Book List: The Review Part 1

Here is a chronological list of how I read the books. Sometimes there were reasons for choosing, and sometimes I just stuck my hand in my box-o-books and picked out the next one. This review will be in parts because it started to get a leeeetle long.

First up was America Pacifica because I had gotten it on my kindle and our fucking mail man delivered my box-o-books to someone in an entirely different building though the address was correct. So I got antsy and needed reading material.

  • The first half of the book is beautifully written. It plays on my ever-mounting fears that we are 1) killing the planet and 2) will suffer greatly for it. I enjoy that it doesn’t go with the (now) stereotypical global warming fear, and yet still tackles the social responsibility of handling the planet. Anna North creates an amazing alternative world with inventive fixes for real problems. When you’re writing about an entirely different environment landscape I think it’s hard to not default to vagueness. How do people build things? What do they eat? What do they wear? What are the societal structures? There are some holes that pulled me out (like how do they make cigarettes?) but for the most part I could just go with it.
  • The second half of the book felt rushed. I didn’t feel it was as thoughtful as the first half. A lot of things happen in a short amount of time that thrust the plot forward. Things are quickly wrapped up without a lot of explanation as to why. Sometimes I felt like I had missed something, and I felt unsure of how we had gotten from point A to point B at times. Where we literally were in the book, where the characters physically were and how they got there was sometimes confusing. And the ending. The ending did not satisfy me.
  • This is all to say – while reading the book I almost missed my stop on the train 3 or 4 times. I would think about the plot at work and have the urge to share what was going on with co-workers, like the main character was my neighbor and you would not believe what’s going on with her right now. This book reminded me a lot of the Oryx and Crake stuff from Atwood. But was less technically fabulous. Super entertaining and would definitely recommend if you can overlook the second half.

Second, I read A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan because Margaret wanted to read it again and wanted to read it with me (aww!!) so we did. This is an ultra modern novel. Some of this ultra modernism (let’s pretend like I know what I’m talking about for a moment) I really liked and some of it I didn’t.

  • I don’t like when novels talk about brands or time-specific products in a specific way. It always, always, always pulls me out of the story and suddenly I’m thinking about the product, thinking about the reference it is making to era, thinking about how this dates the story, how it may put a shelf life on the story, etc etc etc. Because this novel is about a certain time period in music, music in general, and how an era in music changed the lives of the people in that era, I don’t feel like it needs any more time stamps.
  • Sometimes I felt like the characters were over indulged. I’m not sure what this means. Maybe you do?
  • I LOVED the chapter that is entirely powerpoint slides. It made me want to start journaling in power point and visual aids. I won’t, but I think it’s fabulous.
  • I LOVED how the stories inter-connect. The way they all flow, this is the writing I want to do, this is what I wanted my first novel to be. It makes me ache with the inventiveness, and the success of it all.

At first I thought, “Sweet jesus, these characters are all whiny and fucked up.” But then I fell in love with them and wanted to give them all hugs, or be there when shit went down, or contribute positively to their life in some way. Even if some of them were lost causes. I think you’ll fall in love with them too. This is an excellent, excellent read.

Third, and just before Spain I finished The Enchantress of Florence because Kamel had seen Salman Rushdie speak a few years ago and really wanted to know what I thought. My overwhelming feeling about this book: It’s a 349 page piece of foreplay.

  • There is so much lust and sex and desire in this book it leaves you in a sexytime brain cloud.
  • Also, it took me 2 full weeks to finish even though I routinely and easily finish a 300 page book in a week. This novel is like brioche; so incredibly dense.
  • Even though I most likely won’t read another novel by the Rushdie, there were some really great quotables and a really great story burried under the tiresome prose. I had to share this one with you:

“Women have always moaned about men,” Birbal said, “but it turns out that their deepest complaints are reserved for one another, because while they expect men to be fickle, treacherous, and weak, they judge their own sex by higher standards, they expect more from their own sex – loyalty, understanding, trustworthiness, love – and apparently they have all collectively decided that those expectations were misplaced.”

  • Sometimes I feel like the only person in the whole world who hasn’t read Rushdie up to this point. So I was really surprised at the affected “storyteller” voice that the book was written in. Is this how all of his novels go? They seem grander than they should be, they seem like they come from a different time, and they are almost entirely made up of telling and have very, very few scenes. Their is a narrator, and also a story within the story narrated by another story teller. It felt very “Inception” to me. Too many rabbit holes, too many words. Let’s all just get to the point already. I would really really love to know what other people think of his writing and if they’ve read other books by him.

Fourth in line was Gold Bug Variations. I was trying to figure out which book to pick up next and I thought it probably needed to be one of the thick ones. I didn’t want to leave a handful of really long books till the very end, that seemed overwhelming. So the Gold Bug Variations it was! This book is a brioche of a novel; super dense but also sweet. It reminded me of Moby Dick with the way it dealt with science and genetics. And Richard Powers does an amazing amazing job with character. I mean… the people in this book are beyond unique. I would swear up and down that these are real people and this was a creatively laid out biography. It’s just that good.

Here are my own truths about the book:

  • I did skim a lot of the science parts. Bottom line: genetics is hard, finding the source of why and how we are, the root of how it all begins is really really hard. It’s also beautiful, but I skimmed it.
  • I kept thinking I was going to get bored of the book because it’s so ginormous and deals with so much science, but I never did. Sometimes it was so intense I had to put it down even though I had more time to read. Sometimes I had to get a hug from Kamel because something in it bothered me. A lot of this book strikes a chord with anyone who has ever been in a relationship of any kind, ever.
  • There is a point in the book where I actually let out a gasp and said, “Oh… no!” in the train.
  • I just feel like everyone should read this, even if you’re not a big book person, even if you don’t dig science. I feel like this story is going to sit with me for a while and pop up during quiet moments. I wonder how the characters are doing now.
  • It deals with computers in the 80s and that is really endearing and slightly comical to read about now.
  • The only thing that bugged me is that someone in their 50s just isn’t that old, yet they talk about the character as if he is ancient.

I’m still plugging away at my stack of books! And almost finished with the next selection, but I wanted to let you know what I’ve been reading. For those who suggested these books or have read these books please please please let me know what YOU thought in the comments. I’ve been dying to talk about them with people. What were your impressions? Have you read things that made you feel similar? And how are your own book lists coming?

13 thoughts on “Book List: The Review Part 1”

  1. Totally agree with you about Rushdie. I can’t read him at all (the enchanteress is one of his lighter books!). To me it’s like he’s writing for an English exam at school where you have to put 3 adjectives per noun. I just can’t get on with him, have tried to read Midnights Children a few times now but no luck. He seems a bit too self affected in my view. But I did like the Enchanteress though but I think that’s because the period of history is my fave and I thought it was totally magical.

    But it might just be me as I do prefer pithy writing generally. Have you read any Murikami? He is amazing.

    Great reviews, Gold bug variations sounds amazing! Ax

    1. Thank you for telling me this!! I felt kind of like a crazy person while reading it… like… WHAT? REALLY? This is what he does??

      It’s a relief to know it’s not just me.

      1. Oh no no no, please don’t give up on Rushdie. Enchantress of Florence is over-written (I think it is a magical return to form and fun with words, but I am definitely in the minority) but try The Moor’s Last Sigh which has a much more linear narrative and is set in a Parsee family in Bombay – he is actually very astute about family relationships, I think. To me Midnights Children is a great masterpiece but again, this is pretty heavily written – but such a fantastic example of magical realism. Also, tremendously interesting from a post-colonial perspective about how writers who don’t have English as their mother tongue write in English and make it authentically their own. My undergraduate thesis was on Rushdie, hence wild enthusiasm.

        In a slightly more appropriately phrased comment, I also loved Goon Squad and thought it v. funny and endearing.

    1. I saw her talking about it on the news or something before I read the book. I love when writers speak in public. 🙂 Checking it out immediately!

  2. I read Goon Squad last year and I really really liked it. I can’t quite articulate all the reasons it captivated me, but I can say that I freaking LOVED the power point chapter. I found it to be so refreshing. I also liked the inter-connectedness of the characters’ stories. They felt like real people and I cared about them a lot.

    Re: Rushdie. My best friend and I read The Satanic Verses together and I found it to be a very difficult read nor did I find it to be very rewarding. My friend on the other hand loved it and read it again. I found his writing to be very labyrinthine and it took so much effort to get through a few pages.

  3. Hmmm. I’m very intrigued by America Pacifica. Might have to pick it up.

    I’ve never tried Rushdie…I have good intentions of reading The Satanic Verses, if only to know first-hand what all the hub-bub was about 😉

  4. Of this list, I have only read A Visit from the Goon Squad but overall didn’t like it very much. My biggest complaint was that I would get sucked into a story and then want to follow that story. I was unprepared for it to jump around as much as it did. I liked some characters more than others and found parts a bit too unbelievable or just plain weird-the concert at the park at the end I didn’t get. Also, I read it on a Kindle and the ppt chapter doesn’t work there (it’s really hard to read), so that was frustrating and more confusing than anything.

    I’d like to read Gold Bug Variations though, sounds interesting to me. Also, I just read The Fault in Our Stars and really loved that. It’s a quick read and I think a young adult book so you would breeze right through it.

  5. I totally agree with this sentiment: “I don’t like when novels talk about brands or time-specific products in a specific way. It always, always, always pulls me out of the story and suddenly I’m thinking about the product, thinking about the reference it is making to era, thinking about how this dates the story, how it may put a shelf life on the story, etc etc etc. Because this novel is about a certain time period in music, music in general, and how an era in music changed the lives of the people in that era, I don’t feel like it needs any more time stamps.”

    I’ve written about this exact issue before, in a poem actually, and said it carbon-dated the characters interactions. Specifically, they were emailing each other. It lacks timelessness.

    Okay, back to continue reading the rest of the post.

  6. I’m so happy that you liked Gold Bug. The Ressler-Koss storyline undid me, strand by strand, bit by bit. And all of that lyrical word play – metaphors drawn from science and math just whip me into a frenzy (I’m weird, okay?), and the painting ones aren’t bad either.

    Your comparison to Moby Dick has inspired me to read that book. I tend to shy away from “classics” in favor of “ultramodernism” and metafictional antics.

    1. I kind of want to make out with you right now.

      Also, after reading moby dick, please tell me what you think. I couldn’t get it out of my head the whole I read Gold Bug.

  7. Ha! We just digitally made out over the interwebs after talking about books. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.

    Gold Bug is such a nutso book. I can’t believe everything it manages to allude to, including Moby Dick. Maybe it’s because certain things are so very human they come up again and again, rather than being a conscious decision of the author. The best things in Literature are about tapping into the commonality of being human and not about contriving stylistic devices.

    1. I mean, I love stylistic devices (um… narrator playing god in a book, yes please), but they can be awesome or fall flat. Whose to judge? Okay, me. I’ll judge. Okay, going to go back to work and shut up now.

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