I’ve decided to keep a short record of the books I finish each month – which with Owen on the scene varies wildly. (Plus every other month I probably spend the majority of my reading time catching up on the previous month’s New Yorkers.) But here are my capsule reviews for the month of January:
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham -- I expected to find this book entertaining and a good read, but I must admit I wasn’t expecting her to be as good of a writer as she is. She’s funny, and she has a great way with unique phrasing. I found myself laughing at how she worded things for a long time after I read them.
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson -- Hmmm, I found this novel to be a one-trick pony. The concept – performing artist parents who basically force their kids to participate in their acts of social disruption – is original and generally well-executed, but halfway through the book I got a little tired of it. But then there is a plot change just in time that made me a bit more intrigued. On the whole, a fair to good read but it had no urgency to it. The idea was better than the book.
Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn -- I found the whole story of “Clark Rockefeller/Christian Gerhartsreiter” fascinating, so was pleased to see that Kirn’s book had made it on a lot of Top Ten Nonfiction of 2014 lists. And it is a good read, as long as you don’t mind your good reads peppered with bits of misogyny, which I actually do. Mind that is. When he summarizes Rockefeller’s ex-wife’s testimony with one dismissible sentence, I was officially angry with the book. I will say that Kirn doesn’t try to excuse his own gullibility in believing some of the lies Rockefeller told him, but as a reader, I was still amazed. (For example, Kirn believes, or at least doesn’t question, Rockefeller when he tells him that on one day Britney Spears visited his house in NH and on the same day, Helmut Kohl did. What?!)
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen – Anna Quindlen has such a great nonfiction writing voice. These essays were all about aging and being in one’s late fifties/early sixties, and what she knows now that she didn’t know when she was younger. It’s an interesting topic to me—but she could make anything interesting. I wanted to immediately get her other nonfiction collections when I finished this.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast – a wonderful graphic novel about taking care of aging and ailing parents, Chast does an excellent job of portraying her parents’ good and bad qualities, as well as the vortex dementia and infirmity cause.
I Can’t Complain by Elinor Lipman -- Elinor Lipman’s book of essays made me realize how good a writer Anna Quindlen is. Lipman’s novels are hilarious and I am fond of them, but her nonfiction writing voice wasn’t quite as charming. She often seemed worried and/or petulant, and I can’t imagine that was the tone she was going for. It was a quick read, but not one that I would recommend. (Read her novels, though! All of them!)
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. A well-written novel about, in part, the restrictions smart women encountered in the sixties and seventies, and also how a family can pigeonhole its members at cross purposes. It was very good and very very sad.
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews -- I wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s the story of the relationship between two sisters, one of whom is actively suicidal. I don’t think Toews did a good enough job conveying the sadness of the suicidal sister. We know she wanted to end her life; we witnessed the aftermath of several attempts; but her points of view were rendered unemotionally, which ultimately made it hard for me to care.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra – This novel had too much torture in it for me. It also was strangely unpinned down to location: the characters could have been any civilians living through any war, and I don’t mean that as praise. Marra can definitely tell a story and I liked the characters and how their lives intersected, but I continued reading just to finish it. Too much ugliness.
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) – I enjoyed reading this novel and will happily read the third in the series if one is written. I like the main character, Cormoran Strike, and his assistant/detective-in-training Robin. I don’t think the actual mystery of the book was very well done – nothing is really discovered until the last chapter and then it is all revealed in a “I would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids” kind of way – but that didn’t affect my enjoyment in the reading of it.