Thursday, July 2, 2015

The books I've read this year so far (with commentary)

We're about halfway through the year! It's my mother's birthday! I'm trying a new thing where I keep track of the books I'm reading. This list is mostly reconstructed from memory, so I may have missed a few, but going forward I hope for it to be all-inclusive. Here are the books I've finished so far (I frequently start and abandon books), in no particular order:

NONFICTION

How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg - I love this book! It's about math. The writing is terrific, I learned a lot, I sort of didn't want it to end.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande - A wise and useful book about end-of-life care (assisted living, nursing homes, multi-generational living, aggressive interventional therapies, hospice, etc.). I happened to finish this right before John's grandmother died, at 98. She was still living in her own house: amazing.

The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits - A diary-style memoir covering a few years. I adored it. Neurotic and relentlessly self-examining, never self-flattering. Contains many interesting thoughts on marriage, friendship, and female beauty. 

100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl - Loved this too. Ruhl is a playwright. Lots of interesting thoughts about theater and art in general and some on motherhood, if you're into that (ditto the Julavits actually). 

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder - This is the guy from OkCupid. Better than I thought it would be, has some really interesting data on race and gender. I recommend Jordan Ellenberg's review of it.

Selected Tweets by Mira Gonzalez - So good. Didn't want it to end, luckily she's still tweeting.

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum - Essays. I liked this, but the idea that she's writing about "unspeakable" controversial issues is oversold.

Yonder by Siri Hustvedt - Essays. We are interested in many of the same things, but she has a semi-anti-feminist bent that bugs me.

No Man's Land by Eula Biss - Essays. Many on race/class. Very good.


FICTION

Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb - Translated from Hungarian. Beautiful. Wonderful. Full of fascinating ideas and good jokes. Highly recommended.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler - I finished this just before the new year but I'm including it anyway. Very good, one of those mainstream bestseller books that is completely successful as "literature" too (meaning, you can get sucked into the plot without resenting the writing); my mother and John both read it immediately after me and loved it as well. 

The First Bad Man by Miranda July - Extremely funny and cute. The title is completely wrong for it. It's not about men or badness.

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offil - Meh. As far as fragmentary metafiction goes, I felt this one was a little overrated. It's not bad at all, but I had the distinct feeling that it could have been better if she'd worked on it longer.

Dancing in the Dark by Janet Hobhouse - This is about straight and gay culture mixing at discos in the 80s. The prose took some getting used to, but all in all I liked it. Somewhat in the vein of Alan Hollinghurst. 

Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester - A very quick read, organized into short, essay-like chapters, but on the forgettable side. 

Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken - Just great. I rarely read short stories, but read this front to back. This lady can write a fucking simile. 

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker - Funny, light, a one-afternoon read. Actually includes some good tips for writing poetry!

How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti - This felt a bit like intellectual candy. I read it in a day or so; it's smart but undemanding. I wrote more about it here.

Castle by J. Robert Lennon - Weirdly feels like a cross between Kafka and Stephen King. Has one kind of essayistic chapter toward the end that I found rather moving and brilliant. 

Here's to You, Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume - This was a mistake/waste of time. I got nostalgic about Judy Blume and tried to read a YA book from the 90s that I was too old for at the time. Guess what, I'm too old for it now, too, but I also think it sucks even by YA standards, meaning, I wouldn't have loved it at 13 either.

Pym by Mat Johnson - Very weird fantastical novel inspired by Poe, very funny, I want to read more by him. 

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce - I kept toying with abandoning this one, but pushed through. The protagonist has that Play It As It Lays zombie slut thing going on. Not bad, but not entirely my thing.
 
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro - I think I read this after the McCracken, feeling in the mood for short stories. I like Munro but I don't remember much about it, except for the extra-long, almost-novella story at the end. 

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink - Just finished this. A little silly but quite funny; reminded me of a George Saunders story, but novel-length. Like McCracken, worth it almost for the similes alone. (I assume Franzen liked it because it's about birders?!)