Lucky for humanity, even the most awful of years give us good books. Thank you writers.
In any case, we’ve got:
- Books you want to live in. These you are going to want to page back into and back up out of. You will want to revisit the early chapters to see if the events now excoriating your heart were foretold, to check the book’s jacket and the author’s bio, finally, to see if they matter. These books are worth buying in paper; actually they demand it. Worth delaying your purchase gratification for shipment or a trip to the bookstore, worth holding in two hands.
- Good Kindle (e-of any sort) books. Perfect at bedtime. These stories are simple enough, or their details so unimportant, you can happily consume small digital servings of words as they come. These books can still address important issues, can and should give you good characters.
- Not so good books. In this category we have the ones that everyone loves except you. We’ve also got uninspired narratives you’ve read but can’t remember a single detail, and pap you can remember solely for how much you wanted to throw it over the fence into your neighbor’s yard. The annoying neighbor, mind you.
Books Worth Buying In Paper, Hard Or Soft
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara. I’m reading this right now. When I wake in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep I don’t mind because two hours with this book enrich my life. Even in darkness. What’s so great about it? The deep patience Yanagihara has for absolutely everything in a novel. She never takes the easy way out. This story of four men, friends in college when the book begins, (so far I’ve made it to their 40s, I don’t know yet where it will finish,) inhabits me. Not by any means easy, I have to add. The book includes detailed descriptions of the practice of “cutting,” and less detailed but more miserable stories of child abuse.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel – Anthony Marra. Published in 2014. I’m also halfway through this. I’ll admit, dealing with my mother’s move, fall, and subsequent care, meant I read nothing but fantasy the first three quarters of the year. I’m trying to catch up now. Constellation is patient and skillful, like Little Life, Its setting in Chechnya makes it somewhat more demanding of the American reader, i.e., not so good for the middle of the night.
The Neapolitan Novels – Elsa Ferrante. This series has been reviewed and discussed everywhere. Materfamilias is hosting a read-along series here. When I read the first book, My Neapolitan Friend, I felt I was experiencing an entirely new kind of literature. So female, in a way that made clear to me how much of literature is male. If the thought of four books gives you pause, just read the first one. Even that will add to your understanding of the idea of women.
Good Kindle Books
The Gilded Years – Karin Tanabe – Addy, an African-American woman attends Vassar. However, the story’s set in 1897, so she has to pass as white. Based on a true story, the novel gives us one of those useful simple slices of complex history. Heavy on Vassar detail, the privileged girlish traditions contrast with Addy’s life and what she faces.
The Raven King (And all the Raven Boys books) – Maggie Stiefvater. As I said, the first half of my year was heavy on fantasy. This series is one of the best of type – particularly in the Young Adult genre. Boys, cars, a girl, prep school, Welsh-sounding royalty, magic tale-telling. Read all of it. So lovely.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel – Helen Simonson. A retired widowed English major meets a working widowed Indian woman. Their families have opinions, so does the village. Way, way more affecting than it sounds. Romance and racial dynamics told in the standard Village of Britain voice makes for a surprisingly powerful story. One of my favorites of the year.
Vinegar Girl – Anne Tyler. Taming of the Shrew for modern times. Cute! Good bedtime reading.
Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld. Also cute. Pride and Prejudice in modern day Cincinnati. Darcy is a neurosurgeon. Not Jane Austen, but, then, we have Jane Austen for that.
The Girls – Emma Cline. Reviewed briefly here. I stick by my assessment – beautifully, vividly written, not quite enough for a novel but worth a read. In retrospect, it illuminates a decade without relying on Klieg lights.
Well-Reviewed Books That I Didn’t Like Much
Commonwealth – Ann Patchett. Somehow, the same patience and detail I love in A Little Life bored the heck out of me in Commonwealth. Go figure. Perhaps I was still knee deep in emergency when I read it, and couldn’t open up to its careful emotions.
Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff. OK, so, to me, and perhaps only to me, this book reads like dilute William Faulkner marries Edith Wharton and they populate a novel with preppy-shaded shadow puppets. Cardboard characters make a lot of money and navigate a privileged life even though they had sad childhoods. Everyone else loved it.
Nope, Nope, Nope
Real Life & Liars – Kristina Riggle. Since I have considered (now and again) writing a Kindle-variety book myself, I thought I should research good “women’s novels.” Real Life was bad data. The plot arc is so visible from the beginning I could have recited aloud what was coming next. I deduct extra points for use of weather phenomena to create drama, and for characters I wouldn’t want to overhear in an airport, much less spend time with in a book.
I Don’t Even Remember What These Were About And That Doesn’t Worry Me Too Much
Sunday’s On The Phone To Monday – Christine Reilly. When I looked at the reviews I did kind of eventually remember it. Kind of. It wasn’t bad.
Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty. Australia. Money. Friends. Children. Oh just watch the TV miniseries. It’s coming soon.
The Flotsam And Jetsam Of A Reading Life
No need to discuss the rest of what you see on my Kindle, in depth. At a certain point it’s no longer fun to diss unloved books. But don’t you rejoice when you find a good one?