Okay, folks, I’m calling it: I’m done with Robert Galbraith.
In times of reading slumps, I often find myself turning to mysteries as a way to kick-start my reading habits. Mysteries usually quick and fun with just enough mental stimulation (whodunit?!) to make them feel worthwhile and slightly better than zoning in front of a movie.
In such times, I tend to veer towards Victorian-era mysteries of the Elizabeth Peters, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Anne Perry variety, but a couple of years ago I widened by net to include Robert Galbraith. Galbraith’s books are utterly unlike the kind of mysteries I usually enjoy: they’re contemporary, they have a surly male protagonist, and are often very violent.
So, why the exception? Because, improbably, Robert Galbraith is the pen name of J.K. Rowling. And I mean it when I say “improbably.” I can hardly think of something less probable than Robert Galbraith’s dark and violent books being written by the same person who invented Chocolate Frogs, Quidditch, and Diagon Alley.
And yet, they somehow are. So, I gave them a try. (more…)
Mamen Sánchez’s The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman (what a great title!) tells the story of one Atticus Craftsman, heir to a British publishing house, who is sent to Spain to shut down the publisher’s failing Spanish literary magazine. This magazine is run by five women, one of whom has rather more to hide than the other four, and, in the course of closing the magazine, Atticus (altogether unexpectedly!) disappears. Or so his British father back in London thinks.
For whatever reason, I went into Disappearance expecting a bookish novel, along the lines of A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé or Tom Rachman’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (or maybe even more like Rachman’s first novel, The Imperfectionists). The book was recommended in the August edition of the IndieBound Next List, a usually reputable source of good reads, so maybe that’s where I got the notion.
In any event, Disappearance is many things — including fun, madcap, and sweet — but it is not particularly literary. It is pure fluffy goodness, something light and downright goofy that would have been a perfect beach read earlier in the summer. (Who releases a book like this at the end of August?!) (more…)
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting going into Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits. I’d read her Daughter of Fortune and her retelling of Zorro many years ago, before I’d ever heard of “magical realism” or started enjoying Spanish or Latin American books every summer. I remember them both vaguely (and positively!) and I always had it in mind to read The House of Spirits. It was supposed to be her greatest work and so, when I found it at used book store earlier this summer, the timing seemed propitious.
Having now read it, I mostly felt like The House of Spirits was two novels jammed together as one. They flow so nicely that you almost don’t notice you’ve wandered from one to the other until you — seemingly suddenly — find yourself in a Chilean concentration camp for women and wonder what happened to the puckish and magical goings-on that started the book. (more…)
The first time I stumbled on a piece of creepypasta, I had no idea what it was. A friend had posted a link to it on Facebook, and since this particular friend always posts interesting things, I clicked through and read it.
I can’t even remember what it was about, now. Maybe a dead girlfriend haunting a teenager. It definitely involved doctored photos, and it was written in an unusual style that contributed to my confusion. I’m pretty sure it was on r/No Sleep, a sub Reddit forum where people tell creepy stories and other readers engage actively with the poster. The story evolved over a series of posts, after which the original poster suddenly disappeared, causing an interesting tension with the readers.
Then there was the time I discovered Slenderman. If you’re not familiar, I believe the general understanding is that Slenderman is a made-up character based on a series of doctored photos that show a preternaturally tall, gangly figure in the shadows, luring children into his clutches. The thing is, though Slenderman isn’t real, he is in the minds of at least two teenagers, who said they were inspired by him to perform real-life murders.
These are only two examples of creepypasta, a viral fiction form that lives on the Internet and is inseparable from it. I know this doesn’t sound literary, but hear me out. (more…)
Lucy Knisley is known for her confessional, thoughtful, and fearless graphic novels. From her very first one (French Milk), she has illuminated each phase of her life with watercolor, grace, and humor. She’s written about everything from discovering your place in the world, caring for elderly relatives, making delicious food, and finding your ideal partner.
Her latest is called Something New and, in it, Knisley tackles a doozy: the modern American wedding. She does this in her usual way: with insight, history, and a serious deep-dive into the personal. She approaches the “industrial marriage complex” from the wide angle of society, but manages to inflect her exploration with her own personal experiences.
Both Kate and Corey read Something New this summer and, while they both love Lucy Knisley’s work but have fairly different perspectives on weddings, they decided to have a chat about it.
Corey: Weddings are such a personal topic — people seem to get anxious even when talking about hypothetical, future weddings — so I hope we’re still friends after this.
Kate: Um, of course we will be! But I agree, there’s so much emotion and stress inherent in weddings and marriage and wedding planning, which I think is why this book strikes such a chord. Knisley doesn’t try to paint a wedding as this wonderful, beautiful, perfect day — it’s a day that symbolizes a couple’s commitment to each other that, as so many things in life are, is inherently flawed.
Corey: Absolutely. But I think Knisley’s book is truly exceptional at capturing the best about weddings: the bringing together of everyone you love to celebrate love. The day after her wedding, as Knisley ponders the event, she is struck by how lovely and how important it was to gather everyone together in this way. Most often, you will never again have those people in a room together. I’d never thought about weddings that way!
Kate: Yes! I think she did a great job of unpicking all of the stuff that comes along with weddings and making it clear that it was the people there that were ultimately most important. (more…)
Since it came out earlier this year, Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation seems to have skyrocketed to the top of every feminist booklist. And with good reason! Traister is curious, thoughtful, and thorough in her examination of the current state of affairs for unmarried women in America.
In All the Single Ladies, Traister explores the multi-faceted experience of being a single woman with sensitivity, insight, and more shocking statistics and facts than you can shake a stick at. Did you know the U.S. House of Representatives didn’t have a women’s restroom until 2011? That the median net worth of a single African American woman in 2014 was just $100? That the American marriage rate is dropping, but so is the divorce rate? All the Single Ladies is, if nothing else, a parade of thought-provoking factoids.
But it is so much more. Much like my reading of Only Child, All the Single Ladies made me think much more deeply about my own personal experiences, in this case as a single woman. Traister looks at every aspect, from the importance of female friendships to the choice to have or not have children to the effect of singledom on one’s career. Her sensitive, even-keeled approach to all these potentially explosive topics was revelatory.
Which isn’t to say there weren’t things that bothered me about the book. (more…)
Well, we’re about halfway through summer (already? Already!), so we thought we’d check in on our 2016 summer reading list and see how things have played out. Share your summer in reading so far in the comments section!
Summer Traditions & Rereads:
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (reread) — I think readers of a certain age are conditioned to read Harry Potter books mid-summer. The books were always released to much fanfare at the end of July when they first came out, so as the temperatures skyrocket, I like to reach for a cool drink of J. K. Rowling’s books. I reread the first book and it was just as transportive, funny, and full of hijinks as I remembered. For some reason, I was particularly struck by Rowling’s invention of Quidditch this time around — who just invents a sport wholecloth like that? And how is it so easily understandable right away? Her creativity and ability to make strange things seem normal still blow me away, even 17 years later. (CFB)
Classics (Old and New):
Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton — This is set a lot later than most of Wharton’s books: 1927, the heart of the Jazz Age. It was an interesting study of the hypocrisy that Wharton saw during this age, which does seem fairly modern, in a lot of ways. One of the main characters goes from guru to guru seeking release from her stress, trying yoga and something akin to therapy to help herself deal with the trials of everyday life. However, as is typical for Wharton, the novel ends bleakly, without hope and instead with an exposure of the rotten foundation underneath the gilded surface. (KW)
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton — We seem to be on an Edith kick this summer! I picked this one up somewhat randomly and was treated to a bevy of Edith’s deeply flawed characters, frequently doing awful things to each other. Mostly, the book was interesting for the extreme lengths Wharton goes to with her plot and characters to make her point: namely, that the choices for women longing for independence at the turn of the century were plain old terrible. (CFB)
The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles — Truth be told, I started reading The Odyssey in my old copy from high school, a Barnes and Noble classic with a high Victorian prose translation by Samuel Butler. It didn’t ring true, so I went out and got the Fagles translation (newish, from 1996). This was an excellent decision since Fagles’ version preserves the poetry as well as the immediacy of the language. I’m about halfway through right now and I am really loving it! Also, something about nautical misadventures on the Mediterranean seems like an appropriate thing to read during this drought-filled, hot summer. (CFB) (more…)