June Reviews

Check back tomorrow for a giveaway!

I have been off for the last four weeks and it has been pretty fantastic. We went away for a long weekend to see my mom, she also came down to visit, and we've done some things locally. But I've also had a lot of time at home, which has allowed me to knock back ten books this month. In the interest of full disclosure, my kid generally naps for at least two hours a day, which allows me some solid time by the pool or on the couch with a book (as long as the chores are done first... sigh). 

More than anything, I really appreciated the diversity of topics, authors, and genres this month. I have classics and contemporary literature, nonfiction and fiction (two plays!), female authors and male, and three authors from abroad. Here are some quick thoughts:

Othello and Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
128 pages and 209 pages
Oh, you know the drill- someone in power, someone trying to bring them down, destruction and death left in the wake. You've probably read them by now, and even if you haven't you're probably not going to now (and honestly, I don't really blame you; I plan on reading only one new-to-me Shakespearean title this summer, and that's just because I want to read a contemporary book based on it). 

Verdict: For me, Shakespearean plays are nostalgic and fine in small doses. They're sort of like listening to music from high school. Am I going to start listening to Third Eye Blind on repeat? No. But if "Semi-Charmed Kind of Life" comes on I'll probably sing along. 

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
208 pages
Andrea is getting older, and societal pressures are becoming more abundant. When is she going to get married? Have a kid? Really settle down? Meanwhile, she hates her job, sleeps around, struggles to accept her friends are buying into the white picket fence dream, and is just generally unhappy (not that marriage and kids will bring you lifelong cheer). Things are tough on the home front, too, as her brother and his perfect wife have a child that has a severe birth defect that requires around-the-clock care. There are a few mom issues, too. 

Verdict: The title and premise both sound like chic-lit to me, but some bloggers whom I respect were singing the book's praises, so I decided that it might be a good pool-side read. I was right (as were they). There is so much more depth and a sardonic humor that I appreciate. 

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
224 pages
I wrote about this here.

Verdict: I really enjoyed this book, since I have a thing for nonfiction survival tales and am deeply connected to the idea of needing alone time (maybe not hermit-level alone time, though). There are some concerns that I have, which I write about in my post, which really just serve as a good reminder to be critical readers.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
320 pages
Roxane Gay's memoir is about her hunger, both in terms of food and things she craves in life. It's told in a non-linear format with short chapters, and discusses many, many tough things that she has endured: rape, bullying, depression, serious body-image issues, eating disorders, dysfunctional relationships, and more. It's complex and honestly written, but definitely not for the faint at heart.

Verdict: Gay won me over with Bad Feminist, so this was an easy sell for me. It's a challenging read because no matter what size you are or what you've experienced relationship-wise, this book will make you pause and reflect. For me I appreciate that this wasn't a "and this is how my life turned out so magical and I am okay" memoir, like so many at least dance around. She's upfront about this not exactly being a success story (at least not in conventional ways). 

A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life by Ayelet Waldman 
256 pages 
Writer Ayelet Waldman suffered for many years from depression, anxiety, and severe moodiness. At one point she was diagnosed as being bipolar, but that never seemed fully right to her. Eventually it was settled on that she was afflicted by PMDD, which was controllable until she hit pre-menopause. At this point she stumbled across the idea of microdosing, or taking a tiny bit of LSD every few days in order to help make her less irritable/anxious, able to sleep, and to control some pain issues she'd been having. She experiences success and writes about her experiences for the month that she experimented, also bringing in a healthy dose (ha! get what I did there?) of scientific research on drug usage.

Verdict: I found this book fascinating, as this wasn't something I knew existed (for the record, I am not condoning drug use, at all, I just think that this was interesting). There were some things that struck me as particularly amusing, like her struggles to find LSD in Berkeley (ha!), the fact that she's Michael Chabon's wife, and her discussions of the drugs they have done together in the past, once in awhile (ecstasy), for "the sake of their marriage." Her handling of drugs with their teenage kids also made me think, since I'm sure one day I will have to broach the topic with my kid. 

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
272 pages
This compilation of vignettes returns the reader to Lucy Barton's hometown, giving the reader a more complete picture of what she left behind, and where she'd be if she would have stayed. We are given snapshots into the lives of her siblings and many of the characters mentioned in the previous book. Extending beyond individual characters, the book is about personal connections, small town dynamics, and rural life. 

Verdict: I love Strout's ability to connect characters through the short story platform. Her ability to be simultaneously simple and complex continues to shine, as does the way she manages to extract sympathy towards those that might not otherwise earn it. 

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
341 pages
This graphic novel tells the story of Marjane Satrapi's coming of age in Iran during the revolution, giving Westerners a better idea of what growing up in a time of war is actually like. There's conflict aplenty in this text; political, familial, social, and personal. Overlaid onto this incredibly serious historical time period is Marjane's own struggle for identity, as a woman, a liberal, and an Iranian. 

Verdict: I enjoyed this book so, so, so much more than I thought I was going to. I'm still sort of dipping my toes into graphic novels, but I've heard nothing but great things about this one and would like to recommend it to my students for outside next reading this year (with parental permission, of course). I admittedly don't know much about the Iranian conflicts, so I liked learning more in that regard, but I also appreciated Satrapi's candor on the personal side. 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett 
336 pages
A christening starts off as just another family event, but ends up being the pivotal point for the destruction of two families and the creation of a new one. This book spans over fifty years, looking at the siblings and parents involved, centering on a tragedy that is slowly unveiled to the reader throughout. (I kind of feel like it's hard to give a lengthy synopsis without giving things away...)

Verdict: In my book, Patchett can do no wrong. I'm not sure if I liked this as much as some of her others, but it was still outstanding. Patchett develops powerful, dynamic characters that are slowly revealed throughout the novel. Her attention to detail is ever-present in her typical way, as is her carefully crafted prose. 

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (*yes, two books this month by women named Ayelet!)
352 pages
One night after working late at the hospital, Dr. Eitan Green hits an African immigrant in the middle of the Israeli desert. He abandons the dying man, only to meet his widow at his home the next day (he left his wallet at the scene of the crime... sigh...). She blackmails him, forcing him to provide medical assistance to other refugees in exchange for her silence. As if having a family, a job as a neurosurgeon, and now moonlighting as the head of an illegal medical clinic isn't hard enough, Green's own wife is investigating the murder. Things are complicated.

Verdict: I really, really enjoyed this book, albeit a few issues with pacing and slight redundancies. The issue of refugees and immigration is so prevalent all over the world, and I think sometimes in the US we restrict our discussion to that concerning issues with US and Mexico, so this was an important perspective. There are several twists and turns in the plot and some emotional revelations and developments that are done decently. 

2,646 pages

1 comment:

  1. Persepolis was one of my very first graphic novels. It completely changed my perspective on the format and what it can achieve. If you haven't read Maus (though i vaguely recall that maybe you have) I think that one is a must-read too. And when you have a packed schedule -- there's nothing like a really good graphic novel that can be read fairly quickly :)