I’m in the worst reading slump. My attention span for reading is very low and I feel meh about most of the books I’ve read so far this year. Looking back at the list I’m realizing there were a few very terrible books that cast a layer of ugh over the first half of the year’s books thus burying the gems in there. I’m reading two books right now that I really like so let’s hope they cure me of my bad book hangover.
Here is what I’ve read so far this year. I’m still in two book clubs for work and still reviewing ARCs provided by NetGalley and Edelweiss.
My favorite: How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister
My least favorite: A Land Remembered by Patrick Smith
The longest: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah at 435 pages
The oldest: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson published in 1948
- A Land Remembered by Patrick Smith – 1 star: This is in the running for the worst book I have ever read. The ladies in my library book club chose it and we librarians thought it would be a good pick because it’s about local history. I honestly can’t remember hating any book as much as I hated this one. Here is my review for it on Goodreads: Do you want to read about herding cattle for 400 pages? Do you want students to hate literature? Because assigning this book about herding cattle for 400 pages is how you make students hate literature. I’m an adult and a librarian yet reading this book was a chore. The history of Florida is interesting but presented as a novel starring the flattest characters of all time makes for a miserable read. “A Land Remembered”: featuring three generations of wives who love to cook and never complain, a former slave who, it turns out!, wants exactly what the white characters want from life, and then the protagonists: three generations of one-dimensional white male characters who live off of the land in undeveloped Florida, except the last one is a bit of a jerk.
- The Modern Lovers’ The Modern Lovers by Sean Maloney – NetGalley – 4 stars: I didn’t give this book 5 stars because it’s a book about a really great lo-fi rock album and a book about a rock album is incapable of changing my life or whatever. For a book about a really great lo-fi rock album though it is perfection. It’s from the 33 1/3 series. The author does a great job of explaining the setting for this album and writes about Boston in the late 1960s/early 1970s as much as he writes about the band members and music. It’s just really well done. “Roadrunner roadrunner!”
- Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado – NetGalley – 3 stars: A few of the stories in this collection are wow but the rest I could do without. I like her writing style and I like the theme of the collection. It’s horror but like light-horror, if that’s a thing, and all of it experienced a woman and often as a queer woman. It’s a point of view I haven’t seen before so I appreciate that. One story is about the end of world caused by a very contagious deadly virus. That’s scary no matter who you are but there are unique things to worry about when you’re a woman alone at the end of the world.
- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – 4 stars: What a strange book. roger bevins iii
- Red Clocks by Leni Zumas – NetGalley – 4 stars: I really enjoyed Red Clocks. I was skeptical at first based on the description. I expected a kind of rip-off of “The Handmaid’s Tale” with more value-signaling and allegory than plot and character development. After seeing great reviews, I started reading it. I was immediately drawn in by the writing style and the way the book is organized. The story is told by four different female narrators with the biography of an historical Arctic explorer (also a woman) interspersed between their chapters. Through the four women, we get a complete view of the paths women can choose to take in regards to childbearing and the impact the new Personhood Amendment (banning abortion and IVF) and the impending Every Child Needs Two law (banning single people from adoption) have on women. I got worried about two thirds of the way in that I was reading a dystopian version of “Juno”, but my concerns were unfounded and I was happy with the ending.
- The Answers by Catherine Lacey – 3 stars: This book is pretty much a mess and I don’t get it, although I truly wanted to.
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – 4 stars: This is a book I should have read as a young person but missed out on. It’s a classic and I highly recommend it.
- The Lottery by Shirley Jackson – 4 stars: A scary short story you probably read in English Composition class. It’s still scary.
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – 2 stars: This book is not scary. At all. Most of the time that I was reading it was spent wishing I was not reading it. Sorry, Shirley.
- How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister – NetGalley – 5 stars: This is my favorite book so far this year! I feel confident I can’t explain why I like it so much, but I will try. It’s weird but in a good way. It’s different from any other book I’ve read. I was shocked over and over again that a man wrote this amazing female protagonist. It approaches America’s gun issue and the constant threat that any of us could be gunned down at school, work, the gym, the mall, the movie theater, the street, at any moment, from an absurdist standpoint that is very refreshing and also the appropriate approach for such a stupid and insurmountable (seemingly) problem and political/public health issue.
- Teaching Information Literacy Reframed: 50+ Framework-Based Exercises for Creating Information-Literate Learners by Joanna M. Burkhardt – 3 stars: I read this to get ideas for the information literacy instruction sessions I do at work. I only like a few of the lesson plans enough to consider trying them.
- The Power by Naomi Alderman – NetGalley – 2 stars: I was enjoying it for the first 100 pages or so. It became a chore after that. None of the characters were very well-developed to the point that it was kind of difficult to even remember who was who because they were all pretty similar. If you want to read a new book riding the coattails of The Handmaid’s Tale hype, I suggest Red Clocks by Leni Zumas instead.
- The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – NetGalley – 3 stars: This book was fine and it was an easy read but it’s nothing special. I chose this as the June read for my library’s book club. I mostly selected this because of the high ratings and tons of praise for Kristin Hannah’s previous novel, The Nightingale, which I have not read. I enjoyed the book for the most part while I was reading it and wanted to see how it would end. I did cry once or twice, but feel that was more because of the author taking us for a ride on an emotional roller coaster than due to experiencing a well-written story with well-developed characters. I found a few parts of the plot unbelievable. I found Hannah’s heavy-handed foreshadowing almost insulting. I recall rolling my eyes at one point when she wrote for the hundredth time about how the unpredictable dangers in Alaska were not only outside in the wilderness but also inside in their home because of the abusive, mentally ill father. It was fine, but not good enough to prompt me to go back and read The Nightingale.
- We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates – 4 stars: I did a mixture of listening to the audiobook version of this and reading the articles on The Atlantic website. The audiobook isn’t bad but it pales in comparison to the audiobook version of Between the World and Me which was narrated by Coates himself. The narrator for this book is fine (and does an impressive Obama impersonation for much of the eighth essay) but I’m partial to author narrators anyway so I just kept wishing Coates was narrating! All of the essays themselves (previously published by The Atlantic and still available for free there) are really good and I’d say three of them are fantastic. A few of the pieces that introduce the essays were interesting or helpful because of the context they provided but I feel you can skip those and get right to The Atlantic stuff. “The Case for Reparations”, “This Is How We Lost to the White Man”, and “My President Was Black” are the stars of this collection.