characters, and I'm excited to see what else Prentiss writes in the future.

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit
I loved Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and as The Mother of All Questions is a follow up to that work, I of course had to read it too. Solnit provides a well thought out commentary on "women's issues" - forced silence, overlooked literary works (and on the flip side, overvalued works), rape jokes, and a whole host of other topics. While Solnit's criticisms are well worded, I dislike how often she offhandedly throws in controversial phrases that are hard to countermand as they aren't part of her main argument yet remain too charged to make this book anything but a piece to recommend to those who agree with Solnit's opinions (and not a piece to introduce feminist thought to new readers).

Someone by Alice McDermott
Someone has been on my tbr list for forever, and I'm happy to have finally gotten a chance to read it. It's pace and storyline reminds me of Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Colm Toibin's Brooklyn in that it's (1) set in Brooklyn and (2) a quieter tale, where not much happens but it slowly pulls you in. Someone tells the story of Marie,a woman who lives a wholly ordinary life in post-WWII Brooklyn, as she narrates her years growing up, falling in love, struggling with family problems, and getting old.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett
I've heard a number of mixed reviews about Bennett's debut but after Afoma read and loved it, I decided to give it a chance. The Mothers tells of two girls, Nadia, a high school girl who unexpectedly finds herself pregnant after a secret relationship with the town's pastor's son, and Aubrey, her religious best friend. The story did not play out the way I expected and while some of the characters' reactions to plot points seemed unrealistically strong given the number of years that had passed, I very much enjoyed this one.

Out of Sorts: Making Peace With an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey
Though I enjoyed Bessey's Jesus Feminist, I was not impressed with this more recent book. Out of Sorts tells of Bessey's struggles and reconciliations with different facets of Christianity, but some of her conclusions are, from what I know, theologically incorrect. While her honesty about her struggles is admirable, her conclusions seem short-sighted, and she seems content to continue viewing God as almost just a large human or spirit rather than an infinite being.

Autumn by Ali Smith
Autumn, Smith's first work in her seasonal quartet, is an exploration of the cycle of time; its storyline jumps back and forth in the life of a woman named Elisabeth with each entry set in the autumnal season. Specifically, Autumn tells of Elisabeth's friendship with her neighbor Mr. Gluck, an older man who loves art and reading and who influences Elisabeth's life tremendously as she grows up. It's a charming, cheeky-at-times tale that also serves as a commentary on women in modern art, and it's a delight of a novel to read.

Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith
Anyone who knows me even the smallest bit will know how much I utterly adore libraries, so when I saw that Ali Smith had written a collection of short stories centered around this important establishment I knew I had to read it. Each story revolves around books - how they change us and challenge us - and in between each tale is a reminder via short tales and memories from authors that public libraries are closing at an alarming rate. It's a beautiful ode to an institution I dearly love and a reminder not to take such places for granted.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
I picked up a copy of this one because it's on the Man Booker longlist, and after finishing it I can see why it's garnered such mixed reviews (though I personally liked it). History of Wolves follows Linda, a fourteen-year-old who lives on the grounds of a former commune on the lakes of Minnesota, as she befriends the secretive new family who moves in across the lake. The novel is a slow burner, and as the story goes on the plotline gets more and more uncomfortable. 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
I always enjoy reading Gay's works even if I don't always agree with them, and Hunger fell right into this same experience. My opinions are mixed: on the one hand, I understand that this is an important work that Gay wrote, both in terms of addressing a lot of the issues that larger people face out in the world and in writing about her own struggles. On the other hand, many of the chapters repeated themselves, and I felt like a lot of the same sentiments were said again and again to reach a larger word count. It's certainly not a bad book, but I think it could have benefited from more editing.

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