Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Thoughts 1

In December, I reviewed the books I'd been reading, and I thought that could be something I'd continue. Every ten or so books I read, I'll do a little review. These are the books I've read in 2015 so far.

The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt) - I'll start with the Donna Tartt books. She's written three in her career, each of them 10 years apart, and quite lengthy. I loved all three. I think I liked The Goldfinch the best, though. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. Each of her books is similar in that they reveal the "twist" in the first chapter, and then the rest of the book leads up to that point. For The Goldfinch, it's revealed that the narrator is in his twenties, has just killed a man, is hiding in a hotel room in Amsterdam, and has had The Dutch masterpiece painting, The Goldfinch, which he had stolen as a child after The Metropolitan Museum of Art was bombed in an attack that killed his mother, has just been stolen from him. Then after the first chapter, we're in New York, the narrator is 13, and he's in the museum with mom. So the whole book leads up to that first chapter, and it's amazing. Donna Tartt's writing is lush and beautiful. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's really long, but it's worth it.

The Little Friend (Donna Tartt) - This is Donna Tartt's second of her three books. It's also beautifully written and over 500 pages. It's set in the 70's in Mississippi. In the opening chapter it's revealed that a nine year old boy is murdered in his front yard, in the middle of the afternoon, on Mother's Day with everyone else in the house, and no one knows who did it or why. The book is about Harriet, his little sister who was a baby when the murder happened, who spends an entire summer when she's 12 trying to solve the murder. There are meth dealers, snake handling preachers, and a lot of generational family drama. I was unsatisfied by the ending, but I also don't think I would have liked the book as much had it ended in a more satisfying way, which I know is vague, but I don't want to give anything away. 

The Secret History (Donna Tartt) - This was Donna Tartt's first book, and probably her most famous. In the first chapter, it's revealed that a small group of friends murder one of their friends. Then you spend the whole book figuring out why and what the consequences were. It's about this group of friends, who are super privileged, bougie east coast kids at college together, and they're kind of a part of this weird cult. They're all in the Ancient Greek program, which consists only of the six friends, and they're completely cut off from the rest of the campus. They are pretentious, mysterious, and the narrator, the newest member of the group, is trying to figure them out. There are secret Greek sex rituals, secret trips to their country house (because they're filthy rich), and in general, a lot of secrets. And you know the whole time that five of them, the narrator included, are going to kill the sixth one. I had an interesting experience reading the book because I messed up and thought they were all going to kill the character Henry, but they're really going to kill the character Bunny. And it becomes obvious throughout the book that they're going to kill Bunny. And I kept thinking, what kind of coup is going to have to happen so that they end up killing Henry! But they don't. Because I read it wrong in the first chapter. I kind of think it enhanced my experience of the book. But who knows. I really loved all three of Tarrt's books. 

Sister Spit: Writing, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road (Michelle Tea and others) - In my last book review I revealed my love of Michelle Tea. She started this traveling queer feminist poetry/talent show called Sister Spit. I got to see it a few years ago, and it was such an amazing night. I even got to meet Michelle Tea (see below, she's in the middle)! But essentially, a group of ladies (and sometimes men) travel around the world, reading poetry, singing songs, etc. And it's a new group of women each year, although Michelle Tea is always there. This is a book filled with some of the poems and stories that have been performed over the years. It also has diary entries and comics drawn and written while on the road. It's a lovely little collection.

The Bonobo and the Atheist (Frans de Waal) - This is a nonfiction book about the origins of morality. Many would argue morality comes from religion and is unique to humans. This book argues that morality came before religion, is evolutionarily beneficial, and occurs in other species as well, specifically bonobos. In addition to theology and philosophy, it also discusses a lot of biological anthropology and emotional capability in animals. This was a really fascinating read.

Horns (Joe Hill) - Joe Hill is Stephen King's son, and this is the second book I've read of his. He writes "horror" books, but I haven't found either book of his scary. I've also read Heart-Shaped Box. This book is about Ig, whose girlfriend's been raped and murdered, and everyone thinks he did it. After a drunken night that he can't remember, on the anniversary of her death, he grows horns. When people see the horns, they feel compelled to tell him their darkest secrets, but don't remember his horns or telling their secrets afterwards. Through a lot of secret revealing he finds out who murdered his girlfriend, and then goes about getting revenge. There's some iffy symbolism and mythology in this book. Is he a demon? The devil himself? Is the devil even a bad guy? There's a tree house that represents/is heaven? It gets a little muddled. But you find out pretty immediately who the murderer is, and then you spend a lot of the book in flashbacks. It was a little overdone for my taste, but I enjoyed reading it. Don't watch the movie though. That was a pretty bad adaptation.

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More (Janet Mock) - This memoir was so fantastic. Janet Mock is a trans woman, grew up poor and black in Hawaii, was sexually abused, became a prostitute as a teenager, but then got her degree, moved to New York, got her Masters in journalism, fell in love, and is generally an amazing woman. The majority of the book is about her childhood and adolescence. She had every obstacle and hardship thrown at her, but her book isn't depressing. It's funny and poignant and lovely. If you feel like being inspired, read this book.

Yes Please (Amy Poehler) - I love Amy Poehler. I love everything she's done. Leslie Knope is my hero. If you want to laugh and cry and generally feel awesome, read her memoir. I didn't think I could love her more than I did, but I do.

This is How You Lose Her (Junot Diaz) - I'm on hold at the library to read Diaz's most famous book, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I'm sure I will love that book. I'm not sure about this one. This was a book of short stories, but they all revolve around the failed relationships of the same character. All except one. One short story right in the middle had nothing to do with anything. The main character of all the other stories wasn't even in this one. It was completely unrelated and totally threw me off. Also, in general I'm not a giant short story fan. It's happened to me before. I've loved an author, read all their novels, and then they release a collection of connected short stories, and I just can't get into it. This book wasn't bad by any means, but also wasn't my cup of tea.

Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith) - This book is being made into a movie soon with Gary Oldman, which is how I found out about it. It's kind of based off a true story. It's set in the Soviet Union in the 50's. Essentially, there's a serial killer running around killing children. But murder is considered by the state to be a consequence of capitalism, and if everyone is equal in the communist state, there would be no reason to murder. But alas, there is a murderer, a serial killer who has killed 44 children. So the main character, an MGB agent, after getting demoted for suggesting that the killings are not accidents but murders, decides to solve the mystery himself. But he can't reveal that he's trying to solve a crime, because that's a crime in itself. I found this book entertaining, even though I guessed the twist a mile away. Apparently this was the first book of a trilogy, but I don't think I'm going to read the other two. I think the movie will be good. 

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