Books I read so far this year
(I was going to start doing this monthly, but I think I’m just going for “periodically”)
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: I almost never read really big “buzzy” books anymore, since that time I read Freedom and The Marriage Plot within a month or so of each other and found them both smart and well-written but with endings that made me literally mad I had spent all that time with them, but I figured this one was okay because no female author would do that to me. I also wanted to read it because struggling with a lingering childhood sense of your own specialness and a life that doesn’t necessarily meet those expectations is something I (embarrassingly) still struggle with. I liked the way that Wolitzer dealt with it, like the fact that Jules’ close friends had “made it” as artists and she’d wound up living a not-so-glamourous, but actually still pretty much fine life, is, just a fact of her life without ever being solved.
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan: I really recommend not reading this book on the subway if you don’t like crying on the subway. It’s about a teen who’s “in care” in an institution in Scotland, accused of putting a police officer in a coma, and waiting to find out whether she’s being sent to a “secure unit.” What I really loved about it was this kind of virtuoso creation of an unreliable narrator. Fagan makes Anais smart and likeable, but she’s also so vulnerable and blind to certain things that you kind of just want to hug her.
Tampa by Alissa Nuttig: Uh, I really recommend not reading this book on the subway if you don’t want people to stare at you while you gape open-mouthed at explicit descriptions of a teacher sexually assaulting her students. It’s pretty great though. It’s literally like nothing else I’ve ever read. It’s kind of like a gender-flipped Lolita, if Humbert Humbert were just an unrepentant sociopath instead of trying to convince you/himself he was in love with Lolita. Which is, the more you think about it, a really amazing thing to do with a book, in terms of where it takes your sympathies and where you find yourself feeling morally queasy and why.
Open City by Teju Cole: This is going to stick with me for a while. I originally decided to read this either because of the Morning News Tournament of Books like 2 years ago or because Teju Cole is so good at twitter, but it eventually wound up in my library hold queue and I am very glad it did. It took me a while, because it’s an odd, sad book, about a psychiatric resident wandering around New York and feeling lonely, in just breathtaking prose. But then - a thing happens that really colours everything else you just read. It’s pretty remarkable.
King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes: I picked this one up because it seemed like a critical mass of cool literary internet ladies were recommending it, and I…did not totally get it. The early sections that dealt with prostitution and rape, where Despentes talks about her experiences with both and ties them to larger social narratives were involving and felt, if not new, real, fresh. Then it just kind of started to feel like a rant? That used a lot of kind of essentialist language? And also I feel pretty weird about a book that uses “King Kong” as a feminist metaphor but…also appears to contain the sentiment that women get treated worse than black people. So.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I was pretty excited about The Goldfinch. I read The Secret History this fall and loved it, was completely drawn in by it even though I wasn’t sure that I would be from the plot summaries. It was narratively involving but also full of sentences that made me stop and marvel. I didn’t feel the same way about The Goldfinch. I can see what Tartt was doing, but as things got increasingly unfortunate for our orphan hero Theo - so much bad stuff happens in the first half that he spends most of the second half just self-medicating his PTSD with pills, which is believable - it was pretty hard to read. It wasn’t hard to read because it was badly done, but it was depressing and exhausting and kind of boring, which seems like a believable evocation of a drug addict’s life. It was well done, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to have gotten out of it besides feeling kind of sad and frustrated. I know it worked for a lot of people, but it just didn’t for me.